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Five Grow Very Old Togetherby Liz Filleul
Liz Filleul wrote this story after realising that if the Famous Five had their adventures in the 1950s, they would be in their late 70s by now – and no doubt on the trail of any villains who might be lurking in the retirement home. Liz lives in Australia and combines freelance editing and writing with mothering a six-year-old – who also loves the Famous Five.
George Kirrin clambered out of the taxi and surveyed the imposing old manor house. "Well, Tim," she said, as her black-and-white mongrel leapt out of the car and down to her side, "it doesn't look too bad a place for our new home, does it?"
The taxi driver hoisted her bags out of the boot. "Do you want me to carry them in for you?" he asked.
George was about to insist that she could manage, then remembered that she couldn't. "If you take them just inside," she said, "I'm sure they'll have a porter who'll be able to take them to my room. Come on, Tim!"
She was about to walk towards the entrance, when someone yelled her name: "George! Hi Julian, Dick – it's old George here at last!"
They hadn't changed a bit, George thought as she hugged her three cousins. Well, of course Julian and Anne had white rather than blonde hair these days, and Dick, like George herself, had grey rather than dark brown curls, but from their excited greetings they could still be children back at Kirrin for the school holidays.
Dick banged her on the back, "Good to see you again, old thing! How many years has it been?"
"At least forty," said Anne reproachfully. "You hardly ever wrote, George. I'm sure I don't know half what's happened to you."
"Oh, old George was never one for writing," said Julian. He bent down and rubbed Tim's head. "Hello, old fellow! Where did you spring from? What's your name?"
"It's Tim," George told him.
"It can't be..."
'Why, how old is he, then?"
George laughed. "You are fatheads, all of you. Of course it's not our Tim. Our Tim died just after I finished school – I thought you knew that? No, this is Tim IV. I've had him for a couple of years now. At least it looks as if he'll be able to get a good run around in these grounds if I'm not up to walking him." She noticed the other three looking worried. "What's the matter?"
"Well, George," Julian said, uncomfortably. "It's just that pets aren't allowed here. Didn't you know that?"
George's face fell. "Then I shan't stay," she said. She took out her mobile phone. "I'll get a taxi, find another retirement home where they do take dogs..."
"Oh, no, George, you must stay!" cried Anne. "We've so been looking forward to having you here. Your room is right next to mine – I spoke to Mrs Martin, the matron here, especially to arrange it – and the other residents are really nice, and you won't believe it, George, but there's even a – "
"Shh, Anne," warned Julian. He and Dick looked around.
"It's OK," murmured Dick, "there's nobody around. But do keep your voice down, Anne."
Anne lowered her voice. "A secret passage."
"A secret passage?" George's eyes sparkled. "Do you mean it? Where?"
"Off Dick's room, of all places. We'll show you later. Nobody else knows about it, at least nobody has ever mentioned it. It comes out at a pretend pet's grave in the grounds. There are four graves all together and one of them is false."
"So I could hide Tim in there?" George suggested.
"You could!" agreed Dick. "It would be just like old times – remember when you hid old Tim in that secret passage at Smuggler's Top? Tell you what, you go on in and introduce yourself to Mrs Martin, and Ju and I will head down to the graves. Then you can meet me and Ju in my room later. Anne'll show you along."
With that settled, George and Anne walked together into Polmerrick Bay Retirement Home.
* * *
"This looks jolly nice," said George, looking approvingly at the gleaming polished floorboards and antique furniture in the large reception area. "I'm so pleased you wrote telling me where you all were, old thing. When I decided it was time to move into a retirement home, I had no idea where to go."
"There's Mrs Martin," said Anne. She pointed to a smartly dressed, dark-haired woman in her mid-forties who was standing behind the reception desk. George strode ahead of Anne and held out her hand to Mrs Martin.
"George Kirrin," she introduced herself. "Pleased to meet you."
Mrs Martin looked at George, then down at her paperwork, and up again at George. "Oh, my goodness," she said. "I was expecting a woman. I didn't realise your cousin was a man, Mrs Wylie." She glowered at Anne.
George beamed at her. "Don't worry, Mrs Martin. Anne doesn't have Alzheimer's setting in, do you, old girl? I am a woman. My name's really Georgina, but nobody calls me that."
"Oh!" gasped Mrs Martin, flushing with embarrassment. "I am so sorry, Miss Kirrin. Really. Do forgive me."
"Nothing to forgive," said George, happily. "I'm flattered."
"Oh, George," said Anne. "I should have thought you'd have got over wanting to be a boy by now. I mean, you're 70 now, and I'd have thought..."
"Perhaps you could show Miss Kirrin to her room, Mrs Wylie," said Mrs Martin quickly. "Help her to settle in, and show her around the place. We can fill in the necessary paperwork later, Miss Kirrin."
George was delighted with her room, which was on the first floor of the house, and had a view of the sea. The room contained a bed, desk and chair and an armchair and a kettle for making tea or coffee. There was a small en suite attached. Anne was just making coffee for them, when there was a knock at the door and Julian and Dick appeared.
"How's Tim?" asked George.
"He's fine," said Dick. "It's warm and dry down there, and we'll take some blankets down for him later. We'll grab them from the linen cupboard when the cleaners come round to change the beds. They always leave it open. So what have you been up to, George? We haven't seen you since Aunt Fanny's funeral years ago."
"Well, I got married not long after Mother died," said George, accepting the proffered cup of coffee.
"Married?" gasped Anne. "Who to? Why didn't you invite us to the wedding, George?"
"We got married in Vanuatu," said George. "I was travelling overseas when I met Peter. Anyway, it didn't work out. We got divorced after about three months. I discovered he had only married me because he thought I had all Father's papers. He knew Father was Quentin Kirrin the scientist and that he'd died in the middle of a top secret project. And he thought marrying me would give him access to the project and he could take all the credit for it."
Anne's eyes had filled with tears. "Oh George, that's terrible."
"Well, I soon sent him packing when I found out," said George, cheerfully. "Then I went to live in Australia for years, went back to using the name Kirrin and I never told him about the baby – "
"You had a baby?" Julian shook his head. "You're such a dark horse, George."
"Yes." George flushed. "I named him after you two, actually. Julian Richard."
"Well," said Julian, pleased, "I'm touched, George."
"Me too," said Dick.
"He has a child of his own now," said George. "Little Matt – short for Matilda. She's a smashing kid – good as a boy any day!"
"Are they still in Australia?" asked Julian.
"No. Julian's firm has transferred him to London, so he's over here now. He has a flat in London, but will spend weekends and holidays at Kirrin Cottage. I'd been back at Kirrin Cottage for about two years when I got your letter, Anne. Thank goodness you tried contacting me there as I didn't have addresses for any of you. Oh, and Matt goes to Gaylands, our old school. And I've given her my island."
"Kirrin Island," said Dick nostalgically. "Gosh, didn't we have some adventures there?"
They spent a few minutes recounting their many adventures as children, then George asked them what they'd all been doing. All three had married and had children and grandchildren and all three were now widowed.
"Trust us to outlive our partners!" said Dick. "We always were the fittest and healthiest of individuals!"
George downed the remainder of her coffee. "Come on," she said. "I can't leave Timmy on his own any longer. Where's this secret passage?"
* * *
Quick – now! The coast's clear!" hissed Julian.
He was hiding behind a cleaning closet door at the end of the main first floor corridor. His hiding place gave him a view of the staircase as well as the corridor, so he could see if anyone was approaching. Quick as a flash, Dick opened the linen closet and grabbed a bundle of blankets. He then hurried back to his room. Julian closed the cleaning closet door then followed him. George and Anne were already in Dick's untidy room. Anne was busy clearing up clothes from the floor and putting them in Dick's laundry basket.
"Leave it, Anne!" Dick ordered. "That's the cleaning staff's job. That's why we pay such bally high fees for this retirement home – so we don't have to do anything for ourselves."
