DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
TEL. mobile 07982 032974
text and images throughout copyright
The Tale of the Acrobat
The Brotherhood of the Hand, a small society, dedicated to mystery, consists of four elderly men, in equally elderly grey suits, who correspond to the fingers of the human hand. Simon and Annie, brother and sister, have become members of the Brotherhood, as have their friends, Indira, Pei-Ying and Mariko. There is also Adrian the seagull and Sniffer the dog, the eyes and nose of the Brotherhood. Two new characters appear: the aged Nanny-Goat, from another world, and her exasperating, harlequin-like Acrobat, whose adventures wreak havoc. The scene is the seaside city of Brighton.
The slightly stooped figure stood outside the door, blinking in the warm early morning sun. Even though it was early May, the air was gentle and soothing. The figure stood just under the promenade in Brighton, on the walk that led to the pebbled beach itself. Beyond the beach, the grey-blue water of the sea rippled and murmured peacefully, an occasional small wave breaking the symmetry of the sea’s gentle movement. From here it looked and sounded like a gently slumbering giant, stretching out to the horizon, where it met the light blue cloudless sky. Further out, a few small boats dotted the sea’s surface, little exclamation marks on an otherwise clean surface of water. To the left, Brighton Pier stood in all its tawdry gaiety, a counterpart to the gaunt skeleton of what remained of the West Pier further on to the right.
Numbers of people passed by, enjoying this unexpected warmth and the benign atmosphere that it created. They moved unhurriedly, as if, for this morning at least, there was all the time in the world. None of them noticed, or even looked at, the bent figure standing under the wall, that moved its head this way and that, as if it was trying to find its bearings. Finally it set off westwards, with a slow but firm step, as if finally sure of its destination.
It was surprising that no-one had noticed the figure, because the figure was that of a nanny goat, somewhat unusual in this human world, but even more so because of the fact that it walked upright on its cloven hind legs. The goat walked purposefully towards the steps leading upwards from the beach onto the promenade, her hooves clicking on the concrete beneath. The sound was accented by the clatter of her large, knobbly stick, as it aided her ascent up the stairs. No-one seemed to observe, or even see her, or they might have commented in surprise that the nanny goat wore large, black-framed spectacles on her long intelligent face, and that she carried a large shapeless leather bag slung across her bony shoulders.
She walked on purposefully, through groups of people who seemed to part to make way, even though they had no awareness of her presence. Even if they had, they would probably have taken no notice. The people of Brighton were no strangers to odd sights. The nanny goat stopped, waited for the traffic lights across the busy promenade to change, and then marched across in company with the other people, waiting to cross. On the opposite pavement she went on, her hooves and stick clacking in unison, her bag swinging slightly. She entered the old Lanes.
She clacked slowly past the Games workshop, and moved onwards, still going west. Coming out at last of Duke’s Lane, with its smart and expensive shops, she turned quietly into Duke Street, past the Fabrica Arts centre, converted from a large church, past the Victory pub, green-tiled on the outside, as some old pubs were, and into Middle Street. Halfway along, she turned sharply left into a narrow passageway that led back gradually eastwards and towards the sea-front. Ignoring the Erotic Boutique on the way, and the Body-Casting Workshop on the right (not that she needed it), she finally stopped outside a black garden doorway set into the wall. She paused, peering through her thick spectacles at the bell push with a little notice by it, saying “Use thumb only”. She snorted, and then stood back and prodded it with the end of her stick.
A few moments later, the door swung open slightly. Pushing it with her stick, she entered into the overgrown small garden beyond. She marched up to the front door and pushed that open too. She stood for a moment, while her eyes, small and beady behind her spectacles, adjusted to the gloom. She tut-tutted under her breath as she noticed the dust in the corners and the broken banister that had not been repaired. Then she began to clack and click up the stairs to the landing above. She hesitated at the door at the end, then threw it open and walked in.
The Four Fingers looked up, startled, and rather astonished, at the sight of an elderly nanny goat in glasses, leaning on a rather ominous-looking stick. They were all seated, as usual on the other side of the long wooden table at the back of the room. Index Finger remembered his manners. ‘Please, madam, will you take a seat?’ He spread his hand towards a upholstered chair in front of the table. Nanny goat sat down in silence, tucking up her long floral dress, and the Four Fingers waited for her to speak.
‘You received my message?’ She spoke in a high bleating voice. The Four Fingers, of the Brotherhood of the Hand, all nodded. ‘You will then realise that I have come to you with a matter of the utmost urgency. I wish you to address it immediately, from this moment onwards. Do I make myself clear?’ The Four Fingers nodded dumbly. Nanny goat decided to continue. ‘I wish to report a missing person. I want you to find him. You have been highly recommended. I would like you to start right away’.
Little Finger recovered himself. ‘Could you give us a description of the ah, missing person to whom you refer?’
‘His name is Acrobat, he wears a blue suit, and he has a cat’s head’.
The Four Fingers looked at each other.
‘I see’. Little Finger said nervously. ‘I must say, madam, the miraculous does take us a little time, but the impossible might take a little longer, ha, ha’.
‘You have until 8.00 o’clock, tomorrow morning’.
Little Finger gulped, and then turned hastily to his brother Fingers in a whispered conversation. Then he turned back to Nanny goat. He coughed. ‘I’m afraid that this may be a little, er, difficult for my colleagues and I, but we can put two of our members on this case for you. I assure you, that they are the very best, and they will give you every satisfaction’. He did not mention that his own fingers were crossed behind his back.
‘Very good. Where can I find them? It is imperative that I speak to them personally’.
‘This is their address’. Third Finger pushed a slip pf paper across to Nannygoat. ‘But, I must say to you’, he took a breath, ‘they are children. But they are highly experienced’. he added hastily.
‘The best we have’. said Middle Finger, unexpectedly. The other Fingers nodded in unison.
‘Good. Very good. I think children will be most suitable. Far more intelligent than adults, in my opinion. I shall call upon them straight away. Bear in mind, gentlemen, that this matter is not only urgent, but perhaps a matter of life or death. Good day to you’.
She got up and clacked to the door, and went out. ‘I think our lives are not going to be worth living very shortly’. said Little Finger, glumly. ‘No’. replied Index Finger. ‘Gentlemen, I think that we ought to book ourselves a rather prolonged holiday. Perhaps from today. Abroad, might be appropriate’. They nodded sadly.
