Poster Boy - N J Crosskey

‘Keep this book far from anyone who might be tempted to turn its fiction into reality' Christina Dalcher

Broadcast live, Rosa Lincoln takes to the stage at her brother’s memorial service with a bomb concealed beneath her clothes. Being in Jimmy’s shadow was never easy, even when he was alive, but in death he has become a national hero.

When she crosses paths with the enigmatic Teresa, she discovers that those she has been taught to view as enemies may not be the real villains after all.

The lies need to be stopped, and Rosa intends on doing just that.

What Reviewers and Readers Say:

‘A thought-provoking debut – fast-paced, gutsy and disturbing’ Fiona Mitchell, author of The Maid’s Room

'Poster Boy is a chilling, thrilling and intensely disturbing read – a conspiracy to divide and control a nation at whatever the cost leaves the reader feeling this is terrifyingly real! An outstanding rollercoaster of a read… Completely gripping. Intensely disturbing. Terrifyingly real!' Liz Lawler, author of Don’t Wake Up

'Poster Boy hits hard at page one, and keeps on hitting until the end. Read this too-close-to-home book, but keep it far from anyone who might be tempted to turn its fiction into reality' Christina Dalcher, Author of VOX

'In Poster Boy, Crosskey creates a disturbingly plausible dystopian Britain. It's a timely, page-turner of a novel – fierce and perceptive' Joanne Burn, author of Petals and Stones

