Becky is a typical thirteen year old girl. She likes Facebook, gossiping and plenty of sleep. So when she and her brother, Joe, are invited to stay with their ‘loony’ Uncle Percy at his stately home, she thinks it’ll be the worst summer ever. What she doesn’t realise is that Bowen Hall is also home to a baby Triceratops, two Sabre-tooth tigers and the mythic hero, Will Scarlet…
‘The Time Hunters’ is a thrilling adventure that takes Becky, Joe, Uncle Percy and Will on a quest through time to find the legendary Golden Fleece.
The Clock is ticking….
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
A Blast from the Past
January 15th 1900. London.
Bernard Preston shut the door to number 17 Cromwell Gardens and scurried down the steps onto the bustling street, acting as casually as he could. He had never knowingly committed a crime before, and certainly not theft.
Reaching the pavement, he stared out over the Thames. Mist clung tightly to the water. He turned right and began to walk, the Houses of Parliament rising majestically before him. Ordinarily, he knew the sight of it, coated in snow like icing on a cake, would have taken his breath away. But not today. Today, he just felt anxious. He knew he had to get out of here, and fast.
Preston levelled his bowler hat and quickened his pace; the package in his overcoat pocket felt unnaturally heavy, a reminder of the crime he had just committed. Still, he didn’t feel a trace of guilt. He had the Theseus Disc. That was all that mattered.
Walking briskly now, he turned his collar to the wind and watched a hansom cab rattle by. As it passed, it revealed an enormous man with cropped flaxen-hair, on the opposite side of the road. At first glance, the man appeared to be dressed in a manner befitting a Victorian gentleman, but since when did Victorian gentlemen wear thick black sunglasses?
The man’s lips curved into a mocking smile.
Preston’s spine froze. ‘Oh, please, no,’ he begged to no one. He watched with dismay as a second man, slightly shorter, joined the first, and together they walked parallel to him, their expressions cold, impassive, like shop mannequins.
He knew he was in trouble now. If only he had brought his pagidizor. But then what use would it be? This wasn’t a registered trip.
No one knew he was here.
Taking a moment to contemplate his next move, he gulped a lungful of icy air. And then ran.
Struggling to keep his footing on the slippery ground, he sidestepped a bewildered pedestrian, and then another, his mind fixed on one thing: Ethel. If only he could reach her he could escape in an instant.
Looking back, he saw four of them now, powering towards him like juggernauts. Turning a corner, he found himself in a long, narrow alleyway. It appeared deserted, but he knew it wasn’t.
Ethel was there – invisible maybe, but definitely there.
Tiring now, legs like girders, he reached the alley’s midpoint and glanced back. To his astonishment, the four men had stopped at the alley’s mouth. He skidded to a halt, puffing madly. Had they really given up? Before he had time to dwell on this, however, he heard the following words.
‘Hello again, Bernard.’
Preston spun round to see a tall, sallow-faced man come out of the shadows, a wide brimmed top hat covering his raven black hair, pitching his face into darkness.
Preston couldn’t believe his eyes. Words caught in his throat. ‘Y-you?’ he stammered. ‘It can’t be.’
‘Oh, I assure you it can,’ the man said coldly. ‘Now, if you would be so kind as to give me the Theseus Disc. For some reason, the Omega Effect has stopped me procuring it at every point. It can be such an annoying occurrence, don’t you think?’
Preston couldn’t find a reply.
‘Cat got your tongue, eh? Good. I always thought you a supremely dull conversationalist. Very well, Bernard, allow me to put it another way: pass over the Theseus Disc or you will answer to my Associate, Mr Kruger, and his trusty service dagger. Believe me, I wouldn’t recommend that option.’
Preston turned deathly pale. ‘Otto Kruger?’ He glanced round to see the flaxen-haired man striding towards them, his huge right hand curled around a long knife that glistened in the misty light.
With a roar of desperation, Preston rushed the man, knocking him off-balance, and continued his charge.
