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Once upon a crime
by Carol Hedges
Jazmin Dawson would love to be a secret agent like her mum, but right now she’s having to deal with less-than-exciting homework deadlines and discipline issues. Meanwhile her mum is busy investigating her most shocking case yet – the seemingly accidental death of a young freerunner. But neither Jaz nor her mum are prepared for the terrifying truth behind the case, nor the fact that Jaz will soon be on the run for her life...
The young free-runner leaps between the two buildings. He lands lightly, using the railings of the second building to steady himself. He is focusing on a point within, as he always does when he is free-running across the rooftops of a city.
There are so many noises and movements that can distract. And right now, right at this moment, it is absolutely vital that he is not distracted. He listens intently, crouching low on the railings, like a cat after a pigeon.
Then he straightens up, leaps off the railings and onto a narrow parapet, which he follows round to the back of the building. There, he climbs a fire escape, leading to the steep incline of the roof, which he scrambles up, using his hands and feet in perfect coordination. Spiderboy.
He feels the adrenaline buzzing. The sense of being invincible.
He is good at this; he is the best.
Now he stands atop the roof, feet perfectly balanced either side of the ridge, and looks around. Stretching ahead of him are other roofs. He sees Big Ben clearly outlined against the night sky, its hands wiping away the present. Minute by minute.
Life. Death. Only jumping-off points, he thinks. When he jumps, will there be angels waiting to catch him? Who knows. Steadying himself, he focuses once more on a point deep within.
The young free-runner takes a deep breath, and leaps into the unknown.
For a moment, nothing happens. It is as if the night is holding its breath. Then the sickening thud echoes round the empty street. His body lies sprawled on the pavement. It does not stir. It is a grotesque puppet finally cut free from its dancing strings.
For a beat, everything is utterly still. Time crawls, broken-backed.
Then the hands on Big Ben move, and the city seems to reclaim itself. A car horn sounds in the distance. Somewhere, a police siren wails. Music spills into the night from the window of a nearby apartment.
Life goes on. The future is already here.
Jazmin Dawson pointed to something in the glass display case. “So, what is this exactly?” she asked.
The boy behind the market stall grinned at her. He looked like he’d just stepped out of the pages of some retro gothic horror novel. His hair was tiger-striped orange and black, and stood out from his head in long spikes. Dressed from head to toe in black, he had a lethal metal-spiked choker round his neck, and a wrist to elbow black leather cuff on his right arm. He had more rings in his eyebrows than a shower curtain rod, and his nails were painted black with tiny silver stars.
“That’s a magnetic tongue stud,” the boy said. “All the fun without the pain, yeah?” He opened the case, took out a silver stud and snapped it onto either side of his tongue. “Thee?” he said, sticking his tongue out at her so that she could appreciate the full effect. “Impreth your mateth and annoy your folkth!”
“I’ll definitely think about it.”
“Sure.” The boy unstudded his tongue. “You live round here?” he inquired.
“Nuh-uh.” Jazmin shook her head. “Just visiting.”
“Okay. Catch you later,” the boy said, sensing that he was wasting his time and that he wasn’t going to make a sale.
Jazmin moved away from the stall. She loved London’s Camden Market on a Saturday morning. There were so many weird people to stare at, and so much to see. She retraced her steps, and returned to the stall selling incense sticks. A tongue stud, she thought dreamily as she threaded her way with difficulty through the brightly dressed crowd. She imagined the face of her rather strait-laced friend Zeb Stone if she turned up on Monday morning at the learning centre they both attended wearing a tongue stud. He would freak!
Briefly, Jazmin contemplated the mayhem she could unleash if she shelled out for one of the tongue studs. Then she sighed. Life was full of tempting challenges. Regretfully, this was one that she was going to have to knock back. Not that she’d mind freaking out Zeb for one minute, she thought, as she paid for a packet of vanilla incense sticks, but she didn’t want her mum going angry on her.
Jazmin was proud of her mum, and the job she did. After all, it wasn’t every teenager whose parent worked for the ISA, an international network dedicated to tracking down individuals and organizations that threatened global security. And it wasn’t every daughter who got to help out occasionally, too. No wonder Jazmin wanted to become a crime-fighter when she grew up. That was probably why she had made up an aspirational alter ego to inspire her. Jaz Dawson was a kick-ass gorgeous super-spy heroine who wore cool designer outfits, a utility belt packed with state-of-the-art weaponry, and never wimped out on a case.
Making her way to the food area, Jazmin bought herself a large, freshly made apple-and-cinnamon doughnut, and a carton of grape juice. She found a place to sit and eat. It was only mid-morning, but shopping always made her hungry. She was halfway through her food when she saw the retro-goth guy from the jewellery stall making his way towards her table.
“Hi again,” he said, setting down a bottle of mineral water and a plate of couscous and roasted vegetable filled pitta bread. “Mind if I join you?”
Secretly wishing she’d chosen something a bit more sophisticated to eat, Jazmin hastily brushed sugar from her upper lip. “Go for it,” she said.
