Rudi and Raven


Some sample chapters from my Rudi and Raven book, “The Harvest Festival”. As mention on the main page of the site, I considered this for a pre- to early-teen audience at first, but had to wonder if it was for an older audience, once the stories started writing themselves and I just became a passenger.

Prologue:

This is what the town looked like. The centrepiece, you could call it, was the large stone church. White stones, though quite grey now with age, colourful gardens and no parking. It had a tall stone spire with a clock at the top. The clock chimed twice a week: once on Sunday morning to welcome the worshippers and once on Sunday evening to…well, not to do anything really. The minister was a young man with “ideas”, which the townsfolk didn’t care much for. And long hair, which the townsfolk didn’t care for much either. His “ideas” were probably the reason why the clock only chimed for itself on a Sunday evening.
Just down the road and to the right was what the townsfolk would call, if pushed, the real centrepiece of the town: Mr Amos’ General Store. The sign out front, always lovingly cared for by Mr. Amos (but in reality begrudgingly painted and re-painted by Mr. Amos’ teenaged assistant) read: “A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place”. Mostly, the folk called it The Store, seeing as how it was the only one in town. Mr. Amos ran what could only be called a tight ship. He was very firm on inventory. And on clean floors. Something for which his surly assistant cared not at all. Apart from the usual general merchandise (food and household items), The Store had a meagre clothing section. Mostly the hard-wearing type, perfect for hard-wearing people. There was a rack of VHS cassette tapes (for those who could recall how to program the machine) and a rack of DVD’s (though not many people in town had a lot to do with that new-fangled stuff). There was a gun display and a rope section and a paint department and a feedstock supply, catering for anything from the DIY’ers to local farmers because…let’s be honest…when you’re a local farmer and you are not a DIY’er you are not much of a local farmer.
The Store was open six days a week, and once on Sunday. Though, truthfully, not the whole Sunday and not even the whole store. Just the enclosed courtyard at the back. Because The Store was also the only place in the town that one could purchase a little merriment, from time to time, and wasn’t it an amazing coincidence that the Sunday evening church bells rang at exactly the same time as Mr. Amos would open the side gate to the courtyard and welcome in his visitors?
Across the road from The Store was the workshop, the second of five buildings in what - in a town slightly larger - might have been Main Street. The workshop dealt with faulty cars, broken down farm equipment and misbehaving ovens. If it moved and it shouldn’t, or shouldn’t move but it did, Big Bob Parkinson would fix it all up. And should you deliver some post to Big Bob Parkinson’s workshop by mistake, well, never you mind. Just sidle over to the first door to the right and you are in the third building of “Main Street”: the Post Office. With the possible exception of the building immediately across from the Post Office and next to The Store, it was the quietest business in town. Once a week post would come in. The Postmaster would sort the thirty or forty items into their correct slots for the townsfolk to collect (no mail delivery here) and would place a bag of perhaps ten to twenty items onto the postal truck for the return trip to the big city. And when the Postmaster was finished with his two-hour a week job, he would lock up and walk across to the other building we just mentioned, the one next to The Store: the Mayor’s Office.
That’s right. Jim Foggerton (commonly called Old Foggy in town due to his terrible memory) was both Postmaster and Mayor, positions the townsfolk were happy to let him have because, when all is said and done, it kept him busy, out of the way and - with a town population of perhaps 100 people and roughly the same for the farming community, excluding seasonal workers - there was not a lot he could do to break anything.
