Welcome to the 7th book of ‘All The Pieces’. Here’s the first chapter, where Tamsin (12 years old now) discovers that she is a sharp shooter and spots a prize that she must have…
If you fancy buying it, click on the picture of the cover above.
Chapter 1 – The challenge
The fair arrived towards the end of the summer holiday. Jake (Tamsin’s younger brother) had been waiting eagerly, pointing at brightly painted posters that appeared on walls and fences. But when he read out the details they told him that this or that fair was coming to another town or another borough – never his.
His father, Michael, wondered out loud if the fair would give their town a miss this year; perhaps they hadn’t made much money last time because of the rain that fell over the bank holiday weekend. Jake asked Tamsin her opinion, but she did not seem particularly interested. She was getting older now, and was excited about other things.
“Will you come with me though?” asked Jake, “If the fair does visit this year.” Tamsin nodded. Of course she would. She wasn’t that grown up!
Tamsin was twelve now. Jake was seven going on eight. It was a year after the adventure of the School In The Sky. Strange though it seems, Tamsin had almost forgotten about it. The importance of what she had discovered – about her future child Annabelle for instance – was too great for a twelve year old to carry about in her head. Her mind had decided to hide that fact away for a while. And the rest, about the sun-funnels, the lasers, the auto-bots… well, who could say, I mean be 100% sure, that this was the future? There was no proof. So Tamsin’s mind dealt with all that she had seen and heard as though it was a long, vivid dream. Easier to forget for the majority of the time.
Tamsin and Jake were already five weeks into their school summer holiday. Other distractions and entertainments kept them busy. The weeks had passed pleasantly. They went away with their parents for a fortnight (not Croatia). They came back. There were two weeks of holiday left. Jake remembered the fair. He looked longingly at the common whenever they walked past; this was where the fair usually set up. One morning he spotted another poster and pulled his mother towards it. Lucy read it before Jake had a chance to get to the end.
“The fair! A ‘vintage’ fair, whatever that means, coming next weekend. Hooray!!” she exclaimed.
“Do you want to go too Mum?”
“Not really, but at least you’ll stop worrying about it now.”
It didn’t matter what she thought as far as Jake was concerned. The fair was coming, and he was going, that was all that mattered.
The following week dragged. Jake saw lorries and caravans arrive and turn off the road onto the common. They parked around the edge and up at one end, next to the trees. Some carried the rides that had been designed to fold up and pack away into much smaller space. Jake glimpsed a spaceship under a tarpaulin, and on the way back from a walk to the river he spotted a huge, scary face being carried off a lorry – part of the Ghost Train he presumed. They built the rides and stalls from the ground up, and by Thursday night the work was done. The rides had an old fashioned look. Metal girders and supports were decorated with elaborate curls and foils. But the suggestion of antiquity was superficial – underneath there were up to date motors and thoroughly modern safety precautions. And not all the rides looked old – a tall, crane-like structure had appeared from nowhere. At the top was a pivoting chair for two people; a whole ride just for two people! It was too high for Jake to even think about going on it. Not even Tamsin would dare to put herself in that contraption.
During the week Jake kept on asking his parents how much money he would be allowed to spend. He had started receiving one pound a week over the long holiday, and he had saved five. He was worried because he knew that even the simple rides could cost as much as £2.50 or £3.00. Before bed on Friday night his father whispered,
“Don’t worry Jake, I’ll give you the same amount that you have saved, you’ve been a good boy this holiday.” This wasn’t entirely true, but his father must have been in a good mood. So that was £10.00. A very reasonable amount!
The family walked down to the fair at teatime on Saturday. The sun shone. Jake wrapped his hot hand around the five pound coins in his pocket. And Tamsin? We’ve been ignoring her. Unusually, she was thinking about her role as a Piece Finder. This was because the northern edge of the fair was situated just a few metres away from the oak sapling under which she had buried the Red Heart marble. She spotted the young tree but did not stop. The family walked on, towards the fair’s main entrance.
Once they had entered the booming music, the clatter of carriages speeding around metal tracks and the atmosphere of general excitement took hold of her. She was more than happy to be there.
There was discussion about what rides to go on and what stalls to visit. Jake pointed to the flying spaceships, eight of them attached to thick spokes. He knew that small levers at the front allowed the rider to control the height of the capsules. Last time he had gone up and down about twenty times. He had to go on this ride.
“And you Tamsin?” asked Lucy.
“Later Tamsin. Jake’s a bit too small for them, let’s do something he can go on his own first.”
