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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
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Chapter 18
The Rescue.

Mr. Woodhead seemed very bubbly the next morning as he laid the table ready for breakfast. "Fat Cat was very pleased with the way you two handled the mission yesterday," he said. "And has decided to allow you to have a day out in Birmingham today, as a treat." He looked at Rebecca apologetically. "Of course, The Rat Squad will have to go along to act as chaperones."
     "Will Aitch be allowed to come?" Asked Elké, quickly.
    Mr. Woodhead smiled weakly. "I'm afraid not, Elké. Please understand Fat Cat must retain some sort of insurance policy. Be patient. In four or five days you will be able to walk free, and I'm sure Fat Cat will leave you something as a sign of his appreciation."
    Rebecca decided to probe. "Have you known Fat Cat for long, Mr. Woodhead?"
    "Oh yes," replied the butler, with a chuckle. "My father was his father's manservant. A proper aristocrat was Fat Cat's father. I was born on the family estate only a few days before Fat Cat. You might say that Fat Cat and I grew up as brothers."
    The two girls ate their breakfasts and hung about for The Rat Squad to appear. Elké insisted on seeing Aitch before they went out.
    "Alright," grumbled Gobbie. "But don't take too long."
     Aitch seemed happy enough and didn't worry when they left him behind. He had this big garden to explore and his two friends to play with.
    It was a lovely autumn day, but The Rat Squad had no idea where to take them. "We could've gone to see a good game of soccer," had been Fatty Bates' only contribution. "But The Villa are playing Leeds away at Elland Road this weekend."
    So they wandered aimlessly out of town, and eventually found themselves walking down a high-banked road next to the cemetery.
    But it happened when they were passing under a narrow, stone railway bridge.
    "Enemy ahead. Enemy ahead!" called out Monkaster, in his high-pitched, automatonic voice.
     And to The Rat Squad it certainly was the enemy. Biffer Swain came swaggering around the corner swinging a long, wooden pole.
    He stopped just before the little group, holding the pole in two hands across his body. "Out for a little stroll are we, Gobbie?" he said. "That's very unlike you. Rats are normally found scurrying about the sewers."
    "Cut out the small talk, Swainie" said Gobbie, with a sneer. "What is it you're after?"
    "Let's put it this way," said Biffer, confidently. "I've been keeping a close eye on Impala Lodge for almost a week now and was watching when these two girls arrived. To put it mildly, the reception you gave them wasn't exactly friendly. In fact it looked very much like a kidnapping to me. So what I'm after, Gobbie my old pal, is for you and your cronies to high tail it out of here and leave these two girls behind. If not, I'm afraid I'm gonna have to give you a good seein' to."
    Gobbie scoffed. "Even with that pole, Biffer, it's three against one. You don't stand a chance."
     At that moment there was a noise behind him and Gobbie turned to see Skin drop from the bridge above and land squarely on his feet in the middle of the road. He too held a long wooden pole.
    Rebecca stood and watched these goings on with intense interest, but Elké was leaning her back against the inside of the stone bridge with her arms folded and her head down, looking decidedly sick.
    Gobbie turned back to face Biffer. "O.K., you Buccaneers win this time but you ain't heard the last of us, not by a long chalk. Come on lads, let's get out of here."
    Skin stood aside to let them pass but could not resist having a swipe at Fatty Bates with his pole. He caught him sharply on the behind and Bates squealed like a pig and raced off up the road.
     When Gobbie was at a safe distance, he turned around. "You two girls had better be back at Impala Lodge by tomorrow morning," he shouted, "or that dog of yourn will be the first thing the panther has for breakfast."
    "What's up?" asked Skin, going over to Rebecca. "I have never ever rescued anyone in my life before, but if I had I would have expected them to have bin a bit more cheerful about it."
    "I'm sorry," said Rebecca, "but didn't you hear what Gobbie just said? He said he would have our dog, Aitch, killed if we didn't go back to Impala Lodge." She went over to Elké and put her arm around her. "Elké," she said quietly, "if you decide to go back, that's O.K. with me. I'll come back as well. It'll only be for a few days anyway."
    Elké smiled wanly. "Thanks," she said, "but I'm beginning to think Gobbie is right. Fat Cat wouldn't kill Aitch straight away. How did Mr. Woodhead put it? 'Insurance Policy'. And they planned for us to pick up those cash machines tomorrow. That gives us plenty of time to rescue Aitch."
    Rebecca looked shocked. "How are you going to do that?"
    "Climb into the back garden tonight and get him, of course."
    Skin suddenly realized what she meant. "You can't be serious," he said, horrified. "That panther is running about in the garden at night, and it's a killer. I've got the scars to prove it."
    "You don't understand," said Rebecca. "Elké has worked with big cats. She knows what she is doing."
    Skin turned to Biffer for help. "What do you think?"
    Biffer shrugged. "If the girl wants to play with panthers, who am I to stop her?"
    Elké smiled. "That settles it then. All I need is plenty of steak, some thick carpet and a length of rope."
    "You're forgetting one thing, Elké," said Rebecca. "We have to find somewhere to stay first."
    "Don't worry about that," said Skin, quickly. "We have a spare bedroom at our place."
