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Chapter Eleven: Luke Walker and the ice cream van
Set apart from the rest of the flea market was a stall that was of great interest to Luke. Standing behind it was a lady wearing black eye shadow and black nail varnish. She had long, straight, jet black hair and her khaki jacket had lots of badges on it which said things like “MEAT IS MURDER” and “A FISH IS NOT A VEGETABLE” and “NOT YOUR MUM” written above a picture of a man suckling from a cow.
“Where’d you get those?” Luke asked the lady.
“These? Oh, different places. This one I ordered from a website,” she said, indicating the one with the suckling business man, “and these I got from VegFest.”
“It’s a weekend event with lots of stalls and talks by veggies and veggie companies. They have them a couple of times a year in different cities like London and Brighton.”
Luke had never met another vegetarian before, apart from Joe, and he’d had no idea there were enough of them to warrant weekend events like that. He was impressed.
“Are you interested in becoming vegan?” the lady asked as Luke browsed the leaflets on display.
“Vegan?” said Luke, “That’s not a real word! I’m a veggietareun and I wun’t be nothin’ else!”
“Well that’s good, but why are you a vegetarian? Is it because you don’t want animals to be killed?”
“Of course,” said Luke.
“Well then, it might interest you to know that animals are also killed to supply you with milk and eggs,” the lady explained, with patience.
“I know that, that’s why I don’t eat ’em because I’m a veggie-tareun!” said Luke, slowly, with emphasis. Not patience. “Veggie (that’s short for vegetables) tareun (that means someone what eats ’em). I on’y eat vegetables, which means things what grow after bein’ planted in the ground.” It must be acknowledged that Luke was good at explaining things.
The lady looked as though she now understood and was very pleased about it.
“That means you’re a vegan young man, well done!”
Luke was unswayed.
“I’ll stick with words what make sense, thanks.”
The stall-holder smiled again. The word didn’t matter. Then she realised the boy had been browsing for a good few minutes and no responsible adult had materialised.
“Who did you come here with?” she asked, “is your mum or dad or somebody around here somewhere?”
He continued browsing. There was a lot of interesting stuff. People needed to know this stuff.
“Where do you get these leaflets from?” he asked the lady.
“Why? Do you want some? You can take what you want,” she replied generously.
Luke couldn’t believe his luck.
“Just take ’em? As many as I want?”
“Yes,” the lady assured him, “they need to get out to the public; people need to know this stuff.”
“Yes they do!” said Luke, gratified to have found a kindred spirit, “have you got a box?”
“You want that many?” the lady raised her eyebrows, “it’ll be quite heavy if you fill a box. How will you carry it? How will you get it home?”
“I’ve got a wheelbarra,” said Luke, proudly pointing to a rusty old one he’d bought for 50p ten minutes earlier, “an’ I’m not takin’ ’em home.”
He smiled broadly as he considered how fortuitous this outing had turned out to be; how lucky it was that this week of all weeks he’d needed a wheelbarrow.
Nan and Grandad loved to go to car boot sales, antique fairs and flea markets. They would drive for miles to get to them and rarely a Sunday went by without Nan acquiring a ‘new’ old plant pot, or handbag, or garden bench, or record or book or who knows what. So, when Luke decided he needed a few tools for his allotment – a rake, a bucket or two, and a wheelbarrow – he asked Mum to ask Nan if he could go with them that weekend. She said yes, as long as he behaved himself and didn’t eat or drink anything in Grandad’s car, or put his feet on the seats.
“Will she ever get over the chocolate biscuit/chewing gum incident?” he thought. “It wasn’t even my gum – it had got stuck on my shoe because of a dropper and the chocolate crumbs … ”
Anyway, he promised to be good, and it was arranged.
Six days later, Luke was sitting in the back of Grandad’s car; seatbelt on; feet on the floor; no food or drink whatsoever. They turned into a farm lane and drove past a field of grazing cows, one of whom had a baby with her. They waited in a long queue of cars approaching the flea market and Luke was able to watch mother and baby for a few minutes.He could see how attentive the mother was to her baby and how the baby followed his mother wherever she went. It was nice to watch. Then he saw two farmers with a wheelbarrow walk over to them and lift the baby into it. The baby cried out for his mum and the mum tried to get to her baby but one of the farmers obstructed her so that the other one could wheel the barrow away. He walked briskly, almost breaking into a run to get to the gate as quickly as possible and the mother cow hurried after them, calling all the time to her baby and him calling back to her. The farmer with the wheelbarrow got through the gate and closed it and the other one climbed the fence. They put the calf into a trailer and drove away in the Land Rover that towed it, along the track that bordered the field, until they got to the road and were soon out of sight. The whole time the mother cow was running along the edge of the field, trying to keep up with them, calling for her baby. When the trailer was out of sight she just stood at the fence and called and called, a most miserable, pining sound, as she watched the direction in which they’d fled, pleading for her baby’s return.
