Luke Walker and the police car.
Luke and Joe were on the putting green at Swanspool Gardens. They were on the sixteenth hole of an eighteen hole game and Joe was winning. Not by much, but he was winning. It was Luke’s turn.
“It’s so hot,” he said, wiping his face on his T-shirt, “I shun’t be surprised if that’s why I’m not getting’ ’em very quick. Usually I get ’em really quick.”
Joe, lying on the grass under the spray of the sprinkler, took his word for it. Luke eyed the distance and angle of the sixteenth hole from where he was standing. Should be straightforward enough. He even felt quite confident he could beat Joe’s three, in spite of the heat. Of course if he got it in one that would give him a chance of winning. It would at least demonstrate what he was capable of. Joe rolled away from the sprinkler.
“Haven’t you done it yet? Come on, I want another go.”
Luke struck the ball with his putter, a little harder than intended, and it sailed way past the hole, hit a tree, changed direction and finished up under the hedge. Joe laughed. Luke ran to fetch the ball. He patted the ground just under the hedge where he’d seen it go in but couldn’t feel anything. He laid down on his side against the hedge to see if he could see it. Yes. There it was. But it was too far to reach with his hand so he slid his putter under the hedge to try and knock it back out. Unfortunately this knocked it further away and it rolled out the other side and down the slope towards the pavement. Luke called to Joe.
“Jus’ goin’ to get my ball.”
“Leave it. You can share mine,” said Joe.
“It’s my ‘sponsibility to return the ball when I’ve finished playin’,” Luke replied with dignity.
The Park Keeper had treated him with respect by speaking to him like an adult and trusting him to return the hired equipment in as good a condition as he’d received it. Luke was not going to let him down. He had to leave the park to get the ball – something his parents had told him not to do.
They were watching Grandad in a bowling match on the other side of the tennis courts and had only let Luke and Joe go to the putting green on condition that they stay together and stay there until Mum or Dad or Nan came to fetch them. Under no circumstances were they to leave the park. But Luke was sure they’d want him to return the ball to the Park Keeper who had trusted him with it. And it was only just outside, on the pavement at the bottom of the slope on the other side of the hedge. So close to the park that it could hardly be called outside the park.
Luke ran along the hedge until he reached the gate. He exited the park and ran down the path to the pavement. He ran along the pavement in the opposite direction until he was level with what he thought was the spot in the hedge where the ball came through, though it was difficult to tell.
“Joe,” he called, “are you there?”
Joe’s voice came back from the other side of the hedge but it was a bit further along.
“I’m here. Can you see it?”
“Not yet,” said Luke, “but it must be here somewhere.”
He continued along the pavement until he was level with Joe’s voice and then looked carefully for the ball.
“Joe! I can’t find it! Come an’ help me!”
“We’re s’posed to stay here.”
“I know but it’ll be quicker if you help an’ then we’ll go back an’ no one will know.”
“Ok,” said Joe.
He was such a dependable friend. The two of them searched for almost ten minutes without any luck. Joe said the Park Keeper would probably understand if they apologised and explained what had happened but Luke wasn’t ready to give up yet.
“This pavement goes downhill,” he said.
“No it don’t, it’s flat,” Joe disagreed.
“Give me your ball,” said Luke.
He placed it gently on the pavement and it started to roll.
“See! It’s slightly downhill. If we follow your ball it will lead us to mine.”
“Ok,” said Joe, and they followed it.
It went past the chip shop and the laundrette; past the pub and the bingo hall. Joe looked back over his shoulder. He couldn’t see the park gate anymore and was a bit worried. Mrs Walker had told them to
1. stay together and
2. stay in the park.
He couldn’t do both so, after very little deliberation, he decided that ‘stay together’ was the more important rule. He hurried to catch up with Luke. The ball continued to trickle on but was slowing down because the slope levelled out just before it reached the main road. Joe’s ball came to a stop against a bulge in the asphalt. He picked it up and put it in his pocket.
“So where’s yours?”
“It must be here somewhere,” said Luke looking around.
His logic was flawless. The ball must have rolled in this direction. But it was nowhere to be seen.
“Well at least we tried,” said Joe, “I think we should prob’ly be gettin’ back to the park.”
“Just one more minute,” said Luke, “I know it’s here. It must be.” Suddenly he realised “someone prob’ly accident’ly kicked it. It’s prob’ly gone across the road!”
“Oh no!” said Joe as he looked at the busy traffic, “we’re not goin’ to cross the road!”
Things were drawing to a close on the bowling green. Grandad’s team had not won but it had been a pleasant match and everyone was ready for tea. Nan and Grandad’s house bordered the park, just a three minute walk from the green, so Nan went ahead to put the kettle on while Grandad said cheerio to his team.
“I’ll go and round up the boys,” Dad volunteered.
Mum caught up with Nan.
Luke pressed the button and waited for the green man. When the traffic stopped and the green man lit up, they crossed the main road.
“See,” said Luke, “safe assouses!”
They both looked up and down for the ball with no more success than they’d had so far. Luke saw a side street which sloped downwards and guessed it had probably rolled down there. It hadn’t.
“I think we have to go back,” said Joe.
“I know,” agreed Luke reluctantly.
They walked up the side street until they reached the main road.
