Chapter The First
It was a marvellously ﬁne spring day and Heather was enjoying the lovely weather from the inside of a train station. It was a grand old station, built back in the days when architects and businessmen actually travelled on trains and so realised that they may have to spend some considerable time staring at any ediﬁce they constructed. Heather, however, was extremely bored.
By some strange twist of fate, Heather was travelling alone, and hence none of her loving family were around for her to irritate. She paced beneath some beautiful wrought iron arches for a full two minutes before she decided that the only way to relieve her boredom was to accost an interesting-looking stranger. Walking up to a very neatly dressed gentleman in a pin-stripe suit, she introduced herself. “Hello, my name is Heather.”
“Hello,” replied the man politely and resumed his intent examination of the pigeon droppings adorning the girders of the opposite platform. “I’m bored,” said Heather, ignoring the hint. “I was thinking that if I stand over here next to you, then we could pretend that we’re travelling together. Then people wouldn’t think we’re both travelling alone like we don’t have any friends. We could even talk to each other to pass the time. One time I talked to my friend on the phone and we talked for ages and ages but it only felt like it was really short but my mum had to knock on the door and said it was past my bedtime and I had to say goodbye and go to bed.”
The stranger turned his head slowly to look at Heather. “You assume, my dear young lady, that being seen in your company is preferable to being thought to travel alone.”
Heather giggled. “You’re silly. I hate waiting by myself. It’s really boring. My friend Princess McKenzie says that people are mean to each other because they’re scared of being alone, but I don’t think that makes any sense, but she has really cool hippopotamusses and one time she let me ride Tigris around the yard and…”
“Hippopotami,” muttered the man under his breath, “The plural of hippopotamus is hippopotami.”
“Huh?” said Heather, a little rudely.
The man shifted his grip on his nondescript briefcase then turned to face Heather with a puzzled expression on his face. “What did you say your name was again?”
“My name is Heather,” said Heather, grinning inanely and tilting her head from sided to side. The man blinked.
A that moment a train came roaring into the station and cut oﬀ the conversation. The man stepped to the door of the train, then stopped, and turned around to face Heather with the same puzzled expression still on his face. Never taking his eyes oﬀ her, he stepped backwards onto the train and continued to stare intently until the doors closed in front of his face and the train sped away.
Heather was not the slightest bit disconcerted by this and began to ponder whether it was possible to play tag against herself. She had just begun slapping herself in an experimental fashion when two men in plain brown suits and dark glasses approached her from the other end of the station. “Will you come with us please Miss?” mumbled one of them.
“Why?” replied Heather.
One of the men in dark glasses reached inside his jacket and pulled out a very oﬃcial-looking identity card which had a photo on it, presumably of himself, still wearing the dark glasses.
“In the interest of national security Miss, I’m afraid we need to ask you to come with us.”
The brown-suited man folded the ID card away before Heather got a chance to look at it properly. “But I’ll miss my train,” whined Heather feebly.
“We are aware of that Miss, but I must insist that you come with us.”
The men lead her to a small car that looked to be about 20 years old. It was one of those small hatch-backs that seem to be designed for 12-year-old olympic gymnasts who hold a mechanical engineering degree—requiring strange contortions of body and machine to get into the back seat. Heather was rather irritated by the car, since she was expecting a stretch limousine, or at the very least a black, luxury sedan with darkly tinted windows. She said as much to the men in the brown suits. “How come you drive around in such a bomby old car?”
“I’m afraid that’s classiﬁed information Miss,” replied one of the suit men, “You’ll have to take it up with our superior.”
It was a terribly boring drive for Heather—crammed into the back seat. They seemed to criss-cross the city at least twice and there wasn’t even enough room for her to kick the seat in front of her. Eventually, however, they drove through an unmarked roller-door which closed behind them. Heather was extracted from the car and taken to a very plain-looking room. The walls were painted a plain beige and there was a plain table lighted from above by plain ﬂuorescent lighting. On either side of the table were two chairs that were plainly very uncomfortable to sit on.
Fortunately for Heather, she did not have to sit for very long before another man in a brown suit came in—but this man was not like the others. Not only was this man’s face free from dark glasses, he was actually smiling. By this stage, however, Heather was too upset to take more than cursory notice of this.
