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Chapter 9: Luke Walker and the secret society
Luke handed his notebook to Joe.
“Read that and if you agree, write ya name there, under mine, and then put ya thumb print there,” he said, pointing to the designated pages.
He uncapped the bottle of black poster paint and squirted a dollop into the saucer while Joe read the pledge.
“D’you agree?” he asked him when he’d finished.
“Are you sure? Do you solemnly swear?”
Luke knew he could not over-emphasize the gravity of this decision. Once you became an outlaw there was no going back.
“I’m sure,” said Joe, picking up the Biro and writing his name on the line under Luke’s.
Luke was very happy. He ceremoniously pushed the saucer across the carpet to Joe who dipped his thumb into the paint a little too enthusiastically. Thankfully he avoided messing up the book by wiping off the excess on his trousers before pressing his thumb onto the page alongside Luke’s handwritten pledge:
When Joe passed the book back, Luke forced himself to purse his lips and simulate a frown as he turned to the next page. It was vital that Joe had no illusions about the seriousness of the commitment he had made.
“These are the rules we live by,” he said gravely as he spun the book around and pushed it back to Joe.
“Do I get one now?” asked Joe when he’d finished reading the rules.
Luke thought he was getting ahead of himself.
“Do you agree to the rules?” he asked.
“Yes. I do. That’s why I want to be in the club.”
“It’s not a club, it’s a secret …” he paused suddenly, “shh, someone’s out there!” Luke swiftly closed the book and slid it under the bed. He silently got to his feet and crept to the door. He listened. He could hear breathing on the other side. He yanked the door open to reveal his brother, standing frozen stiff with his mouth open.
“Jared! What are you doin’? This is private!”
“Nobody cares about your stupid secrets. I’m going to Mike’s, Mum told me to tell you it’s your turn to do the drying up.”
Luke slammed the door and waited until he heard Jared go downstairs.
Joe raised his eyebrows.
“So, do I get one?”
“I s’pose it would be good if you had one, but you’ll ‘ave to get it yourself. I made this one out of my Maths book. You can use any subject though coz it don’t matter what colour it is, as long as it’s got plenty of blank pages left. Just tear out the used ones.”
“But the most important thing you need is a code-maker,” Luke went on, “this is mine.”
He revealed two circles of cardboard fastened together, that he’d secreted between the pages of his Batman annual.
“Look here,” he said, pointing to another page in the notebook, “I’ve done diagrams to show you how to make one. When you’ve done it we can send each other coded messages that no one else will be able to decode.”
When Joe was clear about how to do it, he went home to make one for himself.
“Don’t tell anyone!” Luke reminded him on his way out.
After hearing the front door close, Luke stood at the window and watched Joe walk out of the cul-de-sac feeling full of optimism. Now there were two of them. He’d always known he could rely on Joe, and had benefited from his help a couple of times already, but it was really something to know that his best friend now properly understood that animals needed sticking up for every day; and that sometimes you have to be sneaky about it.
“Luuuke! Come and do the drying up please!” Mum’s voice called from downstairs.
“In a minute,” he called back. He just needed to wash up the saucer of paint before it dried.
On the other hand, perhaps it was prudent to go down right away.
Once the drying up was done, Luke hung out with the damsons in the garden for a while. He gave them yesterday’s left over salad, and supervised to make sure Rusty didn’t eat it all. She was one naughty rabbit! Ash could look after himself but Scratcher was never quick enough and Rusty would pinch her share given the chance. Luke made them a clean bed, and picked them some raspberries that were too high up on the canes for them to reach before coming back inside to get Dudley for his walk.
“Wear your mac,” said Mum, “looks like rain.”
Luke grabbed his Spiderman cagoule from the hall cupboard and called his dog.
“Dudleeeey. Dudleey. Dudley!”
Finally the sleepy boy emerged from Luke’s room at the top of the stairs and trotted down, tail wagging. Was that mud? Luke couldn’t think where Dudley could have been to get one of his paws muddy – it hadn’t rained yet. But not too worry, it would dust off the carpet when it dried.