Nearing the wall that marked the alley’s end now, he pulled a small device from his pocket and pressed a button marked with the letter ‘I’. As if from nowhere, a small, mint green, three-wheel car materialised just ahead of him: Ethel.
He threw open the driver’s door when a loud bang echoed off the walls. At once, he felt like he’d been punched in the back. Pain seared his body. He collapsed on to the driver’s seat, his trembling hands reaching for the dashboard, where he typed six numbers onto a keypad. Within seconds, a blinding silvery light filled the car, and with an ear-splitting crack, it vanished.
The stars glittered above Bowen Hall in an inky black sky. The lawns, the forest, the lake were as still as a tomb. Yes, everything seemed in place for a perfectly normal summer’s night. Everything was just as it should be.
But then something peculiar happened. An unnatural wind swept the grounds; the temperature plummeted. Just then, an explosion of light erupted above the front lawn – crackling, twisting, brilliant. Whipping the air, it spiralled like a dazzling whirlwind. Then, with a shattering BOOM, it had gone.
Bernard Preston’s Reliant Robin stood where the light had been.
The driver’s door creaked open and Preston stumbled out. He was fading now, his body shutting down. He knew he had only minutes to live. He had to make them count. After all, he had made it to Bowen Hall, the home of his dearest friend – the one person who could right these terrible wrongs.
Hunched over, numb with pain, Preston limped forward, his gaze fixed on the Hall, never looking back at the bloody trail behind. Resolutely, he staggered on, further and further, before slowly mounting the high stone steps to the front door, where he rapped twice before his legs gave way and he crumpled to the ground. Using the last of his strength, he pulled the package from his pocket.
At least this would be in safe hands.
The door opened. A tall, willowy figure stood there wearing a crimson dressing gown and novelty slippers in the shape of two loaves of bread. Percy Halifax stared into the distance, a bemused smile on his face as though the victim of an impressive practical joke. He heard a rasping voice from below. ‘P – Percy…’
Horror-struck, Percy Halifax dropped down and cradled Preston in his arms. His eyes widened as a scarlet puddle leaked all around. ‘Bernard, what the -’
‘Y-you must listen to me. He’s alive. It was n-no accident.’ Preston’s eyelids flickered. ‘F-find the Fleece … S-see Aubrey…’
‘Bernard, stay with me. Just – ’
Preston clawed for air. ‘Take this,’ he slurred, pressing the package into Percy Halifax’s hand. ‘And P – Percy…’ As his voiced trailed to silence, he whispered something that sounded like, ‘Find … Suman …’ His body grew still.
With these dying words ringing in his head, Percy Halifax closed his friend’s eyes and held up the package. Shakily, he unwrapped it carefully to reveal a gleaming orange disc; a number of strange markings were etched around a central hole, the size of a coin. The disc blurred as his eyes misted over.
Percy Halifax felt hollow. One of his oldest friends was dead. Shot in the back. But who could kill a man like Bernard Preston? A good man. The finest of men. And as his gaze fell on an unusually large black bird circling overhead, a crushing sense of purpose swept over him. He could do something about it. He could try and prevent Bernard from dying. He knew it was a long shot, the Omega Effect, as a rule tended to prevent it, but he could try. It had worked before.
For the next hour, Preston’s words visited him again and again. ‘Find the Fleece’ – ‘He’s alive’ – ‘See Aubrey.’ And then there was the mysterious disc. What could it all possibly mean?
Percy Halifax demanded answers. And he was determined to get them. However, no matter how much he discovered about Preston’s final hours (and in time that would be a great deal) something still puzzled him: who or what was Suman?
Becky, Brothers and Budgies
Becky Mellor lay in bed, her eyes wide open and fixed on the ceiling. She had woken up in a bad mood and just knew today was going to be one of those days. For one thing, she’d discovered a spot the size of a gerbil on her forehead.
But then her eyes were drawn to the gap in her curtains and her heart fluttered. Sitting on the ledge, as still as a statue, was a small bird with a mint green chest and a yellow head marked with black stripes.
The budgerigar’s head slanted left and, for the briefest of moments, Becky had the strangest feeling it was watching her. Then, to her surprise, the budgie tapped three times on the glass.
