chapter 1
chapter 2
chapter 3
chapter 4
chapter 5
chapter 6
chapter 7
chapter 8
chapter 9
chapter 10
chapter 11
chapter 12
chapter 13
chapter 14
chapter 15
chapter 16
chapter 17
chapter 18
chapter 19
chapter 20
chapter 21
chapter 22
chapter 23
chapter 24
chapter 25
Chapter 11
Fat Cat.

The Rat Squad pushed their way through the crowd that flowed out from the gates of Villa Park.
    Gobbie grinned at his companions showing a mouth full of broken and discoloured teeth. "Now I feel like we are back where the action is," he hissed.
    They continued on for a couple of blocks, cut down an alleyway and came out to where the crowd was thinner.
    "There's a group of wimpy Geordies across the street," whispered Fatty Bates "shall we give them a good seeing too?"
    "Nah" replied Gobbie. "We thrashed them on the pitch, that's good enough for today. Besides, dear old Mr. Fugg told us to keep our noses clean for the time being and don't forget: our big pay-off is coming up soon. There will be plenty of time to show Aston whose boss around here."
    "Renault at eleven o'clock" screeched Kenny Monkaster, in a high pitched metallic voice.
     A wicked gleam came into Gobbie's eye as he fished out a key from his pocket and proceeded to scratch a deep groove down the whole length of the brand new car. "Yes!" he shouted. "That'll teach 'em to ride around in froggie trash."
    The other two shouted their approval. Little did they know that Biffer and Skin were following and watching their every move.
    When the gang finally reached Impala Lodge Gobbie turned and glared at the other two. Monkaster and Bates dropped their eyes to the pavement. Only Gobbie was allowed to know the code to enter. The gates swung open and in they trooped, Fatty Bates bringing up the rear. He did not like Impala Lodge. He was frightened. Those in charge were too clever, too powerful, too evil.
     Gobbie had no such worries. He was amongst the big time now and his feet were firmly placed on the lower rungs of the ladder to success. And Gobbie was certain that the only direction to go was up.
     Monkaster was in a world of his own.
    Gobbie was also the keeper of the front door key. The entrance hall was high and spacious with a wide stairway leading up to the next floor. Many doors lined the walls and Gobbie made straight for the far one on the left. The Rat Squad had been given strict instructions: 'no wandering about the house'. But they did not mind. Everything was provided. Their own lounge complete with a television, masses of video games and films, a CD player, a top of the range sound system and even a full size pool table.
    Adjoining the lounge was a large bedroom with three single beds, a kitchenette and a combined toilet and shower.
     Gobbie and Bates slumped themselves down in easy chairs while Monkaster put on a video game, sat on a stool, and glued himself in front of the large flat screen monitor. He was addicted to fighter pilot games and was soon soaring way above the Pacific Ocean, engaged in a death-defying dogfight with a Japanese suicide squadron. The top of the range sound system had kicked in and the room was now engulfed in the deafening sounds of Ack-Ack guns, air-to-air missiles, explosions of every type and general pilot-to-pilot intercom jargon.
    "Do we have to have it on full blast?" complained Gobbie. He stood up, grabbed the remote from the table and jabbed at the sounds down button.
     Monkaster turned and scowled, but said nothing.
    Mr. Fugg stuck his head around the door and glared at the three boys. "Fat Cat wants to have a word with you lot tonight," he growled. "I'll call for you at eight-thirty sharp. Be ready."
    "I wonder what Fat Cat wants," grumbled Fatty Bates, after Mr. Fugg had gone. "I thought our jobs had all finished."
    Fat Cat was the big boss and the one Bates was the most frightened of even though he had never actually met him. In fact, nobody had. But the unknown somehow held the greatest fear.
    Presently, Lucy the maid came in carrying a loaded wicker basket and began to lay the table for dinner.
    "Hey! An' about time too," complained Gobbie. "I'm absolutely starving. What have we got for tonight?"
    Lucy looked up. She did not like Gobbie. She found him uncouth and rude. But she answered him pleasantly enough. "Lamb stew and dumplings. And it is one of Mrs. Applebee's best. I've just had a taste. It is simply delicious."
    And it was. The Rat Squad heartily tucked in, Monkaster and Gobbie that is. Fatty Bates' appetite seemed to have left him. He was always like this just before an encounter with Fat Cat.
    Mr. Fugg appeared early and The Rat Squad followed him across the entrance hall and down a long corridor, stopping at a door marked 'Fat Cat's Den'. They had been here many times before. Directly inside, a single step led up onto a low stage brightly lit by two banks of lights facing towards them.
    Fatty Bates stood in silence alongside the other three, looking out into the black void beyond. Waiting. Soon he could detect a faint glow coming from some six metres in front of his eyes. The glow steadily brightened. It was a one and a half metre flat screen television, showing a picture of a cat's face. A large ginger tom. Fat Cat.
     Fatty Bates watched, fascinated, as the picture gradually took on a life of its own. The dead eyes, as if by magic, were suddenly alive and looking directly at him. Slowly the head turned, scanning the line of people on stage.
    The face broke into a grin and Fat Cat spoke. "Thank you for coming. I will not keep you long, for I am sure you are all very busy."
    The computer graphics were excellent. Obviously digitally controlled. And in real time too. But how was it done? None of the four on stage knew, that was for certain And where was the real Fat Cat? Was he here in this room? Or upstairs? He could so easily have been in a different city, or even some other country.
    "I will deal with The Rat Squad first," went on Fat Cat. "I am in need of two new helpers. Not necessarily of high I.Q. as before, you understand, but they must be complete newcomers to the Birmingham area. I require them to do a little outside manual labour and it is imperative that they shall go unrecognised. Do you understand?"
    "Yes, Fat Cat" replied Gobbie and Monkaster in unison.
     Fatty Bates was a little slow in answering and Fat Cat allowed the full force of his gaze to fall upon this unfortunate boy. Fatty Bates shook with fear.
    "Very well," said Fat Cat, finally. "Off you go. But remember: I need those helpers by tomorrow night at the latest."
    The Rat Squad scurried away, leaving only one souvenir: a small puddle of wetness at the exact spot Fatty Bates had been standing.
Fat Cat turned his attention to his commander-in-chief. "Mr. Fugg, will all the preparations be ready for the new helpers when they arrive?"
    "Yes, Fat Cat. The practice wall is complete and the fake cash machines arrived yesterday."
    "Ah, yes! The cash machines. Have you managed to test them yet?"
     Mr. Fugg nodded. "Yes, I used a dozen or so genuine credit cards and every piece of information contained on their magnetic strip was read perfectly. Also the personal identity numbers I punched in downloaded to memory without a hitch. All very simple really."
    The face on the screen smiled. "And those bank branch addresses I gave you?"
    "Yes, I checked those out too. They seem to be perfect candidates and have plenty of blank wall space for our cash machines to fit onto."
    Fat Cat almost beamed with delight. "Wonderful! Five days training for the new helpers should be ample. We will fit the cash machines on Friday evening, after the banks close, and pick them up again on Sunday. By the middle of next week we will be ready to pack up here and move to a safer residence."