Once outside the door, Nanny goat leant against the wall in a helpless fit of silent laughter. Oh, my. She thought to herself. I must be a real horror, if I can frighten people so much. But I got what I really came for. She looked at the slip of paper. “Annie and Simon”. ‘They’re the ones I really want on this case’. she said to herself. She hobbled off downstairs and went out in search of a bus to take her to their address. Children, she thought sadly, and yet they have been through so much. Perhaps this will help them to get over all the dreadful things they’ve experienced. I hope so, anyway.
Simon was still fuzzy with sleep, having only just finished breakfast, when the doorbell rang. He decided to ignore it, uncertain whether he could find the front door or not. Sleep did not agree with Simon, though he certainly agreed with sleep. But, he conceded, he was a little slow, first thing on a Saturday morning at ten o’clock. The doorbell rang again, and, throwing caution to the winds, he went to answer it. Seeing a dim shape there on the doorstep, and without thinking, he called, ‘Come in, we’re in the kitchen’. and shambled off, leaving the visitor to close the door and follow him. He fell gratefully into his chair, and gazed mournfully at the table in front of him. ‘You’ll have to forgive me. I’m still in the arms of…’ he looked at the cooker. ‘Aga’.
‘Argus’ his visitor corrected him gently, sitting in the chair opposite.
‘Nanny goat. Just call me Nanny goat. I’ve come a long way to see you’.
‘Would you like a drink?’ asked Simon, cautiously.
‘Yes, thank you. Could I have a cup of warm milk, please?’ Nanny goat did feel thirsty. She pulled out her knitting and began to knit furiously, her needles click-clacking, rather like the sound she made as she walked. It reminded Simon of tumbrels rolling and the swish of the guillotine. He placed the mug of warm milk beside her, and she drank daintily, her front hooves clasping each side of the mug. Then she placed it down, and looked carefully at the brother and sister.
She saw them in colours as in her homeland. Simon had a combination of orange and green around him. Annie had a darker green with tinges of blue. But inside both, the colours glowed orange, and then a deep fiery yellow. There is a fire within each of them, she thought. She shifted to the feelings that came from them. Simon’s was a mixture of suspicion, wariness and a suppressed anger. Annie’s was more difficult. A mixture of suspicion, true, but trust, and care. Then she looked at their eyes.
She recoiled inwardly. There was deep pain and grief hidden behind Annie’s slightly narrowed eyes, and also in Simon’s wider brown ones. She felt a pang of sorrow. These children were old before their time! They had experienced things that they should not have, but she also saw, in her own way, the inner strength, and the deep bond that lay between both of them. They have come through so much together, she decided, and they are strong together. They are what everybody has told me.
‘I want to ask you to do something for me. I have already seen the Four Fingers and they suggested that I come to you. You see, we have lost one of our own’.
‘Our own?’ asked Simon sharply.
Nanny goat sighed and went on. ‘In our land which is very different from yours, we have a very great range of “creatures “ as you humans would probably call them. We look after our young children together as a “community”? Is that the right word?’ Both Simon and Annie nodded.
‘The one I want to ask for your help in finding, is called Acrobat. He is wonderful in all sorts of things. He is intelligent but shy, sensitive but silly. He wanted to go out and have fun in another world, and when someone opened the portal, well, he slipped by, and now he is out in your world. The trouble is, that he did not take an invisibility power with him, therefore he can be seen by everybody in your world here. He is vulnerable, and might well end up being killed’. Nanny goat’s voice ended with a gulp.
She quickly recovered herself. ‘That is why I have come to you for help in finding him, before it is too late. You are the only hope I have in finding our son, and taking him back home’. Nanny goat had stopped knitting. Simon and Annie did not say anything.
Then after a few moments, Simon asked, ‘How did you know about us?’
Nanny goat thought for a moment.
‘Because you might not know it, news of you has reached many different lands. You are well-known, even if you don’t know that, yourselves. But, I had better give you a description of Acrobat. He is tall, rather skinny, in my view, and wears a rather nasty cheap blue suit, that he keeps buttoned up at all times. And he has the head of a cat. Oh yes.’ seeing their faces. ‘He is very kind and protective, but not of himself. He can also swivel his head around, to keep an eye on everything. You cannot mistake him’.
‘Like this?’ Annie pushed the local newspaper across the table towards Nanny goat. She looked down and gasped.
The headline read “Cat-burglar strikes again!” She went to read the short article. “The strange character, which has captured the imagination of everybody in the city, was once more spotted, this time in the suburbs of Hove. Mrs Emily Froggat, (67) taking a bath, was suddenly surprised to see a man, wearing what she saw as a mask of a cat on his face, peering through the window. She screamed and gave the alarm. Police were called but no trace of the assailant was found. Mrs Froggat’s condition was later described, by a hospital spokeswoman, as “near-hysterical”. Police are appealing for anybody who might have seen the assailant to come forward. He is described as slim, wearing a light blue suit, and possibly wearing a cat-like mask. He might well be described now also as a “peeping tom”’. The reporter obviously enjoyed his own witticism.
Nanny goat burst into tears. She gratefully picked up the tissue that Annie pushed towards her, and blew her nose loudly. ‘Oh he is such a fool! He means no harm at all. He is just inquisitive. He was as much frightened of that poor lady as she was of him’.
‘Rather silly of him to go peering in at old ladies in the altogether, though, isn’t it? remarked Simon, ungallantly. ‘He should have found a very attractive young woman to peer at. Much more fun’.
‘Simon, shut up! That politically incorrect opinion of yours is not helping!’ snapped Annie severely. She turned back to Nanny goat. ‘Do you have any idea where he might go, or do next?’ Nanny goat sniffed, and dried the last of her tears.
‘I do know that he loves an audience. He enjoys showing off. So I would think that he might go to a place where there are lots of people, to put on a kind of exhibition. He is very agile. He is not known as Acrobat for nothing’.
Simon and Annie looked at each other. ‘That means’, Annie said, ‘that he’s quite likely to be in the centre. There’ll be masses of people today, because the weather’s so fine. I bet he’ll be there’.
Simon agreed, and then looked across at Nanny goat. ‘What sort of timescale do we have?’ enquired Simon. Nanny goat looked bewildered.
‘My brother means that what do we do with him when, or if, we find him, and at what time do you have to take him back home?’ Annie said, with a scathing look at Simon.
‘Oh, dear, I will have to explain further. You see, when I went to see the Brotherhood, the Four Fingers, I mean, they gave me your names and address, and said that you would be the best people to come to. I assumed that you are part of that detective agency’.
‘Did they, now?’ said Simon, meaningfully. He looked across the table at Annie, who nodded thoughtfully.
‘I think we are going to have a rather interesting discussion with those gentlemen in the future’. she replied, noting Simon’s dark look.
