James was shivering. His body felt raw, as if he'd had the skin peeled off
it, like Croaker's eel. He rubbed his arms to try to get some feeling back into
them, and the raised goose bumps made them feel as rough as sandpaper.
If it was this cold out of the water, what was it going to be like in it?
Well, there was only one way to find out.
It was half an hour before afternoon lessons and he was standing on a low diving board at Ward's Mead, peering at the water, which looked like some of Codrose's less appetizing soup. Cold soup. Freezing-cold soup.
"Come on, then," he said out loud. "Just do it."
He pulled back his arms, took a deep breath and flung himself forward. When he entered the water it was like being hit by a cricket bat. He was stunned by the cold and for a moment he couldn't move, but then he came alive, clawed his way to the surface and gasped. All his limbs were aching and his throbbing head felt numb. The only way to stay in the water and stop himself from jumping out was to swim. He thrashed across the Mead to the other side and fought the urge to get out and run back to his room. After a moment's hesitation, he forced himself round and swam back to the other side.
Weak sunlight was filtering through the low cloud; at least it was warmer than yesterday, but these were hardly ideal swimming conditions. Nevertheless, if he was going to stand any chance in the cup, which was only three weeks away, he knew that he would have to get used to it.
After three widths he found that his body was adjusting to the temperature and, while it could never have been described as pleasant, at least he knew that he was not going to die after all.
He swam a few more widths, and when he had had just about all that he could stand he swam over to where he'd left his clothes and prepared to pull himself out of the water. But, just as he was getting his knees up, somebody put a shoe in his face and shoved him back into the Mead.
He looked up. It was George Hellebore.
"Hey, if it ain't my old pal, Jimmy Bond," he said.
"Hello, Hellebore." James once more tried to scramble out on to the grassy bank.
"Where do you think you're going in such a hurry?" said Hellebore, pushing him back in again.
"To get changed."
"Always in a hurry, aren't you, Bond? Always got to go somewhere fast."
"I'm cold and I want to get out."
"Yeah, I bet you do. Well, I'm in charge of the river today." Hellebore knelt down and gave James a big, sinister smile. "And if you want to get out, first of all you have to pass a little test."
James looked up into George's face. His china-blue eyes were glinting with crazy amusement and there was an ugly smirk on his lips.
"Look, Hellebore," said James, holding on to the side. "You're not in charge here."
"Hey, if I say I'm in charge, I'm in charge."
There was no point in arguing, Hellebore was backed up by his usual gang of cronies: Wallace, with his big, square head and gap-toothed grin, Sedgepole, who had an extremely small head and sticking-out ears, and Pruitt, who was rather good-looking and elegant. They leered at James, daring him to try his luck.
"What do you want?" said James, trying not to let his teeth rattle together with the cold.
"You fancy yourself as a bit of a swimmer, do you, Bond?" said the American, and Bond shrugged. "Well, I've not seen anybody in this country of yours that was half as good a swimmer as me. I practically grew up in the water."
"Yes," said Bond, kicking his legs to try and keep warm. "You're supposed to be quite good."
From SilverFin by Charlie Higson, pages 33-40 of the hardcover edition. Copyright © 2005 by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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