Ben clapped him on the back, gave him one of those Ben smiles they all knew, the smile that had got them girls, entry to parties, whatever they'd desired. 'Nonsense. Too late for that, it's coming out next month.'
'September,' Jack corrected him, his legs shivering despite the humidity. Only a couple of months to go until the album was in the shops, on the radio. It felt too surreal, too weird, to accept as fact. It had been only a dream for so long that its reality seemed conjured from nothing but wish and desire. He'd made the album, just like he'dmade the ones which preceded it, in his room on a four-track. He'd laid down the guitars, vocals and drum machine himself. He'd sent it out like he'd sent the countless tapes before, but this time the record company had got back to him; a man with a silly accent raving and ranting about how Jack was going to be the next big thing. He'd travelled down to London, signed the deal in a Soho restaurant and was back inManchester in time to finish his exams.
'To Top of the Pops!' David held his bottle up, Jack and Ben crashed theirs against it, the clink and scrape amplified in the still air.
'Yeah, as if . . .' Jack finished off his beer.He got up and went to get the next round. He thought about his songs on the radio, tentacles reaching out of the speakers and into the ears of listeners and then he shut the thought down, knowing the dangers that lurked in daydreams. It was just a small release on a tiny label, nothing to get excited about, the first rung of many.
Still, as he took the beers, the cool glass sweet against his palms, he couldn't help but feel that things were coming together for the first time, that his life was at last taking some kind of shape and that he was here doing exactly what he wanted to be doing with exactly the two people he wanted to be doing it with.
He noticed that something had changed when he came back out with the drinks. Ben and David were sitting silently, their eyes fixed on the opposite side of the road. He sat next to them, doled out the beers, was about to say something when Ben's expression stopped him, made him look across the street.
Two policemen were leaning over something. They were tall, young, dressed in dark blue. They held black sticks in their hands, like truncheons but longer and skinnier. Jack squinted, trying to focus through the heat haze, and noticed the heap of clothes lying on the ground between them. He watched as the heap moved, gradually revealing a face, eyes, hair. The soldiers swung in long deliberate arcs. The crunch of truncheon against bone echoed all the way across to where they sat, a thick heavy stuttering splitting the air. They watched silently as the policemen started kicking the man, passing around a bottle of clear liquid, wiping their mouths, then wiping the blood from their shoes on the crumpled man's clothes.
'No!' Ben grabbed David the moment he stood up, held him firmly by the arm. 'It's not our business.'
David swayed and shuddered in his grip. The soldiers had regained their momentum and were swinging on the man as if breaking rocks. Jack shook his head. 'Sit down before they notice us.'
David pulled away. 'They're going to kill him,' he said, his voice pinched. 'Of course it's our business.'
'David!' A thin line of sweat broke out on Ben's forehead and his voice caught in the sticky air.
Jack sat and watched the soldiers beat the man. His legs felt like they were on fire, as though the only thing that would make them better would be to get up, cross the road and stop this terrible thing, but he couldn't move. The heat and dread sealed him to the spot. With every blow he felt something inside him rip. He gripped the rough splintered edges of the chair until he felt a warm trickle of blood covering his fingers. Suddenly the policemen stopped, noticing their audience for the first time. They turned towards the three white boys drinking at the bar and started clapping their hands as if they were the ones watching and not the other way round. Jack stood up.
Excerpted from A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez. Copyright © 2013 by Stav Sherez. Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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