Authors: Siobhan Dowd
Tags: #Ages 8 and up
When she got to the end, she said, ‘Salim, I just have to face it. My weirdo brother’s a genius.’
Salim looked at me. ‘You’re a neek all right, Ted. Only it’s got nothing to do with nerds and geeks. It’s short for
Kat and Salim laughed at that, so I did too. And that was when I knew I had five friends now, not three – Mum, Dad, Mr Shepherd, Kat and Salim –
and I was pleased.
‘What was the worst thing about being trapped in that block, Salim?’ Kat said.
Salim shrank back into the pillows. ‘Ugh. You don’t
want to know?’
‘Yes, we do,’ Kat said.
‘The noises, I guess. The noises at night. I’d lie on the mattress and hear the wind. Moaning around the tower, up, down, everywhere. Then the patters and sighs started, odd gurgles. Noises I didn’t understand. I couldn’t place them. Scuttles – creatures scooting across walls? Rats? Cockroaches? And flaps of wings
– bats or birds? I lay in the dark, I put my jacket over my head, I buried my ears under my arms, but I could still hear them. Then something landed on my cheek, just a scrape. I sat up and screamed my head off . . .’
‘OK – OK,’ Kat said, blocking her ears. ‘Sorry I asked.’
bad,’ Salim said.
‘During the day, it was OK. I watched the weather. I was close to the clouds. There was this thunderstorm. I saw lightning flickering over London, and these dark sheets of rain moved in, and then the sun came out. I took photos. Buildings and sky. One half of London was dark, the other light and sunny. The river was in both halves, a thin, silver line, and what divided it all was the Eye, big and white. I took a photo, Kat, the last one on the disposable camera. But the best I ever took.’
That afternoon Kat and I had a final visit from Detective Inspector Pearce. Dad and Mum sat and listened while Kat told her everything that we’d thought and done. Detective Inspector Pearce’s lips turned upwards at the end.
She looked at me. ‘Some brain,’ she said. She looked at Kat. ‘Some action,’ she said. ‘You two have everything it takes to make first-class police detectives.’
‘Dunno,’ Kat said, dubious. ‘I fancy the fashion trade.’
I told her I was destined for the Met Office.
‘Pity,’ she sighed. ‘My colleagues say I’m a good detective. You have to be, if you’re a woman in the Force. But you two have taught me something. Youngsters are more worth listening to than a legion of adults. If it weren’t for you two, Salim might still be trapped in that tower block. And by now the concrete crushers would have done their worst. I dread to think . . .’ She shook her head. ‘We looked high and low. North and south. And all along he was right round the corner.’
Then Dad said, ‘I just don’t understand how Salim got himself locked in like that. I had a security guard posted at the gate. And I checked each floor, one by one, to make sure it was empty.’
It was a few phone calls later before we knew what had happened. Salim said that as he’d walked past the block, he’d noticed the gate to the boarded-up fence ajar. It was a magnet. He thought of the twenty-four floors, the views that would soon no longer exist, his disposable camera. He’d be only a few minutes, he’d promised himself. He’d slipped in.
Nobody was about. He’d found the main entrance, then the door to the stairwell. He’d cruised up the stairs.
Meanwhile Dad had been checking each floor was vacated, the last tenants all gone. He’d posted his colleague Jacky Winter as a guard at the outer gate while he’d gone up, using the stairs, until he got to the top.
‘You rang me, Faith, to say that Salim had gone missing, just as I was on the twenty-fourth floor, in the vacated flat. I remember rushing out – I left the door to the flat unlocked. It was no big deal, since the building would be secure from below. To save time I took the lift back down to the lobby. Just as Salim was coming up the stairs, I guess. I locked all the doors in the lobby area. I turned off the water and electricity. I went outside. I locked the main entrance. There was Jacky, by the fence gate, where I’d left him. We padlocked the gate together – and left.’
Salim swore he’d seen no sign of a guard. Jacky Winter was questioned. At first he denied having left his post. Then he broke down and admitted it. He’d nipped to the newsagent’s. He’d only been gone two minutes. He’d been dying for a smoke and had ‘run out of fags’.
He lost his job.
The Last Turn of the Wheel
Two days later we saw Salim and Aunt Gloria off at the airport. Salim grinned at me and shook my hand hard before they went through passport control.
‘Mr Unique,’ he said. ‘See you in New York.’
Mum and Aunt Gloria embraced in their usual embarrassing way.
Dad went to kiss Aunt Gloria on the cheek but missed and kissed the air instead.
Aunt Gloria gave Kat, then me, her hot, hard hug. Just as I squirmed away, she grabbed my wrist.
