Cyril sat on a fairly sturdy branch of the old sycamore tree and waited for some action. Action was his thing, really, though he always liked to think that he liked the quiet life. He spent most of his time seeking the quiet life but whenever it came along, it was a bit boring really. Sitting in a tree opposite Pizza Hut waiting for something suspicious to explode was definitely boring. He just wasn’t sure if he really wanted things to become exciting in this instance. It was a bit of a lose-lose situation. Mog seemed to be quite good at generating those for him.
Mystic Mog’s prediction had been characteristically imprecise. She had travelled with the terror-tortoise for a while and had definitely seen Pizza Hut. Then her vision had all got a bit confusing. There was something vague about an eagle or a bird of prey or something. Cyril had not liked that bit - such birds usually considered him to be prey. She had been quite adamant that he should watch out for the tortoise and try to intervene.
Apparently, Mog was unable to do it herself as there was a risk that the temporal and spatial proximity to the subject of her dream might trigger a psychic feedback loop that would make her head explode. Cyril wondered why this danger was deemed worse than the risk that Cyril’s proximity to an exploding tortoise might make his head explode. Presumably, the fact that it was not Mog’s head had something to do with it.
A shout from behind him drew his attention from the Pizza Hut for a moment. It was only two men leaving the local pub, The Flying Radish. Cyril considered popping into the pub before it closed for some nuts but resisted the temptation and returned to scanning his surroundings for impending doom.
A nice packet of nuts to nibble on might help him think, though. He still had one over-riding problem to solve. If Mog’s information was reliable and if he managed to spot the tortoise in question before things got explosive, Cyril was not entirely sure what he was supposed to do about it. In fact, he was very far indeed from being entirely sure. Mog had suggested making some loud noises and trying to snap the tortoise out of its trance. He was no bomb disposal expert and, besides, this was no ordinary bomb.
The other problem was that Cyril did not really want to get that near. Being naturally quite low down the food chain, he had a very well developed sense of self-preservation. At least this time he had enough to don his armoured shell suit for protection but he sincerely doubted that it would do much to save him from a bomb at close quarters. Or any other fraction, for that matter. Still, you have go to go some time and better to die a hero, trying to save the world (from what?!) than being taken roughly from behind by a polecat whilst busy sniffing your nuts, as had happened to his cousin Gerald.
The next two hours passed very slowly for the squirrel. Cyril tried to keep himself alert by changing branches occasionally but, by the time the city clock chimed 1 am, he was becoming convinced that Mog had made a mistake. It had been known to happen. Come to think of it, he was not even sure that this was the right Pizza Hut.
It was quite dark and getting cold by now, and Cyril was struggling to keep his eyes open. There was not much to see anyway. Ceasing to fight the urge, he closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on his other senses. The feel of the bark beneath his paws. The slight Southerly breeze in his whiskers. The smell of moss and... wren droppings. He paused. Wren droppings? There were not any...
A voice cleared its throat next to his ear. He opened one eye.
“The motor may run but walking is quicker when the ice of calamity covers the road ahead,” said the Zen Wren.
“Fuck off!” Cyril told him. That bird never made any sense.
The wren flew off and Cyril closed his eyes once more, listening to the flap of the bird’s wings fade and finally get drowned out by a distant engine drone. He let his attention shift to the engine. Diesel. Van. Ford Transit, maybe. No. Smaller. Maybe an Astra van. Going quite fast. No. Approaching quite fast.
He opened one eye and watched the van turn into the end of the road. He wondered what it was carrying. Food maybe. Perhaps even nuts. He could murder a good Brazil nut right now.
He opened the other eye and stared vacantly as the van pulled up in front of the Pizza Hut and stopped. His gaze was subconsciously drawn to the words “Pet Supplies” stencilled in black italics against the white van’s side.
A deeper part of his subconscious at the back of his mind was trying to get his attention - something about Pizza Hut being closed and not having any pets. The front of his mind, however, had hooked onto the words. Pet supplies. Nuts.
