Looking for Adventure
The freshly renamed Free Speech Five were holding a meeting in the Ball Room with the lead-piping. All of the members of the new-look Famous Five were present. Julian Kirrin, the child detective; Uncle Quentin, the government boffin; freelance journalist Gerald Milton-Bostock and ace cub-reporter Peter Hitchens, all sat at the table.
“I say”, said Julian, “I’m a little concerned. Our more observant readers will have noticed that the Free Speech Five only has four members. Is there any news of the new dog, Uncle Quentin?”
“Slight delay with the canine replacement operation, I’m afraid, bit of a cock-up on the logistics front”, replied Uncle Quentin, chewing on his pipe. “I tried to get in touch with your Uncle Sidney but he’s away badger-baiting for a few days. He’s sure to fix us up with a jolly fine hound when he returns. Did you know that he won the Hartlepool Dog Fighting League three years on the bounce? Anyway, I think it’s high time that we had our first adventure! How do we find an adventure?”
“Well, that’s the problem, you see”, explained Julian. “Traditionally, Timmy the Dog would find something in the woods. George would notice that there was something a tad rum out about it. Dick and Anne would fanny about a bit. Then, I would work out that it was the clue to an exciting mystery. It was a pretty solid formula, but it did rely quite heavily on Timmy.”
“I suggest, then, that we call the vet’s and see if we can’t get young Timmy a couple of day’s reprieve,” said Uncle Quentin. “He’ll do until Sidney gets back.”
Sick as a Brick
As Peter went to make the arrangements for Timmy’s temporary stay of execution, Uncle Quentin noticed that Gerald was an even more peculiar colour than usual.
“Are you alright, old chap?” asked Uncle Quentin.
“No, I don’t believe that I am”, said Gerald. “How long, exactly, was I in that diabetic coma? I feel that my pancreas may have exploded.”
“Well, it was quite a while” conceded Julian. “But I did have to make sure that you weren’t a drunken Albanian”.
“Oh, I fully concur, Julian. You never can be too careful about such things,” agreed Gerald “But I could jolly well murder a hospital right now. Is there one nearby?”
“It’s eight miles up the road” explained Uncle Quentin. “I’d give you a lift but I simply have to get to Waitrose before it closes. We’re clean out of artisan ginger beer. You will be okay to walk, won’t you?”
“I dare say so”, groaned Gerald. “I’d best be going, I think.”
Peter returned to the room. “Good news!” he bellowed. “Timmy will live a day or two longer! Old Compton the vet had left him chained up in the shed and forgotten all about him. If we get him back tonight, we’re guaranteed to find a corking adventure tomorrow!”
The Free Speech Five reconvened the next day. Again, there were four, but this time it was Gerald who was missing. “There’s some jolly rotten news, I’m afraid”, announced Peter, “Gerald expired a furlong or two from the hospital.”
“That’s terrible!” exclaimed Uncle Quentin. “If only that filthy socialist council had built that hospital half a mile closer to the house! These people have no sense of responsibility!”
“Absolutely!” Julian concurred. “Are there no limits to their indifference? It does put us back in the position of being a chap short, though. Maybe we should go and retrieve George from the orphanage. I know she’s not ideal but she does seem to get the best out of Timmy.”
“Yes, that sort do seem to have a certain affinity for dogs, don’t they?” conceded Uncle Quentin reluctantly. “Perhaps we should head down there and see if they’ll let us buy her back. Who knows? We might find an adventure along the way.”
“Yes, let’s!” said Peter and Julian.
“Woof!” said Timmy who was quite excited at the thought of seeing his old friend.
The Free Speech Five go Forth
The four surviving members of the Free Speech Five duly packed a picnic and set off to Miss Pringle’s Happy Home for Romanian Orphans.
The orphanage was on nearby Kirrin Peak and bore a passing resemblance to Colditz castle.
The Free Speech Five approached the gatehouse where they found a rather ineffectual looking middle-aged woman. “There are no operators available. Your visit is very important to us. Your visit is number one in the queue. Please wait”, she said and promptly lowered the blind.
“How frightfully rude!” said Julian.
“I’m afraid it’s the way of the modern world, Julian”, explained Uncle Quentin. “One day soon, however, we shall undo the damage of 60 years of rampant liberalism. Won’t we, Peter?”
“Oh! Yes, yes. Very much so!” enthused Peter Hitchens. “Does anybody else suspect that Keir Starmer smells?”
“I’m jolly well sure that he does”, Julian agreed. “He’s a grammar school oik. There’s nothing smellier. I say, where’s Timmy?”
Timmy Finds a Clue
Timmy was searching the undergrowth and had found a cardboard tag that attracted his attention. He brought it to Julian.
“Oh, Timmy”, cried Julian, “What on earth are you doing with that litter in your mouth? I can’t wait until Uncle Biffa brings us a real dog!”
Timmy, however, was persistent and he continued to proffer the tag to Julian. “Oh, very well!”, said Julian, “Give it here. You’ll be catmeat by Monday, anyway. I say! Maybe old Timmy’s not so useless after all! This tag might well be a clue! Whatever could it mean?”
Before our ace detectives could decipher the clue, the gatehouse blind opened. “Sorry to keep you waiting. How may we help you?”, resumed the dreary woman, “Orphans are five bob a piece but we can offer some seriously good price-breaks for larger orders.”
“Ah, well, you see,” explained Uncle Quentin, “we’re actually trying to buy a specific orphan. We sold her to you the other day but we’ve had a change of heart and decided to re-adopt her on a temporary basis. Would you be able to bring us my niece, Georgina Kirren, by any chance? I’m sure that we can negotiate a fair price.”