Julian locked Dick's bedroom door. "Open up the passageway, Dick," he said. "And let's get going while we can. The staff have master keys to all bedrooms," he explained to George, "so locking Dick's door doesn't guarantee nobody will come in here."
Dick pulled on a coathanger close to the bedroom door and George watched, thrilled, as a small panel close to the window moved slowly to one side. They all stepped into a small, dark chamber, and Julian flicked on his torch and pulled on a lever next to the panel. The panel slid slowly back across.
"Here are the steps down to the passage," he said, shining his torch on them. "Let's go."
"I don't know, I can't do the things I used to," George sighed a few minutes later. The four of them had stumbled their way along the uneven ground and they were all beginning to feel tired.
"Oh, well, we're in our 70s now," said Julian cheerfully. "It's bound to take us a bit longer to get around. Not far to go now and we'll be in the chamber where we left Tim. Hello! Looks like someone else has been down here recently."
And he flashed his torch on what appeared to be a packet of white powder lying on the ground.
* * *
What on earth is it?" asked Anne, peering at the package Julian now held in his hand.
Julian looked grim. "It looks like drugs to me – pure heroin by the look of it."
"Heroin!" gasped Anne. "But who would – "
"Drug smugglers!" said George, her eyes sparkling with excitement.
"Which means someone else knows about this passage," said Dick.
Julian slipped the packet into his back pocket. "Exactly. Someone's been down here and dropped this. Which means they've either come in via the entrance to the pets' grave or..."
"Through my door," said Dick.
"Exactly," said Julian. "And we're jolly well placed to find out who it is. We have Timmy guarding the entrance, and we'll take it in turns to watch the panel in Dick's room."
"I want Timmy sleeping with me at night," said George. Then a horrid thought struck her. "Oh, Ju! What if whoever it is tries to poison Timmy if they stop him using the passage. What if he eats the drugs anyway?"
"Calm down, old girl," said Julian. "If Tim IV is anything like his namesake, he's too smart a dog to do that."
"Anyway I want him sleeping in my room at night," said George. "He always sleeps on my bed."
"Let's discuss that later," said Julian. "Come on – let's get down to the chamber to see Tim. It'll be time for lunch soon and we can introduce you to all the other residents. Let's hurry."
* * *
Tim was delighted to see George. He greeted her as if he hadn't seen her for three years, jumping up at her, licking her face, tail wagging furiously.
"Down, Tim!" she said finally. He obeyed and sat down at her feet, looking up at her adoringly. George looked around the chamber – a skylight high up in the ceiling provided some light and fresh air. Earlier, Julian and Dick had placed his basket in a corner of the chamber and now they put the blankets in it.
George took Tim's bowls from her day pack, put some dog biscuits in one and filled the other one with tap water that she'd hastily filled up in an old tonic water bottle before leaving Dick's room.
"There you go, Tim," she said. "We'll be down to take you for a walk later."
They headed back to Dick's room, then split up briefly to get ready for lunch. Lunch was held in a beautiful white conservatory with a view over the sea. All the other residents were already seated at six-seat tables. Julian led the way across to a table where a bald man and a white-haired woman were already seated.
"Tom and Margaret," said Julian. "This is our cousin George come to join us."
"What's that?" asked Tom.
"OUR COUSIN GEORGE COME TO JOIN US!" shouted Julian. He added to George: "Poor old Tom's a bit deaf, but refuses to wear a hearing aid."
"What's that?" asked Tom.
George settled down at a seat between Anne and Margaret. Margaret turned to her and beamed. "Delighted to meet you, George. I organise the card games here – mah-jong, bridge, whatever you play, I organise it. I do hope you'll join us sometimes."
"Yes, I like to play cards," said George.
"Wonderful," Margaret sighed. She leaned over and patted George's knee. "Always nice to have another man here."
Julian and Dick roared with laughter, while Anne looked anxiously at both George and Margaret, not wanting anyone to get hurt. George glowered at Julian and Dick.
"What's the matter with you two?" asked Margaret, smiling at Julian and Dick.
"George is a woman, Margaret!" laughed Dick.
"What's that?" asked Tom.
Margaret paled and took her hand from George's knee. "You're kidding me," she said.
"We're not," said Dick. "Tell her, George."
"He's right," admitted George. She glared at her cousins. "Shut up, you two. It's not that funny."
"Oh, it is, George," said Dick, beginning to laugh all over again.
"Stop it, Dick," said Anne, upset. "It's not funny for George or for Margaret."
"Well, you certainly look like a man," said Margaret, taking a sip of water.
"Thanks," beamed George.
"What's that?" asked Tom.
Once lunch was over, Julian, Dick and Anne introduced George to the other residents, taking care to say that she was "our cousin Georgina – but everyone calls her George". George didn't like this, but Anne was so upset at the idea of another woman making the same mistake as Margaret that she went along with it.
"Have you shown your cousin the grounds, Julian?" Mrs Martin asked, as the four left the conservatory and made their way through reception towards the front door.
"We're going to now, Mrs Martin," Julian answered. "It's a lovely afternoon. We're going out for a walk."
Soon they had made their way through the grounds to a wooded area, where Julian pointed out the pets' grave. Names of pets were inscribed on it and a statue of a dog lay on top of the grave. Julian pulled the dog's ear and part of the grave slid to one side, revealing the chamber. Tim greeted them joyously.
"Come on, old boy," said Julian. "Let's go for a walk along the cliffs."
Dick closed the panel by pulling on the dog's ear again, and the four cousins and Tim made their way towards a gate, which led out of the retirement home grounds and onto the cliffs.
"There's a good walk along here," said Julian, pointing to the cliff path. "This takes us all the way to the next little fishing village." They set off along the path, Tim bounding along excitedly in front of them.
"There's a wizard lookout around this next corner," said Julian, puffing slightly at the steady climb. "It has a wonderful view over the bay."
But as George turned the corner, she didn't notice the view. For sitting on a red seat was Margaret, and she wasn't looking at the view. She was looking at Tim.
* * *
What a gorgeous dog," said Margaret. "I had one just like him when I was a girl. Is he yours?" she asked George.
"Now, come on, Margaret," said Julian. "You know we're not allowed to have pets at the retirement home."
Margaret winked flirtatiously. "Ah, Julian. I was looking out of the window when your cousin's taxi arrived this morning. I saw the dog and saw you and Dick go off with him."
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"I suppose someone in the village is looking after him for you?" guessed Margaret. "Ah, well, you needn't worry about me." She rubbed Tim's head. "I shan't sneak. What's your name, old fellow?"
"It's Tim," said George, smiling at Margaret.
"Well, I'll let you get on," said Margaret. "I just came up here for some fresh air, and I've got a card game to organise." She patted Tim again and stood up. "So long!"
"So long, Margaret," said Julian.
"And thanks – about Tim," said George.
Margaret smiled at her, winked at Tim, and headed back towards the grounds.
"That was jolly decent of her," said George.
"She's all right, old Margaret," said Julian. "OK, let's get on with our walk, shall we?"
They walked and chatted about old times, pausing every now and then to admire the view of the blue-green sea surging and crashing against the rocks.
"Ju," said Dick after a while, "what are we going to do about the packet we found this morning. You said we were going to keep watch on the passage."
"So we are," said Julian.
"Oh dear," sighed Anne. "As soon as we're together, we seem to have adventures. And I do like a quiet life."
Julian ruffled her hair. "Poor old Anne! But honestly, old girl, we haven't had an adventure since we were in our teens and we're in our seventies now."
"Speak for yourself," said George. "We've had heaps of adventures, haven't we, Timmy."
"Woof!" agreed Tim, wagging his tail.
"Dear Tim!" said Anne. "He seems to understand just what we're saying just like the original Tim did."
"Of course he does," said George. "Don't you, Tim?"