And then we arrive at the last building in the group of five which make up the bustling Main Street. Not adjoined to the others but sitting apart, in its own lot perhaps thirty steps from the Mayor’s office, was The Little Shop of Ways and Means. The proprietor, little blue-haired Mrs. Mavis Marston, had run the shop since…well, no one knew. Old Foggy might, as he had been in town since the Big Storm of ’56 that destroyed the bridge, but of course no one would ask because Old Foggy would not remember and it was never a good thing to get him talking, in any case. Mrs. Marston thought of the shop as a bit of a haberdashery, supplying the farmers’ wives with their yarn and associated accessories and, occasionally, some gossip or two. If you are wanting a pillowcase lovingly painted with a view of the town, this is where you would find one. And no one but the farmer’s wives ever really stopped by. It was said (hush-hush of course) that Mrs. Marston cared not a whit for actually selling anything, because she had quite a bit of money set aside and that the shop was merely a place for her to keep her stuff. Situated close to the road that left the town and headed out towards the big city, it was expected to catch the tourist business. A cunning entrepreneurial move on Mrs. Marston’s part but, alas, no tourist ever came here. The town was not what you would call on the way to anything, or on the way from somewhere else.
Mostly, I suppose, it was the kind of place that existed only so that someone could say they came from it. And it was into this place, every so often and during their school holidays, that Rudi and Raven would come crashing in.

Chapter 1: big dogs, foreigners and scrambled eggs
“He’s the enemy,” Raven said, out of the blue.
Rudi turned his head ever-so-slightly towards her, one eyebrow lifting a little. They were sitting outside The Store, passing a lazy afternoon with a bottle of colddrink and a large packet of chips between them. I’d like to say that they were passing the time by watching the exciting events unfolding before them on Main Street, but this town had neither a main street nor excitement. The pastor had come past on Apprehension some ten minutes back, but that wasn’t enough for more than 30 seconds worth of speculation. Apprehension is the pastor’s donkey. Why it is named Apprehension is a matter for another day.
“The enemy,” Raven said, a little louder. Rudi turned back to stare at the street again, his hand digging some more chips out of the bag. If asked to describe his older sister in one phrase, it would have been “Big Ideas”, thought Rudi. If asked to describe her little brother in one phrase, Raven thought in return, it would be “Trying to Squeeze Water from a Stone.”
Raven sighed. This was really no fun at all. It had been great visiting when they were much younger, even for a short period of time. But granddad was getting older now and wasn’t really up to driving his grandchildren around all over the farmlands anymore, a definite and firm favourite of Raven’s. It was only a week into their stay and both Raven and Rudi were already feeling the boredom setting in. They had some morning and early evening work to do just outside of town, which is a subject we shall come to shortly, though it was seldom enough to keep a person busy (in Raven’s opinion).
Dad was an army guy. That’s what the kids had called him all their lives. They still did, though Raven was now old enough to know that “army guy” meant “Colonel”. For as long as they could remember, Rudi and Raven had moved from one army base to another, as the army moved their dad where they needed him. He wasn’t on active duty, dad had said, as a knee injury meant that he now spent his military career training other soldiers and managing various affairs around the base. The family was moving again and, because this time it was a pretty big move, it had been decided that Rudi and Raven should go stay in the countryside with granddad for a while, so that they could escape the boredom and work of the big move. Boredom, snorted Raven. And “decided”, she snorted again. Just once, thought Raven, I might like a small say in where and how we move around. They had been in their current home for longer than usual, three years in fact, long enough to start to get into a wonderful routine of school, sports, activities and friends. But no one asks little kids for their opinion, she snorted again.
One snort could usually be ignored. Two meant something was certainly up and three meant that Rudi had better start paying attention. His sister was a not a three-snort kind of girl. This meant that something was going on in her head. For Raven that meant Big Ideas and for Rudi it meant…well, getting caught up in them and having to do things. Dig holes, perhaps, or climb things. Whatever his sister decided was his role in the Big Idea.
“Okay Raven,“ Rudi said. “Who is the enemy?”
Raven glanced around in a conspiratorial manner. The only sounds close to them were the brush strokes from the teenager as he swept up a mess in The Store behind them. They didn’t know his name, having been a bit shy to introduce themselves at first, as his attitude (as Raven put it) seemed to be saying that he wanted them at arm’s length. Surly Teenager was the best that Raven could come up with on short notice. Rudi had had to Google ‘surly’: ill-mannered, arrogant, gruff…another wayward though entered Rudi’s mind and he picked up his phone again.
