Chapter 1 - The Witness
The charcoal-black figure briskly jogged along the wet, shining pavement. Shoulders hunched, the boy cursed the blinding drizzling rain. He pulled back the sleeve of his thick winter coat, and checked his new digital diver’s watch. It was extremely late (now realising that the karate lesson had overrun); he knew he had better head home quickly. He swiftly turned the corner towards the row of shops.
Suddenly, he saw a tall, dark figure tumbling out of the jewellery shop; clutched tightly to the man’s chest was a bible-black, briefcase; so shiny it looked as though it had been polished. The figure suspiciously gazed around, wondering if somebody was watching him. The diamond light of the moon shone brightly, casting menacing, striking shadows across the pavement. The boy noticed the man ahead was scouring the street; his eyes were dark narrow slits. A ruby-red scar branched its way across his left cheek - sharp, like the point of a sword.
The boy’s heart was pounding fiercely against his ribs, and a bead of perspiration rolled down his clammy forehead. He finally caught his eyes on the small, petrified boy at the corner of the road, hypnotized by this unusual event. Swiftly, the man approached the statue-like boy. The robber whispered in an ice-cold voice, “Say anything and you’re dead. Kill or be killed!”
He briskly walked away and vanished into the darkness.
Chapter 2 - School Begins
“Ben? What’s wrong?” Dexter nudged his best friend, who had been frozen, lost in thought for most of the morning. Ben suddenly snapped out of his trance. “Ohmygodyou’llneverbelievewhathappenedtomelastnightiwascoming…”
“Calm down,” laughed Dexter, “Say it slowly!”
Ben took a deep breath and calmly explained what he had witnessed the night before. As he finished, Dexter stared at him in disbelief, “No way, you must be kidding me! It was probably just the manager.” Just as Ben was about to say something, the loud bell rang.
Ben walked solemnly into classroom eight. All the uniformed boys automatically walked to their seats; opening their Dell laptops, switching them on ready for the oncoming lesson. Suddenly, a bulky, bearded teacher thrust open the old oak classroom door. Mechanically, the smart students rose from their seats and stood proudly like soldiers. “Good morning, please take your seats,” said the stocky teacher, standing behind the desk. The class obediently chanted back,” Good morning, Sir!”
“Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Mr Wilson and I will be your supply teacher for a short period of time, because your usual teacher is indisposed.”
Ben inwardly groaned; he was just beginning to like his form teacher, having only arrived at Eltham Collage a few months previously. He had been awarded a scholarship at the age of eight (he was the youngest student to ever qualify for this prestigious award).Without hesitation, the rest of the class had sat down quietly, leaving Ben standing solo staring at the new teacher. Mr. Wilson and Ben exchanged eye contact. Ben scanned the teacher’s face; noticing the stubble beard and his blood-shot eyes. Squinting, Ben studied Mr. Wilson’s thick blue - rimmed spectacles, noticing the eyes behind them had become dark narrow slits. Ben began to feel uncomfortable.
“Sit down, boy!” Mr. Wilson roared, slapping the ruler against the table. The teacher pulled out the creaking chair from under his desk. He picked up his as yet unseen, bible black brief case, so shiny it looked like it had been polished. Ben felt like he had been punched in the chest. It was the robber…
Chapter 3 – A New Friend
“Ichi, ni, san, shi!” Ben thrust his arms lazily through the air. “Ben Andrews, sit out – you have not shown discipline throughout this karate lesson, now watch the rest of the class, they will teach you how to punch properly!” his Sensei demanded with disgust, glaring at Ben as he shamefully dragged his feet and sat at the edge of the dojo.
Ben stared at the floor with mixed thoughts whirling through his head. “Hiya.” Ben looked up and saw a girl who looked around his age. She had black glossy hair which had been plaited into two long braids which hung down to her waist. “My name is Jamila, I’m new here, what’s your name?”
“B-B-Ben,” blushed Ben. He could feel his face heating up.
“Hi B-B-Ben, what’s with the stammering?” laughed Jamila. Ben started to laugh too. “It’s nothing, I am just embarrassed - Sensei’s been mad at me this evening, I’m not normally like this, come on, I’m a brown belt karate champion!”
“Calm down on the boasting! I’m working towards my green belt and I’ve been going to karate for four years now. I had to move because my dad’s got a new job around here. I’m here tonight to see what this class is like.”
