Excerpt

The Hiding Place

C.J. Tudor

The following is an exclusive excerpt from The Hiding Place, the latest from C.J. Tudor, the author of 2018’s acclaimed novel, The Chalk Man. In the wake of tragedy, a man, haunted by his own mysterious past, returns to his hometown and lands a job teaching at his high school.

“So, your letter of recommendation from your previous head is glowing.” It should be. I wrote it myself.

“Thank you.”

“In fact, everything here looks very impressive.” Bullshit is one of my specialties.

“But . . .”

Article continues after advertisement

And there it is.

“There is quite a long gap since your last position—over twelve months.”

I reach for the weak, milky coffee that Miss Grayson eventually slammed on the desk in front of me. I take a sip and try not to grimace.

“Yes, well, that was deliberate. I decided I wanted a sabbatical. I’d been teaching for fifteen years. It was time to restock. Think about my future. Decide where I wanted to go next.”

“And do you mind me asking what you did on your sabbatical? Your CV is a little vague.”

“Some private tutoring. Community work. I taught abroad for a while.”

“Really? Whereabouts?”

Article continues after advertisement

“Botswana.”

Botswana? Where the hell did that come from? I don’t think I could even point to it on a frigging map.

“That’s very commendable.” And inventive.

“It wasn’t entirely altruistic. The weather was better.” We both laugh.

“And now you want to get back to teaching full-time?”

“I’m ready for the next stage in my career, yes.”

“So, my next question is—why do you want to work here at Arnhill Academy? Based upon your CV, I would have thought you have your pick of schools?”

Based upon my CV, I should probably have a Nobel Peace Prize. “Well,” I say, “I’m a local boy. I grew up in Arnhill. I suppose I’d like to give something back to the community.”

He looks uncomfortable, shuffles papers on his desk. “You are aware of the circumstances in which this post became available?”

“I read the news.”

“And how do you feel about that?”

“It’s tragic. Terrible. But one tragedy shouldn’t define a whole school.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that.” I’m glad I practiced it.

“Although,” I add, “I do appreciate you must all still be very upset.”

“Mrs. Morton was a popular teacher.”

“I’m sure.”

“And Ben, well, he was a very promising student.”

I feel my throat tighten, just a little. I’ve grown good at hardening myself. But for a moment it gets to me. A life full of promise. But that’s all life ever is. A promise. Not a guarantee. We like to believe we have our place all set out in the future, but we only have a reservation. Life can be canceled at any moment, with no warning, no refund, no matter how far along you are in the journey. Even if you’ve barely had time to take in the scenery.

But that’s all life ever is. A promise. Not a guarantee. We like to believe we have our place all set out in the future, but we only have a reservation.

Like Ben. Like my sister.

I realize Harry is still talking.

“Obviously, it’s a sensitive situation. Questions have been asked. How could the school not notice that one of their own teachers was mentally unstable? Could students have been at risk?”

“I understand.”

I understand Harry is more worried about his position and his school than poor dead Benjamin Morton, who had his face caved in by the one person in life who should have been there to protect him. “What I’m saying is I have to be careful who I choose to fill the position. Parents need to have confidence.”

“Absolutely. And I completely understand if you have a better candidate—”

“I’m not saying that.”

He hasn’t. I’m bloody sure of it. And I’m a good teacher (mostly). The fact is, Arnhill Academy is a shithole. Underperforming. Poorly regarded. He knows it. I know it. Getting a decent teacher to work here will be harder than finding a bear that doesn’t crap in the woods, especially under the current “circumstances.”

I decide to push the point. “I hope you don’t mind me being honest?”

Always good to say when you have no intention of being honest. “I know Arnhill Academy has problems. That’s why I want to work here. I’m not looking for an easy ride. I’m looking for a challenge. I know these kids because I used to be one of them. I know the community. I know exactly who and what I’m dealing with. It doesn’t faze me. In fact, I think you’ll find very little does.”

I can tell I’ve got him. I’m good in interviews. I know what people want to hear. Most important, I know when they’re desperate.

Harry sits back in his chair. “Well, I don’t think there’s anything else I need to ask.”

“Good. Well, it was a pleasure meeting—”

“Oh, actually, there is just one thing.”

Oh, for fucks

He smiles. “When can you start?”

__________________________________

From THE HIDING PLACE. Used with the permission of the publisher, Crown. Copyright © 2019 by C.J. Tudor.




More Story
Counting Down the Greatest Crime Films of All-Time: #83 Otto Penzler ranks, analyzes, & celebrates the 106 greatest crime films of all-time. Catch up on the series and find...