Authors: Anthony Horowitz
I like horror stories – but not when they happen to me. If you’ve read my other adventures, you’ll know that I’ve been smothered in concrete, thrown in jail with a dangerous lunatic, tied to a railway line, almost blown up, chased through a cornfield dodging machine-gun bullets, poisoned in Paris … and all this before my fourteenth birthday. It’s not fair. I do my homework. I clean my teeth twice a day. Why does everyone want to kill me?
But the worst thing that ever happened to me began on a hot morning in July. It was the first week of the summer holidays and there I was, as usual, stuck with my big brother Tim, the world’s most unsuccessful private detective. Tim had just spent a month helping with security at the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square and even now I’m not sure how he’d decided that there was a bomb in the ambassador’s car. Anyway, just as the ambassador was about to get in, Tim had grabbed hold of him and hurled him out of the way – which would have been heroic if there had been a bomb (there wasn’t) and if Tim hadn’t managed to throw the unfortunate man in front of a passing bus. The ambassador was now in hospital. And Tim was out of work.
So there we were at the breakfast table with Tim reading the morning post while I counted out the cornflakes. We were down to our last packet and it had to last us another week. That allowed us seventeen flakes each but as a treat I’d allowed Tim to keep the free toy. There was a handful of letters that morning and so far they’d all been bills.
“There’s a letter from Mum,” Tim said.
He quickly read the letter. It was strange to think that my mum and dad were still in Australia and that I would have been with them if I hadn’t slipped off the plane and gone to stay with Tim. My dad was a door-to-door salesman, selling doors. He had a house in Sydney with three bedrooms and forty-seven doors. It had been two years now since I had seen him.
“Mum says you’re welcome to visit,” Tim said. “She says the door is always open.”
“Which one?” I asked.
He picked up the last letter. I could see at once that this wasn’t a bill. It came in a square, white envelope made out of the sort of paper that only comes from the most expensive trees. The address was handwritten: a fountain-pen, not a biro. Tim weighed it in his hand. “I wonder what this is,” he said.
“It’s an envelope, Tim,” I replied. “It’s what letters come in.”
“I mean … I wonder who it’s from!” He smiled. “Maybe it’s a thank-you letter from the American ambassador.”
“Why should he thank you? You threw him under a bus!”
“Yes, but I sent him a bunch of grapes in hospital.”
“Just open it, Tim,” I said.
Tim grabbed hold of a knife, and – with a dramatic gesture – sliced open the mysterious envelope.
After we’d finished bandaging his left leg, we examined the contents. First, there was an invitation, printed in red ink on thick white card.
, it began. Tim Diamond was, of course, only the name he called himself. His real name was Herbert Simple.
It has been many years since we met, but I would like to invite you to a reunion of old boys and girls from St Egbert’s Comprehensive, which will take place from Wednesday 9th to Friday 11th July. I am sure you are busy but I am so keen to see you again that I will pay you £1,000 to make the journey to Scotland. I also enclose a ticket for the train.
Your old friend
Crocodile Island, Scotland
Tim tilted the envelope. Sure enough, a first-class train ticket slid out onto the table.
“That’s fantastic!” Tim exclaimed. “A first-class ticket to Scotland.” He examined the ticket. “And back again! That’s even better!”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Who is Rory McDougal?” But even as I spoke, I thought the name was familiar.
“We were at school together, in the same class. Rory was brilliant. He came first in maths. He was so clever, he passed all his exams without even reading the questions. After he left school, he invented the pocket calculator – which was just as well, because he made so much money he needed a pocket calculator to count it.”
“McDougal Industries.” Now I knew where I’d heard the name. McDougal had been in the newspapers. The man was a multi-Mcmillionaire.
“When did you last see him?” I asked.
“It must have been on prize-giving day, about ten years ago,” Tim said. “He went to university, I joined the police.”
Tim had only spent a year with the police but in that time the crime rate had doubled. He didn’t often talk about it but I knew that he had once put together an identikit picture that had led to the arrest of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He’d been transferred to the mounted police but that had only lasted a few weeks before his horse resigned. Then he’d become a private detective – and of course,
had hardly made millions. If you added up all the money Tim had ever made and put it in a bank, the bank wouldn’t even notice.
“Are you going?” I asked.
Tim flicked a cornflake towards his mouth. It disappeared over his shoulder. “Of course I’m going,” he said. “Maybe McNoodle will offer me a job. Head of Security on Alligator Island.”
“Crocodile Island, Tim.” I picked up the invitation. “What about me?”
“Sorry, kid. I didn’t see your name on the envelope.”
“Maybe it’s under the stamp.” Tim said nothing, so I went on, “You can’t leave me here.”
“I’m only fourteen. It’s against the law.”
Tim frowned. “I won’t tell if you won’t tell.”
“I will tell.”
“Forget it, Nick. McStrudel is my old schoolfriend. He went to my old school. It’s my name on the envelope and you can argue all you like. But this time, I’m going alone.”
We left King’s Cross station on the morning of the 9th.
