A humorous, animal detective story for 7-12 year-olds (and lovely for parents to read to younger children)
When Pug, the young fruit bat goes missing, his parents enlist the help of Leon Chameleon PI. But Leon doesn’t realise that finding the little bat is only the beginning of their problems.
This is Leon's third detective case. Without them being aware of it, the book teaches children about the small creatures that live in Pigeon Valley. It has been well researched to enable the animals to use their natural instincts and abilities to solve the problems encountered in the story.
It has yet to be published.
Leon recruits a platoon of army ants to search for the missing bat. Pug is soon discovered. “We’ve found the young lad. But it’s good news and bad,” said the ant officer, who irritates Leon by talking in rhyme. Attracted by the fruity smell, Pug had become trapped in an old chutney bottle discarded by a picnicker.
Attempts to slide Pug out of the bottle by using a stick and a stone as a lever go horribly wrong. The bottle rolls out of control and hurtles down a hill, bending an ant’s antenna, cracking a snail’s shell and knocking a songololo (type of centipede) almost senseless before plunging into a pond.
Constable Mole, in his eagerness to be of assistance, and unable to see because of poor eyesight, follows the bottle into the pond, but unexpectedly discovers that he can swim. Leon enlists the help of a flotilla of water-lily frogs to push the floating bottle to the edge of the pond.
In the midst of all the confusion, and to Leon’s dismay, Leonora, his bossy sister arrives. But it is Leonora who comes up with an idea for freeing the trapped bat. She suggests that the ants, who can carry loads much larger than themselves, swarm into the bottle and attempt to pull the bat out. They almost succeed, but their strength is no match for Pug’s weight and the little bat slides back into the bottle.
Constable Mole, who cannot go for long without a snack, suddenly appears with a dung beetle in his mouth. This gives Leon an idea. “Drop that beetle at once,” he orders. The dung beetles, who are used to pushing large balls of dung, are persuaded to assist in the rescue of Pug. With the ants pulling and the beetles pushing they get Pug to the neck of the bottle – but there he becomes wedged, trapping the beetles inside.
It is Leon who saves the day.
"Look, the beetles are trying to tell us something," said Lieutenant Crow. She watched them frantically waving their antennae. "There's no air in the bottle," she said in alarm.
"They do seem to be in some distress. I confess, we are in a mess," said the ant officer.
"No we are not!" insisted Leon. "But we must work quickly. This calls for extreme measures." He turned to Mr and Mrs Bat. "Now listen carefully. I am going to put my tail next to Pug's mouth. I want him to grip it as hard as he can with his teeth. Then I want you each to grasp one of his ears in your mouth. When I say pull, we'll all pull together."
"Oh, dear," declared Mrs Bat, but she did as Leon asked.
When they were ready Leon shouted, "PULL!” Pug's teeth bit painfully into his tail and he wanted to cry out, but he dug his toes into the ground and pulled as hard as he could.
Constable Mole was concerned about Leon's tail. He hoped it would not fall off, like gecko’s tails sometimes did.
Mr and Mrs Bat heaved on Pug's ears. It was painful for Pug having his ears tugged and he bit even harder into Leon's tail. But Leon gritted himself and refused to cry out in pain.
Then suddenly Pug shot out of the bottle like a cork from a popgun. Mr and Mrs Bat fell over backwards, and Leon just managed to save himself from an undignified tumble.
They all cheered and congratulated one another.
When everyone had calmed down they realised they must devise a plan to prevent such a thing happening again. But how could they stop the picnickers littering?
The ant officer had an idea.
"I believe I know what the ant officer is planning," said Leon. "Great Uncle Leonardo once used ants to drive off humans who had strayed too close to where Great Aunt Leoni had laid her eggs. Do you remember that story Leonora?"
Leonora thought for a moment. "I believe I do. What a good idea to use it on picnickers."
"What idea? What idea?" said Constable Mole, beside himself with curiosity.
"Yes. Get on with it. Get on with it," squawked Sergeant Loerie.
"You tell them," said Leon to the ant officer.
The ant officer was quite pleased to be the centre of attention and eagerly told his story.
"When the food scouts come back, we prepare the attack. The size of our army drives picnickers barmy. We swarm in a bunch, all over their lunch. If they swat us, we bite. Oh what a sight. When we nip at a rump, how they leap up and jump. Their picnic's no fun, with us on the run. With ants as a foe, they pack up and go."
"Ooh, what a clever idea. Ants in their pants," said Mole, rolling around in delight.
"It does sound a most sensible arrangement," agreed Lieutenant Crow.
"It will be a good lesson for those who litter," said Mr and Mrs Bat.
