"You know Jenny, it's been a while since I have seen Freddy Hailstrum," said the Sneaky Spy.
"Maybe he has become very busy, Percy."
It was in the middle of January, that Percy Dale and Jennifer Winters had chosen to spend a saturday evening exploring an old familiar schoolyard. Jenny had been showing Percy the buildings and gardens which had been hers to occupy during her years in high school.
"Jenny, I interrupt my train of thought about Freddy to say that you must have enjoyed going to school here. Fancy spending all of your daytime working hours in a combination of well preserved historical architecture and picturesque plant life. However, you would not have been as appreciative of the scene as I am now, would you? Of course not, says the Sneaky Spy, as he notices the gentle nodding of his adorable girlfriend's chin. Now please tell me why."
"Well...because I'm here now after years away from it. Back then I was here everyday and always working, or sitting in the playground, all but forgetting your long, lost ten year old self then."
"So it was a combination of being used to the schoolyard and having your hopes and dreams elsewhere. That is what stopped you from revelling daily in these delightful surroundings in those days."
"True indeed, oh Sneaky Psychologist."
"Or Spy Psychiatrist. Let's not bother wasting time trying to sort out which is which. The point is that Freddy would think the same way about Charles Vandir's church in Wahroonga. Charles and I have clashed before."
"You mean that Freddy got used to its nice gardens and had other problems to think about," said Jenny.
"Well yes indeed. It's been nearly a full year since I told you the details about my dream of being married to you. I've hardly seen Freddy since then. I know he doesn't always have the time or the inclination to join in with my Sneaky Spy activities, but I would have expected to see him at church sometimes. He had been there for years, since we first met."
"So where does his attention go to now?"
"Exclusively to his wife Andrea, I suspect, which is all very nice. I'm happy for both of them, but when I found you, I still had time for the church people, and for my other friends. Freddy has cut himself off. Despite that, I feel that we should be there for him if he ever feels that he really needs us."
"But what can we do?"
"Nothing, of course. On the rare occasions that I've tried to ask him out to do something sociable with us, he's always had an excuse not to say yes. The trouble is that I know it goes a lot deeper with him now."
"Explain, sweet Earl of Espionnage."
"One night last February, before he dropped right out of circulation, only a week in fact, before he started to bury himself in work and wedded 'no time for Percy or church.' He sat me down outside the church one sunday night and said 'Percy, you're the only person I can be with in this church and not feel like an outsider.' Well that was not completely true. He had one other close friend, but that's not much of a consolation. Churches are supposed to welcome people with a greeting to make the visiting non-christian ask: 'What is it about these people that sets them apart?' With a world full of people who still write the Lord off as a two thousand year old fairytale, we can't afford to have a church group making even its own christian members feel coldly rejected. Who knows whether Freddy is a christian or not anyway? He can be as sane as anybody one minute, and yet full of conflicting memories and highly inaccurate accounts of his past the next. He'll tell seven people seven different versions of an incident that may prove (after some detective work) to have never happened anyway. So I know he's faced with a psychological problem there, or perhaps a mental one. I'm no expert. Couple that with his crazy temper and anything can happen; but it doesn't. He just disappears, and now we do not see him anymore."
"Yes, we do have a problem, but it is not as tangible as a typical Sneaky Spy crime solving case, is it?" said Jenny, "I've seldom known Laura to even say anything violent, but she certainly surprised me when she said 'That church needs a time bomb at the back and a wrecking ball at the front.' Can we really blame Freddy for leaving everything behind?"
"Leaving the church behind? Perhaps not, but us, Jenny, yes. Why aren't we even worth a visit or a telephone call anymore?"
"Yes, that's awful, isn't it? It feels as though we mean nothing to him."
"Or at least to someone else we don't mean much."