Becky couldn’t believe it.
The budgie did it again.
A tiny smile arched on Becky’s mouth. She was about to go and open the window when the door crashed open and her younger brother raced in, his hands flapping like a seal. The budgerigar flew off at once.
‘C’mon, Becks!’ Joe yelled impatiently. ‘Mum says we’ll be late if you don’t get a move on.’ He grabbed her duvet, hurled it to the floor and dashed out of the room.
Becky growled loudly. She loved Joe, she really did, but there were times she wanted to beat him with a garden spade to within an inch of his miserable life. Furthermore, she was definitely awake now and the full horror of today struck her. For the next six weeks she had to stay with an uncle she’d never actually met.
Her fingers reached to her neck. As she clasped her lucky pendant, she couldn’t help but think today would be the worst in her thirteen years of breathing. Who was this Uncle Percy anyway? From what little she did know, he sounded like a total loon – a batty hermit who spent his days inventing silly gadgets that probably didn’t work. It didn’t matter how upbeat her mum tried to be, the reality was that for six long weeks she wouldn’t be able to see her friends, go on Facebook, sleep when she wanted to, or do anything that resembled her normal routine, which she happened to enjoy very much. No, this would without question be the dullest summer of her life.
She was determined to hate every minute of it.
Becky brushed the knots from her wavy black hair, cleaned her teeth and smeared half a tube of concealer over the offending spot. After changing into a t-shirt and jeans, she slouched downstairs into the small but tidy kitchen.
Joe was sitting at the table. Glancing up at Becky, utter joy spread across his face. ‘Look at that zit, mum. It’s like a third eye.’
‘Shut up,’ Becky snapped at him, as she sat down.
‘Seriously,’ Joe replied, ‘it could be a horn.’
Becky’s fists clenched. ‘I won’t tell you again, digweed.’
‘Oh, pack it in, you two,’ Mrs Mellor said firmly, pushing a bowl of cornflakes in front of Becky. ‘And I really could do without any trouble from you today, young lady. It’s going to be hard enough as it is.’
‘Tell monkey boy to keep his gob shut then.’
Joe’s grin widened. ‘I’d rather be a monkey than a rhino.’
Becky plunged her finger into the bowl and flicked it at Joe. A soggy cornflake landed on his nose.
‘Oi!’ Joe barked, wiping it off.
‘Becky!’ Mrs Mellor snapped. ‘We’ll have none of that, thank you very much.’ She shook her head and joined them at the table. ‘I really don’t know what’s got into the two of you lately? Why does everything have to turn into a pitched battle?’
‘It’s her,’ Joe said.
‘It’s him,’ Becky said at exactly the same time.
Mrs Mellor turned to Becky, whose gaze was fixed miserably on the table. She hesitated for a moment, and her voice grew soft. ‘Can I assume you’re still not keen on going to stay with Uncle Percy?’
Becky looked up and noticed her mother’s blue eyes seemed dimmer than usual. ‘I can’t wait. I think it’s brilliant that I’m being abandoned by my mum for the summer and palmed off on a barmy old nutter that I don’t know. What’s not to like about that?’
‘Uncle Percy is not, as you so delicately put it, a ‘nutter’. He’s a little eccentric perhaps, but also very warm, exceptionally kind and lots of fun. Your dad thought the world of him, and I know you will too. His home, Bowen Hall, is a wonderful place. I’m surprised you don’t remember it.’ Mrs Mellor looked at Becky, hoping for a change of heart. She didn’t get it. ‘You’ll be able to ride, swim – ’
‘If it’s so great,’ Becky said sharply, ‘why aren’t you coming?’
‘Because I need to work,’ Mrs Mellor replied. ‘Because if I don’t work, how will we keep a roof over our heads?’
Becky sighed. ‘I know you have to work, but that doesn’t mean we have to be sent away. I can look after the house while you’re not here … I can even look after him.’ She waggled her finger at Joe. ‘I’m old enough.’
