An eight chapter children’s story for lovers of dogs, ghosts and bad jokes.

Chapter 1

“And so,” said Mrs Chapman, “as part of our study of the local area, I’d like you to all find out about the history of one of Foxington’s old buildings.”

“Please Miss,” squealed Candice Snell, “I could write about my house. My house is very old, it’s much older than anyone else’s, and …”

Mrs Chapman smiled and carried on, “I’d like you to work in pairs and to …. Yes, Candice?”

Candice looked as if she had sat on a wasp, the way she was waving her arm around and turning purple. When she spoke, the words came out like water from a hosepipe and even Mrs Chapman couldn’t stop her this time.

“My father says our house is a fine example of Georgian architecture and it’s worth at least three quarters of a million and …” Candice paused as she looked around the classroom, “I’ll work with Helen Cargill.”

I didn’t mind Candice not picking me, in fact I was glad she hadn’t, but it annoyed me the way she didn’t give Helen a chance to choose herself. Helen was so quiet, I doubt if she’d get to do anything on the topic herself. Simon Marny started to mouth, “Shall we work together?” at me, while Miss told us what the report should be like. I nodded back and was just trying to figure out what building we should choose, when we were sent out for break.

Out on the playground Candice was wrapped up in her new fur-lined coat while Helen stood shivering next to her.

“Helen looks freezing,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s probably the draft from Candice’s mouth!” replied Simon.

Maybe Candice heard her name, or she just saw us giggling, but she turned our way.

“I suppose Karen will be working with her boyfriend! Well you can’t study my house because Helen and me are doing that.”

I could feel my face getting red, but I managed to keep my voice level as I looked at Candice, “He’s not my boyfriend and I don’t want to study your house.”

“Yeah, we’ve got somewhere much better than that to find out about,” Simon butted in.

This was news to me, though I tried not to look too surprised.

“We’re going to study Lincombe Grange.”

“What!” spluttered Candice, “the old hall near the Sports Centre that’s falling to bits? My father says that it’s a disgrace, and if he had his way he’d build flats there instead.”

Once Candice started with, “My father says,” Simon and I began to walk off, we’ve both heard Mr Snell’s opinions on everything from tramps to trainers and this wasn’t the time to for another nugget of his wisdom.

“Why did you say we’d be studying Lincombe Grange?” I asked Simon once we were out of earshot.

“Because my granddad used to play there when he was a kid, he’s always going on about it. When he was a boy he used to nick apples from the gardens.”

Simon’s granddad looks about two hundred years old to me, and I was having difficulty imagining him as a boy, but something else had just occurred to me.

”Simon,” I said, “don’t some people reckon there’s a ghost at the Grange?”

Any decent mate would have said, “Don’t be daft” or “People always say that,” but not Simon.

“Yeah, and I bet even posh Candice hasn’t got one of those, brilliant eh!”

Chapter 2

Mrs Chapman doesn’t let Simon and me sit together in class (I can’t imagine why!) so we didn’t get a chance to talk again until after school. We’d been doing art and the first thing I heard, when I reached the cloakroom, was Candice’s high pitched voice.

“Don’t touch me you horrible boy, you’re covered in mess! Keep away from my coat, it’s new and my mother went to London to buy it.”

Simon did look a bit of a state, what with paint and clay all over his arms, but you’d think he was the Loch Ness monster, the way Candice was screeching;

and the way she called him ‘boy’ like it was some type of illness!

Helen caught my eye as Candice hit her highest note and smiled, I think she might have said something, but just then Mr Nutbrown popped his head round the corner of the door. He had us last year and knew to speak before Candice could get into full flow.

“What’s going on? It sounds like someone’s being murdered in here. Ye gods, Simon Marny! Has there been an explosion at the paint factory? Go and get yourself cleaned up. And the rest of you get a move on, it’s Friday and some of us would like to start the weekend.”

Once Simon had washed, the cloakroom was empty and we started to walk back home together. We’d been going to school together since Year 3. It had been Simon’s idea at first because he needed to persuade his mum not to walk with him into the playground.

