Mr Hartshorne tapped the box. Scott grudgingly took shorts and a vest, scowling. He emerged from the changing rooms last, with Darren, both of them tucking hands beneath their armpits, teeth chattering, making a great deal of shivering. They wore white vests, satin shorts pulled up to their bellies and black elastic pumps. Both still wore their grey nylon school socks. Scott was grumbling, kicking out at frozen clumps of turf. His spindly legs were white as milk bottles with knobbly cartoon knees. Adam Roper gave a wolf whistle. Scott gave him the finger, winding it up slowly.
‘Right then, form a line,’ Mr Hartshorne said.
They lined up, coughing, hawking up phlegm and blowing into their fists.
‘You lot are a terrific advertisement for British youth, aren’t you?’
Scott struck a pose, flexing his biceps.
‘Me muscles, sir.’
‘They look like knots in cotton.’
Adam Roper barged him, sending Scott sprawling into the frosty turf. ‘You’re Mr Puny-verse.’
‘Enough,’ Mr Hartshorne said, ‘I want to see you running on the spot, thirty seconds.’
Mr Hartshorne sprinted on the spot, pumping his knees to his chest. He held his palms out, counting each time his knees slapped against them.
‘Come on, let’s see some effort.’ Mr Hartshorne nodded to the cemetery beyond the common. ‘I’d get more action from that lot in there.’
Mr Hartshorne clapped his hands, bringing them to a halt. ‘And they haven’t got a pulse.’
There were groans from the group.
‘OK, we’re going to do a cross country run.’
‘Why can’t we play football?’ Gareth Child said.
Mr Hartshorne took a clipboard from his holdall. A ballpoint pen was tied to the clipboard with parcel string. He folded back the top sheet. The names of the boys were written with a box alongside to record their time. He clapped his hands.
‘I want to see some real effort. I’ll be posting your times.’
Mr Hartshorne knew Ryan Prosser would come last. Somewhere between Sands Farm and Common Road Ryan stopped to smoke. Mr Hartshorne didn’t know where, but Ryan always got back grinning, reeking of Benson & Hedges.
‘Let’s have you lined up,’ Mr Hartshorne said. He waited while they shuffled into position at the edge of the pitch. He took the whistle, raised an arm and blew. Tom Kearney led them out across the Common, splashing through the bog and following the old trail up to the ridge. Mr Hartshorne took his binoculars from his holdall and watched the stragglers turn for Sands Farm. Ryan was at the back of the field, ambling along.
‘M-O-V-E spells MOVE. So move, Ryan.’
Mr Hartshorne swilled his mug, upending it on the draining board. He rifled through the notes in his pigeonhole, tucking his payslip into his pocket and binning the rest. His jacket needed a dry clean. The lapels were shiny and the fabric at the cuffs was beginning to ball. Mrs Hardwicke coughed. Mrs Hardwicke was Slade’s secretary. She leaned on the door, tapping a pencil against the frame.
‘At least you’re dressed for him.’
Mrs Hardwicke smiled. ‘Mr Slade would like a word.’
Miss Fincher was pretending to be engrossed in her book. Mr Much was emptying his pipe, scraping the bowl with a penknife. Both were listening. Their stillness gave them away, like eavesdroppers on a train.
‘I’ve got to take Mr Spooner’s geography lesson.’
The smile was apologetic. ‘He wants to see you now.’
He followed her into the corridor. He straightened his tie. The knot was the size of a 50 pence piece. He smoothed his lapels, licked his finger and tucked a stray hair behind his ear and knocked.
‘Enter,’ Slade barked.
Mr Hartshorne shut the door, confidently, but not too firmly, and stood before Slade’s desk. Slade was writing a note in a scratchy hand.
‘Yes?’ he said, glancing up.
‘You wanted to see me, Mr Slade.’
Slade sat back in his chair, regarding Mr Hartshorne as if he was trying to arrive at a decision. He wore a shiny suit, like aluminium, and the brand of glasses young professionals chose when they wanted to be taken seriously. He held an envelope in his hand, ‘Do you have any idea what this is?’
Mr Hartshorne shook his head. Slade frowned.
‘An allegation has been made.’
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