Split Second

Bound together by the devastating consequences of a terrorist attack, teenagers Charlotte and Nat appear to have much in common. But, as Charlie gets closer to Nat, she wonders if perhaps he knows more about the attack than he is letting on...

First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Simon and Schuster UK Ltd
A CBS company. Copyright © Rosefire Limited 2013.

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1. Nat

I glanced at my phone. It was almost three p.m.
Three p.m. was when the bomb would go off.
I raced along the street, my heart banging against my ribs. I had to find Lucas. Canal Street market. That’s what the text had said. That was where Lucas would be. My lungs burned as I gasped at the cold air. I ran faster, pushing through the crowds.

The covered market was packed with shoppers, most of whom were heading for the food stall run by the Future Party. Since the cutbacks had really set in last year, unemployment had risen fast. Now people who would once never have dreamed of taking a handout queued for free food from the only political party in the country that seemed to care. I hurtled past the queue. Most people were staring at the ground as they shuffled along, avoiding eye contact.

There was no sign of Lucas.

I kept running. The bomb wouldn’t be here, anyway. Why would anyone want to bomb people so poor they had to queue for food? The next few stalls all sold ethnic clothes – a mix of bold African prints and soft Thai silks. I turned the corner, past the section of the market specialising in baby stuff. No.

No way. Neither Lucas nor the bomb would be here. Not where there were babies, for goodness sake. I ran on, panting, past the market clock. It was just four minutes to three. There was hardly any time left. I looked up. The market had a first floor full of cheap toiletries and household goods. Should I go up there or check more of the ground floor?

A security guard strode past. I stared at the radio that hung from his belt. I’d been so focused on finding Lucas I hadn’t thought about everyone else in the market. There were lots of people milling about. Lots of children with their mums and dads.

I chased after the security guard. Grabbed his arm. ‘Listen,’ I said. ‘You need to clear the market. Get everyone out.’

The man turned. His face filled with suspicion. ‘What did you say?’

‘There’s a bomb,’ I said. ‘I don’t know exactly where, but it’s in the market and it’s going to go off in a few minutes.’ 

The security guard frowned, a look of disbelief on his face. 

'What makes you think that, lad?' he said.

'I just do. You have to believe me. Please.' Heart pounding, 

I caught sight of my reflection in the shiny Future Party sign that pointed the way to their free food stall. My hair was messed up, my eyes wild and staring. No wonder the security guard was looking at me like I was crazy. You have to clear the whole place.

'Wait here,' the guard said with a sigh. 'I'll go and get the site manager.'

'No, there's no time.'

But the security guard was already striding away, heading towards the stalls I had just passed. As I turned to the next aisle, intending to run on, I caught a glimpse of a black leather jacket on the stairs up to the first floor. Was that Lucas? I strained my eyes, but the jacket had disappeared, lost in the crowds.

I swerved to the left and raced towards the stairs. I sped past a stall promising fifty percent off piercings and tattoos. A girl about my age stood in front, arguing with a woman. She was gesticulating wildly, her face flushed.

'Why not, Mum?' she was shouting.

Even racing past at top speed I could see the girl was pretty, with a mass of wild, honey-coloured curls cascading over her shoulders. But there wasnt time to take a second look. I took the stairs up to the first floor, two steps at a time. It was two minutes to three. And I still hadn't found Lucas.

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