‘Oh, I hope I did nothing wrong! I was so anxious about Acrobat, you see, and I did hear them saying something about taking a long holiday’. Both Annie and Simon sniggered.
‘It won’t be long enough for them’. Simon muttered. ‘But, anyway do go on, Nanny goat’. She noted that the original sharpness had gone out of his voice, and, reassured, she continued.
‘I need to get him back home as soon as I can. I have to get him back through our portal before eight o’clock tomorrow morning. If I can’t, or we can’t, then he and I might have stay here for months or even years. Then I won’t be able to look after him properly. Once your police catch him, and realise that he is not from this world, they will take him to some laboratory or other, and…and I don’t know what will happen to him then!’ Nanny goat sniffed and helped herself to another tissue.
Simon leant back and clasped his hands behind his head. ‘So that gives us less than twenty-four hours! We’d better move quickly! Annie, go and get yourself ready, and be quick! We’ve no time to lose!’
‘Go and get ready yourself! In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re still in your dressing-gown. So shut it, you idle, useless bag of old bones!’ Simon groaned and got up to dress.
‘Back in a moment, Nanny goat!’ Annie called, as she left after him. ‘He’ll take ages finding anything to wear that’s presentable to the outside world. Men!’
Nanny goat smiled to herself. Things have not changed very much, she thought, over the years. Annie reappeared quite quickly. ‘One thing I forgot to ask you. Does Acrobat speak our language?’
‘No, I’m afraid not’. said Nanny goat sadly. ‘Ah’, muttered Annie. ‘That might make it more difficult’.
‘Don’t worry, I shall be coming with you. He will listen to me, or else’. she added darkly. ‘Incidentally’, she hesitated, looking rather uncertain, ‘Will it be a question of money to pay you? If so, then I can easily knit you some, if you can kindly give me the pattern’.
Annie burst out laughing. ‘Of course not! What do you think we are? We certainly do not take money, at all! Isn’t that right, Simon?’ catching sight of him, still trying to put on his sweater. Simon groaned reluctantly.
‘It is good to see you laugh, child. I don’t think you have done so for a long time. Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to…..’ She coughed in embarrassment.
Simon and Annie both glanced at her, their faces expressionless.
‘There’s a bus in two minutes’. announced Simon, looking at his watch. ‘Let’s go now’.
Sitting on the bus, with Nanny goat squeezed between them (they did not want to draw attention to her, even though she was invisible to the other passengers), they were all silent. Nanny goat was torn between her fears for Acrobat, and embarrassment at having said something that must have seemed painful to both children. Simon and Annie, too, were thinking of the sadness and depression that they had both felt since the battle.
But, unknown to Nanny goat, they were also now thinking ahead to the problems of Acrobat. How were they going to find him? What could they do if they did? Their thoughts were on plans of action now. Neither thought that any of their friends could help with this situation, except….. Annie pulled out her mobile and dialled quickly. She turned to Simon. ‘Indira and Pei-Ying are coming!’ she said quickly to Simon. ‘They’ll meet us at Churchill Square’.
Churchill Square was a big covered shopping mall in the centre of Brighton, already filled with crowds of people on this sunny morning. There were their two friends, one Indian, one Taiwanese, waiting at the bus stop, waving to them. They waved back, much to Nanny goat’s horror. ‘Hi, you two, come and meet our friend Nanny goat!’ The elderly goat groaned. ‘They can see me!’ ‘Of course’, said Annie cheerfully. ‘They’re both members of the Brotherhood, and Sisterhood! she added. ‘Don’t worry, you can rely on them’. She turned to their two friends.
‘We’re looking for an Acrobat, a friend of Nanny goat’s who must be around here somewhere. He’s in a blue suit, and he’s got a cat’s head’.
‘Should be easy to spot then’. said Indira.
‘’We might as well start looking inside’. added Pei-Ying.
They went through the glass doors, past what used to be the Borders bookshop, Nanny goat still feeling rather confused and uncertain. They walked along, until by the Disney store, and just before Habitat, a sudden commotion broke out in the central part of the Square, ahead. Shouts and screams rang out and a whole wedge of people, who looked panic-stricken, ran straight towards them!
The five of them ran and flattened themselves against the glass walls of the Habitat store, as people rushed past, some of them yelling in fear, others chattering excitedly as they galloped past. Adults children, teenagers and several children’s’ buggies, pushed by desperate mothers, and careering wildly, all stampeded down the wide aisle. It was barely possible to escape the frenzy, except by staying close by the store windows. A security man rushed past, squeaking into his hand-held intercom. Annie could barely make out what he was saying, but it sounded like ‘Evacuate! Police, Fire brigade! All services!’ He turned, saw them, and yelled out to them ‘Back to the exits!’ They could hear no more, as the crowd surging away from the centre swallowed him up.
Not everyone though. Here and there small knots of people hung on, around the seats in the centre of the mall, or clinging onto the glass safety walls around the central rotunda. They were all pointing upwards. Simon ran out, dodging and swerving, until he reached a small group of girls standing on one of the central seats, pointing upwards, and jumping up and down in excitement.
‘What’s up!’ he panted to one of them.
‘Him! He’s going to fall off any second!’ She jabbed her finger up above. Simon looked up.
He knew, even before he looked upwards. ‘Oh, no!’ he groaned. He looked up at the great glass rotunda, in the centre of the square. A thin blue figure was clinging upside-down to one of the curved trusses that supported the dome. It had a cat’s head, which turned this way and that, at all sorts of impossible angles. It seemed to be enjoying itself. It’s mouth opened in a series of loud chirrups. Then it leapt right across the space of the rotunda, onto another truss. Simon had a distinct, slow-motion picture of the figure extending it’s legs in a full scissors as it leapt, in a posture that any ballerina would have been proud of! The small girls on the bench nearly fell off in excitement.
‘Go, Catman, Go! Go! Go! Go!’ they shouted in unison, their small fists punching the air. Acrobat chirruped again in delight, even taking one of his paws from the truss to wave to them. He slipped suddenly. They gasped, and then cheered. He had leapt again onto another truss, and then launched himself upwards, clinging onto the very centre of the rotunda, where he paused, looking around expectantly, still upside down. His head rotated to see everything he could.
Simon looked down, and then around him. The young girls were still cheering quite hysterically. Behind him were dark-clad figures with yellow vests over their tunics. Below, he could see firemen, in bright yellow helmets, desperately pulling across a huge orange crash mattress into the space underneath the dome. Acrobat was watching with interest, his head swivelling down to look at what was going on. He didn’t seem in the least bit worried.