“She kisses me goodbye in front of everyone!” he had groaned. “If you and me walk together our mums won’t have to come with us.”

So it was settled and since then we’d been best mates.

We took a different route home; past the shops in Weston Street. Next to the Post Office was a bakers and I remembered why we hadn’t been this way for a while. In the summer we’d come past and the window had been full of insects crawling over the Belgian buns and doughnuts. Simon had gone in to the shop and asked for a wasp.

“We don’t sell wasps, this is a bakers not a pet shop,” said an assistant with a face like a prune.

“That’s funny,” replied Simon, “you’ve got them in the window!”

We’d run three streets before we had to stop because of laughing.

Simon was great like that; at coming up with jokes or smart answers. It was just a shame he couldn’t do the same with his school work. He says he doesn’t care about not being able to spell and finding reading hard, but I know he does and the nearest I’ve ever seen him come to crying was when a supply teacher held up a piece of work without a name on it and asked, “Whose is this rubbish?” I’ll give you three guesses which big mouth told the class it was Simon’s.

Anyway, when we passed the bakery we both just looked at each other and giggled. Being November, there weren’t any wasps around and I think Prune face must have been having a day off because there was only a bored looking teenager in there. Instead, we went into the newsagents because Simon said his mum wanted the local paper. While he was queuing up I started to read the headlines:

Footballer Falls Foul in Freezer – something about a player who’d got stuck in the frozen chips section at Tescos, and Poochnapped! – a story about some rich woman whose dog was being held to ransom. I was just going to read on when I heard Simon saying something to the man passing him his change.

“Do you have paperboys here?”

Please, I thought, mentally pleading with the man behind the counter, don’t answer him!

“Yes son, we do” he replied.

“Don’t they get soggy when it rains?”

The assistant wasn’t as quick as Prune face and I’d almost managed to drag Simon to the door before the pack of chocolate buttons smacked him on the head.

Chapter 3

We finished the last of the chocolate as we got to the end of our street. Simon nodded towards the newspaper and grunted, “I wouldn’t like that to happen to me.”

I knew he’d been reading because his lips had been moving even when he wasn’t stuffing chocolate buttons, but at first I got the wrong end of the stick.

“Well don’t lean over when you’re choosing frozen pizza then!”

Simon looked at me as if I was the one who spells bird with a u and sighed. “Not that story you numpty, the one about the old girl whose dog’s been stolen. They’ve sent her a text saying that if she doesn’t cough up twenty grand she’ll get him back as a pair of gloves.”

Simon’s got a dog called Chunk, a fat, and in my opinion, completely useless terrier. Simon adores him though so we sat on my garden wall and I read the rest of the story out loud.

Police confirmed yesterday, that the gang believed responsible for the kidnap of Ting Po, the Pekinese dog of Dame Shirley Woolston, had been in touch. Sending their message by text, the suspects have made it clear that unless Dame Shirley pays a ransom of £20,000, they will exact their revenge upon the dog. Inspector Hampton, the officer in charge of the case, refused to confirm or deny rumours that the text message had been traced to the Foxington area. 

“Well,” said Simon breathlessly,”I’m not letting Chunk out of sight until they’ve been caught!”

If mum hadn’t called me in I might have pointed out that most people would need to be paid to take that dozy bundle of fur away. I mean, would you give a ransom for an animal that smells like rotting cabbage most of the time?

As I went in Simon waved at my mum and we arranged to meet at his house the next day.

“Hurry up Karen,” Mum chided as I dumped my bag and coat, “Have you got any homework?”

Not, “How are you?” or “Put your feet up love,” you’ll notice. Sometimes I don’t think my mum appreciates how hectic my life is.

I told mum about the report we had to do and how Simon and I – well Simon really, had chosen Lincombe Grange.

“I’m sure I’ve seen an old photo of the Grange in your Dad’s things,” said Mum, her face screwed up in concentration. “I’ll see if I can find it for you.”

