You've heard, of course, of house detectives. Well, Mike Dott began his career as a mouse detective. On the premises of COURSE CONTROLS LIMITED. Self-employed, he had an inquisitive nature and was always poking his nose into dustbins. It was Payment by Results at that time for Mike. He lived on anything edible he came across on his nightly round. Biscuit crumbs, coffee-grounds, paper .... Mike had a weakness for paper. He chewed up mouthful after delicious mouthful whenever he got the chance. Secretary Susan Sniff looked in amazement at her waste-basket every morning. At the shredded remnants of Mike's midnight feast. "Eow, ai sai! Parfectlai disgusting!" she screeched. Cleaning Lady, Jessie Slopp, offered to bring along her cat. "Uvverwise that mahs'll bring 'is mates an' we'll be over - run!" she warned. But Miss Sniff was allergic to cats [ and to any suggestion made by Mrs Slopp]. So Mike went on detecting and investigating all the interesting corners and containers at Course Controls Limited. And that was how he uncovered the plot to copy the latest product of the company - the Invisible Steering Cable. ************************ Salesman Bert Brash was flirting with Miss Sniff. She was pretending not to notice and was busy painting her nails. Mike had had a bad night. Due to the Annual Stocktaking, the factory and offices were untypically tidy. Mike had been reduced to nibbling at the edge of a thick cardboard carton - and that always gave him indigestion. He had hardly sampled enough to keep a mouse alive [if you'll pardon the expression]. He was so hungry by ten in the morning he broke his strictest rule and ventured out in daylight. The window-cleaner was taking an extra-ordinary amount of trouble polishing the third floor window. Mike crept round the edge of the brown carpet hoping its camouflage would hide him from the eyes of the man precariously perched on his ladder. He was making for the Telex machine which was clickety-clacketing away unheeded in its corner. Mike knew
that if enough Telex paper was allowed through unchecked, he would be able to reach the end of the roll, hanging down below desk level. With any luck, he could have a satisfying munch on each of the three colours of paper, a rare treat for the messages had usually been torn off and filed long before he made his nightly rounds. Sid Slime, bogus window-cleaner, really a spy for Flabbyflex Incorporated, was a brave man. He did not mind scaling dizzy heights nor plumbing murky depths. He had climbed and dived in some dangerous places. But he had one phobia. He could not stand the sight of .....mice! With admirable skill and a balancing act worthy of a circus performer, he had just managed to swivel open the window and reach for the telex message while keeping up the pretence of scrubbing at the window-pane. Then .... his gaze fell on Mike, contentedly chewing closer and closer to Sid's hand. With a pitiful whelp, Sid Slime jerked backwards and fell off the ladder just as Mr Bluff, Managing Director, came into the office. "Why was that chap so interested in the telex?" shouted Mr Bluff, totally uninterested in the fate of the unfortunate Sid who, if the smashing, bouncing and groaning noises outside were anything to go by, had not made a smooth landing. Bert Brash was straightening his tie and his back, as he leaped to attention. Miss Sniff was typing away so furiously her carefully-tended nails were splitting in all directions. Mr Bluff ripped off the message. He scanned it quickly, deciphering its coded information with ease born of years of experience in his earlier career as an Estate Agent. "NW INVNTN BLU PRNT FLWS MOD CONS + IMPRVMTS INCLD * TP SCRT *" Bert was gazing down on the scene below the window. "Hey!" he cried excitedly. "That's not our usual window-cleaner, I'm sure." "What makes you say that?" asked Mr Bluff sarcastically. "He's only been here an hour or two ... surely that's not long enough for you to tumble him."
"Well, sir, it's just that - er - he's driven off in your Bentley ...sir," stammered Bert. Miss Sniff screamed. Bert and his boss turned to see her perched on her swivel-chair, no easy feat, but preferable, it seemed, to remaining on floor - level with .... a mouse! "Great heavens!" cried Mr Bluff, who had not got where he was by being slow to tumble things. "It must have been this little chap sent that imposter flying ..." He picked up Mike ... and not by the tail either .... and set him on the desk. Miss Sniff promptly fainted into Bert's arms. "We've got him to thank for saving our jobs!" said Mr Bluff, beaming at Mike. He looked round disparagingly at Bert, sprinkling water from the cooler onto Miss Sniff. "Well .... some of our jobs!" he added. "If you'd like to step into my office, young fellow," he said to Mike. "I'd like to personally explain the situation to you and discuss your reward." ***************************************************************** Mike settled himself comfortably in the Out tray on Bluff's enormous desk. "Feel free to take a nibble," said Mr Bluff. "That stuff's all photo-copies anyway." Mike selected an Intercompany memo and tore off a big corner. Mr Bluff opened a file drawer, marked CONFIDENTIAL and took out a bottle and a glass. "The situation is this, my dear fellow ... this Telex may look rather ... blank ... to you." Mike stopped chewing and stared at the seemingly empty scroll of paper that followed the brief line about the NW INVTN. "Truth is ...." Bluff took a large swig from his glass. "The rest of this has been printed by a new process. Just watch ............" He poured the rest of the contents of the glass over the white top copy, with just a hint of regret as he noticed that the bottle was empty. Strange symbols appeared on the page within seconds. "The secret drawing and P.S.M. of our latest product," sighed Bluff dropping the empty bottle into the bin."An invisible steering cable. Very appropriate eh, what? Invisible cable - invisible printing!"
