Undercover Angel Strikes Again, page 1
For Chiqui –
for obvious reasons
Kuba Bamber Rocks My Boat
I Make a Decision Based on Fear
I Give an Academy Award Winning Performance
I Discover That Everyone Has a Price
Welcome to Wyndach
Night One and Counting
The Educational Part of Our Trip Begins
War at Wyndach
KUBA BAMBER ROCKS MY BOAT
Mr Palfry, our science teacher, was talking about the class trip.
“We’ll be visiting a region rich in history,” Mr Palfry was saying. “There have been human settlements there for thousands of years. Stone Age … Iron Age … Roman…”
He sounded almost breathless, as though this was all incredibly exciting. But believe me when I say that it wasn’t. It was about as exciting as eating dry oats. If we’d been going somewhere that was rich in fun, like Disneyland Paris, it would have been exciting. But we weren’t going to Disneyland Paris – we were going to some mountain in Wales. I had to struggle to keep my eyes open.
I wasn’t the only one. Most of the class had started nodding off the minute Mr Palfry said “rich in history”. The only exceptions were Kuba Bamber and Archie Spongo. Both Kuba and Archie were new to the country and the school, which probably had something to do with their ability to stay awake during Mr Palfry’s pep talk. Archie’s English wasn’t great, so he always paid attention in class, but Kuba, whose English was better than mine, always paid attention because she was a model student.
And then Mr Palfry got to what he obviously thought was the best part.
“Not only have there been settlements at Wyndach for thousands of years,” he gushed, “but it’s an unspoilt wilderness that will give us the rare opportunity to study some of the indigenous flora and fauna that are sadly gone from much of the British Isles.”
Archie Spongo raised his hand.
Mr Palfry raised an eyebrow. He seemed surprised to discover that someone other than Kuba was still awake.
Archie smiled. Archie always smiled when he was nervous. He smiled most of the time.
“Excuse me, Mr Palfry,” said Archie. He had a heavy accent that made it sound as if he was talking through a mouthful of wet bread. “But what does ‘indigenous’ mean? Is it like a disease?”
Eddie Kilgour woke up first. He started gasping with laughter, and then almost everybody else joined in.
“No, Archie,” said Mr Palfry loudly. “No, it isn’t a disease. Would someone like to tell Archie what ‘indigenous’ means?” His eyes moved round the room and stopped. “Eddie?”
Behind me Kuba finally laughed, and it was definitely at Eddie, not with him.
Eddie looked over and glowered. But it wasn’t Kuba he was glowering at, of course. It was me. Kuba was not only a model student, she was also sweet and shy. Even Eddie thought she was a total angel. It would never occur to him that Kuba would laugh at him like that; so it had to be me.
That sort of thing had been happening a lot lately. It happened in science, it happened in English, it happened in maths, it happened in the playground, it happened in the cafeteria. If there was the slightest chance of getting Eddie in trouble, someone did. But even though that someone was always Kuba, she always made it look as if that someone was me.
I turned round to do a little glowering of my own in Kuba’s direction. She didn’t so much as blink. Maybe I’m slow, but it was the first time I realized that she was doing it on purpose. For some reason Kuba Bamber was deliberately rocking my boat.
“Eddie?” prompted Mr Palfry. “Eddie, can you explain to Archie what ‘indigenous’ means?”
Eddie didn’t know. He didn’t say he didn’t know, of course; he just frowned as though he was trying to come up with an explanation that was simple enough for Archie Spongo to understand. His best mate, Mark, didn’t know either. Mark was looking blank and trying not to grin. Eddie glared at me again as if it was all my fault.