“Will you put your phone away for one minute?” hissed Raven. “This is serious!”
Rudi sighed. Checking one last time to see if there were any messages from his friends (no) he put it back in his pocket and finally gave Raven his full attention.
“You know the new guy, the one in that house without the fence and the big windows in front?” Raven asked.
Rudi nodded. They had seen him while driving into town with dad a week ago. A big moving truck had been outside the house, and the old man had been standing in the road, directing the moving people as they unpacked the items from the truck, placing them on the front lawn. He was unlike some old men they were accustomed to seeing around town. While some of them seemed to shuffle along everywhere they went with their eyes on the ground, not unlike an ancient vacuum cleaner droning back and forth, this old man stood stock upright and - as they heard while driving slowly past - had a strong and commanding voice. His arms waved here and there as he instructed the moving people, some unloading boxes and furniture for staging on the lawn whilst others collected these to move into the house.
Rudi checked the time once more. They were due back at the dog kennels in a short while for the afternoon feeding, and had better be going if the fifteen minute walk was to get them there on time. Raven halted her recollections and the two picked up the remaining chips and colddrink, packing them into Raven’s brown and green camouflage backpack (a real army one that she had obtained at one the bases they had stayed on, and a very proud possession). Hoisting it onto her back and securing the kidney belt, they walked off up the road, still chatting about the new old man.
Each school holiday that they spent with granddad was also spent working at the dog kennels. Farmers leaving for periods longer than a couple of days would drop their dogs off before leaving (and sometimes their cats, though mostly people left them to wander the farms). Most of the time, though, it was people from the nearby towns that would come through and drop off their dogs. If the village could be said to have any particular industry, with the exception of the outlying farms, then this was probably it.
The dog kennels were owned by Aunty Jean, not really an aunt but rather an old family friend. She had retired to the countryside and bought the dog kennels as something to do during her retirement. The work was not difficult and was something an old lady could do, with the help of local kids to do the lifting. She often had the help of visiting children on their school holidays as well and - for the last couple of years - this had meant Rudi and Raven.
Their jobs at the dog kennels included being up quite early and ready for the morning feeding. They would walk down from granddad’s house to be there by 06h30, where they would help to lay out the bowls and fill them with the varying types of dog food, according to the type and size of the dog. Once done, they would load them onto a wheeled trolley and walk through the pens, opening each gate in turn and setting down a bowl for each dog. Almost every school holiday two ginormous Newfoundlands came to stay. At first, the sheer size of the dogs had scared both children and, even now, the Newfoundlands still towered over them when standing up on their hind legs to welcome the children and their food. Raven, though, had made friends over time and thought them to be simply the gentlest and most lovable dogs she had ever met. She would spend a little time (more than most) with the two dogs, fussing and rubbing and patting and chatting, even though she had only recently grown taller than them (except when they stood on hind legs). Both dogs would surround her and revel in the fuss, until Raven could be seen no more and all that was left was a mass of black fur and little cooing sounds, reminding Rudi of an image in a comic book of a seething predatory cloud that enveloped the Silver Surfer, trying to suck the life force from him and removing the final obstacle to world domination. Of course, in the comic book the sounds were more like grunting and fighting sounds, and not cooing.
Being shorter than Raven, Rudi still viewed both dogs with deep suspicion. He suspected that, should they decide to, they could eat him up with no problem at all. Luckily for Rudi, he had a favourite as well. Just this year a yorkie puppy had come to stay. It was still tiny and was at the dog kennels for a couple of weeks before the new owners came to collect him. It was only their fifth day at the dog kennels for this new season, but the yorkie and Rudi had already started to become friends. Every morning and evening, during their rounds, Rudi would open the yorkie’s cage and he would come bounding out, sniffing and leaping and falling over himself to get to Rudi. Rudi would laugh and play with the little thing for a bit, before he walked off on his rounds, the yorkie following faithfully along, little legs holding up a large spiky head.