‘Jump!’ shouted one of the firemen from the floor below. ‘Jump! It’s all right! You’ll be perfectly safe!’ Simon could see their open mouths, all gaping upwards the thin blue figure of Acrobat, as he peered down at them. Then his cat’s face split into a great smile. He jumped.
In fact he didn’t jump. Rather, he flew down towards the great crash mat, waiting below, in a whole series of somersaults, turning over and over gracefully in the air. The little girls gasped. He hit the mat feet first, and much to everybody’s amazement, bounced upwards again, landing on the glass rail of the floor above, where he crouched, his cat’s face beaming! He chirruped loudly, and the little girls cheered with delight. Even Simon was stunned with admiration.
But behind him he could hear the thud of many feet. He looked around frantically for Annie and the others. There they were, on the other side from Acrobat, Nanny goat holding aloft her stick and waving it in the air. Acrobat saw it too, and without warning leapt right across the domed space and landed next to her. That was all Simon managed to see before a heavy hand was clamped on his shoulder, and realised that he was gently, but firmly, being led away. Just in front of him, through the milling groups of policemen, he briefly noticed the squealing little group of girls being moved towards the exit, surrounded by a phalanx of uniforms.
Simon looked back, but couldn’t see Annie and the others anywhere. “I’ll have to get you out of here now, son’. said the policeman, ‘until we know what’s going on’.
‘Do you get a lot of this?’ asked Simon innocently.
‘Oh, yeah, flying men and the like. There was one lad who thought he was a pterodactyl’.
‘A pterodactyl. You know, one of those prehistoric flying reptiles. He was a bit of a daft lad’.
Simon hesitated, The policeman seemed like a decent man.
‘What happened to the pterodactyl?’
The policeman chuckled. ‘Oh, he decided to fly out of his nest, and came down WALLOP onto the crash mattress. Didn’t hurt himself. Probably still in counselling. Right here we are’. They came out of the main glass doors. There were policeman everywhere, holding back a large noisy crowd, behind chequered yellow tape across the entrance to Churchill Square. At one side, he saw Indira and Pei-Ying, who were still talking to two women police officers. He waved to them, and they waved back.
‘I can see my friends over there. All right if I go and join them?’
‘Yeah, but you and your friends stay well away from this building. It’s being cleared. Off you go’. He gave Simon’s shoulder a friendly squeeze and then turned back to the entrance.
Simon hurried over to Indira and Pei-Ying. The noise was terrific – noise from the crowd, police sirens wailing, shouts and orders from the yellow vested police.
‘Are you all right?’ shouted Simon. ‘Fine,’ said Indira, ‘they just questioned us, and then told us off for not getting out quickly enough’.
Pei-Ying was looking at a dark van that had just drawn up. The back doors opened and out jumped a file of men, clad in black with helmets and visors, carrying large and very ugly black automatic weapons. They jogged steadily to the entrance doors and were let through by two policemen, who held the doors open, and disappeared inside.
Pei-Ying turned back to Simon, her eyes wide. ‘I think they’re an Armed Response Unit!’ she gasped. They must think they’re dealing with a terrorist threat! Perhaps they think Acrobat has got bombs strapped to him!’
‘Where’s Annie?’ Indira urged. Simon’s heart was pounding loudly.
‘They’re still inside’. He said quietly.
Annie and the others raced down the long corridor, which bent at an angle halfway along. There were no windows, only advertising posters. They passed the doorway to the creche on the right. Acrobat was bouncing from one wall to the other ahead of them and reached the brown wooden door at the very end. He pulled at the handle, looked back, and then shook his head, chirruping loudly.
‘It’s a dead end!’ gasped Annie. They could hear running footsteps behind them. Indira and Pei-Ying, without a word, immediately began to run back along the corridor, to try to delay their pursuers.
‘An invisible spell!’ panted Nanny goat.
‘No time!’ cried Annie, and pushed Acrobat desperately through the only door that she could think of.
Annie stopped, gasping for breath. Acrobat was looking around with interest. Annie looked around as well, and then realised with dismay, that they were in the ladies toilets, washbasins and mirrors on one side, and toilet cubicles on the other. Acrobat was already admiring himself in one of the mirrors, preening his fur, and tugging proudly at his whiskers. Annie grabbed him unceremoniously by his collar, and tugged him inside one of the cubicles with her, and locked the door. Acrobat grinned, and rubbed his soft silky face against her cheek.
‘Get off!’ she spluttered.
The door to the toilets was flung open and a loud female voice shouted, ‘Anybody here?’
Annie put her finger to her lips, looking straight at Acrobat. He did the same, with his mouth turned up with a grin. Then she pointed to the space underneath the wall of the cubicle, and made a quick’ get away’ motion with her hand. Acrobat nodded vigorously, as if he understood, or, at least, seemed to have understood.
‘Open up, now!’ shouted the voice again.
‘Just a minute!’ cried Annie. She flushed the toilet hoping desperately that Acrobat wouldn’t get the same idea and give himself away. She opened the door. At the same instant, Acrobat slid under the space into the next cubicle. Annie found herself face to face with a tall, frowning woman constable, with blonde hair drawn back under her police cap. ‘What are you doing here?’ she snapped. Annie noticed that she had her extendible baton ready for action.
Annie could hear the other constable throwing open the doors of the cubicles in turn.
‘Come out here now! Stand by the washbasins over there!’ snapped the tall, blonde policewoman.
Annie did. ‘I was caught short! With all the excitement, I needed the loo!’
The policewomen paid her no attention, opening the door of each cubicle in turn to check there was no-one inside. As she stood there, Annie realised what Acrobat was doing. As each policewoman opened the door, he slid through the space into the cubicle they had just checked!
The first policewoman turned around to Annie. ‘Have you seen anyone down here? Come on! Now!’
‘No, I haven’t! What are you getting at me for? All I did was go to the loo!’ Annie let the right note of fear and hysteria creep into her voice. Inwardly she was seething. Why should see, who had fought battles, have to pretend to be a little weak girl to a couple of women coppers? But it had the desired effect.
‘All right, love’, said the first policewoman more kindly. ‘We just have to check again’.
Acrobat was loving this funny game of hide and seek. This time these two strange women in black were looking at each cubicle from each end. Easy. As they looked, he slid into the one they had just checked, so when they met in the middle, he hadn’t been in any of them at all. He became so confident that he peered over the top of one of the walls of the cubicles, and grinned at Annie, and then chirruped. Both constables wheeled around.
‘What was that, Jane?’ one of them asked suspiciously.
‘It was just me’. said Annie in a timid voice. ‘I just got a bit of the hiccups, especially after you two rushed in’.