“What am I doing here?” demanded Heather, “Where am I? How come there was no limo? Why are you guys driving around in stupid little cars like that? And how come you’re not wearing sunglasses?”
“Well it’s nice to meet you too,” laughed the smiling, brown-suited man, “My name is Agent Wolfgang Richter. I’ll answer those questions in reverse order for you, shall I?” He ﬂashed a smile full of perfect, white teeth.
“Firstly, I’m not wearing sunglasses because I am, in fact, indoors right now. This being the case, I do not actually need to protect my eyes from the sunlight because, strangely enough, there isn’t any.”
At ﬁrst Heather thought this Agent Richter was being sarcastic, but his smile kept beaming out at her like warm coals in a log ﬁre. It made her want to curl up and go to sleep.
“Secondly,” continued Agent Richter, "We drive around in small cars because people don’t expect us to. You wouldn’t believe how many times we’ve managed to avoid attention because someone couldn’t possibly believe that government agents would ride around in an old hatch-back.
“You weren’t picked up in a limousine because we didn’t want to draw any attention to you, and as for where you are, well, you’re inside our secret headquarters. Unfortunately I can’t tell you where that is, because that would defeat the purpose of having a secret headquarters and I would have to kill you.” The man’s smile ﬂashed even more brightly than before. Before she could stop herself, Heather began to bat her eyelids.
“Which brings me to why you’re here. I’m afraid, Heather, that we need your help. The man you were just talking to at the train station is a very dangerous criminal. He’s wanted in over eighteen diﬀerent countries on charges of Illegal Hippopotamus Importation, and is believed to be supplying hippopotami to several known terrorist organisations.”
It didn’t occur to Heather to wonder how the man knew her name when she hadn’t told him yet. Agent Richter continued: “We want you to make contact with the man and see if you can gather some information for us. It’s believed that he will be attending a charity luncheon tomorrow and we want you to attend. You can talk to him and ﬁnd out what you can about his smuggling network. You’ll be wearing a listening device so we will be able to hear everything that goes on.” Once again a row of perfect white teeth beamed out at her.
Now, to most people, the prospect of casually striking up a conversation with a man linked to several known terrorist organisations would at the very least cause them to be a little cautious. Heather, however, was instantly carried away with visions of Medals of Honour and high-tech gadgets. “I’ll do it!” she exclaimed eagerly.
“That’s excellent,” said Agent Richter, “We’ll book you into a hotel for the night and you can call anyone you need to say that you’ve been delayed. I’m afraid though, that we must insist you don’t tell anyone what you’ve been asked to do.”
“Oh no, I won’t do that,” replied Heather, shaking her head vigorously.
“Wonderful,” said Agent Richter, “One of our agents will contact you in the morning to help you get ready. Don’t worry about what to wear or anything like that, we’ll sort it out in the morning. OK?”
Chapter The Second
Shedding its feeble red light into the darkness, the bedside clock ticked over from 3:59 to 4:00. Heather turned over in her sleep, snoring peacefully. A narrow beam of light fell across the bed and widened into a wedge as the door opened. A silhouetted ﬁgure glided silently into the room, darkness returning as the door clicked shut. Soundlessly, the ﬁgure moved to the edge of the bed, an arm reaching towards Heather’s head, only just visible in the dim light from the alarm clock. A single ﬁnger extended, tipped with a claw-like nail, and ﬂicked the light switch above Heather’s bed.
Heather screamed. The mysterious ﬁgure leaped back from the bed in alarm while Heather clenched her eyes shut against the light that seemed to hammer the back of her eyeballs. “Oh dear, I’m ever so sorry,” exclaimed the mysterious ﬁgure, now revealed as a lady in a sophisticated dark suit with her hair pulled back in an immaculate bun. Once her lungs were ﬁnally emptied, Heather opened her eyes blearily and stared at the intruder. The lady smiled kindly at her from a wrinkleless face that looked to be made of porcelain. “My name’s Margaret. I’m here to help you get ready for the luncheon this afternoon.”
“I’m Heather,” mumbled Heather, still trying to get her eyes to work properly.
“Pleased to meet you Heather,” replied the lady politely. “What we’re going to do is, I’ll go downstairs and wait in the lobby while you have a shower and get dressed, then I’ll drive you back to the headquarters you visited yesterday. OK? Then we’ll see about ﬁnding you a dress and some shoes and ﬁxing your hair and all the rest of it.”