He closed his eyes again as he considered the delightful satisfaction if coaxing a pistachio out of its mussel-like shell. The fabulously flaky almond. The perfectly presented hazelnut. The beautiful bend of the cashew.
The van’s engine sprung back to life again and Cyril dreamily half-opened his eyes, staring straight ahead as the van pulled away. Sure enough, it had deposited a giant almond on the pavement.
Mouth watering, he turned tail and bounded down the tree. Dropping the last four feet onto his four feet, he spun around just in time to see the giant almond crawl around the corner of Pizza Hut on four stubby legs.
Cyril frowned and rubbed his eyes with balled-up paws. Theodore Ferguson MacCabbage, Intimidator of a Dozen Root Vegetables, had never mentioned any walking nuts. Then, suddenly, it dawned on him. The tortoise!
Making a mental note to trust Mog’s predictions a bit more next time - and possibly get some hypnotherapy for what was clearly a bit of a nut problem - he bounded across the road and round the corner after the departing creature.
The tortoise was making surprisingly good progress and was already half of the way along the northern wall of Pizza Hut, approaching the small fenced-in collection of dustbins.
The dustbins! Rudely awakened from his dreams about nuts, Cyril’s brain might have been a bit slow warming up but now it kicked into over-drive. Pizza Hut served salad. There was probably a fair amount of waste salad in the dustbins. Tortoises eat salad. Maybe he could use the discards to coax the tortoise to a place of safety and work out what to do next.
A plan forming in his mind, Cyril sprinted towards the bins. There were two major problems to overcome. Firstly, the bins themselves were locked up inside a six-foot-high wire-fence enclosure, the gate of which was secured by a heavy chain and padlock. Secondly, there was no way that Cyril was strong enough to over-turn a wheelie bin full of rubbish.
Undeterred, he bounded past the tortoise, climbed the fence and jumped into the enclosure, landing on the bin nearest the gate. Pausing only to balance himself, he pulled out the grappling nut and line from his shell suit’s utility belt and, after two swings above his head, successfully launched it at the chain on the gate. He gave the line a quick tug to make sure that it had securely wrapped around the chain. It had. So far, so good.
Quickly, he detached the end and tied it to the hinge of the wheelie bin before scampering along the line itself to the gate. He was up and over the gate quicker than a ferret up a man’s trousers. Another tool came out of the belt and, with a deft twist of the wrist, the padlock was unlocked.
Now it was make or break time. A well-aimed punch through the wire swung the loop of the padlock open. The friction of metal on metal was not sufficient to keep the terminal chain link on the loop and the two parted company. Cyril, who was hanging upside-down just above the lock, kicked off with his legs and landed hard on the padlock just as the chain broke free.
The combined weight of squirrel and padlock was enough to pull the chain - now free at one end - through the gate to land in a pile on the ground below, accelerating all the time as more weight was transferred to the outside. As it fell, the chain pulled on Cyril’s grappling line, transferring its momentum to the wheelie bin with a sharp tug.
Cyril rolled clear and held his breath as the bin spun round slightly before the wheels caught on something and it tipped. Cyril grabbed the line and pulled with all his strength. The bin teetered for an agonising second or two before resigning itself to gravity and toppling over, smashing its way through the gate and crashing to the ground as Cyril dived clear once more. As it hit the tarmac, the bin’s lid flipped open and spread slightly brown lettuce across the pavement right in front of the tortoise’s nose.
Cyril smiled and breathed once more. That could not have worked better.
The tortoise, however, just plodded on impassively through the scattered vegetation as if nothing had happened. If was remotely impressed by Cyril’s destructive athleticism, it was not showing any sign.
Cyril shuddered as, for a moment, the fallout from the fallen bin reminded him of the aftermath of last year’s invasion by the Cabbages of Doom. Marshalling his resolve, he grabbed a nearby leaf and sprung after the retreating reptile.
Several seconds of uselessly waving the greenery in the tortoise’s face was enough to convince Cyril of the futility of that approach. Giving up, he dropped the limp lettuce leaf where he stood and looked around frantically for a Plan B.
“That Testudine is really testing my patience,” he muttered.