“That’s all for today.” The Sensei interrupted Jamila’s conversation. “Good work – better from you next time, Andrews!”
The children got up and collected their coats together and the group cascaded out of the dojo. “Whereabouts do you live?” Ben asked Jamila, slightly embarrassed.
“72 Griffin Road.” she answered.
“Oh, so you’re the new girl who’s moved in opposite my house!” said Ben, a grin spreading across his face. “Maybe we can walk home together?”
“Sure!” The children walked along the road chatting amicably until they reached the row of shops – suddenly Ben stopped in his tracks and became silent and stiff. He remembered the robber’s words – ‘Kill or be killed.’ He felt a surge of terror which froze him on the spot. “Ben? Come on let’s go.” Jamila looked anxiously at him, “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you, but you won’t believe me.” Ben shook his head worriedly.
“Of course I’ll believe you – just tell me!”
Ben explained everything that had occurred since he saw the robbery.
“Are you sure he was a robber?” questioned Jamila.
“I’m sure it was a robber – there’s no question about it!” Ben replied angrily.
Jamila fell silent. “Do you know if Mr Wilson has any fears?” she asked after a while. The children continued to walk slowly home, thinking hard.
“I don’t know – I’m sure I can find out. Why?” Ben glanced at Jamila suspiciously.
“Maybe if we find out what he’s scared of, we can use it against him.”
“Ohh – you’re a smart girl!” Ben paused and thought for a while. “Hang on a minute - it’s pet week this week at school. Mr Wilson strongly warned us not to bring in any reptiles – especially snakes. I was gutted because I wanted to bring in Rattler”
“Eureka! All the pieces are coming together! He’s afraid of snakes!” Jamila grinned at him, elated at what they had just discovered. “Who’s Rattler? Please tell me it’s a snake!”
“No problemo! It’s my pet snake! He’s only a small garter snake but I like the name!”
“Great – he’ll come in handy! We’ve got to find out what’s in that briefcase. Oh! I’ve got a fantastic idea!” Jamila cried.
“What?” asked Ben eagerly.
“I’ll tell you tomorrow – meet me here at six o’clock!” Jamila ran across the road and disappeared into her house.
Chapter 4 – The Plot
Ring! The break-time bell rang repeatedly. “You may be excused now.” Mr Wilson ordered. ”Hey wait up!” called Dexter from amidst the sea of boys. The smartly uniformed boys turned to see who was shouting in the corridor - when they recognised Dexter they all turned their heads and continued with their conversations except Ben, who hung back to wait for his friend.
“I’m sorry for not believing you yesterday, thinking about it, it might be true, I’ll do my best to help you.” Dexter looked at his friend apologetically.
“That’s okay, but I’ll tell you another thing that you’ll probably find unbelievable...” Ben frantically glanced about to check if Mr Wilson was around, when he saw the corridor was empty, he dropped his voice to a low whisper. “Dexter, can you keep a secret?” Dexter moved his head closer to enable Ben to share his discovery. “Mr Wilson…”
“Yeah? What about him?” Dexter looked confused.
“He is the robber!” Ben exclaimed.
“Man, you’re just joking! You’re pulling my leg!” Dexter laughed. Ben frowned and said in a strong manner, “I told you you wouldn’t believe me. But fine- I’ve already got a friend that does believe me. Her name’s Jamila.”
“Oooh! You’ve finally found yourself a girlfriend!” Dexter cooed sarcastically. Ben shook his head angrily and walked away. Dexter caught up with him and protested, “Oh come on man! I didn’t mean it offensively.”
“OK then, meet me after school at 6 o’clock outside my house and we’ll work it out with Jamila.”
“Ok - this is the plan.” Jamila explained later that evening. ”You said you have a snake as a pet, he can be a decoy to distract Mr Wilson while you slyly steal the briefcase.”
“But how are we going to open it? It’s got a combination lock.” Dexter asked. “No problemo! That’s your job Dex. You have to watch his every move; you’ve got to be like a spy. You will discover his secret combination code!” Ben winked at his friend.
“This is like a dream come true – I’ve always wanted to be a secret agent!” Dexter beamed. The children were sat scrutinising a printed map of the school. Ben explained what Dexter had to do in order for them to obtain the briefcase. The children were ready. The plot was sorted.