Half-an-hour later, Heather and Margaret were driving across the still-dark city in another small car, although this time it appeared to be a fairly new model in a sophisticated, lipstick-coloured car. Once more, Heather was driven through the unmarked roller-door and herded into a large room. Inside were racks of dresses, piles of shoe boxes, a catering table, and all sorts of apparatus for the purpose of beautiﬁcation. Heather was introduced to half-a-dozen people who were apparently paid quite handsomely to make other people look pretty. In spite of all their politeness however, Heather couldn’t help noticing a few worried looks pass between the beauty team.
Nonetheless, seven hours after that Heather was herded out to the very plain room where Agent Richter was waiting. To describe how Heather looked is rather diﬃcult. Imagine, if you will, a dead animal (let’s say a wombat) scraped from the side of the road, sprayed with varnish and coated in gold leaf. It might be quite expensive, and in some circles might even be thought artistic, but what you end up with is still gold-covered roadkill. Fortunately for Heather though, the Gilded Cadaver look was quite fashionable at the time and Agent Richter seemed quite pleased with the result —at least, he didn’t seem disappointed.
“My my, you look quite spectacular,” said Agent Richter, “I must say Margaret, you’ve outdone yourself this time.” His grin struck both the females with the force of a bulldozer plummeting from the sky. Margaret blushed. Heather giggled. “The technical guys tell me that the listening equipment is all working well. They’ve been listening to you guys talk for the last ten minutes. Thanks so much Margaret.”
For the next hour, Agent Richter instructed Heather on subtle and delicate ways to work Hippopotamus smuggling into the conversation and what kind of information they wanted to know. Heather nodded and agreed politely, not understanding a word of what he was saying. Eventually, seeing that Heather looked a little blank, Agent Richter said, “Look, don’t worry to much if you forget everything I’ve said. Just relax, try and keep the conversation going as long as possible, and we’ll work with what we can.”
To Heather’s delight she was driven to the luncheon in a luxury black sedan, and was shown into a high-ceilinged room full of very elegantly dressed people. Heather was suddenly very much aware that she did not know a single person there. She wandered through the crowd looking about for the man she was supposed to contact feeling very out of place. Everyone appeared to be engrossed in conversations, each participant seeming to give extraordinarily intelligent opinions on international current aﬀairs. Heather walked around the room in slow circles, trying to look like she wasn’t actually by herself.
Eventually, heaving a great sigh, Heather ducked into an adjacent room to sulk. Inside, caterers were setting the tables for lunch, but there, at the end of the room was the man in the pin-stripe suit. He was facing a large arched window, seemingly contemplating the city below. Heather rushed up to him (well, went as quickly as she could in the dress she was wearing) and tapped him on the shoulder. “Hello.”
The man whipped his head around in surprise and a horriﬁed look came across his face as he recognised Heather. In a second though, his shock had vanished and he turned to face the window again. “You shouldn’t have come here. I’m being watched.”
“Wha?” stammered Heather pathetically. Elegantly dressed people began shuﬄing into the room to take seats at the tables.
“If you’re seen with me, it will only conﬁrm their suspicions. You should leave. Now.”
Heather’s mouth dropped open. She stared at the man for a good ten seconds until a delicately manicured hand touched her on the shoulder. “Oh my gosh. Heather?!” Heather snapped her mouth shut and turned to see who it was. “It is you!” exclaimed the stranger, “It’s Kelli. We had English together. Remember? What are you doing here?!”
After blinking a couple of times, Heather recognised Kelli as one of the Beautiful People from her old school. She was the type who acted like a best friend when there was nobody else around then promptly ceased to notice Heather’s existence in the company of other students. She also used a lot of exclamation marks when she talked.
“You look amazing!” Kelli continued. “That’s such a beautiful necklace.”
The necklace was the one thing Heather had brought of her own. It was a gift from her loving brothers and she wore it everywhere. The beauty team had allowed her to wear it to the luncheon since it was actually quit elegant. Heather mumbled appropriate gratuities and Kelli kept on talking.
“I’m here with my ﬁancé.” Kelli proﬀered a hand for Heather to admire the ring. “He proposed last night. I’m so excited!” Kelli actually jiggled up and down. “You have to come and have some champagne with me.” Heather turned to see what the pin-stripe suited man was doing but he had disappeared. Kelli had taken Heather by the arm and was leading her over to a table. She handed Heather a glass of champagne with a big smile. “Here’s to friends.”
