Doug Johnstone : Breakers


Today I’m delighted to be sharing an extract from Breakers as part of the blog tour. My post is presented with thanks to Anne Cater, who invited me on the tour and Orenda Books for providing the extract.


Seventeen-year-old Tyler lives in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived areas. Coerced into robbing rich people’s homes by his bullying older siblings, he’s also trying to care for his little sister and his drug-addict mum. On a job, his brother Barry stabs a homeowner and leaves her for dead, but that’s just the beginning of their nightmare, because the woman is the wife of Edinburgh’s biggest crime lord, Deke Holt. With the police and the Holts closing in, and his shattered family in devastating danger, Tyler meets posh girl Flick in another stranger’s house, and he thinks she may just be his salvation . . . unless he drags her down, too. A pulsating, tense psychological thriller, Breakers is also a breathtakingly brutal, beautiful, and deeply moving story of a good kid in the wrong family, from one of Scotland’s finest crime writers.


Tyler stared at his little sister as she watched television, the light from the screen flickering across her face. Some cartoon about a boy who discovers a magic ring and turns into a superhero girl, so there was some cool gender stuff in it. Bean chewed the edge of her lip then smiled, and he saw the space at the front where her baby tooth had come out. He’d scrambled together two quid from the tooth fairy once he found out from her what the going rate was in the playground. He was surprised she still believed in that, given everything else that was going on.
‘Right, Bean, time for bed,’ he said.
She shook her head, still looking at the television.
He reached for the remote and the screen died, just soft light from the corner lamp remaining.
‘It’s way past bedtime,’ he said. ‘And I need to go out soon.’
Bean turned round. ‘Where’s Mum?’
‘In bed.’
‘Is she drunk?’
Tyler sighed. ‘She’s tired.’
‘She’s drunk.’
Let her think Angela was drunk, the truth was worse.
Bean played with Panda’s ear. Tyler had lifted the toy from a house in Merchiston on a job years ago. He’d felt bad for a moment, but the kid had a hundred soft toys lined up on her bed, and Bean had nothing. He wondered if the other girl cried when she realised Panda was gone.
‘Can we go on the roof?’ Bean said.
‘No, come on.’
‘It’s school tomorrow.’
She gave him a look, chin down, eyes up, like a Manga character. ‘Pleeeeease.’
Tyler looked at his watch. What difference did it make in the scheme of things? He looked around the tiny living room, two ragged sofas, scratchy carpet tiles, bar heater in the corner. The only expensive thing was the Sony LCD widescreen he’d taken from a mansion in Cluny Gardens that backed onto Blackford Pond. They wouldn’t normally bother with televisions, they were a pain to carry, but he wanted it for Bean.
‘Just for a minute,’ he said.
She smiled and hugged him.
‘I mean it,’ he said, ‘I have to go out. Barry’s coming round.’
Bean frowned and Tyler regretted mentioning their half-brother. He held out his hand and she took it, her hand clammy in his as he led her down the hall.
He lifted the keys from the wooden crate that served as a table at the front door. He picked up the hook-and-stick that he’d improvised from a curtain rail, and a blanket bundled on the floor. Bean was in her jammies and onesie and it would be cool up top, any breath of wind turning into a gale this high up. It swept down from Liberton Brae, over the hospital and the flat expanse behind Craigmillar Castle, and with most of the other tower blocks knocked down, theirs took the brunt of it.
He put the door on the snib and headed along the corridor, away from the lift and the other flat, where Barry and Kelly lived. Barry had intimidated a Syrian family into leaving months ago, and now the Wallaces had the floor to themselves like a downmarket penthouse apartment.
Tyler used the hook to open the hatch in the roof and pull down the aluminium ladder. He climbed up with the blanket over his shoulder and the keys in his hand and undid the padlock on the steel door at the top. This was a service-access door, but he’d jimmied the original lock and replaced it with his own years ago, and the maintenance guys never came up here.
He looked down at Bean. ‘Up you come, but use both hands.’
She placed Panda on the floor and climbed the ladder. He helped her at the top then pushed the heavy door open and felt the cold air on his face. He switched on the torch on his phone and they walked across the scabby tarred roof to the western edge where there were two folded garden chairs. He unfolded one and sat, and Bean clambered into his lap as he spread the blanket over them both. He switched the torch off and the darkness swallowed them.
