chapter 1
chapter 2
chapter 3
chapter 4
chapter 5
chapter 6
chapter 7
chapter 8
chapter 9
chapter 10
chapter 11
chapter 12
chapter 13
chapter 14
chapter 15
chapter 16
chapter 17
chapter 18
chapter 19
chapter 20
chapter 21
chapter 22
chapter 23
chapter 24
chapter 25
Chapter 7
The Buccaneer Cafe.

Biffer pushed open the door and stepped inside The Buccaneer Cafe. He glanced around. Most of the tables were occupied. At one, a gang of road workers hunched together, munched sandwiches and slurped tea, while arguing loudly over the merits of a certain racehorse running at Towcester on the coming Saturday. At another sat a bus driver and his conductor from the terminal across the road. Both were quietly engrossed in their own newspaper. Skin sat alone in the corner.
    "Have you ordered yet, mate?" enquired Biffer, pulling up a chair.
    "No, not yet. Kathy's been busy in the kitchen."
    At that moment Kathy bustled past carrying a loaded tray and went to serve two young men dressed in orange boiler suits.
    Kathy was like a mother to Biffer and Skin. Kind and generous and always willing to sit down and listen if either of them had any problems. She was the sole owner of The Buccaneer Cafe and jealously guarded her independence, especially from her husband, Colin. He was not allowed to come anywhere near the place. "Colin," she would say. "You have your building company and I have my Cafe and never the twain shall meet. Don't tell me how to run my business and I won't tell you how to run yours."
    Kathy came over, tucking a loose strand of hair back under her headscarf. She smiled warmly. "Good morning boys. Are you two planning to eat or have you just stopped by to rest your weary bones?"
    "No. This is a serious visit, Kath," grinned Biffer. "We're starving."
    Kathy chuckled. "I suppose that means you'll both be wanting 'a Full Monty.' "
    The two boys looked at each other and nodded in agreement. "Yes please. And could we have a pot of tea and some bread and butter?"
    Biffer and Skin were spending so much time at The Buccaneer Cafe that they themselves were becoming to be known as 'The Buccaneers'.

It really took off back in April, when they had spoken to Kathy about how they and their friends had nothing to do at night. "We just hang about on street corners," Biffer had said. Then adding, as tactfully as possible. "What we've been thinking is…well, since this Cafe is always closed in the evening, maybe you would consider turning it into some sort of coffee bar at night…for us teenagers."
    To Biffer's utter amazement, Kathy did not throw out the idea straight away. "Listen boys," she said, after a moment's consideration. "Let me go away and think about it for a couple of days, then I'll let you know."
     Kathy was true to her word as always and a few days later the three of them sat down again. Biffer and Skin felt very nervous, for Kathy looked unusually serious. "I want to say that I think your idea is a very good one and that I will open the Cafe as a coffee bar…" began Kathy. She held up her hand to quell the two boy's excitement. "But on certain conditions. Firstly: the coffee bar will only open three nights a week. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. "Secondly: we will sell coffee, soft drinks and cold snacks. No hot food. The kitchen will definitely be closed. I am not having you lot causing chaos in there. "The third and final point: I do not have the time to run this project myself. I spend my evenings with my family and intend to carry on doing just that. What I propose is this: Skin, Biffer. It was your idea. You run it."
    She sat back and watched the expression on both their faces change from absolute amazement to sheer joy. Of course that was only the beginning. There was so much work to be done, but there was never a lack of hands to help. It was Kathy's Cafe and Kathy's money, so she had the final say on everything. "We will have to build a completely new and much bigger bar to allow us to lay out all the food on top and have plenty of cupboard space for storage beneath."
    "Yes, Skin. My budget does include an espresso machine."
    "A microwave!! Biff, didn't I say no hot food? O.K. as long as the kitchen is still out of bounds."
    "There's plenty of room for a fridge in the corner over there."
     An argument ensued over the lighting. "I understand that you need soft lighting but it is also essential that we have flourie tubes in the daytime."
    Skin came up with a brilliant solution. He looped swathes of cloth to cover the whole ceiling, except for where there was a fluorescent tube. Extra detachable pieces of cloth were used to cover the tubes at night. Two ceiling lamps and eight wall lights were added, all with individual dimmer switches. The effect was stunning.
    "A jukebox! You want a jukebox?" Kathy was on the point of exasperation but finally agreed on the condition that at the first complaint by a neighbour the jukebox would go.
    The opening night was a riotous success. No. There were no complaints from the neighbours. They were all invited.