By 08h00 they were done and back at the main house for breakfast. If there was something Aunty Jean knew how to do well, it was feed hungry children. On the way to the main house Rudi and Raven would stop by the chicken coop and collect some fresh eggs. They entered the house to the smell of freshly baked bread, and bacon sizzling in a large pan, the table already set with freshly grated cheese, an assortment of jams and spreads, and a large loaf of still steaming bread. Taking the eggs from Raven, Aunty Jean broke them into another pan and added milk and salt. Rudi would take out plates and cutlery and set them out for the three of them, while Aunty Jean hummed her way through preparing their scrambled eggs.
Eggs and bacon on plates, bread cut and adorned with whichever jam or preserve was the choice of the day (from strawberry to apricot, through fig and tomato), the three would sit down to eat. They would chat and laugh and eat their way through as much as they wanted until, at around 08h45 or so, they would meander their satisfied bellies back out to the kennels to collect the feeding bowls again, loading them onto the trolley as they went and saying a goodbye-for-now to Raven’s monster-sized dogs and Rudi’s little spiky morsel.
They were normally done by 09h30 and, until 17h00 that evening, the day was their own to spend as they wished. Which in this town, much to Raven’s annoyance, was not saying a whole lot. Every evening, as with this evening, they would stroll back to the kennels for the evening’s chores. This time, Aunty Jean would lay out the filled bowls on the trolley while Rudi and Raven hosed down and swept out each pen. This was more fun, usually, than the morning shift as this time they got to take down rough leather waders from hooks in the office and put them on and, complete with Wellington boots, they got to play with the hosepipes and their favourite dogs of the moment. Aunty Jean would follow along behind them, leaving a bowl for each dog and then, final goodbyes out of the way, the children would walk back up to granddad’s house, not ten minutes from the kennels.
This Sunday evening, however, Raven had more on her mind than general annoyance at being left here for a month. As much as she enjoyed the dog kennels and some of the people they would visit during the day, she felt that she was growing up now and had better things to do during her holiday.
But, as Rudi so often observed, Raven was in the grip of a Big Idea. She had shuffled half-heartedly through the evening’s chores and now, on the way home, it spilled out of her like an overturned bag of medium-sized dog pellets.
Raven had noticed, she told Rudi, that on their arrival in town and driving past the new old man’s house, a clear garment bag containing what looked - to her - like a military uniform, complete with medals on the front of the uniform jacket. One of the moving people had been holding it upright by the hanger, probably waiting for the old man to tell him what to do with it.
“So, it’s a uniform,” said Rudi. “Why the big deal?”
“Because,” Raven said, turning to him with a gleam in her eye. “It wasn’t one of ours!”
I have already mentioned that the children had spent much of their young lives growing up on army bases and, as such, it is safe to assume that they had seen a great many men and women in uniform. This one, Raven continued, was not one of those she recognised. Because of the magazines and manuals constantly seen around the house, Raven figured she had at least a working knowledge of not just army uniforms and equipment, but air force and navy as well. Again, she stressed, she hadn’t seen this one before.
“What I think,” said Raven, halting on the road and grabbing Rudi by the shoulders to turn him towards her and look sternly into his eyes, “is that this man is not one of us. He has a strange military uniform with quite a few medals. This can mean only one thing.”
“He is an enemy,” answered Rudi.
“Yes!’ said Raven.
Rudi wandered whether an enemy on foreign soil would be so indiscreet as to show evidence of that to every passing car on the road, and mentioned this to Raven. She thought about that for a moment, agreeing that Rudi had a point. But, she thought, her resolution growing, there was more to this than met the eye. It smelled, to her, like a Mystery. And if there is a Mystery around, an unknown something-or-other or an unanswered question, then Raven started getting Big Ideas.
Rudi sighed to himself. Raven’s Big Ideas (and the signs of a Big Idea where growing by the minute) meant trouble and work for him. Often lots of trouble. But he couldn’t help himself this time either. The idea of a month of sand and sun and nothing to look forward to other than dog bowls had started to weigh in on him as well. If looking into this new Mystery meant some excitement, and even the possibility of being famous and rich for unearthing a spy, then this was one Big Idea that Rudi thought he might go along with…
…and so, during the walk home, they began to hatch a plan.

