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The Hidden Fortress



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The Treasures of Literature

"Well!", said Rain, looking pensive at the slightly dusty and very cluttered surroundings. "i do like the bookstore, and i know we need money because the clingfilm extravaganza ate up all our reserves - but do you think a tunnel into the bank next door is a good idea?"


"Orph course it is!", beamed Jana. "I told Mackie to bring her spade."


The door to the street burst open with a crash, and Mackie dropped a spade and two overflowing picknick baskets on the wooden floor. "Where do we start?"


"We'll need to hide the rubble from the excavations," said Rain. "Who wears very baggy trousers?"


Rain lifted the hem and a crashing sound startled everybody into a guilty huddle.


"What the flip was that?" whispered a voice. Everyone yelped, and Mad stuck her head round the bookcase. What she saw there made her giggle uncontrollably. Everybody looked at her expectantly, but she was shaking her head helplessly, and unable to speak. The others stepped closer to peer around the bookcase, and saw a pair of feet sticking out from under a heap of brightly-coloured silk, the toes twitching as "dragostea din tei" floated in from Mackie's iPod. All eyes swivelled suspiciously to a huge old-fahioned handbag hanging from a hairy arm protruding from the other side of non-fiction. The owner of the arm, Tolliver Wendall Aethelred Narcissus Gollumwollyson, swung the bag in the direction of the collected works of Aleister Crowley, announcing, "Fiction," dumping them UNceremonially on the floor, narrowly missing the twitching silken heap.


"Stick to selling poisonous espresso, TWANG, and leave our stock the hell out of your sticky -"


"Stock?!? Why,you illiterati - "


The silken heap growled. "Why, YOU pretentious fuddy-duddy …"

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The heap snuck out. Jana blinked. "What the flip WAS that?" She peered over her glasses, grabbing hold of a large mug of gin.

"Vermis Liber – the common Domesticated Bookworm", she muttered intently as everybody gasped with shock.


"Swilling gin!" Tolliver Wendall Aethelred Narcissus Gollumwollyson hyperventilated. "A six foot bookworm???"


"Bookworms don't normally drink before lunch but this seems to be a good time for it."


"Before noon!" Tolliver Wendall Aethelred Narcissus Gollumwollyson sneered, not bothering to listen. He dropped his bag on his own foot and let rip with, "Deity-dratted illegitimate heir of unspeakable atrocities! Where is the gin, I need some for desinfection."


A jangling bell announced the arrival of a slightly ruffled Sue, carrying a capacious bag with conspicuous bulges pressing against the thin plastic, threatening to burst at any moment. Sounding out of breath, Sue asked, "What's he talking about?"




"Oh! Did you mean Jana, Twang?"


Suddenly 6ft of silk-tangle slid past her feet, and Sue squealed and swung her bag right at the colourful heap.

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"Why'd you do that??", an exasperated deep voice came from the depths of the silk-tangle. Everyone jumped. Sue swooned. "Bookworms are so much more than just wildlife," continued the voice, the silk-heap making its way steadily past Modern History and right back into the circle of enquiring-minds. Mad frowned, and poked the colourful tangles with her handy yardstick, which resulted in the bookworm's fighting back. "Get it out of my ear, brute!" The yardstick flew up, hitting Mad over the head, and in a flash Mad grabbed the silk and pulled. With a cry the bookworm tried to hide in Sue's bag, but only its head fit in, leaving a rather huge chunk of silk-swaddled tail hanging over the arm Sue held rigid to the side, while she mouthed, "help me!".


Mad took a resolute step forward, then changed direction and ran for the cutlass she'd left at the door. She collided with a police officer – "Ma'am! A butter knife??"


Everybody including the bookworm stood wearing a huge fake smile. "Problems, officer?" – "Erm – well … ", he retreated with a knowing smile and made for the door.


"We shouldn't draw attention to our little venture", whispered Jana as she closed the door behind the copper and turned to face the group looking like a teacher with a stern lecture planned. Mackie raised her hand, asking, "The bookworm?"

"Just grab it!", retorted Mad, rubbing her bruises. "Grabitgrabitgrabit!", the bookworm grumped.

