Middle Grade

The Undergrounders and the Flight of the Falcon

By

This book will launch on Aug 13, 2020. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒
Synopsis

Will George Jenkins have what it takes to stop the notorious criminal, The Falcon, from taking flight?

With a dead mother, a distant father and a school full of teenagers intent on making his life hell, George Jenkins has a lot on his plate. When he and his friends stumble upon a crime scene in the grounds of his school, his mundane life gets turned upside down.

Desperate to be taken more seriously and gain the respect of his father, he leads his friends on a deadly crusade to find those responsible. Before they know what they are meddling with, they find themselves trapped beneath the streets of London, in a secret MI5 labyrinth, unknowingly chasing a gang of Europe’s ‘Most Wanted’.

Little does George know that, not only will he expose the criminals, but he will also uncover some shocking truths about the death of his mother and his own link to the crimes.

A thrilling and exciting adventure for young teens. The 'Goonies' meets 'Alex Rider'.

Prologue:

 

From: T77

To: J21

Re: Bird of Prey {Encrypted}

 

Update 23.5

 

In response to the information given by our Turkish source, we have continued surveillance at the aforementioned site.

 

As of this morning, we have completed a successful search, as instructed.

The nest was vacant, but there were significant signs of recent activity.

 

We continue to follow new leads but wanted to give you immediate visibility of the evidence found.

 

I attach a copy of the communication that we uncovered at the site.

 

We believe that the bird had been resting here mid-flight and is, possibly, moving northwest.

 

End.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Attachment:

 

I am Victor Sokolov.

 

Seven years I have been waiting.

Waiting to get my revenge,

Waiting to take back what they stole from me,

Waiting to re-build that which they destroyed.

 

Abandoned by my mother country,

Abandoned by my captors,

Abandoned by my allies.

 

I will send the Falcon to flight,

I will hit them where it hurts the most,

I will snatch the thing they hold dearest,

I will make them beg for lenience.

 

I am Victor Sokolov.

 

What they took from me is buried,

Buried for seven years,

Buried with no light, no cause, no strength.

 

I will unearth the past.

I will raise its mighty head from beneath the deep,

I will feed, nourish and breathe it back to life.

 

I am Victor Sokolov.

 

The targets have been set,

The terms have been agreed,

The truth has been exposed.

 

There will be sacrifices,

There will be risks,

There will be no mercy.

 

I am Victor Sokolov.

 

From: J21

To: T77

Re: Bird of Prey {Encrypted}

 

Response to Update 23.5

 

This is great progress; the best we could have hoped for.

We need your source to keep his eyes and ears open.

We must have more information about the flight path and whether the bird flies solo.

 

End.


 

Chapter 1: Stranger Happenings

 

It was unusually dark and sweaty for early September, and the clouds hung heavy with the threat of a storm, yet a strange stillness hovered in the air as George Jenkins lumbered around the corner of Oak Lane, dragging his feet through the knee-high grass.

“Why did I leave it so late to go out?” he mumbled to himself, as he tried to shift the weight of the bag that was tearing at his shoulder.

He wasn’t even halfway through the paper-round and still had the worst of it to go. He hated everything about it – the long, deserted lanes; the dark driveways; the vampire dogs. His mind played games with his nerves. Rustling in the hedges, cawing in the trees – the countryside seemed to come alive as the dusk light threw everything into grainy shadows. 

Something scampered through the grass, making him stop short.

Get a grip, George!

But as he stood listening to the sounds that drifted across the fields, he swore he heard something crunch – shatter.

What was that?

He waited. Barking dogs, a distant engine … but nothing more.

God, George, just get it done and get home.

He re-adjusted his bag again and picked up the pace. He still had several houses to go, including Mrs Hodge’s, which was the worst on the round. It was a decrepit, old bungalow buried deep in an overgrown plot. George hated it. The drunken porch looked like it might collapse at any minute, the letterbox was finger-snappingly stiff, and however hard he tried to tiptoe up the long, nettle-ridden path, Mrs Hodge’s dogs always threw themselves at the letterbox like rabid wolves.