Joe looked distinctly put out. ‘I don’t need looking after.’
‘You’re thirteen, Becky,’ Mrs Mellor said simply. ‘Joe’s eleven. You both need looking after. I mean, if your dad was alive then …’ her voice faltered, ‘but he isn’t, so that’s that.’
Becky felt guilty. It had been six years since her dad had drowned in a boat accident off the Welsh coast, and she knew this coming Thursday would have marked their wedding anniversary. Her voice softened. ‘It’s just we’ve never met this Uncle Percy.’
‘You have met him,’ Mrs Mellor said, composing herself. ‘We’d see him all the time when you were little. He thought the world of you – of both of you. I’m really surprised you don’t remember it.’
‘Then why haven’t we seen him since dad died?’
Mrs Mellor shifted uneasily on her seat. ‘Well, some time ago, he and your father had an argument and they didn’t speak for a while. Your father died before they had a chance to settle their differences.’
‘What was it about?’ Becky asked, suddenly intrigued.
‘I honestly don’t know. Your father wouldn’t talk about it, but I know he deeply regretted it. Anyway, I was delighted when Uncle Percy phoned to invite you for the summer.’
‘Why didn’t he invite you?’
‘He did, silly,’ Mrs Mellor said, smiling, ‘but I have to work. Besides, you’re always harping on about wanting more independence. This is the perfect opportunity. And it’s not like I won’t be seeing you. I’ll visit every weekend and some evenings. Trust me, you’ll have an amazing time…’
Becky wasn’t convinced, but decided against pressing the matter further. It was only for six weeks, and six weeks was a relatively short space of time.
It was a stifling July day as the sun pounded the terraced houses of Lyndon Crescent. The glint from the house windows opposite made Becky squint as she and Joe loaded two heavy suitcases into the boot of their mum’s tiny car.
‘This is going to be awesome,’ Joe said excitedly. ‘We haven’t been on holiday in years, and this is loads better than that boring caravan park in Llandudno.’
Becky was about to spit a reply when she heard a soft, melodic twitter from the tree to her left. She turned round to see the budgerigar sitting on a branch. Her expression softened.
Joe noticed. ‘What’s the matter with – ’
‘Shhh!’ Becky cut in. Her voice fell to a whisper. ‘Look…’ Slowly, so as not to frighten the bird, she inched towards the tree. The budgie’s head bobbed up and down eagerly.
‘Hello,’ Becky said softly, moving her hand up to the budgie’s chest. It chirped happily. She began to tickle its tummy.
Without warning, the budgie gave a spine-chilling squeal and, claws extended, wings thrashing, swooped at Becky’s throat.
Becky screamed. She held up her arm, blocking the assault, when suddenly the budgie swerved right and flew away, hovering just above them.
Joe froze with shock.
The budgie’s dull black eyes locked on Becky again, unnatural, eerie, and it attacked again, talons aimed at her neck.
Joe snapped out of his daze. Looking round, he saw a gnome set in a thick patch of Azaleas. He scooped it up. ‘Get away from her,’ he yelled, swinging the gnome with all his might. The budgie ducked the blow.
Trying to run to the house, Becky stumbled, landing face down on the ground. The budgie saw this and hurtled towards her, screeching wildly.
This time, Joe leapt in front of his sister. Timing his swing to perfection, the gnome connected with the bird with an oddly dull clank, and it was pitched into the air. Joe watched, relieved, as it gave up the fight and soared off into the distance.
Confused, Becky got to her feet, panting heavily. ‘Has it gone?’
Joe nodded. ‘Yep.’
Becky’s voice trembled as she spoke, ‘Since when do budgies act like that?’
‘No idea,’ Joe replied, bewildered.
Just then, Mrs Mellor appeared at the door jangling her car keys and grinning.
‘Are we ready to go then?’ Mrs Mellor’s smile soon faded when she saw Becky’s disheveled hair and frightened expression. ‘You two haven’t been fighting again, have you?’
‘No,’ Becky replied, colour returning to her cheeks. ‘But Joe did use a garden gnome to save me from a demented budgie. Thanks, bro.’