Rain, rolling her sleeves up resolutely, made a grab, missed and fell right on top of the bookworm, while Mackie unexpectedly broke into song, thus subduing the bookworm and stunning everyone else into instant paralysis. When hearing finally returned, they made a note to buy earplugs, and then went back to the bookworm. Stentorious snoring made them look around until they realised: Bookworm Asleep! Tiptoeing, the ever-resourceful Jana took a gulp from the gin and a firm hold on the silk-swaddled sleeper.

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One hard tug revealed six foot of well-muscled, drool worthy, tanned body. Everybody stood in baffled (and lustful) silence. The first to try and make sense was Mackie - she prodded the sleeper on the backside, saying: "Hey! Who are you?"


One dark brown eye squinted at Mackie, then rolled in exasperation and, with a deep sigh, the whole man rolled into a sitting position.

"Bookworm…?" Jana asked faintly. Everyone waited, breath held, for an answer. Worm grinned sheepishly.


"Some worm..."


"He can help tunnelling" Sue said decisively.


Mackie held out the shovel. "And get some clothes, or it's '24/7 jaw-lock city' round here." She observed mouths snapping shut, and surruptitious drool-mopping, as everybody pretended to be looking elsewhere. Worm stood while body sat. Everyone gaped, until a towel was wrapped modestly around the both innocent and disreputable offender.


"Okay!" Mackie roared and Worm wilted promptly.

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Mackie smirked smugly and clapped her hands. "Work needs to pick up if we're gonna break that bank sometime this side o'the next millennium." Worm started yodelling, making random shovel swipes at Jana who growled angrily.


"Children!!!" Mackie silenced them "Get digging, or else!"


Frantic activity followed. Dirt flew while bodies jostled, getting hot and sweaty. "Mind the books!" cried Mad, flinging a dustsheet over the nearest shelves.


"And keep the noise down! We don't want to raise any suspicion."


With thunderous clatter, the nearest bookshelf crashed down, narrowly missing Jana, who squealed and backed into the travel section. It tottered for a moment before toppling over, taking the complete works of Will "the Chill" Shakespeare to the tropics.


"No! No! No! No!" Sue threw herself into a frantic panic, supporting tilting shelves, while wondering what's for tea. When she saw Jana impersonating an angelic statue nicking her lunch package, she decided lunch was more important, dropped the books and pounced on the thieving little ducky.


"What! I was saving your homemade-caramelised-red-onion-and-dolcelatte-tartlet from ghastly demise!"


"Saving??? By brazenly eating it??" The half-eaten tartlet smeared around Jana's mouth taunted Sue cruelly as she had to watch Jana lick molten dolcelatte off her lips ecstatically.


"Most certainly saving. Have any more?" Jana asked, innocently wiping her face. Sue was sputtering with indignation; Shakespeare lay amongst wreckage and debris, and shook as Mackie shouted, "Stop! Where's the plan??"


"Ah. Now there's the hitch," said Jana into Rain's ear "I think i forgot to bring it. D'you think we should tell?" – Rain: "Uh-oh. Armageddon."


"Armageddon outta here, you WHAT??" Silence fell. Sue took a shovel, "Let's all be sensible, now. Or else"


Jana gulped.

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"Let's kidnap an architect!", chirruped Rain.


"Oh cool!" Jana was delighted. Mad was less sanguine.


"Where do you suggest we find one we can lay our dirty paws on at this time of the day?" – "The bar round the corner is full of them," grinned Jana.


Periscopically up-thrusted Worm said nonchalantly, "There is still too much dirt to be disposed of before you can dream of absconding with some architect." Mackie giggled. Jana pouted. The sound of a door slamming shut made everyone turn sharply. But it was only Jude, breezing in with her Malificent bag and a load of hessian sacks.

"Transportation!" she trilled, handing the sacks to Mad, and reaching deep into her bag, she extracted a few dog biscuits and a large hairy spider. Everybody squealed and thwacked at the eight-legged-creature except Mad, who lured the spider to her backpack with dead flies, while everyone looked in shuddering horror. Mad grinned and shrugged as Jude said apologetically, "He keeps crawling into the bag … Everybody, meet Spiderman!" This caused some doubtful glances, as a hairy leg appeared tentatively from the backpack still munching flies. Jana looked slightly queasy, but Mackie was thoughtful.


