Sunday, August 26, 2012

Chapter Five

By Johanna Knox

Priscilla Byrd flew in and – with a vigour unusual in one so close to retirement – jumped in front of the bear and pointed a handgun.
Inspector Barker bounded in next, taking up a similar stance several metres away.
Last came Inspector Le Zard, hefting an assault rifle to firing position.
‘Where’s Captain Pejalmer?’ whispered Mote to Deb.
His sister didn't take her eyes off the scene below. ‘Sh!’
The polar bear continued devouring the desk, glancing now and then at the three humans waving interesting black things at it. Wood splinters stuck to its chin, mixing with the blood like a strange beard.
‘Ready …’ called Byrd.
 ‘Aim …’ growled Barker.                 
‘STOP!’ came a voice. Mendelssohn rushed in, toting the biggest gun of all. ‘You don’t kill a polar bear!’
Inspector Le Zard regarded him unblinking. ‘Well, what would you suggest, Monsieur?’
Mendelssohn lifted his gun, fixed the bear in his sights, and fired. A dart struck the forehead of the bear who promptly went cross-eyed and toppled backwards.
 ‘Stun it,’ said Mendelssohn with satisfaction. ‘Now, we have to think how to get it out and … where’s Pejalmer?’
‘Exactly,’ whispered Mote, squirming to try and get more comfortable on the ventilation tube.
Below him, Barker, Byrd, and Le Zard looked around uneasily, then all three froze, staring at the entrance.
A slim woman in a trenchcoat stumbled in –- Captain Pejalmer. She stopped, swayed, groaned, and collapsed. A bear-sized claw mark on her neck gushed blood.
 ‘Katie!’ gasped Mendelssohn. He ran to her and dropped to his knees.
 ‘Katie?’ whispered Mote. ‘Dad calls her Katie?’
‘Just shush!’ said Deb.
Their father put his head to the Captain’s chest. ‘She’s still breathing!’ He gazed into her face, pushing her hair back from her forehead.
Then Mote saw something astonishing. Captain Pejalmer opened her eyes, looked up at their father, and winked before closing her eyes again.
Mote looked at Deb. ‘Did you see …?’
 ‘Yes! But I’ll miss what happens next if I have to keep answering you … Whoa, look at her hand.’
From their vantage point, the children could see that, concealed from the other three members of the security team, Captain Pejalmer’s fingers were working at the phone protruding from her trenchcoat pocket.
A few seconds later, the national-anthem ringtone tinkled from their father’s phone.
He answered it swiftly: ‘Yes? … I see …Well, I’ve got a bit of a situation myself, but I’ll send the others.’
He looked around at Byrd, Barker, and Le Zard. ‘There are reports of violence breaking out in the floss-flickers’ quarters. I’ll stay with Pejalmer and call the medics. You three go sort those darned floss-flickers*.’

