CHERUB: The killing

Published by Hodder Children’s Books, October 2005

                     

What is CHERUB?

CHERUB is a branch of British Intelligence. Its agents are aged between 10 and 17 years. Cherubs are all orphans who have been taken out of care homes and trained to work undercover. They live on CHERUB Campus, a secret facility hidden in the English countryside.

 

What use are kids as intelligence agents?

Quite a lot. Nobody realises kids do undercover missions, which means they can get away with all kinds of stuff that adults can’t.

 

WHO ARE THEY?

About three hundred children live on CHERUB campus. JAMES ADAMS is our thirteen-year-old hero. He’s a well-respected CHERUB agent, with three successful missions under his belt. James’ ten-year-old sister, LAUREN ADAMS, is a less experienced CHERUB agent. KERRY CHANG is a Hong Kong born Karate champion and James’ girlfriend.

Amongst James’ closest friends on campus are BRUCE NORRIS, GABRIELLE O’BRIEN, SHAKEEL DAJANI and the twins CALLUM and CONNOR REILLY. His best friend, KYLE BLUEMAN, is fifteen.

 

CHERUB T-shirts

Cherubs are ranked according to the colour of the T-shirts they wear on campus. ORANGE is for visitors. RED is for kids who live on CHERUB campus but are too young to qualify as agents (the minimum age is ten). BLUE is for kids undergoing CHERUB’s tough 100 day basic training regime. A GREY T-shirt means you’re qualified for missions. NAVY – the T-shirt James wears - is a reward for outstanding performance on a single mission. If you do well, you’ll end your CHERUB career wearing a BLACK T-shirt, the ultimate recognition for outstanding achievement over a number of missions. When you retire, you get the WHITE T-shirt, which is also worn by staff.


 

AUGUST 2004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two thirteen-year-olds wore nylon shorts, sleeveless tops and flip-flops. Jane leaned against the concrete wall of the housing block where she lived, peeling away strands of hair stuck to her sweaty face. Hannah was sprawled over the paved steps a couple of metres in front of her.

            ‘I dunno,’ Jane huffed.

            The words were meaningless, but Hannah understood. It was the middle of summer holidays and the hottest day of the year so far. The two best friends were broke, irritated by the heat and weary of each other’s company.

            ‘Makes me sweat just looking at ‘em,’ Hannah said, staring at the pre-teen boys kicking a football around a tarmac pitch less than twenty metres away.

            ‘We used to run around like that,’ Jane said. ‘Not football. I mean, racing our bikes and stuff.’

            Hannah allowed herself to smile as her brain drifted into the past. ‘Barbie bike grand prix,’ she nodded, remembering herself on a little pink bike; the white spokes blurring as she juddered over the gaps between paving slabs. Jane’s nan always sat out in a deck chair keeping an eye on them.

            ‘You and me had to have everything the exact same,’ Jane nodded, as she curled her toes, making her sandal clap against her foot.

            The voyage down memory lane was rudely interrupted by a football. It skimmed Hannah’s hair and stung the wall behind her, missing Jane by centimetres.

            ‘Jeeeeeesus,’ Hannah gasped.

She dived forward, wrapping her body over the ball as it bobbled down the steps alongside her. A boy ran up to the bottom of the staircase. Nine-years-old, with a Chelsea shirt tied around his waist, he displayed a rack of skinny ribs every time he breathed out.

            ‘Give us,’ the kid panted, putting out his hands to catch.

            ‘You nearly whacked me in face,’ Jane yelled furiously. ‘You might at least say sorry.’

            ‘We didn’t mean it.’

            The other lads who’d been playing football were closing in, irritated by the break in play. Hannah appreciated that the kick was an accident and she’d been set to give the ball back until one of the kids gave her lip. He was the biggest lad there, ten-years-old with cropped red hair.

            ‘Come on you fat cow, gi’s our ball.’

Hannah barged between a couple of sweaty torsos and faced the redhead off, squeezing the football between her palms. ‘You wanna repeat that, Ginger?’

            Hannah was three years older than the kid she was facing off, with height and weight on her side. All Ginger could do was stare dumbly at his Nikes, while his mates waited for him to come out with something clever.

            ‘Cat got your tongue?’ Hannah glowered; enjoying the way Ginger was squirming.

            ‘I just want our ball,’ he said weakly.

            ‘Go fetch it then.’