"Woof," said Tim.
"I say, Julian," said Dick, "shouldn't one of us have stayed behind and kept an eye on the secret passage?"
Julian smiled. "Don't worry, Dick. I thought we deserved to have a good walk all together after so many years apart, so I tied some string between the chamber where we keep Tim and the start of the passage itself. If anyone goes in, they'll trip up over it, and when we go back we'll be able to see if it's been moved."
"Here it is!" said Julian, triumphantly. "Lying on the ground! Just as I thought – someone has been down here during our absence!"
"Well," said Dick, "I vote we start keeping watch right from now, Julian. Whenever Tim isn't down here, one of us must be."
"Not that simple, Dick," said Julian. "We don't know who these people are and, let's be honest, we're not kids any more. It wouldn't take a young person long to overpower us. I think when we take Timmy out, one of us should stay behind – just sit near the pet's grave, reading or something. We'll soon find out if someone keeps coming along. And we need to keep an eye on the entrance in Dick's room as well, just in case someone is using that."
"You can't suspect someone from the home of being involved in drug smuggling, surely?" asked Anne.
"Not the residents maybe, but why not one of the staff?" returned Julian. "They're young and goodness knows they're not paid very well. Who knows what one of them might be tempted to do for some extra cash?"
Dick flashed the torch on his watch. "Golly, we'd better get moving. It's almost time for dinner."
They left Timmy in the chamber – George worrying afresh about whether someone might try to poison him and promising she'd take him back to her room to sleep with her that night – and headed back to the house. They hurried back to their rooms to wash and change before going back down to the conservatory for dinner.
"Golly," gasped George, looking at the food on the tables. "There's ham, chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes – "
"And," added Julian, walking over to the old oak sideboard and picking up a couple of bottles, "lashings of G&T!"
* * *
The four headed for their usual table, where Margaret was already seated, tucking into her meal.
"Tom's late tonight," Margaret commented as they all sat down.
"You're right," said Anne, looking around anxiously. "It's not like him to be late for a meal. I do hope he's all right."
"You worry too much, Anne," said Dick. "Of course he'll be all right. Well, cheers everybody!" They all clinked glasses. "Wonderful to be all together again!"
They were halfway through their meal when Tom finally appeared. Julian was the first to spot him, walking with difficulty into the conservatory.
"Look," he said to the others. "Here comes Tom – and he's limping. Looks like he might have had some kind of fall."
"Hurt your leg, Tom?" asked Julian, as Tom hobbled across to their table and sank down onto his usual seat with relief.
"What's that?" asked Tom.
"HAVE YOU HURT YOUR LEG?" shouted Julian.
"Oh yes," said Tom, with a broad smile. "I've hurt my leg."
"HOW DID YOU DO THAT?" yelled Dick.
"Slipped on the dashed polished floorboards," Tom explained. But he didn't look at any of them as he answered, preferring to concentrate on looking carefully at his salad.
"The floorboards are a nuisance," remarked Margaret. "I'm amazed there aren't more accidents really, given the age of some of the residents here."
The four could hardly wait for dinner to finish so that they could discuss Tom's limp. Straight after dinner, they headed for Dick's room so that George could get Timmy before it got too late. Julian explained that many of the residents went to bed early and they didn't want to risk making any noise in the passage after people were in bed. "The passage passes some of the bedrooms, and you never know – someone might hear something. Better to be safe than sorry," he said.
"Did you see how Tom couldn't look at any of us when Ju asked about his limp?" said George. "He definitely didn't get that limp from slipping on the floorboards."
"I agree," said Julian. "We need to keep an eye on him. Anne, I'm sure you're not keen on heading down the passage again. Why don't you go and see if you can find Tom and keep an eye on him – see whether he goes out?"
"Right, Julian, I will," said Anne, pleased at not having to accompany the others down the passage.
"I've been thinking," said Dick, "that it's going to be jolly hard to take Timmy from here down to George's room. So why don't George and I swap rooms at night? That way if someone knocks on the door, George can smuggle Tim into the passage quickly."
"Jolly good idea, Dick," beamed George. "That'll make things much easier."
"Right," said Julian, "you take your night things up to George's room, Dick, and bring her stuff back here."
"No," interrupted Anne, "I'd rather do that. Dick can keep an eye on Tom."
"Fine by me," said Dick.
"OK," said Julian, "and George and I will go down the passage to fetch Tim. We'll reconvene here in half an hour. And then we can decide how we're going to keep an eye on Tom for the rest of the night."
Half an hour later, Julian, George and Anne were all back in Dick's room, with Timmy curled up on a rug at George's feet. Anne had already poured them generous glasses of gin and tonic and was now preparing cheese and crackers for supper.
"Dick's late," commented Julian, looking at his watch.
It was another ten minutes before Dick finally joined them. "Sorry," he apologised. "Tom is playing cards with Margaret's card circle, and you know what Margaret's like – wouldn't let me just sit in a corner of the room, I had to join in one of the games. Anyway, Tom's there for the entire evening, I should think."
"Did anyone ask about his limp?"
"No, but Margaret said twice that the floors are too slippery. Oh good – cheese and crackers and G&T! Thanks very much, Anne."
"So what's the plan now?" asked George, feeding Timmy a couple of the crackers.
"Well, you'll be here tonight, George, so no-one's going to be coming in here to use the passage," said Julian. "Especially with old Timmy here."
"And if he hears anyone in the passage he'll growl and wake me up," said George.
"As long as he doesn't bark and get caught," worried Anne.
"He won't bark," said George. "He's too sensible for that. Aren't you, Tim?"
"Grr," growled Timmy.
"See!" said George, proudly.
After supper, Julian, Dick and Anne went back to their rooms, and George locked the door carefully, placed a chair in front of it, and settled down to sleep, Timmy curled up on her legs. She fell asleep at once, and was dreaming happily of long-gone days as a child at Kirrin Cottage when she was woken suddenly by Timmy's growling.
She sat up at once. Tim was out of bed looking up at the window.
"Shh," hissed George. Carefully, she opened the curtain slightly and looked out – just in time to see a flash of torchlight coming from a building out on the headland. There was another flash, then another, and another!
Someone was signalling. But who? Why? And to whom?
* * *
"Hide under the bed, Timmy, in case someone comes in," hissed George, pulling on her dressing gown. "I'm just going to wake Julian."
Timmy looked miserable as he settled down under Dick's bed. He gave a little sigh.
"Sorry I can't take you with me, old boy, but you're not allowed here really, you know that," said George. She pulled the chair away from the door. "See you later, Tim." She left the room, locking the door behind her and pocketing the key.
Julian's room was next door. George tapped at it. There was no response. She tapped again. When there was still no reply, she sighed, and knocked louder. This time Julian came to the door, looking sleepy.
"What's up, George?" he asked.
George pushed past him. "Lock the door," she whispered. "And look through the curtain with me. Someone's signalling?'
There were three more flashes as Julian and George watched. Then the signalling stopped.
"Where's it coming from, do you know?" asked George.
"Well, there's a ruined farmhouse out on the headland," said Julian. "It must be coming from there. But no-one's lived there for years."
"Well, somebody's using it," said George.
"Absolutely," said Julian, "and for no good reason either, I should think. We'll head up there first thing tomorrow and see what we can find out."
Dick in particular was disappointed about missing out on seeing the signaller. "If only I hadn't changed rooms," he groaned.
"But we wouldn't have known about the signalling if you hadn't, Dick," said Anne, sensibly. "George only saw it because Timmy woke her – and then she woke Ju."
"Anyway, you're coming with us to see the farmhouse today," said George.
"That's if you don't mind keeping watch on the pets' grave entrance, Anne?" asked Julian.
"Not at all," said Anne. "It's a sunny day and I've got a book I'd like to read."
