#1: Kid Thieves and The Rebranding

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
Fortune and circumstance bonded five boys and changed them into thieves and pranksters during the middle of their third school year; now, with their fourth year beginning, they plan to build themselves into a schoolwide brand. They've made many changes, but it's not going to be easy...

(WARNING: Some mature language)

Submitted: October 08, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 08, 2016



#1: Kid Thieves and the Rebranding


MONDAY SEPTEMBER 1, 2014 - 07:30 A.M.
When the car pulled up outside Thomas Robertson's house, the passengers weren't aware of it. In fact, Jake Sheriff, Paul Johnson and Uzochi Kulian were all asleep in the back seat. Jake was drooling on the window and Chi's head had lolled onto Paul's shoulder. Their driver, Jermaine, who had been warned of their needing a lift so early in the morning at only ten P.M. the previous night, had not hesitated to make arrangements in case this exact scenario came to pass.
Jermaine reached into the glove compartment and retrieved a large red foghorn. The ear-splitting blast resonated throughout the tiny car, causing the three boys to jump awake; Jake, tall as he was, bumped his brown mushroom-hair on the roof and lost his glasses.
Jake and Chi groaned in drowsy pain, but Paul stared at his older brother in disbelief.
'What in the hell do you think you are doing?' he screeched madly.
'Wake up, kiddies,' Jermaine said, eyes twinkling. 'We're here.'
Jake, fixing his glasses back onto his nose, wiped away the line of drool and looked out of the window. Jermaine was parked in a lay-by fifty yards from the large Robertson house, which was surrounded impressively by its high walls and an electric gate that cut it off from the main street. Outside, the trees were being ravaged by a nippy morning gale, a stark contrast to Jermaine's battered Citroën, wherein the cosy air-con encouraged the boys' sleepiness.
'Great,' Paul grumbled, 'but perhaps next time a simple nudge of the leg would suffice?'
'No fun in that, little bro,' Jermaine laughed.
He and Paul were the spit of each other in all ways but one: while Paul (though admittedly five years younger than Jermaine) was tiny, his older brother was tall enough that, like Jake, his head scraped the car roof. In everything else, their appearances mirrored: shocks of flaming red hair gelled into small, curved spikes; freckles around their eyes and long noses; blue eyes; and protruding ears.
In comparison, their companions were total opposites: Jake was giant for his age with a broad physique that he had not trained to improve, while Chi was black, with short brown hair, eyes set further apart than was natural and muscles bulging under his school uniform.
'Must we go?' Chi said unhappily.
The warmth of Jermaine's car cocooned them like a comforting hug, and they were not ready to leave its embrace.
'I'd let you stay, but some of us work for a living,' Jermaine twinkled.
'We're fourteen,' Paul moaned.
'And we work,' Jake replied defensively.
Jermaine grinned.
'What you do is not work,' he emphasised, 'but I'll be lying if I said I hadn't picked up a few things. Like extortion. For example: this ride will cost you a tenner.'
He stretched his hand towards Paul.
'You didn't mention payment last night,' Paul argued.
'Call it a late fee,' Jermaine said.
Paul cast a dark look at Thomas's house - inside was the boy whose fault it was that they were making this crack-of-dawn visit - and folded his arms crossly.
'You'll get it, Jermaine,' Jake said diplomatically.
His voice was alive: now that he was awake, he was wide awake. Contrastingly, Paul and Chi's tones were loaded with fatigue and they were still yawning and pandiculating beside him.
'Bro, you're a total con merchant,' Paul grumbled, relaxing and closing his eyes.
'You lot aren't any better,' Jermaine said. 'Now come on,' he added, slapping Paul's leg repeatedly, 'hop it. Dylan hates when I'm late.'
Jermaine worked as a mechanic for the father of an old friend. His working day began in a half hour and it was a ten minute drive through the country roads to get there; if he wanted to stop for breakfast, he needed to boot the boys out now.
They didn't go quietly, however, and their groans were heightened when Jake pushed open the door and the chilly morning gust blew vindictively into the car; fearing he would be quickly frozen, Jermaine ushered them urgently out. Chi slammed the door behind him and Jermaine whizzed down the road, U-turned and sped off out of the village.
'Holy shit, it's cold!' Paul gasped.
Jake, his teeth chattering and arms wrapped tightly around his body, led them up to the gates and pressed the buzzer with a shivering finger. A soft voice spoke to them through an intercom: 'Who is it?'
'Friends of T-Thomas, Miss G,' Jake replied.
Miss Glenda Reece, known as "Miss G", was the Robertsons' live-in maid. With a patient chuckle, she buzzed the gate open and the three boys wandered up to the door.  
Miss G, a fair lady of sixty who fussed over them as if they were her own children, opened it before Jake could knock and beamed at them. They darted past her and sighed with relief at the heat that filled the foyer.
'Good morning, you sunshine rays,' Miss G said ecstatically.
'Morning,' Jake said. 'Is Thomas around?'
'I'm here, Glenda,' Thomas called.
Thomas, a medium-height boy with short sandy hair, an awkward face, lopsided glasses and a body no wider than a lamppost, was stood on the landing at the top of a circular staircase. Beside him another boy, barely taller than Paul with curly, long blonde hair and a mysterious aura to his gentle movements, waved.
'Ritchie,' Jake said.
Richard Jekyll greeted them warmly, though with a Bible quote that made Chi grunt disapprovingly.
Miss G tried to convince them all to enjoy six different types of breakfast cereal until Thomas, sensing his friends were struggling to get out from under her endearingly bullish pursuit, ordered her away somewhat smarmily and beckoned them upstairs. They filed out onto a cream-carpeted landing, where an open archway led onto a long corridor, similarly decorated.