Chapter The Third
Heather opened her eyes to blackness. At ﬁrst she thought she was blind. She clamped her hands over her eyes and rocked back and forth, whimpering. Luckily she noticed that it was ever so slightly darker when she put her hands in front of her eyes than when they were not. She tried to think what had happened. She remembered drinking two glasses of champagne and then Kelli taking her out to the bathroom because she felt incredibly dizzy. Then… nothing. It felt like she was lying on cold concrete or something and she had an awful headache. She could still feel all her jewellery, but the listening equipment that had been stuck under her dress was gone.
Once Heather’s eyes adjusted a little better, she noticed a slight lessening of the darkness in one direction. She began to crawl towards it, but hadn’t gone very far when she hit her head against what felt like a steel bar. Feeling about her, she discovered a whole row of steel bars, rising up as high as she could reach.
It was then that Heather noticed she could hear quiet grunts and snorts in the darkness. Turning her head left and right, she tried to locate the source of the sound, but it seemed to be coming from everywhere. Of course, this was all a bit much for Heather to take—she was alone in the dark with spooky noises all around her and her head hurt. And so, she began to cry hysterically as only Heather can.
Engrossed as she was in her hysterics, Heather didn’t really notice that the grunts and snorts seemed to get louder and more frequent. Neither did she take much notice of groans coming from nearby that sounded decidedly human. She did notice however, when blinding white light spilled in from somewhere beyond the steel bars. Had she been able to see, she would have noticed three ﬁgures step under a heavy steel door that was rising up into the ceiling a few meters beyond the bars. When her eyes ﬁnally adjusted, Heather recognised one of the ﬁgures as a rather rotund gentleman who had been present at the luncheon. He was wearing a tuxedo and was ﬂanked by two men who were obviously guards, judging by the odd-looking guns they carried.
The rotund man sneered at her with a decidedly greasy expression on his face. “So, I have captured the legendary Agent Heather.”
His voice was the most annoying Heather had ever heard (besides her own). It sounded like a cat being strangled—if the cat were pretentious enough to put on a ridiculous French accent. It made Heather wince every time he spoke.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” continued the greasy, tuxedo-clad man. “My name is Antonio Pogmaroy. These are two of my henchmen and, of course, you know Mr. Kensington who stands behind you.” Heather turned to see the man in the pin-stripe suit picking himself up from the ﬂoor. “But perhaps you have not been introduced to my pretties?” The tuxedo-clad man waved his hand towards the ceiling in a grand gesture. Heather looked up and squealed in fright as she saw hundreds of red eyes glinting in the shadows. She squealed again when she realised that the eyes belonged to what looked like hippopotami, hanging from the ceiling.
“Are they not spectacular? Do they not make you quiver with delight? Wonderful, winged hippopotami.” Heather watched in horror as one of the creatures unfolded huge, bat-like wings and began ﬂapping them as if to stretch.
“You have been one very clever little girlie, no? Running around, acting so very stupid, and everybody thinks ‘Oh what a vacant little girlie, nobody that stupid could possibly be a spy,’ but you make a fatal error Miss Heather—you are too stupid. You may fool a imbecile army man like Commander Blybottom, but I am not so blind. Nobody could really be that vacuous—it is an impossibility.”
Heather did not know what to think. She stared at the tuxedo-clad man in disbelief. She tried to say something but she didn’t know what, so her mouth just opened and closed soundlessly. She looked very much like a goldﬁsh.
“Ah, so you continue to play your little game, eh? I have to admit that you are very good at it. But, when you have decided to give up your little act I have a proposal for you. I will pay double whatever you are receiving now, and I give very handsome rewards for success. Of course, you could stay and rot there in the cave, I leave it to you to decide. But perhaps my pretties will help you to make up your mind. They get a little… restless in there with not much room to ﬂy around.” The tuxedo-clad man turned as if to go, but stopped as if he had just remembered something. “Oh, have ever seen a hippopotamus poo from a height? You soon will.” The man’s eyes lit up with evil mirth. “And as for you, Mr. Kensington, you can stay there too until I think of a good use for you. Or perhaps I will just kill you. I have not decided yet.” And so saying he turned on his heel and strode oﬀ down the corridor.