I wished her good luck as she headed towards Dad’s study; and she was going to need it. My dad works on oil rigs and he’s away for a month, then with us for two weeks. It’s a bit strange I suppose, and I know dad would prefer a job closer to home, but he says it’s the only work he can get at the moment. Mum says she needs him away for a month to tidy all his mess up before he comes back and makes a new lot. Dad’s great, but even I think he’s messy – and that’s saying something!

Ten minutes later, Mum returned with a rosy cheeked smile and a sweet wrapper stuck to her bottom.

“Thanks Mum,” I said, taking a crumpled looking photograph from her hand. “By the way you might want to check behind you.”

“Yeuck!” she said, peeling off the toffee paper, “That man is lucky he’s not here for me to throttle him.”

While Mum headed towards the kitchen, I took the chance to look at the photo. It showed the Grange a long time ago, when it wasn’t falling apart. In front of the building was a lady in an old fashioned dress, holding a small white haired terrier. The dog was alert, its ears pricked up and its body straining forwards as if ready to leap out of the lady’s arms. The lady herself looked kind and she was smiling, but you could tell she wasn’t happy. Her eyes were looking at something I couldn’t see, maybe something that no one else but her could see. I found myself staring at the lady’s face, trying to see if there were any answers in the picture. Then I stopped, suddenly realising that maybe Simon’s choice hadn’t been so bad. He could do his ghost chasing if he liked, I wanted to find out what had made the lady so sad, and why her home had been so neglected.

Chapter 4

After breakfast the next day, I told Mum I was going to Simon’s and headed out. It was the sort of cold winter day you don’t mind; bright blue sky and nipping wind, but no rain. I pulled my scarf a little tighter and crossed the road. As I got to Simon’s gate, a policeman was coming out of their front door.

“Well,” he said looking over his shoulder, “thanks for the tea, and if you see anything give us a call.”

Simon’s mum was pulling her dressing gown together with one hand and was just about to close the door when she saw me.

“Oh, Karen! Come in love, its perishing out there.”

“Hello Mrs Marny,” I said, coming through the door,”been picking up policeman again?”

“Less of that cheeky,” she said, and then added with a wink, “mind you he was gorgeous wasn’t he!”

We were still giggling when Simon came in from the kitchen.

“Did you see the policeman, Karen? He was here asking if we’d seen any strange dogs. They’re going round asking everyone who’s got one.”

Simon was gabbling and it took me a while to figure out what it was he was talking about.

“What, the dog that was in the newspaper?” I asked, feeling a bit dim.

Simon just sighed and looked at his mum.

“We’re going to Grandad’s, and then we’ll probably go to the library.”

Mrs Marny grabbed a coat for Simon and a collar for Chunk.

“Take a bag of veg for your grandad and a pint of milk.”

Simon rolled his eyes at me, but took the stuff anyway. He even managed not to look too uncomfortable as his mother gave him a kiss. Mind you, I wasn’t looking too carefully; I’d suddenly developed a sudden interest in the floor.

Simon’s granddad, Tom, lives a couple of streets away from us. I’d been round with Simon once before and I guess I was a little bit nervous about going back. Last time, his grandad had spent most of the afternoon offering me sweets that were as fluffy as Simon’s dog. Mind you, he was a lovely bloke. Full of great stories about when he’d worked down a mine, and about what Simon’s mum used to get up to when she was young.

Simon’s mum must have rung ahead of us because he was waiting at the door for us.

“Hello son, good of you to come round. I see you’ve brought your…”

Simon practically threw the bags over the doorstep.

“I’ve got your groceries granddad. Karen and I are doing a project on Lincombe Grange. I was telling her you knew all about it.”

If he was confused by Simon’s sudden entrance, Tom recovered quickly.

“Oh aye,” he said through a grin, “I remember it right enough! Pinched more apples out of that garden than you’ve had hot dinners … or girlfriends.”

The last bit was said with a quiet voice and a wink towards me. You don’t have to look very far to see where Mrs Marny gets her naughty streak from. By now we were in the living room and Tom was talking over his shoulder from the kitchen.

