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 20
Grandad Jock Points The Way.

"But we are on our way to the police station right now," blurted out Elké.
    Captain Friddle looked at her intently with his steel blue eyes. "That might be a good idea," he said. "And then again, it might not. Tell me this. Do you know of anyone that goes by the name of Fat Cat?"
    The children were astonished. How can this stranger know so much?
    It was Biffer that answered. "Yes, we do. He is the brains behind all this kidnapping and bank swindling."
    "Kidnapping!" Captain Friddle sounded surprised. "Look, I think it would be best if we had a little chat before you pay a visit to the police station. Do you know of anywhere suitable we can go?"
    "The Buccaneer Cafe is close," suggested Biffer. "It is normally quiet at this time on a Sunday."
    They all sat at the big round table and Biffer ordered tea and cakes. "Oh Karen! Have you got anything for the puppy?" he added, indicating Aitch.
    The waitress gave him a funny look. "We don't normally allow dogs in here, but seeing as it's you Biffer and that he is such a cute little puppy, I'll make an exception."
    "Let's get down to business," said Captain Friddle, seriously. "Shall we start by you telling me all you know and then I'll do likewise."
     Elké and Rebecca began by relating how they were kidnapped; the horrible Mr. Fugg and their meeting with Fat Cat; the exciting night walk and everything Keith Doyle had told them, and finally how they were blackmailed into fixing cash machines to bank walls with the threat of Aitch being killed if they didn't.
    Biffer and Skin took over and told of their first encounter with Mr. Fugg and the finding of credit cards in the glove compartment; Skin's battle with Sheba, the black panther; the tailing of The Rat Squad to Impala Lodge, and their spying from the top of the oak tree.
    Then all four of them spoke excitedly of the adventure of the night before culminating in the rescue of Aitch, with Aitch himself putting in a few yelps at appropriate intervals.
    Captain Friddle shook his head in amazement. "I only wish my story was as exciting as yours," he said. "But here goes anyway. I am working for a company called 'International Bank Securities.' Two years ago there was a huge amount of credit card fraud going on in London and I was sent down to investigate. It did not take me long to find out that someone was doing the same as what is going on here: fixing cash machines to bank walls at the weekends."
    "Excuse me," said Rebecca, interrupting. "Would you explain to me why anyone would want to put up a machine that gives out money? Surely crooks want to steal money, not give it away."
    Captain Friddle smiled. "The point is these fake machines are not designed to give out money, only to obtain information. Let me explain." He took from his wallet a plastic card and held it up. "O.K., this is a credit card. My name is embossed on the front. On the back is a black magnetic strip that contains secret information. One thing I can do with this card is put it into a cash machine, key in my personal identity number, or P.I.N., and the machine will, hopefully, give me money.
    "But with Fat Cat's fake machines I put this card in and the machine will detect the embossed name, read off and store all the secret information from the magnetic strip and when I key in my P.I.N. it says 'Sorry I Have No Money At The Moment. Please Try Later' and gives me my card back.
    "But now the machine contains all the information about my card and also knows my P.I.N. All Fat Cat does is make an identical card, go to any cash machine and steal thousands of pounds from my account before I find out."
    "Wow!" said Rebecca, wide eyed. "That's so simple."
    "Yes, simple," agreed Captain Friddle, "but very effective."
    Captain Friddle took a large gulp of his tea before continuing. "Now. Where was I? Ah, yes. Down in London I began to mix with all the local gangsters and kept hearing the name 'Fat Cat' being mentioned in connection with the credit card scam.
    "It did not take me long to find out where Fat Cat's workshop was, so I decided to go to the police for help. I went straight to New Scotland Yard and told the chief superintendent everything but by the time we had got around to raiding the place, Fat Cat was long gone.
    "Someone had informed him we were on our way. That is why I am so loath to go to the police now. Fat Cat is a very powerful person and I am sure he has informers inside the police force here as well."
    Everyone at the table was silent for a minute.
    "What do you think we ought to do, then?" asked Biffer, at last.
    "What I would like," said Captain Friddle, "is for us five to break into Impala Lodge tonight and take them by surprise. But I am not keen on coming face to face with that black panther."
    "I'm sure he would be alright with me," said Elké, at once.
    "With you, yes," said Skin. "But not with the rest of us."
    "What about the cage?" said Captain Friddle. "If you went over the wall first, Elké, and locked the panther inside the cage I am sure we would all feel a lot safer."
    "I'm afraid that is not possible," said Elké. "The opening and closing of the cage door is operated from inside the scullery."
     "Well, that just about settles it," said Captain Friddle, with a sigh. "Unless someone can come up with a really good idea, the only other option is to go to the police."
    The five were so intent on their conversation that none of them heard the scraping of a nearby chair, as a man got up to leave. He had even gone as far as opening the door, before seeming to have second thoughts. He turned to those sitting at the table and said. "Excuse me for interrupting, but I could not help overhearing." It was Grandad Jock. "Have you considered the sewers? Some of the sewers in Aston date back to the Victorian times and are sometimes big enough to walk down."
    Captain Friddle looked up and found himself staring at an old, rugged face but containing eyes of exceptional alertness. "No," he said. "No, we have not considered the sewers. But you can be certain of one thing, we most definitely will now. Thank you very much."
    Grandad Jock gave a nod of satisfaction. "Good luck. And make sure you knock those villains heads together when you catch 'em. Kidnapping is a heinous crime." He added, before continuing on his way.
    "Wow!" exclaimed Skin. "Do you think Grandad Jock has a point?"