Chapter 2: a small mystery is solved
Opening the door of granddad’s house and walking in, Raven deposited her backpack in the front hall. The sounds and smells of sizzling pork sausages wafted down the passageway. They tramped into the kitchen, playing a little private game as they each stepped on only the blue tiles and missed the white tiles, as touching a white tile was a no-no. Rudi and Raven sat on tall stools around a central island, the top painted white and the legs painted blue, matching the chequered floor. An old whitewashed ladder was suspended by ropes from the ceiling above the island, with an assortment of bronzed pots and pans hanging from little hooks on the ladder.
Conversation in this kitchen was easy, and always had been. While Raven and granddad chatted about the events of the day, Rudi busied himself by shooting small, balled up pieces of straw paper at the pots above him, trying to make them ring. The last rays of early evening sun shone in through the large bay windows overlooking the front garden. Little dust fairies frolicked and danced in the last rays of day, Raven absentmindedly batting one aside while trying to catch another: always eluding, always furtive, just out of reach of her questing fingertips.
“So, news,” said granddad, as he placed their dinner plates down on the table and moved one each towards the now hungry children. “The last details are almost sorted out and so I have some things for you two to do.”
Rudi paused in mid-suck, the colddrink slowing draining down back into the glass. Things to do?
“The Harvest Festival is in two weeks,” granddad continued, “and there is still a lot to be done in preparation. If you don’t mind – and if the ‘I am so bored’ grumbling you two are doing is anything to go by then I guess you won’t – I have asked around and gotten you something to help with.”
Raven, looking just as confused as Rudi, laid her fork down, one half-bitten pork banger hanging off the tines.
“Wait…what…?” said Raven.
“You mean ‘pardon’,” twinkled granddad.
“Yes, yes, pardon, but what Harvest Festival?” said Raven.
Now it was granddad’s turn to look confused.
“The Harvest Festival. We spoke about this,” said granddad.
Both children were shaking their heads, no-no, haven’t heard a thing, no sir, first time in fact, no idea what you’re going on about.
Granddad sighed out an “oh dear” and mopped at his mouth with his handkerchief. The Harvest Festival, he said, was like a huge party that the town threw for itself every year. It happened at harvest time, as the main crops were all coming in. Everyone got involved, the townspeople and farming community alike, even the migrant workers who came and went during this time of the year. It was a whole day, from the morning till late at night, and was a day of food, contests and games, merriment, dancing and music, giant bonfires and even (granddad looked at Raven with a twinkle in this eye) a little romance. The whole town gets decorated up, said granddad, and people come in from the neighbouring towns. Stalls are set up, trinkets are sold, money is made, and everyone has a wonderful time.
“Which is all something you know about, of course, because I told you all this already…I’m sure,” said granddad.
“No, no, pretty sure I’d remember a thing like that,” said Raven, ignoring the “romance” wink.
“That’s why I was so excited about you staying for longer this time, as it means you will be here over the Harvest Festival and I can’t recall your having been here for one before. I said to your dad, I said ‘you just bring ‘em on over and I will put ‘em to doing stuff around here’, I said, and he agreed and thought it was a great idea and he was glad that you two would be busy with something and not bored for a month and…”
Granddad took a great big gulp of air while Rudi took a great big sip of his juice.
“I think I solved this mystery”, said Rudi. “You told dad and not us.”
Raven nodded. That sounded about right. Just one more thing to add to the list of things that they were not being told about at the moment.
“Sooooo…yes?” asked granddad, looking a little nervous now.
Raven nearly jumped out of her chair in reply: “Yes! Yes, of course, that sounds fantastic!”
“What kinds of things do you need us to do?” asked Rudi.
