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Shameless Self-Promotion

THE VENETIAN PEARLS is free for download until 21 February. But there are so many "buy my book" posts floating about, it's impossible to buy, or even to look at, everything. Here's a little teaser to help you decide. Let me know what you think.

3.) Chris and I made a new friend. His name's Daniel. He's nice but in a way different from us – and yet exactly the same.

Daniel gave a sigh and put his book down. Another pebble pelted against the backrest of the bench. The beach radiated comfortable warmth. Daniel's blond hair was dishevelled because of the wind. In the bay, red, white and blue fishing boats were bobbing on the swell. The jacket his mother had forced on him was folded over the backrest of the bench. How good to be away from her for a while. It would have been even better to be able to read in peace.

The next pebble ricocheted off the backrest and hit Daniel's ear.

He turned around.

"Gimme a break, OK?"

The two boys smirked at him. They were wearing Bermuda shorts, T-shirts, elbow and knee-pads. Two metallic blue BMX-bikes were parked by the side of the beach way.

"That's our bench," one of the boys shouted. His face was full of freckles.

Daniel made a show of searching. "Don't see a name on it."

The second boy, shorter and stockier than his friend, pitched another stone. "Get off!"

Daniel shook his head, turned back and took up his book. The two came towards him, their steps crunching over pebbles and sand. Daniel guessed they'd just banter on for a while and eventually leave him alone. So they took him by surprise.

The stocky one pulled Daniel up by the front of his T-shirt. He was surprisingly strong. Daniel dropped the book. Freckles gave it a hearty kick.

That guy must be a great soccer player, Daniel couldn't help thinking.

Before Daniel even had the time to resist, Stocky had turned him around. He fixed Daniel's arms behind his back in a hard grip and spoke close to his ear, "If you want to sit on our bench, you'll have to pay."

"Forget it," Daniel gasped.

"You will pay." Freckles aimed for a kick against Daniel's right leg.

Left-footed. Like Messi, Daniel thought.

The force of the kick would have felled a young tree. Daniel didn't even wince. Freckles, however, was hopping around on his right foot, his face distorted with pain, cursing.

Stocky gaped as his friend. "What's wrong? What's happened to you?" But he didn't let go. The strain on Daniel's shoulders became painful.

When Freckles turned at Daniel again, all colour had drained from his face. His jaw muscles were tense. "You'll pay for that."

With  clenched fists  he  came towards  Daniel, who strained against Stocky's grip. Stocky chuckled. His breath brushed Daniel's ear. Daniel closed his eyes, flexed his muscles and waited for the first impact of Freckles's fists.

"Hey, you. Got a problem?" It was a girl's voice.

Daniel opened his eyes. A girl and a boy were striding closer. The girl was shouldering a denim bag and the boy was wearing a grey jeans jacket.

"Mind your own business." With raised fists, Freckles made a few steps towards the girl.

She dropped her bag and resumed the defending posture of a karate fighter. The boy at her side raised his fists as well. Freckles stopped in his tracks.

Then he turned to his friend, snorted and said, "The nerd needs protection from a girl."

Stocky sneered.

"Look who's talking." The boy in the jeans jacket came closer. "And what d'you call two guys going at a shorter one?"

The boy holding Daniel let go. He clearly didn't know where to look or what to say.

"Come on." Freckles jerked his head in the direction of their bikes. "Let them take care of the geek."

The boys strutted back to the street, jumped on their bikes and pedalled away, gesturing and calling insults.

Daniel turned his shoulders to loosen the strain. "Thanks. That was close."

The  girl  took up  her bag and  shook  the sand out of it.

"I didn't know you knew karate," the boy in the jeans jacket said to her.

"I don't." She grinned. "Just thought it a good way not to let them know how scared I was."

Both boys gaped at her.

The girl went over to where the book was lying and brought it back, straightening a couple of dog-eared pages and dusting it off. "Hidden Evidence – Forty True Crimes and How Forensic Science Helped to Solve Them. Sounds interesting. Isn't forensic science about dissecting crime victims to find out how they died?"

"Can I have a look?" the other boy asked.

Daniel nodded. "It's about every kind of science used to support police work. Like methods of identification, analysis of poisons, chemicals, fibres and other evidence found on a crime scene. And then there's ballistics that researches weapons and bullets."

"The way they show it on TV in CSI." The boy in the jacket nodded. He'd read the blurb, pulled a face and returned the book to Daniel.

"Thanks," Daniel said.

The girl smiled, "I'm Nicky."

"I'm Daniel. Daniel Elgin."

"And I'm her cousin Chris," the boy introduced himself.

"What did  you do  to  that guy's  foot?" Nicky asked. "You should have been in pain after that kick, not him."

Daniel scratched his ear. That was it, the point when he had to tell strangers about it. The moment when they understood, nodded with sympathy, then turned and walked away never to be seen again. But these two seemed different. Perhaps he should risk it? He took a deep breath and a plunge, "I don't talk about it to everybody. But you helped me. It's... er..."

How to find the right words? Yes. It was worth a try. He went over to the bench and tapped his right leg twice against the wood. Nicky and Chris both gave a start at the hard, hollow sound and looked at Daniel, aghast.

"It's a prosthesis." Daniel was annoyed at how hot his ears had become. "An artificial limb."

"You're kidding," Chris exclaimed.

"It can't be." Nicky shook her head. "You don't even walk with a limp."

"I know. But it's true." He stared at their blank faces, knew what was about to happen. Any second they'd remember they had something urgent to do and leave. That was what usually happened.

Time froze as they all stood petrified.

Chris cleared his throat, asked, "Aha. And why? I mean how did it −?"

"How I lost my leg?"

Chris nodded.

The memory came like a blow. Daniel shivered. The wail of  heavy tools cutting  through the car wreck was in his ears. The smell of hot metal mingled  with  that of  his  own  blood, threatening  to choke him.

He heaved a breath, had difficulty keeping a tremble out of his voice. "Car accident. My parents were only slightly hurt but my leg got jammed between the front and the back seats, and cut by metal parts from the floor. By the time they'd freed me, it was beyond saving." Daniel sat on the bench. He took his jacket, fumbled with the book, didn't dare look the others in their eyes.

He was astonished when Nicky sat down beside him. "Are you all right?"

THE VENETIAN PEARLS,an N.C.D. Mystery, a whodunit for 8-12-year-olds.