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 19
Captain Friddle.

At twelve midnight the huge silvery moon was almost directly above their heads.
    "It is so bright we will not be needing our torches, even walking through the wood," remarked Skin, kicking out the fire.
    Everything was tidied up and safely hidden amongst the trees before Skin led them, single file, along the narrow, winding footpath. Each were deep in their own thoughts. Elké, hoping that Aitch would be safe and the others going over in their minds the instructions they had been given.
    Soon, the back wall of Impala Lodge came into view. There was to be no talking unless absolutely necessary.
    Elké chose a section of wall and Biffer crouched down, allowing her to stand on his shoulders. When he stood up Elké's head was well below the top of the wall.
    Skin handed up a roll of carpet and Elké held onto one end and gave a sharp, upward flick. Rebecca saw the carpet unroll over the wall.
     So far so good.
    She tapped Biffer twice on the shoulder. Biffer cupped his hands up by his shoulders and Elké stepped into them. Biffer slowly straightened his arms and now Elké's eyes were just above the top of the wall. She could see the house. Everything was quiet. Elké looked down and nodded. Rebecca gave Biffer two more taps on the shoulder.
    This was going to be tricky.
    Biffer slowly dropped his arms somewhat and then quickly pushed upwards. Elké flew high into the air, gave a little twist and the next moment was magically sitting astride the wall, slap bang in the centre of the carpet. Rebecca almost clapped with joy. Elké looked down, smiled and gave Skin a 'gimme' sign. Skin threw up the bag of meat.
    The instructions were: only Elké was allowed to touch the meat.
    She took out half, there was already string attached, dropped the rest back to Skin, lowered the meat down the wall someway and began to sing her well-practiced lullaby. She was positive Sheba was close by watching, and it was not long before a dark shape appeared from under a nearby bush and slunk over to the wall just below where Elké sat.
    Sheba opened her mouth wide in a silent greeting, before reaching up to take the meat. Elké was interested to see the panther make straight for the old elm tree standing close to the pond and climb up to her favourite bough to eat her steak. Leopards prefer to eat high up, rather than on the ground.
    Elké turned round and gave another 'gimme' sign. Rebecca threw up one end of the rope and watched Elké allow it to drop to the ground on the other side and make sure the section on top of the wall was on the carpet and not being cut by glass. Rebecca held on to her end of the rope and braced herself as Elké swung round and dropped into the grounds of Impala Lodge.
Now came the long wait.
    Biffer, Rebecca and Skin sat on the ground with their backs to the wall with Rebecca still keeping a tight hold on the rope, Elké's only means of escape. They would wait for a stone to be thrown over the wall, a signal that Elké and Sheba were on their way to rescue Aitch. Biffer was then to climb on top of the wall and take Aitch from her when she returned.
    And what was Elké up to? She was sitting on the grass, out in the open, with her arms clamped around her knees in what Rossano, the tiger trainer, called 'the submissive position'. Elké was quietly singing her lullaby and keeping a close eye on Sheba.
    Sheba was still straddling her favourite bough, but was now licking her lips after finishing her tasty morsel. She slid to the ground and silently padded towards Elké, her eyes glowing brightly in the moonshine.
    Elké stopped singing and sat motionless. Sheba circled Elké twice before putting her head down and gently butting the girl in the side.
    "So you've decided to come and say hello, have you?" said Elké, feeling the panthers' hot breath in her ear. And then a painful rasping on her cheek. "Oh, no!" said Elké, laughing. "Please don't lick me!"
    The two played together for a few minutes until Elké felt confident enough to stand up. And while Sheba was not looking she slowly took a stone from her pocket, turned, and threw it over the wall.
    "Come on Sheba," said Elké. "Let's go and find Aitch."
    Elké strolled across the garden to the house with Sheba sometimes brushing close against her and sometimes snaking in and out of her legs, making it very difficult to walk.
    Elké knew the box in which Aitch was kept, and her heart leapt when she saw a little black and white tail sticking out from a gap in the side. And good, the stepladder was lying on the floor close to the house.
    Aitch was so pleased to see Elké's face at his cage door that he whined loudly and began to paw at the wire netting.
    "Aitch, I want you to be very quiet," said Elké, strictly.
     Whether it was the stern voice or the fact that Aitch could sense Sheba's presence Elké did not know, but from then on the puppy was as quiet as a mouse. When Aitch was safely in her arms, Elké replaced the stepladder. But then had a sudden thought. She went over and yanked the wire leading from Aitch's cage and was pleased to see the bottom of the cage open. Next, Elké undid the collar around Aitch's neck and dropped it to the floor. "Anything to confuse the enemy," she thought.
    Biffer was waiting on the top of the wall as planned and after taking Aitch from Elké and passing him down to Skin, he dropped to the ground himself.
    Elké turned and made a last fuss of Sheba. "You wait here," she said, "and I'll give you another treat."
    She shimmied up the rope and called down to Skin. "Chuck us up the rest of that meat, will you Skin." There was no more need for silence.
    Sheba took the meat from the string and padded towards her favourite tree.
    I don't need to tell you that there were four very excited children and one very happy puppy that danced a jig at the base of the high wall surrounding Impala Lodge.