Hannah let the ball drop and booted it before it hit the ground. It would have been OK in trainers, but as the ball soared towards the goal posts on the opposite side of the pitch, her sandal flew after it.

Ginger quickly backed up and picked the sandal out of the air. Enjoying his newfound power, he smirked as he held the sandal up to his nose and took a sniff.

            ‘Your feet stink, girl. Don’t you wash?’

            Hannah made a grab for her sandal as the young footballers jeered. Ginger ducked out of the way, before throwing the shoe underarm to one of his mates. Lumps of gravel dug into Hannah’s sole as she stepped unevenly towards her new tormentor. She felt like a total Wally for letting this gang of runts get one over on her.

            ‘Give us that shoe or I’m gonna batter you,’ she snarled.

            The shoe changed hands again, as Jane stepped into the fray to help her mate. ‘Give it back,’ she steamed.

            The angrier the girls got, the harder the boys laughed. They were spreading out, anticipating an extended game of piggy in the middle, when Jane noticed changing expressions on the young faces.

Hannah sensed something was wrong too. She turned sharply, catching a fast moving object out the corner of her eye a second before it smashed into the ground. It hit the staircase in the exact spot where she’d been sitting a minute earlier.

Hannah froze in shock as the metal banister crumpled. By the time her brain got up to speed, the terrified young footballers had abandoned her sandal and were shooting off in all directions. She found her eyes focused on the well worn tread of a boy’s trainer. His denim clad bum poked out of the crumpled metal and dust. The adrenalin hit hard as Hannah recognised the mangled body and screamed out.

‘Will… No, for god’s sake...’’

He looked dead, but this couldn’t be for real. She covered her face with her hands and screamed so hard she felt her tonsils dance in the back of her throat. She tried to tell herself it was all a dream. Stuff like this didn’t happen in real life. She’d wake up in a minute and everything would be back to normal…


 

1. UNIFORM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the past three years George Stein has worked as an economics teacher at the exclusive Trinity Boys’ Day school near Cambridge. Recently, information has come to light suggesting that Stein may have links with the environmental terrorist group Help Earth.

(Excerpt From CHERUB mission briefing for Callum Reilly and Shakeel ‘Shak’ Dajani.)

 

JUNE 2005

It was a fine day and this part of Cambridge had the whiff of serious money. The immaculate lawns were coiffured by professional gardeners and James drooled over the expensive lumps of German metal parked on the driveways. He was walking with Shakeel and both boys felt self-conscious in the summer uniform of Trinity school. It consisted of a white shirt, a tie, grey trousers with orange piping, an orange and grey blazer and matching felt cap.

            ‘I’m telling you,’ James moaned, ‘Even if you sat down and tried really hard, I don’t think you could come up with a way to make this uniform look any dumber.’

            ‘I dunno, James. Maybe we could have partridge feathers sticking out of the hats or something.’

‘And these trousers were meant for Callum’s skinny butt. They’re killing my balls.’

            Shak couldn’t help seeing the funny side of James’ discomfort. ‘You can’t blame Callum for pulling out of the mission at the last minute. It’s that stomach bug that’s going around campus.’

            James nodded. ‘I had it last week. I was barely off the bog for two whole days.’

            Shak looked at his watch for the millionth time. ‘We need to up the pace.’

            ‘What’s the big deal?’ James asked.

            ‘This isn’t some London comprehensive full up with scummy little Arsenal fans like you,’ Shak explained. ‘Trinity is one of the top fee paying schools in the country and the pupils aren’t allowed to wander around the corridors whenever it suits them. Our arrival’s got to coincide with the changeover between third and fourth periods, when there’s hundreds of other kids moving around.’

            James nodded. ‘Gotcha.’

            Shak looked at his watch for the millionth and first time as they cut into a cobbled alleyway that was barely wide enough for a single car.

‘Come on, James.’

            ‘I’m trying,’ James said. ‘But I’m seriously gonna rip the arse out of these trousers if I’m not careful.’

            Once they’d cut between two large houses, the alleyway opened out into a run down park with knee high grass and a set of tangled swings. To the boys’ left stood a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, behind which lay the grounds of Trinity Day. The main gates were carefully monitored during school hours, so this was their only way in.

Shak wandered through the long grass next to the fence, placing his shoe carefully to avoid turds and litter, as he searched for an entry point made by an MI5 operative the previous night. He found the flap cut in the wire behind the trunk of a large tree, allowing the boys to slide into the school grounds without being seen.

