Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock:

6am

She rolled over again

Wait, what?

6am, the clock read. She wasn’t wrong, and she wasn’t dreaming.

Yeah, they did it!

She rushed into Yarrow’s room. He wasn’t bashing toy soldiers together. He was lying on his bed with a huge smile on his face.

“Good morning,” they chirped at Mum and Dad when they went into the kitchen for breakfast.

“You’re looking very happy and energetic today,” their Mum commented.

“Yes, Ralph woke up at 6 o’clock this morning, not at 4 o’clock.”

“Wow. How did you do it?” asked Mum.

“We got another rooster from Mr Hart on the next property, and we put that rooster in the pen with Ralph,” said Edie.

“Yeah, he just wanted a friend,” explained Yarrow.

That day at school, Mrs Kauff asked a question. Edie shot her hand up in the air.

“Yes Edie”

“Photosynthesis,” she answered.

“Correct, well done.”

At recess, Yarrow played handball again and made it to King. He stayed there all during recess, and he stayed in King all the way through lunch. He was unbeatable.

Yarrow and Edie were happy and relaxed when they got home from school. They dumped their bags and raced through the house towards Ralph’s pen.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” asked Dad.

To play with Ralph and … they still hadn’t chosen a name for the new rooster.

“Well, you’ll need this,” and Dad handed Yarrow an extra bucket of food scraps.

Yarrow and Edie scattered the double dose of food scraps all over the pen, and tried to decide what they should call Ralph’s new friend. When the roosters finished eating, the children started chasing them all over the enclosure. They ran around and around and around while smiling and laughing with energy and happiness.

Suddenly, Ralph stopped. Then the new rooster stopped. So did Yarrow, then Edie. Ralph put his beak up in the air, like he was smelling something, and Yarrow and Edie copied him.

What did they smell?

PIZZA!

Image: Arib Neko

Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 7.

Chapter 7

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock:

4am.

She got up and walked into Yarrow’s room.

“This is our last chance,” she declared. “I’ve got an idea and I think it will work, but we have to walk all the way to Mr Hart’s property.”

“What’s your idea?” asked Yarrow, who was very tired and confused, but desperate to know how Edie planned to finally stop Ralph from waking up at 4am.

“I’ll tell you when we get there. We have to hurry. Get your gloves, beanie and rain jacket. Let’s go!”

Yarrow wanted to remind his big sister that it was cold and raining outside – and still dark. Then he remembered that Edie could be very determined. Not bossy, just determined.

Two intrepid little adventurers slid their cold feet into their gum boots, zipped up their rain jackets and started sloshing through the mud. Yarrow wasn’t enjoying the cold because he much preferred summer, but one thing he did like about winter is that he could see his breath. He found it fascinating. He couldn’t see anything this morning, though, just the wet ground in front of him.

When Mum and Dad woke up, all they saw were two pairs of gum boots missing from the veranda, and two sets of prints in the mud; some small prints, and some even smaller prints.

Meanwhile, Yarrow and Edie wound their way through the narrow bush trails that they’d walked so many times they could find their way in the dark, without even thinking. Yarrow started wondering about Edie’s brilliant plan, and all of the other methods they had tried in the last few months.

First, they’d talked to Ralph, in English and in Yarrow’s special language. They tried dancing, sport and cartoons, and even made a clock. They also thought about painting pictures of the sun or teaching Ralph to how to count, whisper or hold his breath, but they didn’t get to try any of those ideas because they fell asleep. They were always falling asleep.

On this cold winter morning, however, they stayed awake long enough to walk all the way up the slippery, steep hills and watch the sun rise over the trees, just as the rain stopped falling. It was a stunning sight.

Mr Hart greeted them with a mug of hot chocolate and they all sat on his veranda watching the world wake up. Not long after they finished their hot chocolate, the intrepid little adventurers were walking home with a slightly heavy container that Mr Hart had kindly given them. The container was holding something important, something very important.

Image: Arib Neko

Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 6.

Chapter 6

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock:

4am.

Another day, another battle to stay awake. Edie and Yarrow were so tired, and to make it worse, the mornings were getting colder, especially at 4am.

That afternoon, Edie was doing her homework, and Yarrow was watching cartoons. Suddenly, Edie heard a strange noise. It wasn’t plastic toys smashing together.