Heather didn’t know what to make of this and would have promptly sat down and cried, had she not been distracted by the man in the pin-striped suit, Mr. Kensington. He was walking around the room looking up at the winged hippopotami and making strange moaning noises. Heather thought he was going to be sick. “Are you OK?” she asked, showing unusual thoughtfulness.
The man almost seemed surprised to notice she was there. “Yes, I’m very well thankyou. And yourself?”
“I’m OK,” replied Heather.
“I’m glad to hear it,” said Mr. Kensington and resumed his pacing around the cave, still looking up at the hippo’s and moaning.
After a while, Heather could not stand this odd behaviour any more. It was very distracting when she was trying very hard to have a good sulk. “What are you doing?” she snapped.
“If you must know,” replied the man, “I am trying to talk to these Betonki, and you are interrupting.”
“Betonki?” said Heather, “What kind of a name is that?”
"Well, a rough interpretation of what they call themselves would be something like ‘the shadows in the night that land on your head and make you go squish,’ but ‘Betonk’ is probably the best English representation, unless you can pronounce ‘Behrrnoangaangaeoatommmnck.’ "
“You mean you can speak hippopotamus?”
“I’ve only picked up a few phrases here and there—enough to get by. The Betonki are very intelligent though, so it makes things easier in some ways.”
“What are they saying?” asked Heather, “Are they friendly?”
“Well, they’re not very fond of humans (understandably I think) but we all want to get out of this cave, so I’m trying to convince them to help us.”
“Who are you?” exclaimed Heather.
“I’m no one of consequence,” replied the man, “Now if you will excuse me…”
Mr. Kensington went back to talking with the Betonki. After a little while, they seemed to grow rather excited. There was much ﬂapping of wings and grunting going on. Mr. Kensington came back over to Heather. “OK. Here’s the plan…”
Chapter The Fourth
Phil the Henchman was roused from his ponderings upon Themes of Existentialism Underlying the Harmonic Symbolism of Beethoven’s Symphonies by a loud ruckus emanating from the cave at the other end of the corridor.
“Oy Bob!” he yelled, “Them hippo’s is makin' a ruckus.”
“Go check it out dumb ass,” came the reply.
“I’m jus' gonna go check it out,” Phil yelled, ignoring Bob. “Yer slimy turd herder,” he added under his breath.
Phil marched down to the bars, annoyed at having to get up oﬀ his stool. “Shaaarduuup,” he bellowed. The cave went deathly quiet. Bob looked up at the hundred or so red eyes staring at him from the shadows. He began to feel a little nervous. There was no rustling of wings, no quiet grunting—just hundreds of red eyes, silently staring. He began to back away from the bars slowly, then suddenly, he stopped and ran back and squinted into the darkness. He had just realised that he couldn’t see either of the two prisoners.
“Oy Bob!” he yelled again, “Those prisoners is missin' .”
From somewhere down the corridor came an angry “What the —— have you done now?” and the sound of another henchman stomping towards the bars. Like all good henchmen, Bob was stocky, large and had cauliﬂower ears.
“Should we go in and check it out?” asked Phil the Henchman when Bob arrived.
“Do I look like a complete imbecile to you Phil? I mean, Do I 'ave ‘I am dumber than a retarded spice girl’ tattooed somewhere on my forehead?” Bob wielded sarcasm like master swordsman. “I think, Phil, that that is this most completely idiotic thing I 'ave ever 'eard you say.” Phil groped about for a witty comeback. “You do realise what you are suggesting don’t you Phil? You step in there an' the nex' thing you know one of 'em steps out from their hiding spot next to the door and clobbers you on the 'ead.”
“Well, since you’re such a smart ——er, what do we do then Bob?”
“What we do, Phil, is take our tranquilliser gun and set it on automatic. Then, Philip, we take said tranquilliser gun and shoot either side of the door to make sure they is not ‘iding in there. Jus’ try not to hit any of them hippo’s or the boss 'll stretch your nose out 'till he can shove it up your bottom and out of your left nostril.”
And so both Bob and Phil proceeded to ﬁre a volley of tranquilliser darts at any part of the room they thought might be a likely hiding spot. When they were done, the deathly silence returned.
“Right,” began Bob, “Now if you’re still dead keen to go in there, you can step inside and see if there’s any sleepy bodies lying about.”