Outside it was breezy and the purplish-grey sky looked ominous but Luke and Dudley weren’t afraid. They walked briskly to the allotments to see Curly and her beloved lamb, Squirt, and check they had everything they needed. Little Squirt, who wasn’t so little any more, came running up to meet them and he and Dudley ambled off to play together. The big allotment plot provided them with plenty of grass and clover to eat but Curly knew Luke was carrying treats and nuzzled against his leg until he gave her the carrots he’d brought. Then he refilled their water trough by stretching the long hose from Dad’s plot. In the big shed Luke mucked out the droppings and made a deep, fresh bed of clean hay. Mm, it smelled good. Curly looked in to see what he was up to.
“I just tidied up,” Luke told her and he plopped down on the soft hay and rolled around in it. The sound of raindrops on the roof made it extra cosy and Curly decided to join him. She settled herself into a comfortable spot and started chewing – mostly hay but occasionally hair.
“Ow!” Luke yanked his head away and sat up to stroke her. She liked that. Suddenly the rain started coming down hard, sending Dudley and Squirt for cover. They rolled in the hay to dry themselves off, and then the four friends sat together and watched the downpour. The storm was powerful and awe-inspiring. It was exciting to be so close to it.
The rain lasted for almost an hour and when it stopped Luke and Dudley made a break for it. With any luck they would be home before it came down again. That wouldn’t keep them dry though. When they reached the village shop a passing lorry relocated a giant puddle at the edge of the road to the exact spot in which Luke and Dudley were standing. Dudley promptly shook. Luke got wetter. Dripping from head to toe, he noticed a card in the shop window. It read:
“Blimin’ breeders!” thought Luke, “them babies’ll prob’ly be left in small cages all on their own. An’ there’s already too many pets who don’t get looked after prop’ly! When I’m Prime Minister I’ll make it against the law for humans to breed!”
He knew he had to do something but since the shop man suspected him of throwing away five hundred KFC leaflets that Jared was supposed to have delivered on his paper round last week, he needed to keep his head down for the time being. Luckily he belonged to a secret society of animal stick up for-ers so he could delegate. He decided to write a message to Joe. No one would suspect Joe.
As soon as he got home he rushed up to his room and took out his code-maker. After some time he wrote on a scrap of paper:
When translated it would read:
He sealed it in a small brown envelope and wrote on the front
As soon as he’d dropped it through Joe’s letter box he was satisfied the job would get done. Joe was the most faithful, dependable person he knew. He needn’t give it another thought.
Tuesday morning, the first day back to school after teacher-training day, Luke overslept. Teacher-training days always left him muddled as to what day it was and, thinking it was still the weekend, he’d turned over and gone back to sleep after Mum woke him. Dreading the moaning and complaining that were inevitable from Mrs Tebbut, Luke opened the classroom door at twenty two minutes past nine. There was a lot of moaning and complaining going on but none of it directed at him. In fact, no one even noticed him come in. Mrs Tebbut was very agitated, talking to the caretaker at the front of the room.
“It won’t come off?” she was very put out.
“I’ve tried everything,” he explained, “hot soapy water with a scouring sponge; vinegar; lemon juice; bicarbonate of soda; everything I could think of that wouldn’t damage the glass.”
“So what can I do? I need to be able to see out the back!”
“Maybe you could call a valeting service. They might have special kit that could get it off – maybe a steam cleaner.”
Luke slid into his seat next to Joe and quietly asked what was going on. Joe looked worried.
“I got your message,” he mumbled, trying to suppress an involuntary smile.
“Oh, good, have you done it?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t pass the shop this morning.”
“What are you talkin’ about?”
“What are you talkin’ about?”
“Your message, I’ve done it – that’s why she’s so cross,” Joe whispered, trying not to look guilty.
“Why would she be cross about it?” Luke was confused. So was Joe.
“What did you expect? Of course she’d be cross – I used the brown stuff. Why did you want me to do that anyway?”
“What brown stuff? What are you talkin’ about?!” Luke’s irritation hurt Joe’s feelings. He’d successfully completed his first solo mission for the secret society and couldn’t understand Luke’s reaction. By this time Mrs Tebbut was thanking Mr Pine for trying to help and calling the class to order.
“I did what you asked!” Joe hissed, “I thought you’d be a bit more grateful!” and he passed his translation under the desk to Luke. It read:
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