They were fifteen floors up at the top of Greendykes House. Across from them was the identical Wauchope House – they were the only two tower blocks left in the area. They were surrounded by waste ground and a huge building site where Barratt were creating Greenacres, hundreds of apartments and homes. That’s what it said on the large sign with the happy, smiling family on it. For now it was just diggers and rubble surrounded by razor wire and patrolled by private security. Presumably in case someone felt like stealing a digger, some cables or piping. Tyler thought about the logistics of lifting something so large, but he was used to smaller items.
He thought about what it would be like, having hundreds of new neighbours once Greenacres was built. Couldn’t be any worse than the shithole it was before, burnt-out houses and tumbledown shops, drug dens and gang hangouts. The streets used for racing hot-wired cars and boosted scramblers.
Past the floodlit, fenced-off area was more scrubland, thick grass and broken concrete until you got to the futuristic spread of the hospital at Little France. Grassy tussocks and clumps of hedge spread uphill to Craigmillar Castle, the ragged turrets just poking through the trees at the top of the slope. Both Tyler and Bean’s schools were hiding beyond the trees, fenced off and watched by CCTV.
The space between here and there was a big fly-tipping site, a tangle of rubber tubing, soggy mattresses, a couple of car doors, a shattered windscreen, piles of bin bags full of Christ knows what, some broken fencing once used to keep someone out of somewhere. He could see it all in the security spotlight overspill from the building site. He glanced
at Wauchope House, the twin of the tower block they were on. He never understood why they didn’t tear down these last two dinosaurs with the rest of the place. Hadn’t just carpet bombed the whole of Niddrie, Craigmillar and Greendykes and be done with it. Beyond Wauchope was a spread of new homes, cheap and thrown together, but still better than what they replaced. At the back of Greendykes House was Hunter Park then more developments, all of Edinburgh’s brown-belt land being reclaimed for commuting professionals.
‘Tell me again,’ Bean said, snuggling into him. A strand of her dark ponytail had come loose. He’d given her a bath earlier and she smelled of strawberry shampoo.
‘It was a dark and stormy night,’ he said, putting on a dramatic voice. Bean giggled as he tickled her ribs.
‘A fateful night,’ he said, ‘when the world’s greatest superhero, Bean Girl, was born, a force for good battling the dark, evil powers of
Niddrieville.’ ‘Go on,’ Bean said.
‘Angela was just a normal woman from a normal family, when she was visited by space aliens who told her she was to have a beautiful baby daughter with special powers, a girl who could fly, smash tall buildings and leap over mountains, who could shoot lasers from her eyeballs.’
Bean stared at the hospital in the distance and widened her eyes, made cute little laser-fire noises, tchew-tchew, tchew-tchew.
Tyler kept talking, making up stuff whenever it came to him, giving Bean Girl immense powers, making her triumph over evil. The truth about her birth was less impressive. Angela’s waters had broken when she was off her head on heroin and vodka. Barry and Kelly weren’t around and weren’t answering their phones, so ten-year-old Tyler had to try to sober Angela up before heading to the hospital, so they wouldn’t take the baby away when it came. He called an ambulance but they’d had a spate of attacks in the area and refused to come. There was no money for a taxi so they walked across the fields, slow in the dark, and presented themselves at the maternity ward with no paperwork. Two hours later Bethany was born, four and a half pounds and
six weeks early, no doubt from the booze and drugs. Tyler was the first person to hold her, his mum out for the count. Both he and Bean were small for their ages, something they shared, a bond stronger than anything either of them had with Angela.
He felt Bean sagging on his lap, her arms becoming heavy as she tired. He stared at the hospital where she was born, it was like a glowing spaceship in the night.
He heard footsteps on the ladder behind them, then the clatter of the steel door as it swung open.
‘Thought I’d find you girls here.’
Barry strode over and was silhouetted against the security lights below on the building site. Tyler couldn’t see his face, just the muscle-bound shape of him, the hardman stance, fists clenched. He was a source of darkness, a lack of light.
‘She should be in bed,’ he said.
‘Like you care.’
Barry took a step forward and Tyler felt Bean flinch in his arms.
Barry stared at her for a moment then turned to Tyler.
‘Come on, bitch,’ he said. ‘We’ve got work to do.’



Breakers is available from Amazon.

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