Chapter 5 – The Mission Begins
Dexter scanned the corridor carefully, looking for a hint of movement. The cost was clear - he began to walk rapidly towards the deserted classroom. He had been watching Mr Wilson for the past week now, and knew that he would appear at twelve o’clock sharp. Dexter had now discovered the first two numbers of the combination code. “Only two more to go,” he whispered excitedly. He sneaked up to the large art cupboard and slowly and quietly opened the door.
Suddenly, Dexter heard the faint buzzing of his walkie-talkie. He carefully reached down to his pocket and drew out his monitor. Pressing the talk button he whispered, ”Bear to Eagle, Bear to Eagle, come in, over.” He released his finger from the button. “Reading you loud and clear, Bear. Are you in position?” replied Ben from the other side of the school. “Getting into position, and sneaking into the art cupboard right now, no more contact cause suspect is approaching, over.”
The next moment, Mr Wilson marched into the room carrying the same bible-black brief case. He swiftly walked to his locker which was situated next to the art cupboard. Dexter’s heart started to thump like a beating drum. Carefully, he silently pushed the door open and slid his periscope out. Steadily he peered through the spy hole which gave a full view of Mr Wilson’s stubby fingers. Three, zero, seven and nine. Mr Wilson spun the numbers into the combination code. Dexter slipped back the periscope and congratulated himself silently. Without a sound he pulled the cupboard door closed. Mr Wilson left the room with an enormous grin on his face.
Chapter 6 – The Decoy
“I can’t believe you brought that in after Mr Wilson strictly warned us not to bring in any reptiles!” whispered Jimmie, a tall, skinny boy from form M1. “Well, just wait and watch!” Ben winked. The loud bell rang which meant it was assembly.
All around the assembly hall there were children holding cages, tanks and boxes. Suddenly, there was a loud howl. “Sorry,” called out Nathan, “I trod on my dog’s tail!”
Mr. Rupert-Smythe, the school head teacher (whom everyone respected well), broadly strode into the hall. Consequently, all the uniformed boys quickly took their seats. The only noises that were heard were from the animals. The hall was a jungle of sounds: dogs were woofing, cats meowing, parrots squawking and from the far corner, a faint, tiny hiss of a snake.
“I would like to proudly say that Eltham College is having its first ever pet week. Throughout the day - you will be able to attend unique workshops regarding caring for different types of pets. You will experience touching, feeling, and grooming a plethora of animals, except for Johnnie’s eel, of course!” A small giggle rippled through the audience. “Now I will hand over to Mr. Wilson, who has an important announcement to make.”
Mr Wilson stood up from his green chair on the right side of the hall and slowly walked to the front, “Well, I’m looking, none of you have brought in a reptile, especially snakes!” Mr Wilson gave a piecing look as his eyes scanned the creatures in the room. “This will be my last day in Eltham College; I will miss you all terribly.” lied Mr. Wilson, coughing to conceal his grin. “As I have worked hard to get up to this point, I have succeeded in my task and shall no longer be with you.” He sat back down, expecting a round of applause, but was met with a mixture of stony silence and sniggers.
“We have to hurry up; we only have till the end of the day.” Ben whispered to Dexter. “It’s better to do it sooner than later.” replied Dexter quietly. The children tentatively headed back to classroom eight carrying their pets. “We’ll sneak Rattler into Mr. Wilson’s draw.” The boys slipped into the room, and waited for everyone to exit, going out to break. Dexter quickly tied his sausage-dog, Roley, to the leg of his classroom table. Once the coast was clear, Ben sneaked towards Mr. Wilson’s desk, leaving Dexter as a look out at the door way. He pulled open the wooden draw, being careful not to make any noise, drew out Rattler gently from the small tank, “You will be the best decoy ever. You know what to do, good luck.” he whispered lovingly to his pet. Tenderly, he laid the snake amongst the pens and post-it notes in the bottom of the draw and slid it shut. He turned back to Dexter and winked, ”Job well done – no problemo!”
Chapter 7 – ALARMED!!!
Mr Wilson approached the classroom door; he opened it whilst looking around. Roley barked sharply, the teacher strode briskly towards him and clipped the dog around the ears. Roley howled and cowered under a nearby chair. “Stupid animals, stupid pet week! I’m glad I’m leaving,” murmured Mr Wilson to himself. As he peered from his art cupboard position, Dexter gritted his teeth, watching as Mr Wilson kicked his pet; he silently cursed his teacher.