‘Anytime, sis,’ Joe replied.
Mrs Mellor didn’t know what to say to that.
They all went inside and Becky proceeded to tell her mum everything. Immediately, Mrs Mellor phoned the Greater Manchester Police to warn them a psychotic budgerigar was on the loose, only to be accused of having one too many gin and tonics and that if she phoned again she would be charged with wasting police time.
Becky went to her bedroom to calm down and fix her hair. For a fleeting moment, she was sorely tempted to use the incident as an excuse to get out of (or at least delay) going to Uncle Percy’s. However, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Joe hadn’t hesitated in leaping to her defence and he had been so looking forward to the trip. Much as she would never admit it, she really didn’t want to disappoint him.
Thirty minutes later, they had all climbed into the car and Mrs Mellor was rifling through the cluttered glove compartment. ‘This should do the trick,’ she said, a tattered CD held triumphantly in her hand.
Becky groaned. This was the moment she dreaded – sing-along-a-parent time, and her mum had the musical talents of a dishcloth. She closed her eyes, wishing she could do the same with her ears.
Manchester Piccadilly station bustled with people as Becky trailed Joe into the gleaming white concourse. She had pushed the budgie incident from her mind and had resumed her grumpy stance at being sent away for the summer. Spotting a trolley, she and Joe piled their cases onto it and watched as their mum paid for two tickets. Then they walked to platform fourteen.
The small platform hummed with activity as commuters rushed from the standing train and scampered up the steps to make their next connection.
‘You’ve got your mobile phones,’ Mrs Mellor said, voice quivering. ‘I’m only a phone-call or a text away. It really isn’t that far and if you’re genuinely unhappy I’ll come and get you at once.’ She bent over to embrace Becky.
Becky knew the hug she returned was half-hearted – she couldn’t help it. Still, as she felt her mum’s trembling body she felt a twinge of guilt and said, ‘We’ll be all right, mum. Don’t worry about us.’ She forced the best smile she could. ‘I’m sure it’ll be brilliant.’
‘That’s the spirit.’ Mrs Mellor sniffed loudly. ‘I know it will be. You just look after each other and have a wonderful time.’
Becky and Joe scaled the train’s steps, lugging their suitcases behind them. They moved into the nearest carriage, wedged their cases into an already heaving luggage compartment, and moved down the aisle to a vacant table. Mrs Mellor, tears flowing freely now, trailed them to the closest window.
The train shuddered and Becky’s heart sank further. Throwing her mother a final wave, she felt the train edge out of the station.
‘So what d’you reckon he’s like?’ Joe asked excitedly.
‘Mr Potato Head. Uncle Percy, of course.’
Becky shot him a dismissive look. ‘Well, if you want my honest opinion, he sounds like a right numpty.’
‘Well, firstly, he claims to be an inventor. I mean it’s not the coolest job in the world, is it? Secondly, from what I can gather, he’s a recluse and we’ve got to put up with that for six boring weeks … and, unlike you, I actually have a life.’
‘I think he sounds great,’ Joe said truthfully. ‘Mum says he’s well funny and dad liked him, so I don’t see why we won’t. She says he’s got a massive house.’
‘Yeah,’ Becky said with a snort, ‘and it wouldn’t surprise me if we were there to clean that massive house, to cook for him, wash his clothes. And if that is the case, then you’re in charge of washing his pants.’ She gave a doleful sigh. ‘We’ll be a couple of house-slaves, you mark my words!’ And with that, Becky made it perfectly clear that was the end of the discussion.
The train rattled through the Cheshire plains, passing mile upon mile of patchwork fields, thick woodland, and stopping at, it seemed to Becky, every boring village in the North West of England. After a very long hour in which she said nothing to Joe bar the odd grunt, she watched as a rusty sign heralded the final stop: Addlebury.
As the train juddered to a halt, Becky stood up to see she and Joe were the last passengers in the carriage. With a huff, she grabbed her shoulder bag and marched to the luggage compartment to collect her case.