Mike nodded as enthusiastically as he could. The photo-copy paper was too shiny for his taste - he was in a dilemma as to how to stop eating it without giving offence. Mr Bluff had not got where he was by not noticing dilemmas. "Leave that, old chap. Here's a paper more to your liking, I fancy - only don't eat it - it's your contract!" Bluff scrawled his signature on a document and passed it over to Mike. "I'm signing you on as Chief of Security ... if that suits you." Mike was almost overcome with grateful embarrassment. "Name your own hours!" continued Bluff. "And you have free access to the Stationary cupboard ... for meals. Frankly, old man, I envy you - our Canteen isn't up to much." ************************* Mike could not help but agree. One visit to Frizzie Burns' canteen was enough. He could hardly have refused this invitation to lunch, even if he had known what was in store. Bluff wanted to toast his joining the company and introduce him to key members of the staff. "You know Brash and Sniff, of course," said the Director disparagingly, sweeping past their table, Mike perched serenely on his shoulder. Bluff hardly paused longer at the next table where a sullen-looking fellow was bending the ears ... rather large, pointed, pinkish ears, Mike noticed with approval .... of two young apprentices. "Arthur Stir, Factory Foreman," said Bluff briefly. "I'd like to present Mr Michael Dott, our new Security man." Mike noticed that Stir immediately took a well-thumbed Book of Rules from his pocket and seemed to be searching for some vital information. At the largest table, the only one sporting a cloth [a paper cloth, Mike was glad to note], sat two men. One was scribbling figures on the menu: the other was dreamily gazing into space. Bluff sat down and arranged a corner of the table for his new employee. Mike began to contemplate whether it would be impolite to start on the cloth as a sort of hors d'oeuvre.
Just at that moment there was a small explosion and a large emission of black smoke from the other side of the kitchen hatch. A round red face appeared, topped by a none-too-clean cook's turban. [To clear up the grammar and ambiguity of that statement, neither cook nor turban were squeaky clean.] "Rasher and two eggs?" demanded the face but did not wait for an answer. "What else?" said Bluff wearily. "Let me introduce you, Mike. On my left, Al Fixit, our Chief Accountant. On my right, Vernon Vague, Research and Development." Frizzie Burns appeared, full-length, her billowing apron an excellent match in stains, smears and general grubbiness for the turban. She plonked down two plates containing something resembling charred strips of cardboard and burnt black lace doilies. [Mike would have preferred the real thing]. "You prefer your fodder raw, I believe, Mike," said Bluff. He snatched the menu from Al's hand, glanced briefly at the figures jotted on it, and handed it to Mike. "Dreamed up any new ideas today, Vernon?" asked Bluff, pushing away his plate after stirring the contents into a heap of charcoal with his fork. Vernon patted all his pockets in turn and finally drew out a rather creased draughtsman's tracing of a complicated -looking drawing. [To clear up etc., both the drawing and Vernon had a crumpled look.] Bluff looked it over and then passed it to Mike. "Have a taste of that, old chap!" he said. "Vague, this is not good enough. You'll have to do better than a re-hash of that old chestnut." The hatch flew up. "Hash! Chestnuts! I'll have them on the menu tomorrow, Mr Bluff, sir!" called Frizzie Burns. The humble effect was spoilt however, as she turned towards Arthur Stir. "Tho' myself, I can't see why folk aren't satisfied with good, plain fare!" she remarked and slammed back the hatch. "It'll turn out the same anyway," muttered Bluff, gloomily. There was another explosion in the kitchen. "Shall we go, gentlemen?" suggested Bluff. "I want to talk to you in my office, Vague. Corporate Office has sent back your blue-print...with suggestions.
