CHERUB: The killing (Part two)

Published by Hodder Children’s Books, October 2005












While Shak stepped behind Stein’s desk and dropped the Venetian blind, James surveyed the office. It contained nothing exciting: basic desk and chairs, two filing cabinets and a coat rack. Shak used the lockgun to undo the metal cabinets, then began sifting through the files. He was looking for any papers relating to George Stein’s personal life, especially anything to do with his campaigning for environmentalist groups.

            James sat at the desk and switched on Stein’s PC. While the computer booted up, he pulled a miniature JVC notebook from his backpack and ran a network lead between the two computers. Stein’s machine demanded a password, but James wasn’t flustered. He started up a suite of hacking tools on his computer and used it to run system diagnostics on Stein’s machine.

Once the software had gleaned basic information about Stein’s hard drive and operating system, James opened another module of the hacking software, which allowed him to view all of Stein’s files.

            ‘Candy from a baby,’ James smiled confidently.

            Now he could see the files, James clicked the Clone icon and the notebook began copying the entire contents of Stein’s PC on to its hard drive.

            ‘How much data’s he got?’ Shak asked, as he pulled out the second drawer of the cabinet.

            ‘Eight-point-two gigabytes. The progress bar says it’ll take six minutes to copy it all across.’

While the computers went about their business, James shifted some papers and stood on the desktop. He reached up and pulled out the metal reflector covering the ceiling mounted light fitting. The resulting cloud of dust tickled his nostrils as he studied the line of fluorescent tubes above his head.

            ‘Cut them off, Shak.’

            Shak leaned across and flipped the light switch. James reached into the fitting and pulled the starter plug from one of the fluorescent tubes before jumping down. He rummaged briefly inside his rucksack, emerging with an apparently identical plastic fitting. But whereas the starter unit James removed cost less than a pound, the replacement cost three thousand. It was a listening device, consisting of a pinhead-sized microphone, a transmitter and a chip that could store five hours of sound.

Light fittings are perfect for locating listening devices. First because they’re usually located in open space high above a room, where it’s easy to pick up sound. Second because the device can easily be wired up to source electricity from the mains.

            As James went up at full stretch to replace the grille, he heard the ripping noise he’d been dreading all morning. His trousers had cracked open around the crotch seam, revealing a garish set of boxers.

Shak couldn’t help smiling as he flipped the lights back on. ‘Nice shorts, J.’

            ‘Man, that feels good,’ James gasped. ‘I might be able to have children after all. What’s next?’

            ‘Keys,’ Shak reminded him.

            ‘Assuming he’s left them in here,’ James said, as he walked towards the jacket hanging up by the door.

            He fished a bunch of keys from Stein’s pocket, then grabbed a packet of wax tablets from his rucksack. Meanwhile, Shak had found some interesting documents in one of the filing cabinets and was copying the pages with a handheld scanner.

            The wax tablets separated into two biscuit sized pieces. James sandwiched each of Stein’s keys between a tablet, creating impressions that could be used to make duplicates. By the time James had worked his way through the whole bunch, the laptop had chimed, indicating that it had finished cloning.

James sat back in front of the laptop and used the hacking suite to install spyware on Stein’s machine. The spyware program would record every keystroke Stein typed and then transmit it covertly over the internet to the MI5 monitoring station at Caversham.

Shak had finished rummaging through the filing cabinets. He grabbed a small metal box out of his backpack. It was held together with bits of insulating tape and looked like the creation of a mad professor. In fact, it had been built specifically to capture and replicate the radio signal from the plipper that worked Stein’s car alarm.

Shak turned the device on by taping a wire to the top of an AA battery. He flipped a switch on the front of the box to the receive position and asked James to press the plipper on Stein’s car key. It took a couple of attempts before a green LED on the front of the gadget flickered, indicating that the signal had been successfully recorded.

‘Is that everything?’ James asked.

Shak nodded as he checked the time. ‘In the bag with six minutes to spare.’

James and Shak did a final check, making sure they’d picked up their equipment and repositioned everything exactly the way they’d found it. When the claxon sounded for the lesson change, the boys darted outside and began heading down to the ground floor. James was conscious of the growing split in his trousers, but none of the zombiefied Trinity pupils seemed to notice.