The minute the rest of of the security team had left, Captain Pejalmer sat up. ‘I thought you might remember that trick,’ she said, smiling at Mendelssohn.
He clutched her hands. ‘Katie-Kat, I was so scared ….’
‘Katie-Kat?’ Mote was appalled.
‘Would I bail on you, Felix?’ asked Captain Pejalmer.
‘Felix?’ Mote spluttered.
‘Felix is Latin for cat,’ Deb whispered, puzzled.
‘So they have cat-themed pet names for each other, that’s …’
‘Weird … disturbing, gross, I know, but …’
Below, Captain Pejalmer was now explaining to their father: ‘I was doing the last security check round the pool complex when that bear came out of nowhere. And it was so focused. It was me it wanted!’
 ‘That swipe must’ve hurt,’ said Mendelssohn, lifting his hand gingerly to her neck. ‘I really will call the medics.’
 ‘No!’ said Captain Pejalmer. ‘It’s fake. When the bear came at me, I knew I had to get it out of public sight fast. So I threw it a big piece of juicy, raw pork.’
Their father looked concerned. ‘Free range?’
 ‘Of course! Then while it was busy eating, I shoved the bear inside the complex and onto the travelator. I checked round to see where it could have come from, called you, then quickly applied this fake wound.’
‘Where did you get pork at such short notice?’
Captain Pejalmer opened her trenchcoat to reveal enormous pockets in the lining. ‘These days I always carry a hunk of meat, just in case … Not to mention blood capsules for feigning injury.’
Mendelssohn looked impressed. ‘You haven’t changed, Katie-Kat. Although most women have handbags, you know.’
‘Handbags,’ said Captain Pejalmer, ‘are a tool of patriarchal oppression. Real women have pockets.’
 ‘Well you certainly are a …’
 ‘Oh, yuck. No!’ hissed Mote.
 ‘I’m worried about something else,’ said Deb. ‘Why didn’t she call Dad as soon as the bear was in here? Why did she go looking round for where the bear had come from first?’
‘Wait, look!’ said Mote.
Captain Pejalmer was pulling something else from a pocket. A note. ‘This was attached to the bear’s collar,’ she said.
Their father read it aloud: There are several endangered species around here, aren’t there. Shall we count?
 ‘Some wolves are endangered …’ Deb murmured.
 ‘Felix,’ said Captain Pejalmer to their father. ‘This was why I needed to get you alone. I think one of the security team is involved in this plot. At least one. I faked the injury so they’d think they’d succeeded in putting me out of action.’
Mendelssohn looked stricken. ‘Do you think it has to do with when I worked at …’
 ‘Highly likely,’ she cut in. But right now we’ve got to contain this bear before it wakes.’  
The next thing to emerge from Captain Pejalmer’s pockets was a long rope. Mote and Deb watched as she and their father bound the great beast and then, at Captain Pejalmer’s urging, dragged it to the pool’s edge.
 ‘I’ll jump in first. You follow,’ the Captain instructed.
Their father paused. ‘Are you telling me there’s a secret underwater exit? How did I not know that?’
‘Oh, there’s always plenty the boss doesn’t know,’ said Captain Pejalmer.
Their father hesitated.
 ‘Come on, Felix,’ said the Captain. ‘Let’s see those almost-Titanic belly-flopping skills,’ She herself made a neat dive into the pool, fully clothed.
Mendelssohn took a deep breath and leapt after her, hitting the water with a thwack, before beginning to swim, dragging the unconscious bear behind him.
The submerged figures reached the far wall and vanished.
Deb looked at Mote: ‘Follow them?’
As the children jumped down from the ventilation tube to the table, Mote remembered how much he needed to go to the toilet. Then he had a brainwave, which made him forget again. 
‘Deb!' said Mote. 'She didn’t call him Felix as a cat name! It’s because it was the first name of Mendelssohn, the composer who Dad’s named after! Felix Mendelssohn! And  …' He felt himself filling with excitement, importance, and terror. ‘Deb, you know who I’m named after.’
 ‘Funnily enough, you’re named after the composer Mozart, Mozart.’ said Deb.
 ‘But he wasn’t just Mozart! He was called Wolfgang Mozart! Deb, what if all this is about me? Wolfgang means walk like a wolf!’
Deb looked at him for several seconds then said slowly, ‘You have really got to get over yourself.’
Mote ignored that. He trailed after her to the pool, dazed. This was huge!
His foot caught something that went skidding over the tiles, and he picked it up. ‘Deb! A jar of spiders!’
She turned back, curious. ‘Do you think it fell out of Captain Pejalmers' pockets? Can I see?’
Mote handed it to her. ‘Anyone who was in here could have dropped it,’ he said. ‘Even that camera guy.’
Deb turned the jar in her hands. ‘Guess what kind of spiders these are?’ She looked faintly triumphant. ‘They’re wolf spiders.’
Still holding the jar she dived into the pool.
Mote followed. He suddenly hoped there wasn’t any of that stuff in the water that went coloured when you peed.

* In floss-flicking, each competitor eats a cob of corn, then uses dental floss to flick out stuck bits from between their teeth - sending those bits as far across a field as possible. Once an under-funded and seldom-watched sport, floss-flicking has been revitalised by the advent of night-time tournaments held under black lights, using fluorescent corn and fluorescent floss. Despite its new popularity, the sport continues to be marred by the behaviour of its players who have a reputation as temperamental and aggressive.

Now it's your turn to write Chapter 6. There is even more danger ahead. At the same time, the kids must stay alert to solve the mystery. Clues are accumulating. And isn't is funny how animals keep cropping up? Is this significant? Or is the most numerous species the Red Herring? You have one week to write this.

Instead of (or as well as) Chapter 6, write your own side story about any minor character in the story - absolutely any you like. (Perhaps the woman who won the golden ticket? Or the ill-fated belly-flopper from Chapter 2? Perhaps another athlete? Or maybe a person who doesn't appear in the story but is connected in some interesting way to someone who does?)

You have two weeks to write this side-story. A winner will be chosen, but we may publish more than one entry on the Fabo site.

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