She heard it again.

I’ve heard that sound before, she thought to herself, but her tired brain couldn’t remember exactly what it was. Oh well, never mind, and she went back to finishing her homework. Well, actually, it wasn’t homework, it was the work she didn’t finish in class. Do you know why she didn’t finish it?

That’s right!

Eventually she managed to finish her homework and she decided to visit Ralph. She didn’t have a plan and she didn’t know what she was going to say. She thought that if she stayed in his enclosure for long enough, she might think of a brilliant idea.

When she entered, she was shocked by what she saw. Rather, she was shocked by what she didn’t see. She couldn’t see Ralph. She checked in all his favourite hiding spots, she called out his name and she ran around the pen. Nothing.

Where could he be?

This is not good, Edie knew. Ralph ate the family’s food scraps and made the soil good for planting seeds that became fruit and vegetables. Mum and Dad would not be happy.

She sat for a while and tried to brainstorm a solution, but it was no use. Plus, she was getting cold and hungry, as well as tired. She walked back inside and slumped on the lounge next to Yarrow while he watched his cartoons. She didn’t like his cartoons, but she was too exhausted to think.

Then she heard it again, the familiar noise.

It was very quiet, but it was coming from the lounge. She heard it again. It came from the space between her and Yarrow.

Wait, I know that sound, it’s Ralph. Edie looked around at her Mum, who was working on her laptop. Then she slowly lifted the blanket off the cardboard box between herself and Yarrow. She saw the airholes Yarrow had punched in it, and Ralph’s two little eyes looking up at her.

Yarrow and Edie looked at each other, then slowly at their Mum. Yarrow looked at Edie as if to say,

Don’t tell Mum. They both knew they would be in a lot of trouble for taking Ralph out of his pen.

“Why?” Edie whispered.

“To watch the cartoons,” Yarrow explained. “They help me relax, so maybe they’ll help him relax.”

Edie had to think quickly.

“Distract Mum,” she ordered her little brother.

Yarrow didn’t know what to do so he walked towards his mum and pretended to cry, except it sounded more like he was laughing, or singing, or choking…

It didn’t matter. Their mum was distracted and Edie was able to lift the box ever so quietly and tip toe out of the house to release Ralph back into his pen.

Phew, that was close!

Image: Arib Neko

Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 2.

Chapter 2

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock.

4am.

She rubbed her eyes and looked again.

4am.

“But how, it can’t be, am I dreaming? This is not possible. I told Ralph to wake up later”

Just then, Yarrow walked into her room. He looked like a zombie again, but today he looked like a confused zombie. They both yawned.

While Yarrow was munching through his cereal, he had an idea.

“Maybe Ralph doesn’t speak English,” he told Edie.

“What?”

“Maybe he didn’t understand us yesterday,” and he rushed out the door and into Ralph’s enclosure. He started speaking to Ralph, but not in English. He used his own language. It didn’t have a name, but it had a bit of Dutch, because his favourite colour was orange. It had a bit of Japanese, because he watched anime cartoons, and it had a bit of Italian, because he loooooved pizza.

Edie and her parents watched Yarrow talk to Ralph. They didn’t understand his language, and his friends didn’t understand his language. Would Ralph understand his language?

Later that day, when Yarrow was at his friend’s place, he fell asleep while playing handball. To make it worse, he was in KING when he fell asleep. In KING! His friends carried him to the DUNCE square and left him there. His friends were always playing jokes on each other, they were great fun to hang out with. Yarrow only woke up when he heard his dad come to pick him up.

Edie’s day was worse. It should have been great, because she went to Marcela’s birthday party with all of her best friends. There was food, plus drinks, and lollies, there was a jumping castle, and even a clown. Edie was having so much fun, but then disaster struck.

Marcela’s cake was placed on the table. It was beautiful and blue with images of dolphins, because Marcela was obsessed with dolphins. Edie offered to help put the candles on the cake, and then it happened.

She placed one candle, then she yawned.

She placed another candle, and she yawned again.

When she placed the third candle, she yawned the biggest yawn she had ever yawned, and her eyes closed. Then she fell forward, further and further, until her head went SPLAT, right into Marcela’s cake. It was a disaster. The dolphins were ruined, the cake was ruined, and Edie’s face was covered in cake and icing. She couldn’t even say sorry to Marcela, because she was fast asleep.

