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Lone Wolf, Page 2

Robert Muchamore

  ‘Mum sent me to school when I was little,’ Fay said stiffly. ‘Other kids pissed me off.’

  But Fay had only done a few terms of primary school, and though she was too hardnosed to admit it, the idea of being in a room full of strange kids scared her. ‘I’m a lone wolf,’ she shouted, as she flicked the mound of printouts on to the floor and stood up. ‘When Mum died, you swore you’d look after me.’

  Kirsten didn’t rise to her niece’s anger and began calmly picking the papers off the floor. ‘This is looking after you,’ she said, as she calmly placed the papers down in front of Fay. ‘Your mum and me were teenagers. We grew up in care homes and began by knocking over street dealers for twenty quid. Then we started with the bigger dealers. Then we started sniffing out cash houses and major drug hauls. Now there’s two million in clean cash, which neither of us will be able to spend if we wind up in prison.’

  ‘What’ll you do all day?’ Fay asked. ‘I can’t see you sitting on your arse watching Antiques Hunt.’

  Kirsten shrugged. ‘I could set up a kickboxing academy. I could buy a café, learn Japanese, take up golf, try the banjo . . .’

  Fay snorted. ‘What about the thrill of the chase?’

  ‘Luck always runs out, Fay. If we’re lucky the cops’ll get us and we’ll go to prison. But if a dealer catches up, they’ll torture and kill us.’

  ‘You’re so melodramatic,’ Fay said.

  ‘Your mother thought she’d live forever and Hagar got her.’

  ‘I don’t see why I’ve got to go to some stupid school,’ Fay shouted, as she held up one of the leaflets. ‘Look at ’em. Little ladies in pleated skirts and knee socks.’

  ‘If you don’t pick one, I will,’ Kirsten said. ‘Like it or lump it, you’re gonna go to school.’

  ‘I’ll flunk the entrance exam.’

  ‘Then I’ll send you to the local comprehensive. This isn’t up for debate, Fay. We’ve made all the money we need and you’re going to school.’


  Two mornings later, Fay lay on her bed in a pink robe. She’d done the same two laps around the Outer Circle, only this time followed up with an hour-long kickboxing session with her aunt. The room had plenty of wardrobe space, but they moved every few months, so Fay habitually lived out of a pair of wheeled suitcases, whose contents had sprawled out like some multicoloured floor fungus.

  Kirsten knocked and came in without waiting. ‘Manchester,’ she said abruptly. ‘Get dressed.’

  ‘Right now?’ Fay asked.

  ‘Buyer’s all lined up. Sixteen kilos at forty-five thousand per kilo.’

  Fay looked confused. ‘I thought we stole eighteen.’

  ‘And word’s on the street that eighteen got stolen from Hagar, so I’ll shift sixteen now and keep a couple back for a rainy day.’

  Fay looked excited. As the teenager grabbed jeans and a T-shirt off the floor, Kirsten was pleased to see the stack of school website printouts looking well thumbed. Fay had also added comments in the margin such as dorky uniform and middle of nowhere. Kirsten laughed when she saw a picture of a boy with FIT written across his school jumper in red biro.

  ‘The four on top are my favourites,’ Fay said.

  Kirsten laughed. ‘All mixed schools I see.’

  ‘Well, if you’re forcing me to go to school, I might as well go where they have some boys.’

  ‘All-girls schools are kind of creepy,’ Kirsten agreed. ‘And I’m glad you’re warming to the idea.’

  ‘So what’s the next step?’ Fay asked.

  ‘I’ll call admissions and see what the situation is,’ Kirsten said. ‘If they have spaces, it might be possible to get you in after Christmas.’

  Fay gulped. ‘That’s just over three weeks. I thought you were talking about September, when the new school year starts.’

  ‘I’d rather you bedded in to school life before you start your GCSEs.’

  Fay smiled. ‘If I get a good report, can we rob someone during the school holidays?’

  Kirsten laughed. ‘Fay. You scare me.’


  ‘I rob drug dealers to make money,’ Kirsten said. ‘You’re just like your mother was. You want to rob places for the hell of it.’