After breakfast, Anne and Julian made their way down to the pets' grave, Julian carrying a deckchair which he then set up near the grave for Anne to sit on while she kept watch. Meanwhile George and Dick headed for the pets' grave via the secret passage to get Timmy, George having taken him back down there before breakfast.
Once George, Dick and Timmy were out of the chamber and Anne was happily settled in the deckchair with a book, George, Julian, Dick and Timmy set off for a walk towards the farmhouse on the headland.
As Julian had said, it had been disused for years. Parts of the walls were crumbling, and there were large barriers around it warning of danger and that trespassers would be prosecuted.
"We'd better be careful," said Julian, struggling to climb over one of the barriers. "We're not as young as we used to be – we don't want any accidents."
Once inside, they managed between them to explore the bottom floor of the farmhouse thoroughly, though one of the walls had collapsed, meaning one of the rooms was inaccessible. It wasn't possible to get upstairs either, because the stairs had caved in.
George was looking around what must once have been the big farmhouse kitchen, when she spotted a coathanger on the wall. "How out of place is that in a kitchen!" she said, after she'd called the two men in to see it. "Do you think there might be another secret passage here?"
"Let's try," said Dick. He pulled on the lever, and they were thrilled to see a panel near the old fireplace slide slowly to one side.
Julian flashed his torch along the passage. "This looks even rougher than the other one," he said regretfully.
"We can manage it, I'm sure," said Dick, peering in.
"Well, if you two can't I certainly can!" pronounced George, pushing past them. "And so can Timmy!"
"Good old George," said Julian. "Good as a man any day!" George punched him lightly on the arm. Julian grinned at her then looked around for another lever to close the panel. "There it is!" he said. "Pull on it, Dick." Dick did so, and the panel closed behind them. Timmy bounded ahead and the cousins began to shuffle along the passage.
"I wonder where it goes?" said Dick.
"The system's so like the one at the retirement home, I'm sure they must be connected," said George.
"True," agreed Julian. "But there could be passages like this all over Polmerrick Bay. It was once a smuggling village, you know."
"Still is, it seems," said Dick. "What did you do with that package, Ju, by the way?"
"Safely hidden in my room at the rest home. Speaking of rest, let's pause for a bit, shall we? I'm getting puffed out."
They rested for a few minutes, then carried on. The passage narrowed at one point, forcing them into single file. Then it widened and they found themselves in a chamber, similar to the one near the pets' grave. Julian flashed his torch around and noticed a ledge. He stood on tiptoe to look at it.
"Wow," he said.
"What's up?" asked George.
"Drugs," said Julian, grimly. "Thousands of pounds worth of drugs. Heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis..."
"So we were right!" said Dick, pleased. "There is drug-smuggling happening here at Polmerrick!"
George leaned back against a wall, and jumped. "There's a lever here," she said. "We're at the end of the passage. Where do you think we've ended up?"
"Pull it," said Julian, shining his torch on the lever.
George pulled on it, and again a panel slid open.
"Good grief!" cried George, stepping through it. "How come we never noticed this before?"
"Noticed what?" asked Dick.
"This panel," said George. "It brings us out into Timmy's chamber!"
* * *
"There's no lever on this side, though," said Julian, looking around Timmy's chamber. "That's why we've never noticed one."
"That's good," grinned Dick. "I was wondering if our eyesight was failing."
"How does the panel close then?" wondered George.
Her answer came a few seconds later, when the panel slid back across the hole. Soon it was impossible to tell that a secret panel was there.
"Let's go and join Anne," said Julian. "She'll be wondering where we've got to."
Anne was surprised to see them exiting via the pets' grave. "How did you get here?" she asked them. "Did you have to go back to the home for something?"
"Tell you in a minute," said Julian. "First, has anyone been down here?"
"Several people!" laughed Anne. "Tom, Margaret, a couple of other residents, Mrs Martin...They all passed by on their way out for a walk."
"Were any of them bothered by seeing you here as if they wanted to get into the passage?"
Anne shook her head. "No. They all commented on what a nice day it was to sit outside and read and said they wished they'd brought a book along with them. Come on, Ju! What happened? Tell me!"
Rapidly, Julian told her about the second passage and the drugs they'd discovered on the ledge in the second chamber.
Anne went pale. "Oh, Ju. This sounds really dangerous. We need to go to the police."
"The police?" scoffed Dick. "What use are they?"
"That's right," agreed George. "Remember that oaf who tore up an important clue when we got involved with that escaped prisoner on that hike one half-term? That's the police for you."
"Exactly," nodded Julian. "Just think how the crime rate in this country has risen since we became adults, Anne. That's because we were scattered in different parts of the country – well countries, really," he added, looking across at George. "Without us all together the police have had nobody to do their job for them. But not any more. We're all together again now, and this is a job for – "
"For the five," capped George. "For the Famous Five!"
* * *
"So what's your plan now, Ju?" asked Dick. "There are four of us – five including Timmy – and three entrances to watch. I vote we leave Timmy in his chamber, you and I will have the farmhouse, and the girls – "
George scowled. "I'm not staying in your room all day, Dick, while you and Julian have all the adventures! And don't call us girls. We're women."
"I was thinking – " Julian began, but was interrupted by Anne's warning:
Margaret waved as she approached them. "Mrs Martin's been looking for you, George. I thought you'd be down here with your dog." She was panting when she reached them. "How are you, old fellow?" she asked, stroking Timmy's head. "George, your son is here to visit you. He's been waiting for a while now, and he's getting a bit impatient."
"I bet he is." grinned George. "Where is he, Margaret?"
"In reception. I'll come back with you. I've got a visitor too. There are a few visitors today, actually. The good weather must have brought them out!"
"Will you come too?" George asked the others. "I'd like you to meet Julian – my son," she added to Margaret. "He's named after Julian."
"OK," said Dick. "You go with Margaret, George, and Anne you go along too. We'll just see to Timmy for you."
"Thanks," said George. "Come on then, Anne – Margaret." She hurried them along as much as she could, so that Julian and Dick could hide Timmy in the secret chamber without Margaret seeing.
"There he is," said Margaret, when they arrived back at the home.
Anne looked across at her nephew. He was tall, with greying dark hair, and a humourless expression. "Oh gosh, George," she breathed. "He looks so much like Uncle Quentin!"
"Acts like him too," said George, with a grimace. "Hi Julian – here I am. And here's your Auntie Anne to meet for the first time. Uncle Julian and Uncle Dick will be along in a moment. Remember I've told you about all the adventures we had as children?"
"Many times, Mother," said Julian. He kissed George's cheek, and then kissed Anne. "I'm delighted to meet you, Auntie Anne."
"I'll see you later," said Margaret, heading towards the staircase. "My visitor's waiting in my room."
"Oh, yes – thanks for fetching me, Margaret," said George. "Right, Anne – where do we go to talk to Julian in peace?"
"I say, this is getting a bit confusing," said Dick. "When one of us says 'Julian', we get both of you answering. We'll have to call you something different, young Julian. Do you have a nickname?"
"No," said George's son, coldly. They were all sitting out on the patio, and Mrs Martin had kindly organised coffee and cakes for them and for other residents who had visitors.
"His wife calls him Jules," said George.
"Well, Jules it is," said Julian, thinking that his nephew looked nothing like a Jules.
"How's Matt?" asked George.
"Matt's very well," Jules replied. "That's why I came, actually, Mother. Matt breaks up for half-term tomorrow, and Sally and I thought we'd hire a cottage here in Cornwall for a week rather than taking her back to Kirrin Cottage. That way she'd get to see you. Would you like that?"
George beamed. "That's fabulous news! You'll all love Matt."
"So how are you settling in here, Mother?" Jules asked.
"Oh, it's marvellous," George replied.
"Really?" he frowned. "To be honest, I was dubious about your coming here. I thought you'd find it very dull. Some of the residents do seem to be a little elderly."
"Oh, it's far from dull," said George. She looked at Julian. "Is it OK if we tell him, Ju?"
