“I loved Ella. Now she’s a corpse, cooling off in the morgue with a noose-shaped bruise around her neck. The cops say it’s suicide. It wasn’t suicide. I don’t know who killed her, and I don’t know why. But I’m going to find out, no matter what it takes. And when I’m face-to-face with the man who broke my world, I’m going to break him.”
In this tough-as-nails noir crime novel set in Auckland’s dark underbelly, 17-year-old Jack “Spade” Miller must traverse a web of violence, love, and illicit sex in his search for justice.
Only one thing is guaranteed: no one is walking away unscathed.
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Read on for a sneak peek of Chapter 1…
Ella Lewis choked to death in the early hours of a lonely Monday morning. I didn’t find out until Wednesday.
It was humid, the kind of day where you sweat and sweat and it never makes a damn bit of difference. In the school quad I could hear the thud of a badly aimed football smacking into the side of the science block, and Mrs Trussel shouting for Jeremy MacKenzie to come over here right now, and students laughing and gathering to watch Mrs Trussel’s arm fat wobble as she waved her hands around. But none of that had anything to do with me. Not anymore.
I slipped inside the empty classroom and closed the door behind me. Mr Harvey was out getting his coffee. Ten minutes until the bell went. More than enough time.
My gut told me I should feel guilty for taking advantage of Mr Harvey’s trusting nature—he was the only teacher who still didn’t look at me like I was a stray Rottweiler—but my heart had more important things to worry about. I’d seen the way his face deflated when he read the yellow memo the admin lady had brought into class, the way his gaze lingered on me when he raised his eyes and told us fourth period was ending twenty minutes early so we could attend a special assembly. I knew it was about Ella. And I couldn’t wait another two hours to find out what’d happened to her.
It was only a few weeks into the new school year, but Mr Harvey’s desk already resembled a mountain range of paper and textbooks. I shoved aside a class roll and found a corner of yellow paper peeking out from underneath a calculus textbook. My heart hammered as I pulled it free, but my hands were steady. They’d never been this steady. I unfolded the paper.
My heart crumbled as I read. Each word scrawled on the yellow paper was another kick in the gut. My mind couldn’t take it. So it sought escape the only way it could.
Memory flooded me.
Dave jimmies open the boarding over the back door and we slip in one by one, ignoring the trespassing warnings and breathing in the musk. It’s Ella’s idea to break into the old abandoned Carlile house on Richmond Road, because we’re bored and a little bit drunk and what the hell else are you going to do in Auckland on a Sunday night when you’re sixteen, right? This isn’t really my scene and the others aren’t really my friends, but like hell I’m going to turn down a chance to hang out with Ella Lewis. Megan, Ella’s best friend, looks as nervous as I feel. She keeps saying we should leave. But Ella just grins that grin of hers, slips her arm through Megan’s, and drags her up the groaning stairs.
Once my heart rate comes down, I see what a beautiful old place it is. Something about it seems lonely, mournful. The furniture’s mostly gone, but there are still scratch marks in the floor where it used to sit. We split up and go room to room, exploring, hiding, jumping out at each other and making ghost noises to try to scare the others. Jeremy’s got a bottle of tequila, so after a while we settle down in a bedroom and pass that around, swigging away, the others loud and talking, and me just sitting there quiet and trying to sneak glances at the way Ella’s almost-black hair catches the moonlight through the gaps in the boarding on the window.
And then comes the shouting from downstairs, the voices telling us they’ve called the police and we’re going to be in all kinds of hell for trespassing.
Everyone bolts. Jeremy and Megan and the others go for the stairs. The house creaks and groans. But me, I don’t know what to do. My feet are nailed to the floor, my heart’s pounding loud enough to start an avalanche three hundred kilometres away. I stand at the bedroom door, wondering if it’d be best to just hide somewhere and wait for everyone to go.
But a hand wraps itself around mine and tugs. I’m face-to-face with Ella, and there’s something burning in her eyes that’s never been more than an ember before. She grins at me and tugs again. My legs come to life. We race to the bedroom window and push at the boarding until the nails come loose and the night air spills in. Ella hoists herself up and slips through, her jeans catching on a loose nail for a moment, and then she’s free again, standing on the roof of the bottom floor, beckoning to me. “Hurry,” she whispers, cheeks flushed.
She holds the board out for me while I wriggle through. I avoid the nail that got her but catch two more in the process. And then I’m outside with her, looking over the lights of Auckland.
Ella grabs me by the hand again—this time I notice how soft her skin is—and she pulls me to the edge of the roof. She lowers herself over the edge and drops to the grass, rolling as she hits the ground. Gut churning, I follow her, the shock going through my shins. The shouting’s muffled now, further away. Ella takes my hand for the third time and leads me back to the road, and we run and run until we’re both panting and even the night air isn’t enough to keep the sweat off our foreheads.
We collapse next to each other on the grass in Grey Lynn Park and catch our breath. Even through all the city lights, there are stars out, but I’ve only got eyes for her. Her small breasts rise and fall with each breath she draws. Her mouth is split wide in a delirious smile, her hair acting as a pillow on the grass. I become aware of her hip bone pressed against my side, her hand laying half a centimetre away from mine. Her skin’s a couple of shades darker than mine—a gift from a Maori relative a few generations back.
I think about taking her hand again. Ball up my courage. And then I do it. She doesn’t resist. Her head rolls to the side and she looks into my eyes, smiles, squeezes my hand. I want to say something funny or cool to impress her, but the tequila and the adrenaline and Ella’s smell are going to work on me. So I stay silent and do the only thing that seems right.
I kiss her.
And even after everything to come in the following months—the pain, the anger, the screaming—I’ll always remember the way Ella’s lips taste in the moonlight.
And then I was back in Mr Harvey’s classroom, slumped on the floor with my back against the wall, reading the yellow sheet of paper for the third time. They didn’t use words like “beautiful” and “exciting” and “soft” to describe Ella. They used ones like “tragedy” and “suicide”. And I sat there, trying to process what the words meant, because there was no way in hell they could apply. Even after the last few months when everything went to shit, she wasn’t that kind of girl. She wouldn’t know how to be a corpse. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t shown up to class since the principal had finally let me back into school. She was probably just sick, or she’d decided to drop out and do her acting like she’d talked about. There was no way she was cooling off in a morgue or a hospital or wherever they took dead bodies. There was no fucking way.
It was nearly eleven by the time I got my legs working again. The bell would be going any second now. I had to get gone. I had to get to a bathroom and spew my guts out. And I had to work out what had happened to Ella Lewis.
I pocketed the yellow paper and closed the classroom door behind me on my way out.
Copyright © 2013 Harry St. John