“Cup of tea you two? I see you’ve brought some milk.”

Tom had brought in the mugs and a plate full of biscuits before we had a chance to decide. He had a bowl full of dog biscuits for Chunk as well and when he put them down, the dog started crunching like a blender with a rock in it.

Tom’s sofa is one of those that seems to swallow you as you settle into it so by the time he started my knees were practically level with my ears.

“When we first started scrumpin’ – that’s nickin’ apples to you young ‘uns -there used to be a gardener, fierce as Satan on a Sunday, used to hurl great clods of earth at us heads! Oh ay, it were proper fun that was. He caught my friend Billy Malkins by his heel once, shinnin’ up the wall, and gave him such a hiding with a bamboo pole; Billy couldn’t sit down the next day.”

“Did Billy’s mum tell the police?” I asked, then wished I hadn’t as Tom cried out in laughter.

“Tell his mum? You daft lass! She’d have given him twice the belting, just for being there.”  

Tom was weaving the magic he always does when he tells a story, and I could tell by the way Simon’s mouth was hanging open that he’d be happy to stay all day. Chunk however had finished off his supplies and was looking at Simon with the sort of love he reserves for anyone who hasn’t finished what they’re eating.

“So how come the house is in the state it is now, Mr Marny?”

“Oh, that’s a sad tale, but less of the Mr, Karen, you’ll start making me feel old!”

“The change came around about start of the war. Servants like that gardener got called up to fight the Germans; and it’s a wonder to me we took so long about it with that nutter on our side. Anyway, Lady Maxine, that were the old lady’s name, turned over the garden to help the war effort.

All the lawns were dug up and veggies planted, pigs were kept where the roses used to be – it looked right funny, being next to that beautiful house, but Lady Maxine mucked in, even passed on the veg she couldn’t use to local folk what didn’t have so much.

She had her son, Phillip, to help her with the garden and the upkeep of the house- her husband, Lord Foxington had died of pneumonia some years before, and for a while it was all happy.”

“Is this her?” I asked, fishing out the picture I’d got from home. Tom took the photo and stared at it, his twinkling blue eyes going misty for a moment behind his glasses.

“Well,” he said slowly, “look at that! It’s her alright and the dog too, though I’d say this was taken later on, after Master Phillip went away.”

Simon looked up from his tea at his grandad, the jolliness in Tom’s voice had gone and we could both tell his mind had drifted to another place.

“Did Phillip go to fight the Germans grandad?”

Tom jerked his head round as if just noticing Simon, and continued.

“Yes lad, he did. Soon as he reached eighteen he signed up and left to fight in North Africa. He left his dog with the Lady, and it would be hard to say who missed him most – the dog or his mum. You see, they’d never been apart before and whenever you saw one t’other was bound to be near. Wailed for days me mum said, when he went to war, and used to sit with his ears pricked up waiting at the gate for his master.”

It was my turn to interrupt Tom and although I think I already knew the answer I had to ask.

“Did Phillip come back?”

Tom shook his head sadly, “About a year after he went away, we got word that Master Phillip was missing; they never did find a body. Lady Maxine waited and the dog still sat by the gate, but he never came home.”

“Is that why the house was left to fall apart?” I asked.

“Yes, I s’pose she didn’t think it was worth botherin’ with, once there was no one to leave it to. Me and the lads could have nicked all the apples we wanted, but we didn’t. The place was different, like the heart had been sucked out of it.”

“And the ghost, did you ever see a ghost grandad?” said Simon excitedly.

“Simon Marny, for someone I’m related to,” grinned Tom, “you can be a right daft beggar sometimes!”

Actually he didn’t say beggar, but I guess I ought to change what he did say.

“The only funny goings on at Lincombe Grange these days are dry rot and rising damp. Now sup up, there’s snooker on the telly in a minute and your mum said something about you going to the library.”

Tom was pulling himself towards a stack of library books as he said this and I guessed Simon and I were about to get lumbered.