"Useful things, spiders," she murmured, a lightbulb appearing momentarily over her head, "let's train it to spy for us."


Sue nodded, suppressing a shudder, and Jude beamed at Mackie. "What a good sneaky person you are!"


Mad, aka "NatureNerd", put her hand up and said "give me more digging here people! We're in need of a lot more dead flies as an incentive, too." She stroked the spider who waved its legs, scuttling onto her shoulder, where it settled on the epaulette.

"Seems happy up there," Jude smiled.

"She's cute" Mad grinned.

"Cute …?" Jana gulped audibly.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Enough wildlife!" declared Sue, grabbing one of the sacks and starting to fill it with dirt.

"Where're we going to dump this?" she asked.


Doorbells jangled as Nori came walking in backwards hauling a donkey on high heels, carrying a satin-covered picnic basket.

"Now what??"groaned Mad

"Supper, and transport!" Nori beamed, uncovering the basket with a flourish, revealing mouth-watering dishes.


"Not yet!!" Sue declaimed, waving an empty sack, and smacked the donkey, which kicked out, toppling one of the bookcases.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!" Sue's voice came hollowly from underneath 'crime mystery', and her feet wiggled wicked-witch-of-the-west-like while the others stood frozen with shock. Eventually Mad stepped forward and lifted James Patterson from Sue's middle, and Jeffrey Deaver from a more precarious part of her anatomy.


"C'mon Agatha Christie, get yourself a new seat!", Jana cried, freeing Sue of her literary weights and hauling her upright."There's no time for naps!" Jana handed Sue a sack, a shovel and a pair of rubber gloves.

"Ack! I hate to think what this was used for before," she grimaced.

"Donkey pacifier, orph course," beamed Nori.

Jana raised an eyebrow; Sue's stomach followed. She groaned, donkey moaned and Mad rapped the shovel on the donkey's bottom.


'So that's why rubber gloves have that awful smell - "

"Of lemons!"

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sue's stomach settled with a thud. "Where's Betty? Wasn't she supposed to do something?"

Everyone scratched frantically.

"Flea powder! Donkey is a little infested," Worm surmised.

A wail rose unanimously, and everybody backed away from the maligned furry friend. At the downcast look on all the faces, Nori rummaged in the basket, trilloing, "Lunch break, anyone?"

"Do you lot ever stop eating?", queried worm. A chorus of "No!"s soon answered his question. Within minutes, everybody was eating happily and wondering if there was more. At the thought of more, Mackie loosened her trousers. Donkey shut his eyes. Little worm perked up.

"Fleas are weapons fools!", insisted Worm Gandalfishly as he explained the little plan he had devised whilst digging more into the male psyche. "You'll just have to jumpstart them with jumping fleas …" – "Jumpstart who …??“ – "Security men."


An evil grin spread simultaneously on all faces and Mad produced flea-cages and ordered: "Collection time!" Humans jumped, fleas jumped, and in the melée a plan was formed. "Tunnel, fleas, decoy … anything we've forgotten?", asked Rain.


"What about that architect?"


"Brilliant! … and more digging."


Earth began to fly, and full sacks were loaded donkey-back, for disposal on the parking lot.


A polite cough announced an unwelcome guest: a tall dark stranger with inquisitive eyes and a long, twirly moustache.


"Ladies, i need a book...about a bank heist..."


Silence fell.


And lengthened.

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Mad pointed hesitantly, "Crime is over there …"


The man smiled smugly and said, "Crime's everywhere …" He laughed a cold laugh and everybody froze. "It's OK", he soothed frazzled nerves, "I am sure we can reach an understanding. Half of everything will do nicely. But I want more."


Trying to sound nonchalant, Mad murmured "Me too."


"We want it all.", shouted Jana determinedly.