"Yes," nodded Julian. "I think that would be sensible. He's younger than we are and might be able to advise – "
"Tell me what?" asked Jules.
George told him.
When she'd finished Jules put down his coffee. "Not again," he groaned.
"What do you mean?" demanded George.
"Mother, ever since I've known you, you've seen spies and smugglers around just about every corner. I've humoured you about it for years, but this nonsense can't go on. Drugs in an old people's home? You sound completely gaga!"
"Well, I can assure you she isn't," said Julian with dignity, and got up to leave. "And neither are we. If you think your mother would make up a story like that, well, you don't know her very well."
"All right," said Jules, impatiently. "Prove it. Show me the drugs, then I'll believe you."
"You have to go through a secret passage," Dick told him.
Jules rolled his eyes. "A secret passage. Well, there's a surprise. Mother wouldn't be Mother if she didn't go into a retirement home that had a secret passage."
"I hope you'll be able to manage it – the ground's a bit rough," said Dick.
"Of course he'll be able to," said Anne. "Don't be unkind, Dick."
Jules drove them up to the farmhouse. His eyes nearly popped out of his head when the panel slid to one side to reveal the secret passage. "Bless my eyes," he said. "There really is one."
"Of course there is," said Julian, coldly. "Your mother doesn't lie, Jules."
Jules managed to walk along the passage better than Dick had expected – much better than any of them, in fact. He had to wait in the chamber for them to catch up with him.
"So where are the drugs?" he asked.
Julian flashed his torch onto the ledge and then gasped. For all the drugs had gone.
* * *
"So what do we do now, Ju?" wondered Dick.
It was a couple of hours later, and Julian, Dick, George and Anne were in Dick's room. Jules had left for London as soon as they'd come out of the passage and into the home grounds, clothes covered in cobwebs and in such a huff that he hadn't even bothered to berate his mother for keeping Timmy at the home despite the no-pets rule. He told her curtly that he'd see her in a couple of days with Matt, and that he'd "be grateful if you didn't fill her head with smuggling nonsense. She's only 11 and very impressionable."
"I don't understand it," said George, when Julian didn't answer, just stared gloomily into his cup of tea. "We went down to the chamber from the farmhouse and Timmy was guarding the other chamber. No-one should have been able to get through."
"Unless there's a third entrance," said Dick, hopefully.
"Or they got through before we even got to the farmhouse," suggested Anne.
"Unlikely," said Julian. "You were at the pets' grave this morning, and we were in the other passage at the same time. And really, we weren't with Jules for long enough to give anyone the chance to go via the farmhouse and get back safely before we headed up there. I think Dick might be right – that there is another entrance somewhere."
"But where?" wondered George. "We can't go into every house in Polmerrick."
"You know what makes more sense?" said Anne. "For it to be here in the home – after all, Dick's room might not be the only one with a sliding panel. And given the timeframe we're talking about, it makes sense that someone has accessed the chamber with the drugs from the home itself. And if their passage leads only to that chamber, that's why they didn't run into Timmy."
"Jolly good, Anne!" said Julian, clapping her on the back. "We'll start looking straightaway. And I've got a fair idea whose room we're going to start with."
* * *
Julian rapped loudly on Tom's door. There was no response. He knocked again, even louder. When there was still no response, he murmured, "Right. Tom's out and we need to get hold of the master key to his room. One of us needs to distract Mrs Martin down on reception, while someone else goes behind the desk and grabs the key to this room. And one of us needs to stay here to check that Tom doesn't return in the meantime."
"I'll distract Mrs Martin," said George. "I'll tell her I've lost Jules's mobile phone number and need to contact him urgently. That way she'll need to go into the office for the files."
"And I'll get the master key," said Dick.
"And we'll stay here, Anne," said Julian.
George and Dick hurried downstairs where Mrs Martin was sitting at reception, filling in some forms. She smiled at them as they approached.
"Mrs Martin," said George, "my son was here, as you know, and he dropped his wallet in my room. He's driving back to London now, and I need to contact him on his mobile to let him know I've got it OK. The trouble is, I've lost his number. But it'll be on my next of kin details that I filled in for you. Could you get it for me?"
"Of course, Miss Kirrin," said Mrs Martin. "I'll just need to go into the office. Come with me, dear."
It took a while for her to find the form, then she wrote the number down for George.
"Thanks so much," said George. "I'll go and ring him straightaway."
"Will you need to send the wallet to him?" asked Mrs Martin.
"No, he's coming back down tomorrow. I just don't want him to be worrying about its whereabouts. Mrs Martin," continued George, playing for time.
"Yes, Miss Kirrin."
"Oh, I just wanted to say what a super home this is. I feel so at home here already."
Mrs Martin flushed with pride. "Thank you so much, Miss Kirrin. I like to think that we provide a nice, homey atmosphere for residents."
When they left the office, George looked enquiringly at Dick and he winked. After thanking Mrs Martin for her help yet again, George and Dick made their way back upstairs to where Julian and Anne were standing outside Tom's room.
"Got it?" asked Julian.
Dick nodded and held it out.
"Good show," said Julian. "Anne, you stand over by the staircase while we search. If you see Tom approaching, alert us by shouting out 'WHAT HO'. That way Tom will think you're talking to him and it'll give us a chance to get out of there – OK?"
Anne nodded and made her way to the staircase. Dick put the key in the lock, turned it, winked at the others and opened the door. Then, as he stepped into the room, he froze. For sitting on his bed, and looking very cross at being disturbed, was Tom.
"What do you want?" demanded Tom, crossly.
"Um – nobody knew where you were, Tom, and we were worried that you might have collapsed somewhere," said Julian quickly. "Anne was worried about your leg and so we got the key to check on you."
Tom frowned. "What's that?"
Julian repeated the excuse, louder this time.
"Well, I'm fine," said Tom. "I was just reading."
"Right," said Julian, "well, if you're fine, we'll – um – leave you to it."
"WE'LL LEAVE YOU TO IT!"
Tom nodded. The cousins backed out of his room, and Julian closed the door behind him.
"Blow," he said. "I should have thought to look through the keyhole first. But we've still got to search that room. Let's take it in turns to keep watch till he comes out – I'll go first, if you like. Then we can search the room."
The others nodded and went back into Dick's room. Presently, Tom shuffled out of his room, locking his door behind him. Julian hurried downstairs and ducked around a corner to see where Tom went. He suspected that Tom might complain to Mrs Martin about their interrupting him. But he didn't – he went out into the grounds.
"Good – he's going out for a walk," thought Julian. "I'll fetch the others."
Leaving Anne outside on watch, the other three searched Tom's room thoroughly for anything that might open a secret panel. But after more than half an hour, they had to give up. If there was a third entrance to the secret passage, it wasn't in there.
"Where now?" sighed George as they locked Tom's door and made their way, along with Anne, back to Dick's room. "It's going to take us ages to check every room."
"We'll start with public rooms like the recreation room and the library," said Julian, opening the door to Dick's room, "and we'll split into pairs to check. Then, tonight when people are playing cards, we can start checking the rooms – if we can get hold of master keys. We can't keep making up excuses to whoever's on reception."
"I think – " began Anne, but George stopped her.
"Shh, Anne! SHH, all of you! Listen. That's Timmy."
And it certainly was Timmy – growling on the other side of the panel. George opened the panel anxiously. "Woof!" said Timmy, wagging his tail.
"Tim, you shouldn't be – " George began sternly.
"Woof!" repeated Timmy, heading off back down the passage again. "WOOF!"
"Come on," said George. "He wants us to follow him. Something must have happened and he's come to fetch us. Good old Tim!"
And, locking Dick's door behind them, they all made their way into the passage and followed Tim.
* * *
Tim led them all the way through the passage down to his chamber. He easily outpaced them and kept having to wait for them, giving impatient little yelps as they tried and failed to hurry along. When they all finally arrived in the chamber, he began to leap up at the wall and barked loudly.