    As the four made their way to Kenilworth Drive, Elké and Rebecca told the two boys all they knew about Impala Lodge.
    "So they've even got Keith Doyle held prisoner, have they? Boy, this is serious," remarked Biffer.
    They stopped off at the butchers' shop. Mr. Fakely was expertly wielding his cleaver, slicing a rib of pork into juicy chops. He eyed Biffer over the top of his steel rimmed glasses. "And what would you be wanting dog meat for?" he said.
    "It's not for us. It's for our friends here. They have a dog," said Biffer, truthfully.
    "And what sort of quantities would we be talking about?"
    "Two kilos would do fine," answered Elké.
     Mr. Fakely gathered up the chops and place them neatly in a shallow tray before wiping his hands on his apron and disappearing into the back of the shop. He soon returned and laid a frozen slab of meat on the counter. Elké recognized it immediately. "You're in luck," said Mr. Fakely. "I keep a big supply for Impala Lodge. I reckons they must have a whole pack of guard dogs down there with the amount of meat they get through."
    The two girls showed surprise at the house where Biffer and Skin lived.
    "Why is all the front boarded up?"
     "'Cos it's a squat, ain't it" said Skin.
    "A squat?"
    "Yeh, a squat. The house was empty so we moved in."
    "Do you have to pay rent?"
     Biffer laughed. "No, of course not."
    Skin showed the girls their room. "Two other guys used to live here, but they moved down to London last month to look for work."
    There were two mattresses on the floor and various cupboards against the walls.
    "You will find plenty of sheets and blankets in that cupboard over there and I'll give you a couple of towels"
    "Is there anywhere we can buy soap and toothbrushes?" asked Rebecca.
     "Yeh, there is a shop at the end of the street."
     Later, the four of them sat around the kitchen table drinking tea.
    "There is plenty of rope in the shed," Biffer was saying. "But why do you need a carpet?"
    "I want to lay it on top of the boundary wall at the back of Impala Lodge," said Elké. "It's to protect me from the jagged glass when I climb over. It needs to be as thick as possible."
    "There is an old rug in the front room. Go and check it out."
     Elké was back in a trice, smiling. "Yes, that's perfect."
    "And what time were you planning on climbing over this wall?"
    "I was thinking about half past midnight," said Elké. "That is when I normally feed Sheba."
    Biffer looked doubtful.
    "Why! Is that a problem?" asked Elké.
    "It could be," he said. "If we go wandering about in the middle of the night carrying a rolled up carpet, a length of rope and two kilos of dog meat the police are sure to get suspicious."
    "I'll tell you what," said Skin, excitedly. "Why don't we go out before dark and have a barbecue on the river bank and then, at about midnight, we could take the footpath through the wood that brings you out at the back of Impala Lodge."
     Everyone thought that that was a terrific idea and Biffer and Skin went straight out to get the food and drinks for the barbecue.
    When they got back they packed the drinks into a cold box and Skin ran up to the corner shop for some ice.
    "We won't worry about bringing this cool box back tonight," said Biffer. "We'll hide it in the wood and pick it up tomorrow."
    Skin rummaged in the cupboard under the stairs and found a couple of big heavy coats and gave them to the girls. "Here, take these," he said. "They might make you look like a couple of tramps, but you'll be glad of them later. It can get pretty nippy on the river bank at night."
     Biffer and Skin knew a short cut to the River Tame and the little group trooped along the towpath for a while before coming to a narrow footbridge. They crossed the footbridge and continued up river.
    "This is Hollyoak Wood," said Skin, after a short while. "And look! That is the footpath that leads to the back of Impala Lodge."
     Rebecca found a perfect spot for the nights feast: a flat grassy area just off the towpath.
    Everything was unpacked and the boys lit the barbecue. The rug came in very handy for sitting on.
     Rebecca took a gulp of her drink. "Mmm, this is good. What is it?"
    "Tobago-C," replied Skin. "The drink for Buccaneers."
    "Buccaneers? Didn't Gobbie call you two 'The Buccaneers'?"
    "Yes, possibly," said Biffer. "We are known as The Buccaneers because we can always be found in The Buccaneer Cafe."
    Elké gave a start. "You're not going to believe this," she said, and pulled out a folded piece of paper from her inside pocket. "This piece of paper was given to me by a woman who lives in a village in the Cotswold's. She told me her sister owned a cafe in Birmingham. Look what she wrote down. 'The Buccaneer Cafe' and that's the name of her sister, Kathy."
    Biffer took the piece of paper and grinned. "Yes, that's us alright. You're going to love Auntie Kathy. She's a diamond. We would normally be there tonight but when we saw that things were hotting up at Impala Lodge, we decided to close the club for the weekend."
    It soon began to get dark and the four children sat on the bank of the River Tame and watched a glorious red sunset take place in front of them, while behind a huge orange full moon rose gracefully above Hollyoak Wood.
    Rebecca remarked on the numerous glowing fires that had sprung up on both banks.
    "Those belong to the night fishermen," explained Biffer. "They come here most evenings to escape the rigours of city life."
    The barbecue was now deemed ready for cooking and they all joined in the fun of turning the burgers, sausages and small lamb chops until they were done to perfection. These were eaten hungrily, with plenty of crusty bread and fresh salad.

chapter 19
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