“We have to try again,” said Edie when she got home and washed her face. Yarrow tried to watch his cartoons, but Edie was even more determined than before.

“Ralph needs a clock!” she decided.

“What’s a clock?” asked Yarrow.

“It’s a thing old people use to tell the time. Mrs Kauff uses one, and she showed us one in class last week.”

“But where do we get a clock?”

“We make one.”

So, Yarrow and Edie walked off into the bush to find materials to make a clock. Luckily, they didn’t see any snakes. Luckily, they didn’t see any spiders. Luckily, they did see a wallaby and they did see a Rosella. Edie loves Rosellas, they’re so colourful.

Edie and Yarrow found a piece of wood, which was shaped like a circle. They found some small stones, leaves and flowers. Then Edie came back with two sticks; a big one and a little one.

“Why is one big and one small?” asked Yarrow.

“The small stick shows the hour, and the big stick shows the minutes, and together they tell the time,” Edie explained.

They spent all afternoon making their clock, and it was almost dark when they finished. Finally, they took the clock to Ralph and told him:

“Ralph, look at the clock. This is 4 o’clock,”

Then Edie moved the big stick and the little stick.

“This is 6 o’clock. You can wake up at 6 o’clock, but not before.”

Ralph looked at Edie, then looked at the clock. He looked at Yarrow, then looked at the clock. He was still looking at the clock when Edie and Yarrow left the enclosure. It was dark now, and they were so hungry. They could smell their dinner, and it smelt really, really good.

Image: Arib Neko

Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 1.

Chapter 1

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock:

4am.

“Nooooo, why does Ralph have to wake up so early every day?” she sighed.

Edie rolled over and tried to get back to sleep, but it was impossible. She thought about having some breakfast, but it was too early. She thought about reading a book, but she was too tired. So, she tossed and turned and thought about how to stop Ralph The Rowdy Rooster from waking her up at 4am every morning.

While she was thinking about this, she heard a strange noise. She heard little pieces of plastic smashing together in the next room. Her little brother Yarrow was recreating a battle scene with his toy soldiers. He couldn’t sleep either.

Eventually Edie smelled coffee. Her parents were wide awake and they were making her breakfast. How come Ralph didn’t wake them up? It’s not fair, Edie thought.

She shuffled out of her room like a zombie. Yarrow shuffled out of his room like a zombie.

“Good morning,” said their parents.

“Good mor…” Edie started to say, but her greeting was swallowed by a big, long, heavy yawn.

Munch, munch, munch, she chewed through her cereal, still half asleep.

Munch, munch, munch, Yarrow chewed through his cereal, also half asleep. Edie looked at Yarrow and thought,

Do I look as bad as him?

Yes, she did.

That day at school, Edie couldn’t stay awake. She tried and tried, but she kept falling asleep. When she got home, she kept falling asleep while she was trying to make a birthday card for her friend Marcela. That’s it, she thought, I must find a way to stop Ralph from waking up so early. She walked over to the TV and turned off Yarrow’s cartoons.

“Hey, I was watching that,” he protested.

“Not anymore, we’re going to talk to Ralph.”

Yarrow followed her and did what he was told because he didn’t like waking up at 4am, and because he knew Edie could be very determined. Not bossy, just determined.

Edie and Yarrow entered Ralph’s enclosure. They scattered food scraps on the ground to get his attention.

“Ralph,” said Edie firmly, “you must stop waking up at 4am every day!”

Ralph looked up for a moment, then kept pecking at his food. Yarrow picked up a piece of apple and offered it to the rooster.

“We want to sleep for longer in the morning, can you wake up later please?” he asked.

Ralph finished eating the piece of apple, then looked at them both attentively.

“I fell asleep today when Mr Gresford was reading the book and I don’t know what happened at the end of the story,” Yarrow said sadly.

“And I fell asleep during Science,” said Edie, “so now I don’t understand photosy…phostyso…photisyonpasenthelis…oh, I don’t know what it is.”

Ralph looked at Yarrow, then at Edie.

“Ralph, see those hills over there…” and Ralph’s eyes followed Edie’s finger as she pointed to the hills beside the family’s property.