The room on the far left was Thomas's and he and Ritchie had already vanished inside it. The three visitors entered. Thomas was sat on the end of his double bed, which Chi headed straight for. He landed on it, splayed his limbs and snored gratefully; while Jake took the swivel chair by the desk in the left corner, Ritchie leaned on the wall next to him and Paul collapsed into the beanbag in the corner opposite. He kept stealing glances at the enormous terrarium beside the en suite door, which housed Thomas's pet spider; unfortunately for Paul, it was a Goliath bird-eater, the largest breed in the world and the size of an average dinner plate.
'Good morning,' Thomas smiled.
'What d'you want, T-Cup?' Chi mumbled.
'Your blundering feet off my bed, thank you very much,' Thomas said, slapping his foot off the quilt.
'Anything else?' Jake asked.
'Any reason as to why we're here an hour before school starts?' Paul sighed.
'Of course,' Thomas said.
Sporting a huge, self-proud smile, he reached into his bedside table drawer and produced ten stacks of purple paper bound by thick elastic bands. He checked them over and went round everybody, handing them two wads each. Thomas, seeing Chi had returned his shoes to the pristinely cleaned quilt, threw Chi's wads directly onto his stomach. The African recoiled and sat up, glowering poisonously.
'The leaflets?' Jake asked happily.
'Wenceslaus finally returned my texts,' Thomas explained. 'I picked them up last night. Do you like them?'
'Like them?' Jake exclaimed. 'I love them!'
The paper was glossy, the colour perfect and the text edited brilliantly around their grouped silhouettes in the centre. It was more like a magazine cover in style than a leaflet.
'Why does it specifically say my name on it?' Paul asked.
'Yeah, it says mine on this,' Chi said.
Jake wondered if his was identical, and read the main text.

The Kid Thieves' intention is to operate as secret lawmasters of the playground. Any person out of line in his actions towards you or a friend can be the person to whom we dish justice severely, and I, Jake Sheriff, promise to never discriminate, but enact revenge on your behalf and enjoy myself in doing so.

'Why the name drop, T?' Jake asked.
'Our idea was to rebrand ourselves as the "Kid Thieves",' Thomas explained, 'and so we must sell that idea to the school. Therefore, we have two hundred leaflets each with our individual names on: a personal touch to establish the connection between us and our clients.'
'Spoken like a true businessman,' Paul said.
'And a judge's son,' Chi added.
'You OK, Ritch?' Jake asked. 'You've not said a word.'
'Of course,' he said, choked.
'Is this about your reservations about our taking this to the next level?' Thomas enquired. 'We have spoken about this many times, and this venture is something that will be profitable in the long term.'
'Yes,' Ritchie agreed, 'but it is GCSE year -'
'Schoolwork won't fall by the wayside,' Jake assured him. 'We all want this, and we rely on you.'
'Do we?' Chi said.
Jake glared at him.
'Just give it a chance,' Jake said. 'We'll work out a balance.'
Ritchie bit his lip, but nodded. Jake patted Ritchie's arm supportively and gestured for Thomas to continue.
'So this is what we need to give out today,' Thomas explained. 'I will admit, we did not order enough for the whole school but three-quarters, so I have devised a structure to ensure we hit our main targets and do not overlap.'
He passed them all sheets, on which the names of six form groups and their students were scrawled in messy handwriting. Chi groaned.
'You could have told us this at school,' he said tiredly.
'No, I could not have,' Thomas replied coolly. 'There is much more yet that I have prepared for this year.'
'All right,' Jake said excitedly. 'Bring it on.'

Thomas's ideas spanned much further than simply rebranding their undertaking: he had experimented with concoctions to create fouller-smelling stinkbombs, offered new suggestions as to how they might invite customers and even showed them something he named the "Priority Box": a small wooden box, the inside segmented by three partitions, in which the requests, ranked "high to low" priority, could be easily identified, separated and ordered. In all, Jake was feeling thoroughly pleased by Thomas's work, and when it came time to leave for school, everyone was much more awake.
But they were not in such high spirits for long. It was 8.25 A.M. when Brendan Robertson, Thomas's bespectacled, grey-haired father, pulled up in the school car park and they disembarked. Thomas was famous for an ingrained hatred of his parents and, while Jake, Paul, Chi and Ritchie offered their sincerest thanks for the lift, Thomas didn't say a word to him. When his dad was gone, he refused to talk about it, and the sudden awkwardness dampened their moods.
The playground was busy with only five minutes before school began. The Kid Thieves felt that, after last year, they were universally recognised, but their reception was muted. Nobody approached them with work and they didn't catch the eye of any other Year 10s to whom they were close until they climbed the Maths building and entered the red-carpeted foyer outside their form room. There, they partially split: Jake ran directly to two very overweight twins whose flops of brown hair, whilst genuinely their own, appeared like toupées; Thomas and Ritchie took positions in the middle beside a couple of beautiful blonde girls, Mia Blaine and an Australian, Shelby Ponting (who was hand-in-hand with her boyfriend); and Paul and Chi leapt enthusiastically into the arms of Didier Omomogbe and Max Corner, fellow troublemakers-in-chief.
Thomas, still preoccupied with having ignored his dad, had become distant, and Mia and Shelby's welcome transformed to comfort; Paul and Chi had already forgotten and were engaged in a thumb war competition. The Baldwin twins had only returned last night from a week in Turkey, and Jake was in the middle of a lengthy anecdote about their trip to an ancient amphitheatre when the bell finally rang. Two minutes later, a short, stout woman with a bob of grey-brown hair and bat-sized glasses appeared, holding a large gold key.
