Saturday morning lessons were over and the weekend awaited, so CHERUB campus was in a good mood. The weather played its part, providing an unbroken blue sky which was reflected in the surface of the lake, the usual place that Cherubs headed when the weather was good. George was held back at the end of his history lesson for not turning in the homework on time, but he made an excuse and by the time he got to the lake, most of his friends were waiting and had saved him a space. Now he was lying on his back with his eyes shuts and his grey CHERUB t-shirt tucked under his head as a pillow.
Adding to the excitement for most of the agents who were on campus was the fact that in a few weeks, they'd be heading to CHERUB's summer hostel in the Mediterranean, which was always a highlight of the year. George was especially looking forward to it because, by a co-incidence, nearly all of his friends were still on campus. His best friend, Rex, and his basic training partner, Jemima, were still away on a mission in Scotland, but the last he'd heard they'd be back before the start of August. The only other one of his friends who was absent was Harry, who'd recently departed for a mission, but it was still shaping up to be the best hostel trip to date.
The final thing which had put George into the best mood ever, apart from getting to improve the awesome tan he'd got while in Australia over the winter, was the mission he was going on that evening. Everyone at CHERUB loved the missions which involved smashing a place up and then running for it, but they were rarer than orange polar bears and even harder to get onto. The good news was that once in a blue moon, the senior mission controller Denis King organised a coach trip somewhere and let thirty Cherubs loose, and George had managed to get himself selected for it. A group of black-shirts were going to break into an industrial unit and try to copy some important papers, while younger agents were going to be armed with bats and paint and instructions to create chaos.
There was nothing like the prospect of some breaking stuff to put George into a good mood, and not even the complaints of Letty, the girl who lived opposite him in the accommodation block and his best friend who was a girl, dampened it.
"Can't believe you got onto the mission and I didn't," she said for the hundredth time that day, looking over at him from behind her sunglasses. "I've been stuck on campus for months!"
George sighed. "Go and ask Denis then."
"He said the mission was full," Letty complained, rolling onto her front. "Practically everyone else is going, too."
This was an exaggeration. "It's only me, Beatrice and Ralph" George replied.
"Well, since Rex and Jemima are away, the only people left here will be me and Ed," Letty pouted.
George was fed up of listening to her whining, but he refused to let anything take the edge off his mood, so he closed his eyes again and pretended she'd gone away.
"It's not even like you record as an agent is as good as mine," Letty continued. "I'm a navy-shirt, so surely I should be first pick?"
George just ignored her, but when something cast a shadow over his face, he opened one eye, ready to give Letty an earful for not leaving him alone. Instead, he looked up at the imposing physique of his friend Michael, a black-shirt who he'd been friends with ever since Michael had helped to recruit him to CHERUB. Stocky and black with cropped hair, Michael was the type who looked as if he went around breaking people's heads for fun, but he was actually just a funny guy and George got on well with him.
"I hear you're with us tonight," Michael said, nudging George's head with his foot. "Excited yet?"
"Can't bloody wait," George said, moving to a sitting position so he didn't have to look up at Michael's crotch. "Going to be the best thing ever."
Michael bumped fists with him, but caught the look on Letty's face. "What's up, sourpuss?"
"Seems like everyone except me is going on this dumb mission," Letty replied. She always reverted to her American accent when she got upset, something George thought was cute but loved to tease her about.
"Dumb mission," he mimicked, earning another filthy look.
Michael shrugged. "The coach we're taking is parked in the car park and easily seats fifty. I doubt if old Denis will notice you're there if you just tag along."
"Really?" Letty asked, her scowl turning into a wide smile. "Won't I get into trouble?"
"Not so long as you don't sign anything," Michael replied. "Trust me, I've been on about five of these trips and there's always three or four who weren't on the original list."
Letty squealed with excitement. "That's so awesome! Now I can't wait."
"Just stick with George or something. Anyway, I didn't come here to invite your girlfriend. I wanted to ask if you might be up for a little on-coach entertainment." Michael dropped his voice and glanced around theatrically to make sure nobody else was listening.
"What do you have in mind?" George asked, intrigued.
Michael took a seat on the grass next to him. "I was thinking specifically of sneaking a couple of crates of beers onto the coach, you know, to get everyone in the mood," he said, rubbing his hands together. "Perhaps a bottle or two of something stronger for the ladies."
"I'm up for that," George grinned. "So long as you can get your hands on it."
"Oh, I can get it alright. What I need is, ahem." He rubbed his fingertips together in the universal sign for cash.
"Count me in, but I've got nothing at the moment," George replied. "I'll owe you, you know I'm good for it."
"Very true," Michael replied, looking over at Letty. "What about you?"
Letty normally played by the rules and probably disapproved, but the excitement of getting to go on the mission seemed to be consuming her. "If I'm breaking the rules as it is, I might as well go all the way, right?"
"Nice one," Michael said, straightening up. "Not a word to anyone, though. Don't want it getting out."
He walked off and George went back to his sunbathing, this time glad that Letty's moaning had stopped. What he hadn't banked on, however, was her excitable chatting with Beatrice about the mission that kept him from relaxing. Eventually he gave up and just looked out across the lake while keeping half an ear on the conversation, soaking up the sun and the atmosphere.
The coach departed straight after dinner that evening. Letty had managed to invite Ed along too, and it seemed as if plenty of agents had brought a friend, meaning that the crowd waiting for the coach was nearer fifty than thirty. It was a warm night so everyone was in t-shirts and shorts or light trousers, making it look more like a holiday than a mission, and a cheer went up when Denis appeared.