They stared hard at her, then at each other. ‘It’s clear, then, Sarah?’ said the other. The one called Jane nodded. ‘Ok, let’s escort you out, young lady’. Annie seethed in fury inside. These plods, ordering her about!
As she walked towards the door, it crashed open. A great, bulky black figure stood there, with a very large gun. It’s cold grey muzzle pointed straight at Annie’s face. She froze. For a moment she looked at the visored head. It looked at her. Then the gun dropped, pointing at the floor. ‘Sorry, love’. the visor muttered. It looked beyond her.
‘Clear?’ the voice snapped.
‘Clear!’ said Jane. ‘Clear!’ said Sarah. ‘We know our job! This one was in the loo. We’re escorting her out’. The figure nodded, looking carefully around at the rest of the toilet. Then he nodded again, and disappeared.
Annie took a deep breath. ‘It’s OK’. said Sarah behind her. ‘We can go now’. But, as they opened the door, Acrobat slipped out under the policewoman’s arm. He was grabbed immediately by Nanny goat waiting outside, invisible, of course. They walked back down the corridor toward the lane that led to the entrance, Annie looking behind to see both Nanny goat and Acrobat following behind, with her hoof firmly on Acrobat’s collar.
‘Nice big ring you’ve got there’. Jane said. They were both walking beside her. Annie glanced down. The talisman was pale, and not even glowing. Thanks very much, she thought bitterly.
‘It’s my grandmother’s. I sometimes wear it to remember her by’.
‘Quite unusual, isn’t it?’ said Jane, slightly awkwardly. She’s trying to reassure me, because of that armed policeman, thought Annie, and began to warm towards her. ‘Right, outside now’, said Sarah briskly, ‘and stay away from the building until it’s all clear’. They pushed her gently out of the front entrance door. As she opened the door, Nanny goat and Acrobat slipped past, with only a whisper of air. Sarah looked puzzled for a moment, and then shrugged. Annie began to look around for Simon and the others. She saw them at the top of the steps leading down to West Street.
They gathered around her anxiously. ‘Are you all right?’ asked Simon anxiously. She looked at them, noting with relief that Nanny goat and Acrobat were still with them, poor Acrobat’s mouth turned down like an inverted tea cup. Nanny goat must have put a spell on him, because nobody can see him now, she thought. Time for a story.
‘Well, it was dreadful! I was held prisoner by evil policewomen, and then the big man came in with a gun. But I got free, and threw him on the ground, and knocked him out. Then I forced the policewomen at gunpoint to let me out and here I am’.
Simon yawned. ‘Oh, no, you didn’t. We all saw you being pushed out by those policewomen. Stop telling your usual fibs’.
‘Well, you weren’t even there, so how do you know?’ Annie glared at him. ‘And stop spoiling my stories!’ Indira and Pei-Ying giggled.
‘You’d be in a police cell by now, or dead. Now cut it out and pay attention. We need to get to the portal and get Nanny goat and the nutcase here, back home. We’ll go down West Street. That’s the best way’.
Not for the first time, Annie decided she hated her brother with absolute venom. She trotted off after the others, Nanny goat holding Acrobat firmly by the scruff of the neck, and secretly plotting vengeance on Simon.
Simon stopped short. ‘They’ve got road blocks at the bottom!’ They peered down. Sure enough, there was chequered tape across the road, and police cars beyond it, with several policemen standing guard. ‘Let’s try North Street’. They turned down Duke Street and onto North Street. They went down in a group, around Nanny goat and Acrobat, who, of course, nobody could now see. Simon stopped and put up his hand. “There’s a road-block at the bottom too!’ It was just at that moment that Acrobat twisted out of Nanny goat’s grip, and disappeared into the throngs of people in the street.
‘He’s gone again!’ cried Nanny goat in despair. They all groaned.
‘Where can he have gone to?’ said Annie, trying to be very practical.
‘He’s invisible, except to us. We’ll never find him!’ Simon moaned.
‘Wait!’ cried Nanny goat. ‘What is that noise?’ They all listened intently.
‘It’s a salsa band!’ Down by the library! Oooh, I do love salsa!’ yelled Annie. Simon looked at her in pity.
‘That’s where he will have gone!’ cried Nanny goat, excitedly. ‘He loves noise, especially with lots of drums! He’s bound to be there!’
They ran down New Road, past the Theatre Royal, past the statue of the comedian, Max Miller, and onwards towards the open square in front of the library. As they ran, the music of the salsa band got louder, drums and small rattly instruments pounding in rhythm together. There was a large crowd gathered around the salsa band in the middle of the square, listening and jigging away to the sound, but no sign, as yet, of Acrobat.
‘We’ll split up and look for him’, whispered Simon.
They gradually jostled and elbowed through the crowd, looking to right and left as they went. There were a few complaints about feet being stepped on, but everyone was in good spirits, and too intent on listening to the band, to take much notice.
Annie felt a tug on her arm. ‘Guess where he is!’ muttered Simon. She looked at the band, and gasped.
Right behind the band, swaying from side to side in time to the music, was Acrobat. He was somersaulting backwards and forwards across the empty space behind, occasionally stopping to sway his hips in unison with the band members. Then he did a little dance, prancing up and down while the band played on, totally unaware of his antics behind them. He caught sight of Annie and Simon at the front of the crowd, and waved gaily at them, both arms up in the air. Then he leapt upwards, soaring over the entire band in a double somersault, landing on his feet directly behind the band conductor, who was raising his hand in the air at intervals to tell the band when to stop and play another rhythm, while beating on a small drum with the other.
Acrobat gave a little bow to the audience, who, of course, had no idea he was there, and turned to face the conductor’s back. Then he began to imitate the conductor’s movements exactly, moving and shifting in the same way as the conductor, who was completely unaware of him. It was so funny that both Annie and Simon, together with the others who had now joined them, could barely suppress their giggles. But then a disaster happened!
The conductor had thrown off his red baseball cap onto a drum-case next to him, and Acrobat lost no opportunity. He snatched it up almost as soon as it landed, and put it on his own furry head, turning it around so that the brim pointed backwards. Then he continued his dance. Now the audience could not see Acrobat, but they could see the red baseball cap, jumping and swaying in time with the conductor. The band looked at each other with surprise, but without disturbing their rhythm. The conductor looked slightly irritated, but as the crowd broke into applause for what, to them, was a particularly clever piece of magic, he looked pleased again.
‘What on earth do we do now?’ whispered Annie.
‘I don’t know. I don’t see how we can do anything, in front of all these people, without creating an almighty fuss’. Simon said, helplessly.
