The Further Adventures of Aardvark Jenkins
Which has no Lesser to be further than, and is completely free of aardvarks
The hijacker raised his pistol "For the last time, no funny business."
In the control centre Thomas and his crew could hear him and see him. The pilot's foot had found the tiny switch that triggered the hidden camera. Thomas looked at the others and put his finger on a line in the big book, the flight manual. Richard and Henrietta both nodded.
He took a deep breath, then leaned towards the microphone and pressed the transmit button. "Flaps thirty. Now!"
He watched as the pilot's hand moved very slightly. Suddenly the huge 797 reared up like a frightened horse.
Then it fell.
With all four engines howling, it screamed towards the ground. The man with the gun stumbled and fired. The pilot slumped forward over the controls. The second bullet hit the instrument display and it exploded in a shower of sparks.
Henrietta bit her knuckles and held onto Richard's arm.
The altimeter's needles span backwards. Flames shot out of the port number two engine. The giant 797 was almost completely out of control.
"Singapore control, co-pilot. Am flying blind. Urgent. Can you read me on your radar?"
Thomas flipped the controls. The screen changed to the 3D radar readout.
"Got you SQ49. Er ... pull up. Up."
"Gently! That's too much. Down!"
"Down." The pilot's voice was tightly controlled.
Thomas stared hard at the screen. "Okay. Now right. Say four degrees."
"No! Left. Hard left!" Richard shouted over his shoulder.
The blob on the screen performed some sickening contortions as the jumbo jet tried to obey both orders.
"Right. Right, right!" Thomas realised as he said it that he was too late. He sat back and held his head in his hands. On the screen, the tiny green blip split into two and then vanished entirely.
"Rick! You are clumsy," Henrietta complained as twelve hundred passengers burned to a cinder.
"Wasn't my fault. I got them through the storm, didn't I?"
"Only by luck. I solved the de-pressurisation problem by logic and Thomas managed the blind take-off. We were nearly there." Henrietta punched Richard on the arm. But not very hard.
"Oh well," said Thomas. "Never mind. Good game though - and the voice recognition is brilliant. Much better than typing instructions." He switched off and leaned back in the chair. "Wish I had a super-fast computer like your dad's. Do you think he'd let us use it again tomorrow?"
"I'll ask him," said Henrietta. "I don't think he minds as long as he's not using it."
"Hey, it's nearly five o'clock. Do you realise we've been playing for over three hours?" Richard began pulling on his knee pads.
Simpson yawned and stretched. Playing computer games might be fun to a twelve year old, but it was a real drag to a beagle. He let out a restrained yelp and looked up at Henrietta expectantly.
"Walkies?" Simpson signalled his approval of this offer with an energetic waggling of his tail and whole rear end.
"I've got to go walkies too," said Thomas. "In fact I'd better make it runnies. We've got relations coming for the weekend and I've got to be a good host, my mum says."
"Hey, any roller-bladers with them?" Richard was nearly fully kitted out now. Helmet, knee and elbow pads, thick leather gloves.
Thomas led the way downstairs. "Don't suppose so. They're all over sixty!" He giggled. "Hey Rick. Do you like roller-blading for the exercise or for the funny gear you can wear?"
"Thank you Mr Computer Wimp." Richard poked him in the back with his hockey stick.
Thomas tripped down the last few stairs and collided with Henrietta's mum. "Sorry, Mrs Lim. Sorry."
"Are you off? My word, Richard, you look like one of those American footballers."
Richard smiled an indulgent smile. Grown-ups were so behind the times.
"Now Hetty dear, make sure and take your key with you. I've got to go out, and your father won't be home until very late.
"Henrietta winced at the name. Hetty - it sounded like a pet chicken or something. "Yes mum. What's for supper?"
"Spare ribs and cachumber."
"Yeah, right. Come on Simpson, let's go and work up an appetite. Oh, can I have some bananas?"
The three went their separate ways - to be polite to elderly relations; to do battle royal on tiny wheels; and one to the old kampong.
All the kampong houses had been demolished and signs warned trespassers to keep off government property. But Simpson couldn't read the signs, and Henrietta considered she ought to follow wherever her dog went. Besides it was the only place in Singapore where she could let him off the lead for a good run. In all the busy island there was nowhere quieter.