'Morning, class!' squeaked Mrs Guyett.
Evelyn Guyett, a woman almost seventy years old with a voice so nasally that she sounded as if her voicebox was constantly crunching tin cans, and who dressed in clothes that went out of fashion fifty years ago, had been their form tutor since Year 7. She was not a strict teacher - nor was she unfair or rude - but there was something about her manner which made her students dislike her.
'Morning, Mrs Guyett,' they droned.
'Anyway,' Terry Baldwin said boomingly, as Mrs Guyett unlocked the red classroom door and they spilled in, 'you shoulda seen the look on Ise's face when he thought I'd chucked his camera off the plain.'
Jake chortled.
'It's 2014, Isaac,' he said. 'Who uses disposable cameras anyway?'
'Photobooks are a dying art,' Isaac said sadly.
'You're a dinosaur, Ise,' Terry clapped his brother on the shoulder light-heartedly as they took their seats.
'Anyway, great photos,' Isaac said. 'The theatre was the best part by miles; you know it seats up to five thousand?'
'Really?' Jake said.
He picked out his usual seat: by the window in the second row fronting Mrs Guyett's desk. He was joined by Paul, while behind them in the back row sat Ritchie and Thomas; the twins occupied the table in front of Mrs Guyett, and Chi and Otto Shackle, Shelby's boyfriend, sat across from Jake and Paul.
'OK, good morning!' Mrs Guyett repeated. 'Welcome to Year Ten!'
For the thirty minutes allotted for morning registration, Mrs Guyett erupted into a speech about the importance of focus and enterprise in their GCSEs in the coming two years, and warned of the increase in subject difficulty. As was traditional for the first day of a new school year, when the bell rang at nine A.M. to indicate first period, the students remained seated to receive their new timetables. Mrs Guyett selected two students' names from a hat: one to hand out timetable sheets (Veronica Callaghan) and the other pieces of purple card on which to copy it down (Mia).
Jake received his timetable almost immediately, greeting Veronica with a friendly hello, and glanced over the two-week schedule.
'Triple Drama on Monday B Week?' he gasped. 'Maths last lesson both Fridays? And ... I don't believe this: extra Citizenship lessons?'
'That is because you do PE at GCSE,' Thomas explained knowingly. 'Schools have to incorporate two hours of PE into our schedules, but since you do a PE GCSE there is little need for you to attend them. Instead, you spend those lessons doing extra Citizenship. I believe that will include Chi and ... you two?'
Thomas nodded to the twins, who nodded back.
'Yep, extra Citizenship,' Terry said glumly.
'Which periods are the extra ones?' Chi asked.
'Last lesson, Wednesday A Week and third on Thursday B Week,' Jake said.
'Balls, we could have had a free that Wednesday and gone home early,' Chi said wistfully.
As Paul and Ritchie began teasing Chi about his missed opportunity, Jake examined his schedule for the day. He checked that Mrs Guyett was over in the opposite corner talking to Max and Didier before remarking: 'At least we missed Maths this morning! But I've got Drama, double Journalism and then English Lit. Damn, it's with Mr Walker. Ah well. Other than that, not a bad day.'
The lesson continued. Mrs Guyett stopped at every student, speaking with them about their needs for the year and how she might best support them. Most brushed her off, though the sensible and academic ones (such as Thomas, Ritchie, Isaac and a number of the girls) didn't.
Whilst Jake copied his timetable onto the purple card, noting more unpleasant coincidences in his scheduling, Terry moved on from the Termessos amphitheatre to a boat trip from Fethiye Harbour and a prank he had played on his father at the mud bath.
When Mrs Guyett was called out of the room to help a new teacher across the foyer, Chi turned round in his seat and threw a pen at Thomas. It hit him in the cheek. Thomas didn't react.
'Oi, T-Cup,' Chi said.
'Uzochi?' Thomas said exasperatedly, not raising his head from his timetable card.
'Bet you Otto can have his glass eye out for fifteen minutes without Mrs Guyett noticing,' he grinned.
'Oooh, good bet,' Paul said.
'I'm not taking my damn eye out!' Otto snapped.
Otto was generally untroubled by the subject of his glass eye; this morning, however, he was particularly tetchy about it, and Jake shot Chi a warning look.
'OK, then,' Chi sighed. 'I'll bet you ...' He searched for an idea '... I can get rid of more leaflets than you by the end of the week!'
'Better bet,' Paul said excitedly.
Jake and the twins swivelled round to see Thomas's reaction, though it was a foregone conclusion. Offering a bet to Thomas was like offering a flame to a moth: acceptance was the only outcome.
'You taking that on?' Terry asked.
'Absolutely,' Thomas said confidently. 'Chi, shall we say ... twenty pounds?'
'You're going down, T-Cup,' Chi said emphatically.
He turned back to the front of the classroom and rubbed his hands gleefully. Thomas returned to his work with a menacing smile. Jake tapped Paul arm.
'Fiver on T,' he whispered.
'Just a fiver?' Paul said. 'Chi's got no chance. Twenty.'
Ritchie remained quiet. A committed but pick-and-choose Christian he was opposed to many things, and gambling was one. He had been brought up to see it only for the horrors of addiction rather than a hobby, but knew better than to chastise them. And besides, if he ignored the gambling aspect, it would be interesting to see if Chi could mount an unlikely victory.