When we finally got to the door Simon was moaning about his arms and he didn’t notice as Tom spoke to me.

“Thanks for bringin’ that photo love, right took me back it did. I’m glad you’re lookin’ after our Simon, he’s a bit barmy, but he’s a good lad. I ask you, ghosts!  Mind you, if there is anybody left waiting for Master Phillip back up at the Grange, I reckon they’ll have four legs, not two.”

Chapter 5

Chunk was obviously fed up with being indoors so long, because he was pulling me down the street as we left Tom’s. Simon had handed over the lead to me so he could swap arms from time to time with the bag of books. When I looked back, his face was red and his black hair was sticking in three different directions.

“I’ve a good mind to come back and haunt my granddad, when he’s killed me off through slave labour! That’d show him; he might even feel sorry for driving me to an early grave.”

All this came through puffs and wheezes as Simon plodded along. I don’t think he really meant it though, because when we got to the library he reached into his pocket and showed me the two pound coins he’d been given. Chunk sat with a sulky expression on his face as Simon tied him up and we bundled into the library planning the healthy snack (crisps, chocolate, and coke) we were going to buy later.

“Well it’s lies, all lies and I think you’re very spiteful to say such things,” said the raging figure in a fur coat. “I should never have let you work with me!”

Candice pushed past us on her way out and stuck her nose into the air. This wasn’t so smart, as she walked straight into Chunk and then leapt into the air with a squeal as he barked at her.

“Stupid dog! You’re stupid … just like your stupid owner!”

I’ve never been quick at finding the right thing to say, and right then the only thing I could think of would probably get me banned from the library for life. Fortunately Simon and I noticed Helen Cargill clearing up a table in the library and it gave us an excuse to forget the little madam stomping down the street.

“Hello you two,” she said, “I suppose you saw Candice.”

Helen’s cheeks were red, and despite the fact she’d been left to tidy up the books, she looked as if she was feeling pleased with herself.

“Yes we did,” said Simon, swinging his grandad’s books onto the returns counter and turning back to Helen, “and if she ever goes near my dog again, I’ll set him on her.”

Helen was probably quite impressed with this, but then she doesn’t know Chunk as well as I do. Last month he’d been chased by a cat half his size and Simon had had to rescue him from the bush he’d hidden in.

I was curious to find out what had rattled Candice, so I asked Helen.

“You know she wanted to do a report on her house? Well, it did turn out to be old; nearly 400 years. Candice thought it was going to be the Mayor’s old house or someone important, but it was just an old tannery.”

Judging by his expression, Simon was as confused as I was, but Helen helped us out.

“Tanneries were built on the edge of the town because they smelt so bad. They made leather there by scraping the flesh off animal hides and then soaking them in wee. I thought it was really interesting, but Candice didn’t seem too pleased.”

Simon and I looked into each others eyes and tried hard not to laugh.

No chance. No way!

When the chief librarian finally tutted us out of the doors, we were aching with laughter and had decided to treat Helen for her fine research work.

With mouths filled with sweets we sat down on a wall and watched Chunk sniffing at strangers. Helen didn’t seem so shy away from the classroom and she was really interested in what we’d found out about Lincombe Grange.

She paused to finish her toffee and looked at us thoughtfully.

“We could go and have a closer look if you want.”

“But there’s a fence all the way round the garden,” said Simon, “There’s no way to get in.”

Secretly, I was kind of relieved to hear this. Snooping around derelict houses isn’t my idea of a safe afternoon out and if my mum heard about it, her hair would turn white.

“The fence doesn’t go all the way around,” replied Helen, “my garden backs onto it and we can jump over.”  

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; before today I hadn’t heard Helen say more than five words in a row, and now she was suggesting hedge-hopping!

Of course, Simon was mad keen and pretty soon two mad explorers, one fat dog and one seriously worried girl were heading over to Helen’s.

