Chapter 5

A Blue Pair of Wheels

 Wednesday, Week 1

 

         Robin awoke to a loud boom, his eyes flicking open into pitch darkness.  There was a mass of noise coming from outside his window, and his half-asleep brain was having trouble figuring out what was going on.  Then a bright flash of light illuminated the room.
         Climbing out of bed and peering through the curtains, Robin watched the rain lashing hard against his window while the horse chestnut tree, which was dimly lit via a far off street lamp, appeared to be locked in a losing battle to keep hold of all of its branches.  Transfixed for a while, flash after flash of lightning briefly turning night into day, he eventually dropped back into bed as the pounding of thunder rumbled slowly into the distance.

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         The storm had indeed taken a toll on the tree when Robin looked out at it the next morning, with limbs and leaves scattered across the lawn.  “Mr. Carpenter's going to have quite the job this morning,” commented Mrs. Fitzgerald with a shake of her head as Robin emerged into the kitchen, rubbing his glazed eyes.  The radio was playing in the background, and his parents were listening intently to the DJ who was talking about the Maastricht Treaty being signed and Hurricane Andrew hitting Florida, before introducing the next song, November Rain by Guns N' Roses.
         “There's been a hurricane?” asked Robin.
         “Ah, no, well, not currently,” answered his dad as he sipped from his large blue coffee mug.  “Although there was once.  We're trying to guess the year.”
         “Every Wednesday at 9am for an hour Radio Corentin plays music from a certain year, and they talk about the big news items that were going on at that time,” explained Mrs. Fitzgerald, in response to Robin’s confused look.
         Listening all the way through until 10am, Robin heard about a lot things that sounded as though they happened a hundred years ago, such as Croatia gaining independence and Euro Disneyland opening, and a lot of songs he didn't know, although he did recognize Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Rae Cyrus.  “1986,” he volunteered as the show neared its end.  It turned out to be 1992.

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         Robin glanced out of the back window as he munched on the last of his breakfast, watching a tabby cat shake the mist off its coat and tread carefully around a puddle.  As it stopped in mid-walk, a front paw held up off of the ground, Robin’s attention was taken by the voices that had appeared at the front of the house, a cheerful call of hello echoing through.
         Moments later Mr. Carpenter emerged into the kitchen, complete with plastic biking clips around his ankles.  Robin was just about to say good morning when two further figures followed through, causing him to gape silently.  For there in front of him stood the boy and girl from the ferry.
         “Morning Robin,” said Mr. Carpenter with a smile.  “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Pembroke.  Mrs. Fitzgerald.  Thought I'd bring the grandkids along with me today.  This is Greg Flores-Carpenter, and this here is Georgina Flores-Carpenter.  Greg and Georgina, this is Mr. and Mrs. Pembroke, and this is Robin.”
         “Good morning,” said Greg, reaching over and shaking everyone’s hand.
         “Morning,” added Georgina with a nod of her head underneath a blue-and-white checkered flat-peaked hat.
         “Well, don't just stand there in the doorway you two, come in, come in,” said Mrs. Fitzgerald, giving them no chance to do so as she embraced them both in one huge hug.  “So good to see you both again!  And look how you've grown!  Greg, you're almost catching up to your grandfather!”
         “Alright,” said Georgina once she was free of Mrs. Fitzgerald’s grasp, taking a seat at the island next to Robin.  “So you're the one who Mrs. Chevalier left all of this too.  Nice.  You should get a hot chocolate machine put in.  And it's Georgie by the way, but granddad always insists on calling me Georgina.”
         “I'm Robin,” said Robin, a little flummoxed by seeing the two kids again, and even more so by the fact that the girl clearly remembered him.
         “Yeah, I gathered that,” replied Georgie, before turning back to her grandfather, who was starting to explain that the Pembrokes had just arrived from England.
         “They were on the same ferry as us granddad.  We helped Robin here get a hot chocolate,” said Greg before Georgie had the chance to, giving half a wink to Robin.
          “Well, isn’t that the coincidence!” continued Mr. Carpenter, before furrowing his brow in concentration.  “Now, Georgina here must be just a year above you I believe, and then Greg is a couple of years older still.  They can probably tell you about some fun things to do here on Corentin!”
         After a few minutes where Robin talked briefly about the fact that he was going to be writing a paper that summer on pirates, but where most of the time was dominated by Mrs. Fitzgerald peppering Greg and Georgie with questions about their year and generally making a fuss over them, Greg got up to leave.  “I'm off to Sandmarket to see Vicky today,” he said in way of explanation to the busy kitchen.  Robin had no idea who Vicky was, but he didn’t want to seem rude and ask in case he’d missed that conversation.  “Long ride, should get going.”
         “Right, time I got started too,” said Mr. Carpenter, peering out of the window over the sink.  “Terrible mess the storm made of things by the looks of it.  Georgina, do you fancy giving me a hand out there?”
         Without bothering to look outside, Georgie squinted up the right side of her face.  “You know, maybe I should help Robin with that project he was mentioning?  Education is very important after all!”