  Kirsten drove from London to Manchester in a silver Mercedes wagon, hired using a driving licence and credit card in the name Tamara Cole. Fay spent the journey in the back seat reading a book about a man who sailed around the world. She liked the idea of being all alone in a tiny boat, with waves crashing around it.

  ‘I want to do a sailing course,’ Fay announced, as the silver Merc eased past a coachload of pensioners.

  ‘If you do well at your new school,’ Kirsten said.

  Fay seemed satisfied with the answer and delved back into her book.

  Their destination was the Belfont. It was one of Manchester’s newest hotels, with a swanky black marble lobby where the air had a slight jasmine scent and illumination so moody that you could barely see a hand in front of your face.

  The sixteen kilos of cocaine had travelled in a wheeled aluminium case, and Kirsten had to shoo off a top-hatted doorman eager to help with her luggage. Kirsten asked for directions to a meeting room called The Windermere and got directed to the ninth floor.

  After backing away from reception, Kirsten looked at Fay and spoke in a whisper.

  ‘They won’t like having a kid in the meeting, so you wait here. They’ll want to check every brick for purity before handing over the cash, so I’ll be gone for at least forty minutes. Don’t wander off.’

  Fay didn’t look too happy. ‘All right if I go to the Starbucks across the street and grab a Frappuccino?’

  The green Starbucks roundel was visible in the street opposite the lobby and Kirsten nodded.

  ‘But don’t go any further than that. Once we’re sorted, we’ll find somewhere nice for a late lunch and shopping, OK?’

  Fay wasn’t a big shopper, but she wanted some new running shoes, and wondered if she’d be able to find any more books on sailing.

  As Kirsten waited for the lift up to the ninth floor, Fay exited the hotel lobby through a revolving door and crossed a side street. It was still cold out, so after a short queue she ordered a hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. The Starbucks seats looked comfier than the ones in the hotel lobby so she settled into an armchair close to the counter and fished her book out of a little linen shoulder bag.

  Her aunt seemed confident that she’d sell the drugs they’d stolen from Hagar, but they’d never dealt with this Manchester-based crew before. So even though it was a good book, Fay found it hard to focus with her aunt involved in a seven-hundred-grand drug deal across the street.

  She had the hot chocolate up to her lips when a woman kicked her outstretched leg. Instead of saying sorry, she glowered at Fay.

  ‘Can’t you mind where you’re putting them legs?’

  ‘How about you look where you’re walking?’ Fay spat back irritably.

  The woman didn’t reply. She just grabbed a cardboard rack with six coffees slotted into it. As she headed for the door, Fay noticed how the woman was all bulked out around her waist, and wearing black shoes like a cop would wear.

  Fay took another sip and decided she was being paranoid, but then something else hit her: the woman had spoken with a London accent. So there was a woman from London wearing cop shoes, with her waist bulked out like she had cuffs and equipment. And she was buying six drinks, like there was a whole bunch of them . . .

  Am I imagining things?

  Sometimes when you’re nervous you see things that aren’t really there. If Fay had been certain she’d have called her aunt straight away, but she wasn’t, so she burned her mouth downing the hot chocolate and stuffed her book back in the linen bag as sh
e headed for the door.

  The woman with the six drinks was already across the street and pushing her way through the Belfont’s revolving front door. From the rear Fay caught the unmistakable silver glint of a set of handcuffs poking out the bottom of a nylon body warmer.

  Fay immediately grabbed her mobile and dialled her aunt.

  ‘Come on,’ Fay mouthed, breath curling in front of her face as she reached the hotel’s revolving doors. She tried to see what the cop was doing inside but the lobby was too dark. Finally there was a click in her ear.

  ‘Hello, you’ve reached Tamara Cole. I’m not currently available to take your call. If you’d like to leave a message wait for the beep.’

  Fay grunted with frustration and left a message as she pushed through the revolving door. ‘Auntie, I just saw a cop heading into the hotel. Leave everything and get the hell out of there.’

