As June and early July progressed it became apparent to the kids that their last adventure had stumbled upon the early, secret preparation for Live Aid ’85. Kin got an invitation backstage as thanks for helping out, Ash got an invitation by way of apology, and Sean got an invitation since his weird houseguest turned out to be one of the music directors rather than anything to do with evangelists. And, of course, Robbie turned up anyway. The unfortunate break in transmission in the middle of The Who’s performance may or may not have had something to do with the gang being present.
The rest of our young heroes gathered together at the start of the long summer holidays and the weeks stretched out in front of them unsullied by any school routine. Nellie and Tank went out for long pony rides along the Downs but his tentative attempt to interest her in AD&DTM failed dismally. Their paths occasionally ran alongside Pete who was revelling in the best season yet of his long-distance training, and occasionally with Tommy’s Russian military drone as he got to grips with steering it. The budding romance is helped along by a shared love of music but hindered by lots of unhelpful advice from Tank’s mates. A mixed group trip to the cinema enjoyed ‘A View to a Kill’ with Grace Jones’ demolition of 007. Discreet handholding ensued.
Pete carefully scheduled his time away from a house often empty since his mum had returned to work. D&D, cinema, TV and a flexibly ill-defined training schedule helped a lot. During one necessary calorie refill at home he had tea with Dad and discovered an unexpected ally. While still ‘grounded’ for poor school reports his dad had signed him up to a set of summer events for his final year in the Under-15s, including the Oxon County championships at Iffley road where Steve Duval was current champion. Either his Dad had great faith in Pete’s scholastic potential, or he did not agree with the academic goals set by Pete’s Mum. Motivated, Pete cheerfully neglected to tell his coaches about the championships and outright lied that his sponsor Laura Ashley needed him on Saturday.
At Andy’s farm it was all hands required to get the harvest in, complicated by his mum’s many medical appointments and toddler Nate’s rapid mobility. Andy is plenty old enough to drive tractors at 14 and leave sheep wrangling to his little sister. Friday afternoon was reserved for a prolonged D&D session in the hideout and the lads were slightly concerned to find no-one had fed the Cretaceous ‘chickens’. Andy completed DMing the TSR module and tried to goad Tommy into correcting his pronunciation, but Titch refused to admit to knowing any welsh at all. They left a note for Robbie in case she turned up there.
On Saturday they took the train to Oxford and ambled over to Iffley Road sports grounds where they met up with Pete and his Dad. After registering and collecting his competitor number Pete had a bit of time to kill before his 5000m race. Andy gave a surprisingly good pep talk to Pete and then it was time to line up. From the start Steve & Pete lead the pack of runners around the track. On lap 2 Pete impatiently pulled ahead but Steve cannily stayed just ahead of pack and reserved his move. On lap 3 Steve made his expected kick away from the pack and accelerated ahead to take the lead but, to the amazement of everyone, Pete also kicked away and managed to stay just in front. In lap 4 Pete started to tire and Steve Duval finally took the lead. The crowd cheered. In the final lap 5 Steve appeared to be all set for a win but in the final straight Pete pushed himself to exhaustion and sprinted to victory before collapsing on the track. The crowd went wild: Oxfordshire had a new Junior long-distance Oxon champion! Medals, prize giving and interviews with local journalists ensued alongside a very proud Dad.
Arriving back at Dedcot station the gang were startled to notice a column of smoke rising from the town centre. A police cordon was set up around Dentons toy shop and a chat with PC Draper revealed that someone had set fire to the store room through the back letterbox. The gang found their way around to the back alley where the fire service were shovelling out the store room contents to cool down. There were some bits of plastic but the bulk of it was foam and wool and fabric of cabbage patch dolls. The gang reckoned either Russia, the Mafia or the Tuckers might be manipulating the doll market prices. Titch confirmed that the fire started just inside the door and noticed the fire officer removing remains of a Molotov cocktail.