Second lesson was Drama, a subject which of the five thieves only Thomas did not take. So while he pored over a Psychology textbook, Jake, Paul, Chi and Ritchie were introduced to the GCSE format, then split into groups of two and instructed to create a two-minute play about a father and son talking of a huge secret. Little prep went into the script, for while Jake partnered Ritchie and Paul and Chi paired up, they instead speculated on who would win the bet. Chi was predictably adamant he would thrash Thomas. After the performance, which produced some hilarious results, they were rewarded with the bell for break.
Ritchie, Paul and Chi vanished instantly to dish out their leaflets. Jake hunted down the twins and found them in the English block toilets. When they exited he was treated to an abridged round-up of the Turkey trip from the second brother, Isaac's stories often contradicting the glamorous anecdotes Terry had detailed earlier.
They wandered into the middle of the playground and Jake approached a small gaggle of Year Eight girls. He stopped, had a quick chat with them and pressed a leaflet into each of their hands. Terry and Isaac waited patiently, passing out a couple on Jake's behalf. When he returned, their subject changed to football.
'Louis van Gaal in charge,' Jake said happily. 'You're going down.'
'Liverpool are gonna smash you,' Terry muttered. 'Typical United fans.'
'You'll never walk alone,' Jake taunted. 'There's ten other losers beside you.'
'Great one,' Terry sighed.
'Come on, Tel,' Isaac laughed. 'Better think of a comeback quick.'
But Jake had moved on.
'Have you seen Bill?' he asked.
'Porty?' Terry asked. 'Library, why?'
'Hi, there,' Jake said, spotting two girls he recognised and passing them leaflets. He turned back to the twins. 'Feel like I should have a word with him. It being new school year and all that.'
Bill Portman was a friend of the Kid Thieves, but he was also much more than that. Towards the end of Year Nine, when business finally began to take off, the Kid Thieves offered him a job: volunteer at lunchtimes in the library in return for free work and immunity from others' requests. Bill had haggled to get a fiver per week on top, but for a quarter of a year now he had worked in the library as a "station". Bill had been their first, but now the Kid Thieves had many across the school and their uses were tenfold: not only did they now have hundreds of previously inaccessible areas to hide themselves, equipment and money, but the established network made it much more difficult for teachers or pissed-off students to wreak revenge.
It being the first day of a new school year, and the first whole year for the stations under their employ, Jake wanted to do the rounds by week's end and ensure everything continued as smoothly as before.
A couple of Year Elevens were walking in their direction, and both nodded respectfully to Jake. He recognised them as Derek Jameson and Niall Rhodes and recalled he had done good work for them last term. They would be receptive to the new Kid Thieves brand. He handed them a leaflet each.
'Never mind Chi beating T-Cup, you'll outstrip both of them at this rate,' Terry said.
'Speaking of Thomas,' Isaac said, 'isn't that him there?'
Jake strained his head to peer around a small row of shrubbery that hid a slight dais outside the longest block of classrooms. Sure enough, Thomas was sat on the bench, appearing particularly focused. Jake saw cards in his hand and looked at Thomas's two opponents. He presumed (because he could only see them from the back) they were Julian Passmore and Josh Puce. Thomas was not very close with either of them, so Jake was intrigued as to why they were playing cards together.
Thomas was an exceptionally good card player and knew virtually every game going. On most days he was unbeatable, but on the days when he wasn't he was a subtle cheat. He never played for free either: it was for money or a favour. What he might have offered Julian and Josh to get a game with them Jake did not want to imagine.
'Those poor guys,' Jake grinned.
Ignoring the card game, Jake and the twins scurried into the building, stopping again when Jake recognised two more groups to whom he could pass leaflets. They continued then along a short corridor to the right, where light brown double doors led into the hugely open library space.
The librarian's desk, and her office behind it, was situated directly to the right. That and a small wooden barrier on their left made entry without passing through the metal detectors impossible. On the far right hand side of the library were close to thirty-five computers, which were positioned across the wall in an upside-down L-shape; to the left were shelves upon shelves of study books, a number of circular, eight-person tables and two groups of comfy settees.
Jake saw that Alicia Dominic was with a few of her giggling friends on one of those settees and made a mental note to detour towards her after he had found Bill. It was breaktime and not lunch, so Jake did not exactly expect Bill to be there; it was therefore a pleasant surprise to spot him lining the furthest row of shelves with new Maths walkthroughs.
Fist-bumping with the twins as a way of departing, Jake wandered to Bill. He looked over his shoulder at the settees and was caught staring by the beautiful Chinese girl, Li-Mei, who immediately tapped Alicia on the arm and informed her Jake was looking. He caught Alicia's eye, saw her long black hair was today curled in a cute ponytail, and smiled. Alicia smiled back.
Jake held his pained privates, wincing. In staring at Alicia, he had forgotten to look forward and walked his genitals directly into the corner of a sharp-backed red plastic chair. Laughs erupted from the girls, but Jake brushed it off with a grin and a middle finger.
Bill looked over when he heard the carpet near him fluff under Jake's foot.
'Morning, Jake,' he said.
Bill Portman was medium-height, with short, sandy-grey hair and an oddly unblemished face. His uniform was a little askew, but he presented himself naturally smart.
'How's it going, Bill?' Jake said.
'Thought you would have wanted me to get stuck in again,' Bill said quietly, lifting a small book called Surds or Absurds? onto the shelf.
'I was asking about you,' Jake laughed.
'Oh,' Bill said. 'Yeah. I'm good. Staying with my sister in Grange Park ATM. Which is not nice.'
'How come?'
'Dad and Mum are in America for three weeks,' Bill explained. 'So Christina gets me in her spare room and you know how she's nineteen and has a boyfriend ...'
