Over the next three days I will release the first chapter of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Hope you all enjoy it!
There it was. The face of the boy he had been searching half the world for, popping out of the computer screen like a firework exploding. A wide smile; the rippled scars from falling into a fire coursing down the right side of his face; a missing left incisor. Patrick had been hunting him for weeks and there he was, in Chicago according to this blog.
Patrick ran a stubby-fingered hand through his thatch of blond hair, pushing it back from a long forehead – a gesture more suited to an Oxford don than a liar and a thief. He sucked his teeth, picked up a pen and added ‘email Moyenda – tell him Limbani’s in Kent and Mabvuto’s in Chicago’ to the growing list of things to do that perched at the side of his laptop. He wondered how Moyenda would take the news.
He glanced at his watch, closed down his laptop and picked up his dirty coffee cup. Crossing his flat in three steps he reached the tiny kitchen that led straight off the lounge: too small to swing a rat in. Even his slight frame filled the place, making it feel claustrophobic. The empty walls of the flat depressed him, but it was just stuff that had gone and maybe life was too full of stuff. One day he might have dreamed of a bigger place, full of the trappings of consumerism, but for now this poky, ground-floor cupboard would do. It wasn’t as if he had a choice.
He peered through the grimy window as he filled the kettle, staring out at grubby communal bins and the desolate industrial buildings beyond the road. His brain was still on the little boy in the blog and how the hell a street kid had got from Africa to America. He scraped the last few grains out of a coffee jar and lobbed it into an overflowing yellow crate. The jar bounced back out. Patrick sighed, retrieved it and shoved it into a cranny between several beer bottles, and then picked up the whole crate, perching it against his hip as he manipulated the door. He tottered towards the chest-high recycling bins, glancing up at leaden skies between Edinburgh’s crowded buildings, his brain whirring. How had Mabvuto got to Chicago? Not under his own steam, that was sure. He opened the lid of the bin and started tossing in the bottles, the enclosed yard amplifying the cacophony as the glass splintered, the sound riding over the rat-tat-rat-tat of a long goods train heading slowly out of the city. As Patrick reached the bottom of the crate, he hefted it upwards to tip in the last few shards and his shoulder deflected something solid just before a searing pain ricocheted around the back of his head.
He sprawled to the ground, yelling out, trying to look behind and see his attacker.
‘I can get the money,’ he cried. ‘I really can this time!’
The man had raised his arm again, a club silhouetted against the monochrome sky. Patrick scrabbled forwards. Using one hand to propel himself, he groped in his pocket with the other, feeling for his mobile. A blow landed on his ankles. The man grabbed at them. Patrick kicked back, his heel connecting with his attacker’s chin; the grip on his leg died. He scrambled away, his feet slipping on broken glass, bringing him crashing down heavily on his hand and almost knocking the phone from his grip. He could see the gate to the street and it was open. If only he could reach it. The tinny sound of ringing distracted him briefly as he scuttled behind one of the bins.
‘Patrick? Jesus, this had better be good!’
His eyes widened. How had he called her?
Movement in the corner of his eye made him turn. The thug was getting up. He stared at his phone.
‘Summer? Please. You have to help me!’
His voice rode over hers, urgent and panicky. He crabbed sideways, keeping the bin between him and the man, his eyes flitting between freedom and his approaching assailant.
‘There’s no escape, you little fuck,’ said the heavy, his face a sneer.
‘Patrick? What the—’
The man had reached him. He kicked the phone out of his hand and stamped down, crushing it into splinters of plastic and electronics. Patrick’s stomach tightened and fear curdled as he saw a thin smile twist the edge of the brute’s lip. The man brought his arm down, his weapon arcing perfectly to connect with Patrick’s skull.
‘You stupid bastard!’ he spat as Patrick slumped against the fence, a stream of blood trickling over his face and dripping steadily on to his shirt.
Patrick stared dully, willing his body to move, but he felt like he was made of string. Crippled, he watched his attacker glance around briskly; then he was heaved on to his shoulder like a sack of coal. The man snorted and grunted with the effort. Patrick could smell the man’s sweat, feel the scratch of his shirt against his face. He opened his mouth to yell for help but all that he could manage was a faint croak.
The man carried him through the open gate to a van backed up close with its rear door ajar. He hooked his knee into the door to open it, dropped Patrick on the floor of the van and swiftly bound his wrists behind his back with a cable tie, tightening it viciously before repeating the manoeuvre on his ankles. He rolled Patrick into the centre of the van and slammed the doors shut.
It had all taken less than five minutes.
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