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 23
The Flying Cat.

Biffer lifted his leg and whacked the door of Fat Cat's den with the bottom of his boot.
    "No," he said, breathing heavily. "This one is as solid as a rock. What we need here is a crowbar."
    The door to the workshop opened and out stepped Rebecca, smiling broadly. In her hand was that very thing. A crowbar.
    "Hey! My saviour," said Biffer, taking it from her.
    He forcefully shoved the flattened end of the crowbar between the jam and the door and leaned heavily on the long bar for leverage. 'Ping' the door flew open.
    Elké was standing quietly at the end of the corridor with Sheba.
    Biffer, Skin and Rebecca stood back and said, "after you."
    Elké laughed. "I now know the secret of how to make all guys behave like gentlemen. Walk around with a panther."
    Fat Cat's den was without lights, but that did not bother Sheba. She jumped up onto the low stage, dragging Elké behind her, and made for a faint red glow at the far end of the room. It was a flight of stairs. There was also a door marked 'Lift' but Sheba was not interested in that.
    Up two flights of stairs to the first floor. Sheba wanted to carry straight on up to the next floor, but Elké tugged on the choker chain.
    "Hang on, girl," she said. "There might be something interesting on this floor."
    Sheba sniffed the air and thought otherwise. Elké had no choice but to follow.
    The top floor landing was bathed in a pleasant red light and it was here that Elké received her first shock. At the end of the landing, sitting slumped in his wheelchair, was Fat Cat. His head was hanging forward and resting on his chest in a most grotesque fashion.
    Biffer, Rebecca and Skin arrived, slightly out of breath, and they too were pulled up sharp by the bizarre sight of the motionless Fat Cat.
    "Do you think he's dead?" said Skin.
    Rebecca bravely crept forward. The closer she got the more grotesque the figure became. She finally put out her hand and lifted up the head and immediately dropped it again with a squeal.
    'Ugh!" she said, in disgust. "The eyes are just vacant black holes."
    Rebecca turned to face the others. "It's O.K., there is nobody at home. It is just an empty, padded cat costume."
    Everyone breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
    Sheba pushed open a smoked glass door across the landing and led Elké into a fully equipped gymnasium. There was all manner of keep fit equipment in here, but Sheba heeded none of these. She padded on into Fat Cat's sparsely furnished living room.
    "Look!" said Biffer, pointing to the television screen. "The picture shows the entrance hall downstairs. It must have been Fat Cat who set off the alarm."