Tamsin agreed. She would go on the spaceships, but mainly to keep Jake company. They walked towards the spaceship ride and watched the arms swing up and down as the children within each capsule toggled the lever. As the capsules changed altitude a hissing sound came out of the machinery in the centre of the ride – hydraulic pistons powered by a generator that chugged away behind the nearest lorry. Pop music pounded from speakers positioned at the top of the central pillar, music that Jake did not recognise but Tamsin did. The capsules slowed down and settled to ground level in unison. A few of the children looked disappointed and wanted to stay for longer, while others seemed eager to leap out onto the ground before the ride had come to stop, keen to spend their money elsewhere. When all the capsules were empty the young woman running the ride nodded to indicate that they could go on now. Jake ran around; he wanted to go on the same spaceship – a purple one – that he had spotted on the lorry a few days ago. Tamsin walked around leisurely. She was attracted to a copper coloured one. When she climbed in an electric shock, static, made her jump. It had touched her arm just where the marble tattoo was. She thought nothing of it. It was one of those hot days when static seems to come off anything.
The ride passed uneventfully. Jake looked a tiny bit let down as he climbed out. His capsule had not been very responsive to the movements of his lever, and he had only been able to go up and down five times.
Next – Tamsin’s choice. She pointed to a stall where you fired air rifles at targets.
“Why?” asked her father. “You don’t know the first thing about guns? And they are far too big for your arms.”
“Please!” she said.
“It’s up to you Tamsin,” said Lucy. “We just don’t want you to waste your money. They make these things very difficult to win you know.”
Despite the warnings Tamsin took them all to the rifles. They watched for a few minutes. An older man with a deeply tanned, wrinkled face and sparse wisps of white hair stood to one side as children and adults tried to knock down a series of small, man-shaped metal targets. There were five metal men in each alley. Nobody won anything while they watched.
A man paid three pounds, received three pellets, and took aim. He seemed to know how to hold a rifle. The first pellet struck the metal housing around the man-shaped targets and pinged off somewhere. The second hit the edge of a target but not squarely enough to knock it over on its hinge. The third pellet zinged high into the wooden planking at the back of the stall. He put down the rifle and muttered “Fix! The sights are wonky.”
“All’s fair and honest here Sir!” responded the man who owned the stall.
“Are you sure about this?” asked Jake.
“Yes.” Tamsin handed over three pounds.
“Six pellets for five pounds, better chance of winning,” suggested the man.
“No thanks. Three will be fine.”
She chose an alley, placed the tiny metal pellets in a metal saucer that was nailed to the wooden ledge, and struggled to open the rifle. Her father walked forward to help but just as he approached she succeeded. Having learned how to insert the pellets while watching a few moments ago she now readied herself for the first shot. Her arms were just long enough for her to cradle the barrel, hold the trigger and nestle the stock (the wooden butt) against her shoulder. Then she tilted her head to line the sights up with a metal man. She chose one and concentrated. A tingling sensation in her arm, where the static electricity had stung her, caused her to pause. While she paused the gun remained absolutely still. It seemed to straightforward. She pulled the trigger. The target fell, accompanied by a ringing sound. The second pellet knocked over the second target. Tamsin looked over at her family. Her father was clapping and smiling. Her mother looked worried. Jake’s mouth hung open in confusion or admiration or both. She inserted the third, but before firing she asked the owner what the prize was. He pointed to some plastic buckets on the ground,
“Three hits, anything in the buckets.”
“What about the stuff hanging up there?” She pointed to the larger, brighter tobjects on the walls.
“They’re for the challenge only.”
“Ten out of ten. Ten hits from ten pellets. Ten pounds.”
“Just concentrate on getting three!” called her father.
Tamsin fired the third and last pellet. Zingggg! Down went the target. Three out of three. She looked at the buckets and chose a plastic car to give to Jake.
“Hey thanks Tam!” he shouted, surprised by her generosity.
“It’s OK, there was nothing I wanted.” But Tamsin looked back and caught the owner’s eye as the family walked away. She had seen something she wanted hanging on the side wall. A sword – plastic and cheap yes, but interesting. Something about its design attracted her.
They went on the dodgems, the mini-rollercoaster, the inflatable slide, the horse track… and finally the penny slot machines that were housed in temporary hut with low ceilings and mud on the floor. Their money lasted for an hour and a half, and it was now time to go home. Tamsin asked,
“Mum, Dad… I know you won’t agree with this, but I want to do the challenge on the air rifles.”
“Don’t even think about it Tamsin!” answered her father. “It’s a con. You got lucky. Ten pounds, straight into that chap’s pocket. It’s not even down to the accuracy of the person shooting… the rifles are so old and broken it’s impossible to aim straight ten times in a row.”
“But I have my own money. I bought some extra with me.”
Her mother and father looked at each other. There was little argument to be made if their daughter had her own money… except for the fact that it was time to go home and feed Jake before his bath.