"Alright, you've all seen the briefing so onto the coach, and don't forget to sign your names to say you're here. I'm driving you all down there and we'll be returning at twelve midnight, so don't be late," he said, pushing the button on the exterior of the coach that cause the doors to hiss open.
They were driving to a town called Bexhill-on-Sea which George had never heard of. After searching for it online, he found out that it was on the south coast and had a seafront, but otherwise it looked like a thoroughly boring place. As the coach pulled away everyone cheered again, and with Denis behind a partition with his eyes on the road, Michael thought it safe enough to produce three large crates of lager.
"One each to start with," he said, walking up the aisle to distribute them and almost falling over when the coach went round a tight corner. "Don't drink 'em too fast, we've got three hours on here and you don't want to be sobering up before we get there."
George grabbed his can from Michael and cracked it open, ignoring all advice and gulping down half of it straight away before letting out a giant belch. Ed, who was sitting next to him, cracked up laughing, but Letty and Beatrice, sitting behind, weren't impressed.
"Another one of those and we'll be hanging you out of the window by your ankles," Michael said to him, tutting loudly as he tried to pour vodka into a plastic cup without spilling it.
"I'd like to see you try," George replied cheekily, taking another few mouthfuls from the can.
Michael dropped into a combat stance and aimed a kick at George, but in the confined space it just hit the plastic armrest and splintered it, earning a round of sarcastic applause from the Cherubs sitting nearby.
The coach was a riot all the way down to the coast, with the festivities reaching their height when Ed, already the worse for two cans, managed to get himself locked in the on-board toilet for more than half an hour while everyone who needed to use it pounded on the door and made death threats. It was almost a disappointment when they began seeing signs for Bexhill and Michael came round with a bin bag to collect empties so Denis wouldn't see them.
George was feeling good after a can and a half, (he'd donated the other half to Ed so he could recover from his ordeal in the toilet,) and when Denis unlocked the luggage compartment of the coach and began handing out battered baseball bats, cans of paint, half-bricks, gloves and balaclavas, George felt a rush of excitement. He got his gloves first so he wouldn't leave any traces if he had to abandon the bat, and followed the group of black shirts who were already pulling on balaclavas and heading for the industrial unit they were targeting.
It was his first time on a vandalism mission, so he wasn't exactly sure what to expect. The briefing had said that the site performed repairs to electronics, so George was hoping for some fun stuff to hit with his bat. The site was a ten minute walk from the car park, which Michael used as an opportunity to lob the bag into someone's back garden.
"I wish I was still your age," Michael said, waggling his hand-held document scanner as he looked with longing at George's bat. "I never get to do fun stuff any more."
"Sucks to be you," George replied, giving the bat a test swing. "When you're done I'm sure you'll be able to grab something to do some smashing with."
They arrived at the unit without any problems and someone used their lock gun to open the metal shutters preventing access. With the unit open, the black shirts went in first to locate the office, followed by a surge of younger agents eager to begin the fun. George followed, feeling a touch of nerves, but the adrenaline took over and he headed for a row of machines that looked delicate and began swinging. Most of the equipment in the unit was precision-built and suffered from the blows, but those agents with spray paint had worked out a system for clogging everything up by spraying paint at close range. George joined in a group effort to destroy a large toolbox before following some people through a door, where they hit the jackpot. The next room was full of neatly stacked cardboard boxes, but they nearly all seemed to contain the items to be repaired, mostly televisions and stereo systems. In heaven, George demolished a pile of boxes and listened with satisfaction as piles of delicate electronics smashed onto the floor. As he tried to take another swing, he skidded on a shard of something and almost fell over, but managed to keep his balance.
"Smooth moves," Beatrice said, coming up behind him. "I reckon there's loads more of this stuff at the far end, fancy going after it?"
George didn't need telling twice and followed her through the maze of boxes, occasionally swinging the bat and destroying another box. Somewhere behind him a brick went through a window and the sound of glass breaking was added to the carnage.
Working as a team, they smashed up piles of boxes sitting against the far wall of the unit, which seemed to be items boxed up ready for posting. George worked out that the fastest way to damage stuff was to topple the piles of boxes then destroy them when they were on the ground, while Beatrice sprayed a giant smiley face onto the corrugated metal wall.
Everyone was expecting the police to turn up any moment, and their arrival was heralded by a few short bursts from a siren and blue flashing lights filling the unit.
"We're miles from the way out," George said, looking around. "By the time we get there, the police will be waiting."
Beatrice set off in the opposite direction and George followed, launching his bat as far as he could down the warehouse. She'd spotted a metal gantry that led to a fire exit, with stairs hidden behind some more boxes.
"Excellent," Beatrice said, pushing the door open and finding that no alarm sounded. "Now we've just gotta avoid the police and get back to the car park."
She jumped off the gantry and landed ten feet below, executing a clumsy roll, then waved for George to do the same. He didn't fancy it and ran down the stairs instead. He'd forgotten how crazy Beatrice could get and he suspected she'd also had something to drink.
Having come out of a different exit, George wasn't sure what the most direct route to the coach was, but no matter which direction they moved in, there seemed to be blue flashing lights. It seemed hopeless and George's mind filled with images of being arrested. He was about to ask Beatrice if they should give themselves up when police car raced past, going too fast to notice them, but it was still enough to make George's heart leap into his mouth.
"Got a plan?" he asked Beatrice.
"Nope," she replied, grinning at him. "I think we're screwed."