The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

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  Also by Siobhan Dowd:

  A Swift Pure Cry

  Siobhan Dowd


  Published by David Fickling Books an imprint of Random House Children’s Books a division of Random House, Inc.

  New York

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2007 by Siobhan Dowd

  All rights reserved.

  Originally published in Great Britain by David Fickling Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, in 2007.

  David Fickling Books and colophon are trademarks of David Fickling. Visit us on the Web! Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Dowd, Siobhan.

  The London Eye mystery / by Siobhan Dowd. — 1st American ed. p. cm.

  SUMMARY: When Ted and Kat’s cousin Salim disappears from the London Eye Ferris wheel, the two siblings must work together—Ted with his brain that is “wired differently” and impatient Kat—to try to solve the mystery of what happened to Salim. eISBN : 978-0-375-84935-0

  [1. Asperger’s syndrome—Fiction. 2. Missing children—Fiction. 3. Meteorology—

  Fiction. 4. Brothers and sisters—Fiction. 5. Cousins—Fiction. 6. London (England)—Fiction. 7. England—Fiction. 8. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Title. PZ7.D7538Lo 2008



  Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.


  For Donal


  A Giant Bicycle Wheel in the Sky

  My favourite thing to do in London is to fly the Eye.

  On a clear day you can see for twenty-five miles in all directions because you are in the largest observation wheel ever built. You are sealed into one of the thirty-two capsules with the strangers who were next to you in the queue, and when they close the doors, the sound of the city is cut off. You begin to rise. The capsules are made of glass and steel and are hung from the rim of the wheel. As the wheel turns, the capsules use the force of gravity to stay upright. It takes thirty minutes to go a full circle. From the top of the ride, Kat says London looks like toy-town and the cars on the roads below look like abacus beads going left and right and stopping and starting. I think London looks like London and the cars like cars, only smaller.

  The best thing to see from up there is the river Thames. You can see how it loops and curves but 1


  when you are on the ground you think it is straight. The next best thing to look at is the spokes and metallic hawsers of the Eye itself. You are looking at the only cantilevered structure of its kind on earth. It is designed like a giant bicycle wheel in the sky, supported by a massive A-frame.

  It is also interesting to watch the capsules on either side of yours. You see strangers looking out, just like you are doing. The capsule that is higher than yours becomes lower than yours and the capsule that is lower becomes higher. You have to shut your eyes because it makes a strange feeling go up your oesophagus. You are glad the movement is smooth and slow.

  And then your capsule goes lower and you are sad because you do not want the ride to end. You would like to go round one more time, but it’s not allowed. So you get out feeling like an astronaut coming down from space, a little lighter than you were. We took Salim to the Eye because he’d never been up before. A stranger came up to us in the queue, offering us a free ticket. We took it and gave it to 2


  Salim. We shouldn’t have done this, but we did. He went up on his own at 11.32, 24 May, and was due to come down at 12.02 the same day. He turned and waved to Kat and me as he boarded, but you couldn’t see his face, just his shadow. They sealed him in with twenty other people whom we didn’t know. Kat and I tracked Salim’s capsule as it made its orbit. When it reached its highest point, we both said, ‘NOW!’ at the same time and Kat laughed and I joined in. That’s how we knew we’d been tracking the right one. We saw the people bunch up as the capsule came back down, facing northeast towards the automatic camera for the souvenir photograph. They were just dark bits of jackets, legs, dresses and sleeves.

  Then the capsule landed. The doors opened and the passengers came out in twos and threes. They walked off in different directions. Their faces were smiling. Their paths probably never crossed again. But Salim wasn’t among them.

  We waited for the next capsule and the next and the one after that. He still didn’t appear. 3


  Somewhere, somehow, in the thirty minutes of riding the Eye, in his sealed capsule, he had vanished off the face of the earth. This is how having a funny brain that runs on a different operating system from other people’s helped me to figure out what had happened. 4


  News of a Hurricane

  It started the day the letter from Aunt Gloria arrived.

  Aunt Gloria is my mum’s sister. Mum calls her Glo and Kat calls her Auntie Glo. Dad calls her Hurricane Gloria because he says she leaves a trail of devastation in her wake. I asked him what this meant. Did it mean she was clumsy like I am? He said it wasn’t so much things that she upset, which wouldn’t be so bad; more people and emotions. Does that mean she is evil? I asked. Dad said she didn’t do it on purpose, so no, she wasn’t evil, she was just a handful. I asked him what being a handful meant, and he said it meant being larger than life. When I tried to ask what being larger than life meant, he put his hand on my shoulder. ‘Not now, Ted,’ he said.

  The morning Aunt Gloria’s letter came was the same as any other. I heard the post drop as usual on the doormat. I was on Shreddie number three, and 5


  the radio weather forecast was saying it was set fair but with a risk of showers in the southeast. Kat was eating toast standing up, wriggling. It wasn’t that she had fleas, although that’s what it looked like. She was listening to her weirdo music on headphones. Which meant she wouldn’t hear the weather and wouldn’t wear a raincoat or bring her umbrella to school. Which meant that she would get wet and I wouldn’t and this was good.