‘Come on. Let’s get it over with, then.’ Becky waited as the doors opened and a gust of warm air brushed her face. Hesitantly, she took her first step onto the platform. Looking round, she saw it was deserted. ‘See… the old codger couldn’t even be bothered to meet us. I say we get back on the train and -’ But before she could finish, a man appeared in silhouette at the end of the platform, his dusky shadow lengthening before them. He strode into the light, a glowing smile on his tanned face.
Uncle Percy was not as old as Becky had expected – maybe fifty years of age – with broad shoulders, shoulder-length grey hair, and warm hazel eyes. ‘Welcome, Becky. Welcome, Joe. How wonderful to see you both again.’
Joe threw him a wide smile.
‘I’m your Uncle Percy,’ he continued, oblivious to her lack of enthusiasm. ‘But you can call me whatever you’d like. I’ve always been partial to the name Colonel Igidor Puffbury if you’d prefer that.’
Even Becky’s lips curled into a smile at that point, although in truth it was chiefly due to her uncle’s peculiar dress-sense. He wore a cream linen jacket with a striking crimson rose in the lapel, a gold tie with the letter ‘G’ embroidered on it, Bermuda shorts and a violet waistcoat. He was also holding the largest pair of driving goggles she’d ever seen.
‘Hello, Uncle Percy,’ Joe said enthusiastically.
‘The pleasure is mine, Joe.’ Uncle Percy gave Joe’s hand a sturdy shake.
Becky offered a considerably more muted, ‘Hiya.’
‘And hello to you, Becky.’ Uncle Percy bowed deeply. ‘My, my, you have grown into a dazzling young woman.’
Becky considered belching just to see his reaction.
‘Please, allow me to lighten your load.’ Uncle Percy leant over and took their cases. ‘I trust you had a pleasant journey?’
‘It was fine,’ Joe said. ‘I like your flower.’
‘Thank you. It’s a Stephanie Rose. It’s unique to Bowen Hall, that’s where I live. Anyway, shall we get going. I know a few people who are most eager to meet the two of you.’
‘Who?’ Becky asked warily. There had been no mention of anyone else.
‘Just my friends,’ Uncle Percy replied simply. ‘Maria is particularly excited. I’ve told her so many stories about you both, she feels like she knows you already.’ Spinning sharply on his back foot, he marched towards the exit. ‘Follow me …’
Becky arched her eyebrows with suspicion. How could he know anything about them?
‘Who’s Maria?’ Joe said, struggling to keep up with his uncle’s lengthy strides.
‘I suppose you’d call her the housekeeper,’ Uncle Percy replied. ‘That’s certainly what she calls herself.’
‘You have staff?’ Becky asked.
‘Gosh, no,’ Uncle Percy replied. ‘Well, I don’t consider them staff, anyhow. They’re my friends. I’m sure Maria would disagree, however. I think she rather likes the idea of being an employee. She even insists on wearing a uniform, which rather puzzles me.’
‘Are you, like, dead rich?’ Joe asked bluntly.
Uncle Percy chuckled. ‘To be perfectly honest with you, I really don’t know. I think some of the patents do rather well, but I leave those things to other people. Most of the profits go to various charities. I have no interest in money, whatsoever. No, as long as we can maintain the integrity of the Hall, that’s all that concerns me.’
Becky stifled a laugh. She didn’t believe a word of it. She followed Uncle Percy to the car park where she froze to the spot. Standing there, glinting in the brilliant sunlight, was an ancient silver car the likes of which she had never seen before, except in history books or very old films.
‘Wow!’ Joe exclaimed.
Becky’s eyes widened with horror. It’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! she thought.
‘Do you like her?’ Uncle Percy asked.
‘That’s yours?’ Joe asked.
‘Indeed, she is,’ Uncle Percy replied. ‘It’s a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. There are only two with the original chassis still in existence, and I’m fortunate enough to possess one of them. Of course, I’ve made some minor modifications to make it a tad more suited to modern driving, but essentially it’s the same car.’
‘It’s ace.’ Joe turned to Becky. ‘Isn’t it, Becks?’
