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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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.

She hung her bag by the door. She checked the phone, washed her hands, splashed her face. There was an apple in the fridge and she ate it, ignoring the bruises but cringing at the texture. She took two slices of bread from the freezer and dropped them into the toaster but while she stared at a wall and thought of nothing, the toast burnt. She threw it away and poured some red wine into a whisky glass instead.

In the living room she opened the window. There was no breeze; the temperature was the same outside as it was in. She had a fan somewhere but wherever it was it was broken. She had a hairdryer. Set to low it would feel about the same.

The living room was the only room of the flat she liked. The kitchen was poky, the bathroom full of mould and the bedroom dark and a mess. The living room was bright all day and it was comfortable. There was a rug and her TV and a view, if she leant right out of the sash window, of a corner of the common. The sofa, underneath the throws, was a disturbing shade of green but its embrace was perfectly judged – an arm around the shoulder rather than a full-bodied hug. Although sometimes, on days like today for instance, the hug would have been welcome too.

It was in the living room that she kept her books. She read a lot. Novels mainly; history books if she felt she had been gorging on Rebus. The books filled the shelves the landlord had left for her, as well as her IKEA bookcase. She liked to let her eyes graze upon the spines. She liked being able to identify a book without being close enough to read its title. The battered corners, the creases on each cover – they were a mark of familiarity. They were a comfort.

Tonight she did not read. The book she had started lay where she had left it the night before the shooting. She had snapped its spine and placed it face down upon the floor, as though such treatment might render it more compliant, more accessible, less determined to make hard work of itself. It was about Stalingrad: the battle, the siege. It was never going to make for an easy read. The problem was she had read too much to give up but not enough to start counting down towards the end. She had reached page one hundred and forty-three and it had not even started snowing.

She picked up the television remote control. She put it down again. She always checked the listings but there was never anything on that she felt the urge to watch. Someone had told her to get Sky, to get a Freeview box at least, and she had agreed that it would probably be worth it, which was as far as she had got.

She stood up and wandered to the window. She looked out at the common and she knelt with her chin on her hands on the sill and then she got up and poured herself some more wine. In the end she gathered her case notes from her desk and returned with them to the sofa. From the pile she plucked a transcript at random. It was an interview with one of the kids. Not one of hers. A DC had taken this one. She had read it before and though she did not remember it, she knew that it said nothing. Nothing. It spoke of pain and grief and shock and more pain but from her perspective, her professional perspective, that was nothing.

She picked up the remote control again and this time flicked on the television. She hit mute and stared at the images as she thought about Szajkowski and about the children and about the upturned chairs in the hall. Then she willed herself not to. She willed herself to think about something else. For a while nothing came to her, until she remembered what she had said to the DCI, about the weekend, about her plans, and she wondered whether he had believed her.


We didn’t get on. So what? It wasn’t a secret. It’s hardly a crime. Turns out I had him down pretty good, wouldn’t you say?

Physical education, since you ask. I have a degree in sport and leisure studies from the University of Loughborough. It’s the best course of its kind in the country. Tough to get on. Even tougher to complete. Hardest damn thing I’ve ever done and I used to compete. Triathlons, Ironman, marathons sometimes. My knees put me out. My knees and my ankle.

Physical education: it’s a science. When we were at school it meant a cross-country run in our underwear. A game of rugby for the boys, hockey for the girls. No discipline, no organisation and no specialisation. Our headmaster used to take us. He would chuck us out a football and sit refereeing from the window of his office. Refereeing. Hah. He used to read the paper. He would look up if he heard a holler but otherwise he left us to it. When you fouled someone you had to foul them quietly. You had to wind them so they couldn’t yell.

There’s something to be said for it. The Darwinian approach to sport. You know Darwin, right? But you wouldn’t get away with that now. Like I say, it’s a science these days. It’s become a science. We teach them sportsmanship and skills – transferable skills, we call them – and nutrition and stuff like that. Just last week we had an hour on callisthenics. I can never say that word. Callisthenics. Callisthenics.

People assume it must be easy. There’s a lot of prejudice that surrounds my job. Szajkowski, he’s a perfect example.

We have a week, before the start of term. The headmaster’s there and all the teachers are there and we have to do this training, attend these sessions. It’s bullshit most of it, a waste of time. But part of it is a social thing. You know, everyone getting reacquainted, meeting the newbies, that sort of thing.

Anyway. So there were two new teachers last term. One of them’s Matilda Moore, she teaches chemistry. Quiet girl but nice enough. Not much into sport but she’s not ignorant about it. She’s not arrogant. The other one of course is Sam Szajkowski. Sam ‘Call me Samuel’ Szajkowski.

So it’s the end of the day and we’re in the hall and the headmaster’s laid on a spread. You know, sandwiches with their crusts chopped off, mini sausage rolls, crisps. We’re drinking wine or fruit juice or whatever and everyone’s having a nice enough time. The headmaster’s standing here, Matilda’s over there, we’re all dotted about in groups. All a bit low key for my tastes, not particularly lively, but you just get on with it, don’t you?

So I see Szajkowski on his own and though the headmaster has introduced him to everyone, I haven’t said hello myself. So I do. He’s new here, I’m thinking. The guy’s on his own. I should make an effort to make him feel welcome.

Now I realise me and him aren’t exactly alike. He’s about half my size and pasty and he looks a bit like Woody Allen but with a scraggly black beard and without the glasses and not as old or into sex. Or maybe he was, who the fuck knows? But just because we’re not alike doesn’t mean we can’t get on. Like George. George Roth. He teaches RE and we’re about the least similar people you can imagine. I mean, I’ve never set foot in a church, let alone a mosque or a temple or a Jew hall, but we get on well enough, we get along. We talk about football and he tells me football is a type of religion and I don’t suppose he’s wrong. Which would make Pelé God, right? Or Matt Le Tissier, depending on where you’re from.

But Szajkowski: right away we’re on the wrong foot. I say hi and pleased to meet you. I tell him my name and tell him to call me TJ, because everyone else does, even the kids.

He says, hello TJ. I’m Samuel. Samuel Szajkowski.

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