'Ahhh. Unlucky for you,' Jake commented. 'So ... how are things here, then?'
Bill reached into the box of books at his feet and passed a few to Jake.
'While you're here, you can help,' he winked.
The ten books or so were not alphabetised yet, so Jake had to do that while he spoke to Bill.
'They're good,' Bill said, as Jake slipped Fractions: A Comprehensive Guide into the F section. 'Mrs Clohessy was well pleased I was back. She's got a new young assistant, Nina - gorgeous, huge rack. Doing a year of work in a school before she goes to uni, so I've been helping her today.'
'Problem?' Jake asked warily.
'Maybe, but not yet,' Bill said. 'But if she is, I'll just have to bed her as a distraction.'
'Didn't you say she was going to uni next year?'
'So you think she's gonna go for underage sex with you? No chance,' Jake laughed.
'Don't need one,' Bill answered. 'Just looking at her rack is enough.'
Jake laughed, but as he and Bill continued to organise the books he delved into his bag and laid his two wads of purple leaflets on the empty shelf below. Intrigued, Bill picked one up and examined it.
'This must have cost a bomb,' he said.
'T got a thousand for about eighty quid,' Jake said. 'But what we really need is some help distributing them. I have two hundred there: if I give you fifty and ask you to pass them on to anybody from Miss Winter or Mr Afford's classes?'
'Those are new Year Seven forms,' Bill said uncertainly. 'I don't know who those kids are.'
'Your fancy library records will tell you,' Jake said. 'Tenner in it for you?'
Bill bit his lip, but eventually agreed.
'Great, thanks,' Jake said. 'I'll leave these here for a sec and I'll be right back.'
'Where you going?' Bill called after him, but then saw who was sat on the settee. 'Ah. Alicia.'
Jake Sheriff and Alicia Dominic had known each other since they were in nappies. Even, in fact, before then. Their birthdays were one day apart and Jake, the older, whose mother had been held in the recovery ward due to pregnancy complications, had been in the same maternity ward as Alicia after her birth the very next day. They had even, at one point, been in adjacent cribs.
Growing up living in the same village, their families remained close friends, and so Jake and Alicia rarely spent time with anyone else until playgroup and beyond, but remained the best of friends even now they had others in their lives. Yet both of them knew their relationship had long since moved from friendship to mutual attraction, only neither wanted to put the question to the other. Instead, they skirted around their feelings, ignoring the advice from mates to get together.
Jake hadn't seen Alicia for two weeks: she, like the twins, had been on holiday. Lanzarote, it transpired, was a great destination, but she was more interested in listening to Terry recount his numerous pranks in Turkey. That was, until Jake arrived.
So strong was their bond, and perhaps also their need for each other, that one could be deep in conversation about something as important as a cure for cancer and if the other entered the room that conversation would die immediately. When Jake wandered over, Alicia's eyes lit up.
'Hey, Jake!' Alicia beamed.
'Ally,' he smiled with fondness.
She stood up and Jake pulled her into a tight hug that lasted longer than the hug he would generally give to a friend.
'You're tanned,' Jake commented.
'High twenties the whole two weeks,' Alicia said sweetly, 'and not a drop of rain. And you know I tan well.'
Jake nodded: he did know she tanned well.
'I got you something.'
'You did?' Jake said, feigning surprise.
It was not that he expected Alicia to get him anything, but it was so automatic for both of them that it would have felt odd if she hadn't. From inside her schoolbag, she retrieved a shot glass with the Spain flag on it.
Jake examined it.
'One for me, one for you,' she said. 'For parties now and later.'
'It's beautiful,' Jake said, pulling her into another hug. 'And so was the slogan.'
Alicia laughed.
'And I have loads of pics, too,' she said excitedly. 'There's some at the Santa Barbara Castle, and the spa in town, and Dad took loads of me windsurfing!'
Alicia began to scroll through her phone, and Jake felt, amid the pride, a pang of jealousy. He would have loved to have been there with her.
Seeing those photos, an idea formed on what to get her for her birthday. But he needed the pictures and she hadn't posted them on Facebook yet. If she had, he would have seen them in his newsfeed. And he would need to talk to Isaac privately ...
The bell rang at that moment, and Alicia, whose next lesson was double Journalism with Jake, tapped him on the side and moaned at having to go to class. Jake laughed, winked a goodbye to the twins and, having become so immersed in hearing about Alicia's holiday, left his leaflets on the shelf that Bill was no longer attending to.
Journalism was somewhat of a novelty subject: only thirteen students, including Jake and Alicia, had chosen it as one of their GCSEs. It was taught by a middle-aged man named Mr Bixbury, who specialised in unpopular subjects: at GCSE and A-Level he taught both Journalism and Film Studies.
Alicia and Jake entered the classroom and without questioning took seats in the middle row next to each other. They were just settled when Alicia asked to sit on the left rather than right side, and Jake duly swapped.
Mr Bixbury took a register of the class and then handed out the textbooks, instructing them not to open them yet.
'Welcome, Year Ten, to Journalism,' he said in a deep voice. 'Are we all looking forward to the course?'
A chorus of mildly enthusiastic yeahs came from the settled students. Mr Bixbury looked disappointed.
'OK, well I know it may not be a passion to all,' he said. 'Some use this course as a stepping stone to reach other heights, while some use it to improve their writing and reporting skills for everyday use. If you do not mind me revealing, Miss Dominic, I remember our conversation before summer when you selected this course, and you explained you wished to follow in your father's footsteps and be a police officer, and you wanted a Journalism GCSE to help your reporting skills.'