Bob stepped a few paces back to the door controller and pressed a round, green button. The bars began to move sideways with all the clatter one would expect from the motion of such a large, heavy door. When it was just wide enough, Bob stopped the door and Phil squeezed through. Bob started the door closing again as soon as Phil was inside.
“Well lookee here Bob, we got two sleepy bodies; one on either side of this door here. Sleepin' quiet as babies.” Phil turned around and waited for Bob to open the door. Bob hit the green button again and it began to slide open. At that moment there was a great THUD as a large Betonk dropped from the ceiling and landed on Phil’s head.
Things began to happen very quickly. Mr. Kensington leaped up and grabbed the tranquilliser gun, shooting three shots at Bob and running to the other side of the door. Stupidly, Bob raised his gun and started trying to get a shot at Mr. Kensington. It was then that he realised that he had two tranquilliser darts in his arm and the door was still rattling open.
Mr. Kensington got Heather up and pressed her back against the wall as ﬁfty-three Betonki spread their wings and glided out through the wide corridor, knocking Bob ﬂat on his back in the process. Further along, Heather could hear them smashing things as they went.
Heather and Mr. Kensington ran along the corridor into a room full of smashed monitors and other surveillance equipment. The walls were made of large stone blocks and there were no windows, just a couple of buzzing ﬂuorescent lights. At one end of the room was a door into another corridor that appeared to slope upwards.
Mr. Kensington grabbed Heather and they sprinted up the sloping corridor. Well, OK, maybe they didn’t sprint. Heather shuﬄed as quickly as she could once she kicked oﬀ her high heels and hitched up her dress. Let’s say they hurried up the corridor. Look, it’s the end of the chapter, so just get over it alright.
Chapter The Fifth
Heather and Mr. Kensington emerged into what appeared to be a small courtyard, with walls constructed from large blocks of gray stone. Mr Kensington began to climb up an iron ladder that was bolted into one of the walls. Not knowing what else to do, Heather followed him and climbed to the top of the wall.
There was quite a view from the top of the wall. It took Heather quite a few seconds to take it all in. They appeared to be standing atop the walls of a partially ruined castle. Silhouetted against a turbulent gray sky, the Betonki were careening about wildly, revelling in their new-found freedom. From a nearby tower, a couple of henchmen were (rather stupidly) trying to shoot the Betonki with their tranquilliser guns. Below them, hundreds of hippopotami were packed into pens, separated by low, corrugated steel fences.
Signalling Heather to keep low, Mr. Kensington began climbing down another ladder towards a catwalk that spanned from the castle wall on which they stood to the wall of the ruined keep, just a metre or so above the hippopotamus pens. Skipping the last few rungs, he dropped to the catwalk, landing lightly on the balls of his toes. Crouching low, he began to run towards a ladder near the centre of the walk. There was a resounding THUD and the whole catwalk shook as Heather tried to follow suit. Surprisingly, she got up after only a few seconds of (quiet) moaning and rolling about and began shuﬄing along the catwalk, hitching up her dress with one hand.
Unfortunately, the noise Heather had made seemed to disturb the hippopotami below. The noise made by the hippopotami consequently attracted the attention of the guards, who had now given up on shooting at the now-distant Betonki. There was a loud clang as a tranquilliser dart narrowly missed hitting Heather in the shoulder. Mr. Kensington darted down the ladder into a walkway between the pens, Heather following behind in her own unique way.
There was another clang as a tranquilliser dart ricocheted oﬀ the ladder just above Heather’s hand. This gave Heather such a fright that she took her hand oﬀ the rung she was holding. This would not have been a problem, had she had enough foresight to replace it with the other hand… Heather once again found herself with far to much contact area between her and the ground. She got up and began to stagger about in a daze. “I want to go feed the ducks. They go ‘quack’!”
Dashing over to Heather, Mr. Kensington picked her up rather like a rag doll and tossed her into one of the nearby pens, leaping in behind her. The sudden shock of her feet sinking into cold, slimy mud seemed to bring Heather to her “senses”. They crouched behind the pen wall as a couple more tranquilliser darts whistled over their heads.
“What do we do now?” asked Heather.
“Well, I’m not quite sure yet,” replied Mr. Kensington. “Just sit tight, I’m sure something will turn up.”