Poster Boy Extract
Part 1
When I was a child, I used to count my footsteps. Whenever the journey seemed overwhelming, or the surroundings intimidating, I would keep the drumbeat of numbers pounding in my head.
The walk home from school was broken down into small numerical accomplishments. One, two, three. I watched my shiny black shoes patter on the cracked paving stones, ignoring the uniformed hordes around me. Four, five, six. I listened to the predictable, ordered pattern in my head, not the chaos of laughter and gossip. Ten steps and I passed the boys spitting and swearing on the corner, shouting the numbers in my mind, drowning them out. Twenty and I reached the post box.
It’s funny how these childhood mantras come to mind right before you die.
Now I need to make these adult feet move. Just a few more steps. I need to take this one last journey through the heaving crowd. I inhale deeply and try to focus. Human life simmers beneath the August sun; its aromas teased out. The scent of fresh sweat in the air is almost sweet.
I fix my gaze on the wooden stage ahead. About fifty steps, surely? No more than from the battered wheelie bin at the end of my road to number thirty-seven’s broken gate. Maybe less? My stride was shorter then. If I count loudly in my mind, I can block out the crowd. If I watch my brown boots on the gravel path, I can ignore their faces.
I don’t want to see their faces.
The policeman on my right touches my shoulder. “Miss Lincoln? Are you okay to do this?”
I nod. But I realise I’m trembling.
“You’ll be fine,” he says. “You’ll do him proud.”
I chance a glimpse of his face. His greying brows are furrowed with concern. He’s about forty, maybe more. Strong jaw, bright eyes. He looks like one of those self-assured types. I wonder if he holds anyone’s hand. If there’s a little girl who will have to count her footsteps when her guardian is gone. My eyes dart away, back to the ground. I shouldn’t have looked. Shouldn’t have put a face, a life, to the man beside me. Because now I worry what they’ll think of him. I feel sorry for his family, for what they’ll have to deal with. He’ll be vilified. Shredded. He had his hand upon me, saw my own hands shaking. Christ, he can probably hear my heart racing; it’s loud enough. But he didn’t realise.
Incompetent, they’ll say. Maybe he volunteers at the local shelter on his days off. Maybe he’s saved hundreds of lives in his career. It won’t matter. All he’ll be remembered for is today’s fuck-up. Perhaps, he’ll even come out of this with a posthumous reputation worse than mine. I’m unstable, after all. Understandable, they’ll say, after all I’ve been through. With the twenty-twenty clarity of hindsight, they’ll all be aghast at the catalogue of oversights that led to this. To me being escorted to my final destination by the very authorities that ought to have stopped me.
All these people, gathered to pay their respects, were frisked before they entered Hyde Park. Waiting in line like cattle for the pleasure of the indignity, then herded into their positions. The officers stride among them with suspicious eyes, evaluating, profiling. But me, I’m being taken care of, protected from the rabble.
They should have considered this a possibility, troubled as I must be.
He probably thinks I’m scared I’ll be attacked again. There’s no reason to suspect anything untoward. Who wouldn’t be a little flustered, just at the prospect of standing up in front of all these people, let alone everything else? It’d be more suspicious if I were calm and confident. Having strange, male hands on my body is the very last thing that ought to happen to a young woman who has endured what I have. If it were necessary, surely it would be done by the female officer who escorted me here. He’s not incompetent, just mistaken.
He’ll be crucified just the same. But it comforts me to think he might not be alive to know about it.
It takes forty-five to reach the wooden steps. I leave tomorrow’s pariah at the bottom and climb. One, two, three, four. I reach the top step. My seat, beside the Archbishop, is the next target. One boot on the shiny platform; two. I don’t look right at the crowd, or left towards the other speakers already seated. I keep my eyes on the gaping expanse of blue chair waiting for me to fill it.
One. In my periphery, I can see the white robes of my soon-to-be chair-neighbour. Two. The microphone stand comes into view. Three. A small beetle spins in frantic circles on its back under the empty chair. Four. I reach it, turn with my eyes still on my boots, and sit.
The Archbishop says something to me. I don’t quite catch it. Something to do with being sorry for my loss, or my ordeal. It’s safe to assume, anyway. So I lift my cheeks. That’s as close to smiling as I can manage, relying on my cheek muscles to lift the edges of my lips a little. I mutter a thank-you. But now I’ve got a problem. There are no more steps. Without the drum beat of numbers in my head I hear the crowd. They’re clapping. For me.
“We love you, Rosa!” a woman cries. “Be strong.”
They clap louder. They chatter among themselves. I look up at the front row. Expectant faces full of doe-eyed sympathy. Frowning faces, trying to plaster concern over curiosity. Here I am, Ladies and Gentlemen, in the flesh. Their eyes move over my body. They’re thinking about what they’ve read in the newspapers. What Gridless did to me. They’re wondering if I’m wearing long sleeves on a hot day because I’ve still got rope burns round my wrists. I wonder what they’d think if they knew it was really because of the track marks. And the bomb, of course.
Against my better judgement, I lift my gaze further, scanning the whole crowd. My brother’s face stares back at me from a dozen different angles. His picture held aloft on home-made placards. Enlarged, embossed, underscored by handwritten messages.
R.I.P. brave soldier.
Thank You, Jimmy.
London’s Angel.
The same photo on every one. That photo. The one they chose from the hundreds available. The one that captures the essence of who they wanted him to be but nothing of the truth. Or rather, nothing that was truth. Now I know even truth can be changed. Manipulated. It happens all the time. Our perceptions are changed for us so rapidly, it’s a wonder we’re not constantly dizzy and disorientated. Perhaps we are.
Some of the crowd begin to clap and cheer, others fall silent. A glance to my left tells me why. It’s not appropriate to boo and jeer at a memorial service, whatever your political leanings. Cole approaches the stage, in his customary black suit and wacky tie (the black suit says, ‘I mean business’, the irreverent tie says ‘I’m a man of the people’). Today, it’s less garish, out of feigned respect I assume. A muted sky blue with an embroidered cartoon dog on it: Dusty, Jimmy’s media-approved favourite.
The applause continues, Cole’s supporters unmasking themselves with clapped hands. I have a fleeting fantasy that all English Reclamation Party voters are asked to move to the front. I wish I could request it, but I know I can’t. Shame.
I find myself counting his footsteps as he approaches the microphone. I have an awful feeling he’ll try to catch my eye, shoot me a condescending look of pity. Or worse, mouth a pithy condolence. So I keep my eyes on his shoes and let the numbers sweep my mind away. He stops at twelve and my distraction is gone. I don’t want to hear a single word that comes out of his mouth, much less any that concern my twin.
So I think about footsteps. All the millions of footsteps we’ve taken that we can’t undo. The paths we’ve walked that we can’t retrace. I think about Cole’s steps. I think about mine. But mostly, I think about Jimmy’s.