  As Fay got into the lobby she peered through the oh-so-trendy gloom and saw the cop with the drinks disappear behind a set of closing lift doors. Fay ran to the lifts and pressed the up button. While she waited, she tapped out a text message:

  Cops everywhere. Bail now!!!!!

  Fay had a horrible queasy feeling as she stepped into the lift. She thought about going to the eighth floor and taking the stairs for the last floor, but she was desperate to give her aunt every possible chance so she decided to risk going straight for the ninth.

  The elevator opened into a broad corridor with grandly named meeting rooms off either side. Fay took a step out and immediately saw a commotion. The Windermere was a double-doored conference room at the end of the hallway. Several armed cops stood about and there was a haze of gun smoke and cocaine powder in the air. At least three men lay handcuffed on the carpet, and another was spread-eagled over a long table getting patted down.

  Fay’s phone made a ding-doing sound. She had a message from her aunt.

  DON’T come upstairs

  A senior-looking cop was shouting: ‘How did you let her get out? I want everyone looking for her.’

  Fay stepped back into the lift and pressed G, followed by the close door button. It felt like the doors took about a week, but she was soon trundling back down to the lobby, tapping out a text message to her aunt.

  Where RU?

  All was calm in the lobby. Fay took a deep breath and walked quickly, but not so fast that she’d arouse suspicion. Her heart skipped when she passed a uniformed officer coming through the revolving door into the hotel as she headed out.

  Fay didn’t know the area and couldn’t think of anything she could do to help her aunt. The only logical thing seemed to be to put as much distance between herself and the hotel as possible and then arrange to meet up with her aunt later on, provided she got away. If Kirsten didn’t get away then god knows what she’d do.

  Fay realised that she was trembling as she crossed the street. Another text from her aunt buzzed in her pocket.

  Turn your phone off. Cops might use it to track you.

  Fay stopped walking, intending to text straight back. But she got a weird feeling like there was something creeping up on her, and when she looked behind she saw two bulky cops.

  ‘You’ve not done anything,’ one of them said. ‘We want to ask some questions about your aunt.’

  ‘My arse,’ Fay said, before breaking into a sprint.

  She almost ran straight into the path of an oldie on a Motability scooter. Once she’d regained her balance, Fay ran fifty metres on from the Starbucks and turned into a busy shopping street. The pavements were rammed with pre-Christmas shoppers so she cut on to tram tracks.

  After a few hundred metres, Fay took a glance back and saw that one of the cops had dropped back more than seventy metres, while the other had given up completely. The only trouble was, a tram was turning into her path, with the driver frantically ringing a bell for her to get out of the way.

  As Fay hopped back on to the pavement, she landed awkwardly on a tram track and stumbled head first into a crowd of shoppers.

  ‘Grab hold of her!’ the chasing cop shouted.

  Fay scraped her knee on the pavement as she hit the ground, alongside a black woman and a tangle of Primark and M&S bags.

  ‘Sorry,’ Fay gasped.

  The woman was furious because some mugs had broken.

  ‘Keep hold of her,’ the cop shouted, as the crowd parted to let him through.

  A man grabbed Fay around the waist and tried to scoop her up, but she managed to catch him in the ribs with the point of her elbow. Somehow she got running again. The shopping street was rammed, so she set off across a pedestrianised square with a Christmas tree at its centre.

  There was no sign of the cop, but Fay was still in a strange town with no idea where she was and no idea whether her aunt had been busted. After a final sprint, she found herself on the far side of the square and reckoned she’d stand out less if she slowed to a brisk stroll.

  Once she was walking again, Fay reached into her bag and checked her phone, but there hadn’t been any more messages from her aunt. She cut into a dingy-looking alleyway filled with barber shops, kebab houses and places that unlocked mobile phones. Her hand was still in the bag when a uniformed female cop appeared at the opposite end of the alleyway. She spun around, only to see that the original guy who’d been following her was closing in from behind.

  ‘Stay still and I won’t hurt you,’ the woman shouted, as she pulled out a baton.