"Yes, his wife always thought that I was a maniac. I was over at Freddy's once, staying the night. I thought she didn't like me, but I wanted to find out. So when I was having a shower, I tipped the nozzle to face the wall. The water didn't fall straight to the floor. It hit an overhanging towel and then some of it trickled down to the floor. The towel could well have been me, to the ears of Andrea and Freddy. They felt free to discuss me in their house, because I must have been bombarding my ears with the sound of heavily falling shower water."
"And what do you do, when I think you're having a shower at my house?"
"Continue working on my wet soap juggling act. One day I hope to try out for the William Charters circus. I'm only up to three bars of wet soap at the moment, and I usually drop one or two of them. Still, soap juggling beats the accidents I've had when I did it with oranges. Anyway, with my ear to the keyhole I heard Andrea asking Freddy why he spent any of his free time with a mad rich fool like me. 'He never does anything worthwhile,' she said," added the Sneaky Spy.
"What is worthwhile about sitting in an office performing meaningless tasks all day, just to help a corporation make money? You're just fortunate enough to have plenty of money already. That's what leaves you free to do things which are worthwhile," said Jenny, "such as saving all the lives of people you've helped, by stopping murderers and drug dealers. Percy, don't worry if the rest of the world comes to believe that you are not worthwhile. My life often didn't seem worthwhile ... and then you came back to me."
"That sentiment is mutual, oh wonderous climatic inachronism of surnames and seasons of first meeting."
"What? Oh yes, I met you in summer."
"Correct, Miss Winters. Do you know I had a dream five months later, that you were my new school teacher on the first day of term?"
"But I was only two years older than you."
"In the dream you had become twenty-four, and it took me most of the dream to prove to myself that it was you. You were mean to me, until I proved your identity. Then we decided to secretly continue together."
"If you told the church this dream, Charles Vandir and his band of snobs would think we're both-"
"As you said before, let them think. We're together, and that's what counts."
"But what can we do about Freddy?"
"That's my question too, Jenny. What can we do about him?"
It was a question that Percy dismissed from his mind, knowing that for the moment he could do nothing to help a person who had closed the social doors of his life to everyone, except his marital partner. Percy still had other friends.
One friday night in March, the Sneaky Spy chose to walk to the Eastern Wahroonga home of Brin Decembar. He reached the empty house at nine o'clock, and discarded his hopes of seeing his friend.
"Well I might as well walk back to Ordinairy Man Manor a different way for variety's sake," he thought.
"I know that man!" came a loud and sudden voice.
Percy turned to see Freddy approaching him with the aid of a walking stick.
"Where's your car, Freddy?"
"Just up the road. I tried your place, and then I thought you would be here."
"Well long time, deep sea."
"Deep sea?" queried Freddy.
"Sea of nine-til-fives, recurring dinner dates, and whatever else you have been lost in for the last year. What brings you ashore anyway?"
"Oh I want to get out tonight, even though I did my leg in."
"How did you-"
"Soccer after work. Why do I play soccer? I should play something quiet like all-in wrestling. It'll get better in a few days, but I had to be out tonight. I've had rows with Andrea, and she went to meet some bloke at the hotel at Pymble. So I want to stay out later than she does."
"To make her jealous."
Percy frowned inwardly at the logic behind that one. Still, Freddy was his chance to do something that night.
He had been occupied with the question of what he would do that evening, ever since Jenny had telephoned to announce coming down with a fever.
"Jenny needed her recovery sleep today and tonight, and the simultaneous absence of Brin and reappearance of Freddy have been well timed," thought Percy.
"What are you going to do with your night?" asked Freddy.
"Well Laura once introduced me to some of the old saturday night party crowd people that she used to put up with. One of them remembered me and asked me over to a drinking party tonight. Laura won't be there, but I thought of asking Brin to go with me. We were going to buy a whole case full of assorted softdrinks and turn up with that."