For starters, granddad replied, Rudi could head over to Big Bob’s shop. He had some-or-other secret something that he wasn’t telling anyone about and had fair jumped at the idea of having an extra pair of hands, even a small and inexperienced pair. No heavy lifting required, granddad told Rudi, but apart from that he had no idea. But, granddad said, Big Bob’s shop was a wonderland to any young lad so he was sure that Rudi would enjoy his time there.
“What about Aunty Jean?” asked Rudi. Granddad had already spoken to everyone involved and was sure that it wouldn’t be a problem. Big Bob, for one, wouldn’t be keeping Rudi so long and work him so hard that he couldn’t help Aunty Jean out in the mornings and evenings, as usual. Besides, both day jobs wouldn’t be every day, but as they were needed and their respective new “bosses” required.
“And speaking of new “bosses,” said Raven, “where will I be going?”
“Mavis…Mrs. Marston, I mean…you can help her out. She is wanting to catalogue everything in her shop and lay out the items that she will sell at her stall. I believe it’s quite a job and – even better – there are so many things hidden amongst so many other things that it may be the perfect little searching and sorting job for an inquisitive young girl.”
By now, both children had stopped eating and where looking at each other with great excitement. Yes, indeed. This sounded like the perfect solution to what – just today – had started to look like a very long month indeed. They chatted around the details a little as they finally got to finish their food, washed the dishes and helped to clean up the kitchen.
Later than evening, as granddad was sitting in his rocker and reading to the light of a small table-top lamp, Raven paused at the door of the lounge.
“Granddad…who is the new guy that moved in last weekend?” she asked.
Granddad didn’t look up from his book, and turned a page as he replied.
“No idea, Ray. Jim and Mavis have gone to visit, of course, but I’ll pop in over the course of this week. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason,” Raven replied, as she turned and carried on down the hall to her bedroom.

Chapter 3: Big Bob’s Big Bodacious ThingamaBob
Monday morning dawned bright and warm, for a change, but Rudi missed it. He missed it because he was face-first in a gigantic bag of dog food, trying to scrape the last few pellets from the bottom. Waste not, want not. Raven suggested turning the bag around and pouring them out, but she only mentioned this after watching Rudi struggle for two minutes.
Rudi pulled his head out of the bag, coming face-to-face with Raven’s little “it wasn’t me” smirk. He scowled and flung the last handful of pellets at her. Raven laughed, blocking her face with her arm and backing away from the now-furious, pellet-flinging ball of indignation.
The day had started like any other. Collect the bowls, transport the bowls, place the bowls in the cages. Greet the dogs, play with the dogs, avoid the dogs that looked like trouble. Eggs collected and breakfast done, Rudi and Raven were taking the trash out for Aunty Jean and – in the process – Rudi was to remove the last pellets at the bottom of a couple of almost-empty bags while Raven counted out the money in the small cashbox under the counter, ready for the day’s pet collections and drop-offs, if there were any. The open booking register said no, but unexpected exceptions happened all the time.
Million-to-one chances, Raven liked to say, happened nine times out of ten. Terry Pratchett had written that, and if Terry Pratchett wrote a thing then Raven agreed with it.
The two split off at Big Bob Parkinson’s workshop, Rudi heading across the road to start his work (whatever it may be, the secret that it was) for the day while Raven headed on down the road to Mrs. Marston’s Little Shop of Ways and Means.
The door to Big Bob’s shop was made largely of strips of steel, held together by what looked like an odd assortment of brackets and bolts. The door handle, if it could be called that, was a small, spiky round thing, the kind of thing that Rudi’s bicycle chain ran around.
“Sprocket,” boomed a voice from above and behind Rudi. He jumped, almost dropping his lunch box. He turned and looked up at the large, bald head and smiling, red face of one of the largest men he had ever seen in his entire life. Tattooed and muscled arms poked out of light-blue overalls the size of a small tent.
As I live and breathe, though Rudi, it’s Bob the Builder. Just…more. Quite a lot more.
“I’m Rudi,” Rudi squeaked out, offering a hand up to the giant man.