"Yes, serve them right," muttered Pug.
"It sounds very entertaining," said Sergeant Loerie. "I'd like to see it in action."
"So would I," said Constable Mole.
"When the plan is next put into action we can all go along as spectators," said Leon.
"So the plan is agreed. The ants will do the deed. We'll drive litterers from the valley. Leave no time for them to dally," said the ant officer, well pleased with himself.
"Yes," said Lieutenant Crow. "As the senior officer in charge of Pigeon Valley, you have my permission to bite and sting any picnickers who leave litter."
Everyone began chattering and saying how fortunate it was that Pug had been saved and how clever and brave Leon had been. And they all agreed that a good solution had been found to the problem of littering.
"Thank goodness that case is finished," said Leonora, drawing Leon to one side. "Perhaps now I can tell you my news about cousin Napoleon - before you get involved with another case."
Leon allowed his sister to accompany him to his office in the Pigeonwood Tree. However, he hoped it would not be long before someone else needed his help. After all, Leonora had not made it clear quite HOW LONG she intended to stay.
Leon Chameleon felt the warmth of the sun gradually creeping through the branches of the Pigeonwood tree. It was time to wake up. But Leon would rather have stayed asleep, because today was the day his sister Leonora was due for her annual visit.
It wasn't that Leon didn't like his older sister, it was just that she could be so terribly bossy.
"Oh, dear," he sighed, reluctantly uncurling his tail from the branch he'd wrapped it round so he wouldn't fall off during the night. He stretched and slowly opened his eyes. But before he'd had a chance to look round, he had an odd feeling that someone was watching him. Who could it be? Leonora perhaps? It would be just like her to spy on him.
He swivelled his eyes back and forth, looking behind him with one eye, and in front with the other. But there was no sign of his sister. He had decided it must be his imagination when a sudden voice from above nearly toppled him from his branch. "I'm glad you're awake," it said.
Leon hurriedly swivelled both eyes in the direction of the voice and found he was staring into the large brown eyes and dog-like face of Mrs Fruit Bat. She was hanging upside down on the branch above.
"How long have you been there?" demanded Leon, embarrassed that he was being watched. As a Private Investigator, it was his job to keep surveillance on others.
"Since well before dawn," confessed Mrs Bat. "I've been waiting for you to wake
up. We need your help."
"Oh," said Leon, slightly mollified. "In what way do you require my assistance?"
"It's Pug, my young son," said Mrs Bat anxiously. "He didn't come home this morning. I'm afraid something dreadful has happened to him. Please help us to find him before it's too late.
"Hmm," thought Leon, plodding along the branch in the funny swaying motion he used. "A missing bat. This is definitely a case for me." He paused for a moment. "Are you sure he's not playing a prank and hiding somewhere?"
"I'm quite sure Pug wouldn't do that," said Mrs Bat. "You see, he's only just weaned. Last night was the first time we left him to hunt on his own."
"Then we should be able to find him," said Leon, his long tongue snapping up an unsuspecting fly. "We'll start by looking for clues. We'll begin where your son was last seen."
"That would be the Milkplum tree. All the fruit bats were there last night." Her voice caught on a sob. "My husband and I must have been too busy feasting on the fruit to notice Pug wandering off."
"Now don't upset yourself," said Leon. "I'm sure your son is merely lost. My Great Uncle Leonardo - he was also a private detective you know - always said, first explore the obvious."
"Perhaps Pug fell asleep when the sun came up," said Mrs Bat hopefully. "We work night shift you know. We sleep during the day."
"Yes, I know you're nocturnal," said Leon. "Now come along." He began clambering down the tree, grasping the branches firmly with his toes, two on one side of each foot and three on the other. But he hadn't gone far when Mrs Bat called to him.
"Mr Chameleon. I'm not as agile as you are. I've only got the claws on my thumbs to help me climb. Perhaps I should fly to the Milkplum tree and meet you there."
"Good idea," agreed Leon. He watched Mrs Bat unfold her arms. The skin between her fingers was stretched into wings. She looked like a tiny brown umbrella. She did a little flip to turn herself the right way up and flew off into the treetops.
Leon scrambled down to the forest floor and hurried towards the Milkplum tree. There was no time to waste. The longer the young bat was lost, the more difficult it would be to find him. They must begin the search immediately.
Leon could run quite fast on the ground. Before long he found himself in the middle of a carpet of seedlings beneath the Milkplum tree. A moment later he heard a familiar voice.
"Leon, Leon. I was just coming to fetch you."