Just then, Antonio Pogmaroy’s voice came squeaking out of several loudspeakers around the enclosure. It grated like ﬁngernails down a chalkboard: “Attention, Attention. Cease ﬁre. Attention henchmen. I order you to cease ﬁre.” The voice made Heather want to poke holes in her eardrums.
“Agent Heather, Mr. Kensington, why do you not come out? There is no way out of here. You are surrounded. Why go through this ridiculous charade?” The incredibly irritating French accent was not improved by ampliﬁcation. Mr. Kensington looked at Heather, shrugged, then stood up slowly, raising his hands level with his ears. He stepped over the low fence and into the walkway that ran the length of the yard. Heather copied.
The obese, tuxedo-clad Antonio Pogmaroy was standing near the castle gates at the other end of the yard. The prospect of this apparent surrender seemed to ﬁll him with a glee that rippled through his entire body like wobbly jelly. Would it not have resulted in a minor earthquake, Heather could have sworn he looked ready to jump up and down and clap his hands.
Heather looked over at Mr. Kensington. To her complete surprise, the man appeared not to care in the slightest that an insane, fat man in a tuxedo was about to take them captive for a second time. He had lowered his hands and was looking about vaguely at the castle walls and the dark clouds above them.
Suspecting that this might be pretence, and that Mr. Kensington was secretly hatching a cunning plan to get them out of there, Heather whispered “Do you have a plan?”
It took Mr. Kensington a few seconds to reply. “Mmmm? Um… No. You?” Henchmen began to advance on them slowly, suspecting a trick.
“Are the Betonki coming back?” asked Heather, thinking herself very clever.
“Oh no. I expect they’re long gone by now; probably headed somewhere with nicer weather. Don’t blame them really. Looks like it’s going to rain.” Mr. Kensington looked up at the clouds as if pondering the destination of the Betonki. To Heather’s amazement, he put his hands in his pockets and began to rock back and forth on his heels.
At that moment however, the castle portcullis began to open with a lot of rattling of chains and squeaking of large wheels. The hencmen and Antonio Pogmaroy all whipped around to see what was going on. Commando-rolling under the half-opened portcullis came a dozen men in bullet-proof vests, holding large guns in a very business-like manner. At their head was Wolfgang Richter—no longer smiling but somehow managing to hold a very large gun in friendly, amiable manner. Finding themselves faced with a whole lot of henchmen pointing very strange-looking guns at them, the goverment agents formed a small semi-circle around the castle gate—big guns held at the ready.
Antonio Pogmary squealed like a pig, then suddenly appeared to realise that he had as many men with guns as they did. An excessively greasy smile came over his face. “Agent Richter, how very kind of you to come visit us. Would you and your men be so kind as to put your guns down and join us in the keep?”
“Pogmaroy, you slimy, fat bastard,” replied Agent Richter with uncharacteristic venom, “You can’t seriously think you’ve won—”
Agent Richter’s words were cut short by the sound of a gun-shot. What had happened was this: A patrolling henchman had climbed up a ladder onto the castle wall to ﬁnd all his fellow henchmen faced with a stand-oﬀ. Like any good henchman, he immediately pointed his gun at the group of be-vested men. Thinking the henchman was about to shoot, one of the agents had decided to ﬁre his big gun ﬁrst.
There was a reason that Antonio Pogmaroy’s henchmen carried silenced tranquilliser guns.
An enormous moan arose as three hundred nervous hippopotami gave voice to their fright. They began to run, apparently oblivious to the corrugated fences, now knocked ﬂat. Antonio Pogmary and his the government agents found themselves in the path of a great stampede.
In the blink of an eye Mr Kensington hoisted Heather up the ladder to the catwalk and leapt onto the ladder behind her. They climbed up and looked on breathlessly as the hippopotami rushed through beneath them. Heather could feel the whole catwalk vibrating beneath her as the hippopotami rampaged towards the castle gates. Very soon she could see nothing beneath her but a great cloud of gray dust.
Chapter The Sixth
When the dust cleared Antonio Pogmaroy had disappeared—along with the hippopotami. Most of the henchmen were running after the hippos, waving their tranquilliser guns. A number of very sore-looking government agents were picking up out of the dust and brushing the dirt oﬀ their vests.
Mr. Kensington stood up slowly and oﬀered his hand to help Heather up. “Well, that was a bit of an adventure now, wasn’t it?” Heather lowered her eyebrows at him.