“The cinema!” said Joe with surprise, “I wonder if they’ve got the new Batman film.”
Luke would also have liked to check out the new Batman but first he wondered how come they hadn’t noticed the cinema on their way out. Had they passed it and not seen it? Or was this a different road? Luke looked at the other buildings in the street: a pizza restaurant, a chip shop, a key-cutting shop. None of it looked familiar. Well this road must be parallel to the other road. Luke felt sure if they took the next left they’d be back on track. They took the next left. Then the next right. Then they went straight ahead for a long time. They were completely lost.
“What’re we gonna do?” Joe was really worried.
Luke wasn’t entirely calm himself but he pretended he was.
“Let’s sit down for a minute to think,” he said.
It was so hot and they were really thirsty. They sat down on a bench and thought. Mum and Dad had mobile phones but Luke didn’t know the numbers. And anyway, there were no phone boxes.
“Just think!” Luke told himself, “I’m an outlaw. I can get us out of this.”
He looked up and down the length of the street and at one end of it he saw something that would solve everything.
Dad burst into Nan’s house trembling, half with anger, half with fear.
“That boy!” he said.
“What?” said Mum and Nan with alarm.
“They’ve gone! They’re not there! No sign of them on the putting green and the Keeper says they haven’t returned the gear. I’ve been all over the park – the toilets, the cafe, the tennis courts, the gardens. They’re not in the park!”
“Call the police!” said Nan.
“We need a policeman!” said Luke, triumphantly pointing to the police car at the end of the street.
Joe’s face flooded with relief and the two of them rushed towards it. The windows were quite dirty and the sun was in their eyes so it was difficult to see inside. Luke banged on the window.
A loud bark made them jump back. Luke laughed.
“Oh, that made me jump! But I weren’t scared. I’m not scared of dogs.”
He banged on the driver’s door window again.
“Hello! Police! We need the police!”
The window was open a bit at the top so Luke peeped in the gap.
“The policeman’s not in here,” he said, “just the dog.”
The dog didn’t bark again, she just panted.
“She’s really hot,” said Luke, concerned.
Joe remembered a sticker he’d seen on the door of the Co-op. The boys looked at each other and spoke at the same time.
“Dogs die in hot cars!”
It was an estate car and the dog was in the boot. She was lying down now, panting really fast, and had white foam around her mouth. The boys ran around the car trying all the doors and shouting for help. The doors were locked and nobody came. Both front windows were wound down a little so they held on to the top of the glass and tried to force them down further but they wouldn’t budge. This frantic activity did at least set off the alarm but still no one came. Then Luke remembered.
“The golf clubs!”
He grabbed the putters from the ground and handed one to Joe.
“Hit the glass as hard as you can!” he told him.
The two of them struck the back window with all their might, again and again. First there was a crack, then another and another. They just kept hitting it.
“Hey! Hey!” The man’s voice in the distance didn’t slow them down.
They were nearly there. There was a head-sized hole in the glass with cracks radiating from it. The boys put down their weapons and took hold of sections of glass between the cracks with their hands. They pushed and pulled, working them back and forth until they could be folded all the way down. Now the hole was big enough for Luke to climb in. Adrenaline masked the pain of the cuts on his hands as he tried to lift her. She was weak and limp and too heavy for him.
Joe climbed in and between them they lifted her to the hole but they couldn’t lift her out because there was no one to hand her to. It was an oven in there.
“Just get her head outside so she can breathe,” said Luke, “then we’ll prob’ly ‘ave to jus’ push ‘er out.”
But before they did the hatchback opened and there stood the policeman. He lifted his dog and carried her a few steps to the cool shade of a large tree where he trickled water from a bottle over her mouth. The boys watched, not even caring how much trouble they were in. The police dog started to lick the water around her lips. Luke and Joe rushed towards her with cupped hands and she lapped up the water the policeman poured into them. They sat in the shade for some time. Eventually the policeman spoke.
“I only left her for a minute. I opened the front windows a little and parked in the shade of this tree, so I thought she’d be ok, just for a minute. But then I got held up by ……”
He paused, realising there was no point in making excuses.
“I just didn’t think I was going to be more than a minute or two. But I should have known I might be delayed; and the sun is constantly moving so the car wouldn’t have been in the shade for long.”
He shook his head, full of regret.
“And it only takes a few minutes for a dog to overheat and die.”
Luke and Joe said nothing. The dog wagged her tail.
“Good girl Sheba,” said the policeman, “you’re my good girl.”
He looked at the boys.
“And you boys are heroes. Thank you.”
Nan and Grandad were waiting by the phone for the police to call back with any news. Mum and Dad were frantically searching the park again.
“Marian,” said Dad, “they’re not here. I’m going to walk towards the town.”
“Wait! Look!” said Mum, pointing to the police car she could see pulling up outside Nan and Grandad’s house.
They both ran.
When all was explained and forgiven, everyone realised how hungry they were and Nan’s tea went down very well. It was too late to return the putters and Joe’s ball to the Park Keeper but Dad took Luke back to Swanspool the next day so that he could hand them in.
“… so I’m sorry they’re late,” said Luke after explaining the previous day’s events, “but we dint steal ’em.”
“I never thought for a moment that you did,” the Park Keeper said as he put them away.
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