“…you must not wake up until the sun comes over the top of those trees, ok?”

Ralph kept looking at Edie. She was sure he understood what she was saying.

“Or, you can wake up when you smell the coffee,” said Yarrow, and Ralph pushed his little beak up into the air like he was trying to smell something.

Yarrow and Edie were certain Ralph was listening, and that he understood what they told him. They were quite happy. They walked out of Ralph’s enclosure, closed the gate and walked back into the house with big smiles on their faces.

“We’re going to get a good night’s sleep tonight,” Edie assured Yarrow.

Image: Arib Neko

Ruler of Waters

Pristine waters so tempting and forbidden.

Ominous black clouds wrapped Saiylie in a blanket of stifling tropical heat. She had been summoned, among hundreds of compliant subjects now shuffling reluctantly into the palace of King Manzi, Ruler of Waters.

Clad in black, as per custom.

Eyes downcast, as per custom. No witness to the magnificent waterfalls cascading down the façade of the palace, to the rooftop fountains and fantastical tributes to the Ruler of Waters. Eyes downcast, gazing into the moat below. Now devoid of deadly creatures. Now the world’s largest swimming pool. Inviting. Tempting. Forbidden to all but the 10-year-old Prince.

“My legacy,” screeched King Manzi, in a grating voice bereft of the gravitas of a great ruler.

“My legacy, my gift to you my people, is The Speaker,” and the ruling elite beamed in admiration as they gathered en-masse in the palace forecourt. The ailing and bumbling King had emerged from his private sanctum to deliver unto his people ‘The Speaker’.

The Speaker would be the voice of all future AI applications, into eternity. King Manzi was adamant the one single voice would emerge from his people. Thus, Saiylie was now shepherded between a sea of electronic cables belonging to the world’s pre-eminent AI experts tasked with measuring clarity, timbre and resonance before selecting the voice to rule all voices.

King Manzi gazed skywards, addressing the black clouds. Holding the clouds, holding his audience.

The recording began. Saiylie waited; for orders and relief from the heat. None came.

The ruling elite performed at their erudite best in the search for perfection and the hope of becoming The Speaker.

Eyes downcast, Saiylie saw the first drop, then the second. The clouds had begun to empty. An umbrella was thrust into Saiylie’s hands, and hundreds more soon snapped open to protect the elite and their precious recordings.

The rain grew heavier.

“Closer,” Saiylie was ordered.

“Closer,” and she shuffled closer to the surrounding umbrellas to form a compact canopy over the aristocracy. Massive drops of monsoonal rain then pounded defiantly on the King’s forecourt and sent the elite into a harried cacophony of raised voices.

“Continue,” commanded the King.

Louder and louder they spoke until they created their own cloud of steam underneath the canopy.

“Continue,” King Manzi yelled.

Temperature rose inside the canopy. Saiylie began rocking to and fro with uncontrollable giddiness. She felt increasingly lightheaded, and felt her feet leave the ground as the cacophony of voices created their own microclimate. Saiylie began to float, upwards and away from the voices.

Was she fainting?

Was she flying?

She rose higher and higher as the heat and humidity turned the interwoven umbrellas into a hot air balloon. Higher and higher they rose until above the palace walls.

Saiylie spotted the moat below. She released the umbrella and raised her arms skyward, slipping out of her black robes and into the blissful waters of the moat.

Schooled

Three years it had been since Maiko made her vow.

“I’m going. I’m leaving. No more waiting, no more excuses.”

Three years.

Maiko had convinced herself she’d outgrown her school, and outgrown the monotonous routine which swept her from one place to another with such relentless regularity that it had become organic.

Maiko’s cynicism belied her age, and it is why she rejected the flowery sentiments of her elders as they extolled the virtues of the school:

Unity

Safety

Belonging

Growth

Learning

“Spare me…what about Conformity?”

She had decided to finally break free. She would do it this time.

She hadn’t revealed her intentions of course. The school was famously suspicious of non-conformity and of those labelled ‘Free Thinkers’. Kai was a ‘Free Thinker’. He was sceptical, outspoken, uncouth and rebellious. He was accused of ‘swimming against the tide’. Kai was gone.