"That's where the other chamber is," said George, panting.
"Is something on the other side, Tim?" asked Dick. "We can't get through there, old boy."
"Listen," hissed Anne. "Listen, all of you! Be quiet, Tim!"
They all hushed, and heard what Anne had heard – a faint voice calling out "Help! Help!"
"That's Tom's voice," said Julian.
"Help!" called Tom. "I'm hurt. Please help."
"Listen," murmured Julian, "he could be trying to trick us, but we need to find out. Dick and Anne, you stay here and keep talking to him. Tell him we're on our way. George, Tim and I will go up to the farmhouse and make our way down the passage. If he really is hurt, we can open up the panel from that side, and between us we might get him out of here and into the grounds."
"Be careful, Ju – George," said Anne, concerned.
"It's all right, Anne," Julian said, rubbing his sister's hair affectionately. "Don't worry – Tim will look after us. And at last we're going to find out exactly what Tom has been doing."
Julian and George made their way to the farmhouse as quickly as they could – which wasn't all that quickly as they were both getting tired. Timmy bounded ahead happily, waiting at intervals for them to catch up.
"Poor old boy," said George to Timmy. "You've had the misfortune of being my dog now I'm older. The other three probably found me a lot more fun."
"Woof, woof, woof," said Timmy, and licked her hand.
"He's saying he finds you lots of fun anyway," said Julian. He glanced at his watch. "Blow! It's getting late. And we've still got to make our way down the other passage."
"I'm going to need a stiff G&T once we've got Tom out of that chamber," said George.
As they approached the farmhouse, Tim started growling. George put her hand on his collar. "Someone around," she murmured.
Julian pointed to a disused barn close to the farmhouse. "Hide in there, quickly."
They'd just managed to duck into the shed, when they heard voices. Julian and George peered through the crack in the ajar barn door and saw three youths, aged about 19 or 20, passing by. They had shaved heads, ear-rings and were smoking.
"We'd better be off," said one.
"What about the old git?" said another.
"Stuff him," said the third. "He'll never get out of there."
"They'll miss him at that home."
"Let them. The police'll never find him either. We're the only ones who know about that passage. Those old folk with the dog know about the other one, but not this. They'll all assume he's fallen off a cliff and died. Let's get going."
Soon they heard the sound of a car heading away across the headland. "Come on," whispered Julian. "Let's get Tom. What perishers they are – looks like Tom has been helping them with the drugs and now they've got no more use for him and have left him to die."
* * *
It seemed an eternity to Dick and Anne before they heard Julian's and George's voices on the other side of the panel. At first they'd tried to engage Tom in conversation, but once Dick had assured him that help was on its way, he had gone quiet. Anne was worried that Tom might have collapsed. Dick was more worried that a trap was being set for Julian and George – but then he remembered that they had Timmy with them.
"Ju! George!" called Dick, relieved. "Thank goodness you're OK. How's Tom?"
"In a bad way," Julian called back. "He's unconscious and from the look of him he's taken a pretty bad beating. There's no way we can move him. Dick, George and I are worn out. I'll open the panel now, and can you go to the home and fetch Mrs Martin and get her to call an ambulance and the police?"
"Shall I go too?" asked Anne.
The panel slid open and Julian said, "No, you stay here with us." He flashed his torch on to Tom so Dick and Anne could see him. He was bleeding, badly battered and, as Julian had said, unconscious.
"I'll go now," Dick nodded.
"I just hope he'll be all right," said Julian. "Maybe we should have called the ambulance straightaway...Hello!" He flashed the torch down on the ground and spotted an ID card. "What's this?"
"What is it, Ju?" asked George, as he picked it up. "Let me see."
"Well, I'm blowed," said Julian. "The bloke's a policeman – look George." He showed her the card, which showed Tom's photograph and name: DS Tom Nesdale.
"He's too old to be a policeman, surely," said Anne.
"He looks too old, that's for sure," agreed Julian. "Still, the police will know if he's a real policeman or not." He felt Tom's pulse. "It's very faint. Hope the ambulance hurries up."
It did. Mrs Martin had dialled 999 straightaway then hurried down to the pets' grave with Dick, sending him back to the main entrance afterwards so he could show the ambulance driver where to go. She was astonished when the grave slid to one side to reveal not one chamber but two. But she didn't ask any questions, just went straight to Tom.
A few of the residents, wondering what was wrong, made their way down to the pets' grave. As the ambulancemen stretchered Tom away, George saw Margaret put her hand in her pocket and take out a biscuit for Tim, then ruffled his hair.
"Ju! Dick! Anne!" she hissed.
"What?" asked Julian.
"I think I know who got into the chamber when Timmy was there." They followed her eyes to where Margaret was handing Timmy a second treat.
"Gosh, I think you could be right, George," murmured Julian. "But don't say any more right now. Wait till everyone's gone and we can think things through."
After Tom had been taken to hospital, a young police constable asked Julian, George. Dick and Anne a few questions about how they had known where Tom was and if he had said anything about his attackers before losing consciousness. Julian described the three youths they had seen at the farmhouse. The policeman thanked them, then left.
"Goodness me," said Mrs Martin. "I can't believe you've all been wandering around these underground passages. I'm certainly going to have to get them closed off. Our insurance wouldn't cover your having an accident in one of them, I'm sure."
George, thinking of Timmy, was horrified. She opened her mouth to speak, caught Julian's warning frown and kept silent.
"Let's all go back and have dinner," said Mrs Martin. "The hospital will ring with news of Tom – poor Tom. I hope they catch those youths responsible." She caught sight of Timmy and said, "Who does that dog belong to?"
"There was a woman from the village here a few moments ago," said Margaret. "I'm sure I've seen the dog with her. Shall I take him and see if I can find her?"
"I suppose so," said Mrs Martin, doubtfully. "I don't like dogs on the property. I hope she doesn't make a habit of bringing him for a walk through here. I'd better come with you and speak to her."
"It's OK," said George, quickly. "I'll go with Margaret. You go back to the home, Mrs Martin, in case the ambulance men or hospital call about Tom."
"Well, I should do that, in case it's bad news," said Mrs Martin. "And I need to call someone about closing up this panel and the one in Dick's room. Dear me – when I think that you've been wandering about in them..."
She made her way back to the house, followed by the other residents.
"Come on," said Margaret to George. "Let's leave the grounds and then come back and re-hide Timmy. No-one will come to look for him at this time of day."
"We'll come too," said Julian. He was beginning to feel very suspicious of Margaret and not inclined to leave George on her own with her, even with Timmy there!
So they walked out of the grounds, then when everyone else was well and truly gone, returned to the grave and re-hid Timmy.
"What will you do with him once the panels are closed?" asked Anne.
"Well, Jules, Sally and Matt arrive tomorrow for a week, so they can look after him at the rented house," said George. "After that, I don't know. I'll have to think about it."
"Better hurry for dinner," said Dick, glancing at his watch.
"You go ahead," said Margaret. "I just need to make a phone call. My nephew was supposed to be visiting me this evening and I'm feeling a little tired. I'll speak to you later." And she turned away and started to walk in the direction of the cliff path again, taking a mobile phone from her pocket as she walked.
"George, get Timmy settled, then you three head back and make a lot of noise about doing so," murmured Julian. "I'm going to follow her and try to overhear what she's saying. That call will be about the drugs, I'm sure of it."
Margaret settled down on the bench at the lookout to make her call. Julian, who had shadowed her from a safe distance, hid behind a nearby gorse bush, straining his ears to hear her part of the conversation.
