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 13
A Terrifying Experience.

Rebecca and Elké stood open mouthed as Mr. Fugg surveyed them with a critical eye.
    Finally he snorted and said, "I suppose things could be worse."
    Elké was the first to recover her composure and now stood defiant, with arms folded. "What do you mean, 'things could be worse'."
    Mr. Fugg turned on her, menacingly. It was obvious he was not used to being questioned. "I was expecting two boys. That's what I mean. I have a job to be done that requires a little strength and dexterity. At first I thought that girls would be of no use at all, but after meeting you two face to face I am sure you will have no difficulty in carrying out the task."
    "And suppose we refuse to do this job of yours," said Elké, still defiant.
    "Oh! We have a rebel in the camp, do we?" growled Mr. Fugg. "Let me tell you this, young lady, we have our ways of dealing with rebels."
    Mr. Fugg was becoming extremely agitated. His eyes began to bulge and a fleck of foam appeared at the corner of his mouth. "If you take a look out of the window," he continued. "You will see a very happy dog playing in the garden. But all that can change. Yes, that can change very quickly indeed."
    Mr. Fugg was obviously enjoying himself now. "Take another look, but this time lean out and look to your left. You will see a cage, and in that cage lives a black panther. If either of you two ever cause me trouble, or if there is the slightest suggestion that you are not working to your limit, that young puppy of yours will become the panthers next meal."
    Elké gasped in horror and tears filled her eyes. "You wouldn't dare," she choked.
    "Oh yes I would. And you would be there to witness it, too."
    Rebecca stood forward and put her hand on Elké's arm to calm her. "How long do you intend to keep us here?" she asked.
    Mr. Fugg wiped his mouth with the back of his hand still glaring at Elké, but eventually answered Rebecca. "Not long. Ten days at the most. This operation is close to completion and that is when we intend to pull out."
    "And this job you want us to do. What is that all about?"
    "You'll find out all in good time," replied Mr. Fugg. "But don't worry yourselves. It is not difficult or dangerous."
    He turned to go, but stopped as he was closing the door. "I'll be back later to take you to meet Fat Cat. He's the big boss around here and always likes to check out newcomers. But before that Mr. Woodhead, the butler, will be along to serve you a meal."
    "What a nasty piece of work he is," remarked Rebecca, when Mr. Fugg had finally pulled the door shut.
    But Elké was already leaning out of the window and when she spotted the panther's cage her heart sank. The structure was quite long and could only be called a cage up close to the house. The rest was more of an enclosure with a covered roof and consequently was quite difficult to see inside. Elké's keen eyes tried to penetrate the gloom and did make out a dark shape in the corner, but could not be sure if it was a panther.
    She plonked herself down in an armchair, looking very serious.
    "What are you thinking?" asked Rebecca.
    "I am trying to think of how to make friends with the panther."
    "Oh, is that all!" remarked Rebecca. She had ceased to be amazed at what Elké did or said, especially as far as animals were concerned.
    And then. "Of course! You used to work with tigers, didn't you?"
    "Yes, tigers, but not panthers. A black panther is just a leopard with no spots or just one big black spot, whatever you prefer. But leopards are the most unpredictable of all the big cats. Very dangerous."
    Rebecca was thinking that she had no intention of getting anywhere near the black panther when the door opened again and in came a rattling trolley, closely followed by a dapper man dressed in a well tailored, charcoal grey suite.
    "Obviously Mr. Woodhead, the butler," thought Rebecca.
    She watched as he laid the table and was fascinated by his jerky, bird like movements. He kept glancing at the two girls but said nothing and they, in turn, did not feel inclined to speak to him. As he left the room he turned and gave the slightest hint of a bow. Rebecca smiled to herself as she walked over to the table. Mr. Woodhead was obviously a professional butler of the old school and could not help but be courteous.
    "Wow!" exclaimed Rebecca, when she saw the spread on the table. "This looks delicious. There's Pilchards in tomato sauce, crispy lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, beetroots and even some cute little radishes and spring onions, mayonnaise, olive oil and wine vinegar. And freshly cut bread. Topped off with a big pot of hot tea."
    Rebecca turned to see that Elké was still deep in thought. "Elké," she called out firmly. "Stop doing that. You'll give yourself a headache. The food on this table is simply gorgeous. Will you please come and have some?"
    Elké shook her head to break the spell and smiled. "Sure."
    While they were eating, Rebecca decided to talk over the situation they found themselves in. "Do you think that that big hood meant it when he said we would only be here for ten days?" she asked.
    Elké shrugged. "Dunno."
    "Elké, lets be positive, shall we. Spending ten days here is not going to be so bad, especially if all the meals are as good as this. And Aitch seems happy enough."
    At the mere mention of Aitch's name, Elké leaped up and rushed to the window. It was getting quite dark outside and the garden now looked deserted.
    "Blast!" she cursed. "I wanted to see where they put Aitch and the other dogs."
    "Come and sit down," said Rebecca. "They are not going to hurt Aitch. He is too important to them. Without him they would not be able to make us do this important job of theirs."
    Rebecca waited until Elké had calmed down, before continuing. "This is what I think. We will do everything they ask, within reason, and we will do it well. But at the same time we will watch and listen. I want to get to the bottom of why we have been kidnapped."
    Elké leaned across the table and squeezed Rebecca's hand. "I'm glad you are here," she said. "I do tend to go over the top a bit and need someone like you to keep my feet on the ground."