The last thing I wanted was for Eddie Kilgour to be angry with me. I’d always been considered a little different by my schoolmates, but my stock had risen considerably since the Battle of Campton. After I stopped Mr Bamber’s bulldozers from levelling the woods so he could build a housing development and a golf course, I was famous for a while. I even had my picture in the paper with the caption CHILD LEADS THE WAY TO A GREENER FUTURE, and a clip on the news showed me lying down in front of a bulldozer, holding up a placard. My mother, the environmental activist, was so proud of me that she broke at least three of her most cherished principles and bought me the Nike sweatshirt I’d longed for as a reward. With my new fame and my new sweatshirt the rest of the class had finally accepted me as human. Even Eddie had stopped tormenting me all the time. And I wanted to keep it like that.
I put up my hand. Because my mother’s both a gardener and an environmental activist, “indigenous” is one word I know well. Before I could tie my own shoes I’d been taught that McDonald’s is not indigenous to Great Britain, that the holly bush is indigenous to Great Britain, and that the mouse-eared bat used to be.
“Indigenous means native!” I called out.
Kuba jabbed me with her pencil.
“Thank you, Elmo,” said Mr Palfry. He didn’t sound as thankful as I’d expected. He peered at Archie over his glasses. “Do you understand that, Archie? Indigenous means native.” He smiled gamely. “To a place,” he explained. “Native to a place.”
Archie Spongo kept grinning in a non-committal sort of way.
“You know!” spluttered Eddie. “Like you’re native to the planet Weirdo.”
This remark had the desired effect. The boys who weren’t killing themselves laughing started humming the theme tune to The Twilight Zone.
Mark leaned towards Archie and whispered loudly and ghoulishly, “In space, no one can hear you scream…”
The laughter doubled.
Mr Palfry rapped on his desk.
“Did you have something you wanted to share with the rest of the class, Eddie?” asked Mr Palfry.
But Eddie was a professional when it came to this sort of thing. He should have been – he’d been doing it since primary school. Teacher interference never slowed him down for long.
He gazed back at Mr Palfry with the serious, earnest expression of someone questing for knowledge.
“I was just wondering if there are natives where Archie comes from,” said Eddie. “You know, who paint themselves blue and worship the moon and stuff like that.”
“Eddie,” said Mr Palfry, with what I thought was incredible patience. “Eddie, the last place Archie lived was London. Remember?”
This was hard to believe, considering the way Archie talked and dressed, but it was true. Archie Spongo had lived in London before he came to Campton, but he’d lived somewhere else before that. Somewhere where they were dropping bombs and the electricity never worked.
“I’m sure there are people who paint themselves blue and worship the moon in London,” Mr Palfry went on, “but I doubt if they run around in loin cloths with spears in their hands, if that’s what you had in mind.”
Eddie pretended to be embarrassed. He slapped his forehead, and groaned, and made faces. His audience spluttered in appreciation.
“Of course!” cried Eddie. He gave Mr Palfry a big cheesy grin. “How could I be so stupid?”
I MAKE A DECISION BASED ON FEAR
“I don’t believe you, Elmo Blue,” said Kuba as we went to lunch. She swung her book bag over her shoulder and slammed me in the arm. “You really are too much sometimes.”
The book bag whopped me again. “You bailed Eddie out, that’s what you did. Why can’t you ever just leave well alone?”
She could talk. The fastest way to get Kuba to do something was to tell her not to.
“Me? Excuse me … you’re the one who nearly got me in trouble with Eddie.” I gave her a sour look. “Again.” My look became accusing. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed how you’re always provoking him and making it look like it’s me,” I went on. “Because I have, and I’m getting pretty fed up with it.”
“I hope you’re not threatening me,” said Kuba sweetly. “It isn’t something that I’d recommend.”
If anyone else had heard her, they would have thought she was joking. At school Kuba acts like she’s about as hard as custard. Which is ironic, really, since she’s the last person you’d ever want to mess with.
The important thing you have to know about Kuba is that she not only behaves like an angel – she really is an angel. She’s an undercover angel, disguised as an orphan from South America. She doesn’t have wings, but she does have a halo. It’s not a circle of light the way they are in old paintings, though; it’s a haze of blue over her head. I’m the only one who can see it, but she wears an old hat to cover it, just in case. Kuba claims she came to Campton to help people, but in my opinion the real reason she came was to bother me.