“Where are they takin’ ‘im? Are they gonna bring ‘im back?” Luke desperately asked his grandparents.
“What love?” said Nan. She hadn’t been watching.
“The baby cow! They took ‘im away from ‘is mum! Why did they do that? When will they bring ‘im back?”
“They won’t,” said Grandad, matter-of-factly.
“What?! Why not?” Luke demanded.
“The farmer keeps cows for their milk. He needs to sell as much milk as possible so he can’t have the calves drinking his profits can he? He’s got to make a living. Way of the world Luke, you might as well get used to it.”
Luke was outraged. He’d known instinctively that it wasn’t right to steal a cow’s milk and was certain it couldn’t be natural to drink it if you weren’t a baby cow, but he’d had no idea that farmers actually kidnapped babies away from their mothers; that a mother who’d done nothing wrong, who was giving him her milk, was not even allowed to keep the baby who made the milk possible. And the baby – what would happen to the baby?
“Does everybody know this? Does everybody know what the horrible farmer is doin’?” Luke felt that surely people wouldn’t buy the milk if they knew.
“He’s not horrible Luke,” Nan tried to explain, “cows are not people, they don’t have the same feelings and emotional attachments that we have.”
“Yes they do! Din’t you see? Din’t you see ’em together? They love each other!”
“Luke,” Nan answered quietly, “the farmer’s got to earn …”
“I could earn a livin’ stealin’ other people’s jewel’ry and sellin’ it to someone else, but if I did that you’d tell me off!”
“It’s not the same …”
“Too right it’s not the same coz I wun’t be kidnappin’ someone’s baby!”
While Luke fumed Grandad reached the car park and they all got out of the car. Luke couldn’t stop thinking about the cow baby and the cow mum crying for each other. He trailed slowly behind his grandparents, very unhappy in the realisation that this was the way of the world and there was nothing he could do about it, not really, not for that baby or that mum.
“Grown ups always say ‘you must be good’, ‘you must be kind’ and then they do things what they know is unkind,” Luke mumbled frustratedly to himself, “they don’t follow their own rules, so they can’t expect me to follow ’em. They should follow my rules – mine make more sense, mine do what they say instead of just say and not do!”
And so, as he railed against the world, he wandered away from his grandparents and browsed the stalls alone. He wasn’t worried. He’d find them later.
With a wheelbarrow full of three different leaflets which told the truth about the dairy industry, Luke headed for the car park. The wheelbarrow was heavy and the cars were parked quite close together on uneven ground, so it was rather difficult to stop the barrow from tipping. But Luke was strong and determined so he only lost control of it a couple of times, and on those occasions the cars he grazed were already scratched anyway. He put one leaflet under a wiper blade, on the windscreen of each car. He’d seen it done before with car-wash flyers in the supermarket car park.
Some wipers were easy to lift, some of them required a bit of force, a couple of them came off, but when that happened he was luckily able to find a window or a sunroof open so he tossed the leaflet inside. Considerate as always, he tossed the wiper blade in with it.
After some time – he had no idea how much – Luke had leafleted most of the cars in the car park. He had intended not to miss a single one but when he saw an angry man, waving a wiper blade, fast approaching his position, he decided that discretion was the better part of valour and retreated behind the long queues for the portaloos. He had almost half a box of leaflets left and wanted to use them. It wasn’t long before he found an opportunity.
The ice cream van was parked close to the line of trees which skirted the market. It was doing a roaring trade. Luke felt that it wouldn’t do any trade at all if there was any justice in the world. He was sure it wouldn’t if everyone knew the truth. That thought gave him an idea. This idea, he was well aware, was not, strictly speaking, legal. But it was moral and that meant he was right to do it. He would do what Robin Hood would have done, whatever the consequences. He was an outlaw after all.