“Sorry Tamsin darling,” said Lucy. “But it’s getting late. You’ve had a good time, and it’s a silly waste of ten pounds. You cannot win.”
“I can come back later, on my own…”
“No you cannot young lady.” insisted Michael. “I’m not having you wandering around here on your own…”
“With you then. “
“Oh…” snapped Lucy, “Just go and do it… and quickly!”
They walked back to the air rifles. Jake, although hungry for his tea, was pleased. He had enjoyed the excitement first time. Tamsin caught the grumpy, older man’s eye and stood in an empty position. He waited for another child to finish his pellets (the targets remained upright, no prize), then walked to the front of the stall.
“Ten pellets please,” asked Tamsin.
The man hesitated. “Ten. For the challenge?”
“Yes. Here,” and Tamsin put a ten pound note on the ledge, which was at waist height. The man, who was called Bill McReady, fished around in the pocket of his brown trousers for pellets and delivered a small handful into the metal dish next to Tamsin. He counted them carefully and took four away, leaving ten.
“Ten out of ten, you understand? Not nine, ten.” he explained.
“I remember.” Tamsin glanced at the walls to see the prizes. They did not look particularly good, but the sword was still there, and she would be happy with that. A strange design, similar in style to the structures underpinning some of the vintage rides. Then she told herself off; what chance was there, really, of winning? One in a thousand? One in a million? She regretted handing over the money now. Her family stood behind her. The sun had gone in. Her mother and father were talking to each other about something else entirely. Jake looked bored, it was all taking too long. Better get on with it.
She opened the gun and put the first pellet it. She held it up and sighted the first target.
Zingggg! The target fell.
Number two. Zinggggg!
Four, five… down they went. All the metal men were down.
“Excuse me!” she called. The man looked up from his mobile phone and came over.
“I’ve done the first five. Can you put them up again?”
Bill McReady looked down at her pellet dish. There were five left. He said nothing.
“Yes. Wait a moment.” He pulled a lever on the side of the metal box and the targets swung up into a standing position once again. Then he shuffled back to the edge of the stall, keeping an eye on Tamsin. She watched him carefully. Something about his expression had caught her attention. He was obviously getting worried that she would win. He tapped his phone. Tamsin could tell that he was sending a text. She took her time reloading. There was a movement to the right. Another fair-hand arrived, a middle aged lady. She had bright blonde hair that had been crimped into waves. They exchanged a few words and watched Tamsin as she brought the rifle up for shot number six.
Seven, eight – zingggg, zingggg!
The gun felt heavy now. Her young arms were not used to it. As she aimed at number nine the rifle wandered, and it was harder to keep the sights on the metal target. She put the rifle down and rubbed her muscles. When she picked it up again and tucked the butt into her shoulder her arms were shaking. She turned around. Her mother and father were watching carefully now.
“Go on Tamsin. Amazing!” called her mother.
“Go on Tamsin!” echoed Jake. “You can do it!”
She focussed all her energy into her arms. Looking down the barrel of the gun she saw the skin that overlay her muscles twitch with the effort. Her tattoo rested just a centimetre from the black metal. She straightened her arm slightly, bringing her skin closer to the gun barrel. The tattoo tingled again. The target stood in her sights. She pulled the trigger.
Zingggg! Nine down.
The owner moved. He was standing on tiptoe. His head obscured the sword. Tamsin reloaded for the last time.
Zingggg! Ten out of ten.
Tired now, she put the rifle down and smiled at Bill McReady.
“Well done young lady! Incredible. What skill! You must have had practise. Does your family own a shooting range or something? You should have said.”
“Can I have my prize now?” She did not trust this man entirely.
“Of course! Anything that you see on the walls.”
She looked across to the right hand wall. The sword had gone!
“I wanted the sword.”
“Oh, sorry, somebody won it earlier. Anything else though, anything you like.”
“It was there when I started the challenge, I’m sure of it.”
“No I don’t think so young lady.”
Tamsin looked back. Her father was watching passively. Beyond him she saw the blonde hair of a middle aged lady walking away with a plastic bag dangling from one of her hands. She disappeared into the cabin of a large red lorry.
“What’s the matter Tamsin?” asked Michael.
“The prize I wanted has been taken down.”
“Well they’re all the same I’m sure. Just pick something.”
She pointed to a large, cuddly dolphin and received it with a thin smile. She didn’t want it. Bill McReady nodded down to her from his position on the raised boards of the stall.
“Good shooting,” he whispered. He sounded apologetic, as though what had happened was not his fault. Tamsin turned away, and muttered something. He did not hear. It might have been ‘Cheat.’