Apparently, the Grange gardens were a regular playground for Helen (this girl really was full of surprises!) and before I knew it, I was standing on her back wall, looking at same view as the picture in my pocket. On the way over I’d made Simon promise we’d only look at the house from the outside and he was already pushing through the weeds towards the boarded up windows. When Helen and I reached him, Chunk was sniffing at the ground and straining to be allowed off the lead.

“I wouldn’t do that if …” I began, as Simon unhooked Chunk’s collar and we watched his chubby brown body start to squirm through the undergrowth.

“Oh hi you two, I wondered where you’d got to, I decided to give Chunk a run – he won’t get lost.”

A look from Helen told me she believed that about as much as I did, so before Simon could say anything else, we both started following the panting noises from up ahead. Given his size, he’s quite quick and Chunk had turned the corner of the house before we could catch up. When we turned the corner, he’d disappeared.

“Where’s he got to?” puffed Simon as he struggled past a patch of brambles.

We didn’t have an answer and after ten minutes of fruitless searching through the garden, Helen said what we were all thinking.

“He might have squeezed through a gap into the house.”

Simon nodded vigorously and started to pull at one of the boards around the door nearest to us. Surprisingly, it swung back on its one nail easily and before I could suggest getting help, Simon had clambered through, yelling at the top of his voice.   

It was nearly pitch black inside, but a bark led us up a wide carpeted staircase to the upper floor where the smashed windows were not boarded up and light managed to force a way in. Simon led the way, two steps at a time, to a room at the end of the landing. With a shove and a shower of dust, he pushed at the half-opened door to reveal Chunk … and another dog.

Chapter 6

Simon leapt forward like he always does when he sees a dog and knelt in front of the mystery animal.

“Look,” he said indignantly, “someone’s tied it to the radiator and his fur is all dirty.”

Despite the dirt and the ragged bit of rope it was tied up with, the dog looked far from being a common mutt. It had a long pale brown coat and its face was screwed up as if it were chewing a wasp. Chunk shuffled over to give the dog a friendly sniff and it sent him packing with a sudden yap. There was something familiar here, something crying out for attention at the back of my brain, but it was Helen who got there just before me.

“I think I know who that dog belongs to,” she said, talking to Simon’s back.

“Good,” he replied, “because I’m going to report them to the police for treating it like this!”

“I don’t think so son, I really don’t think you want to do that.” The voice from behind us was deep and slow; there was the tiniest trace of a laugh, but no warmth whatsoever. 

The three of us turned slowly to face a broad shouldered man with a shaven head and a nose that seemed to be spread across his face. Standing in front of the door was a teenager with shoulder length greasy blond hair, who was scowling at the floor and swaying slightly.

“Mobiles,” he growled, “Now!” Helen dug hers out of her pocket while Simon and I muttered that we didn’t have one with us. After a rough search by the teenager, the big man seemed satisfied and he placed Helen’s phone on a stool by the wall.

“Open the cupboard,” ordered the man, without turning around, and at first I thought he was talking to me.

His assistant flinched when the man spoke and then shuffled to a door in the wall I hadn’t noticed. When it was opened the greasy teenager stood back and muttered, “What you gonna do wiv ‘em? You din’t say nuffin like this was gonna ‘appen.”

Still fixing us each in turn with his stare, the older man picked up Chunk by the collar and threw him into the cupboard. Simon gasped and ran forward to check him. Revealing a mouthful of chipped yellow teeth the thug smiled and gestured with his head to Helen and me to follow Simon into the cupboard.

As I crouched forward to squeeze in behind the others, the door slammed into my back, forcing me painfully to my knees. From the other side of the door we heard a chair being dragged across the floor and pushed up against the cupboard’s handle.

“That’s what we’re going to do sunshine,” came the muffled voice of our jailer, “and by the time the old girl coughs up we’ll be miles away.”

For what seemed like hours, we sat cramped up in silence not daring to speak. Eventually the voices outside faded and each of us began to breathe more slowly as the initial tension faded.

The only light in the cupboard was a thin line from under the door, and at first all I could hear was Simon sniffing back tears and the shallow breathing of Chunk. In the dark I felt Helen lean forward and stroke his fur.