“I’m not threatening you,” I said irritably. “I’m just mentioning something you seem to have overlooked.”
Kuba, of course, continued to overlook it.
“Eddie was about to make a complete fool of himself,” she informed me. “And you saved him.”
“That’s not the point,” I protested. “The point is that you keep setting me up. And anyway, I didn’t save him. I just happened to know the answer. Since when is it a crime to answer a question?”
“Even Mr Palfry was annoyed with you,” said Kuba, and she opened the door to the cafeteria and strode through.
I walked straight into her because instead of striding on into the dining room she stopped at the door.
“Talk of the devil,” she muttered half under her breath.
Eddie Kilgour and Mark Crother were sitting with some other boys at a table near the drinks machine. Archie Spongo was at the table in front of Eddie’s with some other kids no one else wanted to sit with.
I watched Archie for a few seconds, sitting there in the wrong clothes and the wrong haircut. He looked like a pelican set down in a flock of parrots. Or a sitting duck.
And then I noticed something else. Archie didn’t know it, but Eddie was copying everything he did. If Archie scratched his head, Eddie scratched his head. If Archie unpacked his lunch, Eddie pretended to unpack his lunch too. I know it doesn’t sound that thrilling, but it was keeping Eddie’s table pretty amused.
“So,” said Kuba. “I suppose we’d better find some seats.”
I could tell she meant her and me. “We? Where’s Ariel today?”
Kuba usually had lunch with Ariel Moordock and I sat with Carl and Jamal.
“She had to go somewhere with her mother,” said Kuba vaguely. “To the optician’s, I think.”
That suited me fine. Carl and Jamal were all right, but we weren’t great mates. The only reason I sat with them was because they’d asked me to share a room with them on the class trip, and the only reason they asked me to share a room with them was so they weren’t the ones who got stuck with Archie Spongo.
“OK.” I pointed right. “Let’s sit over there.” Which was about as far away as we could get from Eddie and his mates and still be in the room.
Kuba didn’t budge. “Somebody should do something about them,” she mumbled to herself. “They’re getting out of control.”
Her eyes were on Eddie and Mark, who were nearly choking over Eddie’s impersonation of Archie trying to get his juice carton open, so I pretended I hadn’t heard her. If anybody was going to do something about Eddie and Mark, it definitely wasn’t going to be me.
“Come on.” I gave her arm a tug. “Let’s sit down.”
Kuba treated me to her sweetest smile. “Your table’s just been taken.” She pointed left. “We’ll have to sit over there.”
And she sailed off to the corner where Archie Spongo was inspiring Eddie Kilgour to new comic heights.
Even though I hate sitting by myself at lunch, I would have if it hadn’t been for the fact that Kuba was right – as usual. All of a sudden there wasn’t anywhere else to sit. It was like a reverse miracle. I took a deep breath and followed my best friend into the darkest corner of the cafeteria.
There were a couple of kids sitting at the table behind Eddie, but they suddenly got up and left as we approached.
“You see,” said Kuba. “Perfect.”
Perfect for what? I felt like asking. Suicide?
To my relief, neither Eddie nor any of the others seemed to notice us sit down. They probably couldn’t see through the tears of laughter.
I opened the brown paper bag that contained my lunch and Kuba opened the trendy chrome box that held hers.
“What have you got?” I spoke softly. If they didn’t know we were there, I wasn’t going to tell them.
Kuba said “What?” as Eddie and his mates let out a laugh that shook our table.
Kuba frowned. Tiny flecks of gold glinted in her eyes. Experience has taught me that the gold glints in Kuba Bamber’s eyes are usually a bad sign.
“What have you got?” I repeated. “I’ve got nut cutlet sandwiches and vegetable sticks.” My mother’s got a thing about healthy eating.