"Down, Simpson. Down." Henrietta patted him on the rump. She sat down on a tree stump beside him and peeled a banana. Within a few minutes the first of the monkeys appeared and began to creep warily forward.
Henrietta offered a banana with one hand and held Simpson back with the other. It wasn't that he wanted to fight the little creatures; he just wanted to sniff them and maybe have a little romp.
The first monkey grabbed the banana and dashed off a little way to enjoy it but be around in case there were any seconds. There weren't. The whole troupe appeared; father, mother, aunts, cousins; goodness knows how they signalled to each other, but within three minutes Henrietta's bag was empty.
"That's all. Honest." She showed them her empty hands.
The monkeys weren't convinced. A bold one crept closer and inspected the bag. Nothing there. He upended it, just in case there was a small something at the bottom.
Simpson couldn't restrain himself any longer. He yapped and wagged his tail.
In a flash there was not a monkey to be seen. Not one single beady eye. Nor even a banana skin. Henrietta didn't know what they did with them, but whenever she brought the monkeys their favourite food they always managed to clear up after themselves.
Simpson yipped and yawned. No games with the funny grey chaps today. But never mind, he was a very philosophical sort of beagle and the jungle was full of exciting smells. "Come on then." Henrietta got to her feet and folded the carrier bag. She set off towards the road with Simpson padding behind her, nose hovering a fraction of an inch above the ground.
She came to one of the many sites where a house had been demolished, leaving just a few low walls. It was a bit strange walking around a place where people had once lived. Henrietta shivered as she saw the house number sign - sixty-one, the same as the house she lived in! Simpson didn't seem worried, though. He trotted on, tail waving like a metronome.
Henrietta was just about to step over the remains of a wall when there was a huge squeal of brakes and a big grey van slewed to a stop right in front of her.
Instinctively she ducked back, almost treading on Simpson. Cautiously she peered out. The van was sideways across the road completely blocking it. Then there was another screech of brakes and a second van, a white one this time, stopped behind the first one.
Henrietta frowned and edged back further. It didn't seem to be an accident. Two men now got out of the rear of the grey van and ran back to the other one. They were carrying big sticks or something. Then they pointed the sticks at the windscreen.
Henrietta realised she'd dropped to the ground. Her heart was thumping and she was trembling. She hugged Simpson for support. What would Rick do? she asked herself. He'd go and look, she answered. Well, easy for him with all that padding. But she gritted her teeth, took Simpson's collar in her hand and peered out again. And ducked back very quickly.
A man was pointing a rifle, or shotgun, or something at two men who were holding their hands above their heads. Another man was moving sacks, heavy looking sacks, from the white van and putting them in the blue one.
A hold up!
What should she do? They had GUNS!
She risked another quick look. One more man had appeared. He was much taller than the rest and seemed to be in charge somehow. As Henrietta watched, he took off his large brown cowboy hat and began to mop his brow with a large red and white spotted handkerchief.
Simpson didn't understand guns or hold-ups. But he did understand there was some sort of trouble in the air. Beagles are bred for their sensitive noses, not for fighting, but Simpson was willing to have a go at anything that threatened Henrietta. He gave a soft whine.
Henrietta grabbed his nose and tried to shush him. Gently she coaxed him backwards, away from the road and the men with guns.
She was so intent on keeping Simpson quiet she completely failed to notice the enamel bowl leaning against a pile of bricks. The noise it made as it fell sounded noisier to Henrietta than the gun going off.
Her heart leapt to her mouth. There was a shout from the road. Henrietta was no athlete, but she was fit. And she ran as she'd never run before. She leapt over a low wall, through the remains of a gate, down a small path and off into the jungle, Simpson at her heels. She ran and ran, scratching herself on thorns, nearly banging into trees, running as if the devil himself was after her. Indeed, he was; she could hear his shouts.
Henrietta ran and ran, conscious that her yellow T-shirt was only too visible against the dull green of the jungle.
She didn't see the root across her path. Her toe went under it and she was falling, falling, down a steep slope, and then a great tree trunk came up to meet her and there was nothing but blackness.