1: The Gardener

Tom’s face was so hot he was sure it was about to explode. The midday sun beat down mercilessly on his back, and the beads of sweat that had long since formed on his forehead began to itch and tickle. But still he dug on. Surely if he kept going there would be a sign. A tuft of silky fur perhaps? A distant squeak? Or (and this really would be the best!) a pair of tiny eyes squinting blindly up towards the daylight.

He paused to wipe the trickling sweat with the back of his wrist, then lifted his spade for what felt like the one hundredth time – just as a dark shadow loomed up from behind. A familiar chill travelled down his spine as, with heart pounding, he swivelled round to meet the piercing stare of the gardener, Charlie Green.

‘Now look ‘ere, Tom Hawken, I’ve told you before. I’ve enough trouble chasing up these darn molehills without ’avin’ you goin’ round diggin’ ’em up.’

Tom felt his cheeks burning, which was odd because his body was freezing. Charlie Green had had it in for him since the day they had moved to the gardens, of that he was sure. He was always giving him funny looks.

Tom tried to speak, but his throat, which suddenly felt drier than the Sahara at noon, stuck tight. He never had been brilliant at getting out of trouble – just expert at getting into it.

Charlie Green squinted darkly. ‘Next time, I’ll ’ave to tell yer mum!’ he growled. ‘Now, take that rag o’ yours and be off.’

Tom fumbled as he gathered up the corners of his Treasure Rag. To his relief, Charlie Green hadn’t noticed the array of plant bulbs he had dug up and which now lay scattered in amongst his ‘earth treasure’ – three handsome stones, a piece of broken green bottle and a tatty old purse that had probably belonged to a child’s doll. The stones he would keep and place in his box marked ‘Tom’s Earth Treasure’, which sat in the grate of his magnificent bedroom fireplace. Everything else he would throw back.

By the time he nudged open the small gate separating his parents’ patio from the main communal gardens Charlie Green had already re-filled the mole hole and was now stomping angrily across the lawns towards his shed. Clusters of tiny earth mounds lay scattered all around; it had been a bad week for moles in West London.

~

Tom’s heart still took off every time he entered his first floor bedroom: after his tiny room in their tenth floor Hong Kong apartment it really was a dream come true! His ceiling reached high, like a private indoor sky; the narrow French doors, opening onto the tiny sun-filled balcony, stood tall as skyscrapers, and on the far wall a magnificent marble fireplace stood even taller than he was. But, more important than all of these things, was the view. Tom’s new room looked out onto a vast rambling garden that stretched as far as the eye could see. The garden was filled with flowering rhododendron bushes and sprawling oak trees whose branches seemed to brush the passing clouds.

He pressed his nose hard against the French door window and breathed in deeply, still wondering about Charlie Green. Then, through his clouds of warm breath on the glass, he saw a small dog shoot out from a cluster of trees and race across the lawn towards the houses. Slowly, Tom’s mouth widened into a grin. ‘I DON’T BELIEVE IT, STELL!’ he yelled at the top of his voice. ‘HARRY’S BACK!’

~

Stella, who was lying on her bed next door studying her friendship bracelet, didn’t answer. With her iPhone music on full volume, she was busy hoping that her friends, who would all be asleep now, had thought about her today. She also happened to be crunching her fifth fruit polo of the day – lime-green flavour to be precise – the one that always made her nose twitch. ‘Tom thinks he’s in heaven,’ she had written on her best friend, Hannah’s, Facebook wall that morning. ‘But it’s so deathly dull here – all molehills and boys!’

Stella didn’t budge. Nor, for that matter did Tom who was now craning his neck so far over his balcony he was in danger of falling off. He was determined to see if old Mrs Moon would be at her gate to welcome her disappearing dog. Of course she wasn’t. After all, she would have to be psychic to know exactly when her dog would choose to come home. Never mind psychic, all the garden residents thought Mrs Moon was batty. Her ‘Lost Dog’ notices were pinned up everywhere and she drove them all mad phoning them up each time Harry went off – which was often for days at a time.

Tom often found himself wondering about Harry when he was out digging. The little long-haired terrier’s comings and goings were part of garden life; just as were the snarling Charlie Green and the molehills – and, of course, the dotty old Mrs Moon. But why did the dog keep disappearing? And exactly where did he go? As thoughts of Charlie Green quickly evaporated, Tom resolved to solve Harry’s mystery by summer’s end.

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