The mysterious object which regularly appeared glinting in the distance was her salvation, and lunchtime was the perfect opportunity to escape. While the rest of the school descended en-masse to engorge themselves on their daily sustenance, Maiko quietly slipped away and was soon separated from her peers. Her absence would be noted, but not until she had put sufficient distance between herself and the school.

A magnetic force lured Maiko to the mystical object and she floated towards it involuntarily. The temptation and promise of liberation drew her further and further from the school, and feelings of freedom overwhelmed her. She let herself drown in the intoxication of heightened alertness and unparalleled awareness, and thoughts of safety and belonging washed joyously from her consciousness.

The intriguing entity loomed larger and Maiko was able to make out some of its finer details. She drank in its kaleidoscopic facade and the sensual wondrous beauty which so captivated her that its very existence justified her bold escape.

Maiko was also very afraid. She knew intuitively that once she made contact with this object she could never go back; could never return to the school. This is what she wanted, what she’d dreamt of and longed for. But it had taken her three years to seize this moment.

Maiko drowned her fears and approached the enchanting object with a heady mixture of terror and excitement. She marvelled at the clash of colours which enveloped its shape, as well as its provocative swaying.

Just at the moment of contact, a wild thrashing of pulsating, animalistic energy rushed past Maiko and launched itself at the wondrous object with such force that the apparition was entirely unidentifiable. Maiko reeled in shock and remained transfixed as the frenzied being latched onto her prize and wrestled it savagely.

“Nooooooooo,” cried Maiko in utter despair. “My salvation???????????”

The thrashing subsided. Slowly the body fell limp. The being revealed itself.

Kai?

A look of unbridled fear shot from Kai’s eyes and speared into Maiko’s soul. Kai disappeared skywards. He was gone: forever.

Hungry, chastised and humbled, Maiko swam back to the school.

Image: Element5Digital

It’s Over.

It’s over. Just like that. Anthony was in no way prepared for this. Something was certainly different when she first appeared that night, but it gave him no indication of the revelation that was to come.

He stared in silence for a moment and his mood sunk. He felt undeniably alone. He felt tears well up but he was too despondent to cry. He wasn’t sure how to react so he just went to bed. It was probably late enough.

“I sleep better when I’m depressed,” he’d often told himself. It’s not scientifically proven, but it made sense to him. When he was depressed a numbness replaced the agitation that otherwise kept him awake. The realisation that it was over drove him to seek solace in the covers and escape the cold winter evening.

At about 2pm the next day it hit him again. His one day a week in the office had so far distracted him from the heart-breaking news, but now it returned to haunt him. Normally the promise of an evening in would carry him through the final monotonous and arduous hours at work better than an afternoon caffeine hit, but not today.

It was at this hour that he would customarily gift himself a mental power nap, a brief daydream, as he pictured the scrumptious evening meal, the choice of dessert and the pure pleasure of “slipping into my trackies and ugg boots for a few blissful hours in your company.” Rain pouring on his roof enhanced the comfort that was always better shared.

“You don’t share my comfort, you are my comfort,” he’d always said.

Colleagues had labelled him mildly and harmlessly eccentric as he broke into random grins and light chuckles provoked by the memories of the previous night’s adventures. He hadn’t smiled today. The pleasant memories stored themselves in the recesses of his mind but would remain suppressed for quite some time.

He trudged to the break room and shoved some instant into a mug with too much sugar and some ‘girlie milk’ – no full cream left.

Today, pouring rain reminded him that he’d forgotten his umbrella.

Working from home would be even harder now. At first the idea had excited him. No more commute. Snacks and meals at arm’s length. No need to shave, no need to dress up. He’d reached a top score of 3390 in Solitaire; surely that was something to celebrate. But now the emptiness was omnipresent, taunting him in his open-plan living area with impromptu workspace. The single lounge chair looked lonelier than ever.

“I’m supposed to leave it all behind and move on,” he chided himself. “I have to accept that it’s over. It’s life. Nothing lasts forever, as myriad soppy love songs remind us. I should start dating again,”

But how does one date during a pandemic?

Social distancing is not conducive to romance. Flirtatious conversations in dimly lit restaurant corners are just a memory, and dancing is discouraged or banned – although maybe the latter is a bonus for Anthony.

What of the post-date?

Various scenarios run through Anthony’s mind.