During this distraction Pete snuck off to return home without their ‘help’. When called in for beans on toast, Mum naturally enquired about the medal and learned that he was registered for this by his dad. A prolonged silence ensued but Pete himself does not get interrogated further. He dozed in front of the TV most of the evening but went to bed before his dad got home. Alison got back even later.
Sunday morning was the time for a show of Rawnsley unity as their enemy, Mrs Bridges, considers herself a pillar of the village and the church. Andy was intent on social engineering the village feud and easily managed to get most of Tank’s family along to sit on their side of the pews. Surprisingly atheist Tommy also cycled up to Hendreds church to support Andy and everyone is startled to discover that Tommy has a very good singing voice.
Pete had a difficult start to the day after a disturbed night and his slow times led to an uncomfortable talk with Coach Grundy who nonetheless became increasingly pleased and impressed as he gets more information from other athletes about how the race unfolded. They had a long chat about what distances Pete is best suited for, and the youngster was clearly lying through his teeth about something in his family, but it resulted in a light training day for Pete. Coach resolved to ensure better liaison with the family and sponsors, and Pete still hasn’t encountered a problem he can’t run away from. Once back home Pete gets blamed by Alison for upsetting Mum. She shows him the incriminating sports report in the Dedcot Herald, but he’s delighted. Alison stomps off and Pete finally realised that at his age she was forced to give up gymnastics, not because her ability declined but because of some external reason. He might possibly have been a tad tactless.
Back at the church the whispering campaign against the plague family has reached new depths. Mrs Bridges and her cohort are deeply offended by the good number of parishioners who choose to sit on the Rawnsley side of the aisle. Andy is too busy looking after his Mum to deploy his usual charm offensive, but his mates try to ferret out what the old biddies are whispering about. Apparently the AIDs plague is just retribution from the Almighty for deviant practices and certain events in the 1960s and other misdemeanours of the Rawnsley family going back even further. The kids have no context for this but Tank doesn’t want to know anything about the swinging sixties. He has suspicions about his own parents.
On Sunday afternoon the gang had another go at locating Robbie, but Mrs F’s house appeared to be locked up and tidied away. They decided not to break in with so many adults around nearby but to come back later. Andy went home to babysit Nate and Tank slipped quietly away to spend a pleasant afternoon with Nellie chatting about music.
Tommy’s second attempt to construct a parabolic antenna failed dismally. While clearing the disaster away he observed his Aunt P. heading out towards the large meadow where, on this occasion, she was moving along the stream poking at and apparently collecting something. But when he attempted to sneak up to watch more closely, she disappeared entirely. Now this is a stream which Tommy knows well so he took a long, hard look and concluded that she was collecting soil and clay samples along the north side of the stream. He decided to peer into the window of the dairy cottage, the annex in which she had taken up residence, and discovered that it was packed with unlabelled bottles, pots, jars, yarns, knick knacks, shells, stones, dried herbs and other preserved items of local flora and fauna. It had, in fact, become the lair of an archetypal Welsh witch.
On Monday morning Pete came in for breakfast to find his Mum heading out to work and a terse letter waiting for him from Laura Ashley Ltd. He is requested and required to attend a presentation event at the Culham HQ at 7pm that same day. They wish to award him with a certificate and a momento to celebrate his Oxon Championship which they only found out about via the local paper. There will be press present and he should bring his medal to display. Tommy headed into town and had a long overdue chat with Miss Green at the library. He persuaded her to order in a glossy Iwasaka book on the history, design philosophy and aspirations of the supercorporation. Tommy also had a chat about the constitution of their school PTA, Miss Green undertook to find out for Tommy exactly what Mrs Bridge’s role might be.
