The Final Mission
He remembered the day vividly. Juan had kissed his wife on the nose. She
had given him a tiny, red and white polka dot handkerchief, which he had tied
round his neck. With that, the two had set off to find food. There had been
rumours that the master of the house often left half eaten bars of chocolate in
his jacket pocket. The jacket was hung on the pegs in the grand hallway. Above
the pegs was a single shelf. The only way to get to the jacket would be to
scale the large grandfather clock, swing across to the shelf, abseil down to
the pegs and swing into the pocket. As if that wasn't dangerous enough, at the
end of the hall was the door with the cat flap.
The two heroes set off at midnight. The house was in darkness and the giants had long since retired to bed. The cat should be prowling outside, ensuring that the local village cats didn't stray onto her property. They made their way to the base of the grandfather clock. Watching the massive pendulum swing back and forth, they gazed towards the summit. It seemed an extraordinary task. The highly polished, wooden casing reflected the light from the dying embers of the fire in the front room. They slipped on their climbing shoes and attached the first rope. Tiny vibrations ran through the wooden wall with each mighty tick, but slowly they made their way up the outside of the clock.
Hickory checked his watch. 12:29. They were making good progress.
"Hold on tight," he whispered to Juan. Juan checked his own timepiece and nodded.
A low rumble began to build within the casing. Metal wheels whirled and chains rattled. The large metal finger on the clock face clicked round and the hall was filled with a mighty clang of a bell. The entire clock shook, but the climbers hung on tightly. The shuddering passed and they continued, sweat dripping from each whisker.
As they passed the jackets, hanging tantalisingly close, they both breathed in deeply, sniffing the sweet chocolate aroma. The rumours were true. There was food to be had, if only they could make it to the shelf.
After climbing the sheer face of the casing the next part was simpler. A small ledge ran below the clock face and this provided an opportunity to rest before scampering up to the summit, the clock hands and intricate holes carved in the clock face giving excellent paw holds. They were soon on top of the clock, but there was no time to admire the dizzying view.
Juan expertly swung a grappling hook over the gap and onto the top shelf. It snagged in the colourful feathers of a fly attached to the master's tweed hat. The other end of the rope was quickly attached to the clock and they made their way across the divide.
The abseil from the shelf was fairly straightforward and they both managed it without difficulty. Scuttling down the jacket they were met by a bewildering mixture of scents. They both winced at the smell of cat that lingered near the lapels. A faint whiff of soup lingered near the breast pocket, the remains of a quickly eaten meal dribbled on the jacket during a particularly frantic period of shooting. But it was the smell from the side pockets that had both their noses twitching eagerly. They dived into the darkness and were met with a wall of sweetness. The long climb had left them both ravenous and they nibbled hungrily at the solid block.
After satisfying themselves they quickly got to work, chipping off lumps of chocolate and stuffing them in the bags they had brought. Hickory checked the watch. Time to go. He motioned to Juan, but he shook his head. They couldn't leave all this when there were folks starving at home. Juan refused to leave. Hickory tried to argue with him. They both knew the plan. They both knew they had to get moving, but Juan remained steadfast.
Hickory pushed past him. There was no point collecting food if they were unable to get it back to the others. He left, slinging the bags onto his back. He made his way up the rope, harder now with all the extra weight. He clambered across the rope from the shelf and back onto the clock. He checked his watch again. 12:57. He looked anxiously at the cat flap.
There was a scuffling from the jacket and a huge mound of chocolate appeared over the edge of the pocket. There was a grunt from inside and the chocolate toppled over the edge and crashed to the floor. The minute hand gave a loud click and swung forwards.
"Come on," hissed Hickory.
Juan grinned and scrambled up the rope to the shelf. The plan was to unhitch the grappling rope and swing back to the clock. He pulled at the tiny hooks. They were caught firmly in the feathers.
"Leave it. There isn't time," Hickory called, glancing at the cat flap.
The hooks came free with a jerk and Juan rocked back, dangerously close to the edge of the shelf. He regained his balance and breathed deeply. That had been close. He swung back across to the clock and began to climb the last few inches to the summit to join Hickory.
There was a low rumble.
"Hang on!" yelled Hickory.
The wheels whirred once more and the giant clapper smashed against the bell. The vibrations at the summit, so much closer to the mechanism were tremendous. Juan was jolted from the side of the clock. One paw lost its grip on the rope. He dangled, desperately trying to catch the rope with his other paw. Hickory leant over as far as he dared as the aftershocks shuddered through the polished wood. Juan's grip slipped. Hickory thrust out a paw and briefly their paws met before Juan's grip failed completely and he plunged down, landing in a heap beside the smashed chocolate bar far below.
Hickory stared in horror. Quickly, he flung a rope over the side of the clock and he slid to the next level. Glancing down, he could see his friend, moving slightly, his fall broken a little by the toe of a discarded slipper. He threw another rope over the edge and slid down again.
His heart leapt into his mouth and his head snapped round. The cat flap swung shut and the large, black and white frame padded up the hall. It stopped and the fur on its neck rose. Juan struggled to his feet.
"Lay still," implored Hickory from above, but it was too late. The slight movement had proved too much and the cat sprang forward, rushing into the slippers and sending Juan spinning across the floor. Hickory raced down the final few feet and dashed over to save his friend. He sank his false teeth firmly into the cat's tail. It hissed and spat loudly as it span round, sending Juan into the skirting board and Hickory diving for cover behind the umbrella stand. The cat pounced, clattering into the stand and scattering umbrellas all over the floor.
Lights flashed on upstairs and angry voices called. Heavy footsteps thundered down the stairs. The cat was quickly grabbed by the scruff of the neck and unceremoniously dumped outside, accompanied by muttered curses. The umbrella stand was straightened.
"Bloomin' thing was after me chocolate!" thundered the master, picking up the smashed bar. He took one look at the tiny teeth marks and tossed it into the wicker waste basket.
Hickory dashed over to the skirting board where Juan lay, motionless. He cradled his head in his tiny paws.
"You've saved them all you know. There's enough chocolate there to keep them going for months," he whispered.
Juan's eyes flickered and a tear rolled down onto the handkerchief. "Tell her I love her," he breathed and with that his eyes closed. Hickory gently untied the knot, laid the polka dotted material over his friend's face, sat down and sobbed.