impala lodge

There was a sliding door at the far side of the room, and it was open.
    Sheba and the four children went through and found themselves on the flat roof at the back of the house. Rebecca peered over the parapet wall at her side and felt slightly giddy at the sight of Hollyoak Lane, far below.
    "Why, hello," called out a voice in front of them. "I have been expecting you."
It was Fat Cat silhouetted against the moon. He was standing on top of the parapet at the very back of the house. He faced Hollyoak Lane and wore another cat costume, this time with hardly any padding. One might now call him 'Lean Cat'.
    "I know Rebecca, Elké and of course Sheba," went on Fat Cat. "But I have not had the pleasure of meeting the two boys. You, of course, must be the ones known as 'The Buccaneers'. The Rat Squad has a high regard of you both."
    As he spoke, Fat Cat's arms slowly rose and fell in time with his breathing, revealing a large amount of loose skin that went from his wrists down to his ankles. "Rather like a vampires cloak," thought Rebecca. She also noticed more surplus skin hanging between his legs.
    "Why don't you get down from the wall and give yourself up?" called out Biffer. "Captain Friddle has already phoned for the police."
    "Ah! Dear old Captain Friddle," said Fat Cat, wistfully. "This will be the second time he has attempted to capture me. It will be such a shame to disappoint him again. I do hope Mr. Fugg did not cause him any permanent damage. It did look painful when the captain came crashing to the floor. Mr. Fugg will have to learn to control his temper in future."
    At that moment the sound of sirens floated across the early morning air as police cars converged on Impala Lodge.
    Fat Cat cocked his furry head to one side. "Hark! Here come the cavalry. Time I was making a move."
    "No!" shouted Elké. "Don't run!"
    But it was too late. Fat Cat had already got into his stride. He ran swiftly along the parapet in front of them making straight for the side of the house, and the long drop to Hollyoak Lane below.
    All this was too much for Sheba. A running animal is meant for chasing. With a growl coming from deep within her throat the mighty cat leaped forward, easily pulling the chain from Elké's grasp.
    It was touch and go. Fat Cat and Sheba reached the corner of the building at almost the same time and as the panther took a swipe with her huge paw Fat Cat sprung into the air, leaving Sheba with only a claw full of ginger fur for her troubles.
    The four children, standing alongside the parapet wall, looked on in fascination. Fat Cat was airborne. Fat Cat had opened his arms and legs as wide as possible and the once loose skin was now stretched tight. Fat Cat was gliding. Fat Cat was gliding across Hollyoak Lane towards the brick building opposite.
    An instant before touchdown, Fat Cat pulled his padded forearms and shins together, cushioning the blow. He was now at the mercy of gravity. And gravity showed none. He began to accelerate downwards, his sharp, steel claws digging into the brickwork sending up showers of sparks. But gravity was winning the battle. Fat Cat was continuing to plummet earthwards.
    Rebecca screamed and clutched at her face.
    But then everything changed. The sparks abruptly stopped and Fat Cat's descent began to slow. When his feet were just one metre from the ground, Fat Cat had amazingly come to a halt. Then, as if to cock-a-snook at gravity, Fat Cat began to slowly rise. But not for long. He kicked out at the wall with his feet and performed a backward somersault, making a perfect landing in the middle of the road.
    The four children looking down from Impala Lodge, were stunned.
    But Fat Cat had not yet finished. He quickly unzipped the cat costume, removed the head and stepped out.
    By the light of the moon and the street lamp at the corner of The Avenue, those watching from above could see Fat Cat quite clearly. He was immaculately dressed in a dark evening suit, complete with a bow tie, white scarf and patent leather shoes. He knelt down, rummaged inside the discarded cat costume and pulled out a thin, black disc that, after a sharp smack with the back of his hand, magically turned into a pristine top hat.
    It was only then that Fat Cat turned his attention to the little group, leaning over the parapet, on the roof of Impala Lodge. He raised the hat and gave an elegant bow.
    Rebecca gasped with sudden realization. "It's the butler!" she whispered, hoarsely. As Fat Cat turned to go, Rebecca cupped her hands and called out. "Mr. Woodhead."
    Fat Cat spun round and smiled. "Congratulations, Rebecca, you have found out that Fat Cat is Mr. Woodhead. Only to be left with another question: who is Mr. Woodhead?"
    Fat Cat reached the corner of Hollyoak Lane just as three police cars drew up, with flashing lights and blaring sirens. He paused to lift his top hat in greeting before walking briskly up The Avenue.
    The children looked at each other in total disbelief. "We'd better get downstairs and let the police in," said Biffer.
    "You three go," said Elké. "I'll stay up here a bit and settle Sheba down."
    Elké made sure that Sheba could not get from the flat roof back into the house from anywhere else other than the sliding door into Fat Cat's living room.
    "I have a strong feeling there will be lots of policemen running about the house this morning," said Elké to Sheba, stroking her soft fur. "And I think the temptation to attack one of them would be just too much for you."
    Elké left Sheba lying contentedly on the raffia mat in Fat Cat's apartment and quietly made her way into the gymnasium, locking the door behind her.
    "I'll take that key from you, if you don't mind, miss," said a deep voice, making Elké jump. She turned to find a burly policeman standing there holding out his hand.
    "You do know there is a dangerous animal behind this door, don't you?" said Elké, handing him the key.
    "Yes, I am quite aware of that," replied the policeman. "I have been sent up here to prevent anyone from going inside and to tell you to go downstairs and report to Chief Inspector Webb."
    Elké was right about there being lots of policemen around. She found one on each landing, two in Fat Cat's den and simply hoards standing about the entrance hall.
    Mr. Fugg and The Rat Squad were being escorted out of the front door. All were now handcuffed. Mr. Fugg glared at Elké with hate filled eyes.
    Chief Inspector Webb had commandeered Mr. Fugg's living room and had made it his centre of operations. He was now having an argument with Biffer who was standing in front of his desk together with Skin and Rebecca.
    "Very well, if you insist." Chief Inspector Webb was saying, in a curt manner. He turned to the policeman standing to attention at his side. "Sergeant, take these three out into Hollyoak Lane and make sure you keep a close eye on them. We all know what slippery customers Biffer and Skin can be."
    Biffer grabbed Elké by the arm as he was passing. "Come on," he said, with a grin. "We are going to see how Fat Cat managed to perform his amazing escape."
    The Avenue had been blocked off twenty metres each side of Impala Lodge by police cars parked sideways across the road, and barriers over the paths and verges. And countless batteries of high-powered halogen lamps, pointing inwards, turned night into day.
    There was another roadblock halfway down Hollyoak Lane.
    Fat Cat's costume was still in a neat pile just as he had left it, except that now there was a special barrier put up to keep out unwanted visitors. The solitary policeman, standing guard, took a step forward as Biffer pulled one of the barriers aside to get through.
    "It's alright, Henderson," called out sergeant Cameron. "We have permission from 'the big gunsumukka' himself."
    The four children stood looking at the cat costume lying in the road.
    "I couldn't believe it when Fat Cat actually took off and began to fly through the air," said Biffer, shaking his head.
    "But how did he stop himself from smashing into the ground?" said Rebecca. "That's what I want to know. Not only did he slow to a stop, but he started to go up as well. I mean, that's impossible, isn't it?"
    Skin stood back and pointed upwards. "Look! You can see the score marks where Fat Cat's claws raked down the side of the house. There's one, two, three, four on this side. That's his left hand. And four more just over to the right."
    "O.K.," said Elké. "I can understand why the claw marks start at the top of the house because that is where Fat Cat hit the wall. But why do they suddenly stop about six metres from the ground? "Hang on a minute. What are they?" she said, getting closer. "By Jove! I believe that's it. Look! There's a steel eyebolt screwed into the wall each side of the claw marks, just above where they finish. And there is a horizontal length of steel wire stretched between the two of them."
    She turned and looked at the others, her eyes gleaming.
    "I've got it," said Skin. "When Fat Cat's claws were scraping down the wall he wasn't trying to slow himself down at all. He was searching for the wire. He was waiting for his claws to hook onto the wire and that was what slowed him down. And the reason he began to go up was because the wire was stretching like a giant bow string and Fat Cat was the arrow."
    "Exactly," said Elké. "And when he started to go up, all Fat Cat had to do was kick off from the wall to unhook himself from the wire. I have been in the circus all my life and have never seen anything as clever and inventive as that before. Fat Cat is an acrobatic genius."

chapter 24