Strings of small golden lights lit the busy city streets throughout the Underunderground. It was the normal Monday morning bustle of rats in hats and frock coats, carrying briefcases into crowded train carriages. Speedy mouse-drawn waggons pulled lady rats holding bags of bread crumbs and rice. Rats on bicycles passed bundles of dried corn to other worker rats in small boats at the loading docks. Nannies pushed little hairless rat babies tucked into their prams.
Nothing but the usual business could be found in this skyless underworld, except for the extra sound of nervous whispering. Certain words stood out in the chatter: “Psst, psst, monster. Psst, psst, scary beast.” And then “Psst, psst, crocodile!”
Indeed. Rumours had started coming in last week from Tailsington of a frightening hissing noise which caused two scared delivery-boat drivers to crash and spill their chocolate and peanut deliveries into the canal.
Some believed the hissing noise was just a leaky steam pipe in a tunnel. As the Underunderground’s Tubemeister, Reginald “Posh Rat” Twitch was charged with leading his Tubes & Tunnel workers to get rid of the noise. But as they approached the dark tunnel in question, they saw what they thought were two yellow, glowing eyes! Poshy’s workers got so spooked they all fled home, locked their doors and hid under their beds.
So that’s where today’s story begins - with scary rumours and terrified workers. You and I have met once before. I’m Pinkerton Barnes, Posh Rat’s new sidekick. And as his sidekick, I was eager to help him in any way I could. I had devised some new gadgets I thought he might find useful. The first was a top hat.
“Look here, Poshy. Pressing this button launches the suction cup feature,” I said.
*POP* The top hat top opened like a lid. A suction cup on a cable shot and stuck to the ceiling.
“Oh, Barnes. It is impressive.” Poshy’s handsome whiskers wiggled.
“I’ve also spring-loaded this expanding trapper’s net into your walking cane,” I said. “May come in handy. Considering our mission.”
So we ventured out, just the two of us, down the pitch black tunnel. Poshy pressed a button on his shirt cuff. His top hat lamp lit up.
“I have always heard the legend about crocodiles living in the sewer system. Could it actually be true?” I asked, walking directly behind Poshy along the damp brick walkway.
*HISSSS* The noise echoed down the tunnel from the darkness that lay beyond the beam of light from Poshy’s top hat. Then, we both saw what it came from.
“Um.” I gulped. ”Maybe those are...boat lights?”
Poshy was quiet. Floating in the blackness - gleaming back at us - were two yellow eyes with reptilian pupils.
“Alrighty then.” Poshy kept a calm voice. We both swivelled on our heels and made our way back, out the tunnel.
Later in the drawing room of the Twitch mansion, Poshy and I stood over a rolled-out map of the Underunderground tunnel system.
“Right here is where we encountered the creature in question.” He tapped the map with his polished claw and continued. “Indeed, we need a plan to capture and remove this beast.”
“Precisely Poshy, sir. That’s all we need to do. Heh.” I nervously scratched my chin.
“Oh, Barnes, perhaps this is where we try out my walking cane’s new expanding trapper’s net? You believe it’s strong enough, yes?”
“Well...I suppose there's no better first test than on a twenty-foot-long sewer crocodile, mmm?” My skin felt hot beneath my pink fur as I said that.
“OK, then,” Poshy replied. “Once we snare the alleged reptile, we drag it northward like so along the Whiskerdilly canal, then northwesterly out this standpipe at ground level. The water should make the dragging much easier.”
So back we went, walking the wet, dark tunnel in the glow of Poshy’s hat torch. We had not heard any hissing noise yet, only our own footsteps and the gentle sloshing of the canal water.
Poshy whispered, “So, Barnes. I think our best bet would be to use my top hat’s suction cup. It will enable me to hang above the beast from the tunnel ceiling so I can fire my net downward.”
“Sounds like a good plan, sir.” I hoped to myself that the net would hold.
“I believe it was right around here where we last saw—”
*HISSS* There it was! Unblinking eyes and two large rows of sharp white teeth glowed in Poshy’s hat torch light!
“Alright, Barnes. Up I go!” Poshy pressed his top hat button, firing out the suction cup and climbing wire. *POP*
Poshy swiftly rose to the ceiling on the wire. He called down, “Once I launch the net, you jump on the beast’s neck and secure it. Then I’ll drop and take the tail!”
The long scaly creature let out another angry-sounding *hisssssss.*
“Ok, Barnes. On three! One...two—”
“You’re very brave, sir.”
“Perhaps, Mister Barnes, I shall change people’s minds as to what it means to be a Twitch...THREE!”
Poshy pointed his walking cane downward then *ploofff!* The dark-green scaly monster was wrapped in stretchy netting.
“It worked, Barnes! Now jump!”
And I did! As we both landed on the creature’s back, the hissing grew even louder. Its head and tail raised up at the same time.
“Oh, it’s angry, sir! Do be careful!” I called to Poshy who grasped tightly and rode the croc’s tail as it moved upward.
Oddly, I started to sink into the creature's back. Yes, the beast seemed very soft. Almost bouncy, you’d say.
“A-ha! Barnes ol’ chum!” With a gleam in his eye, Poshy reached behind the beast’s leg.
“Oh, please watch out!” I said as I held on tightly to the netting.
“Looks like we can just roll it up,” Poshy said, grinning.
“Beg your pardon, sir?”
*POOF-FFFFFF* Poshy opened the air valve and the whole creature began quickly flattening down as we jumped aside.
“Well, I declare, Barnesy! The hissing noise folks were hearing was just a leak in some Overgrounder child’s blow-up swimming toy. It wasn’t a terrifying beast at all!” Poshy plopped his top hat back upon his handsome head.
“But that small detail,” Poshy winked, ”can be between you and me.”