"Two full monties?" It was Kathy's cheeky eleven-year-old daughter, Leanne, carrying a tray load of breakfasts.
    Skin looked up. "Oh, we're back to waitressing again, are we?"
    Leanne grinned, broadly. "I was out in the kitchen and heard that these were for you so I decided to give you some 'individual attention.' "
    She carefully placed the breakfasts in front of them, made sure the knives and forks were positioned correctly and that there was plenty of sauce and salt and pepper on the table.
And what a breakfast it was, too. Two golden fried eggs, rashers of back bacon, plump pork sausages, field mushrooms and slices of tomatoes, together with two side plates of buttered, crusty bread and a large pot of steaming tea.
    The two boys were suitably impressed.
    "Three cheers for individual attention," said Skin, tucking in.
    Leanne stood watching them eat for a few moments, before saying. "Mother says I'm allowed to come to the coffee bar tonight."
    "Congratulations," said Biffer, enthusiastically. He knew that Leanne had been pestering Kathy for ages to give her permission to go.
    "The only thing is," continued Leanne, looking worried. "I'm afraid I won't know anybody."
"Mmm," mused Biffer. "I'm sure that won't be a problem. But I'll tell you what. Why don't you work behind the counter? That's the quickest way to get to know everyone."
    Leanne's eyes lit up. "Do you really mean that?"
    "I sure do," confirmed Biffer. "You know the prices of things better than we do. You can work the espresso machine O.K. and look at the superb way you've just served us. That's all there is too it. You'll do just great. The job's yours, Leanne."
    "Oh! Thanks Biff, that's terrific!" exclaimed Leanne and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. But as soon as she had realized what she had done the poor girl went completely red with embarrassment and ran back into the kitchen. The two boys laughed out loud.
    The Cafe eventually began to thin out as folks headed off to their various places of work. A sudden movement outside caught Skin's eye: A man's head kept bobbing up above the curtain that covered the bottom half of the window.
    Skin chuckled. "Look at grandad Jock casing the joint. How he hates crowded places."
    Obviously the situation was to his fancy, for the door opened and in strode the old man clutching the gold knob of a black, cane walking stick. Apparently it was carried more for effect than necessity for he walked without the slightest hint of a limp. From the feet up grandad Jock was indeed a snazzy dresser. Black boots, polished to a mirror finish, check plus fours with jacket and waistcoat to match, tartan bow tie and topped with a hand knitted pure wool tam-o'-shanter in the self same tartan.
    He glared at Biffer and Skin with sharp gimlet eyes, giving only the faintest of nods as a greeting, before promptly sitting down at the next table. He pulled out a newspaper that had been tucked under his arm and opened it with a flourish.
    It was some time before he spoke and when he did it was in a deep, rich Scottish accent. "What do you make of this dreadful missing children affair? Ghastly business, eh!" He held up the paper. "It says here that one young laddie has been missing for over three months. Comes from Aston, too. Does either of you two know him? Keith Doyle is his name."
    "Yes," said Biffer, solemnly. "He goes to our school. Prof. Doyle we call him, 'cos he's so clever. Doesn't take ordinary lessons with the likes of us but plays about with electronic gadgets and bashes away at the computer in the lab. Writes his own software programs, too. Even the teachers go to him for advice."
    Grandad Jock nodded. "Yes, that's what it says in the newspaper report. All the missing children were the brightest in their schools. But there is also another strange twist to the story. Each of them has a favourite pet and all of those have disappeared too."
    Skin stared at Biffer. "Yes, didn't The Prof. have a parrot of some kind? Don't you remember Biff? He was even allowed to take it to school sometimes. It used to sit on a perch next to his computer and squawk loudly at anyone who came near."
     Grandad Jock picked up the newspaper again and ran his finger down the article. "As I have mentioned before: there are four missing children, two lads and two lassies. The missing animals are: one cat, two dogs and, yes, a white cockatoo belonging to Keith Doyle.
    "It seems that someone broke into his house and stole the cockatoo the night before Keith himself disappeared. All very mysterious. This case has the hallmarks of being the work of a well-organized gang. Now what would a gang be wanting with a group of highly intelligent children, that's what I would like to know. Find that out and you're halfway to solving the mystery, says I."
    "Does the newspaper give any information about the other children?" wondered Biffer.
    "Not a great deal," replied grandad Jock, pulling a face. "The two lassies are said to be best friends. Attend Perry Barr Comprehensive, by all accounts. The other laddie comes from somewhere over by Solihull."
    "Not a lot to go on," murmured Skin. "The trouble is The Prof. was always rather a loner. The police interviewed everyone from our school months ago, of course, but did not come up with a single lead."
    Grandad Jock shook his head in despair. "I'm afraid this is way above the head of any police inspector. Maybe the search will be stepped up when the schools open again after the summer recess." He looked up quickly. "When is that by the way? You two seem to be having rather a long summer holiday this year."
    Biffer laughed. "It should have been next week but all the teachers are having to do a course on computing at Norwich University so it won't be 'till the week after."
    At that moment Biffer happened to glance up at the clock. "Blimey Skin! It's gone half past eight. We should've been at the garage by now. Woodsie'll blow a fuse!"

chapter 8