            Shak lifted it, doffed his cap and attempted a snooty accent to match his uniform. ‘After you James, my good man.’

            James fed his backpack and hat through the gap, before sliding under. He stood with his back against the tree and brushed dirt off his uniform, while Shak followed.

            ‘All set?’ James asked, as he slung his backpack over his shoulder. It weighed a ton and the equipment inside clattered around.

            ‘Cap,’ Shak reminded him.

            James let out a little gasp as he leaned forward and picked it out of the grass. A claxon sounded inside the school building a couple of hundred metres away, indicating a lesson change.

            ‘OK, lets shift,’ Shak said.

            The boys broke out from behind the tree and began jogging across a rugby pitch towards the school building. As they did, they noticed a groundskeeper striding purposefully towards them from the opposite end of the field.

            ‘You two,’ he bellowed.

Because James had been pulled on to the mission at the last minute to replace Callum, he’d only had time to skim through the mission briefing. He looked uneasily at Shak for guidance.

            ‘Don’t sweat it,’ Shak whispered. ‘I’ve got it covered.’

            The groundskeeper intercepted the boys near a set of rugby posts. He was a fit looking fellow with thinning grey hair, dressed in workman’s boots and a grubby overall.

            ‘Exactly what do you think you’re doing out here?’ he demanded pompously.

            ‘I was reading under the tree at lunchtime,’ Shak explained, pointing backwards with his thumb. ‘I left my cap behind.’

            ‘You know the rules of the school, don’t you?’          

            Shak and James both looked confused.

            ‘Don’t try playing the fool with me, you know as well as I do. If you’re not attending a lesson, a match, or an official practice, you do not set foot on the games pitches because it causes unnecessary wear and tear.’

            ‘Yes,’ Shak nodded. ‘Sorry, sir. I was in a hurry to get to my lesson, that’s all.’

            ‘Sorry,’ James added. ‘But it’s not like the pitches are muddy or anything. We’re not really tearing them up.’

            The groundskeeper took James’ comment as a threat to his authority. He swooped down and showered James with spit as he spoke. ‘I make the rules here, young man. You don’t decide when you can and can’t set foot on my pitches. Got that?’

            ‘Yes, sir,’ James said.                                            

            ‘What’s your name and house?’

            ‘Joseph Mail, King Henry House,’ James lied, recalling one of the few elements of his background story he’d managed to remember from the mission briefing.

            ‘Faisal Asmal, same house.’ Shak said.

            ‘Right,’ the groundskeeper said, bouncing smugly on the balls of his feet. ‘I’ll be reporting both of you to your housemaster and I expect your cheek will have earned you both a detention. Now, you’d better get yourselves to your next lesson.’

‘Why’d you answer back?’ Shak asked irritably, as the boys walked towards the back entrance of the school.

            ‘I know I shouldn’t have,’ James said, raising his palms defensively. ‘But he was so full of himself.’

            They passed through a set of double doors into the main school building, then up a short flight of steps and into the busy thoroughfare that ran the length of the ground floor. There was plenty of noise, but the Trinity boys walked purposefully and were expected to nod politely to the teachers standing in the doorways as they entered their classrooms.

            ‘What a bunch of geeks,’ James whispered. ‘I bet these dudes don’t even fart.’

            Shak explained the situation as they headed up the stairs to the second floor. ‘Every kid has to pass special exams and an interview to get into Trinity. There’s always a humongous waiting list so they can afford to boot out anyone who doesn’t tow the line.’

            ‘Bet I wouldn’t last long,’ James grinned.

            By the time they reached the second floor, most kids had found their way to lessons and the classroom doors had been pulled shut. Shak pulled a lockgun from the pocket of his blazer as they passed by a couple of classroom doors. He stopped at the door of an office with a nameplate on it: Dr George Stein BSc, PhD, Head of Economics and Politics.

Shak pushed the tip of the lockgun into the keyhole. James stood close by, blocking the view of a bunch of kids waiting outside a classroom fifteen metres away.

            The lock had a simple single lever mechanism, meaning Shak only had to give the lockgun a brief wiggle and pull on the trigger to open the door. The pair hurriedly stepped into the office and put the latch down so that nobody could burst in on them, even with a key.

             ‘Stein should be teaching two floors up,’ Shak said. ‘We’ve got until the next lesson change in thirty-six minutes, let’s get to work.’