After lunch the gang met up at Mrs F’s to put into action their Cunning Plan to locate Robbie. They had buckets, sponges, a ladder and neckerchiefs from their previous membership of the Hendred’s Scout troop (1st Cwichhelmsley) and cheeky willingness to use the ‘Bob A Job’ ruse. This started well with the first house on the terrace getting squeakingly clean windows. Their second attempt turned into a farce of incoordination worthy of the Chuckle Brothers. The third house was Mrs F’s and they got a good look in through the windows and concluded that both she and Robbie must have been away for a few days. The next house they tried to do but had forgotten that Mr Tucker worked nights: they were chased away by loud invectives and empty beer can missiles. They did the final house on the terrace for completeness but, as they hadn’t changed the water, only succeeded in smearing more dirt onto the windows. The exasperated householder eventually paid them to go away. They came away with a modest amount of donations which they decided to pass on to their old Scoutmaster.
After teatime the gang reconvened to accompany Pete to his summer junket at Laura Ashley HQ. An extremely brief train ride down the line got them to Culham business park where various limos and vans were arriving at the brand new LA factory. Since Pete’s invitation card only applied to himself and his Dad, Tank distracted the gate guard by lurking ominously and the rest snuck in. Tank later joined them by going over the fence around the back and noticed that there was a lot of litter in the long grass around the factory. The event, held outside in a lavishly decorated marquee with champagne catering, was the launch of the Laura Ashley autumn collection at which Pete’s championship was a mere an afterthought. Still, he got his one minute in the spotlight (alongside their official doll designer) and actually met Madam Ashley. Fortunately, Andy clued Pete in so he didn’t inadvertently snub his beloved sponsor. Meanwhile Ash, by simply reverting to her full name of Ashley, gained unusually free access to behind the scenes at the fashion show. Kin achieved some very professional shots of the characters present. Andy obtained the contact details of the doll designer, amongst others. Sean grazed his way along the expensive buffet and then circulated with a tray of fine wines which he sampled extensively. Despite her best efforts Ash only acquired a macramé shawl backstage but she did meet a lot of young supermodels. Both models and designers were intrigued by her ‘nature girl’ look which might indicate a future direction for the firm. The night ended to everyone’s great satisfaction although Sean remembers none of it.
Much later that night Kin and Ash crept along a back alley and snuck up to Mrs F’s back door. Kin breezed his way through the back door and the pair undertook a thorough search of the premises. Letters on the front mat were dated Saturday and Monday. The kitchen calendar seemed to indicate that they might have gone to Bournemouth that week, but all suitcases appear to be undisturbed. A creaky floorboard in Robbie’s room revealed a stash of punk accessories, some of which were missing as were her favourite pair of boots. Ash investigated the slashed cabbage patch doll on the shelf. Mrs Fossett’s wardrobe appeared to be missing a smart blue twin set. Downstairs, in a bin by her bureau, is a discarded official envelope from the Young Offenders Institute, Napier Rd, Reading which was franked on Friday, Reading being close enough for the missing letter to be delivered the same day. Bureau investigation revealed that Mrs Fossett had been in correspondence with her sister in Bournemouth about whether the holiday was going to go ahead with Robbie present. The matter was unresolved. Kin made a note of the phone number.
The following day at the hideout the gang caught up with events and attempted to research the criminal history of the Tucker twins, Robbie’s older brothers. There was a brief mention of a custodial sentence at Reading crown Court but details were scarce as it came under the official secrets act surrounding the militarised zone during the alien incident last year. They phoned Mrs Fossett’s sister instead. Mrs Iris Hadfield wasn’t quite sure why Agnes had delayed her trip and was a little surprised to hear that the house was empty but was not inclined to be alarmed about it. As they were using a payphone at the station they decided their next move would be to jump on a train upline to Reading. The street map outside the station indicated that Napier Road was nearby, between the rail line and the Thames path. They wandered over there to find a large, cheap prefab complex with a highly insecure fence around it which they reckon wouldn’t slow the Tuckers down. This was indeed one of the new, privatised youth custody facilities created by Mrs Thatcher to replace Borstals. The gate guard was extremely unhelpful but a surreptitious peek at the visitors’ book confirmed that Mrs F. had shown up, but not been allowed in, on Friday morning and that both Paul and Pat Tucker had signed out shortly afterwards. The guard confirmed the twins and others are allowed out on supervised work experience but refused to divulge where that might be. He did let on that a madwoman had been there on Friday waving an official headed letter around and demanding to see a Tucker that they hadn’t actually got inside and didn’t even have a case number. They surmise that the twins had posted the fake letter. Another survey of the outer fence by Ash revealed a concealed and unofficial exit leading directly onto the Thames path at a point of considerable tree cover with a lot of small leisure craft moored up nearby.