Alicia looked as if she very much minded Mr Bixbury telling everybody this: defensively - and instinctively - Jake joined in her disapproval.
'Maybe if everybody reveals why they wanted to study Journalism ...?'
It was one of those questions schoolkids hated, but Mr Bixbury obviously felt it was necessary to assauge Alicia's anger at his divulging her dreams. Ten minutes passed in which the other twelve kids invented reasons for wanting to study Journalism (though Mike Salisbury made no effort at all and simply admitted there had been nothing better in the options column), and then Mr Bixbury explained the course units.
'There are three,' he said. 'Unit 1: The Journalism Industry and Skills for Journalism; Unit 2: Communication and Print; and Unit 3: Broadcast Media and Communications ...'
He drifted off into short descriptions of the specifications for each unit, before handing out exercise books and requesting they all copied down what he had said in their own words. This, Mr Bixbury said, would give him a better understanding of how much they understood of what he had explained.
In reality, it provided the class time to talk.
'So ...' Alicia said, 'you've heard how my holiday was. What about yours?'
'There's little to report,' Jake answered.
'Well, if your life's a report, you'll do well here,' she joked. 'How's your dad?' Alicia added sympathetically.
Jake shrugged. 'Drunk.'
He didn't like talking about his dad, but to Alicia he didn't need to. She had been there for him through everything, including the events that led to Nick Sheriff's accident and his drinking ... she already knew the answer.
'I wish my dad would get drunk,' she said. 'But he's straighter than a ruler: "a good policeman does not tarnish the badge!" Honestly, he's like a TV cop. I want to be top cop by day and vomiting in the streets by night when I'm in his position!'
'What, forty with a daughter?' Jake winked.
Alicia slapped his arm.
'Idiot,' she chortled.
Jake had written down the unit titles with plenty of space between them, but was now struggling to recall any of Mr Bixbury's explanations. While he toiled to remember, he brought up the boys' new ventures.
'T came up with this Priority Box,' Jake said enthusiastically. 'So we can organise our requests better. Rank them and order them, and day by day the priority increases so eventually the low priority ones will reach urgent level and we execute them all.'
'Clever boy, Thomas,' Alicia said. 'You must have been busy over the holidays to do that.'
'And that's not all,' Jake said. 'Have you seen our new leaflets?'
Of course Alicia hadn't, but he wanted her to ask.
'What leaflets?' she obliged with confusion.
'Me, Thomas, Chi, Ritchie and Paul,' Jake said, lowering his voice. 'We are now the "Kid Thieves".'
Alicia whistled, impressed.
'Catchy name,' she said. 'You made leaflets?'
'Well, it was T's idea,' Jake admitted. 'A clever way of getting that message to the wider audience.'
'You even sound like a journalist,' Alicia teased.
'Ha ha,' Jake grinned. 'You should see them. Purple paper, glossy, great photo, really eye-catching. Should do the trick, methinks.'
'Get them out, I wanna see,' Alicia said.
'I'll show you at lunch.'
'Oh come on, Bixy ain't looking,' she whined. 'Come on, just open your bag.'
With a sigh, Jake reached down and slipped his fingers in the opening at the top of his bag. Alicia ducked down interestedly, but Jake's heart froze.
There were none in there.
He must have left them in the library. Where? With Bill, he realised. Well, hopefully Bill had had the sense to pick them up. But Jake couldn't focus not knowing. He was supposed to be describing the unit specification in his own words, but now even the unit titles meant nothing. The list of people he didn't want to see those leaflets festered in his mind, and Alicia's reassurances weren't working. Eventually, he could take it no longer.
'I have to go toilet, sir,' Jake said, raising his hand.
Mr Bixbury peered down at his exercise book.
'You've done nothing but write the unit titles,' he said indignantly. 'So you can go to the toilet, Jake, when you have described units one and two for me. And not a moment before. Am I clear?'
Jake fumed. Alicia had an idea.
'Here,' she said. 'Give me your hand.'
Jake did as she asked, and she dragged it across something under his side of the table which felt distinctly like a jutting nail. Jake gasped in pain. Blood trickled down his palm.
'How did you know that was there?' Jake whispered.
'Why do you think I wanted to switch seats?' Alicia winked.
'Sir!' Jake called. 'Sir, I think I've cut myself.'
He showed his hand to Mr Bixbury, who saw the bleeding wound and, though suspicious, sent him straight to the nurse's office. With a grateful wink to Alicia, Jake exited the classroom. He stuffed his hand in the pocket of his blue Blisworth Secondary School blazer to disguise the bleeding and walked in the opposite direction towards the library.
For the most part it was empty, the only occupants a class of twenty Year Sevens sat at the computers, an ICT teacher named Mrs Bakewell barking orders at them.
Mrs Clohessy, the librarian, was out the back in her office, so Jake hurried to the Maths book shelf unnoticed. He found nothing there: no purple leaflets and no sign that Bill had hidden them on his behalf. He spun round, trying to ignore the chattering of the Year 7s and the pounding, panicky voice in his head chastising him for his carelessness.
'Jacob Sheriff!'
He jumped.
Mrs Clohessy, a bat-like lady of seventy, was stood by him, hands on hips.
'What are you doing?'
'Er ... ahem,' Jake stuttered, clearing his throat. 'I was - I was looking for a Journalism textbook. I left mine at home and Mr Bixbury didn't have a spare ...'
Mrs Clohessy jerked her head to the right.
'JKLM, Mr Sheriff,' she said. 'Do you not remember the alphabet?'