‘Leave it to me’. They heard Nanny goat’s voice behind them. ‘Just move apart slightly. I’ve got my trusty stick with me’. Sure enough her stick pointed out between them. Just at that moment, Acrobat took off the cap, whirled it round and round, and then threw it into the air with a flourish.
‘Now!’ said Nanny goat. Her stick suddenly extended itself out towards the dancing figure of Acrobat. A large round hook slid out of the end, and caught Acrobat neatly round the neck. The stick telescoped back into itself, dragging the bewildered Acrobat with it. Nanny goat seized him firmly.
Without further ceremony, she bundled Acrobat, chirruping faintly, back through the crowd. Simon, Annie and the others gradually moved back through the audience, who of course all thought that it had been a wonderful conjuring trick, and were now applauding again. They found Nanny goat still clutching a woebegone Acrobat, and glaring at him fiercely. She shook his thin figure hard enough to make his eyes pop. He was definitely in disgrace this time.
‘What are we going to do with him now?’ asked Annie, looking around at everybody. ‘And don’t expect any sympathy from me!’ she snapped at Acrobat. ‘Not after being humiliated by a bunch of coppers!’ Acrobat’s mouth turned down again, in an expression of sheer misery.
‘Right! Plan of action! ordered Simon.
‘Oooh, Simon you’re so masterful!’ said Indira solemnly, and then spoilt the effect by bursting into a fit of laughter.
Simon looked at her suspiciously, and then went on. ‘It certainly doesn’t look like we can get down to the portal at the seafront, not for a while at least. I vote that we walk down and get a taxi home, and then decide what to do’. Nobody could think of anything better, so they agreed.
Down at the taxi rank on East street, they all piled in to a large old-style taxi, so that everybody could get in. The Asian taxi-driver was slightly surprised why they took so long to get in, due to arguments as to who sat where, but was too polite to comment. Acrobat was made to sit on the floor, between Nanny goat and Annie on the fold-down seats, with the other three in the back facing them. All went well, apart from a few faint chirrups from Acrobat, that made the driver stare with a puzzled expression into his rear-view mirror.
But finally, they found themselves sitting around the kitchen table in Annie and Simon’s house, with tea, warm milk for Nanny goat, and the same for Acrobat, who lay contentedly on the floor, lapping at his bowl.
‘I think the only thing we can do now, is for Nanny goat and Acrobat to stay the night here, and then to go out really early tomorrow morning, and see if we can get to the portal by eight o’clock. It might be an idea to check on the news to see what’s happening’. suggested Simon. ‘Just as well he’s invisible now’.
But I’m not sure how long the invisible spell might last’. said Nanny goat sadly. ‘It will certainly last as long as it takes us to get to the portal, but if we don’t, I’m not sure’.
Annie crossed to the small portable television that stood on a shelf in a corner of the kitchen, and turned it on. A picture appeared of a newsreader in a suit. “Sussex police have, as yet, still not apprehended the man who performed acrobatics in the Churchill Square shopping precinct in the centre of Brighton, this afternoon. The man, described as wearing a light blue suit and apparently wearing a mask in the shape of a cat, both horrified and entertained shoppers in the busy shopping centre by his unusual athletic stunts. Our reporters were able to film the man”. The picture changed to show a rather jerky film of Acrobat, seen from a distance, clinging to a truss, waving madly. The picture changed back to the newsreader. “Police have mounted a full-scale anti-terrorist operation, and warned that the man could be potentially dangerous. The chief constable had this to say”.
The picture changed again, to show a burly, serious-faced senior policeman outside Churchill Square, giving a press conference to a large mob of reporters waving microphones and cameras. “Though this may have been a very misconceived prank, we cannot rule out the possibility that the man may have had explosives strapped on his body, which could be detonated. We are maintaining surveillance for the time being, and questioning everybody who witnessed the incident”. He paused and the picture changed to a small excited group of young girls that Simon recognised immediately. ‘He was really cool!’ one of them was saying. ‘Yeah, he was!’ the other chorused. ‘Catman! Catman! Catman!’
‘And now for the weather…..’ Annie picked up the remote control and switched the television off.
‘Not even a shot of us plucky heroes!’ she exclaimed bitterly.
All eyes turned to Acrobat, who raised his head with a face of innocence. Nanny goat slowly rose from her chair, her small black eyes boring into Acrobat, who shifted nervously, then stretched and stood up.
‘I think’, she said, in her high bleating voice, which now sounded very sharp. ‘it might be a good idea if you could all leave us alone for a few minutes. I need to have some words with Acrobat’.
It was not so much a request, as a dismissal. Annie stared at Acrobat, whose mouth had turned down again. He looked back at them imploringly.
‘Fine’. said Simon. ‘We’ll just be outside, won’t we?’ They all nodded and filed out through the kitchen door, which they closed softly behind them. Then they stopped and listened.
Almost before the door had closed, they heard Nanny goat’s voice that rose to a loud angry pitch, in a language that they didn’t understand. But they could tell what kind of “some words” it was. Nanny goat’s voice rose and fell in a series of loud screeches and then down to a sibilant hiss. As they listened outside, they could hear her tirade gradually punctuated by small sobs and whimpers, that became more and more frequent, as Nanny goat’s voice went on.
‘I think’, suggested Simon, looking around at the others, ‘that we are listening to one seriously good telling off!’
Two or three minutes later, it stopped. Nanny goat cried out from inside the kitchen, ‘Please come in now’. They all trooped in and sat around the kitchen table, feeling almost as if they had been told off themselves. Annie could remember an occasion at school, when she and others had to listen to a furious teacher shouting at one of their fellow pupils, and how they had all felt secretly grateful that it wasn’t them that the teacher was yelling at. Nanny goat was standing, with her hooves folded, over the prone figure of Acrobat who lay curled up on the floor, head cradled in his paws, his thin shoulders shaking in sobs. They all felt terribly sorry for him.
But Nanny goat was not finished yet. ‘Acrobat!’ she demanded. ‘You will apologise to Annie and the others for your unspeakable behaviour this afternoon! You have caused me great distress and worry, and you have humiliated and embarrassed them also! Your own friends!’
Acrobat whimpered, and then got up on all fours, just like a normal cat. He padded towards Annie and licked her hand, with his small, wet tongue. He walked around the others and did the same. They all felt his damp fur on his face, and saw how his tears glistened on his long, white whiskers. Nanny goat pointed at the floor by the stove. ‘Get there, and stay there!’ Acrobat curled up again, and buried his head.