  Fay’s left hand rummaged inside her bag until she felt the handle of a small pocket knife. She figured that her best chance was to charge the smaller female cop, so she unfolded the blade and made a run.

  Seeing nothing but a slim thirteen-year-old, the female officer made herself broad and took a clumsy swing with her extendable baton. Fay used her kickboxing training and spun away from the blow, then launched a backwards kick.

  The policewoman’s body armour made this blow less effective than Fay had hoped, but it was enough to knock the officer off balance and send her slamming backwards into the aluminium shutters of a balti house.

  The male officer had now caught up and he swung the baton at Fay’s arm in an attempt to knock the knife out of her hand. But Fay saw the move coming. She stepped back, then lunged with the knife as the officer overbalanced.

  The tip of the blade caught the officer’s throat, before making a sweeping cut up his right cheek. Fay jumped back as the cop stumbled forwards coughing blood. If he died, she was screwed. If her aunt had been arrested, she was screwed. It was almost as bad as when they’d found her mum, tied up and tortured by one of the dealers they’d ripped off.

  But at least I’m a good runner.

  4. HIDE

  Fay kept seeing the knife and the blood. She’d been running for ages, half expecting a helicopter overhead or squad cars to come and scoop her up. But she’d made it a couple of kilometres out of the town centre, to an area dominated by shabby low-rise housing.

  Fay ducked between a side wall and an overgrown hedge. Her trainers squelched over frosty bin bags until she settled on a short row of steps leading to a boarded-up front door.

  She checked her Samsung for messages, and there was nothing since the text from Aunt Kirsten: Turn your phone off. Cops might use it to track you.

  She’d left the phone on, hoping for more information, but now she held the power off button until the screen went black. There was a lot to think about. How had they been set up? Had Kirsten got away? Was the cop dead? Where to go now?

  Fay realised there was no point losing her head thinking about the big picture. Right now she had to focus on getting as much distance as possible between herself and the scene of the crime. She started forming a plan, which began by taking a tissue out of her jacket, moistening it on a frosty handrail and using it to wipe her bloody knife.

  After dumping the s
tained tissue and shaking off frozen fingers, she pulled a Velcro wallet from the back of her jeans. She had twenty-five pounds, plus a cash card which the police would trace in seconds if she dared to use it.

  Fay reckoned the best strategy would be to go back to her home turf in north London. The police might know about the apartment in St John’s Wood, but Kirsten had a flat and a couple of lock-ups in less salubrious neighbourhoods and it was also where Kirsten would head if she’d got away.

  The problem was, the police would have CCTV from the hotel showing what Fay looked like and what she was wearing, and they’d doubtless have people on lookout at the train stations. If it had been summer Fay would have considered spending a night or two in the boarded-up house until the pressure died down, but it was December and she’d freeze.

  Fay decided she needed to get a change of clothes, more money and if possible a smartphone. Her first thought was to mug someone, but she’d only get clothes by ripping them off a victim so she decided to go for a burglary.

  The area looked rough, but you can learn a lot about a house from the exterior. Net curtains and neat front gardens mean old people, who’ll probably be at home and won’t have the right kind of clothes or a smartphone. A people carrier in the drive means a family with kids and barred windows mean they’ve been burgled before.

  Fay had almost lost hope when she found a house with old-fashioned sash windows and recycling bins stuffed with takeout pizza boxes and cheap supermarket-brand beer cans. It had to be students.

  Fay peeked through the letterbox and saw bikes in the hallway. Then she crept around the side to a large window, which gave her a vista over a filthy kitchen with a week’s worth of washing-up in the sink.

  She gave the back door a tug, just in case it had been left open. Unfortunately it wasn’t that easy, but the small window alongside was big enough to get through. After a furtive glance, she took a step backwards and gave the window a kick before ducking down.

  When she was sure that nobody inside had heard, Fay put her arm carefully between the shards of jagged glass and reached across to the inside handle of the back door. Glass crunched underfoot as she stepped into the kitchen. The warm air was a relief but there was a god-awful smell, like old curry mixed with rotting vegetables.