George rarely saw the owner, but he couldn’t help imagining her sat crouched over in her rocking chair, surrounded by stacks of old newspapers and mumbling to herself as she watched him from behind her tea-stained net curtains. To make things worse, she had nothing better to do than moan and rant. She had complained three times to Mr Holmes, the newsagent, that George had left the paper sticking out of the letterbox or ripped it by shoving it through. He didn’t understand why she complained because the dogs surely lacerated it when it finally landed on the other side.

George hovered at the front gate. He slipped the paper carefully out of his bag, slowly pushed the gate open and placed his foot onto the cobbled path. It seemed darker than usual. He looked back out into the lane. The one streetlight that usually lit the corner hadn’t yet woken up, so he flicked on the light from his phone to ease his way up to the front door.

To his relief and surprise, the dogs weren’t barking, but the silence seemed far worse. He edged closer but still nothing. He was half tempted to hurl the paper and run but couldn’t stomach another call from Mr Holmes reprimanding him.

Maybe she’s gone away.

As he reached the end of the path, he heard a muffled thud from across the pond. He stopped and searched in the gloom, straining his eyes to catch any movement, but the air was so still that not even a branch wavered. Nevertheless, he had an uncomfortable feeling that something, or someone, was hiding out in the scruffy undergrowth.

Jeez, it’s probably just one of her flea-bag cats.

Taking a deep breath, he stepped towards the crumbling porch and gently grasped the handle, pushing it down as carefully as he could but … ‘squeak!’

Damn it!

Something screeched overhead, and out of the corner of his eye, George swore he saw a shadow dash between the conifers that cocooned the house. He turned his light towards it, searching the dark crevices of the garden, and held his breath, trying to listen for any disturbance, but all he could hear was the drum of his own pulse in his ears.

“Screw this,” he growled, as he threw the porch door open and shoved the paper through the jaws of the letterbox, before spinning on his heels and pegging it back down the path.

Maybe, if the old battle-axe is away, she won’t complain.

As he reached the end of the path, something flew at him from inside a scrawny bush. It flapped its wings in panic and zig-zagged out into the night.

“Damn bird!” he shouted, as he raced out of the gate and into the deserted road.

He kept up the pace as he came to the end of Oak Lane and turned down Hall Street, which would lead him back towards the cricket ground and the centre of the tiny village. The cottages here were nestled together in rows of five, so he rapidly fired a Chiddingham News through each door and sprinted for home. He often took the shortcut through the alleyway that by-passed the cricket ground, but tonight he thought better of it, so he dashed around the green’s perimeter with his empty bag slapping at his back.

There was a little more light in the sky, as the moon had shown its face, but the streetlights were still out.

“Weird,” he whispered, slowing down to catch his breath.

As he reached the old village hall, he could hear thumping music coming from inside.

Zumba night.

He peered through the glass doors, hoping to see his one and only friend, Felix Patterson, loitering in the lobby. Felix’s mum ran the Zumba class. George did think it was a bit strange that a thirteen-year-old boy would hang around an over fifties’ aerobics class, but then Felix was generally a little odd. To George’s disappointment, Felix wasn’t there tonight, so he turned and headed for home.

As he approached the other end of the alleyway, the streetlights flickered on, and standing half hidden in the shadow of the oak tree, that guarded the entrance, was a man. He was hunched over what looked like a phone, although no light shone up from its screen. George could just make out his dark jacket and tattered jeans, but his hood obscured his face, and his back was partially turned on George. Something about him made George feel uneasy. Chiddingham was a pretty small place, and most of the villagers were recognisable, but this guy was definitely new.

Unsure of what the newcomer was up to, George looked back towards the village hall. He could hear Felix’s mum shouting over the music.

“Come on girls … one more time.”

He hesitated. He could see that the stranger hadn’t moved, in fact, he was almost frozen still. George was only a few hundred yards from home, so he plucked up some courage and attempted to casually saunter past. Crossing the street for extra caution, he pushed out his chest and tried to look bigger than he was. He wasn’t tall or well built for his age and was used to being pushed around by the rugby boys at school.

He tried not to glance over as he came up opposite the alleyway but couldn’t stop his feet from speeding up as he neared the end of the street. Just as he was about to turn the corner, he gave in to temptation and stole a look over his shoulder. The man looked up for a split second and then turned, swiftly ducking into the darkness of the alley. In that miniscule moment, his shadowed eyes had somehow pierced right through George, who had stopped still and was holding his breath. Shaken, he turned and ran the last hundred yards home.