He left his wheelbarrow in the shadows behind the trees and ran back to a craft stall he’d seen earlier. The lady on the craft stall was demonstrating how to make paper maché models. She was doing the ‘here’s one I made earlier’ bit, revealing a stiff, hollow, paper pig ready for a coat of paint. The tub of wallpaper paste that she’d been using in an earlier part of her demonstration was tucked away under her stall.
“I jus’ need to borra a bit,” Luke told himself, “I’ll bring it back before she misses it.”
Within minutes he was pasting leaflets all over one side of the ice cream van, unseen by the ice cream seller or his treat-seeking customers who stood in line on the other side. He worked fast, knowing he might be spotted and stopped at any moment. At the same time he was encouraged by a feeling that some great spirit was watching over him, enabling him to complete his mission unhindered. The spirit of Robin Hood? It couldn’t just have been luck that he’d been able to get his hands on exactly what he needed for this job. The label on the side of the tub of paste read:
suitable for paper maché, scrapbooking
wallpaper application & billboard posters
NON TOXIC * STRONG * DRIES TRANSPARENT
WARNING: WHEATPASTE POSTERS, ONCE APPLIED, ARE DIFFICULT TO REMOVE.
It couldn’t have been more perfect. Luke fearlessly pasted over colourful illustrations of lollipops, ice cream cones, and a happy cartoon cow who bore no resemblance to her real-life counterparts. The van’s lies were soon obliterated by pages of facts and figures about the cruel reality of dairy farming, including miserable photographic proof. When the side of the van was completely covered in leaflets, as high as Luke could reach, he stepped back to see the full effect. It was good.
Unable to believe how well this was going, Luke slipped unseen, back the way he’d come. He re-emerged from behind the line of trees when he reached the craft stall and returned the paste. Then he tucked the remaining four leaflets in his back pocket and pushed his empty wheelbarrow from stall to stall, looking for Nan and Grandad. He looked for ages until eventually he came close to the organisers’ table and heard his own name over the Tannoy.
“Would Luke Walker please go to the ice cream van. Would Luke Walker please go to the ice cream van, near the car park and the toilets.”
Luke stood still, his face flushed hot.
“They know!” he thought with horror.
It got worse. He watched as two police officers walked up to the organisers’ table. After a few moments a man there pointed in Luke’s direction. The police officers started to walk towards him. He ran. All he could think was that he needed to get out of there. They might know his name but would they know his address? He didn’t look behind, that would be suspicious, he just ran as fast as he could. The wheelbarrow was slowing him down. He had to leave it.
He climbed the low post and rail fence and jumped down into the car park. His first instinct was to find Grandad’s car, but then he thought that if they knew his name, they might know who his grandparents were, they might be waiting for him there. He hesitated, crouched between a Mini and a Fiesta, and tried to see Grandad’s car without being seen. Yes, that was it, and there was Grandad. With another policeman.
There was nothing for it, he had to go back into the market, he had to try to be invisible in the crowd. But he was scared and wanted an ally. He made a beeline for the black-haired lady’s stall.
The lady, who was just beginning to pack up her stall, putting leaflets back in their boxes, was surprised to see Luke racing towards her, all red in the face and out of breath, looking like he feared for his life.
“Hide me!” said Luke desperately, and sunk to the floor behind the biggest box.
The lady was alarmed.
“What’s wrong? What are you …?”
“Shhh!” said Luke in a vehement whisper, “don’t talk to me! Don’t look at me! They might be watching!”
“Excuse me Miss,” another woman’s voice interrupted her. She turned to face a policewoman.
“Is this your stall?” she asked.
“Yes it is.”
“And your name is?”
“Jessica Rabbit. Would you like a leaflet?”
“I would like to have a look, yes, thank you,” and the policewoman began to paw the various piles. “Is this all you’ve got?”
The black-haired lady casually dropped her jacket on top of Luke as another officer stepped around the stall to look in the boxes.
“I’ve got these as well,” she answered, “as you can see,” and she lifted the boxes onto the table so that they wouldn’t need to rummage around the other side.
The policewoman found what she was looking for – three different anti-dairy leaflets.
“Is there any reason you were hiding these?” she asked.
The lady laughed.
“I wasn’t hiding them, I was just in the process of packing up,” she explained.
The police officers exchanged cynical glances and while the male picked up the box of leaflets, the female addressed the stall-holder.
