About the Author
Gillian Cross is the critically-acclaimed author of more than twenty-five books. She lives in England.
Read an Excerpt
Ashley stopped at the traffic light on the Strip, looked across the road'and saw the best wall in the world.
And it had been there all her life.
Jabbing her elbow into Vikki's ribs, she raised her eyebrows and nodded across the street, toward Fat Annie's and the deli. Vikki followed where she was looking, and her eyebrows almost disappeared into her hair.
�Ash! You can't!�
�Sssh!� Ashley hissed. �Shut up.� They were on their way home from school, and there were other people all around them.
Vikki shut up, but her eyes were like marbles as the light changed and they crossed the Strip. She couldn't stop looking up at the wall.
It was a big, blank space, where Fat Annie's rose a whole story higher than the deli next door. The top of the side wall was exposed, and there was nothing on it at all. Not a mark. It was just waiting for someone to get up there and tag it. And all you'd have to do was climb onto the roof of the deli and walk along.
Twenty feet up in the air, in full view of the Strip. With nothing to stop you if you fell.�You can't!� Vikki whispered again when they reached the other side of the street. �Ash, you're mad. You'll kill yourself.�
�Be quiet!� Ashley growled, looking over her shoulder. She didn't want anyone else getting there first.
But it wasn't that easy to make Vikki give up. She grabbed Ashley's arm and shook it. �Listen to me�
�There's nothing to say.� Stubbornly Ashley ignored her, heading sideways, into Fat Annie's. �Got to pick up some cheese.�
She had to push her way in. The place was full of kids scrabbling around the counter with chocolate andchewing gum, trying to barge in front of each other. Fat Annie's eyes were everywhere'on the door, flicking up at the security camera, and checking every coin she was offered'and as her fingers banged away at the till, she was bellowing at the kids cutting in line.
�Get back and wait your turn, Dean Fox! And you, Shorty! And watch your language, or I'll be around to talk to your mother.�
Ashley pushed through the crowd, heading for the cheese counter and trying to lose Vikki in the scrum. But Vikki was right on her heels, still going on about the wall.
�Ash, you've got to listen! You'd be crazy to�
Ashley ignored her and began burrowing in the cheese display, hunting for a bit of cheap Cheddar. Vikki leaned closer, to whisper in her ear.
�You'll fall! You'll break your legs! And even if you don't, someone's going to catch you. It'll be a disaster.�
�I can handle it,� Ashley said. �Now be quiet. I don't want everyone to�
Out of the corner of her eye she caught a movement. She glanced up and stopped dead. The Hyena was marching across the shop toward them, like the U.S. cavalry riding over the horizon.
That wasn't typical. Usually he was the opposite of his mother. Where Annie yelled and bullied the customers, the Hyena crept around, turning his soft, pasty face away from people's eyes. He slunk around the shop like a hyena with its tail between its legsif a hyena can be going bald on top.
He wasn't slinking today, though. He was heading straight for Vikki, looking fierce and determined. But she hadn't realized yet. Ashley struggled not to laugh.
�You'd better leave me alone,� she murmured. �It looks as if I'm going to be rescued.� Then she fluttered her eyelids pathetically and whimpered, �Please leave me alone.�
At first Vikki thought it was a joke and she bared her teeth, pretending to snarl. Then she realized that Ashley was serious, and she whipped around.
By then the Hyena was just behind her. He looked at Ashley. �Is she bothering you?�
Vikki didn't give Ashley a chance to reply. She leaned back against the cheese display and looked at the Hyena with bold, bright eyes. �How could I bother anyone?� she drawled.
Then she hitched up her skirtthe last possible inch'and took a step toward him. The Hyena stepped backward, nervously, and she grinned and strolled past him, to the magazine shelves.
Standing on tiptoe, she reached down for a copy of Penthouse and began to flip through the pages.
The Hyena's pale face turned pink.
He was hesitating on the brink of saying something, but Annie got there first. She screamed at him, all the way across the shop.
�Geoffreeee! Don't let the children at the men's magazines!�
Immediately everyone in the line turned to look. Vikki grinned again and raised the magazine higher, and Ashley bent over the cheese, trying not to laugh.
The Hyena couldn't bring himself to look directly at Vikki, but he reached out a long arm to take the magazine away. His bony hands were shaking faintly, the way they always did. Vikki pretended not to notice. Whisking the magazine out of his reach, she turned her back and went on looking through it.
Fat Annie yelled at the top of her voice as she rang up a couple more Mars bars and three bags of chips. �Geoffreeee! Come on the till!�
Even from the far end of the shop, Ashley could feel the Hyena's relief. He turned away from Vikki and scuttled to the counter to take his mother's place, and Annie lumbered out, heading for the magazine rack.
Vikki wasn't stupid. By the time Annie got there, she was reading Smash Hits, and her skirt had dropped to its full length. But that didn't make any difference to Annie. She yanked the magazine away and jerked her head at the door.
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