“Is he … alright?” she asked in a careful voice.

I was surprised how clear Helen’s voice was; I could feel tears pricking at my eyes, but just then something happened which made me forget the danger we were in.

Behind my back was a hole in the plaster wall of the cupboard, about the size of a book.  In the crush I couldn’t turn, but to my horror, I realised there was something moving on the other side of the wall … and it was licking my fingers.

My throat was dry and my jaw stiff, I wanted to tell the others, but when I tried I just whimpered and the tears really did start to come. Unable to move, I concentrated on keeping my hands still and began to realise that the tongue and muzzle against my fingers were too big to be a rat’s. This mouth was rounded not pointy, and the fur was wiry, not smooth. A dog; a dog?

As far as I knew, there were two dogs in this house, but one of them was in the cupboard with me and the other was tied up outside. Just as I managed to swallow the lump in my throat, the licking tongue pulled away and my damp fingers were left groping at thin air. While I sat wondering, Simon and Helen began to shift around. Inside the cupboard the air was becoming hot and smelly, Helen pushed into me as she tried to relieve her cramp and once again my hands were forced back to the hole. There, on the floor was an object, something that hadn’t been there a minute ago. It was hard and felt like a mobile phone – it was a mobile!

Chapter 7

Pushing the phone towards Helen with my fingers, I whispered,

“Don’t ask me how, but I’ve just found a mobile phone!”

All of a sudden the shuffling stopped and they turned towards me. Before they could speak I lifted the phone up to Helen’s face and got a low gasp in reply.

“What the heck. Helen, that’s your phone! How did it get in here?” spluttered Simon, only to be firmly shushed by the pair of us.

“That’s not important,” said Helen in a hushed voice, “we can get a message out! We can get someone to rescue us.”

She took the phone from my hand and began to press the buttons frantically. As soon as she started, the screen of the phone lit up and Helen’s grinning face was illuminated with a green light.

As Helen texted, Simon and I became more and more aware of the noises in the room outside. There were muffled bumps and bangs as if things were being turned over.

“They’re looking for the phone!”

Simon was right, it sounded like the room was being torn apart, and suddenly we heard a thump followed by a cry of pain.

“Find it you moron!” came our captor’s voice.

As angry footsteps stomped out of the room, the light from the phone blinked off and Helen handed back the phone back to me.

“Get rid of it Karen, hissed Simon, “if Mutton head or the Boy Wonder start looking in here, they’ll do their nut!

“Simon’s right”, said Helen hurriedly, “I texted my sister, so help should be on the way, but we’ve got to get rid of the phone.”

There didn’t seem to be much point asking where they thought I could make it vanish, so I stuffed it into the hole behind me and once again felt that warm fuzzy face with its rough licking tongue.    

Simon told me afterwards that the noise I made sounded like, “Nnnrgh.”

The other two just looked at me strangely, but before I could explain the door to the cupboard was flung open and I fell sideways at the feet of the shaven headed man.

The sun had gone down and the only light in the room was a camping lamp sitting on the stool where I’d seen the mobile. The shadows in the room made the man seem even bigger, and lying sprawled at his feet, the three of us were terrified.

“Right you three, either one of you gives me that phone or I’ll turn your little furry friend into a pair of gloves.”

Simon and Helen were looking into his cold blue eyes and so they never saw what I did. It was a small white dog tearing across the floor towards the stool. I have no idea where it came from or why, when it moved, it made no sound. It rushed past the tied up dog which cowered back, and then launched itself at the stool. The lamp crashed to the floor and the room became pitch black in the blink of an eye.


“Stop them!”

“I’ve got Chunk, move it!”

Voices rang out in the room as we scrambled towards where the door had been. I think I was last to leave, and just as I was about to get out, the fingers of a bony hand dug into my shoulder. It was the greasy haired teenager.

“I’ve got one of them, I’ve … arggh!”