‘Here, Ted,’ she said. ‘Take these and throw them away. I don’t need them any more.’ She thrust her cigarette holder and cigarette case at me and fanned her face as if she could no longer stand the thought of smoke.
Then she smiled and I remembered to smile back and that was how Aunt Gloria became my sixth friend.
‘C’mon, Mum,’ Salim said. ‘We’ll miss our flight.’
He tugged her sleeve. They waved a last goodbye. Salim looked at me over his shoulder as the guard checked his passport. We were eyeball to eyeball, just as we’d been when we’d first met. He winked. I’m not sure if I got it right, but I scrunched up one of my eyes as hard as I could.
Their plane took off as a large Atlantic high asserted itself across Lundy and Fastnet. It stayed fair with moderate winds for the duration of their flight. When we got home, Dad said he was going to spend the weekend in bed. But he didn’t. He began cooking eggs, whistling the
Laurel and Hardy
theme tune, as if the hurricane that was Aunt Gloria had never been. ‘I’m making my special omelette, Faith,’
he said. ‘The one you used to like when we were dating.’
Mum rolled her eyes but smiled at the same time.
like it?’ Kat asked.
‘If your mum does, you will,’ Dad said. ‘Because I know and Ted knows too, don’t we, Ted?’
‘Hrumm,’ I said. ‘Know what?’
‘Mum and Kat are like two peas in a pod. That’s why they argue all the time.’
Mum looked at Kat.
Kat shrugged. ‘Takes one to know one,’ she said. They smiled.
After the omelette, which was very good to eat, Mum announced that Aunt Gloria and Rashid wanted Kat and me to have a present for what we’d done. Kat admitted to the fifty quid we’d not given back since being at the Eye. She gave Mum what was left over from our investigations. Mum laughed when she heard how we’d spent it. She insisted it didn’t count. We could still have something else.
‘What – anything?’
‘Anything within reason.’
I chose a weather watch. It’s an amazing invention. It tells the time, but it also has an excellent compass and different modes. When you press a button, it becomes a mini barometer, showing the air pressure. My weather predictions have increased in accuracy by 31.5 per cent.
Kat said she wanted a motor scooter.
Mum shrieked, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Kat. You’re too young.’
‘Aw, Mum – you
‘Within reason, Kat.’
‘OK, OK. Can I have my hair cut and coloured at Hair Flair, then?’
Hair Flair was where she’d gone for a consultation when she’d gone AWOL from school that day. Mum sighed. ‘All right – Hair Flair it is,’ she said.
Kat came home later that day with her brown hair cut into different lengths, with a long uneven fringe that kept falling over her eyes and dirty blonde streaks like rain makes when it goes down a windowpane. I wondered how she could see to walk. Mum’s mouth opened but no sound came out. Dad glanced up at Kat over his newspaper and disappeared behind it again. The newsprint shuddered.
‘Don’t you like it?’ Kat said, her voice going upwards.
My head went off to one side. ‘Kat,’ I said.
I could have said she looked like a sheepdog that had forgotten how to bark, but I didn’t. ‘It’s a real cool haircut, Kat.’
Through the strands of fringe, she smiled. My third lie. I wrote it down in my new silver folder, called
. It’s in my desk drawer and it’s got a lot of growing to do.
Just as planned, the Barracks got knocked down. Our neighbourhood looked odd at first, as if a giant alien presence had been beamed to another planet, leaving behind naked sky. Then I realized. Since it’s gone there’s a different view. When you walk down our street, just as you turn onto the main road, for an instant, you see half the Eye. You almost have to pinch yourself. It looks unreal, as in Kat’s dream. It’s moving so slowly you’d hardly know. The capsules of glass and steel glitter. The white spokes wobble in the sun’s glare. And always, Salim’s silhouette is there, hovering in the centre, waving to us just as he did that day. Salim or not Salim. Salim Supreme. It’s as if the moment he boarded, 11.32 a.m., 24 May, floats on in a time warp somewhere in my brain.
My warmest thanks are due to the following people, without whose encouragement I could not have written this story: Marie Conan, Fiona Dunbar, Oona Emerson, Geoff Morgan and my nieces Sophie Theis and Siobhan Emerson, who gave important feedback on plot intricacies. Maximum thanks also go to Hilary Delamere, who went around this particular London Eye three times over. I am greatly indebted to Sophie Nelson’s sharp copy-editing eyes and, as ever, to the wondrous editorial quartet that is Annie Eaton, David Fickling, Kelly Hurst and Bella Pearson.