The third child to find a new home at the Green Dragon
, who at eleven was small and easily packed, with the obvious exceptions of his computer
, his hay, his African masks, his wigwam
, his dinosaur skeleton
, his scaffold, his traffic lights, and his cave bear. To him had been allocated the big dark bedroom at the back, on the lower third level, where little noise could reach the rest of the family.
This had occasioned a quarrel between the girls, Jenny claiming the only free single bedroom by right of seniority, but Susan reminding her what it had been like once when Arthur had been cantooned in with them during the great flood of four years back. Jenny blenched and took compassion on her sister, agreeing to share the double room until they could unearth and clean up one of those that their Grandmother assured them were to be found, somewhere in the upper reach of the north wing, in a tolerably habitable condition.
Arthur gleefully dragged all his things up to his domain, together with the cartons of crisps and peanuts, products of a flying visit to the cellar while his father had been distracted enough to leave it unguarded for a few seconds. Arthur had been warned that the occurrence of his twelfth birthday (on which he, like the others before him, was to be told the Horrible Secret) depended on his keeping out of the bar and cellar areas at all times.
A final search of the hired van revealed one unclaimed case. It was Arthur's clothes. Mrs Tyler threw it at him.
At dinnertime Arthur slithered up to the table, blackened, cobwebbed, and lightly dusted in plaster. His father opened his mouth to enquire: his mother stopped the speculation with a low "Don't". Mr Tyler nodded and looked away. Two baked potatoes disappeared into the Arthurian pockets. He filled his mouth with fish fingers, like an ambitious grass-snake that had happened on a sleeping gazelle and wasn’t about to let sudden waking activity deprive it of the coup of a lifetime. In his left hand he grabbed up as many walnuts as he could fit, his right hand being already encumbered by a hacksaw and a brace-and-bit.
* * *
He stared up at the patch of ceiling above the door to his room. There was nothing unusual about it. He continued staring. There was, perhaps, a hairline gap between panels. This was a nuisance: he couldn't think of any combination of tapes, plaster, or other concealment that would disguise the gap and not require mending after each use. He tapped a bit of wainscoting on one side, and nothing happened, and he tapped all along neighbouring areas to make sure none of those sprang it. Then he pressed the place on the other side that held the second trigger, and a rope ladder unfolded from the panel above his door. He nodded in satisfaction that the mechanical parts above were no longer making any sound.
Climbing up into his room and re-stowing the ladder, he dropped to the floor and began to plan his next targets. He cleared the miniature closed-circuit cameras from his desk, piled the photoelectric circuit diagrams on top of them in the box, and studied the floor plans he had made so far. The route to his sisters' room was straightforward, but the vantage point over the main bar presented problems. The most obvious place was behind one of the mirrors, but these tended to get obscured by displays of bottles, and the back of them was only accessible from the kitchen on the other side, unless he was prepared to spend a great deal of time drilling down from the floor above into a decorated wooden pillar dividing the main mirrors. His parents' bedroom was above that spot so it would also require persuading them to move their double bed across the room so he could hide the wood-shavings under it.
Arthur sighed briefly and sat down cross-legged with a glass of lemonade and a Blaise the Mongoose comic.
He fished one of the potatoes out of his pocket and found it had gone lukewarm while he was thinking. He looked around himself, at the contents of his room. There was one vacant spot behind his bed but he had that earmarked for a complete suit of armour he had found in one of the rooms he had broken into and re-sealed. He had visions of setting up business as a ghost, and was revolving various plans for animating the armour by remote control while he was innocently visible amid the family.
The pub kitchen had only one microwave oven, so it would certainly be missed. There were two solutions to this, and he debated which would be faster. Finally he decided to tamper with it so it would be condemned as faulty and a replacement ordered; this might take a few days but would involve less work than his long-term plan, shifting the entire left-hand wall of his room in by a metre or so, to give him a concealed workspace in which to amass larger objects.
It was bedtime, and he was tired. It had been a big day for a little boy in his new home, and he wished that life was not one constant round of work, work, work.
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