Read the first chapter of the 8th book in the Justice series, Hostile Justice, now.
The boys headed across the park towards the area where their parents had forbidden them to play. Johnny took the younger boys under his wing, acting the big ‘I am,’ as they approached the huge derelict buildings through a gap in the chain-link fence.
“Do ya think we should, Johnny? You know Dad said he’d tan the life out of us if we ever stepped foot in that place. He’ll be livid if he finds out,” Simon, Johnny’s eight-year-old brother, said, terrified.
Johnny knew Simon had a point—both of them had received several thrashings at the hand of their father in the past—yet the temptation to venture into the building was like a magnet to him. The boys knew they had two options: either they went with Johnny, or they waited outside the building, scared shitless because he wasn’t there to hold their hands.
“Do you guys wanna take a vote on this?” Johnny sniffed and wiped the drip hanging off the end of his nose on the back of his hand.
The three younger lads, aged eight, nine and ten, all threw worrying glances at each other. Trevor hurried them up by putting his fist in the centre of the group. It was the gang’s sign that a pact was about to be sealed. The rest of the group butted their fists against Trevor’s. “All for one,” they shouted in unison.
Johnny picked his way gingerly through the rubble—all the corroding metal items people had dumped over the years—to the entrance. The large steel door showed significant signs of being tampered with over the years, and it swung in the breeze on a single hinge, adding to the boys heightening fear. “This is your last chance to chicken out, boys.”
The three small humans standing in front of him shook their heads and gulped noisily. “Come on, Johnny, don’t keep asking us. Let’s get in there.”
Johnny shrugged and turned to ease the door back, holding it away from the building so the other boys could follow behind him. He was at least a foot taller than the rest of the gang and much stronger than the others. Once they were all through the door, each step they took was more tentative than the last. Every noise they heard in the distance had the younger boys gripping each other’s jackets. “It’s a few stray cats. Stop being idiots.”
A high-pitch squeak sounded off to the right, and they saw a black figure scurry into the building. “What was that?” Trevor asked, clinging to Brad, his best mate.
Johnny tutted and looked him in the eye. “It was a rat. What do you think it was?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I asked. This place gives me the creeps.” Trevor’s head swivelled, constantly on the lookout for more creepy crawlies.
“I gave you the chance to stay outside, remember? Stop whining.” Johnny sighed. His patience was running out fast. He was dying to explore the vast area and could do without stopping every few seconds to answer dumb questions.
“All right, stop having a go. I was just saying,” Trevor mumbled, not appreciating Johnny’s reprimand in the slightest.
They walked another fifty odd yards into the building lacking further incident, stepping carefully over the debris-strewn concrete floor. Looking up, Johnny noticed a few gaps in the floor above—not surprising in a building of this age and in such disrepair. He weighed up the situation…did they risk going up the stairs over in the corner to see what was on the next level or not?
Brad cursed under his breath as another rat made a noise and scurried past them. Johnny wanted to snigger, but he knew the boy would be in a mood for days if he thought any of them were taking the piss and laughing at him.
“Wanna go see what’s upstairs?” Johnny turned to look at the others. One by one the three other boys nodded, if a little hesitantly. When they reached the bottom of the concrete stairs, Johnny surged ahead without glancing back at the others. Fearless, that’s what he needed to be, despite feeling anything but. The others were relying on him to watch out for them, not to put them in unnecessary danger. If that was the case, why were they there? Johnny wasn’t sure; he just knew that he was drawn to this place.
It wasn’t long before they’d made it up to the next level. The stairs, crumbling in places, hadn’t hampered their ability in the least. Johnny had helped the other boys hop over the trickier parts, which their smaller legs had trouble climbing past. When all four had made it to the top, they all put their knuckles together and grinned at their accomplishment.
“Onwards, men,” Johnny called out. His raised voice sent several more furry creatures to actively seek new pastures.
He hopped over the block wall that had collapsed, and held his hand out to pull the other boys over the rubble to join him before they continued their investigation of the upper level. This was a far more interesting area to explore. They encountered several more crumbling walls. Johnny thought the walls had been joined in a previous life, maybe to section off the building into offices.
Scrambling over two more mounds of concrete wall, the group ventured towards an area which appeared to be lit by the lack of roof above. Coming from the partial darkness, Johnny’s eyes were quick to adjust. He gasped and staggered back into the other boys. Scared, they used him as a shield and poked their heads around his body to see what had caused their leader’s reaction.
“What the—?” Simon began before he heard his brother gulp and felt Johnny’s arms wrap around him.
“What is it?” Brad asked, displaying less fear than the others.
Until Trevor whispered back, “It’s a p…person.”
One by one, the boys started to back away from the scene, stumbling over the debris as their eyes remained fixed on the body. Johnny knew, but he kept shtum, not wanting to scare the others. He ordered them to turn and make their way back downstairs.
“We can’t just leave him there, Johnny,” his brother said.
Brad stopped walking and joined in, “Yeah, what if he needs our help?”
Johnny looked over at Trevor, who shrugged. Johnny knew that there was no point trying to help the person because the person was now a corpse.
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