Authors: Simon Mason
Meet Garvie Smith. Highest IQ ever recorded at Marsh Academy. Lowest ever grades. What's the point, anyway? Life sucks. Nothing ever happens.
Until Chloe Dow's body is pulled from a pond.
DI Singh is already on the case. Ambitious, uptight, methodical â he's determined to solve the mystery and get promoted. He doesn't need any âassistance' from notorious slacker, Smith.
Or does he?
For Gwilym and Eleri
DIRTY WEATHER BLEW
into the city. It crashed against the towering glass office blocks in the west and pelted the spires, domes and grand facades of the historic centre. It spread north across hospitals and schools, and south across clubs and casinos. Darkening and accelerating, it raced east across the sewage works, the industrial park and the car plant. And at last it fell on the Five Mile estate, blackening cracked asphalt, flooding blocked drains and beating against the windows of Flat 12 Eastwick Gardens, where sixteen-year-old Garvie Smith lay on his bed, hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling.
He was a slender boy with a beautiful face, wearing slouch skinny jeans, plain hoodie and muddy high tops. He had been lying there, in exactly the same position, for two hours. Staring.
His mother appeared in the doorway. She was a solid lady from Barbados with a broad face and clipped black hair misting over with grey. In her hand was an official-looking letter, which she folded away in her coat pocket as she glared at her son. She opened her mouth. Sixteen years of being a single parent had not only thickened and toughened her, but given her voice startling power.
He showed no sign of having heard.
âI'm busy,' he said at last, to the ceiling.
âDon't mess with me, Garvie. Why aren't you revising?'
âI am revising.'
There was a pause while his mother turned her attention to his room and its contents; not just the tumult of dirty laundry, piles of equipment and overflow of general rubbish, but also â and in particular â the little table reserved for studying, unused for months and heaped with everything but books.
âRevising what exactly?'
There was an even longer pause while Garvie thought about this. âComplex numbers,' he said at last.
His mother began to take deep breaths. He could hear her.
Without taking his eyes off the ceiling, he said, âSay my revision book is unit
âGarvie!' Her voice was a low growl.
âAnd my revising is unit
âGarvie, I'm warning you!'
is the complex number
has the property
= â1.' He paused. âIt's what they call an unresolvable equation.'
He was silent.
âAre you smoking that stuff again?'
He didn't reply and didn't change his position, and his mother stared intently at his impassive face. He could hear her staring.
She was about to tell him he was a complete mystery to her.
âYou're a complete mystery to me,' she said.
She was going to say she didn't know who he was any more.
âGarvie Smith?' she said. âI don't know who you are.'
He heard her draw a deep breath. She was about to run through her usual list. It was a long list and needed a lot of breath.
With a minimum of elaboration and maximum force, she listed several relevant things. That Garvie's room was a box filled with junk. That proper revision is done sitting at a table with books and a computer (switched on). That Garvie Smith was the laziest boy in Five Mile, the laziest boy she'd ever heard of anywhere, perhaps the laziest boy in all history â not to mention rude and inconsiderate and
. That he was getting himself into worse and worse trouble every which way â and don't think she didn't know all about it. And that his exams, less than two months away, were absolutely his last chance to redeem himself.
He didn't respond.
âI'm warning you, Garvie,' she said. âYou shift yourself. Shift yourself right now. Get off your bed, get your revision books out of your bag and turn on your computer.'
She was on her way out to the hospital, where, as Deputy Nurse Manager in the surgery unit, she often worked irregular hours. The letter which she had come in to discuss was now forgotten. She glared fiercely at her son one last time before withdrawing. âWhen I get back,' she said, âI want to see this room completely tidy and a neat pile of work all done. I mean it, Garvie. You don't go out, understand? You're grounded till that revision's done.'
Snorting, she left him, and a moment later there was the bang of the flat door slamming shut behind her.
Her son the mystery carried on staring at the ceiling. There were a couple of things his mother had forgotten to say and he said them to himself now. That he was a boy whose alleged âgenius' level of IQ had never helped him achieve a single âA' grade in any subject in five years of secondary schooling. (âNot one, Garvie!') That he was a boy from a good home who was getting into trouble â and not just for missing school work or an untidy bedroom or general laziness, but for truancy, drinking and (âDon't you deny it, Garvie!') for smoking
He carried on staring at the ceiling. The rain carried on beating against the window.
genius? Watching difficult numbers fall into place? Remembering what other people didn't or seeing what they missed? Yeah, well. What did numbers
? What happened that was worth remembering? What did he see that made him doubt for a second that life in general wasn't some slow-motion, meaningless, crappy,
little ball of cheap carpet fluff?
Therefore he carried on staring at the ceiling, fully clothed, muddy high tops on, his face completely still. An unusual face with his jet-black hair, coppery complexion, bright blue eyes; a double-take sort of face, the result of his mixed-race ancestry. But a face completely blank with boredom.
An hour passed. Rain crackled against the window, cars hissed by on the ring road. Another hour passed.
Then something else hit the window.
With a yawn, Garvie pulled himself off the bed and went over to look out. Standing hunched on the patch of grass below, a sharp-faced boy with thin wrists raised a hand. Felix. Felix the Cat. He was one of Garvie's friends that his mother classed as âtrouble'.
âIs your mum in?'
âComing out for a smoke?'
Garvie put on his old flaky-leather jacket and went out of the flat and down the stairs. It was nearly dark outside. The rain had temporarily stopped and the wet front of Eastwick Gardens shone black and yellow under the lamplight. Behind the block of flats was the ring road, quieter now, and the looming black silhouette of the car plant, and behind that farm fields and scrubland. The other way was the estate â a maze of roads and streets, of pebble-dash semis and maisonettes, garages and corner shops, wire fences, grass verges and cracked kerbs, all ordinary, familiar and dull.
A cab came past and honked its horn, and Garvie lifted a hand to the driver, Abdul, a friend of his mother. Then he joined Felix and they set off down the road together, jackets zipped up against the damp evening chill, ambling along the line of parked vans, past the electrical suppliers and betting shop, towards Old Ditch Road, where the kiddies' playground was.
Felix glanced about him continually as he walked, as if on the lookout for unexpected opportunities. He had a long white face flecked with pimples, and big black eyes. He was light on his feet, like a dancer. Garvie kept pace with him, head down, strolling along with his usual loose stride.
After a while he said, âAnother Friday night in Paradise.'
Felix looked sideways at him, snuffed and wiped his sharp nose. Then they went on in silence until they reached the playground.
There were a few others there already, hunched on the too-small swings and tiny roundabout. Ordinary boys with hoodies and wet hair and a dislike of being bored. They slapped hands and looked about them and settled back down.