“Nice one, George,” he muttered to himself. “No wonder everyone thinks you’re a total loser.”

George was disappointed to see that his dad wasn’t home. It was gone eight o’clock, but his large van wasn’t on the drive. When it was, you could barely see the slither of a house. The shallow gravel driveway was only just big enough to accommodate a normal family car, but Sam Jenkins drove about in an old, beaten-up gas van. He had bought it from the Gas Company when he was made redundant and had done a shoddy job of painting over the old logos in a chalky white, which just made it look dirty, or even worse, stolen. Sam was now a self-employed plumber. He was regularly out on call at all hours, which meant that George spent most of his time at home with his gran and her schizophrenic cat, Marshall.

George pushed the rusty iron gate open and winced as it screeched in protest. He made his way up the slip of a path and was welcomed by a warm light emanating from the front window. He could hear the TV before he’d even opened the door. His gran had a habit of having it on at the same time as the radio in the kitchen and spent the day cranking them each up in turn as she pottered between the two rooms.

As he turned the key to open the door, he took one last look over his shoulder to make sure that the hooded guy hadn’t reappeared. There was no sign of him, but he could hear the noise of an engine coming down the lane.

Dad?

Slowly, a small van glided past. The driver turned to look at the house, then seeing George, sped up and disappeared from view. George shoved open the front door, slipped inside and slammed it shut behind him. He stood for a moment, his ear pressed to the cool timber of the door, listening for the van to return, but all he could hear was the distant rumbling of thunder.

It’s nothing, he told himself, shaking off his nerves. 

He was happy to be safe inside. As he entered the long, thin corridor of a hall, the familiar smell of Gran’s cooking crept up his nostrils, distracting him from his anxiety. He flung his bag down, kicked off his shoes and followed his nose into the poky kitchen. 

“I’ve been expecting you, Master Jenkins!” Grandma Cerys crowed, rubbing her hands together, trying to imitate some evil villain.

“Er … hi, Gran.”

George half smiled as he turned down the blare from the radio. She was as mad as they came, but he knew she tirelessly tried to put a grin on his face.

“I’m starving. What’s for tea?” he asked, wiping something sticky off the back of one of the two bar stools that provided the only dining space.

“Cheesy pasta!” Gran proudly announced.

Five minutes later, they sat together at the bar and ate. Gran punched the lever under her stool, and it zipped upwards with a jerk, making her giggle. She re-adjusted her half-moon glasses and checked the knitting needles that held in place the little white bun on top of her head.

George sat quietly at the bar. He was distracted by his own thoughts, and he could tell that Gran had noticed. Nothing got past her.

“You OK, boy?” she asked.

George thought about the guy by the alley and shrugged.

“I’m fine.”

“Looking forward to the new school year?”

“Hmm, yeah I guess,” George mumbled through a mouthful of pasta.

He didn’t hate school, but he certainly didn’t relish it.

At that moment, Marshall appeared from behind the kitchen door. He was one ugly looking cat. George had no idea where Gran had got him from, but he looked like he’d been in a few decent spats in his time. He was white with a splattering of grey, and although he was longhaired, he had several patches of fur that were sparse and stubbly. That, and his one wandering eye, made him look trampled on. He hissed at George, scowled at him with his good eye, then leapt up onto the counter and curled himself around Gran’s arm, swishing his puffy tail in George’s face.

“Get off,” he grumbled.

“Oh, Georgie, when did you and Marshall fall out?”

George hated it when his gran called him Georgie.

She had let him name the cat when she first brought it home. It wasn’t that long after his mum had died. She was right that they used to get on, but since George had become a teenager, the cat had turned suspicious and vindictive towards him. The cat hissed once more, and George took it as his cue to leave. He thanked Gran for the pasta, added his plate to the pile of dishes in the sink and told Gran he had to call Felix.

George’s shoebox of a bedroom was at the back of the house overlooking the long, thin garden that ended with his dad’s shed. There were three bedrooms upstairs and the main bathroom was downstairs off the back of the kitchen, which was quite common for old country cottages.

