The Panda That Wouldn't Go Away

by Robert Williams

Mrs Greasy's cafe one morning. Nothing going on. No one talking. Everybody just sitting around.

"Cor, this is boring," said Des. "Has no one got anything to say? Mick, anything in the paper?"

"Not really," said Mick.

"Wayne, anything good in your comic?" said Des.

"Naah, bit of a borin' one this week!" said Wayne.

"Mrs Greasy, doing anything at the weekend?" said Des.

"No Des," said Mrs G. "Just opening the cafe."

"Dear dear," said Des. He was now getting desperate. "Clive, anything interesting going on in your life?"

"My mate Don is holding a fancy dress party to celebrate the 134th anniversary of the first traffic light," said Clive.

"Eh??" said Mick.

"It's tomorrow night, but he hasn't got many people coming, so he asked if I could bring along some friends with me," said Clive. "But I suppose I might as well ask you lot instead."

"Gosh, I haven't been to a fancy dress party since that Stan Boardman lookalike fancy dress party a few years ago," said Des.

"And what a success that was," said Mick sarcastically. "No one knew who Stan Boardman is!"

"Unbelievable," said Des. "I was a member of his fan club for seventeen years! Clive, what kind of fancy dress party is this?"

"Cops and robbers," said Clive.

"That sounds all right," said Des. "As long as I can be a cop, not a robber."

"Hi there everybody!" said Dickie the Vicar who happened to walk into the cafe at that point.

"Morning Dickie," mumbled everyone.

"I would just like to let you all know that there has been a slight change to the schedule, and tonight's charity disco at the church hall to raise funds to fix the church roof has been postponed until tomorrow night," said Dickie.

"Why's that then?" said Mick.

"Because 'The Planet's Funniest Animals' is on tonight," said Dickie.

"Well we can't come tomorrow night, we're going to a fancy dress party dressed as cops and robbers," said Des.

"Oh what a pity," said Dickie. "Still, I'm sure you'll be able to pop in for a few minutes at some point during the evening!"

"Probably not," said Des.

"Ta-ta then!" said Dickie.

Des, Mick and Wayne decided to attend Don's fancy dress party, mainly to get out of going to Dickie's disco, along with Mike who had promised to enliven the evening with some live music, and Clive who had been going anyway.

"Oh great," said Clive. "Who decided to let Mike come along with his electric guitar? None of us can stand that racket he comes out with!"

But there was another matter of much greater concern later that day, when Mick came back from the fancy dress shop.

"Sorry folks, they only had one policeman's uniform, so all the rest of us will have to be robbers."

"Right, I'll be the policeman then," said Des. "Like I said, I'm not being a robber!"

"No you're not, we'll draw the name out of a hat," said Mick.

However none of them was wearing a hat, so they decided to use a colander instead (which Wayne was wearing).

"Clive will be the policeman," proclaimed Mick as he picked the winning name out.

"Oh botherations, that's not fair," said Des. "I'll be an undercover policeman then - disguised as a criminal!"

The next night, Des and Mick were walking along the road to Don's house. They were both wearing stripy tops with masks across their eyes, carrying swag bags.

"Where does this Don bloke live then?" said Mick.

"Just a few streets away," said Des. "Don't worry, I've got a map, I know exactly where we're going."

Mick knew that was reason enough to worry.

Wayne, also in his robber outfit, had a map as well - trouble is, he had it upside down. When he got to the house, he went up to the door and rang the doorbell. It was answered by a rough looking man with a cut on his face, wearing a stripy top and a mask across his eyes.

"Yes?!" said the man in a very deep, mean-sounding voice.

"Oh hi there, are you Don?" said Wayne.

"What did you say?!" said the man aggressively. "I thought I told you to enter round the back door!"

"Sorry guv!" said Wayne.

"And why are you so late?!"

"Sorry guv!" said Wayne. "I just popped in to the fish 'n' chip shop to get some fish 'n' chips to eat on me way 'ere! Are Des and Mick 'ere yet?!"

"Shhhhh!" said the guv, pulling Wayne inside and shutting the door. "I can't 'ave you discussin' the job on the doorstep! Word is the boys in blue are on the prowl!"

"The boys from Blue?" said Wayne. "They're one of my favourite bands!"

"Get in there!" exclaimed the guv, pushing Wayne into the back room where three similarly rough looking men were sat round a table. All were wearing masks across their eyes and stripy tops.

"Wow, you all look just like real robbers!" said Wayne. "Who's who? I don't recognise any of yer!"

"Never mind that, just sit down and keep quiet!" said the guv.

"Cor, this is a really realistic fancy dress party!" said Wayne.

"This ain't no party m'lad, this is for real!" said another of the men.