  Dad was hopping round in one sock, complaining about how the washing machine had eaten all his socks and he was late. Mum was looking through the laundry bag for a spare.

  ‘Ted, get the post,’ Mum said. She was in her nurse’s uniform and even I know that when her words come out short and sharp like that, you do what she asks, even though I hate leaving my Shreddies to turn to mush.

  I came back with six envelopes. Kat saw me and snatched them off me and picked out a big brown envelope and a small white one. I could see our school emblem on the white one. It is like a 6


  squashed-up X and over it is a bishop’s hat, which is called a mitre. Kat tried to hide it behind the big brown envelope, but Mum saw her.

  ‘Not so fast, Katrina,’ Mum said. When Mum calls Kat Katrina, you know that trouble is coming. Kat’s lips pressed up tight. She handed over the post, all items except the brown envelope, which she held up for all to see that it was addressed to her, Katrina Spark. She opened it and a catalogue came out. It was called Hair Flair. She walked over to the door, head nodding.

  I ate Shreddies numbers seven through seventeen. Dad started humming the theme tune of Laurel and Hardy, his favourite thing to watch on TV. He’d got the other s
ock on and was buttering toast and his hair stood on end and Mum would have said he looked ‘the spit’ of Stan. ‘The spit’ is a way to say

  ‘exactly like’ but don’t ask me why. Anyway, Stan has brown hair and Dad’s hair is fair, like mine, so he doesn’t look exactly like Stan at all.

  ‘ Katrina! ’ Mum bellowed.

  The eighteenth Shreddie fell off my spoon. 7



  ‘This letter from your school . . .’

  ‘What letter from my school?’

  ‘This letter. The one you tried to hide.’

  ‘What about it?’

  ‘It says you were missing last week, without a sick note. Last Tuesday.’

  ‘Oh. Yeah.’


  ‘Well, what?’

  ‘Where were you?’

  ‘She was AWOL, Mum,’ I suggested. Kat and Mum stared at me. ‘AWOL, like in the army,’ I explained. ‘Absent Without Leave.’

  ‘Get stuffed, you creep,’ Kat hissed. She went out and slammed the door after her.

  The radio programme switched back to the news.

  ‘Turn that thing off, Ted,’ Mum said. I fiddled with the knob, but she pulled the plug out of the socket instead. There was silence. I heard Dad munching some toast.

  ‘She’s going off the rails, Ben,’ Mum said to Dad. 8


  ‘Off the rails,’ I repeated, thinking of train accidents. I suppose Mum was saying something about Katrina being AWOL. Maybe ‘off the rails’

  was another way of saying ‘skiving’, which means not going to school when you should. But I didn’t dare check, not with Mum in that mood.

  ‘Off the rails, and nobody cares,’ she said.

  ‘I used to bunk off at her age,’ Dad said. ‘I’d spend the day riding buses and smoking fags in the park.’

  My twentieth Shreddie nearly went down the wrong way. The thought of Dad with a cigarette in hand was very strange. He never smokes now. Dad tapped Mum’s shoulder and when she looked up at him, he kissed her on the middle of her forehead. It gave off a funny squeak that nearly put me off the rest of my Shreddies. ‘Let’s discuss it tonight, Faith. I’ve got to run. There’s a meeting about blowing up the Barracks.’

  Mum’s lips went up a bit. ‘OK, love. Later.’

  I should explain here that Dad is not a terrorist who goes around blowing up the places where soldiers live. He is a demolition expert and the 9


  Barracks was the local name for Barrington Heights, the tallest tower block in our South London borough. It used to be where people who are socially excluded lived. Being socially excluded is a bit like being excluded from school. Instead of a head teacher telling you you have to leave, it’s more that everybody in the rest of society acts like you don’t exist. And you end up with all the other people who are being ignored. And you’re so angry that society is treating you like this that you take drugs and shoplift and form gangs in revenge. And the people in Barrington Heights used to do all those things. Dad said it was not that the people were bad to begin with. He said the building was sick and made them sick too, a bit like a virus. So he and the council had decided to move them to new homes and blow up the building and start again.

  Dad got his jacket on. He said, ‘Goodbye, Ted,’ to me and went out. Then Mum sat down again and went through the rest of the post. She got to the last piece, a pale lilac envelope. I saw her holding it to her nose and sniffing it, as if it was edible. Then she 10


  smiled. Her lips went right up, but her eyes went watery. This meant she was sad and happy at the same time.

  ‘Glory be,’ she whispered. She opened it and read what was inside. I ate my last three Shreddies, numbers thirty-five through thirty-seven. She put down the lilac sheet of paper and ruffled the top of my head, a thing she does sometimes which makes my hand shake itself out.

  ‘Hold tight, Ted,’ she said. ‘A hurricane’s coming.’