"Got a huge problem...The home owner is having the entrances to the passages nailed up...The farmhouse one's the only one she can't touch but what use is that if we can't access the passage from elsewhere?...We need to think of another arrangement...Can you meet me tonight in the passage? Just behind the pets' grave at midnight? It won't be nailed up yet...Don't worry about the dog – he lets me go in because I make a fuss of him...Oh him. In hospital. That's another reason why I need to meet up with you. If he comes round and says anything, I don't want to still have the stuff in my room..."
Margaret rang off and sat for a while, looking out at the sea. Carefully, Julian backed away from the gorse bush and then, when he was sure he couldn't be seen or heard, hurried as best he could back to the house. The other three were at dinner in the conservatory.
"What happened, Ju?" asked Dick.
"Can't tell you here," said Julian. "But hurry up with dinner – we need to talk."
* * *
After dinner, they met up in Dick's room, where Julian told them what he had heard.
"We'd better tell the police now, that's for sure," he said. "If she has drugs in her room and is handing them over to someone else at midnight, the police need to be there."
"I agree," said Dick and George together, and Anne, looking relieved, said, "Me too."
"Right," said Julian. "I'll go downstairs now and ask Mrs Martin if I can use her phone. We – " He broke off as an enormous clap of thunder shook the house. Two bright flashes of lightning followed, then more thunder, and suddenly the house was in darkness.
"Power's gone," said Dick.
"Blow!" said Julian. "I hope that doesn't mean the phone's out too. Grab your torch, Dick. Let's go down and check."
The phone line wasn't working either. Julian and Dick returned to Dick's room, where Anne had lit a candle.
"No go," said Julian glumly. "Phone's out."
"Should we speak to Mrs Martin?" asked Anne.
"No," said George. "We shouldn't speak to anybody."
"Why not?" asked Anne, surprised.
"Because Mrs Martin might handle it all wrongly – ask Margaret about it or something," said George. "And we don't know for sure that someone else here isn't in on the drug smuggling."
"We need to get to the police station," said Julian.
"That's going to be difficult," said Dick. "It's a long walk to the village and it looks like power's out everywhere."
"And the storm's still going," added Anne, scared.
"OK," said Julian, "Dick and I will go to the police and you two girls – "
"I'm not a girl," said George at once. "And I'm not just staying here while you have all the adventures."
"What adventures? We're just going to the police station. And, think about it, George – Timmy can't go walking to the village with the storm going on. He'd be terrified of the thunder. No, I need you two to stay here, keep an eye on Margaret, make sure she doesn't leave earlier with those drugs."
"All right," said George, meekly.
Julian looked surprised, but pleased. "Come on, Dick," he said. "Let's get going."
When the men had gone, Anne said, "I suppose the best place to start with Margaret is the residents' lounge, see if she's playing cards as usual."
"You go, Anne," said George.
"What about you?" asked Anne, surprised.
"Look, Julian was right about Timmy. He's terrified of thunder. He's probably scared right now. I'm going down the passage and I'll sit with him until the storm's gone. You keep an eye on Margaret."
"What shall I do if she'd not here or if she leaves with the drugs?"
"I don't think she will. She's made the arrangement and she'll stick to it. She knows the power's off and that the police are unlikely to come here just yet."
"All right," said Anne, hoping George was right. "You go. I understand about Timmy."
"Thanks, Anne," said George. "And as soon as the thunder stops, I promise I'll come and find you."
And she picked up her torch and disappeared into the passage.
* * *
"Here I am, old boy. You know I wouldn't forget about you in a storm," said George, when she finally arrived in Tim's chamber.
Tim darted to her side and she hugged him. "Dear old Tim, you're trembling. Don't worry, old boy. It'll be over soon."
But it wasn't. The thunder continued to rumble and lightning periodically lit up the chamber via the skylight.
"I think I'll take Tim back to Dick's room," thought George. "We can't stay here all night. And if Mrs Martin finds him, well, so what? It's his last night here anyway. He'll be with Julian, Sally and Matt tomorrow."
"Come on, Tim," she said aloud. "Let's go back to Dick's room, shall we?"
She began the long walk back to Dick's room, the still-scared Tim at her side this time rather than bounding away in front of her. But they had not gone very far when George's torch gave out.
"Blow!" she said. She felt in her pockets for a spare battery, but found nothing. "Double blow," she said. "Well, Tim, we can't get to Dick's room in the dark. We'll have to feel our way back to your chamber and stay there for a while after all."
It took a long time to return to the chamber. George had to keep one hand on the wall and tread carefully so she wouldn't fall. She nearly fell over Timmy a couple of times. "I know you're scared, Tim, but you'll have to try to keep clear of me," she told the dog. "If I fell and hurt myself, we would really be in a mess."
"Woof," said Timmy, understandingly. He moved further ahead of George.
"Good boy, Tim," said George. "I knew you'd understand."
Once back in the chamber, George felt around for Timmy's blankets and they both settled down on them. "It shouldn't be too long before Ju and Dick get back with the police, Tim," said George. "Then one of them will come and fetch us, because Anne will tell them where we are."
But she was wrong. Time passed and there was no sound of approaching footsteps or voices from the passageway. The thunder continued and the chamber grew chilly. George and Tim huddled together for warmth, and George pulled the blankets around them. As they sat, she thought about Margaret and what her involvement with the drug smuggling might have been. Presumably the signaller in the farmhouse had been signalling to Margaret to let her know the drugs had arrived and were in the chamber adjacent to Timmy's. Margaret had said they were in her room, so she must have moved them to there. And today she'd had a visitor – someone who bought drugs from her, maybe?
"Well, we'll find out exactly what's been going on later, Tim," she told the dog. "When the police get back with Ju and Dick, they'll search her room and find the drugs, and..."
Then she fell silent. For the panel to Timmy's chamber had begun to slide across. Someone was coming in from the pets' grave.
* * *
Timmy growled and George put her hand on his collar.
"Only me, Tim," came Margaret's voice. "Come in, you two. The dog and I are good friends, you should know that by now." She flashed her torch and George saw three young men enter the chamber. Her heart sank as she recognised them – they were the youths she'd seen earlier, the ones who had beaten up Tom.
The panel closed. "Where's the stuff?" asked one of the youths.
"Here in my bag." Margaret placed a backpack on the ground and flashed her torch on it. "I had a couple of visitors today and they took their supplies. But I've still got a lot – a couple more visitors are supposed to come tomorrow and more the day after, but I can't take the risk. If Tom comes round and talks..."
"All right, we'll take it," said one of the youths. "It's been a good arrangement, though, you passing on the drugs. Nobody suspects an old lady in an old folks' home of drug-dealing."
"Well, Tom did," said Margaret.
"Yeah, you're right. Anyway, we'll move the operation elsewhere. Might even think of moving you to another home, what do you think, Granny?"
Granny, George thought, astounded. Was Margaret really this youth's grandmother or was it just his pet name for her?
"Well, you get the drugs away from here," said Margaret. "I tell you I'm getting worried. If only Tom had lost consciousness straightaway, then he'd never have been able to make that crowd hear him when they came for the dog. That reminds me – where is Tim? He's very quiet."
She flashed the torch around the chamber, quickly finding Timmy and, next to him, George.
* * *
"Who's this old geezer, Granny?" demanded one of the three youths, taking a step towards George. "And what's he doing down here?"
"Um, sweetheart," said Margaret, putting her hand on his arm. "This is Miss Kirrin from the home. She's a woman."
"A woman?" said the youth, incredulously. "You're kidding me, right?"
"No," said Margaret. "She is a woman. She's the dog's owner."
"Well, man or woman, she's heard too much for us to leave her here," said another of the youths. He stepped menacingly towards George, raising his fist.
Timmy, sensing danger, stood up and growled.
"Call that dog over, Gran," said the youth who had spoken first. "We've got to sort this old git out. If the other one dies, we don't want this one being able to talk."