"Well we - if Brin agreed, that is - could have ourselves a pretend sort of softdrink sloshup and act like drunken idiots for the night. It makes a mockery of their alcoholic preoccupations at parties. It might even let them know that they could be out having adventures like I do, if they only saw how full of nothing their inebbriation parties consistently turn out to be. It was just an idea, the only idea I've got at the moment. Do you want to come with me and do the same thing?"
"I'll be in that. Where's Jenny tonight? You two still together?"
"Naturally, but she's sick in bed."
"And you're just sick."
"Now I remember why I prefer my own peculiar brand of wit."
Freddy uttered a deep, almost gargling laugh.
"I'm glad I met this big maniac after I acquired my Sneaky Spy skills," thought Percy as he stepped into Freddy's scarlet Ford Falcon.
They located an all night petrol station and approached its refridgerator.
"Have you got any of those assorted cases?" Percy asked.
"No mate," said the attendant, "Only cases we've got at the moment are cola and lemonade softdrink."
"Let's get cola," said Freddy.
"You're welcome. I shall choose an assortment of individual cans and carry them in a plastic bag."
"Alright. What I don't drink now I can take home after."
"Percy, even soft drink affects you. That's why you don't drink booze. You're nuts after three cans of schoolboy drinkies."
"He's had more than that. There's five empty cans here on the grass, as well as the one he's drinking now."
"Why did I bring him?" asked Freddy.
"Because as your own exclusive life takes its first tumble in twelve months, you suddenly need me to fill up your evenings again," thought Percy.
Aloud he merely said "I brought you actually," and continued to tell jokes to his audience of liquor lovers.
Eleven days later Percy received a telephone call from Freddy.
"Say Percy, are you doing anything this evening?"
"Well I'm partly free. Why?"
"I remembered a dream I had about us staking out Warrawee Girls High School with a video camera. I thought it was mad then, but I'm in the mood for something mad tonight. You've got a camera. Why don't we actually do it?"
"Are you crazy? What if we get caught?"
"The Sneaky Spy doesn't get caught."
"Oh that's right. He doesn't, but he doesn't usually do crazy things like that either."
"We're not going to rob the school, or spy on girls. We're just going to use the site as the location for some comedy films, with the added thrill of avoiding being caught. It'll be good practice for your Sneaky Spy activities. How about we hit several schools in the one night? We could cause a good film to be made out of that."
"One condition. Canton's over for chess until nine o'clock. Then he needs to head back to the Spit for a good night's sleep before work, That's what I meant by being partly free. After that the sun has gone and we could start in the middle of the evening and stay late."
"That's fine. I'll get to your place and pick you up at nine o'clock."
Freddy soon hung up.
"It's mad, isn't it?" thought the Sneaky Spy, "One minute I catch criminals. The next I'm all but pretending to be one myself. Still, prowling schools while trying to turn such activity into a comedy on film should keep the Sneaky Spy skills active enough, until a real crime comes along. I'll also be doing unpaid Sneaky Spy security patrols of the schools and keeping an eye on Freddy at the same time. I still read about crimes in the paper, but they don't always happen in the places where I am spending my time, and I cannot always pick up any trail afterwards. It's ironic, that if we'd been pulling one of Freddy's school comedy capers at St Alfred's Girls School, back when those boarding school girls were being attacked (see the story "Karro the Sparkling Girl" in the book "The Sneaky Spy"), then we'd have caught the attacker in the act before it ever became a newspaper story. Often the events don't reach my notice until it is too late for me to get a reliable lead to track down the culprits. Maybe I should call my racket the Sneaky Spy's Bait Offering Service and see what happens then."
"Why have you got that Mister Possum outfit on?" asked Canton, "Are you auditionning for his show after our chess match? You do look the part of that television super hero."
"Well I'm calling myself Mister Ringtailed Ratbag for a satirical film which will be shot in some schools when you're in bed. Freddy's coming over for a night of insanity."
"Hmm. Sounds funny. Maybe I'm going to be a bit tired at work tomorrow."
"Do you mean you want to come with us?"