    It was not long before Mr. Fugg arrived to take them to meet Fat Cat. The two girls followed him along the landing and down the wide staircase, surreptitiously taking note of any door or passageway as they went.
    The Rat Squad was waiting at the bottom of the stairs and Gobbie glared at Elké. She was secretly pleased to see that he was limping as he followed them along the corridor and through the door marked 'Fat Cat's Den'.
    Of course this was the first time the two girls had stood upon this low stage with it's banks of bright lights pointing at them and they both found it very disturbing, especially when the large screen began to glow and brighten to reveal the motionless picture of the huge head of a cat. As before, the head suddenly sprang into life and began to slowly scan the line of people on stage.
    It was not until the dark, frightening, animated eyes were locked onto Elké did Fat Cat begin to speak and when he spoke it was in a deep, silky, mesmerizing voice. "Good evening, Elké Vollman. Welcome to Impala Lodge. I do hope your stay will be most enjoyable."
    Elké was visibly shocked at hearing her full name spring forth from the lips of this strange caricature.
    The head chuckled and explained. "No, it is not a magician's trick, Elké. The answer is simple. While you were unconscious your bag was searched and we found a letter from your father."
    The head moved on, but when it's eyes rested upon the face of Rebecca it was the head's turn to look shocked. "Fascinating," it gasped. "Absolutely fascinating. Surely a throwback from ancient Egypt." The head stared at Rebecca for some seconds and then, without warning, the screen suddenly went blank.
    Those on stage had no time to be confused, however, for immediately a humming sound was heard and an electric wheelchair appeared from the side and moved smoothly along the floor in front of them. Wedged inside the wheelchair was a grotesquely fat man dressed from head to toe in a ginger cat costume. Fat arms, fat legs and a rippling fat body. At the end of one of the wheelchair armrests were numerous buttons and on the other, a solitary joystick.
    Fat Cat operated the buttons with long, sharp, glistening stainless steel claws. He stopped the wheelchair, skilfully swung it round and drove it forward, crashing into the stage, directly in front of Rebecca. Now there was absolute silence and Fat Cat stared straight into the young girl's blue eyes.
    Elké could feel the tension on stage. She glanced across at Mr. Fugg and The Rat Squad. All of them had taken a step backwards when Fat Cat had made his sudden appearance, and now, like her, stood nervously waiting for what was to come. Rebecca felt sick with fear. Why was this frightening creature staring at her.
    Fat Cat broke the silence by speaking in a hoarse whisper, almost to himself. "The Egyptians worshipped cats for thousands of years," he began. "So much so, that the Egyptian women began to physically resemble cats. And here we have before us the classic feline structure that all ancient Egyptians yearned. The long, slender neck, clear skin, high protruding cheek bones and slanting almond eyes. If an Egyptian woman had all these attributes, plus one extra magic ingredient – eyes the colour of the finest sapphire – she became an object of worship…voila!"
    Suddenly, Fat Cat flung back his head and laughed loudly. "But enough of this tittle-tattle," he said. "Let's get on with the business, shall we?"
    Fat Cat grabbed at the joystick and his wheelchair flew backwards and around, so that he now faced the screen on which a very dark picture was slowly materializing.
    "How about some light," he muttered, clawing at a button. Immediately the screen burst into brightness. "Here we have a view of the back garden, outside," he explained. "There is a searchlight attached to the camera."
    The joystick now controlled the camera, for as Fat Cat moved the stick, the camera followed in sympathy.
    "I would like you to meet Sheba," chuckled Fat Cat, staring intently at the screen. "Ah, there she is!"
    The camera zoomed in onto a giant black cat loping along close to the perimeter wall. The panther swung around and snarled viciously at the camera, her golden eyes reflecting back the searchlight beam with a vengeance.
    Fat Cat turned to Elké and Rebecca. "Isn't she a beauty?" he said proudly. "But hungry! We only feed her in the morning. She might catch a rat or a vole but that is hardly enough to blunt the hunger of a cat the size of Sheba, is it?" He laughed quietly to himself as if at some private joke.
    "Let me show you something else," he went on.
    The camera now turned to show the back of the house, in particular four cages attached to the wall just above the lower windows. The camera panned along the line of cages stopping at the one farthest away and zoomed up close, showing a black and white furry animal curled up inside. Aitch lifted up his head and blinked at the bright light, looking very lonely and sorry for himself. Elké clenched her fists and bit her lip, trying her hardest to hold back the tears. The camera moved down a touch, to show a single wire coming from beneath the cage.
    "That wire goes off to a special room," said Fat Cat, smiling thinly. "And is attached to a special lever. I have four levers, one for each cage. If I pull on a lever, one of the cage bottoms flips open and out plops an unfortunate animal." Fat Cat was by now cackling loudly, but managed to go on. "At the same time a bell rings and Sheba knows there is a little something for her to chase."
    The screen went blank and fat cat turned his chair to face Rebecca and Elké. "I am sure you do not want that to happen to your little puppy, do you?"
    Fat Cat did not wait for an answer. "Tomorrow your training begins. All I expect is that you work hard and do exactly what you are told, without question."
    "When do I get to hold my puppy?" asked Elké, in a quavering voice.
    "If I receive a favourable report, you will be allowed out in the garden tomorrow afternoon," replied Fat Cat. "Now get out! All of you!"

chapter 14