Jake had no option but to wander to the shelf of Journalism books, find a copy of the textbook and sign it out. He knew that the librarian did not believe him, but if she had found the leaflets herself - or someone else had and deigned to hand them in - she would surely have already mentioned it. That was some comfort at least. Therefore, despite her suspicious gaze, Jake held his nerve, signed out the textbook and hurried to the nurse's office. He was shaking with fright.
'Youuuu utter dip!' Paul sighed.
'You mislaid fifty leaflets?' Ritchie asked incredulously.
'No, I asked Bill to distribute fifty, I left with him my whole pile,' Jake replied awkwardly.
'That's what you get for cheating!' Chi grinned.
Thomas looked away shiftily.
All five Kid Thieves were on the back field midway through lunch. Jake ordered an emergency meeting with enough urgency to worry them that it was an emergency, but now they were here they had made picnic blankets out of their blazers and were eating lunch out of plastic boxes. None of them were particularly concerned by the issue, and Thomas was more focused on winning his bet with Chi.
'I was talking to Bill,' Jake said, 'and I left them with him to speak to Alicia -'
'Ah!' Chi said. 'I see what's happened here! Emotions have overtaken his feeble resolve -'
'Pipe down, Chi,' Paul said, the fun now over for him.
'You pipe down,' Chi said unhelpfully. 'Arse.'
'Git,' Paul snapped.
'Everybody quiet,' Thomas said. 'We obviously need to locate them as quickly as we can, so we should be more earnest about this. Jake, have you spoken to Bill? He would not have left them there.'
'I can't find him,' Jake said. 'I've texted Bill but I think his phone's off ... I've got Terry and Otto looking for him ...'
He'd told them to text him when they found Bill, but he hadn't yet received one; still, nervous anticipation was driving him to check it every ten seconds. To try and occupy his hands, he massaged his bandaged palm lightly.
'If a teacher had them in their possession by now, we'd have heard about it,' Ritchie said calmly.
'But if somebody like Mike Hoops has them in their possession ...' Jake said pessimistically.
'That weasel,' Chi grunted.
Mike Hoops was a Year Eight boy who had, in the previous year, attempted to take revenge on them for a prank he did not appreciate. Despite all their efforts to ostracise him, he was a sporadic nuisance.
'Mike Hoops doesn't have them,' Ritchie said. 'I saw him in the canteen when Chi got his lunch and he didn't come after us threatening exposure - and we all know he certainly would have if he had something on us.'
'So where are they?' Jake said worriedly.
'Oh come on, it's obvious Bill has them!' Chi exclaimed. 'Just keep calling him until he picks up and ask him!'
'Chi, you are not helping,' Thomas said.
'What's the problem?' Chi said, standing up. 'There's nobody marching us off to juvie; just wait for Bill to show up! I'm going to play footie.'
The Kid Thieves were sat on the edge of a makeshift football pitch, on which two teams of six Year Tens were battling for bragging rights. Jake checked his phone again: nothing.
'Git!' Paul called after him.
'Arse!' Chi yelled, sliding in as Julian Passmore collected the ball and hacking him to the ground.
Paul shook his head. Thomas reached into his bag and pulled out a small bunch of leaflets. He reached for Chi's schoolbag, opened it up and slid them back into the bound wad he still possessed.
'What are you doing?' Jake said, the action momentarily distracting him.
'Refilling Chi's leaflets,' Thomas said casually.
'But we have two hundred each, and they have our individual names on,' Jake said. 'Putting yours in Chi's bag won't work to make you win the bet.'
'But they are not mine,' Thomas said with a cheeky grin. 'I arranged a card game with Julian and Josh at break. I made a bet: if I won, they would collect the leaflets Chi had handed out and return them to me.'
'Your greed knows no bounds,' Paul said.
Jake forced a laugh, picking at his bandage again. Suddenly, his mobile bleeped loudly. A picture of Bill Portman appeared in the caller ID. He answered it hurriedly.
'Bill, where are you?' Jake cried.
'I'm in the canteen with Kieron and Aidan,' Bill answered. 'I had my phone on mute. What's with the search party?'
In the background, Terry shouted, 'We found him, Jake!'
'Listen, Bill, those leaflets -'
'We haven't got a problem there,' Bill said calmly. 'Mrs Clohessy had an order from the Science Department for training guides this morning, but printed out more than was necessary. She put the surplus in a brown parcel envelope and stuck that in the out-tray. I couldn't take the leaflets out myself because you know how she likes to check my bag, so I switched them out for the training guides when she turned her back.'
'So all we have to do is get the brown envelope from the library out-tray?' Jake asked.
'In theory, but you'll never get to it,' Bill said. 'Authorised personnel only behind the desk. Just wait 'til Mrs Clohessy moves it from the out-tray to the recycling bin. She takes it to the main recycling dumpster round the back during formtime, and you'll be able to pick them up from there after school.'
'You expect me to wait and go dumpster-diving?' Jake cried.
'Jake, you don't need to worry,' Bill said. 'But if you are, what have you got last lesson?'
'English Lit,' Jake replied.
'Skip the start of Lit class and go when no one's looking,' Bill suggested.
Jake didn't respond, the idea not alluring to him.
'Honestly, Jake, Mrs Clohessy doesn't go trawling through what she, Nina and I put in the recycling bin, and no one else is going to even know I switched out the training guides. You lot aren't at any risk. I covered you. Now, I GTG back to my lunch. You good?'
Jake hung his head, relieved but still not reassured that everything was fine.
'Yeah, cheers, Bill.'
'In a bit.'
Bill hung up and Jake lowered his phone. He caught the stares from Paul, Thomas and Ritchie.
