The Harringtons’ driveway was empty, which was a promising sign. All the frontal rooms were dark and it was only nine o’clock, far too early for the owners to have gone to bed. Wherever they were, they were not home.
Jason closed his eyes, and a tremble shook through his body. It might have been guilt, but it made no difference. He no longer cared about forgiveness. He was twelve now, old enough to
“Three nights,” he whispered to calm himself.
He laid his baseball bat to one side, pulled down his balaclava and fixed his skiing goggles over his eyes. He did not want freckles of shattered glass in his face and hair like last time.
The neighbours had been his biggest worry. There were not many criminals who were barely tall enough to ride a rollercoaster, and at one metre forty Jason could be identified from half a street away. It would take just one witness with a good memory to match him with the boy from the news last year.
But wherever the neighbours were, not a single face appeared at a single window as Jason crept up the driveway of thirty-one Bolt Street. Stood at the back door around the side of the house, he retrieved the roll of duct tape from his pocket and smothered it across one panel of the window. He had learned from experience that the tape would help him break the glass silently. He battered the glass panel into hundreds of little crystals with the handle of his baseball bat, forced a small hand through the jagged hole and unlocked the window from the inside.
Jason had stood in dozens of living rooms without their owners’ permission, and the feeling had stopped being tense or unsettling. A long time ago, back with Mum and Dad, he had loved the thrill of sneaking downstairs after his bedtime. Now trespassing was just something that had to be done.
“No offence, guys,” he muttered as he raised his baseball bat.
A sting in the conscience was always worth it for three nights with the Central Avenue Family, under the personal protection of Gary Benton. No policeman or Panzer would find him helplessly asleep for another half a week. Besides, it was time to stop pretending he was still the nice boy who had lived through the car crash.
Jason brought the baseball bat crashing down onto the glass-topped table. The surface shattered outwards with a scream, and the wooden legs beneath the table snapped each way in surprise. The boy drew deeper breaths, dragged his bat upwards again and leapt for the clock on the wall. One hit threw it to the floor, and a second put it out of action forever. The cabinet of china tea sets and aging bottles of wine offered no defence and spilled a flood of fine alcohol onto the carpet. He unplugged the television before sending his weapon through its screen, then drove the head of the bat straight through the DVD player.
Jason stopped to catch his breath. That colourful mix of emotions had started to flow through him again: anger, weakness, aggression, worthlessness. The boy’s fingers quivered around the bat, and he took a glance at his work for the first time since his rampage began. The front room was all but destroyed.
You really uncaged yourself this time, kid, he heard Gary’s voice say in his head, as if the man were watching and judging him. And Gary would have been right. All that remained untouched were the sofas, too soft for the bat to damage, and a shining trophy on the mantelpiece.
Mrs Harrington had apparently been a national archery champion, in 1986 according to the engraving. Perhaps the trophy had not moved since. Jason, with condensed sweat steaming up his ski goggles, limped up to the mantelpiece and wrapped his gloved fingers around the trophy’s thin neck. He had been ordered to smash everything in the room, however expensive or precious.
After a moment of silent thought, he dropped to his knees and laid the trophy face-down at the edge of the carpet, where he predicted it could have landed. Even after a year on the run, he still had a couple of boundaries left.
His mission complete, Jason reached for the final contents of his pocket: a five-word note, written by Gary Benton himself in vicious capitals.
KEEP YOUR SON AT HOME.
Jason knew that the Harringtons had done nothing to deserve the destruction of their front room. But life had taught him that people lived with other people’s choices, not just their own. Tonight, so would Ed’s mum and dad.
Jason Light, a nervous young criminal in somebody else’s house, gripped his baseball bat tight and shot to the broken window. Once out of the house, he tore through the back garden hedge and charged down the public footpath. He swallowed the growing lump in his throat, and ripped away his goggles so the wind would dry his sweating face as he ran. The sooner he was gone, the sooner this would just be a memory. And memories could be pushed to the back of your head and kept there until they died. Most of them, at least.
Mum and Dad wouldn’t be proud of me anymore. Even if they were still alive.