“Soup and pasta salad,” said Kuba. Mrs Bamber has a thing about the posh deli in town.
Kuba was taking her brushed-steel Thermos out of the box when Eddie tapped Archie Spongo on the shoulder. She had her back to them, but I could tell from the way the gold in her eyes got darker that she knew exactly what was happening.
I tried not to pay any attention to what Eddie Kilgour was doing. What did I care, as long as he wasn’t doing it to me?
“Soup,” I said wistfully. I never brought soup any more because my Thermos had a picture of Snoopy on it. “That sounds good.”
Which was more or less what Eddie was saying at that very second.
“Doesn’t that look good…” Eddie was saying.
Kuba slowly took the lid off her flask.
Eddie reached out and snatched Archie’s sandwich from him with one flick of the wrist. “Look what Spongo’s got for lunch!” He held the wedge of white bread and something pink in the air. “Doesn’t that look good?”
There was a chorus of “Yum … yum…” from his table.
Mark did his pig impersonation. “Looks like pork,” he said.
Eddie shook his head thoughtfully. “I’m not sure. It looks more like roast rat to me.”
Archie made a grab for Eddie’s hand. “Give me back my sandwich, please.”
Eddie turned so the sandwich was out of his reach. “What do you think, Mark?” Eddie lifted the top slice of bread. “Doesn’t this look like roast rat to you?”
Very, very slowly, Kuba poured some soup into the lid of her Thermos. She seemed to be a million miles away. That was OK with me because I was having trouble keeping up my end of the conversation. I really didn’t want to know what Eddie was doing, but I was fascinated. It was like watching the Godfather at work.
“I’m going to get a drink,” said Kuba suddenly. “Do you want anything?”
I must have been paying more attention to Eddie than I thought, because I hadn’t even seen her get up.
I shook my head.
Mark took a slice of pink stuff from the bread and held it between his fingertips. He turned it this way and that. “You know,” he said. “I think it is rat.”
Somebody made a gagging sound.
“Gross!” said Eddie. “Spongo eats rat! Get that stuff away from me.”
He shoved Mark’s hand and the slic
Archie was trying really hard not to cry as he removed the meat from his hair and watched the rest of his lunch soar through the air, but it wasn’t working all that well. His eyes were starting to glisten.
That’s when the table started to quiver. I didn’t notice at first, not until Kuba’s Thermos started to vibrate. I looked down at the table. It was quivering so much that I thought it was going for lift-off.
In the end, though, it wasn’t the table that took off – it was Kuba’s flask. It shot into the air like a tiny rocket, hung there for a few seconds, spraying liquid like a fountain, and then it drifted back down without so much as a bump.
Suddenly Eddie and his mates were all shrieking and jumping up and down, dripping Mrs Bamber’s gourmet soup all over the floor.
Eddie’s eyes met mine.
“Good grief,” said Kuba, reappearing with a carton of apple juice in her hand. She looked concerned. “Whatever happened?”
“Why don’t you ask Elmo?” snarled Eddie.
And that’s when I decided that I wasn’t going on the class trip. Not for anything.
I GIVE AN ACADEMY AWARD WINNING PERFORMANCE
I waited till the last minute before pulling out of the trip. There was a very good reason for this caution: my mother.
My mother is a woman of many principles. If I’d given her the slightest hint that any bullying was going on, she’d have been up at the school faster than an electron. And that was the last thing I wanted. What you want when somebody is pushing you around is to turn into a superhero, not have your mother intervening. It only makes things worse. Archie Spongo’s aunt had been to see the head three times since Archie started at Campton, but instead of chilling Eddie and Mark out, it had only made them more determined.
I was drawn and quiet when I got home from school the afternoon before the trip, but nobody noticed, of course. My mother was out spreading cow dung round someone’s garden, my dad was working on one of his fountains and my grandparents had my baby sister Gertie with them in their studio because they were giving their Latin dance lesson and Gertie loves to salsa.