  ‘No, it isn’t,’ I said. ‘We’re moving into a large anticyclone.’ I’m a meteorologist, or will be when I grow up. So I know. Hurricanes die out halfway across the Atlantic. They rarely hit Britain. Even the one in 1987 wasn’t technically a hurricane. The weatherman called Michael Fish, who is famous for getting it wrong, actually got it right. It was only a bad storm and it had no name. A real hurricane is always given a name. Like Hannah, which gusted up to 160 miles an hour in 1957, or Hugo, which flattened half of South Carolina in the USA in 1989. Or Hurricane Katrina, a category-five storm 11


  which devastated New Orleans in 2005. (I am sure it is no coincidence that one of the most catastrophic storms of all time has the same name as my sister.)

  ‘I don’t mean it literally,’ Mum said, whisking my empty cereal bowl away from me. ‘It’s Hurricane Gloria who’s on her way. My sister. Remember? She’s coming to visit us, along with her son, Salim.’

  ‘The ones who live in Manchester?’

  ‘That’s right. It’s been more than five years since we saw them, Ted. I just don’t know where the time’s gone.’

  It sounded like she thought time was something that comes and goes like the weather. I shook my head. ‘No, Mum,’ I explained. ‘Time doesn’t go anywhere.’

  ‘It does in this house, Ted. Down a bloody black hole.’

  I blinked at her, trying to figure out if she might have a point. She laughed and said she was joking and ruffled my hair again. ‘Go on, Ted. Off to school with you.’

  So I went on my zigzag way across the common, 12


  thinking about time, black holes, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and storm warnings. I imagined Hurricane Gloria building up force as it drew nearer, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. My thoughts were so good that I nearly ended up walking into the pond on the wrong side of the common and got to school only just on time. ‘Down a black hole,’ I said to myself as I ran across the playground. My hand shook itself out. ‘Down a bloody black hole.’



  The Hurricane Approaches

  T hat night Mum read out Aunt Gloria’s letter. I tried to find it so I could quote it word for word but Mum said it had probably been thrown out because our house is too small to hoard things. I remember it went something like this:

  Dear Faith (that’s my mum),

  I want to make up. I am sorry we argued last time I visited. Salim and I are about to move to New York City, where I have been offered a job as an art curator. Please can we come and stay with you for one or two nights in the half-term holiday on our way to the airport? I know your house is small but we can squeeze in somehow. Salim says he can sleep on the ironing board.

  Kat has just told me that this is not in Aunt Gloria’s style. Aunt Gloria, she says, writes with much more elaborate words. According to Kat, she 14


  lets it all hang out. I am not sure what this means. Kat wrote down what she remembered of the letter and this is her version:

  Darling, dearest Faith,

  I’m so sorry not to have been in touch more. Life has been horribly hectic and the years have flown by like so many swallows in the sky. I really regret how we argued last time. It has been eating away at my soul. I can hardly remember now what it was all about, but I was a total mess then, having just split up with Salim’s dad and not yet having discovered Transcendental Meditation. I am much more centred now.

  I have some exciting news. I’ve been offered a high-powered job as an art curator in New York. Isn’t that fabulous? Salim and I have decided to go for it. Salim is thirteen now and very grown up. He is not happy at school here. He only has one friend, who’s half Asian like him, and the other boys pick on them. So it’s the Big Apple for us, a big exciting adventure in our fascinating voyage through life. Can 15


  we d
rop by your place on the way? Just for a night or two, darling? I know your house is small, but Salim is dead keen to meet his cousins again. He says he can sleep on the ironing board! So the only thing Kat and I both remember is the part about the ironing board.

  After Mum read out the letter, Dad groaned and put his head in his hands. Kat said Auntie Glo sounded insane and I said that Salim must be tiny if he could expect to sleep on an ironing board. This made Kat, Dad and Mum laugh. My hand shook itself out and a bad feeling went up my oesophagus. I’d been caught out again. It was like the time I’d asked why footballers were still being kept as slaves when slavery had been abolished, after a newsreader announced that a Manchester United star had been bought by another club for twelve million pounds. When they all stopped laughing at me, Dad said did we have to say yes and Mum said yes, we did. Kat asked where everyone was going to sleep. Mum said that Aunt Gloria must have Kat’s room and Kat 16


  said no way, Mum. Mum said Kat would just have to lump it and it served her right for having skived off school, because a girl who skives isn’t entitled to make a fuss about sleeping on the couch for a night or two.

  Kat folded her arms and her lips went inside her teeth.

  ‘What about Salim?’ I said, eyeing where the ironing board was propped against the kitchen wall.

  ‘He’ll share with you, Ted. We can blow up the lilo.’

  I looked at Kat. I knew from the way her face was that she was angry. I wasn’t angry, but I felt a bad pain starting in my stomach. It was the thought of a strange boy coming into my room at night and having to hear him breathe when the lights were off and him seeing me get changed into my pyjamas and not being able to listen to the shipping forecast late at night like I do when I can’t sleep.

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