He enters his unit with the lovely young woman. He offers her a seat and a drink. She relaxes in the lounge chair while he sits on the kitchen chair and the table renders them more socially distanced than in a restaurant or on public transport.

“Maybe I should paste on the lounge chair a green circle with “Sit Here” and a tick on it,” he suggests to himself.

The single lounge chair could, on the other hand, be a pretext for intimacy.

“We’ll just have to share,” he flirts.

“Or there is space for both of us on the bed.” In his wild imagination this sounds cheeky and charming. In real life it’s probably sleazy.

Self-isolation and

a wild imagination,

a dreadful situation and

a lethal combination.

“Loneliness is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” claims the psychologist on the radio.

Anthony thought sitting was the new smoking and he reminds himself to stop sitting alone in cafes lest he be fined or kicked out. On that reasoning, his daily exercise routine is therefore redundant. Maybe there’s no point dragging himself out of bed on winter mornings to slosh through the mud and rain. It always boosts his mood and offers a great sense of accomplishment, but if he’s virtually smoking 15 ciggies a day, what’s the point?

The clock grinds towards 5pm and he prepares to walk home. Then he stops.

Why go home? What have I got to go home to? You’re not there, and his mind races back to the previous evening…

He’d sat in numbed silence. It had finally come to an end. You’re gone.

What do I do now?

He started at the screen

Play Season 1 Episode 1.

Argenta and Gold.

It’s time to act, decided Bethany, as she reflected on the preponderance of silver which cast a gloomy pall over her bursting trophy cabinet.

She summoned the detective.

“It’s impossible,” declared detective inspector Gordon G. Wilson, before offering an explanation.

“The problem is Sapphire’s collar. It has heat, fingerprint, voice and retina activation. What’s more, the replacement collar would have to avoid detection from Sapphire’s first groomer, psychologist, stylist, brand manager, second groomer, nutritionist, physical trainer, photographer, massage therapist and third groomer before the dogs even enter the arena.”

Bethany was unmoved.

“You fail to understand detective, that this is my last chance to beat Lady Hamilton. There are strong rumours of ill health at Hamilton Manor.”

“It simply can’t be done,” Wilson reiterated.

The hand that had been lovingly stroking Argenta now reached for a photograph. Bethany slid the single polaroid across the lavish suite’s ornately finished table.

“I’m sure you’ll find a way detective,” she stated, fixing him with a cold unflinching stare.

Wilson sunk in the chair. The colour could be seen draining from his face even in the faint light of the flickering fire. He excused himself and set to work. He would need 12 months and all of his police smarts to accomplish this task.

Bethany was bursting with nerves and excitement. She clasped her clammy hands as she positioned herself behind the judges in the hotel’s elaborate auditorium. Her heart pounded as the parade of pampered Bichon Frises elicited gasps of adoration from the audience.

“Sapphire!” beamed the announcer, and the audience burst into rapturous applause. Bethany’s stomach churned with familiar disgust until she remembered her clever ruse. Her beloved pet was wowing the audience and the judges.

“Argenta!” strutted in to the arena and Bethany’s conflicting emotions resurfaced. Her breath shortened and her mouth dried.

‘Argenta’ paraded brilliantly and camera flashes lit up the auditorium.

Then something happened. Something almost imperceptible. Sapphire lacked her customary rhythm, her famous je ne sais quoi.

Had the judges felt it?

Had Bethany felt it, or was she simply intoxicated with the overwhelming emotions of this daring subterfuge?

The wait for the judge’s decision was torturous.

“The winner of the gold medal, category Bichon Frise, 2020, is…”

Bethany couldn’t breathe.

“Sapphire!”

Wilson now found himself in the same chair, in front of the same fire. The detective’s eyes settled on the photograph sitting next to another silver medal on the ornate oak table.

The detective pleaded his case.

“The switch was made. The task was completed, as per your orders.”

“Then where is my gold medal?” demanded Bethany, who had banished Argenta to the pound.

“It confounded us too,” testified Wilson, “until we swapped the collars back after the competition and discovered that the rumours of ill health were well founded,” outlined Wilson.

“But how? Lady Hamilton was alive and well and gloating pompously on the dais yet again,” protested Bethany.

“The Lady was always healthy,” Wilson paused,

“but Sapphire wasn’t.”

Image: Gabriel Crismariu