Back at the house, the four children sat around the kitchen table drinking tea. Aitch was on Elké's lap.
"One thing is certain," Biffer was saying. "We will have to go straight to the police first thing in the morning and tell them everything we know."
    "I guess you are right," said Rebecca, reluctantly. "But we had better tell them to go careful. Keith and the others aren't going to thank us if Fat Cat orders their animals to be killed."
    "Maybe I should have rescued them all tonight," said Elké, dismally.
    "Don't be daft," said Skin. "Those two other dogs don't know you very well and they are much bigger than Aitch. They would have struggled and jumped out of your arms and Sheba would have had great fun gobbling them up."
    They all laughed, nervously. "Yes, and the cat would have scratched you," added Rebecca. "And how were you going to save Einstein? Climb up to Keith's room and steal him from his cage?"
    "O.K., you're right, of course," admitted Elké. "But none of us want to go to the police do we? Rebecca, because she will certainly be sent back to the orphanage, Biffer and Skin, because they live in a squat and will probably be taken into care and me because I might be sent back to Austria, but I can't see them doing that without contacting my father first." She took a deep breath. "What I'm trying to say is this: it is best if I am the one that goes to the police."
    There was silence for a moment, before Biffer said, "why don't we make that decision in the morning. We are all bush tired now and will be able to think better tomorrow."
    "You're right, Biff," said Skin, getting up. "Come on. Let's all go to bed."
    Elké and Rebecca were soon tucked up on their mattresses and Aitch was as close to Elké as he could possibly get.
    "Elké," called out Rebecca. "Are you still awake?"
    "Yes, why?"
    "I want to ask you something. All last week at Impala Lodge I had the best sleeps of my life, but I also had the most strange and wonderful dreams. I dreamt of this lush green jungle with lots of wild animals running about and of beautiful gushing streams, rivers, lakes and all things like that. What I want to know, Elké, is this: It wasn't anything to do with that lullaby you were singing Sheba, was it?"
    Elké gave a deep, throaty laugh. "That message was not meant for you, silly, it was meant for Sheba. You obviously tuned into it as well. But I wouldn't say anything to anyone else if I were you, Rebecca. They might just put you inside a mental asylum."

Elké and Rebecca got up the next morning and found a note from the two boys. 'Gone to do our paper rounds. Be back later. P.S. Help yourselves to anything you want'.
    They rummaged around the kitchen cupboards, found some leftovers for Aitch and finally decided upon Cornflakes, toast and a pot of tea for themselves. They were sitting down to this when Biffer and Skin returned. Skin was carrying the rolled up rug, which he put straight into the front room and Biffer had the cold box. They both sat down, after making a huge fuss of Aitch, and poured themselves a cup of tea.
    "I deliver the papers down The Avenue, where Impala Lodge is," said Skin, to the girls. "As you can imagine, I gave it plenty of eyeball this morning but saw nothing unusual going on. No removal vans, no one running around in a panic. The Jag was parked in its usual place on the drive and everything looked perfectly normal."
    Biffer clapped his hands together. "That leaves us exactly where we were last night," he said. "Now! Do we go to the police or not?"
    Everyone agreed that they should. "But my offer of going on my own still holds," said Elké.
    "O.K.," said Biffer. "Here's what we'll do. The nearest 'cop shop' is on the Queens Road. There is a small working mans cafe close by. I vote we all go down and while Elké is chatting to the cops, us three'll wait in the cafe and if she needs any help she can come and get us."
    They all got ready, headed off down the Aston Road and crossed over the roundabout into Witton Lane.
    There was someone else on Witton Lane that morning but he was walking in the opposite direction. He was a tall, wiry man, wearing a light brown three-piece suit and a trilby hat. He walked with a slight limp. He was still some distance away, when he spotted Rebecca. It was the braided hair and beads that gave her away. The man stopped and waited for the children to come to him. When they were only a short distance away he stepped out and stood directly in their path, saying in a clear, loud voice, "I believe you children are in some kind of trouble and I would like to help."
    All four children stopped and stood open mouthed. Before they had time to recover, the man pointed straight at Rebecca.
    "You!" he said, accusingly. "You were seen attaching a fake automatic teller machine to a bank wall in Birmingham City Centre on Friday night. And you!" he now pointed to Elké, "were her accomplice."
    The man took two business cards from out of his top pocket and handed one to Rebecca and one to Elké.
    They both read 'Captain R. Friddle. Private Detective'.

chapter 20