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 17
The Mission.

Rebecca and Elké were allowed to see Aitch in the afternoon and when they returned to their room Mr. Woodhead was waiting for them.
    "I understand you are out on a mission tonight," he said. "I have brought you some sandwiches and soft drinks. You are not to have anything more until you get back. Fat Cat believes that having a large meal just before a mission makes one sluggish and accident-prone."
    Elké nibbled at her sandwich and gazed out of the window. "I am not hungry," she said. "I feel too nervous."
    "Yes. So do I," agreed Rebecca. "I've never done anything remotely like this before. What if we get caught?"
    "We'll just tell the truth, I suppose, but what would happen to Aitch?"
    Mr. Fugg arrived and took them down to the workshop. "O.K. Get your togs on and sit yourselves down in these two chairs." He gave them a sinister grin. "Feeling nervous?" They both nodded. "Good. That'll keep you on your toes."
    The two girls put on their overalls, hats and working mans boots and sat down where they were told.
    Mr. Fugg came over with a tin of clear, sticky liquid and a big, soft brush. "Sit still," he ordered. "This stuff will only hurt if it gets into your eyes, so keep them closed."
    He painted a thin coat of this clear liquid all over their faces and stood back. "Now just sit still for a few minutes and don't touch."
    "Ooh! My face feels really, really cold," cried out Rebecca.
    "Yes, that's because this stuff evaporates quickly," explained Mr. Fugg.
    After a few minutes Rebecca turned and looked at Elké. "Cripes!" She said. "Elké, you look about fifty-four."
    "Hark who's talking," laughed Elké. "You look absolutely ancient."
    Elké touched her face with her fingers. "Ugh! It feels all horrible and leathery."
    "Don't worry," said Mr. Fugg. "You can wash it off easily enough when you get back." He checked his watch. "Where the hell is The Rat Squad?"
    As if on queue the three oafs tumbled through the door, shoving and punching each other.
    "O.K. lads, just calm down," growled Mr. Fugg. "Monkaster, Bates, have you got your mobile phones?" The two boys said they had. "Right, lets be off then."
    The van was still parked in the garage. The Rat Squad and the two girls jumped in the back, while Mr. Fugg opened the double garage doors.
    It was quite dark in the back of the van and nobody spoke. There was only one small window and that showed the back of Mr. Fugg's head as he drove through the streets of Birmingham. Rebecca felt her mouth go dry and found it difficult to swallow. She clasped her hands tightly together, simply to stop them from shaking.
    After about fifteen minutes, the van was brought to a halt and Mr. Fugg banged on the metal partition. This was obviously a pre-arranged signal, for Fatty Bates opened one of the back doors and jumped out.
    They drove on for another ten minutes and the same thing happened again. This time Monkaster got out.
    Gobbie gave one of his nasty sneers. "Just checking to make sure the fuzz stay indoors," he said, then added. "The next stop is yours."
    And it came very soon afterwards.     "Go on," said Gobbie fiercely. "Get out!"
    Elké and Rebecca each opened a door and jumped out. And what a shock they got. They found themselves standing right in the middle of one of the busiest shopping areas of Birmingham and there were simply crowds of people all rushing every which way.
    The two children looked at each other wide eyed. Elké turned to face the building that Mr. Fugg had parked outside. It was a very modern: brick below and glass above. She looked further up the street. Yes, there was the bank entrance and the big solid wooden doors were firmly shut.
    She squeezed Rebecca's arm. "Come on, let's do it."
    They both grabbed a crowd control barrier and pushed through the throng of shoppers, who did not seem in the least bothered at being guided out into the road and around the van.
    Once the barriers were up things became a lot easier. There was now direct access to the bank wall where the cash machine was to be positioned.
    Rebecca was surprised to find that as soon as she began to drill into the wall of the bank her fear had not only disappeared but had been replaced by a totally different sensation. Excitement.
    Just across the road from the bank is a small teashop. Inside there are maybe six or seven customers. But the one we are interested in is sitting by the window, apparently reading a newspaper. He has a saucer, with a spoon, a pot of tea and a plate of cakes on the table in front of him. In his left hand is the newspaper, folded in half, and in his right, a cup of tea.
