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The Hunt for Pierre Jnr
By David Henley
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2014 David Henley
All rights reserved.
Pierre Jnr is
eight years old
Newton Pembroke was happy to be home. He'd fl own back
from his prospecting in the midlands with a buoyant heart and
an appreciation for everything that met his eye. He landed his
squib outside his house and, grabbing his aluminium attachÃ?,
'Darlin'?' he called.
A woman with overlapping curls of short blonde hair came
out from the kitchen. There was fl our on her hands, forearms
and the navy dress she was wearing. Gail was obviously
experimenting with manual cooking again. Normally when
Newton saw the ridiculous occupations his wife employed to
pass the time he would sigh; today, he smiled.
'What is it, Newton? I'm in the middle of some scones.'
'So it would appear.' He grinned, and came close enough to
give her a small kiss on the cheek.
'Despite appearances, I did not mean that literally.' She
liked it when he was nice to her. Not that he was ever mean
to her; it was just that life hadn't turned out for him as he had
planned and he was sometimes a bit dour. She turned back to
the kitchen and spoke over her shoulder, 'How was your day
then? Something has put you in a good mood.'
'Yes. I do seem to be in a good mood, don't I?' Newton's
search for reasons was short and ended with a shrug. 'Nothing
in particular, except I did come across this remarkable family
'Remarkable how?' Gail was bent over a bowl of wet off-
white mixture, brow furrowed and not really listening.
'Well, it's hard to explain really. I was out in the midlands
looking for acquisitions and I stopped at this farmhouse where
a family was outside, playing.'
'Uh huh ??' Gail nudged the story along while trying to
understand the instructions in the recipe book beside her. She
couldn't tell if the mixture before her matched the description
of what it was supposed to look like. Were her circles 'short'?
'Anyway, the thing is, the entire family was focused on the
little boy. I can't quite explain it, as it took me a moment to
realise what was happening, but they orbited him like planets,
bringing him food, water, or wiping his chin. He just sat on the
grass as the others moved around him and he didn't say a word
the whole time I was there.'
'Maybe he was shy.'
'Maybe, but it was almost unnerving the way he watched
me. He seemed a very strange little boy — intense, murky —
but he left me with a good feeling about him. You should meet
'Me?' Gail squawked. Newt sometimes had odd ideas. Why
in the world would I want to go to the midlands to meet some
'He wants to learn to read. Didn't you say you wanted to
help people? Now's your chance.'
'I never said I wanted to teach midland lumps.'
'They're not lumps. Their farm is functional, and their house
is quaint and clean. You'd love it.'
'I would?' Gail was beginning to wonder what had got
into her husband. Did he really expect her to squib out to the
midlands to teach a lump the alphabet? 'Really, dear, I'm not
'Trust me. Tell me you'll go. What if I went with you?'
He nodded with pleasure, so glad that he had made her
agree. Gail looked down at her hands and began scraping the
mixture off her fi ngers. She had lost the impetus to cook.
It was, as they say, only 'a hop and a squib' to get to the midlands.
The Pembrokes lived in old Tennessee, just on the edge of the
metropolitan area, and the squib needed a quick recharging to
make the distance. The midlands were the unprotected zones
between the two weather-controlled areas of the east and west
coasts, where the big farms used to be. Now, any farms that
still existed struggled with temperamental grazing lands and
scattered herds. Making a living out here was a risky — some
might say unnecessary — pursuit for throwbacks and reclusives.
Husband and wife spoke very little during the journey; she
had become used to him having notions and found that the
best way to deal with them was simply to let him tire himself
out. Why it had to involve her, she had no idea, but she was
happy when they began descending toward a double-storey
whiteboard house. At least now her husband's fascination
might be explained.
They landed on a patch of previously fl attened dry grass.
The squib doors opened and Gail stepped outside. It's often
hot in the midlands, she thought, and she raised her hand to
protect her eyes. When it wasn't hot, it was typically raining
and being decimated by twisters. The midlands took the brunt
of the weather's extremes.
'Come on, Newt, let's get this over with. Newt?' She turned
around to fi nd him slumped over the dashboard. 'What are
you doing?' She leant in and shook his shoulder. 'Newt?' In
alarm she clambered back inside and felt for his pulse. He was
alive, but unwakeable. She pushed him back into his seat and
ordered, 'Computer, patch me into Services, quickly.'
There was no response. All the power seemed to have
drained from the vehicle. Gail screamed in frustration and
panic. After a fi nal ineffective shake of her husband, she rushed
into the house, calling for help, but received no answer.
Her eyes adjusted slowly to the darkness inside, diminished
only by the dry light pushing through the brown curtains into
the haze. The place was like a museum, one dedicated to the
poverty of a previous century, and she sniffed at the baked air
and the smell of degrading synthetics.
Her next call for help caught in her throat as she recognised
shapes in the room: a man lying on the fl oor, a pair of children
Excerpted from The Hunt for Pierre Jnr by David Henley. Copyright © 2014 David Henley. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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