He too took a step towards George. Timmy wrenched himself away from George's grasp and flew at the young men, biting one on the ankle, another on the arm and a third on the leg. They all yelled and kicked out at him, while Margaret tried ineffectively to calm him down: "Tim. Tim. Do stop, Tim. They're friends." Tim responded by biting them all again, while George looked on, pleased that her dog was proving as useful in a crisis as the Timmy of her own youth.
"Call your dog off," pleaded one of the men, now lying on the ground. "Call him off, please."
"Go, Tim! Bite him more!" shouted George.
But Tim didn't have to. Because at that moment the panel slid across, and soon George could see Julian, Dick, Anne and four police officers. As she called Tim back to her, she could hear the police officers, all giving the four drug smugglers the caution.
"Phew!" said George, as the police led Margaret and the youths away to the waiting panda cars. "What a night! I could do with a G&T!"
"We all could," said Dick. "They didn't hurt you, did they, George?"
"No," said George. "Timmy hurtthem, though. Gosh, you took a long time to arrive."
"Well, when we got to the police station in Polmerrick, it was closed," said Dick. "Apparently it only operates 12 hours a day."
"It closes at eight o'clock at night," said Julian, shaking his head. "No wonder crime is rife in this country! There was a sign saying the Tregannon station is open 24 hours a day, and to contact them. So we started walking. Fortunately, we were lucky because there's a pub on the way to Tregannon and we asked in there if we could borrow a mobile phone. So that's what we did – and the police came and picked us up, then headed here."
"Oh, Ju, Dick, you must be exhausted!" gasped Anne.
Mrs Martin appeared at the chamber entrance. "Ah, there you all are. I simply can't believe what I've just been hearing – you four old people chasing crooks like that. You must all come to bed at once. I'll make some hot chocolate for you."
"No thanks, Mrs Martin," grinned Julian. "G&T is what the doctor ordered!"
Mrs Martin's eyes fell upon Timmy. "So this must be your dog, then," she said to George.
"Yes," said George defiantly, "and he saved my life tonight, Mrs Martin. Tomorrow, he's going to stay with my son but tonight he's sleeping on my bed."
Mrs Martin shuddered but didn't argue. Julian closed the chamber behind him and the four cousins and dog followed Mrs Martin back to the house.
"What happened to you, Anne?" asked George.
"Oh, I joined in the card game that was being played by candlelight in the lounge," said Anne. "It went on for ages – I kept expecting Ju and Dick to return. Then when it finished, Margaret went off outside, and none of you were around. Then the power came back on and I phoned the police, and was put through to Tregannon, and they told me the police were on their way with Ju and Dick. It wasn't long before the cars arrived, so I came down here to meet them."
"Have you heard how Tom is, Mrs Martin?" asked Dick.
"Yes, the hospital phoned to say he's conscious again and seems fine other than being sore and stiff," said Mrs Martin.
"Hooray!" cried the cousins, all together.
They enjoyed a couple of G&Ts, then went to bed, where they slept soundly till after ten the next morning. Mrs Martin arranged for them to have a late breakfast, but refused point blank to allow Timmy in the conservatory for meals. "He can stay in your room," she told George, "but I'm not having him down here for hygiene reasons. I'd be closed down!"
So George reluctantly agreed and promised Timmy she'd be back soon with some treats. Mrs Martin sat with them all as they tucked into bacon and eggs and coffee and listened to them talking about the adventure.
"Unbelievable!" she kept saying. "So much going on here in this home, and I never knew..."
"Excuse me," said a voice behind them.
They turned round to see one of the police officers from the night before.
"Good morning, officer!" said Julian, brightly.
"We've had a complaint," said the policeman, "from the men we arrested last night. They were all very badly bitten by a dog that belongs to one of you, and I've come arrest that person for having a dog out of control under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act."
* * *
A furious George rose to protest, but Mrs Martin stopped her from speaking.
"One moment, Miss Kirrin. Officer, I can assure you," she said impressively, "that I do not and have never allowed people to have dogs at this home. Not one of my residents possesses a dog, and especially not an out of control dog like the one you mention. I do know that a stray from the village sometimes wanders into the grounds and has tried to attach himself to Miss Kirrin, who has been kind enough to feed him on occasion. If he tried to defend her against those youths, well good for him. But if you're looking for the owner of this stray, you won't find her or him here."
"But my information – " began the flummoxed policeman.
"Is WRONG!" said Mrs Martin. "Now, if you must find that stray, I suggest you go down to the village and look for him there. These old people have had a difficult few days and are very, very tired."
The policeman looked dubiously at the cousins, who looked anything but tired, muttered his apologies and went on his way. Dick banged Mrs Martin on the back.
"Three cheers for Mrs Martin! Hip hip..."
"Hooray!" shouted the others.
"Thanks so much," said George.
"My pleasure," said Mrs Martin. "I don't know what the world's coming too, I really don't, when villains like those men who beat up poor Tom have the right to complain about a dog who defends his mistress."
"Hey look!" cried Anne, spotting three figures in the doorway to the conservatory. "Here's Jules and..." Her eyes fell briefly on Sally, Jules's wife, who was small and plump with blonde hair, and then she spotted a girl aged about 11, with short curly dark hair, wearing the Gaylands school uniform and a mutinous expression.
"Matt!" shouted George. "Hey, Matt! Come over here and meet my cousinsat last!"
Matt greeted Julian, Dick and Anne curtly, and immediately went to stand beside George.
"Matt, be nicer to your uncles and aunt," said her father, sternly. "They'll think you're very impolite."
"I don't care," responded Matt, scowling at him. "I don't care what they think – I don't care what anybody thinks, or what they do, only about whatyou've done."
"Oh, Jules, please put her out of her misery," said Sally.
"I tried to explain earlier," responded Jules, testily, "but she wouldn't hear me out. Just exploded."
Julian looked at the sulky expression on Jules's face to the similar one on Matt, and nudged Dick and Anne. "Don't they look like George and Uncle Quentin used to?" he whispered.
Dick and Anne laughed. Matt and Jules glowered at them.
"What is the problem with you two?" demanded George. "I should have thought you'd be happy today, Matt – no school and all that!"
"I would be if it weren't for him," returned Matt, nodding towards her father.
"What's he done?" asked George.
"Only says that he's going to live in London permanently because of business and not go back to Kirrin Cottage for weekends and holidays!"
"Is that true?" said George, aghast. "You're not going to sell Kirrin Cottage are you, Jules? It's been in our family for years and years..."
"Just hear me out – both of you," said Jules. "Yes, Matt's right – I'm too busy in London to use the cottage at weekends and for holidays. And Sally is miserable there on her own and would rather be with me in London. However, I'm not going to sell it. In fact I was thinking Mother that you and your cousins are far too able-bodied to be living in a retirement home. If you can creep around secret passages, then you're taking rooms away from old people who really need them. So what I suggest is this – that the four of you live at Kirrin Cottage permanently. I can organise meals on wheels for you and a cleaner and a gardener, and you can just do whatever you want to do."
The four cousins beamed at each other in delight. Go and live at Kirrin Cottage! Spend their final years in the place they all loved best!
"I can do some cleaning and cooking," said Anne. "I quite miss it really."
"Always the little housewife," said Dick, putting an arm around his sister.
"I say, Jules," said Julian, "that's jolly decent of you to suggest it. We'd all love to live there."
"Well, I'm sorry you're going," said Mrs Martin, "but your son is right, Miss Kirrin. You're still a bit too active for a retirement home! But I'll be happy to have you all back whenever you're ready."
"This is wonderful," sighed George. "All together at Kirrin Cottage – that means I'll be able to keep Timmy. And you can stay with us for the holidays whenever you want to, Matt."
"And you can visit my island whenever you want to," said Matt, who was smiling happily now that she realised Kirrin Cottage wasn't for sale.
"Splendid!" said George. "We can row over there in your boat, Matt, take a picnic like we used to. Goodness, I bet we'll have some fine adventures once we're all back there."
And so they did – but that's another story.
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