As it was his last day, Mr Wilson needed to finish marking the children’s work; he walked towards his desk draw to get a pen. To his amazement, he saw a slight movement of papers at the rear of the draw. His eyes widened and he took a sudden step back – cautiously he moved towards the desk...Feeling around the draw, his fingers came into contact with a long, smooth object - Mr Wilson let out a sharp yell as the object gave a quick jerk. He slowly opened the draw to discover what was lurking inside. Two tiny, dark beady eyes looked up at him. The snake’s tongue flickered to taste its newly found fresh air. “MUMMY!” The teacher screamed and ran to hit the fire alarm next to the door.
A few minutes later, the school caretaker rushed in, checking if everyone had evacuated the building - to his surprise, he found Mr Wilson sprawled on the floor, his pale white face revealing his scarlet red scar slashed across his left cheek, previously concealed beneath the stubble. Grabbing a jug of water from the teacher’s desk, he rapidly poured it over Mr Wilson’s face. The teacher’s eyes slowly opened. “Come on! We’ve got to get out of here!” The caretaker lifted up Mr Wilson and hauled him onto his left shoulder, rushing out the room.
Dexter jumped out of the art cupboard and quickly unhooked his dog from the nearby table. Roley barked with joy as he saw his owner. Ben ran into the room laughing, ”I’ve checked, and all the classrooms have been evacuated and there’s no sign of Mr Wilson.” Swiftly, he retrieved Rattler from the top drawer; he placed his snake back into its tank and gave Dexter a quick high five. “Nice one, but we still need the briefcase to show the proof to the police” stated Ben. Frantically, the boys scanned the room - they spotted the briefcase under the desk. Ben rushed towards it. Grabbing it, he rapidly hid it under his coat. Holding tightly onto their pets (and the very important briefcase), the boys sprinted across the vacant corridor and cascaded down the narrow stairs - exiting into the playing field.
The field was a sea of bobbing heads - both human and animal. Mr Rupert- Smythe, stood at the top of the stairs facing the chaos, announced through his loud speaker, “Calm down boys! I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to close down the college for the day. The fire alarm has interfered with all your pet workshops. For your own safety and that of your pets, we request that you go home immediately. Further notices will be made after we discover what caused this unexpected disturbance”. The crowd let out a loud cheer and the students all rushed out of the gates.
Passing the tank containing Rattler to Dexter, Ben took his phone from his left pocket. Immediately he dialled Jamila’s number and hurriedly spoke to his friend. Replacing his phone in his pocket, Ben turned to Dexter and grinned. “Quick! We need to meet Jamila at the park. She can’t wait to hear what happened. We are going to open the briefcase.”
Chapter 8 – Mission Accomplished
“How did it go?” asked Jamila. She had been running across the emerald-green grass after spotting the boys pondering under a large oak tree. Dexter had tied Roley’s lead around the base of the tree, and the dog was sleeping in the shade, next to Rattler’s tank. “How did you get out of school?” asked Dexter.
“It was an INSET day, what a result! Anyway how did it go?” she repeated.
Ben took out the bible–black briefcase from under his coat. A smile spread across Jamila’s face and her pupils dilated. “Eureka! You guys are the best! Well done! Open it up then, let’s see what’s inside.”
“Ben, I can’t remember the combination code!” Dexter looked worried.
“No problemo, Dex! Three, zero, seven and nine – let’s hope it works.”
Nervously, Jamila spun the numbers into the security lock.
The children looked at each other excitedly. Ben then slowly released the catches and lifted the shining lid. The children gasped at the unpleasant sight in front of them. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Lying in the case was…
A bruised banana, a red pen and a pile of science tests (which Ben recognised as being the worst test ever).
“That’s it?” questioned Dexter, “I knew it all along! Mr Wilson was just a normal supply teacher!”
“No it can’t just be this, there’s got to be more to it!” shouted Ben angrily. Jamila turned the briefcase upside down and shook it.
“Do you hear that?” she exclaimed.
“What?” asked Ben.
Jamila shook it again, “That rattling!”
The children glanced at each other excitedly. Jamila gently put the briefcase on the grass and they carefully examined its interior. Dexter gasped, “What’s that? It looks like some sort of little ribbon or something.”