Tim sat next to the window, looking sulky. I was sitting opposite him. I had finally persuaded him to swap the first-class ticket for two second-class ones, which at least allowed me to travel free. You may think it strange that I should have wanted to join Tim on a journey heading several hundred miles north. But there was something about the invitation that bothered me. Maybe it was the letter, written in ink the colour of blood. Maybe it was the name – Crocodile Island. And then there was the money. The invitation might have sounded innocent enough, but why was McDougal paying Tim £1,000 to get on the train? I had a feeling that there might be more to this than a school reunion. And for that matter, why would anyone in their right mind want to be reunited with Tim?
I was also curious. It’s not every day that you get to meet a man like Rory McDougal. Computers, camcorders, mobile phones and DVD players … they all came stamped with the initials RM. And every machine that sold made McDougal a little richer.
Apparently the man was something of a recluse. A few years back he’d bought himself an island off the Scottish coast, somewhere to be alone. There had been pictures of it in all the newspapers. The island was long and narrow with two arms jutting out and a twisting tail. Apparently, that was how it had got its name.
Tim didn’t say much on the journey. To cheer him up, I’d bought him a
comic and perhaps he was having trouble with the long words. It took us about four hours to get to Scotland and it took another hour before I noticed. There were no signs, no frontier post, no man in a kilt playing the bagpipes and munching haggis as the train went past. It was only when the ticket collector asked us for our tickets and Tim couldn’t understand a word he was saying that I knew we must be close. Sure enough, a few minutes later the train slowed down and Tim got out. Personally, I would have waited until the train had actually stopped, but I suppose he was over-excited.
Fortunately he was only bruised and we managed the short walk down to the harbour where an old fishing boat was waiting for us. The boat was called the
and a small crowd of people were waiting to go on board.
“My God!” one of them exclaimed. “It’s Herbert Simple! I never thought I’d see
The man who had spoken was fat and bald, dressed in a three-piece suit. If he ate much more, it would soon be a four-piece suit. His trousers were already showing the strain. His name, it turned out, was Eric Draper. He was a lawyer.
Tim smiled. “I changed my name,” he announced. “It’s Tim Diamond now.”
They all had a good laugh at that.
“And who is he?” Eric asked. I suddenly realized he was looking at me.
“That’s my kid brother, Nick.”
“So what are you doing now … Tim?” one of the women asked in a high-pitched voice. She had glasses and long, curly hair and such large teeth that she seemed to have trouble closing her mouth. Her name was Janet Rhodes.
Tim put on his “don’t mess with me” face. Unfortunately, it just made him look seasick. “Actually,” he drawled, “I’m a private detective.”
“Really?” Eric roared with laughter. His suit shuddered and one of the buttons flew off. “I can’t believe Rory invited you here too. As I recall, you were the stupidest boy at St Egbert’s. I still remember your performance as Hamlet in the school play.”
“What was so stupid about that?” I asked.
“Nothing. Except everyone else was doing
One of the other women stepped forward. She was small and drab-looking, dressed in a mousy coat that had seen better days. She was eating a chocolate flake. “Hello … Tim!” she said shyly. “I bet you don’t remember me!”
“Of course I remember you!” Tim exclaimed. “You’re Lisa Beach!”
“No I’m not! I’m Sylvie Binns.” She looked disappointed. “You gave me my first kiss behind the bike shed. Don’t you remember?”
Tim frowned. “I remember the bike shed…” he said.
There was a loud blast from the boat and the captain appeared, looking over the side. He had one leg, one eye and a huge beard. All that was missing was the parrot and he could have got a job in any pantomime in town. “All aboard!” he shouted. “Departing for Crocodile Island!”
We made our way up the gangplank. The boat was old and smelly. So was the captain. The eight of us stood on the deck while he pulled up the anchor, and a few minutes later we were off, the engine rattling as if it was about to fall out of the boat. It occurred to me that the
was a strange choice of boat for a multi-millionaire. What had happened to the deluxe yacht? But nobody else had noticed, so I said nothing.
Apart from Eric, Janet and Sylvie, there were three other people on board: two more women and another man, a fit-looking black guy dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt.
“That’s Mark Tyler,” Tim told me as we cut through the waves, leaving the mainland behind us. “He came first at sport at St Egbert’s…”
I knew the name. Tyler had been in the British Olympic athletics team at Atlanta.
“He used to run to school and run home again,” Tim went on. “He was so fast, he used to overtake the school bus. When he went cross-country running, he actually left the country, which certainly made the headmaster very cross. He’s a brilliant sportsman!”
That just left the two other women.
Brenda Blake was an opera singer and looked it. Big and muscular, she had the sort of arms you’d expect to find on a Japanese wrestler – or perhaps around his belly.
Libby Goldman was big and blonde and worked in children’s TV, presenting a television programme called
. She sang, danced, juggled and did magic tricks … and all this before we’d even left the quay. It was a shame that in real life we couldn’t turn her off.
The journey took about an hour, by which time the coast of Scotland had become just a grey smudge behind us. Slowly Crocodile Island sneaked up on us. It was about half a mile long, rising to a point at what must have been its “tail”, with sheer cliffs sweeping down into the sea. There were six jagged pillars of rock at this end, making a landing impossible. But at the other end, in the shelter of the crocodile’s arm, someone had built a jetty. As the boat drew in, I noticed a security camera watching us from above.