And young Mike here managed to save it from the hands of some Industrial spy, posing as a window-cleaner. Al!" Accountant Fixit turned so sharply with such a look of guilt on his face, Bluff almost forgot what he had been going to say. Mike registered the alarm on the man's face for future rumination. "Er - something wrong, old man? Monthly balance unbalanced?" asked Bluff. Al Fixit shook his head so vigorously it seemed in danger of parting company with his long, stringy body. "Just shocked, Em Dee!", explained Al, quickly recovering himself. "Phone the cops!" said Bluff. Again the effect of his words was startling. Al turned very pale. "The blighter got away with my car," enlarged Bluff. "I expect he'll have dumped it by now. Anyway, I'm going in for tighter security round here." Al seemed to be choking on the remnants of Frizzie's over-cooked bacon. "We'll start with your office, Al," said Bluff. "You go along there now, will you, and show Mike round." Gingerly, Al offered his shoulder for Mike to step on. But the relief on his face was clear. He was to be checked out but only by a .....mouse. ***************************************************************** Mike did not care for the Accounts Office. Bristol card abounded - large sheets, double sheets, perforated sheets, spiral-bound. It all tasted very bland. He had much preferred Vernon Vague's tracing, lightly seasoned with "2H" pencil. And he liked the looks of Vernon better too - a plump figure and that smiling, dreamy look on his face, totally undisturbed by the ticking off from his boss. This Al, now, he had a lean and hungry look, though Mike could hardly blame him for the latter after seeing, smelling, hearing [but thank heavens, not being obliged to taste] Mrs Burns' cooking.
"Make yourself at home," said Al, summoning up what he thought was a warm, sincere and innocent smile. It reminded Mike of a nightmare he had once had, passed down perhaps through Racial Memory, of the face of a large cat, floating in mid-air and gradually disappearing, till only the grin remained ..... Mike was glad when Vernon Vague came to fetch him to the Design Office. Not only was the best-quality Cartridge more to his taste, but there was something much more trustworthy in Vernon's absent-minded but sincere friendliness. "Do you mind if I sketch your .... shape?" he asked Mike. "I like to try out any new ... form I come across - for aero dynamics, you know." **************************************************************** Course Controls was in darkness. Susan Sniff was in her little flat, washing her hair. Jessie Slopp was watching television in her house, her cat purring in her lap. Bert Brash was sitting by his landlady's telephone, working his way through a little black book of numbers. Frizzie Burns, in her best cook's cap [floral] was demonstrating in a school hall to the Women's Institute .... New Ways with Bacon and Eggs. Arthur Stir was standing on a soap box at Speaker's Corner. Vernon Vague listened to his HI FI, his far away gaze further away than ever. Bluff was dining at home, the polished mahogany table so long that there was a mere misty hint of Mrs Bluff at the other end. Al Fixit was standing in a sleazy bar talking earnestly to a heavily-bandaged, anonymous figure. Mike Dott was on Night Patrol. He nosed open a cupboard door. he gasped and stepped back. On the bottom shelf was carefully poised ..... a mouse-trap. A square, squat jotting pad had been mockingly inserted where usually lay cheese. Whoever had laid the trap had fearfully underestimated Mike Dott. He closed his ink-lined nostrils to the slightly musty odour of the blue-marbled vellum. [It was an Executive Jotting Pad.] With an unfurled paper clip he feinted and fenced, tilted and thrust. The spring sprang. The apparatus toppled and in the dusty depths of the cupboard was revealed a pile of suspicious - looking cheque stubs.
Suspicious to Mike Dott because, he now fully realised, he had a gift for this detecting lark. Flicking through the stubs, resisting even the littlest lick, he knew that here was the Incriminating Evidence. *************************************************************** Mr Bluff and Mike Dott watched from the M.D.'s Office window as Al Fixit was led away, handcuffed, by two policemen. "You've done it again, old chap," boomed Bluff. "The signature on those cheques we checked was the Flabby Flex Marketing Director's. He was hand in glove with Sid Slime and our Mister Fixit, What would you say to a supper of Vintage Parchment, Mike? And, of course, your contract will be extended from a week to .. er .. a fortnight." Mr Bluff had not got where he was by being incautious. But Mike was gazing after the police van, disappearing over the horizon ... or at least, disappearing out of the tall Factory Gate which marked the boundary of the little mouse's World. And Mike Dott was suddenly filled with a new sensation .... Ambition. He wanted to Go Outside ... to try out his talents on the Wide World.