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         With her grandfather now outside, and Robin’s parents getting ready to visit the Fine Arts Museum in Armorica, Georgie turned back to Robin.  “So Richie Rich, what's your project about?”
         “It's Robin,” said Robin, before he caught the joke.
         “Sorry, my mistake, of course it is.  So, Richie Robin, what's your project about?”
         “Um,” said Robin, feeling a little self-conscious about his choice.  “Pirates.”
         “Pirates.  Cool.  Anything in particular about pirates?  Because I'm not sure how much I can help you there.  And I really don't want to have to go outside to pick up leaves and branches.  So if you could make it something useful, that would be great.”
         “I'm going to write about Captain Viruz Longshadow,” said Robin, looking through the open doorway to the library where Mrs. Fitzgerald was dusting.
         “Never heard of him.”
         “The Firemast Five?”
         “Nope.”
         “The ambush at Smuggler's Cove?”  Robin was running out of options.
         “Now, I've never heard of any ambush there, but I do know Smuggler's Cove,” said Georgie, giving a double tap on the marble countertop.  “That place is totally cool.  You should check it out.”
         “Yeah, my dad’s promised to take me one day during the summer,” replied Robin.
         “Nice.  So, what else have you learned about this Longshadow bloke?”

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         Having moved into the library once Mrs. Fitzgerald had finished her cleaning in there, Robin was flicking through the pirate book, pointing out some of the most exciting parts that he could remember, when his mum came in.  “Dad will be down in a minute, are you about ready?”
         “Sure,” said Robin, trying to fake enthusiasm.
         “Actually Mrs. Pembroke,” said Georgie, turning a pencil around in her fingers, “we were just getting to an important part on the background of the pirates, and I was hoping that I could help Robin get started on writing his paper.  Is there any way that he could stay here so as we could work on it together?”
         Robin sat in stunned silence.  Sure, that's what he wanted.  Well, at least to the point of hanging around talking about pirates, maybe not so much actually starting to write anything.  But his parents had planned lunch with a local historian who his dad had contacted, followed by a trip to the fine arts museum, and he would never have dared ask not to go.  He looked up hopelessly at his mum.
         “Well, thank you for the offer Georgina, but I'm not sure,” she said, just as his dad joined them.
         “Not sure about what?” he asked, picking up an apple from a bowl on the counter and crunching into it.
         “I was just offering to help Robin some more on his pirate project Mr. Pembroke,” said Georgie, tilting up the pirate book.  “But no problem at all if he needs to go to the museum instead.”
         “No, no, that sounds like a great idea!  The sooner it's done, the sooner you can forget about it, eh Robin!” replied his dad after finishing his bite.
         “Well, you’re probably right,” said Robin’s mum, looking at Robin and then back at his dad.  “It's just that I thought it would be good for him to be exposed to some art.”
         “Good, good,” said his dad, avoiding any more conversation and making for the door.  “Well, we should be going.  Good luck with the studying you two!”