    "If that's his name," Said Captain Friddle. "He most certainly has."
    "But how do we find out about the sewers?" asked Elké.
    "Normally one would go to the library," said Captain Friddle. "But since today is a Sunday, that line of attack is ruled out."
    "What about the internet" said Rebecca, suddenly.
    Captain Friddle's eyes lit up. "Now that sounds like a good idea. Is there any place around here where we can get on the net?"
    "Yes," said Biffer. "There is the 'Internet Station' on Lichfield Road."
    "What are we hanging around here for then?" said Captain Friddle, getting up. "Let's be off."
    The 'Internet Station' reminded Rebecca of an open planned office, with over thirty computers. It soon became apparent that she was the only one with computer experience and was consequently given the prime seat. The others pulled up chairs and huddled around the screen.
    Aitch quickly became bored when he realized he was not allowed to run amok and curled up on Elké's lap and went to sleep.
    Rebecca typed at the keys for a few minutes and clicked the mouse a couple of times, before sitting back in her chair. "O.K., we have now logged onto the net," she said. "What do you want me to search for?"
    "Why don't we start with Birmingham?" suggested Biffer.
    Rebecca typed in 'Birmingham, England' and was soon scrolling down a long list.
    "There we go," said Skin, pointing at 'Drains & Sewers'."
    Rebecca clicked on and typed in 'The Avenue'.
    "There are six Avenues listed," she said. "Anyone know which is the one we want?"
    "Yes," said Skin. "It's the third one down: Birmingham B6."
     Everyone crowded forward when a line drawing of The Avenue appeared on the screen.
    "Look!" said Skin. "There is Impala Lodge and that is Hollyoak Lane."
    Rebecca highlighted the relevant area and zoomed in to fill the whole screen.
"That's more like it," said Biffer, getting excited. "Those thick red lines going down the centre of The Avenue are obviously the sewers. And see, there is a tee-off heading down Hollyoak Lane."
    "What is that square thing at the end of the lane?" asked Rebecca, zooming in once again. "Hey, bingo! It's a manhole."
    "Great!" Said Biffer. "If we drop down the manhole and walk back towards The Avenue the first thing we come to is a left hand turn leading us straight into Impala Lodge. And Look! There is another manhole in the middle of that sticky-out bit."
    "I know exactly where that is," said Elké, her eyes shining. "I've actually seen it. It is a big cast iron cover inside the scullery, just in front of the washing machine."
    "Can we please slow down a minute?" Said Captain Friddle. "We don't even know if the sewers are big enough to walk down yet. Is this thing capable of telling us that, Rebecca?"
    "I dunno. But I'll try and find out."
     Rebecca drew a line across the sewer that ran into Impala Lodge and typed in 'cross-section'. A few seconds later up popped an egg shaped outline drawing, with the pointed bit at the top.
    "One metre seventy high" said Elké, laughing. "That's the same height as me. I will be able to stand up straight without even having to bend my knees."
    Captain Friddle sat back in his chair, looking thoughtful. "It appears we have found the perfect way of entering Impala Lodge in secrecy. But the big question is: Do we? Do we break into Impala Lodge tonight and attempt to capture all these criminals?"
    "Yes, of course," called out everyone, together.
    "I want to see that nasty Mr. Fugg put away for a very long time," said Elké.
    "And I can't wait to bop Gobbie on the nose," said Biffer, holding up a fist.
    Captain Friddle smiled at their exuberance. "If we plan well and get lucky, Biffer, violence might not be necessary, but that cannot be guaranteed. I am going to make out a list of what I would like you to buy." He said, taking out a small note pad and pen. "We will all need a pair of Wellington Boots, those sewers could be pretty mucky. And Torches. Five new torches with batteries." Captain Friddle looked up. "Can anyone think of anything else we might need?"
    "Rope. To tie up the prisoners." Said Rebecca, showing the whites of her eyes.
    "And how many prisoners are you planning to tie up?" Asked Captain Friddle.
    "Well, there's nasty Mr. Fugg, for one," answered Rebecca, at once. "And of course Fat Cat. We can tie him to his wheelchair. And The Rat Squad, and dear old Mr. Woodhead." She looked across at Elké, imploringly. "Do you think Mr. Woodhead needs tying up, Elké?"
     Elké nodded her head, emphatically.
    Captain Friddle laughed. "O.K., I make that six prisoners. Four metres of rope per prisoner equals twenty-four metres in total. But I want it in two metre lengths. Let's say sixteen two metre lengths of rope, to be on the safe side." He ripped out the page and handed it to Biffer, together with some money. "Here. You are all on expenses now. Make sure you get a receipt for whatever you buy."
    Captain Friddle thought for a moment before saying. "Rebecca, is it possible to get a printout of what's on the screen?"
     "Good, make it two copies and then we can all study it this afternoon, if we have some spare time." Captain Friddle looked at them all. "Is there anything else?"
    "Yes," said Skin. "I would like to know more about the layout of the house at Impala Lodge."
    "So would I." Said Captain Friddle. "Can you two girls see to that? Draw up as much of the inside of the house as you can remember."
    Rebecca and Elké both nodded.
    "I need to make a few phone calls this afternoon," continued Captain Friddle. "To check out if either Misters Fugg or Woodhead have criminal records and I will also have a look at the manhole cover down Hollyoak Lane. What time does the Buccaneer Cafe close today?"
    "Five o'clock," said Biffer.
    "Good," said Captain Friddle, checking his watch. "It is now coming up to twelve. I will meet you in 'The Buccaneer' at three to make our final preparations."

chapter 21