“Name’s Tony,” the boy said. He pointed upwards to his head. “After the hair.”
“Tony the Tiger. Used to advertise kids’ cereals back in the old days. Vintage joke.” The boy settled into his seat. He dug into his jacket pocket, produced a packet of cigarette papers and a tin, and proceeded to manufacture a small, skinny roll-up.
“Want one?” he said, offering it to her.
“Nuh-uh, thanks. I don’t smoke.”
The boy lit the end of his roll-up. “Good for you. Neither do I,” he said.
Ah. Another joke, Jazmin thought to herself. She smiled politely.
“And your name is...?” the boy inquired, puffing smoke out of the corner of his mouth.
“As in the blossom?”
“Something like that.”
The boy took a couple more drags, then pinched out the roll-up, and began to eat his lunch.
“I like your hair,” he remarked as he ate. “It’s great – sort of wild and free.”
Hell-o? Jazmin’s jaw practically hit the floor. She loathed her untameable hair. It was long and curly. Some mornings when she woke up, her hair looked like it had been arranged overnight by a hurricane with treacle on its fingers. It was so unfair. In her opinion she had been born with the Hair from Hell. Nobody had ever paid her a compliment about it before now. Despite his scary appearance, she found herself warming towards the boy. She eyed him with renewed interest.
“Ever thought of colouring it?” Tony asked casually.
“What – like yours?” Jazmin teased.
“Woah – that’d be crazy. The colour’d really suit you, though.” The boy stared at her, head on one side. “Y’know, red hair’d look good too. You should think about it.”
“Thanks, I will.”
The boy continued eating. Jazmin cast about for something genius to say.
“So, did you sell many tongue studs this morning?” she inquired.
“A few,” the boy told her. “Mainly people like to buy the more usual stuff.” He pointed to his ears, which like his eyebrows, were also heavily pierced and silver-ringed.
“If you ever want to get your ears pierced,” he remarked, “I know a good place to go.”
“Right.” Jazmin winced. She’d had her ears pierced last year when she was thirteen. The memory of the ear infection and the weeks of pain that followed still returned to haunt her every now and then.
“Or if you want a tattoo,” the boy went on. He pushed back the left sleeve of his battered leather jacket to reveal his forearm. There were a couple of Chinese symbols tattooed on the inside, close to his wrist. “They mean Prosperity and Good Luck,” he remarked. “At least that’s what the tattoo guy said. Of course, they might mean Sweet and Sour Pork and Special Fried Rice for all I know.” He grinned. His smile was infectious and Jazmin found herself smiling back. She’d never talked to a goth before. This one was really nice. It all went to show you shouldn’t stereotype people, and be judgy.
The boy finished off his pitta and drank his water. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “Well, Jazmin, gotta run. Customers to serve and all that.” He rose to his feet, smiling. “Hey, it’s been great talking to you. Will I see you again sometime?”
Jazmin looked up at him. At his orange and black hair, multiple body piercings and black clothes. This boy was like nobody she’d ever hung out with before. She held a quick, silent debate with herself. On the one hand, she reminded herself, she was a bit crayon-breaky around boys. On the other hand, maybe her luck was just about to change: new year, new opportunity. She’d already made several important resolutions about changing her lifestyle, getting fitter, making the world a better place, and becoming more girl powery. And hey, she had a pile of black cast-offs from her rich cousin Clea. She also had a pair of eight-eye black Docs. This could be the perfect time to give goth a go.
She gave Tony a little finger-wave. “Maybe I’ll stop by next week. Who knows?” she said, cutting him an “air-of-mystery” smile.
Carol Hedges is the successful author of several books for children and teenagers. Her writing has received much critical acclaim and her novel, Jigsaw, was shortlisted for the Angus Book Award and longlisted for the Carnegie Medal.
Carol has one grown-up daughter and lives in Hertfordshire with her husband, two cats and a lot of fish.
Do you agree or disagree with the reviews below? Why not write your own?
Once Upon A Crime
This book is so great! I was in France when I read it and I was borrowing it from a French library. When I came back to the States, I spent months looking for it, but I failed every time. I am so happy to have found because it is SO wonderful. It always keeps you on the edge, and the realism is really good. If you are wondering if you should buy a copy, buy it. You will not regret it.
Nandi, 14th July 2009
Once Upon A Crime By Carol Hedges
Once Upon a Crime is one of the most exciting and thrilling books I have ever read. The book's series of events keeps you on the edge of your seat. This book is mainly about a girl called Jazmin Dawson. Her mum "Assia Dawson" is a real life secret agent that is assigned to some of the most unbelievable and breathtaking missions some of which Jazmin is involved in. The mission this time is about a drug called the "wonder drug" that companies are selling to young adults which make them think they can fly. So while these young adults are jumping off tall buildings thinking they can fly and then killing themselves with no traces of taking drugs Assia has got to find out who is selling them and quickly before millions are killed. I would recommend this book to anyone between the ages of 11 to 14. I would also recommend that you read the other books in the Spy Girl series. In my opinion I would rate this book 10 out of 10.
Isabelle, 8th January 2009
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