"I might, but you two do the mad things. I'll just film them."
"Good. Now there are three of us."
"What made you think of it?"
"Freddy had a dream years ago."
Percy told of the dream as they played the first several moves of their game of chess.
"Percy you're amazing. An idea from a friend's dream!"
"Oh it happens. A novelist friend of mine dreams a few of his better plots long before he writes them. If dreams weren't there to be used for something, then why didn't God just create us with minds that went blank while we were asleep?"
"Good point. Who's Freddy going to be?"
"Maybe he'll be television topical show host Ronald Henderson, like he was in the dream," said Percy.
Freddy actually chose to be football star Roy Palmerston, and they set off in Freddy's car. Their first school of location filming was in fact Lindfield Girls High. Freddy parked just around the corner, and Canton began to film the scene.
Freddy stood in front of an opening and spoke:
"Hello. I'm Roy Palmerston, and we're going to do really wild things tonight. We're going to start breaking into schools and do all sorts of other things that nobody's ever done before, except us in my dreams. Good grief! What's that? Oh, it's him. He's here."
From behind the wall, Percy had jumped out in his outfit.
"Hi there! I'm Mister Ringtailed Ratbag, a superhero, here to protect the cameraman and Roy Palmerston, as we sneak around in this school."
They wandered through the grounds and climbed an outdoor staircase.
"Well," said Roy (Freddy), "We can see from this card left in the window, that the security people have already checked this place out for tonight. So we've got it all to ourselves. Let's cause all havoc."
They located the swimming pool and continued until they came to an area barred off by a metal gate.
"Oh no!" said Mister Ringtailed Ratbag (Percy), "Horror of horrors! We're stuck. We'll have to go back."
On their way back they heard a car, and the three of them disappeared down the concrete steps, through a passage and into the underground car park.
A schoolteacher's car was parked above. It had just arrived. Canton had lost his nerve, and switched the camera off.
"Well I don't blame him," thought the Sneaky Spy, "So I'll film."
He took the camera and aimed it at Freddy.
"Well Roy, What happens now?" he asked.
"We have to be careful and stay here. There is a car parked up there, a teacher's car which just arrived. It can't be a security guard, because it's an ordinairy car. So it must be a teacher. We must hide down here."
They emerged from the other side of the car park, watched the teacher disappear into the school, and then ran for the front gate. They reached the car.
"Do we take off?" asked Percy.
"No," said Freddy, "Let's wait for the teacher to go. I reckon we can do a lot more in there. We could wake the boarders up or something."
"Let's not be destructive."
As part of their efforts to avoid being destructive, they discovered the master fuse box.
"We could ..." Freddy trailed off with a giggle.
"But we wouldn't, would we?" asked Percy.
"Are you going to?" asked Canton.
"Yes, let's do it. Percy can stand guard out in the corridor. We'll do it in here and then join him."
Percy took the camera and held it away from his eyes, blindly filming their efforts to open the fuse box. As he did so, his eyes scanned the school, ready to see anybody from a distance. He soon looked back at Canton and Freddy.
"Well viewers, it's time for us to instigate our own version of lights out. Oh-"
He switched the camera off.
"Canton, Freddy, remember where to go to get out. We'll have to-"
The lights went out as Freddy threw the switch, plunging the school into total darkness. Having stopped in mid sentence he heard the snickers of his companions, as they ran towards him.
"As I said, we'll be in the-"
Freddy bumped into him.
"-dark," concluded Percy.
They stumbled, bumped and stepped their way to the gate and then ran to Freddy's car.
"If it weren't for the street lights out here, we would never have found our way out," said Percy. They entered the car and drove away.
Soon they were parked near Killara Girls High School.
After exploring the playgrounds and buildings for a while, they found the central playground. It had a bell.
"I'll do it," said Percy.
Canton added a word of two of his own:
"Then you take the camera, and I'll head for the gate."
Percy began filming.