'So where are they?' Thomas asked. 'Does he have them?'
'Anybody fancy a walk to the library?' Jake queried.
It turned out nobody really fancied a walk to the library and Jake was in low spirits as he trudged back into the playground, slipped through the Geography block to take a shortcut and wandered, trying to act relaxed, through the library doors.
The eighteen-year-old Nina smiled at him as he passed. Jake tried to glance over at the out-tray in the very far corner, but it was level with Nina's bulging chest and (while he enjoyed the glimpse) he didn't want her to misconstrue his actual intentions. Therefore, he used his peripherals to spot the brown envelope buried in the middle, while pretending to read a red laminated sheet about library rules which was Blu-tacked to the desk.
Even as he looked, Nina, taking cues from Mrs Clohessy, tipped the out-tray into the recycling bin and knotted the bin liner.
But now he was in he couldn't just walk out again without seeming suspicious or still possibly pervy. Jake returned the Journalism textbook he had borrowed, promising a stern Mrs Clohessy that he would ensure he packed his next time.
Before heading back to the field, feeling only slightly calmer, he stopped to piss and, when he came out, Alicia and Li-Mei were giggling at their phones across the foyer. He was grateful for the good fortune: he knew that Alicia would make him feel better if only Li-Mei would leave them to it. Hoping she would catch on quickly and do so, Jake smiled at the girls and startled them as a greeting.
With little time until the bell rang for form, Li-Mei did not leave and Alicia was unable to cheer Jake as much as he hoped, but she fawned over the injury she had given him and they split ways with smiles on their faces. Jake didn't manage to talk about the missing (but discovered?) leaflets, and so it niggled in the back of his mind throughout form (in which Mrs Guyett, wanting to hear how a selection of her class coped with their first day back so far, pulled Jake, Max Corner, Rebecca Kemp and the Polish boy, Lukasz Jagoda, up to give a brief statement each).
After suffering laughs from the others about his poor speech, the bell rang again at twenty-past-two to signal the start of the final lesson of the day which, for everybody present, was English Literature.
Jake was in the top class with Thomas, Ritchie, Shelby, Mia, the twins and a few other girls, and they travelled in a pack down the Maths block stairs and towards the English block. The queue outside the eight tightly-arranged classrooms built up for a couple of minutes until the door was unlocked by the gruff, disliked Mr Walker and he began his introduction to GCSE work.
The upside of an English Lit class was that Alicia, with all of her brains, was in the same class; Jake - with her, Thomas and Isaac - occupied the second row from the front.
But even as Mr Walker ran through the unit specifications, Jake couldn't focus. Unlike Mr Bixbury, who had spent the whole lesson going over the course, Mr Walker allowed them just fifteen minutes, and by twenty-five-to-three, he was having Charis Lester pass out school copies of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sign of the Four, and assigned the class a page each to read aloud.
The heat of the room, the boredom, the ache in Jake's mind and the ache in his left hand from the nail all mounted up, and he found himself staring at a book whose words could have no discernible meaning. At the end of the lesson, he had written half of what Alicia had, a third of what Isaac had and a tenth of Thomas's notes total.
He was glad to get out of the stuffy room.
After telling the twins to go home without him, Jake met Thomas, Paul, Ritchie, Chi and Bill at the front gates. They pushed against the tide of fleeing schoolkids to get through the canteen and hid in the Science block toilets until all but the cleaners and a few teachers were left scurrying about the school premises.
'Chi, what are you doing?' Ritchie asked.
The African was bent over his phone, tapping it furiously.
'Smashing Paul at Worms,' Chi answered.
Jake ignored their banter, his ear pressed against the heavy toilet door. Once sure he heard no movement, he whistled to his friends and opened the door slowly. The foyer was quite empty.
Outside they hurried, ducking below the level of the gym windows where Mr Poom was packing away equipment, and beyond the P.E. Complex to the recycling dumpsters.
'Anybody coming in with me?' Jake asked hopefully.
Paul, Chi, Bill, Thomas and Ritchie all raised their camera phones expectantly.
'I see ...'
A hole forming in his stomach, Jake lifted the dumpster lid and pulled himself inside it, reawakening the stabbing pain in his injured hand in the process. He looked back at the others, whose phones were all clicking as a million photos were taken. He wanted to be annoyed at them, but this whole situation was his own fault and he knew he would have milked it if the shoe had been on the other foot.
Jake was now stood on a pile of bin bags all tied shut, and wriggled space so he could stand freely at the bottom of the dumpster. He grew more frustrated as five minutes turned to ten, and then fifteen, and still everybody else was guffawing at him.
After twenty minutes, Jake had opened every bag and found no trace of the brown envelope. When he reemerged, exhausted, he saw Thomas holding something in his hand: a thick wad of purple leaflets.
Thomas read with controlled amusement: '"... You or a friend can be the person to whom we dish justice severely, and I, Jake Sheriff, promise to never discriminate ..."'
Jake burned with anger.
'You had them the whole time?' he growled.
'Bill noticed your error, collected the leaflets and called me to the library as lunch began,' Thomas said coyly. 'I you ought to learn a lesson in taking care of a secret, since a mishap such as this could have exposed us all to serious recriminations.'
Jake was too pissed off to answer. Putting little pressure on his bandaged hand, he jumped out of the dumpster and stomped past them all.
'Don't expect that tenner, Bill,' he snapped.
A round of raucous laughter rose again at his stroppy departure, but once Jake was out of their sight he grinned privately.
It was good to be back.


© Copyright 2018 Sam Pinson. All rights reserved.

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