‘Yeah,’ Becky lied, thankful her friends couldn’t see her.
Uncle Percy swung open the passenger doors and gestured for them to climb aboard. Joe leapt in. Becky followed, glancing from side to side to check no one was watching.
Uncle Percy mounted the side step and settled onto the claret leather seat. ‘Now, seatbelts on, please,’ he said. ‘We don’t want any accidents, do we?’
Becky couldn’t help but think that a minor accident resulting in her being sent straight home was a perfect solution to a very big problem.
Fixing his goggles, Uncle Percy turned the ignition key and the engine purred into life. He swung the car down a leafy side street and in a matter of seconds they were surrounded by countryside.
‘Uncle Percy, mum says you’re an inventor,’ Joe said.
‘I am, indeed, Joe.’
‘So what was the last thing you invented?’
‘Erm, let me see … The Gumchumper, I think.’
‘What’s a Gumchumper?’
‘Well, have you ever noticed how much discarded chewing gum litters the streets of every town? The Gumchumper is a device to remove even the most stubborn gum off the pavements, leaving the surface as good as new. It’s like a lightweight vacuum cleaner but considerably more powerful. I’ve sent them to a number of town councils, free of charge, of course. I do hope they use them.’
The Gumchumper? Becky found herself thinking. What a dweeb!
They stopped at a set of traffic lights, when they heard the deafening blast of a car horn. A black convertible car pulled alongside them. Two young men wearing baseball caps and tracksuit tops were smirking at Uncle Percy. The driver, who had very short mousy-brown hair and a flat, pimply face nudged his friend and sniggered.
Becky suddenly felt very exposed.
‘Oh, dear,’ Uncle Percy said quietly. He flashed the young men a courteous smile and said in a loud, steady voice, ‘Good morning, gentlemen.’
The driver responded with a rude hand gesture.
Uncle Percy exhaled heavily. ‘I do loathe bad manners.’
The driver sounded the horn again.
Uncle Percy tutted disapprovingly. ‘Becky, Joe, are your seatbelts securely fastened?’
‘Y-yes,’ Becky and Joe stammered, as the traffic lights flashed amber.
Immediately, the spotty driver revved his engine and a cloud of fumes billowed from his exhaust.
‘Brace yourselves, please!’ Uncle Percy shouted over the din of screeching tyres. ‘Things are going to get rather stirring.’ He reached for the gear stick, flipped open its cap to reveal a scarlet button and pressed it. At once, the Silver Ghost made a deep rumbling sound, like an aeroplane readying for takeoff. ‘I’d prefer you didn’t mention this to your mother …’
The amber light flashed green.
VVRRROOOOM! The black car’s tyres spun furiously and it sped off. At the same time, Uncle Percy placed his foot calmly on the accelerator. There was no screeching noise – no cloud of smoke – but, with a soft swish, the Silver Ghost soared away at an astonishing speed.
Becky had never experienced anything like it. Her stomach performed somersaults. She arched round to look at the black car, now a tiny dot on the horizon.
Smiling contentedly, Uncle Percy steered the Silver Ghost with ease and after two miles slowed to a regular speed. Lifting his goggles, he said, ‘Did you enjoy that?’
Becky and Joe were speechless.
‘That was one of the little modifications I mentioned: an ultra-booster. I know it was reckless, and by and large I do respect the national speed limits, but I also deplore rudeness and those gentlemen were rather loutish. Wouldn’t you agree?’
‘Y-yes,’ Becky spluttered, still confused as to what had just happened.
‘Are you all right, Joe?’ Uncle Percy asked.
Joe paused for a moment, his mind still playing catch-up. Then his face exploded with delight. ‘THAT WAS GREAT!’
‘I’m glad you enjoyed it. Now, Bowen Hall’s not far now, and I believe Maria has prepared a magnificent lunch.’
But Becky couldn’t begin to think about food now. Her thoughts were fixed on one thing, and one thing only. If Uncle Percy could turn an antique car into the fastest she’d ever seen, then what else was he capable of doing?