The inside of the house was plain and simple: magnolia walls with very few pictures or added colour. Gran had attempted to brighten the place up with some old handmade cushions and throws, but George’s dad was a man of simple tastes.

However, stepping into George’s room was like entering another world. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling in posters of cricket idols and comic book superheroes. His cluttered desk was squeezed in at the foot of his single bed, and the wardrobe was hidden behind the door. His small TV balanced at one end of his desk, and sitting pride of place on his windowsill was the one photo he owned of himself with his mum. He was a toddler, sitting on a seesaw with his mum crouched down beside him, steadying him with both her hands. You couldn’t see much of her face, but from the side you could tell she was smiling and looking at George in a way he imagined all mums did when they loved their child. His dad had taken the photo from the other end of the seesaw. It must have been a wonderful family day out, or that is how George liked to picture it.

Felix picked up after just one ring and sounded buoyant.

“Hey, mate, how you doing?” he chirped.

“I didn’t see you outside the village hall tonight. You got better things to do?” George asked.

“Of course,” Felix remonstrated, but George knew it wasn’t true. “How was the round tonight?”

“As lame as usual,” George replied. “I didn’t get mauled by those maniac dogs, though. I reckon old Hodge may have copped it.”

“No way! Wouldn’t want to be the one to clear that old place out, eh?”

Felix wasn’t wrong there. George wondered whether to tell him about the hooded guy. He didn’t want to sound like a wimp. But then again, it was Felix he was talking to. Felix was the first to admit that he was a coward. He tried his hardest to avoid any danger or conflict, although he often drew the attention of the school bullies. His thick glasses, mouth full of braces and unusually tight, curly, blond hair made him an easy target.

“I saw a guy lurking about by the alley. He was ... creepy looking.” George wasn’t sure how else to describe him. “You know if anyone new has moved in?”

Felix knew all the village gossip, what with his mum working in the village and his dad being a vicar at the church.

“Not that I’ve heard.”

George heard his dad’s van crunch onto the drive.

“I’ve gotta go, Felix. See you up at the ground tomorrow.”

Sam came in and went straight to the kitchen. George thought about going down to greet him but hesitated. His relationship with his dad wasn’t the best. He was quiet, moody and always seemed occupied. They never did any of the usual father-son things that his friends seemed to do with their dads.

George looked nothing like him. Sam was tall and well built with dark hair and even darker eyes, which were regularly shrouded by the faded blue cap he wore. George was the opposite: short and slight. Gran often said that he would have made a good chimney sweep’s boy. His hazelnut hair often looked like he’d spent the day stuck up a chimney. It was thick and untamable. His dad looked worn out and rarely smiled, not that you could tell through his untrimmed beard. He had never really recovered from the death of George’s mum. There were few pictures and even fewer memories. She wasn’t a regular topic of conversation, and if George ever asked, Sam’s eyes grew even sadder and darker. He wished they were closer.

George could hear the muffled rumblings of Gran and his dad talking. He sat on his bed, curled up his knees and turned on his TV, but before long he heard the front door go again.

“Georgie, come down and watch the news with me. I hate watching it on my own,” called Gran.

George trudged back downstairs and glanced out of the front window. His dad’s van had gone.

“He had to go back out on call,” Gran said, when she saw the look on George’s face.

George slumped down into the faded armchair. The news had started. There were several mundane reports about end of holiday traffic incidents and some teenagers who had nearly drowned off the south coast. His mind drifted. He was thinking about school on Monday and whether he’d still be in Felix’s maths set. Then a news article caught his attention. The reporter was stationed in a town in south Kent. There had been a shooting. The screen showed a grainy CCTV image of a man’s face, shrouded by a hood. ‘Dangerous – do not approach’ was plastered across the screen.

George twisted to look out of the window. Even with his dad’s van gone, he could only see darkness. A sudden flash of lightning lit up the night sky, silhouetting sharp shadows against the living room window. Marshall hissed again and hid under Gran’s footstool. George caught his breath and leapt out of his seat. He swore he saw a figure by the gate, but before he could make anything out for sure, the light had vanished, and the driveway had returned to black.

“You OK, Georgie?” Gran asked, looking concerned. “You’re not yourself. What’s the matter?”