"Now listen to me," said the guv. "This is the plan. At ten o'clock tonight we'll drive to the jewellery shop in the getaway car that Dodgy Damian has laid on for us. Then we'll 'url this brick through the front window, grab the loot and make off in the getaway car!! Now you all got that??!"

"Got it guv," said the second man. There were murmurs of agreement from the other men.

"Err..." said Wayne uneasily.

"What's the matter?!" said the guv. "Can't take the strain?! I want one hundred per cent co-operation from you lot, I'm not takin' no passengers!"

" just sounds a bit complica'ed..." said Wayne.

"Look 'ere laddie, I'll run through it again!!"

Meanwhile, Des and Mick had arrived at what they thought was Don's house. It wasn't very impressive. The front gate was hanging off its hinges, the garden was all overgrown and some of the windows were broken.

"What a tip this place is!" said Mick. "This can't be Don's house!"

"According to the map it is," said Des.

They rang the doorbell but there was no answer.

"Strange," said Des. "I wonder where Don is."

He tried the bell again, but still no answer.

"Let's look round the back," said Mick. So they did.

"Look, an open window!" said Des. "Let's climb in!"

"Do we have to?" moaned Mick. They did.

When they got in, they found the place was cold, dark, musty and empty.

"We're at the wrong house," said Mick. "No one lives here."

"But this is definitely the place!" said Des. "Says so on the map!"

Mick groaned.

Back at what Wayne had assumed was the fancy dress party, the guv's mobile phone was ringing.

"Yes! Who is it?!" said the guv. "Dodgy Damian! You got the car?!...what?!?!?! You are havin' a laugh imbecile!!!"

The guv slammed the phone down on the table.

"Everything all right guv?" said Wayne.

"No, everything is not all right!!!!" exclaimed the guv in an absolute rage. "That was Dodgy Damian! He can't get the car!!"

There were moans and groans from the men.

"Apparently 'is mum's grounded 'im because 'e stayed out too late last night!!" exclaimed the guv.

"What are we gonna do then guv?" said one of the men.

"Hey!" said Wayne. "Why don't we use my van?!"

"Hmmm...has it got a lot of space in the back to stash our loot?!" said the guv.

"Yeah loads!" said Wayne. "Well, once I've cleared me window cleanin' stuff out!"

"It'll 'ave to do then," said the guv.

"I'll go and get it," said Wayne. He rushed off to fetch his van.

Meanwhile, Des had finally decided that the house that they were in did not belong to Don.

"I can't understand it," said Des. "I'm sure this was the right house."

"Let's go," said Mick. They climbed back out of the window - and found themselves face to face with a policeman.

"Oh, it is the right place after all!" said Des. "Look, Clive's here!"

"Clive?!" exclaimed Plod. "PC Plod to you, if you don't mind!"

"Very good Clive, anyone would think you're a real policeman!" said Des. "Love the fake moustache!"

"Ahem," said Plod. "Neighbourhood watch have spotted you entering this property through the window!"

"Yes, very funny Clive, he likes to get in the part, doesn't he!" said Des.

"Des," said Mick. "That isn't Clive."

"Isn't it???!!" exclaimed Des. He squinted at PC Plod. "Oh yes, you're right! So that means... you're a real policeman!! Oh...well...we're not real robbers!!"

Plod looked at Des and Mick dressed in stripy tops, masks across their eyes and carrying swag bags.

"No really, we're going to a fancy dress party!" exclaimed Des.

"That's what they all say!" said Plod. "Would you like to accompany me to the station?"

"Why, are you scared to go on your own?" said Des. Plod was not impressed by this comment.

As Des and Mick were being escorted off in a police car, Wayne was arriving back at the robbers' hideout in his van. The three robbers climbed into the back of the van, and the guv got into the front passenger seat.

"Now I'll tell you exactly where I want you to go," said the man to Wayne. "And I don't want you 'anging about, I want you to put your foot down!"

"I don't wanna do that, it might go though the floor!" said Wayne as they drove off. "Got a bit of rust, you see..."

However they didn't get very far before the van ground to a halt.

"Why 'ave we stopped?!" said the guv.

"Err..." said Wayne staring at the dashboard. "I've run out of petrol! I knew there was summin' I meant to do..."

"You what?!?!" exclaimed the guv. "What do you expect us to do now?!!"

"Sorry guv!" said Wayne.

"I'll tell you what you're going to do now," said the guv. "You're gonna go and get a can of petrol."

"But the petrol station's miles away!" moaned Wayne.

"Well you'll 'ave to run then! Because I want you back 'ere in no more than 'alf an 'our! Got it?!"

"Yes guv, yes guv," said Wayne nervously. By now he had come to realise that these robbers weren't actually Des, Mick and the others. He dashed off to find the nearest petrol station.