“I’m afraid that would be rather irregular, sir”, explained the woman. “There’s almost certain to be some sort of evil Brussels regulation against selling specific orphans. We could always sell you a batch of a dozen and you could hope that she’s in there. Would that be of any interest, sir? We can offer free finance, and as a special bonus incentive, we can extend your warranty by 3 months. Your statutory rights, of course, would remain entirely unaffected.”
“I’m not terribly sure that I could find a use for that many orphans”, Uncle Quentin declared. “Georgina may not even be in the batch. There must be some way that we can circumvent this evil Eurocracy. I am rather well connected, you see. Would it be possible to have a quiet word with Miss Pringle, herself?”
“That would also be highly irregular, sir”, replied the woman. “And for another thing, there is no longer a Miss Pringle here. My husband, Mr Penrose, now runs the establishment.”
Uncle Quentin Meets an Old Friend
“Penrose, eh?” enquired Uncle Quentin, “Surely not the chap who was known as Sticky Biscuit at Ipswich? Why, he’s a dear old chum of mine. It would be awfully nice to see the old bounder again!
Momentarily, Mr Penrose came out to greet them. “Dashed fine to see you Kirrin, old bean!” he bellowed. “Haven’t seen you since the old Bullingdon reunion bash, what! What a weekend that was! How the Devil are you?”
Introductions were made and Penrose invited the gathering to join him in his office. They passed through a courtyard and up a small, winding staircase into a palacial room papered with fifty pound notes. “Welcome to our charity’s head quarters”, said Mr Penrose.
“Golly!” said Julian. “What corking wallpaper! So many pictures of Her Majesty! You’re clearly a patriot and no mistake. This charity must be run jolly efficiently! How do you do it?”
“Pull up a solid gold chair and I’ll tell you all about it”, said Mr Penrose. “It’s quite a simple process. Orphans are very easy to obtain in the UK but there’s a massive demand for them in China where they’re needed to produce upmarket Western goods like iPods. Consumers get their precious baubles, the children get an exciting life in the Orient and our charity gets well-funded into the bargain. It’s a perfect process.”
“What a splendid example of how unfettered marketeering can only be good for all of us!” drooled Peter.
“Rather!” concurred Uncle Quentin. “A delightful plan. Straight out of the undreadble Ayn Rand playbook. Bravo!”
Something Smells of Fish …
Julian, the brilliant boy detective, wasn’t quite so convinced. “There’s one thing that bothers me”, he interjected. “The Chinese are famed for two things. As well as their utter inscrutability, they’re also renowned for being extremely tight-fisted. There’s no way a Chinese factory would pay premium prices for street urchins. I suspect that you have another source of income!”
“Very perceptive, young Julian”, replied Mr Penrose, “You’ll go a long way. Yes, we do have a lucrative side-line in the supply of invisible PPE, too.”
“I can see how that would help”, Julian conceded. “But now that Mr Hancock is no longer in a position to hand out bogus contracts like confetti, that particular opportunity would seem to be drying up.”
“Don’t worry, Julian”, said Uncle Quentin. “Mr Penrose is in charge of government security. He knows who all the wrong ‘uns are. I suppose we ought to return to the reason for our visit. Do you still have young Georgina?”
Penrose shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. “No, I think she must have been in the last consignment to Huawei. She’ll be on a slow container ship to China, I’m afraid. Once they’re out of the country, there’s no way we can bring them back, what with COVID and Priti Patel and everything. Would a replacement do? You can have more than one to make up for the inconvenience.”
… and it’s not Julian Kirrin
Julian suddenly remembered the curious tag that Timmy had found. “Just a moment!” he declared. “The tag we found with George’s name on it bore a seal. A consignment to Huawei wouldn’t require a seal of Royal approval. The Chinese are a primitive people prone to communism. They are so backwards that they don’t even have a Royal Family! How do you explain this, Mr Penrose?” He handed the tattered card to his host.
“Oh! Georgina Kirrin! I must have been thinking of another Georgina”, explained Penrose unconvincingly. “Yes, I do recall her. I think she might have escaped. A few of them do, I’m afraid.”
“Hmmm. I’d rather like to see the paperwork that relates to this document,” continued Julian. “I’m beginning to suspect that you’re doing something a tad more scurrilous than simply selling children to evil yellow corporations.”
Uncle Quentin was aghast. “Steady on, old chap!” he said sternly. “Penrose is a party member and everything. There’s no way he would do anything shady.”
“Maybe he wouldn’t”, Julian admitted. “But what about his wife?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” snapped Uncle Quentin. Mrs Harding has an untarnished reputation for being good at business and stuff. You don’t get to land billions of pounds’ worth of government contracts by getting up to anything dodgy. That would be entirely preposterous and completely un-British. Apologise at once!”
Julian, however, had spotted a partially redacted invoice lying on the table.
“Admit it!”, he cried. “You’ve sold George for next week’s Bunga Bunga party, haven’t you?”
George Returns (but she doesn’t get to say anything because she’s a girl)
“Damn!”, exclaimed Penrose. “I would have got away with it if it hadn’t been for this pesky kid, his dodgy uncle, a racist dog and a clapped-out old journalist.”
“I’m sure there’s some way we can work this out without getting the police involved,” said Uncle Quentin calmly. “What say you return Georgina with a full refund and we’ll give her back to you when we’ve done with her?”
“That sounds most amicable”, agreed Mr Penrose. “But how do I know that you won’t go to the papers. Peter does claim to be a journalist, after all …”
“Ho, ho!”, laughed Peter. “I’m not that sort of journalist. I only deal in opinions. I’ve never written a true story in my life. Your sordid secret is entirely safe with me. The Free Speech Five have cracked their first case!”
George was duly restored to The Free Speech Five and they all set off to Uncle Quentin’s for a slap-up feast and lashings of artisan ginger beer.