The Rat Squad got up early the next morning, ate breakfast and headed out to hunt for two children who had just arrived and knew no one in Birmingham.
    "How are we going to know that?" asked Fatty Bates.
    "Know what?"
    "Know if the kids are new to Birmingham or not?"
    Gobbie stopped dead in his tracks. "Fatty!" he said, looking down at him with scorn. "How the hell should I know? Eh! Well this time I haven't got a clue. Do you hear? In fact, to tell you the truth, I haven't got the foggiest idea of where even to begin to look for two kids that have just decided that Birmingham is a perfect spot for a first time visit."
    "What about the train station?" suggested Kenny Monkaster, casually.
Gobbie's face took on a blank look: Totally expressionless. He then slowly closed his eyes and said. "Kenny, I thought you didn't have a brain!"
    They caught the No. 41 bus going to 'Birmingham Central Train Station', sat together on the top deck at the back and secretly whispered their plans.
    "What we'll do," said Gobbie, "is go straight onto the platform, grab a porters trolley, find two kids carrying luggage who've just got off a train and offer to carry their cases for them. Then we chat to them in a friendly manner and find out who they know and where they are going."
    "And what if they don't know nobody?" asked Monkaster.
    "Easy," replied Gobbie. "We just say that we know of a good guest house. Tell them it's a really cheap place to stay and take them back to Impala Lodge. And bob's yer uncle."
    "And what about the pets?" asked Bates.
    Gobbie frowned. "What blinkin' pets? Fat Cat said nuffin' about no pets."
     The Rat Squad's visit to Birmingham Central Train Station turned out to be a total disaster. For some strange reason the porters were not too happy about them using one of their trolleys and told them in no uncertain terms to "clear off!"
    Gobbie was undeterred, however, and soon found two young lads struggling to carry their cases. It was at this point that Gobbie discovered that his 'chatting in a friendly manner' needed a touch of refinement, for the two lads in question were under the impression that he was attempting to steal their luggage and called for the station master's assistance.
    The stationmaster, in turn, found that the simple threat to 'call for the police' was enough to send The Rat Squad scurrying for the exit.
    They fared no better at the coach station.
    It was three bedraggled rats that made their way home and stood outside the gates of Impala Lodge, kicking their heels, too frightened to enter, having returned with no booty. But all was not lost.
    "Scramble, Scramble, Scramble" cried out Kenny Monkaster, with urgency. "Quarry bearing down at niner zero niner."
    Gobbie spun round, peered down The Avenue and saw two girls heading in their direction. One, tall and black with long braided hair threaded at the bottom with colourful beads. The other, smaller, white, with short brown hair. And yes, both were wearing backpacks. And even better, a small black and white puppy dog toddled along in front.
    Gobbie swiftly moved into action. First, he punched in the code to open the gates, making sure to press the hold button as well. Second, he handed Fatty Bates the front door key telling him to "go straight to the lab, pick up a bottle of sleeping juice and two large pads of cotton wool, then head for the back of the house. And make it snappy!" And finally he told Kenny Monkaster to "stand just inside the gates and be ready for action, because this looks promising. Very promising indeed."

chapter 12