“How do you know?” replied the man, taking Rudi’s hand in his.
“I…um…”
The man laughed. He reached out and turned the sprocket, opening the door and gesturing for Rudi to walk inside. Not one to argue in the face of embarrassment, Rudi did as he was told.
“Uh…Mr. Parkinson…,” started Rudi, but stopped as the man put up a huge hand and shook his head.
“Goodness, so formal. Bob. My name is Bob. Seeing as how we are to be working together on my big secret, we had best be on a first name basis. After all, friends don’t spill the beans on friends, now do they?”
Rudi just found himself nodding.
“Well, come along,” said Big Bob. “The kitchen is this way. You can put your lunch in the fridge if you need to. Assuming those are old clothes you are wearing, stuff you might get a little messed up? I don’t see myself having overalls that might fit a little guy like you.”
Rudi, nodding again under the barrage of words, followed Big Bob to the kitchen. Lucky for him, yes, his clothes were some older ones that he could stand to mess up a little, and he grudgingly sent a telepathic “thank you” to Raven for the suggestion.
Big Bob’s kitchen was small. Just a counter, a fridge and a microwave along one wall. The opposite wall was bare, save for a picture of a purple sailboat. The third wall, opposite the door, boasted a sink and tap. An electric kettle sat in the sink.
“No hot water, I’m afraid. No real need. Boil what I need when I need it. Here, give me that bag,” Big Bob said, holding out his hand towards Rudi.
“That your boat?” asked Rudi.
“Shore is,” answered Big Bob. “Shore is. Don’t find myself out nearly as much as I want to. House her at the lake over yonder.” He jerked his head towards the window side of the room. Rudi nodded as if he knew exactly which lake it was over yonder that housed Big Bob’s little purple sailboat.
“Okay, let me show you what we’re up to. I’ll give you the safety talk, blah blah, get you started on some easy stuff, no question is a stupid question, et cetera, you know what I mean.”
Rudi knew what he meant. He was still a little shell-shocked at the goings-on this morning and needed to recover his composure and – ultimately – his voice. He followed Big Bob out of the kitchen, the large man just about brushing the door frame with his huge arms. Big Bob led Rudi to a section of the workshop, which was cleared of everything but what appeared to be the bare framework of an old trailer. Just a rectangle of joined metal pipes atop four rusty old wheels.
Big Bob asked if Rudi had any experience at all with working with metal. Rudi admitted that yes, he did have a class at school, but that what they did there was likely going to sound pretty basic to Big Bob.
“What kinds of things do you do, then?” Big Bob asked.
“Well, at the moment, just cutting shapes out of huge sheets of tin,” said Rudi.
Big Bob picked up a pair of tin snips from a nearby table.
“So you know what this is, then,” he said.
“Yes, yes I do,” said Rudi.
“Capital! Then that’s where we start! I have some templates almost ready”, said Big Bob. “We can mark off the sheets of tin I have over here and you can start by cutting out the main shapes. The detail will come in afterwards. When we’re done with that you can help me get the wheels off this frame. Then I reckon you’re a free man. For today, anyway.”
For the next two hours the two of them worked together, placing templates and marking them, cutting out the shapes and putting them to one side for smoothing and polishing. It was reasonably warm, and the elbow-length heavy gloves that Rudi had on was not helping. Big Bob chatted incessantly, and it didn’t take long for Rudi to get caught up in it and chat along as well.
“Army, you say?” said Big Bob.
“Uh-huh,” replied Rudi. “Colonel, in fact. Quite important. I’m not exactly sure what he does but people salute him a lot and he has his own driver for around the base. He calls him his batman.”
Rudi sniggered at that. Big Bob laughed as well.
“Not batman like in ‘Batman’, the caped avenger or masked fighter or whatever they call him,” Big Bob said. “A batman is what we call someone assigned to a commissioned officer, which is what your dad must be. The batman is a soldier. Do you know what I mean by this?”
“I think so,” answered Rudi. “Kinda like his servant.”