"Now we can't wait 'ere in this van, it looks too suspicious," said the guv to his gang. "Let's get out and 'ide by that apparently deserted church hall over there. Quickly you lot!"

The gang of four got out of Wayne's van and went and stood round the side of the church hall, which was all dark and quiet, where they thought they'd be safe. But they weren't. They hadn't been there a minute before the front door swung open and Dickie walked out.

"Oh hi there groovers!" said Dickie. "Are you just on your way to your party? Well, I just knew you'd be able to spare a few minutes to pop into my charity disco!"

"Huh?" said the guv. "Er no, we'd rather stop out 'ere if you don't mind."

"No I won't hear of that, you'll catch your death of cold if you stay out here!" said Dickie. "Come on in, I've got some great music, soft drinks and nibbles!"

The guv and the lads reluctantly followed Dickie inside.

"Got a bit of a cold there, Des?" said Dickie. "Your voice sounds very rough."

At that moment the real Des, along with Mick, was being driven to the police station by PC Plod. However they were soon forced to pull into a petrol station so Plod could fill up. Fill up his tummy, that is, with a packet of maltesers.

As Des and Mick waited for Plod in the back of the police car, they were surprised to see a figure in a stripy top and a mask across his eyes filling up a can with some petrol.

"It's Wayne!" exclaimed Mick.

"Is it?" said Des. "All these robbers look the same to me."

"No that's definitely Wayne," said Mick. "Oi Wayne, over here!"

"Oh no, more robbers!!" gasped Wayne.

"No, it's us, Des and Mick!" shouted Des.

"Oh phew," said Wayne walking over to them. "Hi there Des and Mick. Wow, you've even got yer own police car!!"

"Um, not exactly," said Des. "What are you doing?"

"I'm just gettin' some petrol for those real robbers," said Wayne.

"Real robbers?!" said Mick.

"Yeah, I'm drivin' them to the jewellery shop where they're gonna 'url a brick at the window and grab all the loot!"

"Oh really," said PC Plod, coming back from the petrol station shop. "Whereabouts are they now?"

"I left them in me van, right outside Vickie the Dicar's church 'all!"

Without any further delay (well, apart from a short one while he ate his maltesers), PC Plod drove the three fancy dressed robbers to the church hall. When they got there Wayne rushed up to his van to find all the doors open and the robbers gone.

"Where've they gone?!" said Wayne, looking all around.

"Maybe Dickie's seen them," said Mick. "Let's go and ask him."

They headed towards the church hall. Inside, the four robbers were having a truly horrible time - they were being forced to listen to the same Des O'Connor and Max Bygraves tracks over and over again with Dickie trying to be a hip DJ in between. And if that wasn't bad enough, they had to eat Mrs Greasy-provided nibbles.

Suddenly Wayne burst through the door. The robbers leapt up.

"You got the petrol?!" said the guv.

"Yeah!" said Wayne. "And you'll never guess what! I got a lift back from the petrol station!"

"What??!!" exclaimed the guv.

"From this nice policeman!" said Wayne.

PC Plod walked into the hall, followed by Des and Mick.

"Ah, Fingers McCray and the Gruesome Gang!" said Plod. "We've been after you for months for the Carpet Shop robberies!"

To the others' surprise, Fingers McCray and the Gruesome Gang rushed straight up to PC Plod and started pleading to him.

"Please, please, take us away from 'ere!" said Fingers, putting Plod's handcuffs on himself. "Arrest me!! Put me away!! I've spent ten years inside, and it was never as depressin' as this!"

"Well, if only all criminals were as happy to be arrested as this!" said PC Plod. "Like you two!"

"What?!" said Des and Mick.

"There's the small matter of you two breaking and entering! You're still under arrest!"

"Oh botherations," said Des.

Sometime later, at Don's house, Don was getting a bit disheartened. It was now nearly midnight, and the only people who had turned up to the party were Clive and Mike.

"I'm bored," sighed Clive. "In fact, I'm so bored I might have to ask Mike to play us a tune."

"I thought you'd never ask," said Mike.

"I haven't," said Clive. "I only said I might!"

"Clive, where is everybody?!" said Don, who was dressed as a superintendent. "Where are all your friends you said were coming?!"

"I wouldn't exactly call them friends," said Clive. "Knowing that lot, they've probably been mistaken for real criminals, and got themselves arrested!"

"Oh be serious Clive, no one's that dumb!" said Don.

"Yeah, I suppose you're right!" said Clive. "Not even that lot!!"

Clive, Mike and Don all laughed.

Just then the doorbell rang. Don opened the door and saw Des, Mick and Wayne standing there.

"Hello," said Des. "Sorry we're late."

"Where have you all been?!" said Clive.

"Well...we got ourselves arrested..." said Des.

Copyright © Robert Williams

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