"Hello friends and Ringtailed fans," said Freddy, "We're going to ring the Killara Girls High School bell. That's right. We will now ring the bell in the middle of the night."
With that they both noticed something.
"The bell's got no cord. We couldn't see it from a distance in the dark, but now we're getting close, I can. I'll still do it, but I'll have to go right up and swing it with my hand."
Freddy ran off calling quietly, "I'll see you at the car. You're a faster runner than me."
"Come back and film it."
Freddy kept running.
Percy held the camera with one hand and pointed it at the bell. He pushed the donger at the framework and listened to the penetrating clanging sound.
"Well that's great," he thought as he ran for the car, "I had to do it all myself, and as well as that, we've just got a film of my hand pushing the donger. We could have filmed my whole Mister Ringtailed Ratbag self pushing it."
He ran to the car, and they drove him to their next school: Warrawee Boys High.
They wandered into the school.
"You know, if we pulled these stunts all the time, we would really be causing a lot of trouble, but one spate of practical pranks is just a good riot for any bored boarders to enjoy," said Percy.
"Sure, Percy, but let's avoid being caught by these people whose evenings we are attempting to improve," said Canton.
"Will do," replied Percy.
Reaching the end of the driveway, they walked through a maze of garden vines and plants, until they came to the ground floor of a boarding house.
"This gate is open. There's a padlock here, but somebody has neglected to lock it. We can go into the building," said Percy.
Five minutes later he had talked them into risking it. They opened the gate and walked down a corridor. They reached two doors. In front of them was a bathroom door. To their left was an open doorway.
"Go left, fellows," said Percy, "The toilet block has its lights off. This room has a drink dispensing machine in it. It's well lit for the camera. We can film it."
They walked over to the machine and noticed something. Freddy stifled a laugh.
"Yes I see it," said Percy, "This, viewers, as you can see from our filming, is a boys boarding school. We have found a softdrink machine which also has labels for two well-known brands of Australian beer. It sounds suspicious to me, but then so is our being here."
"Ooh, thirty cents," said Freddy, pleased at the twenty cents which a prowler could save on every drink purchased from this school's machine.
The coins from Freddy's wallet made soft rattling sounds as they slid through the slots in the machine. Percy continued to film the scene as Freddy selected lemon squash, pressed the button and waited.
The three of them suddenly realised that they had just caused the creation of a lot of noise. Percy steeled his nerves with a camera in his hands, and all havoc about to be let loose in the next second.
There was a brief three seconds of snickering in triplicate, before Freddy seized the can and ran toward the door.
"We can't go back out the way we came after the noise we just made," said Freddy, recalling the booming sound of the can of lemon squash as it crashed its way through the insides of the machine in the dead of night.
"Into the bathroom," said Percy.
The others followed Percy into pitch darkness. The camera microphone was still receiving and recording their snickers. Percy outdistanced them in the dark, as they stopped their movement and began to panic.
"Canton, we'll never get out of here," said Freddy.
"Could be a problem," said Canton.
"Over here, you two," said Percy, pushing a window open, "There's a pathway out here on the edge of an inner courtyard. We'll have to go out flat on our stomaches, because the path is level with the bottom of the window. The floor of this lavatory room is below the courtyard's ground level."
It was too dark to record any picture on camera. So they switched the machine off and began their exodus from the toilet block. Percy was frustrated.
"Just think. All this marvelous territory to use for our escape, and it's too dark to film it. The very darkness which assists with our stealth tactics is also preventing us from getting it recorded for posterity. I am disappointed.
"Perhaps you would prefer it if we turned a light on and did some filming," said Canton sarcastically.
"No thank you."
They made their way to the oval, and Freddy opened his drink. They filmed the faintly lit school buildings while explaining to the camera what had happened inside the courtyard. Lightning struck in the sky, and the impending storm triggered their desire to run back to the car.
Their next school was Warrawee Girls High.
"Here we go again," said Canton.