Simon Lelic: A Thousand Cuts

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Simon Lelic A Thousand Cuts
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    A Thousand Cuts
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A Thousand Cuts: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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In the depths of a sweltering summer, teacher Samuel Szajkowski walks into his school assembly and opens fire. He kills three pupils and a colleague before turning the gun on himself. Lucia May, the young policewoman who is assigned the case, is expected to wrap up things quickly and without fuss. The incident is a tragedy that could not have been predicted and Szajkowski, it seems clear, was a psychopath beyond help. Soon, however, Lucia becomes preoccupied with the question no one else seems to want to ask: what drove a mild-mannered, diffident school teacher to commit such a despicable crime? Piecing together the testimonies of the teachers and children at the school, Lucia discovers an uglier, more complex picture of the months leading up to the shooting. She realises too that she has more in common with Szajkowski than she could have imagined. As the pressure to bury the case builds, she becomes determined to tell the truth about what happened, whatever the consequences…

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‘He was whacko. A nutcase. Depressed, schizophrenic, abused, I don’t care. Why else would he shoot up a school?’

‘He was depressed. That’s enough for you? He was depressed.’

‘Jesus Christ, Lucia, what does it matter? He’s dead. He’s not going to be doing it again.’

‘We’re talking about a shooting in a school, Guv. In a school.’

‘So we are. What’s your point?’

Lucia could smell coffee on the chief inspector’s breath. She could feel heat leaking through his pores. She tried moving her chair backwards once more but the legs snagged against the pile of the carpet. She got up. ‘I’m going to let in some air.’ She slid past her boss towards the window and reached through the blind to find the latch.

‘It doesn’t open. It’s never opened.’

Lucia tried twisting the latch anyway but it had long since gummed itself shut. She turned and leant back against the sill. Her fingertips were sticky with grime.

‘There’s something you’re not telling me.’

‘No there isn’t.’

‘There is. There’s something you’re not telling me. Look, this guy, this Szajkowski—’ he pronounced it saj-cow-skee ‘—no one knew about him, right? He wasn’t on any lists.’

‘He wasn’t on any lists.’

‘So no one messed up. No one could have predicted it, which means no one could have stopped it.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘So why won’t you let this thing go?’

Lucia picked at the dirt on her fingers.

‘These things happen, Lucia. Sometimes these things happen. It’s shitty but it’s life. Our job is to catch the bad guys. In this case, the bad guy’s dead. All the rest – the accusations, the recriminations, the lessons fucking learnt – leave that to the politicians.’

‘I want more time.’


‘I need more time.’

‘Then tell me why.’

It was one of those thick summer days when the sun seems to exhale over the city so that by the afternoon the whole of London is consumed by its hazy, sticky breath. Though the brightness had faded, the temperature if anything had increased. Lucia stuck out her lower lip and blew air across her brow. She tugged at the underarms of her blouse.

‘What if there was more than one bad guy?’ she said. ‘What if not all of the bad guys are dead?’

‘Five hundred people saw Szajkowski pull the trigger. You’re not telling me that all of them are wrong.’

‘No, I’m not. That’s not what I’m saying. But you don’t have to be the one to pull the trigger to deserve a portion of the blame.’

The DCI shook his head. He was shaking it still as he lowered himself into his seat.

‘I can feel another cold sore coming, Lucia. I can feel a bastard lawsuit coming.’

‘Just give me a week.’


‘Just one more week, sir. Please.’

Cole was shuffling paperwork on his desk. He answered without looking up. ‘Can’t do it.’

Lucia tapped her notebook against her thigh. She looked out of the window and down into the car park and then back at her superior. ‘Why not?’ she said. ‘Why the urgency?’

He met her gaze. ‘I like things neat,’ he said. ‘I like things tidy. I don’t like things dragging on. Besides—’ the chief inspector again located a page on his desk that seemed to catch his interest ‘—you said it yourself. We’re talking about a shooting in a school. The longer we leave it… Well. It makes people nervous, let’s put it like that.’

‘What people?’

‘Don’t be naive, Inspector. People. Just people.’

They heard a jubilant holler from the open-plan office outside. They heard clapping. Lucia and her boss looked towards the sound but their view was obscured by the smoked-glass wall.

‘How long are you giving me?’

‘You’ve got until Monday. I need your report before lunchtime. ’

‘So one day. Effectively you’re giving me one day.’

‘It’s Thursday. You’ve got this evening and you’ve got Friday and you’ve got the weekend.’

‘I have plans for the weekend.’

‘Then prioritise, Lucia. You can give me the report right now if you’d prefer.’

Lucia folded her arms. ‘Prioritise.’

Cole nodded, almost smiled.

‘Thank you, sir. I appreciate your advice.’

Walter called out to her as she strode past his desk. She ignored him, carried on walking, but Harry was blocking her path. He was on one knee clutching a fistful of paper towels. There was a puddle of liquid and a cracked coffee pot beside him. The spilt coffee had been the source of the applause, Lucia realised. It would have been Walter who had cried out with glee.

‘Here,’ she said and she bent to Harry’s side.

‘Goddammit,’ Harry muttered, relinquishing the paper towels to Lucia. There was a welt on the side of his hand. He raised the mark to his mouth and sucked.

‘What happened?’

‘I dropped it. Goddammit.’ He inspected the burn on his hand.

‘When you’re done on the floor with Harry, Lulu, I’ll be waiting for you on my desk.’

Lucia did not turn around. ‘You should put something on that hand,’ she said.

‘It’s okay.’ Harry stood and shoved the burnt hand into his pocket. The broken pot dangled from his left. ‘I’d better do something with this.’

Lucia got up. She threw the paper towels into the bin by Walter’s desk and made to follow Harry.

‘Don’t do that, Lulu. Don’t give me the silent treatment.’

She should have kept walking. She should have left Walter in the arms of his ego. Yet she could sense his leer even with her back to him, could picture him reclining in his chair. The others would be watching too – willing her to retort but just as ready to laugh if she stayed silent.

She turned. ‘What’s your problem, Walter? What is it that you want to say?’

‘It’s our problem, Lulu. Yours and mine. It’s my girlfriend,’ he said. ‘I think she knows.’

‘Your girlfriend?’ said Lucia. ‘Didn’t she burst?’

There was laughter. Heads in the office poked above partitions. Phones were cradled or receivers covered with palms. Walter’s leer was contagious. It had contaminated the entire department.

‘I’m serious, Lulu. We’re going to have to call this thing off. We’re going to have to call it a day.’

‘You’re breaking my heart, Walter. Truly, you’re breaking my heart.’

‘But listen.’ He glanced at the faces around him and then at the office Lucia had just left. ‘Cole’ll be gone by six. What say you and I sneak into his office, turn down the lights and say one last goodbye on his couch.’

Lucia looked at Walter’s smirk, at the blotched skin on his jowls and at his thighs too fat for his suit, and all she could do was shake her head. And then, willing herself not to but unable to resist, she voiced the only retort that came to mind.

‘You’re a prick, Walter. A fucking prick.’

She got home and she opened the door and she wished she had a dog.

She thought perhaps she might get one. Nothing too big but not a ratty dog either. A spaniel, maybe. A beagle. She would call it Howard and she would feed it from her plate and let it sleep on one side of her bed. She would teach it to attack fat men called Walter and chief inspectors with halitosis but Walters before chief inspectors.

The flat was hot. The air felt recycled, as though it had been warmed and sucked free of oxygen by a hundred pairs of lungs, and then exhaled and sealed into the box that she still could not think of as home.

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