The stranger smiled, twirling his lasso, said, "Watch this, ladies …"


The rope settled over a wriggling Jana and a squealing Sue. The stranger laughed mirthlessly, but a sudden flash silenced him and lit up the deep shadows, illuminating its secrets and then there was darkness and a collective gasp.


"Are those Manolos???", wheezed Rain, and Jana pointed, lost for words as their eyes adapted to the dark once again, and piled-up shoe boxes called softly to them. "Blah, nick them," Mad muttered.


"No bank? Shoe-shop!" Everyone blinked at the stranger. "The wrong wall is right. OleChinesesaying. If the slipper fits, buy it."


"Steal it!"


"If we've the money we can have whatever we want!"

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  • 3 weeks later...

"But those shoes!" Rain pleaded, batting lashes at highest frequency.


"Can wait" Mackie folded something but the Chinese shoesalesman was faster. "The plan!" he said. "You need a plan ... and a pair of getaway pumps each. Take your pick ..."


Faster than a speeding racecar, the women were amongst the shoeboxes. Rain squealed with delight and pounced upon some improbably high-heeled, stylish beauties. Jana sighed in ecstasy when she held up a ludicrously pointed, outrageously decorated. suicidally stilettoed pair of purple soles on chopsticks.


Mad shook her head, echoed by Mackie. Everybody sniggered at their Crocs, but unfazed, toes wiggling, set off towards the door to get the loot of their dreams. "Bank before Blahniks!" trilled the troopers before hitting their first serious stake-out. With grim faces and even grimmer determination, they headed for the street and the café vis-a-vis until they realised that it was closed.




"What the--!"

"We. Need. A. Stake-out."

"Mmmmmm - with fries and well done, please."


Mackie growled with menace. "No food!! Spy work!!"

Mad drooled. "Rare steak....

"No!" Mackie was hopping to avoid the puddles. "The bus station. Newspapers."

"Huh? Whyfor newspapers? What ..."

"To hide behind, silly!"

"But we're already underground!"

"For the stake-out?? Not!!"

"Digging in the dirt and spywork? That's exploitation!", complained Jana as her heels dug in stubbornly and her tummy grumbled. "Can we at least choose a classy paper, or do you insist on your usual rubbish? I don't think I can stand -"


"Then sit!", interrupted Mackie with a groan and a thonk.

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  • 3 weeks later...

A sudden sound startled them into silence. From outside an amplified voice boomed, "This is the fashion police. Come out and line up for a shoe inspection or style and pattern control."


The women exchanged nervous glances; Mad and Mackie looked at their Crocs and swallowed simultaneously. Worm wiggled his way to the window, peered out and started to laugh so loudly the windows shook violently.

Jana raised a hand to silence him, and asked, "What the hell do you find so damn funny?"


"They are all wearing very tight pink hotpants!"


Now everybody raced to the window, falling over each other to get a glimpse of the pink-hotpanted, thigh-high booted fashion-police.


"We can see you!!!"


Everybody recoiled.


But: "Likewise!!", yelled Jana.


The police recoiled in turn. Only one short one holding a fuchsia feather boa stood his ground and lifted the megaphone again, reapplied his lipgloss and repeated, "Come out immediately with your Manolos in your manicured hands! And don't even think about ..."

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  • 2 weeks later...

"The backdoor!" whispered Mad.

Mackie nodded, and they legged it fast, dropping shovels and sacks in a corner. The moment Mad's hand touched the doorknob, an electric shock made her crocs flare with fluorescent pink light. "Örgs!" Mackie poured the content of a stray mug on them and pushed Mad away from the dangerous door.


"Basement!" she cried.


"Is there one?"


"There has to!"


They all started running around like headless chicken until suddenly glaring light filled the shop. Mad pointed, "Look - a hatch! Maybe that's a way out!"

Mackie grabbed the handle, tugged, and stumbled backwards.

The hatch door fell open to reveal a ladder leading down to what looked like a mine shaft. Without hesitating Mad advanced down into the dark cavern, her crocs soundless.


Mackie followed, her crocs creaking loudly; then a stiletto stampede as the rest hastened after them. The last one down slammed shut the door.




