Tommy In Charge

Tommy and Ellie are enjoying an idyllic summer break running the ferret rescue while Michael and Alison are on holiday in Greece when, late one evening, the phone rings. The anonymous caller threatens to drown a sack of ferrets unless the rescue collects them from the back of a van in a pub car park. They have just one hour. Mum doesn't drive and no taxis are available.

Tommy was near to tears

"Think of something!" he shouted. "We can't let those ferrets die."

They were so caught up in their terrible dilemma that they failed to hear a discreet knock on the front door.

"Try more taxi firms," said Tommy. "We've got to get there, I'm in charge here and I have to save those ferrets."

"Can I help?"

Tommy and Ellie span round in surprise. There, standing in the open front doorway, was a tall sunburned stranger holding a suitcase.

"I'm so sorry," he said. "I knocked twice and then ventured to come in. I'm Charles Meredith, by the way, Michael's brother."

Ellie stepped forward, flustered.

"I do apologise," she said. "We are, of course, expecting you. I'm Eleanor Eastwood and this is my son Thomas."

"Hello," said Tommy. "Mum! The ferrets!"

"Ah, yes," said Charles Meredith. "It sounded like you were having a spot of bother. Tell me about it while we get the car out."

He put down his case and snatched up the keys to the 4x4 from the hall table. "Usual place, I see," he said and strode down the corridor tot he kitchen with Tommy trotting after him.

Ellie ran after them. "Please," she called. "You've just arrived. You can't just drive off into the night after such a long journey."

But Charles and Tommy were out of the back door and heading for the stone garage. The large green doors were opened and the engine started. Ellie hastily secured the house and all three were off, heading towards the city.

Tommy, who had clambered into the front seat, was telling Charles about the horrible man and the sack of ferrets. Ellie, who knew how quiet and withdrawn her son could be, marvelled at the ease with which he explained the situation.

Charles turned on the vehicle's navigation system. Tommy saw with delight how it was guiding them ever closer to the The Reindeer pub, tracking their journey road by road.

After half an hour, he turned to Ellie. We're nearly there Mum," he said. "Look, only a couple more streets to go."

As they turned into the car park of the rough-looking pub, Ellie had a sick feeling that there would be no van and no ferrets. But, right in the far corner, was a dark-coloured Transit. The car park was almost deserted and it stood alone in the darkness

"Charles drew the 4x4 up next to it and he and Tommy jumped out.

"Be careful," said Ellie. "You don't know who's about."

But Charles had flung open the unlocked rear doors and Tommy had scrambled in to emerge triumphant with a filthy scratchy sack, bound at the top with baler twine.

"Got 'em," he said. "I can feel them moving inside. There's nowt else in the back. I had a good look."

They bundled the sack into the 4x4 and moved quickly away. Once clear of the pub, Charles pulled into a lay-by. Tommy undid the twine and looked into the sack. Five little faces peeped up at him. He gently drew out a tiny white ferret. She was skin and bone with a sparse coat and her face was covered in large ticks. Charles took her in his large brown hands while Tommy delved again. This time a thin little silver jill came to light. Then another two scrawny albinos and finally a sad-faced sandy hob.

Tears sprang to Ellie's eyes as she cradled the silver jill. "How could they?" she asked.

She looked up to meet Charles' clear blue eyes and turned quickly away.

"They're not going back in that sack. No way." Tommy's voice was choked with anger.

They found two animal carriers in the back of the vehicle and the five completed their journey on fleecy blankets, in groups of two and three.

When they arrived back at Holly Tree House, Tommy sprang into action. Each new arrival was checked over and each devoured a nourishing meal before being bedded down for the night in a cosy cage in the large kitchen. All the five were heartbreakingly underweight and covered in parasites and two of the albinos had sore ragged necks and Tommy was hopeful that all could be nursed back to full health.

Meanwhile, Charles had disappeared upstairs to shower and unpack and Ellie was preparing a very late supper. It was well after midnight when they sat down to pasta and (at Charles's insistence) a bottle of white wine.

"Well young man," said Charles, turning to Tommy. "You are obviously the right person to run the rescue centre while Michael and Alison are away."

Tommy yawned. "Tomorrow," he said: "I'll give them all a bath and treat them with Frontline and get some more good food into them."

Ellie smiled. "You mean today," she said. "You'd better go to bed if you want to be up in time to give them their breakfast."

"I'll just take one more look at them," Tommy said. "Just in case they need anything else. After all, I am in charge here."

(First published in Ferrets First August/September 2003)

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