    The man has been sitting here since three o'clock in the afternoon. In fact he has been patronizing this same teashop every single day this week. His favourite table is this one by the window. If it is occupied at the time he enters he will sit at another until this table becomes available, when he will move swiftly across.
    As I have said, he is apparently reading his newspaper. But look closer. Do you see? His eyes are skimming over the top and are focused on two workmen drilling a second hole in the front of the bank across the street. His eyes are staring like that of a cobra's ready to strike, even as he lifts his cup to take a sip. His prominent Adams Apple rises quickly up his throat as he swallows, and then slowly sinks down again. He is watching as the Rastafarian workman takes back the drill to the van and the other bangs some pegs into the wall.
    But the man is not happy. There is something strange about these workmen and he cannot quite put his finger on it. The answer is so close, but keeps slipping away. They are now fitting a box to the bank wall. The man knows it is a cash machine, even from this distance, and he is almost certain he knows why it is being put there. The workmen are now putting the barriers back into the van. Now they are jumping in themselves.
    'Whoops!' The Rastafarian's hat catches on a sharp edge and is dragged off. The man's eyes almost explode with the strain of staring and his cup drops from his hand as Rebecca's long, braided hair, threaded with colourful beads, falls about her shoulders. "It's a girl!"
    "Oh dear, oh dear! You've spilt your drink, sir. Let me mop it up for you." It is the waitress. "Did I hear you say it was a girl, sir? Congratulations. Is it your first? It's a stressful time having a baby, isn't it, sir? The father gets forgotten, that's what I always say. The mother lays back on fluffed up pillows receiving all the fuss and flowers and what does the father get but a bucketful of worries.
    "I knew there was something wrong. I was saying to Mrs. Bonnet only yesterday: 'that handsome gentleman that comes in here every afternoon, I am sure he has a problem'…"
    "Yes, yes, thank you very much for your concern. Here." The man is handing her a ten-pound note. "Please keep the change."
    "Oh! Thank you very much sir, I'm sure," she is saying and gives a little curtsey.
    Outside, the street is still crowded. The man waits at the curb until there is a gap in the traffic, before crossing the road. He is tall and wiry and quite athletic looking, even though he favours his right leg. He is smartly dressed in a light brown, three-piece suit and wears a trilby hat.
    The man stands before the cash machine Elké and Rebecca had fixed to the wall, only moments before, and takes a plastic credit card from his wallet. The name on the card reads: 'Captain R. Friddle.'
    Captain Friddle inserts his card into the cash machine, and immediately a message comes up on the screen. 'Please Type In Your PIN.' He punches in a four-digit number on the keypad at the side. Another message pops up. 'What Service Do You Require?' Captain Friddle selects 'Cash Withdrawal'. 'Sorry. That Service Is Not Available At The Moment. Please Try Later'. His card is ejected.
    Captain Friddle thoughtfully puts the credit card to his lips and gazes up the road in the direction the yellow van has taken.
    Rebecca and Elké were just two miles away in the very heart of the financial district of Birmingham. Rebecca was drilling a hole into the wall of an enormous bank. Here the streets were almost deserted, making their job much easier. All the businesses were closed for the weekend and most people had gone home.
    The two girls fitted the last cash machine, packed up their gear and jumped into the back of the van. They sat opposite each other, Elké on one wheel arch, Rebecca on the other. But these were not the same two quiet girls who, less than an hour ago, had been driven into the city centre. No, now they were extremely rowdy.
    "I can't believe how easy it was. We could have blown a hole in the bank and stolen the safe and nobody would have noticed."
    "And what about when your hat fell off?"
    "Oh, cripes! Yes, do you think anyone saw?"
    They stopped to pick up Monkaster and Bates. The three boys seemed almost subdued up against the girls. It was not until Elké and Rebecca were back in their room, did they both break into tears. They stood in the centre of the room with their arms around each other, sobbing their hearts out.
    "Why are we crying?" said Elké at last, followed by a big sniff.
    "I don't know, Elké. But you don't 'arf look awful."
    "So do you."
    And then they burst out laughing.
    When they had had their showers and were tucked up in bed, they felt much happier. Rebecca slept soundly 'till morning, but Elké woke at just after midnight and crept down to the kitchen. Sheba had come to expect a little something and a magic lullaby during the night.

chapter 18