Kin noticed, amongst the small craft, one especially decrepit looking vessel named the Milton Mudlark which nonetheless had a surprisingly new outboard motor attached. Milton, he remembered, was the disappeared name on his strange signpost photograph. Pete notices a nice running track along the side of the river, and that it’s almost exactly one Marathon distance back to Dedcot. Sneaking aboard Ash and hungover Sean find an unusually pretty blue coin purse abandoned empty at the stern, and some black scuff marks near the bow. The motor is new, functional and fully fuelled. Sean notes the faded and peeled registration number and Tank confirm that it is missing any kind of waterways permit. The boat lacks the usual paraphernalia of vessels nearby but the bits that need to work, work.
Pete decided that he needed a training run. While limbering up Pete noticed his sister coming out of Reading train station looking cheerful, which is not a mood he’s seen her in at home for over a year. Ash and Tank offered to tail Alison and on that agreement Pete shot off for his run. The others started the boat up. Alison was discovered to be meeting up with her own gang of sporty misfits; they all went up to the rooftop of the Oracle shopping centre and set off on a parkour trail which was well beyond Ash and Tank’s ability to follow. Tank took the slow Thames chugger train to Culham to meet up with the boat and Ash took the train to Cholsey to meet up and jog the rest of the way with Pete. Kin, Andy and Sean puttered upstream in their commandeered vessel. Sean chatted to various lock-keepers and established that the Tucker twins were known but not especially liked along the river. They’d been seen around, on and off, throughout spring and summer. By the end of the afternoon they had all met up on the Thames path near Sutton Courtenay, which was exactly where Kin had taken his odd photo earlier. Presumably Milton, and thus the ‘Milton Mudlark’ belonged around there somewhere. Looking for concealed landings and thrashing their way into the overgrown undergrowth, the gang got very lucky and discovered the way into the concealed and abandoned private mooring just inside the estuary of Ginge Brook. The stagnant willow pool contained the remains of several rotten paddle boats and canoes. There was also a concrete pillbox, boarded over, where Robbie was imprisoned.
The gang freed a very irate Robbie. They learned that Robbie had been ambushed by her brothers and taken to this prison by boat. Sometime later, perhaps the following day, the twins had returned to throw some tinned food in o her and to show her to Mrs Fossett who was standing outside in her best blue suit. “You’ve seen she’s OK, now do as we say” Paul had said before locking Robbie in again. That was a few days ago. The gang cast around and discovered a collapsed boating shed and mildewed notices put up by ‘Milton Woodlands Campsite’ bearing the old logos of the Scouting and Girl Guide Associations. They’ve never heard of this campsite despite most of them having camped extensively with their local troops until very recently. Robbie is very concerned that Mrs F. has been in her brother’s evil clutches for three or four days and does not want to involve the police until she is safe. Their next move, after imagining dire retribution on the twins, is to look for tracks. Ash found tracks of unsuitable woman’s footwear leading south along the brook and up onto the main road between Sutton Courtenay and Drayton. The brothers did not follow her, presumably they went back to Reading by boat. The kids loitered around for the next bus back to Dedcot and remained totally baffled as to what the twins could possibly want with an elderly dinner lady.
Episode 1: Life on Mars Bars
Episode 2: Twix a Rock and a Hard Place
Episode 3: SCreme Egg Scramble
Episode 4: Time for a Picnic
Episode 5: Marathon Man
Episode 6: Careless Wispas
Episode 7: Bar Noir
Episode 8: It Takes Allsorts
Episode 9: Jolly Tots and Candy Bots
Episode 10: Double Deckers and the Trusty Tube