There was a silence. Nanny goat drew a deep breath. ‘I cannot thank you enough. You have risked yourselves for us. Now I know that what is said about you, is true. We are strangers in a strange land, and you have, without question, helped us so much. Acrobat and I thank you, with all our hearts’.
Annie’s eyes moved from her to Acrobat, who was still lying there, but nodding his head. She suddenly felt a tremendous surge of affection for Nanny goat, who had followed their child into another world, to keep him safe. Nanny goat’s eyes were full of tears, and she hastily took another tissue from the box that Simon offered her. Annie noticed that Simon held the box to allow Nanny goat to pick up her tissue from it. Good old Simon, she thought. He is a very decent brother, and he’s more thoughtful than he lets on.
On an impulse, she got up and gave Nanny goat a hug, feeling with sorrow, how sharp Nanny goat’s backbone felt, and how thin she was. Nanny goat, after a moment, clasped her hooves around Annie, who smelt her sweet goat smell and fur.
Indira and Pei-Ying were still silent, but Simon was saying something to both Nanny goat and Acrobat.
‘We haven’t finished this case yet. We still need to get you to that portal on time. But for the moment, you will need to stay here. We’ll have to sort out the accommodation later. Are we all going to stay for supper?’
Indira and Pei-Ying nodded. ‘But we will have to go afterwards. I’ve called our parent on our mobiles to tell them that we’ll be back, about eight’. Pei-Ying said quietly.
‘I don’t think we’ll be able to come back until later tomorrow’. added Indira.
‘Don’t worry. Annie and I will see to it. Won’t we, Annie?’ Annie nodded.
Just at that moment, they heard a banging and clattering outside. Acrobat sat up, alert, his whiskers twitching. Nanny goat blew her nose. The kitchen door flew open, and their mother staggered in, clutching a pile of shopping bags. ‘Hallo, everybody!’ She stopped suddenly in the doorway, her eyes suddenly looking at the window.
‘Come on, let’s get in! Oh hallo, everybody….’ Their father, standing behind his wife, faltered in his speech.
Their mother quickly said, ‘Let’s go and unpack in the living-room. Don’t you think?’
‘Oh…oh..yes. Oh.. hallo, Indira and Pei-Ying. Yes, let’s do that’. They disappeared abruptly.
They all sat, frozen in their seats. Then Nanny goat broke the silence. ‘They saw us! Your mother and father! THEY SAW US!’ How do you explain that!’
Annie couldn’t speak. Simon said gently, ‘They couldn’t have. Only the four of us can see you’. But he looked at Annie as he spoke.
‘I am sure they saw us! How could they do that! It is only you four in the Brotherhood who should be able to see us!’ There was a note of hysteria in Nanny goat’s trembling voice.
Simon turned to Indira and Pei-Ying. ‘Do you think they saw our…’ he hesitated. ‘our visitors?’
They shook their heads uncertainly. ‘We honestly don’t know. But it was a bit strange that they disappeared so quickly’. suggested Indira.
‘After all, they know us. But….’ Pei-Ying tailed off.
Annie’s thoughts were in turmoil. Simon looked at her again, and decided to be practical. ‘Let’s assume they didn’t. Perhaps they were just surprised. We still have to go on with our plan. Right, Annie?’
‘Right’. Annie replied without thinking. ‘Nanny goat, you and Acrobat must sleep in my bedroom tonight. I’ll sleep in Simon’s, that is, if I can find the bed. Simon, you’re down on the couch in the living-room. I know you like it there’.
‘As if I had any choice’. muttered Simon, gloomily. ‘But, to be practical again, do you and Acrobat-boy over there know how to use human toilets?’
‘Of course, we do’. said Nanny goat, loftily. ‘We have done our research, you know’.
So Indira and Pei-Ying departed after supper, Nanny goat and Acrobat devouring the contents of their own little packages that Nanny goat had produced from her apparently bottomless bag. ‘I brought all we might need, you see’. she explained. They went to bed, finally, Nanny goat pushing Acrobat in front of her, up the stairs. Then they all settled down to a troubled sleep. Annie dreamt of Rosamund, that wonderful, tragic child, and her parents, lying in bed and whispering dark secrets to each other.
She was rudely awoken by a rude tugging of her arm, that lay across her, as she was asleep. She sat up and turned on the bedside light, after having groped through bits of Simon’s war toys, that she had had to clear off part of the bed. The light revealed a trembling and agitated Nanny goat.
‘He’s gone! Vanished! He must have got out of a window, somewhere! Now what shall we do!’
Annie threw on her dressing-gown and followed Nanny goat out, her ears still ringing with sleep, and by being awoken so quickly. They peered into the bathroom. The window was wide open, and there were a few paw-marks on the sill.
Nanny goat wrung her hooves in despair. ‘He must have got up in the night and opened the window! He could be anywhere!’
‘Come on, let’s find Simon’.
They did, on the sofa downstairs, and it took a good ten minutes to awaken him. Annie was not amused. Her feet were sore from having trodden all over Simon’s vast array of things all over the bedroom floor, and, apart from that, she literally did not know what to do. Finally, they gathered together, in a little whispering group in the dark kitchen, and tried to wake themselves up with cups of hot milk.
‘Where could he have gone?’ asked Nanny goat, clearly very upset. Everywhere is so quiet now! There’s nothing to attract him!’
Simon was about to say that he had probably gone to peer into old lady’s bedrooms, but thought better of it. Nanny goat was too anguished to appreciate it.
‘He might have left some tracks’, he said, ‘but honestly, I doubt it. Because he’s, well, Acrobat, and he’s gone over roof-tops and walls, not on the ground’.
‘I think’, Annie sighed, her head still dazed from too little sleep, ‘that the only thing we can do now, is to wait until morning, and then go to the portal, and hope he will meet us there. He does know where it is, doesn’t he?’ looking at Nanny goat, who seemed on the verge of tears again.
‘Oh, yes’. she said simply. ‘He does’.
‘Then we might as well get dressed and go off down there as soon as it’s light. There’s nothing else we can do’. Simon said hopelessly. ‘At least we can get you home’.
‘I’m not going without him!’ Nanny goat snapped. Simon shrugged his shoulders and gave a sigh.
They sat in the kitchen for what remained of the rest of the night. The dawn was breaking when they finally emerged from their front door, fully dressed, and each concerned with their own anxious thoughts. They walked slowly down to the sea front, none of them wanting to hope for the impossible – that Acrobat might be waiting for them, by the portal. But he was.
They saw a small blue-clad figure, crouching by the large red iron door, through which Nanny goat had first come into their world. He gave a feeble chirrup as they came nearer. Nanny goat looked hard down at him. He seemed tired, and nervous at the same time.