“I am arresting you on suspicion of offences under section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?”
“Not remotely,” the lady replied, “what am I supposed to have done?”
Luke stayed motionless under the lady’s jacket. He felt bad that she was getting blamed for what he’d done, but was somehow unable to move or speak. He just sat still until he couldn’t hear them any more. He waited till they’d gone.
When he stood up and watched them retreat past the other stalls, seemingly diminished in size, his courage returned. He donned the khaki jacket, pulled the hood over his head and cautiously followed. The officers and their captive approached a police car and the policewoman opened a rear door, put her hand on the black-haired lady’s head and assisted her into the back seat.
Luke was worried they would drive away before he could get to them but luck was on his side again. Another policeman with a camera called to his colleagues and they walked a few steps away from the car to talk to him. That was Luke’s chance.
The police car was between him and the officers so he kept his head down and crept up to the rear door. He tried the handle. Nothing happened. He tried it again. It should have opened. He’d seen Dad do it a hundred times. A car’s back doors were only locked on the inside. The black-haired lady looked out the window, shook her head and spoke almost inaudibly.
“What are you doing? Go away! Quickly! Before they see you!”
Luke didn’t listen. He was determined to rescue her. This lady was a righteous warrior like himself; a fighter for justice; a fellow animal stick up for-er. He would rescue her or die in the attempt. He tried the door again. It clicked open. It was like dad’s car!
At that moment the ice cream van pulled up between the police car and the police officers, thus enlightening the black-haired lady on the reason for her arrest. The ice cream seller leaned out his window to talk to the officers.
“Get out! Quick!” Luke urged the lady.
The two of them ran as fast as they could back into the market and out the other side towards the trees. When they reached cover they slumped down behind the trees and caught their breath.
“I’m sorry I got you in trouble Jessica,” said Luke. The lady grinned.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Not Luke Walker by any chance?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“They’ve been calling your name on the Tannoy for the last hour and a half.”
“Oh yeah, that’s why I had to hide.”
The lady laughed.
“Oh, it all makes sense now. It wasn’t the police, it was your family trying to find you.”
Realisation flickered across Luke’s features.
“Oh,” he said, feeling a little guilty for forgetting about Nan and Grandad. “I’m sorry I got you in trouble,” he apologised again.
“Hey, listen, getting blamed for what you did won’t do my reputation any harm at all,” the lady said with a chuckle. Luke smiled.
“Anyway,” she went on, “I’m free and clear now. Thanks for rescuing me.”
Luke looked at the lady and thought she could be trusted.
“Would you like to join my secret society?” he asked.
“I like the sound of that! Especially if this is the kind of stuff your secret society gets up to!”
“Good,” said Luke, “there’s on’y me an’ Joe so far but that’s good coz no one else knows about it. So don’t tell anyone.”
“I won’t,” the lady agreed.
“I won’t,” she laughingly assured him.
“How will I get in touch with you?” Luke asked.
The lady took a pen out of her pocket and wrote a phone number on the back of Luke’s hand.
“Any time, day or night, you can reach me on that number,” she said, standing up, “and my name’s Kris.” She smiled at his mild confusion. “I’d better get out of here before they start searching the woods. Will you be alright? Will you be able to find your people?”
“Go to the organisers’ table, they’ll be able to get hold of them for you.”
Luke wasn’t sure.
“Don’t worry, the police aren’t looking for you. It’s safe. Go and find your people,” she urged him and then she started away, going deeper into the trees.
“Oh, don’t forget your jacket,” Luke called after her.
“Keep it,” she said, smiling, and left.
Luke walked back through the market to the organisers’ table and informed them that he was Luke Walker. Nan’s mobile was called and she and Grandad were there to fetch him in next to no time. Nan ran at him, hugged him and then smacked his bum.
“You horrible boy! Why would you do this to us? We’ve been worried sick! Where have you been?”
“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely, “I was jus’ shoppin’ and I lost track of time.”
“Shopping! You weren’t supposed to go off by yourself! You were supposed to stay with us! You knew th…”
“What did you buy?” Grandad interrupted.
Luke looked at him and thought for a moment.
“A wheelbarra …” he said, turning full circle to look for it. And there it was, lying on its side, just a few metres away. “This one,” he added, going to fetch it.
“And a jacket by the look of it,” said Nan, a little calmer now.
“Oh yeah,” Luke smiled, “and a jacket.”
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