Mr. Kensington seemed decidedly unconcerned by Heather’s vicious eyebrow lowering and began to climb down the ladder. Heather stood where she was, still a little bit in shock from the recent events. Eventually Mr. Kensington’s voice ﬂoated up to her from somewhere below. “Are you coming?”
While Heather was climbing down the ladder, Wolfgang Richter appeared out of the dust and began organising his troops to go searching for Antonio Pogmaroy. Mr. Kensington ignored them. Heather hurried after him.
“Where are we going?” asked Heather
“Oh, I thought I might ﬁnd somewhere dry to sit down for a spell. I think it’s going to rain.” As if on cue, large drops of water began falling from the sky and they hurried over to the part of the keep which had a roof.
There wasn’t much inside. Just a cobble-stone ﬂoor with a large grate in the middle. Heather supposed that it led down to sewers or dungeons. She’d had enough of dungeons for one day however, so didn’t much feel like investigating. Mr. Kensington sat himself against a wall and appeared to fall asleep. Heather amused herself by throwing small stones at the grate.
To Heather, things seemed to continue on like this for about a year. In reality it was more like eight minutes, but it came as quite a surprise when Heather ﬁnally managed to toss a stone into the grate and the grate said “Ouch!”. Before she could crawl over to investigate, the grate opened and the face of one of her loving brothers appeared, followed shortly by the rest of him and subsequently followed by Princess McKenzie.
“Hello Heather,” said her loving brother cheerfully. “Hello Mr. Kensington. Fancy meeting you here. You’ll know Princess McKenzie of course.”
“Yes, of course,” replied Mr. Kensington. “Lovely to see you both. Bit of poor weather we’re having at the moment, eh?”
“Yes, a bit of a pity. I hear the grounds here are quite lovely.”
“Well, they used to be. I dare say they could do with a bit of improvement at the moment.”
“Ah. I suppose it doesn’t really matter anyway.”
There was a small, awkward pause before Princess McKenzie spoke up. “You wouldn’t happen to need any rescuing or anything would you? Bad guys taken care of, heavily-armed henchmen beaten up by unarmed heroes, that sort of thing?”
“I’m ﬁne for the moment, thanks,” replied Mr. Kensington as if he had just been oﬀered a cup of tea. “Heather?”
Heather was a little confused. She just stared blankly at all of them.
“I think she’s OK too. Probably a little worn out, poor thing.” Mr. Kensington said on Heather’s behalf.
There was another short awkward silence before Heather’s loving brother spoke again. “Well, I suppose we’ll just take Heather home then. Can we give you a lift anywhere?”
Mr. Kensington appeared to think for a moment. “No thanks. I think I might hang around and have a bit of a chat with this young fellow who burst in here with all the government agents and guns and things. I think he needs a bit of sorting out.”
“Suit yourself then. I guess we’ll say ‘cheerio’ . Come along Heather.”
Some time later, while Princess McKenzie was driving them all back, it occurred to Heather that she had no idea how her loving brother would know Mr. Kensington. Come to think of it, she still didn’t know whether or not Mr. Kensington really was a hippopotamus smuggler or not.
“How do you know Mr. Kensington?” Heather asked her loving brother.
“Oh, our paths have crossed a few times.” he replied vaguely.
“Is he a hippopotamus smuggler?” asked Heather.
There was a snort from Princess McKenzie in the front. “Ah, no,” replied Heather’s loving brother.
“Is he a spy?”
“Well, what is he then?”
“Nobody really knows. Most of the real spies seem to think he’s kind of a spy wannabe. To them he’s merely a pretentious annoyance so they just ignore him.”
“But what do you think?”
“Oh, I don’t know. He seems friendly enough.”
“Oh. But Antonio Pogmunchy was a real hippo smuggler wasn’t he?”
“Yes, Antonio Pogmaroy is a real hippopotamus smuggler.”
“What about Wolfgang Richter?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know Agent Richter.”
“Well, how did you know where to come pick me up?”
“There’s a tracking device in that necklace I gave you. Any more questions?”
Heather couldn’t think of any more questions to ask, so she had to shake her head.
And so they all went home and Heather’s kind mother made them all a nice cup of tea, except Heather didn’t have any because her kind mother wouldn’t let her have tea with ﬁve teaspoons of sugar in it.