Taking a closer look, the children noticed that sticking out of side of the black velvet bottom of the case was a tiny black satin loop.
“Go on then!” urged Jamila. Tentatively, Ben gave it a tug…then suddenly the base of the briefcase began to lift up, revealing a well-hidden compartment. “I told you there was more to it!” Ben grinned. The children gingerly peered into the secret space. There, they saw a black velvet pouch as big as a piece of A5 paper. “Do you think we should open it? I mean it c...c...could be dangerous!” Dexter stammered.
“Of course we have to open it! We have to get to the bottom of this mystery!” Jamila demanded.
The children quickly opened the small pouch. Slowly, they gazed into it. Inside its depths they saw something glittering, eye blinding, like a jewelled star. The children gasped in amazement; Ben reached in and grasped the object. What an earth could it be? His fingers clasped something hard, cold and lumpy. Bit by bit, he drew the article out of the bag into the sunlight. It was a shimmering, diamond necklace!
“WOW!” they all chorused together.
All of a sudden, a shadow cast over the children. “Get your hands off my necklace, you dirty little thieves,” hissed a cold, icy voice. “Hand it over, or else!” The children’s hearts skipped a beat. Mr Wilson! He stood towering above them, snarling with anger.
“Or what?” asked the children together, glancing nervously at each other.
“Kill or be killed, remember Ben.” He gave a smug laugh. “I knew it was you all along, obviously the snake had to be yours because you are a little pest as well!” said Mr Wilson fiercely. Ben was beginning to get annoyed. Jamila jumped up and stepped forward in a karate stance. Mr Wilson let out a wicked laugh.
“You really think that you wimpy kids could beat me?” spluttered Mr Wilson. “No one beats Scar–face Scott!” he boasted.
Ben leapt up and threw the necklace over Mr Wilson’s head to Dexter, who jumped up and caught it. Ben then faced Mr Wilson and mirrored Jamila’s stance. He felt a sudden urge of adrenalin rush through his body. He was the future Bruce Lee! Sneakily, Dexter reached for the mobile phone in his pocket and dialled for the police.
Mr Wilson lurched forward and tried to grab the diamonds, but Ben was ready for him. Ben used his blocks and grabbed the teacher’s arm twisting it round. As he did this, Jamila crouched into a ball behind him and signalled to Ben. The boy gave a hard push and Mr Wilson was flung backwards. Tripping over Jamila, he collapsed onto the floor. Ben grabbed Mr Wilson’s arms and pinned them behind his back. Dexter swiftly removed the belt from his school trousers and thrust it at Jamila. “Restrain him! Quickly!” Jamila deftly took the belt and wound it around the teacher’s wrists. Threading the end of the belt through the buckle, she pulled it firmly – rendering the teacher useless.
In the distance, the children heard a faint siren. “It’s the police!” cheered Dexter.
“Well done children – there’s no real point in us being here! You’ve done all the work for us!” A smartly uniformed police officer rushed up, panting, to the group, red in the face. He quickly clicked a pair of handcuffs around the wrists of the teacher, who was still sprawled out on the floor. Other officers rushed to surround him and they dragged him to his feet. “I can’t believe that these kids have managed to capture this criminal!” exclaimed a police woman. “They’ve achieved what we thought was impossible! This is London’s most wanted thief! We’ve been trying to track him down for years! Scar-face Scott – can you believe it?! What on earth will our Super-Intendent say?” The police officers beamed at the children.
“Do you need us to come with you officer?” asked Ben.
“There’s a car on its way to take you all to the station. Do you have any evidence?” asked one of the policemen.
“No problemo!” smiled Ben, “A briefcase, a squashed banana, some science tests, a red pen, and…”
“This!” grinned Dexter, holding up the sparkling jewels.
The policeman’s eyes lit up. “Hand it over lad.” he said, holding out an evidence bag. Dexter carefully slipped the beautiful necklace into the clear plastic bag, and the policeman sealed it firmly shut. “Well, that’s our work done kids. The police will have big things in mind for you – there was a large reward for the return of this necklace!” he smiled down at the startled children.
“No problemo! Mission accomplished!” exclaimed Ben, picking up Rattler’s tank, and laughing, the friends and their pets made their way over to the waiting police car.