Laura parked Brian on a street that was unnaturally quiet. It was one of those that ran adjacent to the school and would, on a normal school day, be filled with cars dropping off children for their accepted hours of education. This morning, it was deserted.
“Mum I know what you’re going to say to this, but I think that I should go in there. Make sure Michael’s all right.”
“You’re right, Chris. It is a bad idea.”
Chris’s arm was beginning to hurt more. Mr Hunter, who wanted to be called by his first name, had made a rudimentary sling before heading off with Michael. Just another case of people caring for him when he did not deserve it. He was glad of the pain. It reminded him of what he had done.
“But we’re sitting here whilst Michael’s in there. How are we going to know if he needs our help?”
“He’ll call us, won’t he?” She flourished her own mobile phone to add to her point.
Chris showed the mobile phone he shared with his brother as his response.
“He left it on the window sill. I think he did it on purpose.”
Laura’s face was struck by a flash of astonishment.
“Why in God’s name would he do that?”
“I think that he thinks that they’ve managed to get his number. When that shop was burnt down, they sent an email to us with pictures of it happening. If it’s that NuNation stuff, who’s to know what else they can do?”
His mother looked at her own phone as if it was infected and dropped it to the floor of the car.
“I think you might be right, Chris,” concluded Nick.
Chris felt the pain in his arm grow a little more intense.
“You need to be there don’t you? You need to make sure that your brother is looked after properly this time.”
“Yes, I do.”
“What are you suggesting, Nick?”
“I’m not suggesting anything. It’s Chris who made the suggestion.”
“Yes Mum, it was me and I think you understand why.”
Laura looked down into the palms of her hands as if they would provide an answer. They gave none.
“I don’t have to tell you to take care, do I?”
“But remember what happened, stays back there. He got to me as well. Don’t feel that you need to do anything stupid to make it up to your brother. Do you understand?”
“I understand, Mum.”
“And don’t let them see you.”
He was out of the door and walking towards the school before she could say anything else.
“I love you,” she whispered into the growing space between them.
Then, he was gone.
Being part of the landscape had never been too difficult a task for Chris.
As Chris stood in the cold morning, he watched the comings and goings of Podrall’s former gang. What he did not see was the boy himself.
The happenings of the previous few weeks had taken their toll upon attendance. Only small groups of kids were congregating where once there would have been many. The bus drivers should have noticed this and passed on the message to someone who cared, but nobody seemed bothered and the drivers, with their heavily lidded eyes, had too much else to think about.
The teachers too looked haunted. Many were arriving in their cars, sitting for a time before attempting any entrance to the building. Then the would find something to look for amongst their possessions in an attempt to find something that would make them turn back. Disappointment met each of them. Meanwhile, growing numbers of boys were forming a perimeter around the school.
Chris pulled his hood up and kept to the line of buildings. He tried walking with the ordinary indifferent strides that were the accepted marching method of the students here. He pulled his shoulders in and pushed his head down so that he was only watching his steps. Along the way, he made sure to try the handles of each of the doors as he passed. The doors were not opened until 8.45 and it was perhaps a futile effort. However, he needed some luck and this was the best way of manufacturing some.
A teacher hurried along clutching a briefcase to his chest. Chris recognised him as one of the maths teachers. When he came face to face with him, the teacher’s eyes showed that same emptiness he had been seeing in many of late.
“Sir,” he didn’t know his name, “sir, do you know where Mr Hunter will be?”
The teacher stared at the boy who had asked this question and replied, “At home if he has any sense, as you should be.”
Without further advice, the teacher hurried along as if being caught out in the open air for too long would be dangerous.
“I thought I recognised that voice.”
Chris turned to find that it was the ginger kid that he had fought in the playground all that time ago. He was walking towards Chris with a renewed sense of swagger whilst withdrawing a pistol from under his coat.
“See this, here? This is going to be your ticket out of this school. I’d like to say thank you for that little ruck we got into and this is the best way that I could think of doing that.”
It was then that he saw the sling that carried Chris’s broken arm.
“Broken your arm? Good. When we get the rest of your family we’ll break your heart as well. Now follow me.”
From a window in the History room, Michael and his teacher watched as his younger brother was led away.
“I can’t let them take him like that. I’m going after them,” said Michael resolutely.
“But what of the rest? If you get caught, what will happen to the rest of them?”
“They can wait. It’s my brother first.”