ONE

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“You all right?” he asked.

Sammy stared down at the wet patches around her knees. “Yeah,” she said.

“You should be careful,” he said. “The playground is proper lumpy, you know. You new?”

“I joined at the start of the year. So… no, not really.”

“Yeah. Well, I haven’t seen you before, but whatever. Bye.” And he ran off.

They had maths and science together! She sat between him and the whiteboard. How could he not know her? Maybe he should spend more time paying attention and less time setting his mates’ books on fire with Bunsen burners. She didn’t care anyway. He was a moron.

She watched him go. Cars crawled along the street outside the gates, their windows fogged with warm breath, smiling faces drawn in the condensation. Perhaps she’d stand where she was one more minute. If she kept perfectly still with her legs spread and her arms out then she could minimise the amount of wet cloth in contact with her body. Miss Armatage had gone, so there was no one left to shoo her away, and if she waited long enough the rain would stop and her body temperature would dry her clothes enough to stop them chafing.

On the street the last car pulled away. The rain wasn’t going to let up and her clothes weren’t going to get any drier. She should start on the long walk home. She took a step towards the gates and stopped.

The old woman was there, barring the way. She wagged a finger disapprovingly and shook her head. Then she reached into a fold in her clothes and pulled out a leather wallet. She threw it to Sammy but it fell short, opening as it hit the floor and coming to rest in a puddle at her feet. Something in the wallet shimmered through the water. Sammy looked up again, but the woman had gone.

She reached down and picked up the wallet. Not a wallet, but a police badge with the name Peter Marshall CID underneath. The photo ID showed a middle-aged man with a tidy haircut, and tucked into the compartment behind was an envelope. Sammy took it out and was shocked to find her name on it. Her heart quickened and she checked over her shoulder. There was no one around, so she pulled the sodden note out, careful not to tear it. The message inside had been written in pen and had run, but was still clearly legible. It said, Meet me at the market.

If it had been the woman’s intention to snatch her she could’ve done it then, there’d been no one else around. But she hadn’t. She’d kept a reasonable distance and had invited Sammy to the market, somewhere that was always busy. Which meant she didn’t want to harm her. But then again, she’d taken out two policemen, and that meant she was a force to be reckoned with. Whatever the old lady was up to, Sammy knew two things: one, she watched too many US crime shows; and, two, more importantly, she’d been noticed. She was going to the market and she was going to find out what the old crone wanted.

Across the street a figure got up from behind a garden wall. Sammy recognised him as the policeman whose badge she still held, Peter Marshall. He leant on the wall, cradling his head. A second man got up beside him, stumbled and grabbed on to him. Then they saw Sammy.

Sammy dropped the badge and ran back through the playground. One of the men yelled after her but by then she was already heading for the football pitch and the fence at the rear of the school.

 

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