There was a snarling sound and the fingers left my shoulder. With the sound of thuds, barking and screams behind me, I tore out of the door, down the landing and towards the stairs. My eyes were getting more used to the murky light and I could see Helen and Simon stumbling down the stairs with Chunk in tow. We’d almost reached the bottom, when the front doors crashed open and a mob of policemen, closely followed by Mrs Marny, burst in.

I stopped in my tracks expecting the policemen to grab us, but they raced past and crashed into the two men who had been chasing us. The leader got a bloody nose before his arms were pinned behind his back and his spotty assistant was just a pair of struggling legs under a sea of blue uniforms. When I turned back, it looked like Simon was suffering a similar fate, as his mum pinned him against her chest with a grip the boys in blue would have been proud of.

Chapter 8 

Dog Thieves Captured
In a startling development to the story we featured yesterday, police have informed us that they have arrested two suspects, recovered the missing pet of Dame Shirley Woolston and freed three children who had also been kidnapped.The thieves were hiding in Lincombe Grange, former home of Lord and Lady Foxington. Police had been drawn to the stately home by a text message sent by one of the plucky children.“My dog sniffed out something suspicious when we were exploring,” said Simon Marny (10), “The thugs locked us in a cupboard, but we managed to fight our way out and run for it.”Police refused to comment on reports that one of the men arrested was being treated for multiple dog bites.Reunited late last night with her pedigree dog, Lady Woolston was delighted with the children who had brought about the rescue of pet.“I think they are fantastic and I can’t wait to meet them.”  

It seemed like we spent hours in the police station the next day, going over what had happened and answering their questions. Luckily for me, they kind of presumed that the phone must have been kicked into the cupboard by mistake when we were locked up. I know you should always tell the police the truth, but I didn’t fancy trying to explain about the furry nose I’d felt and the phantom terrier I’d seen knocking over the lamp. Anyway, before anyone could get too curious, there was the sound of voices outside the interview room and a woman with big hair and a flowing scarf around her neck, bowled into the room.

“Enough Sergeant! These adorable children are coming with me.”

Dame Shirley was followed by a red-faced policeman who looked like he’d

just tried to stop a hurricane. In fact, they might as well have tried, because ten minutes later we were outside the police station with our parents and lady herself.

Three expensive looking cars whisked us into town and we emptied out, rather bewildered, in front of an extremely posh restaurant. Inside, there were no other customers except Ting Po the dog, sitting on a couple of cushions at the head of a table.   

The meal was fantastic, and the sight of Dame Shirley guffawing away with Simon’s granddad made us all smile. After the first course, I headed off to the loo with Helen. As we were washing our hands, she turned towards me with a strange expression and I knew I was in for another interrogation.

“Karen, I know Simon thinks Chunk attacked that man at the Grange, but he was with me and Ting Po was tied up; it doesn’t make sense.”

“A bit like kidnappers who give their hostages mobile phones,” came Dame Shirley’s voice from behind us,” However, if Karen shows you the photograph she has in her pocket, I think she may be able to shed a little light on things.” 

What choice did I have? I showed them the photo and told them about what I’d seen and felt. What with Helen’s gasps and Dame Shirley’s chuckles, it took a while; so long in fact that by the time we rejoined the others the desserts had arrived.

“You know girls, it was Simon’s grandfather that put the idea into my head, but I think it might be better if we kept the details between the three of us.”

Helen and I nodded and returned to our seats next to Simon.

“About time you two came back, we had to order dessert for you! I’ve been telling everyone how Chunk savaged those men when we busted out of the house.”    

Mum was grinning away at me like a loon and it seemed like the happiest moment of my life … until Dame Shirley piped up and made it better.

“Children, Tom has been telling me about the fascinating history of the building where Ting Po was held. I visited it earlier today and would like you to be the first to know what I intend to do. Later this year, work will begin to restore the Grange to its former glory; not as a private home, but as an

Arts centre for local children.”

A place in Foxington for kids – a place to draw and paint and do drama!

We sat laughing and shovelling in sticky toffee pudding, now I knew it couldn’t get better …but it did; Candice Snell walked past the window.

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