            At the main entrance of the school building the boys stepped outdoors and turned left, heading down a gentle ramp towards a recently built sports complex that had a teacher’s car park beneath it.

The boys caught a whiff of sweat as they passed the entrance to a changing area where a group of year ten boys were getting ready for PE. They headed down a corridor lined with historic photos of Trinity rugby teams. After reaching the door leading into the teachers’ car park, James did a full three-sixty check before they passed under the Staff Only sign and down a flight of bare concrete steps. Everything looked new, with scarcely a tyre mark on yellow lines dividing up the parking bays.

The boys quickly identified Stein’s silver hatchback. Shak pulled the metal box out of his blazer and flipped the switch across to transmit mode. James slotted a dealer’s key in the driver’s side door. This key was designed to open any car of this model, but it didn’t contain the embedded microchip necessary to silence the alarm.

            ‘Ready?’ James asked, waiting for Shak to nod. ‘Three, two, one - turn.’

There was a fleeting squeal from the alarm in the instant between James turning the key and Shak cancelling it with the gadget. James dived into the driver’s seat and reached across to pull up the little mushroom on the passenger door. By the time Shak climbed in, James had reclined his seat. He pulled the clear cover off the vanity light and unscrewed the tiny bulb and the silver plastic fitting in which it was mounted. Shak reached up and pushed in a specially constructed replacement that contained a listening device. Once it was clipped into place, James replaced the bulb and the outer cover.

Shak briefly rummaged inside the glove box, checking out the various receipts and scraps of paper for anything interesting. He laid a couple of bits out flat on the glove box lid and copied them with the handheld scanner. James searched over in the rear seats and in the driver’s door cubby, but all he found was a road atlas and a mass of crumpled paper cups.

‘Is that it?’ James asked, as he hit the recline lever, making his seat spring back up.

Shak nodded. ‘Now we just have to make it out of here without getting busted.’

James opened the car door, but as he stepped out, he noticed a reedy female outline emerging at the bottom of the staircase.

‘Damn,’ James whispered, as he quietly pulled up the car door.

Shak sneaked a glance at the beanpole woman as she lit up a cigarette and puffed as though her life depended on it. The boys had no option but to crouch down low in their seats until she went back upstairs.

They gave it a couple of minutes before following after her. The mission plan called for the boys to hide in a desolate area behind the sports centre for the remaining half-hour of the school day, when they’d be able to walk out of the front gates alongside the real pupils.

As they re-passed the changing rooms, James noticed that the PE teacher hadn’t locked the door when the kids had gone into the gym. Tantalisingly, more than a dozen pairs of the orange piped Trinity trousers were scattered about the room.

‘Keep an eye out,’ James said. ‘I’m gonna whip me some trousers.’

Shak wasn’t exactly happy about James taking an unnecessary risk, but realised that he wouldn’t have wanted to travel back to Campus with a giant crack in his trousers either.

James passed by the first few pairs. He was slightly above average size for thirteen, but these year ten kids were still bigger. James eventually found a pair that looked right. He ripped off his shoes and quickly slipped into them. Realising that there wasn’t time to transfer everything between the two pairs of trousers, he balled up the ripped pair and crammed them into his backpack on top of everything else.

James stepped out of the changing room and started walking back the way they’d come.

‘Wait,’ Shak said.

James turned back. ‘What’s up?’

‘Nothing. It’s just, while you were changing, I looked through the window and realised what’s on the other side of that door. Instead of walking out the front and all the way around the edge of the building, we can go out through there.’

James stepped across the corridor and peered through the frosted glass in the door. It clearly led directly to the back of the building.

James shrugged. ‘Why not?’

He pushed down on the handle and nudged the door open with his shoulder. As he did, a loud buzzing sound broke out from a plastic box above their heads. The boy’s exchanged a shocked look, as a burly PE teacher came steaming out of the gymnasium towards them.

‘What the hell are you two playing at?’

‘Run?’ James asked.

Shak didn’t answer, James just heard a squeal of shoe leather as his friend set off towards the entrance at full pelt.