Leon's eyes swivelled back and forth until he spotted the reddish-brown head of Constable Mole peeping out of his burrow. At least it looked like Mole's head. His body was like a plump furry sausage, and with no visible ears, eyes or tail you could never be quite sure which end of him was which.
But before Leon could greet Mole, a flash of scarlet feathers announced the arrival of Sergeant Loerie. Fanning his purple crest, he hopped towards Leon. "Kok, kok. What are you doing here? The police have the situation under control. We don't need you," he said quite rudely.
Leon glared at Sergeant Loerie. They had worked together on previous police cases and there was always a rivalry between them. Turning an angry black, Leon demanded, "What are you doing here, Loerie? I have been called in by Mrs Bat to help."
Sergeant Loerie ruffled his feathers indignantly. "This is official police business. I'm in charge."
Constable Mole knew all about the rivalry and rushed forward to step between them. However, in his hurry he tripped over a tangle of creeper and nearly did a somersault. His sunglasses sailed through the air and disappeared into some long grass. He was quite lost without them. He fumbled about until he eventually trod on them. Propping them back on his face, he told Leon, "The Bats asked us to help. They've been working all night. They're too sleepy to search properly themselves. Do let's help them by working together," he urged.
Leon considered what he should do. It was urgent that they find the missing bat. The more of them that were available to help, the quicker the search could be done. He would just have to put up with Sergeant Loerie's rudeness.
"All right. We'll work together," he said. "What progress have the police made so far?"
"I've despatched my Flying Squad," said Sergeant Loerie, fanning his purple crest importantly. "The birds are searching the surrounding trees in case the young bat is roosting nearby."
"Have you instructed them to check the mist nets that the bird watchers string across flight paths to catch and ring the birds," asked Leon. He could have become entangled in one of those."
"Are you trying to tell me how to do my job?" squawked Sergeant Loerie, who had actually forgotten all about the nets.
"Not at all," sighed Leon. "I was merely trying to establish what has already been done."
Constable Mole quickly broke in. "I've sent my underground operators - Molerat and the Crickets - to search through our tunnels," he said, adding proudly, "I am in charge of underground operations you know."
"Er, Constable Mole," whispered Leon. "Some bats might like to live in caves and other dark places, but I doubt if a bat would go underground. His claws aren't designed for digging. Not like yours are."
"Oh," said Constable Mole, crestfallen. "I never thought of that. Perhaps you're right. I'll ask Molerat to contact the Neighbourhood Watch instead. Blue-Headed Lizard can search through the undergrowth. And the frogs and snakes can explore the smaller places. I'll get on to it right away."
Constable Mole disappeared in a flurry of soil. But he was soon back; his sunglasses propped on the back of his head. "Wrong tunnel," he explained sheepishly, and began again further on, leaving behind a little mound of earth.
Mr and Mrs Bat were huddled together in the tree above. They were too worried to sleep, but too tired to be of much help in the search. "We've been talking it over," called Mr Bat. "We think Pug may be somewhere where there is fruit. Perhaps you should try the fruit trees first," he suggested.
"That's a sensible idea," agreed Leon. "Sergeant Loerie eats fruit. He can make a list of the likely trees and bushes."
"Now look here," said Sergeant Loerie. "Lieutenant Crow put me in charge of this case. I don't want a chameleon bossing me about."
"What do you suggest we do then?" argued Leon.
Sergeant Loerie hopped up and down thoughtfully, spreading his wings now and again in order to look important. "Kok, kok, kok. I think it's time I reported to Lieutenant Crow. She'll tell me what to do."
"But what about the list of fruit trees?" said Leon.
"They'll be in my files," said Sergeant Loerie. "I'll be at headquarters, on the missing persons branch." He flew off in a flash of scarlet, gliding over the canopy of trees towards police headquarters.
"Hmm," thought Leon. "If young Pug has not just wandered off, we will have to look at other, more worrying possibilities. I remember Great Uncle Leonardo was involved in several missing-person cases. If only I could recall the details."
He climbed into a nearby bush and his body slowly turned a darker shade of green to blend with the leaves. While he remained motionless, no one would know he was there. That was why he was the best Private Eye in Pigeon Valley.
"Now let me see," he thought. "Perhaps Pug has been kidnapped by a young boy in the same way that Woodland Mouse was kidnapped. However, that seems unlikely. Boys don't usually come into the Valley at night.
"And Uncle Leonardo once told me the story of a fruit bat that was swallowed by a python. But I've never seen a python in the valley."
Leon continued to think of ways in which Pug could have disappeared. After a while, when he'd run out of ideas, he headed for the Natal Fig Tree where Lieutenant Crow had her headquarters.