"Does anyone have a light?"


Silence. Some shuffling. Then a feeble glow glimmered as Sue lifted a strange looking silver pendant, revealing a dark corridor leading off into the direction of ...


"... the bank!"


A greedy grin spread across their faces as they hurried into the dark, Worm making up the rear of the party.


Moments later a wall loomed up, blocking the way. Jana said, "Knock-knock ..."


"Wrong password. Try another."


"But there's a door ..."


"Who said wrong password?"



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  • 2 months later...

"Me ...", mumbled Mackie.


Jana groaned. "Seriously! Jokes aside - where does this bloody Hell-hole lead to?"


Rain's stilletto prodded Worm who instinctively grabbed her ankle.

"Ewww! Gerroff!" she spat, kicking out hard, catching him in the precise moment when alarms ensnared their senses and ... the door clicked open.


A chill, bluish light illuminated their pale faces as they crept forward.


Mad brandished a Croc and tapped it against Jana's head.


"Oy!, watch-it!"


"Sshhht!! Quiet!"


Everybody stood watching, wondering if Mad had a reason for her strange behaviour. They understood when a spider emerged from her backpack, sat on the croc as she pointed it at the door, and crept slowly forward. It scrabbled around the doorframe, peering cautiously into the blue gloom. Then it waved several legs, beckoning them to follow.


After some moments of trepidation Rain was the first to cautiously step forward through the door, and beckon the others to follow. Jana's teeth chattered. Worm placed a hand on her lower back and shoved her forward. She kicked his shin. He looked wounded but didn't remove his hand. With a loud "hmmmmmppffff" Mad seperated them.


"Would you look at this!!", exclaimed Rain, holding out a large key ring


"Ooh, do you think the vault key could be one of these?"

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  • 4 weeks later...

"Reckon there's a chance... we'd have to find the keyhole first." Mackie stood staring at a huge door, covered in seamless steel, with no sign of a keyhole.

Sue ran a hand over the shiney surface. "I can feel a hole but can't see it ...", she whispered. "Give me a marker pen and i'll draw an X to mark the spot."


Six handbags were emptied. No marker, 'will lipstick do?' Rain whispered, offering it to Sue with a flourish.


Sue drew a sticky fuchsia X on the door, and Rain tried the keys. With a nerve-racking grating sound, the door swung open. Everybody pushed forward, tripping over Worm as they tried to catch a glimpse of what was behind it.




An empty, grey-walled room was all they saw. "What do we do?" Mad whispered, and then Jana squawked as Worm pushed past her and into the room to hurl himself at the opposite wall.


The force of his impact resulted in a large dent and a thin crack which quickly grew to into the outline of a small, arched doorway. A bright blue light glimmered through the crack, ghostly illuminating their faces.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Hell - did the cops get here before us?"

"Don't be daft, woman", Mad growled at Mackie, "wrong shade of blue!"

"Right." Mackie squinted. "But what is it, then?"

"Let's go check," Worm said as Sue stepped up and touched the door.

It swung open in eerie silence; then a splashing noise startled them all. From beyond the door, water came rushing in a warm, chlorine-scented wave. Stepping back hastily, Sue squealed as it lapped over her shoes, but Worm wriggled forward and peered through the opening.

"Swimming pool!!" he grinned happily, and was gone. A further wave washed over their feet as – "SPLASH!!" –


"Hello! How did you get in here?" A deep and cheerful voice came booming from the farside of the pool they could see when they stepped carefully through the doorway. Underwater lights cast a blue glow on ceiling and walls, and on the hairy huge form of a person - probably - wallowing in the invitingly turquoise water, peering at Worm through the thin cool haze.


Worm surfaced, blowing water like a whale, and, moving sinously, was across to the poolside in a few strokes. He leant on the edge, and eyed the other with curiosity.

'What on earth are you?", he asked, boggling.


'A bannik, lad!'


From the group of women hiding behind the door, a collective gasp echoed loudly in the room.


"More guests!", the bannik boomed, making Sue squeal. Jana was the furthest back, and shoved everybody aside to get a look at their very wet and very hairy new acquaintance.

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