“Now you don’t wanna go around calling no batman a servant,” said Big Bob. “No sirree. They do tend to turn their noses up at that. But yes, you get the gist of it. Fun fact: before motorised transport – cars and suchlike – the batman was responsible for the officer’s bat-horse. That’s the horse that carried the pack saddle with the officer’s kit in it, during a campaign…you know, a fight, a battle.”
“Bat-horse,” laughed Rudi. “Funny, I can just about picture that, black cape and all, swooping down on the enemy.”
Big Bob laughed again, while laying another template onto another sheet of tin.
“You sound like you know about army things,” said Rudi.
Big Bob paused, a small frown wrinkling his brow.
“You could say that. Okay, this one is not nearly as complicated as some. Really just square with rounded edges. I reckon we do this one and then get some chow down.”
The template drawn and ready for cutting, Big Bob left Rudi to it and turned to another of his work surfaces, this time putting together the small array of tools needed to begin work on the wheeled frame: spanners, an angle grinder, and a hammer. Removing the wheels ought not to be too difficult a job, though the amount of rust that had accumulated over the long years out in the field was not going to help the situation. Still, Big Bob though, soonest begun is soonest done. He carried his selections over to the frame and, placing them on the table closest, he turned to study the first wheel.
A bang and a scream spun Big Bob around. He dashed towards the cutting table, not seeing Rudi at first. Rounding the table, he dropped quickly to the floor next to Rudi. A large piece of tin was lying next to him.
“I dropped it,” Rudi hissed through clenched teeth.
“I see so,” said Big Bob, easing Rudi’s hands from his right leg. Rudi lay back and breathed in deeply as Big Bob examined the tear in his jeans, just below his knee. The material around the tear was already darkening. Big Bob pulled a multi-tool from his belt and opened up a sharp knife.
“I’m just going to cut this open, okay? I need to see what we’re working with.”
Rudi nodded. Big Bob, his admiration for this garrulous and gentle yet tough young lad growing by the minute, gently cut the tear larger and pulled the material aside. Blood was welling up in the cut.
“I can’t see how deep this is but I reckon we have ourselves a thing,” Big Bob said. “I am going to wrap this up and get you to the doc. You good to hold for a moment?”
Rudi nodded again. Big Bob rushed back to the kitchen and grabbed his first aid kit, already pulling up some gauze and bandages as he returned. Not wanting anything bad to get into the wound, Big Bob placed some gauze across a decently sized area and wrapped it up with a length of bandage. Then, lifting Rudi carefully and continuing to chat about everything and nothing, Big Bob quickly carried him out to his truck.
Once inside and the workshop closed up, Big Bob and Rudi set out up the road for the short trip to the town doctor.
“What about the thingamabob?” asked Rudi.
“Thingamabob?” asked Big Bob, glancing over and raising one eyebrow.
“The frame. The surprise. We didn’t get started.” Rudi was shifting now, the pain starting to really make itself known. Rudi was determined not to show it in front of this big, strong man that he was fast coming to like. Big Bob, however, knew exactly what Rudi was doing but wouldn’t dream of telling him. Instead, he laughed out loud.
“ThingamaBob! With a capital ‘B’. Yes, that’s exactly what we’ll call it.”
*****
Later that night, leg bandaged and propped up on a pillow, Rudi recounted his day’s adventures while granddad fussed about. Hot chocolate on a table next to him, the TV on but mostly ignored, Raven sat with a set of magic markers and decorated Rudi’s bandages while he chatted.
“Right through, the doctor said, right through my jeans. Five stitches. But it’s all good, you know, didn’t hurt much at all.”
Raven smiled a secret smile and carried on with her colouring in.
Tell us about your day, Raven,” said granddad, as he plopped himself down into his chair and began to fill his pipe.
Raven straightened up and put down the magic marker. She linked her fingers together and stretched her arms above her head, both her and Rudi laughing at the popping sound her elbows made and the “ouch” from Raven.
Then she began to talk.

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