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         “I really, really didn't want to have to help clear up outside,” said Georgie, dropping back down into one of the leather chairs with a squeak.  “So, what's the next step?”
         “Not sure,” said Robin, turning to watch his parents walk down the driveway.  “I guess I'll have to start writing.”
         “Nah, too boring,” said Georgie, one of her jade earrings spinning a glance of light.  “What else?”
         “Um,” said Robin, unsure of what else it was that Georgie might have in mind.  “We could go back to the library in Armorica and see if they have anything more on Captain Longshadow?”
         “Double boring.”  Creases formed on Georgie’s forehead before she smacked her hands down on the arms of the chair.  “Got it!”
         “Got what?” asked Robin.
         “We’ll go and visit Smuggler's Cove!  We can take photos with my camera.  Plus, we can stop at Carmichael's on the way – they have the best ice cream on the island!  Not today though, the weather’s horrid.  Plus, it's a super long bike ride from here.  But tomorrow works.  Are you doing anything tomorrow?”
         “I don't know.  Dad talked about going to the Lifeboat station, but I don't think that's for certain.  But anyway, I don't have a bike,” said Robin, slumping back a little into the folds of his chair.
         “Not the tiniest of problems, Johnny Wheels.  You can use Greg's old bike.  It's been sat in the shed here for years.  I'll get Granddad to show you where it is,” said Georgie, now sitting up straight.  “Excellent, so tomorrow it is!  Let’s meet here at 9am.”

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         With plans set and the rain finally having ceased, Georgie showed Robin around the local area.  This included cutting through an alleyway a couple of houses down that took them through fields and out to the parade of shops by the bus stop.  Stopping in at The Giants Newsagents, where Georgie was met with a warm greeting from the shopkeeper, Robin chose from a selection of three rows of glass jars that stood behind the counter, each filled to different levels with their own particular sweets.  Most he had never seen before, and he took Georgie’s advice in trying the Cannonballs, Fitzroy Fizzbangers, and Purple Pincushions.
         Returning to the house, they found Mr. Carpenter in the back garden collecting together a large pile of branches.  “Granddad, is it okay if Robin borrows Greg’s old bike tomorrow?  We’re going to go up to Smuggler’s Cove,” asked Georgie, picking up a stick as she walked and dropping it onto the pile.
         “Ah, you must be investigating the Firemast ambush, eh Robin!” replied Mr. Carpenter, standing up straight and wiping his sleeve across his forehead, creating a dark smear.  “That is an excellent tale!  Of course you can.  It’s in the shed there somewhere.  Here, let me open it up for you.”
         Mr. Carpenter reached down the tight space between the shed and the fence and emerged with a small brass key in hand.  Unlocking the padlock that was hanging loosely, the door swung open on its own with a rusty creak.  Just inside the shed on the left was a light switch, which turned on a dull flickering bulb that hung from the ceiling.  “Here you go Robin, it’s right over there,” said Mr. Carpenter, pointing to the back left corner beyond a complete clutter of items that included random lawn mower parts, many cans and tins of unknown paints and oils, and a large cobweb-ridden stepladder.

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         After Georgie and her granddad had left, Robin spent the afternoon with buckets of soapy water cleaning off the bike, which, after a few sponges, was revealed to be a deep blue.  Robin vowed not to let it ever get anywhere near that dirty again.  Getting on for a test ride he found it to be a perfect fit, with his toes just touching the ground.  He was still riding it up and down the driveway when his parents returned home.
         After explaining why he was zooming about on a bike they had never seen before, he dove straight in to asking about going to Smuggler’s Cove, which to his slight amazement even his mum was absolutely fine with it.
         In the evening Robin told his parents about all he had read, his dad in particular appearing fascinated by the tale.  In turn, his dad flipped open his own notebook, which was filled with many pages of notes, maps, and diagrams from their lunch with the local historian.  “He must know just about every inch of the island that fella, gave me some great ideas and tips of places to go.  I’m going to quote him in the article.  Said we should go up and check out the cottage in Kador soon – he recommended spending some time up there as a base to explore the north of the island.  Excellent lunch too, great big Shepard’s Pie, perfect for a day like this, and he wouldn't let me pay either!  You'd have thought it was me doing him the favor!”
         Robin poured through the details with his dad, pointing out things that they needed to go and see, spending the most time on a sketch of one of the Giants which he thought best resembled a stick figure with squares shoulders and a blocky head.  It was with these images in mind that he dropped off to sleep that night, while wondering what the next day would bring with his trip to Smuggler’s Cove.