‘What do you have to say for yourself, Acrobat?’ she spoke softly. He looked up at her, and then gave another feeble chirrup.
‘What time is it, Simon?’ she asked.
Simon looked at his watch and gasped. ‘Three minutes to eight!’
‘Then we must go. Say goodbye, Acrobat, to the friends that have helped you so much’. Acrobat stood up, looked at each of them, and threw his arms and paws around all three of them. They all swayed and tottered for a few moments, Acrobat licking each of them in turn. Then he and Nanny goat walked towards the door. She opened it with a small metal key, and pulled it open. Annie and Simon gasped. Through the door there was a gently glowing, bright yellow light that filled the interior completely. ‘Our world’. said Nanny goat, softly.
‘One minute to go’. Simon muttered, as he looked at his watch again.
Acrobat walked slowly towards the door. He hesitated, then stopped. With one swift movement, he pinned himself firmly against it, his arms and legs outstretched on the frame of the door. A loud chirrup came from his mouth. ‘I thought this might happen’. said Nanny goat, wearily. ‘Try and push him in, please!’
Annie and Simon took hold of him and tried to push him through the doorway, but he was much stronger than they realised. They couldn’t move him! Simon staggered back, panting, and looked at his watch again.
‘Twenty seconds!’ he shouted.
‘I thought this might happen’. snapped Nanny goat grimly. ‘Stand back, please!’
She dropped her bag onto the ground, and dropped down to her four feet. She stared at Acrobat’s back.
‘Ten seconds!’ shouted Simon.
Nanny goat suddenly charged, aiming straight at Acrobat.
She hit him hard on his bottom, so hard that he lost his grip and disappeared into the yellow light. She followed him straight in. The door swung and slammed shut.
‘One second! Zero!’
Simon and Annie ran to the door. Simon tried the handle but it was firmly locked. They stared at it for a moment, and then burst out laughing, laughing so hard that they slid down, with their back against the door, until they were sitting on the ground. When he got his breath back, Simon looked at his sister.
‘What a scamp! Right to the very end!’
Annie was still giggling helplessly. ‘But it’s not over yet!’ she pointed upwards.
A very large seagull came gliding down towards them, and clumped down on the ground in front.
‘Oi, what was that mad geezer doing playing around on the funfair on the pier last night? You pair know anything about it?’
‘What’s it to you, beakface?’
‘Ay, you watch it! ‘e was jumping around and playing all over the place! Trespassed on my air-space, ‘e did! Bet ‘e didn’t have a licence either!’
‘Come off it, Adrian!’ Simon scoffed, ‘who’d want to fly in the same space as you, anyway?’
Adrian the seagull, fluffed up his feathers in fury. ‘Watch your mouth! ‘Oo was he, anyway?’
Annie decided to placate him. ‘He was someone who was involved in a case we were involved in. It didn’t have anything to do with you. But we will tell you about it, if you’re a nice birdy. Now shove off!’
Adrian glared at them, but knowing Annie’s temper, decided not to pursue it. ‘Yeah, all right , then. But make sure you tell me!’
‘Sling your beak, and try not to pollute the atmosphere. Bye now’.
Adrian glared at them, and then rose and soared away. Annie’s gaze drifted around. Then she cried out sharply.
Simon! Nanny goat’s left her bag behind!’
They walked over to Nanny goat’s capacious bag. Annie reached in and pulled out her knitting, still with knitting-needles in it.
‘Look at it! It’s her world! She was knitting pictures of her world!’
They stared at the piece of knitting that Annie had spread out on the ground. The sky was green, the sea was pink. The grass was blue. The trees were yellow.
‘It’s beautiful’. Annie said, softly. ‘It’s their world’.
Simon touched her on her arm. ‘Keep it. She may come back one day, and want it back’.
Annie gently gathered it up and put it back into Nanny goat’s bag.
‘You know? I really rather liked him. He reminded me of my Harlequin’.
‘You mean your little figures of the Commedia dell-Arte, that you collect? I suppose that’s true. He was rather mischievous too, wasn’t he?’
‘That’s right. Come on, Simon’. Let’s go home’.
‘Wait a moment. This case still has one or two loose ends’. He grinned at Annie.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean, we do have some unfinished business to deal with, concerning some gentlemen’.
Annie stared at him and then broke into a knowing grin. ‘I see what you mean’.
‘No time like the present?’
‘Absolutely right! I think I might enjoy this’.
The Four Fingers trooped down the staircase, each carrying a large battered suitcase, covered in travel and hotel stickers. Index Finger paused to lock the front door. They all moved through the black front gate, into the narrow alleyway, outside the Brotherhood’s headquarters, sighing with relief.
‘Going somewhere, are we?’
Their heads snapped around to their right. Annie was leaning on the wall of the alleyway, her arms folded, wearing a very sweet smile.
‘Going on our holidays, are we?’
Their heads swivelled round in the opposite direction. Simon was leaning against the same alleyway, his arms also folded, and also wearing a very sweet smile.
‘ Now then, where were you going? I can think of some destinations for you’.
Their heads swivelled around towards Annie again.
‘Robben Island? No that’s a conference centre now. Alcatraz? No, that’s closed. Guantamo Bay? No, that supposed to be closing, too. So is Devil’s Island. Sing-Sing? You’d meet some interesting people there. Perhaps Torremolinos?’
‘I think that’s a bit much, dear sister’.
Their heads swivelled to Simon again.
‘I was thinking about home holidays. Much better value. Now I was thinking about Tiger Bay’.
Their heads swivelled back to Annie.
‘It’s near Cardiff, I believe’.
Their heads swivelled back to Simon.
‘Oh, then that might do’. Annie replied thoughtfully.
Their heads swivelled back to her again.
‘On the other hand’, replied Simon carefully, ‘You can’t beat a seaside resort like Brighton’.
Their heads, now aching, swivelled back to Simon again.
‘Especially when there is such a pleasant little place just next door to us. Just the place for a nice cosy little chat’.
Their heads had swivelled back to Annie, frantically.
‘The right place to talk about getting cases dumped on us, without asking. Forgive the pun. Not to mention, trying to run away from any of the consequences’.
Their heads, now dazed, moved back to Simon again.
‘Shall we go?’ asked Annie politely. The Four Fingers, too tired to argue, sadly picked up their suitcases and moved towards the gate.
‘After you, gentlemen’. said Simon equally politely. They walked in after the dejected Fingers.
The gate slammed firmly shut behind them.
Frank Jackson (05/02/10) Word count - 10555