George folded and told Gran about the man on the street. She stood, shuffled across the lounge and drew the heavy curtains.

“Never liked you doing that round,” she sighed. “When you handing it back to the usual boy?”

“This week.”

“Good.” She headed for the door. “Time for bed, I think.”

It wasn’t that late and he wasn’t tired, but he went upstairs when Gran did. He put his headphones on and watched the rest of a movie he’d started the previous night. Not long after midnight, he finally fell asleep.

The weekend passed by uneventfully. The new school year was looming, and George grew more anxious. He spent most of Saturday up at the cricket club with Felix, but by Sunday afternoon the bad weather had set in, and the hammering rain had kept him, Gran and Sam inside.

It was Gran’s night to sit in front of the TV at dinnertime, which meant that George and his dad sat at the breakfast bar. They were so close their elbows almost clashed as they ate, but they couldn’t have been more distant. Sam finished before George and sat back in his stool. George could almost hear his dad’s brain grinding and churning; desperately trying to think of a suitable topic of conversation.

“Have you got everything you need for tomorrow?” Sam asked, breaking the silence.

“Yeah, I think so.” George was pushing his food around his plate.

“Great.” There was a long pause. “Gran told me you’d been followed by someone on–”

“It was nothing,“ George snapped. “Just some idiot outside the village hall.”

“OK, I was just checking in,” Sam said, in defeat. He got up and cleared his plate.

George hated feeling weak in front of his dad but hated the silence between them even more.

Sam’s phone buzzed. George watched him as he read the message. His frown was deep and troubled. He looked up at George.

“I’ve got a job,” he said, as he went to leave the kitchen.

“On a Sunday night?”

“It’s all money, George.”

With that he left, leaving George on his own in the kitchen. George tidied his plate, grabbed a slice of Gran’s apple pie and headed to the lounge to join her. As he reached the end of the corridor, the front door flew open and Sam stormed back in.

“Someone’s slashed my damn tyre!” he growled.

He marched up the corridor, out of the back door and up to his shed. Seconds later, he returned with a handful of tools.

“Can I help?” George asked.

“No,” said Sam, “I need to get going – don’t need any more hold ups.”

“Right … of course,” said George, a little offended. “Do you want me to call the police?”

“No, that’s the last thing I need!”

“But– ”

“I said ‘No’, George.”

With that, he slammed the door. Gran had come out into the hall. George stood there with his plate of pie in his hands.

“What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing, boy. He’s not a big fan of the police … not since all the nonsense with your mum’s death and all.”

“What nonsense?”

“Don’t you worry about it, Georgie. Come and eat your pie.”

George fumed. How was he supposed to understand his dad if he kept so many truths from him?


 

From: J21

To: Group - BOP

Cc: Chief

Re: Bird of Prey {Encrypted}

 

Update 23.6

 

Urgent. Our asset in protection has been found dead.

Shot at his safe house on the south coast.

Security were taken out: one dead, one critical.

One witness.

Uniform and press were on site before we could lock down the area.

 

We have released a decoy CCTV image to throw any watchers off the scent.

We do not have confirmation of the identity of the shooter or whether any information was transferred.

 

We must assume that there is a link between this and the movement of the bird.

 

As soon as we have a positive identity on the shooter we will release a network wide alert.

 

End.

 

From: Chief

To: J21

Cc: Group - BOP

Re: Bird of Prey {Encrypted}

 

Response to update 23.6

 

How has this happened? This asset has been moved several times in seven years.

How has this location leaked?

I expect a full investigation.

 

We must assume that the shooter is in contact with the bird and that he got the information he needed. We must identify and track him. He is, possibly, our best link to the bird.

 

Move the flock to the agreed top security location. Need to know basis only. The circle on this must be extra tight.

 

Silence press and witness ASAP.

I want 24/7 protection for the security officer in critical care. He will now be a target.

 

Keep me informed.

 

End.


 

About the author

Catherine Frankcom was born and raised in Kent, UK. She graduated from the University of Leeds in 1999 and embarked on a career in Marketing and Advertising. She has been a full-time mum since 2009 and spends many an hour engrossed in reading and writing stories with her two children. view profile

Published on November 09, 2018

Published by

70000 words

Genre: Middle Grade

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