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 9
The Wild Animal.

The next day, a Friday, began humdrum enough. Biffer and Skin were up at their normal hour, cycled to Patel's, collected their papers and headed off, two abreast.
    On reaching his turn off, Biffer gave his mate a friendly slap on the shoulder and bade him the customary farewell: "See you at the Buccaneer."
    Skin was in exceptionally high spirits as he pedalled down the street. The weekend was fast approaching and the weekend started on a Friday night. Tonight.
    The Buccaneer, or 'The Club' as it was now called, had changed a great deal since its early beginnings back in April. Friday night had gradually become known as 'jam night' when anyone who could play an instrument, be it a guitar, saxophone, violin, flute or what have you, would bring it along and play it either solo or in small groups or generally just 'jam it up'. And tomorrow was Saturday. But not just any old Saturday. Tomorrow was the start of the football season and Aston Villa were playing Newcastle United at home.
    Skin was simply bubbling with anticipation and excitement as he leaned his bike up against the hedge to start his paper round. Everything seemed normal enough. Cindy was there to greet him and trotted on ahead. Maybe the sky was a bit overcast, but not so much as to make any difference.
    The first sign that there might be danger ahead came when Cindy crossed the road on reaching Impala Lodge, but did not sit and quietly watch Skin deliver the papers as usual. She crouched down and whimpered somewhat and even yelped out aloud once or twice, as if to give a warning.
    There were two electronic magazines and one newspaper to deliver at Impala Lodge that morning. A few yards up the road a streetlight was still on, and lit up the large wrought iron gates and letterbox but did not penetrate into the garden. Skin peered through the railings, his eyes following the curve of the gravel drive up towards the mansion silhouetted against the morning sky. And yes! He could just make out the Jaguar parked in front of the porch.
    As Skin pushed the magazines through the letterbox and heard them drop into the large container behind, he suddenly felt uneasy. Frightened even. Did he detect a slight movement out of the corner of his eye? He looked up. Rhododendron bushes lined the edge of the drive. Was there something crouching underneath in the darkness? No.
    He folded the newspaper and began to push it into the letterbox. A slight breeze fanned his cheek and caused him to look up again. But it was too late. The monster crashed against the gate shaking it violently and a large black paw shot through the railings and grabbed Skin by the arm. Skin found himself face to face with a large black cat. A very large black cat. A black panther. And the panther did not want to play. The panther wanted to eat him.
    The panther roared and growled and stared at him hungrily with large, round, luminous, yellow eyes. The panther spat and curled its upper lip revealing long, sharp canine teeth. The big cat was desperate to find a way through the railings with the other paw and get a better grip of its prey, but the large letterbox container was making this difficult.
    Skin dug his feet into the ground at the bottom of the gate and pushed with all his might but, the animal's claws were firmly embedded into his jacket sleeve.
    In spite of all the uproar and intense fear, Skin became aware of something moving at his side. It was Cindy, barking and snapping at the wild beast on the other side of the gate. Then Cindy performed a feat of absolute bravery. She leapt up and gave the paw that was holding Skin's arm a sharp bite. The panther let out a mighty roar of pain and flicked Cindy off with a powerful swing of that same paw, sending the dog tumbling down the street. Simultaneously Skin flew backward and sat with a bump on the grass verge. He was free.
     The big cat prowled back and forth behind the fence, angry at loosing such a tasty meal. Then something strange occurred. A tinkling bell could be heard coming from the back of the mansion. The panther gave Skin one last, longing look and disappeared under the Rhododendron bushes.
    Cindy scurried across to Skin, keeping close to the ground, and began licking him profusely on the face.
    Skin was shaking like a leaf and grabbed hold of Cindy to steady himself. "Hang on a minute! Hang on a minute!" He said, trying to stop her licking his face. "Let me get my breath back." He held her head between both hands. "That was a close shave, Cindy, wasn't it, old girl?"
     Skin's legs felt as if they were made of jelly but he somehow managed to stand up, cross the road and stagger up the path towards his bike. Cindy followed for a bit, then stopped and gave a short bark. Skin turned and realized Cindy was standing outside her own front gate. "Oh! Of course, Cindy," he said. "You go on home. I'll be fine. And thank you very much."
     Skin reached his bike but found that he was too shaky to get on, let alone ride it. "I'll walk," he thought, and was glad to have the bike to lean on. He intended to go straight to The Buccaneer. His paper bag was still around his neck, with the rest of the papers inside, but he did not seem to notice or maybe he didn't care.

Biffer was already at The Buccaneer Cafe, finishing off a sausage and bacon sandwich, when Skin fell through the door and slumped down onto the nearest chair.
    Biffer turned. "Oh! You've decided to make an appearance, have you?" Then he stopped. Skin didn't look at all well. In fact he looked dreadful. His face was deathly white. Biffer got up and went over to his friend. "What's up Skin? What happened?"
    "I've been attacked."
    "You've been attacked? Who attacked you?"
    "Not who, what."
    "O.K., what was it?"
    "It was a panther. A black panther."
    Biffer stood back in disbelief.
    "It's true," insisted Skin. "Look at my jacket sleeve. Its claws did that."
    Biffer looked! And not only was the sleeve in tatters, but there was blood running down his hand. "Skin! You've been hurt."
    Biffer gently slipped off his friend's jacket, while Skin gave an account of the morning's events. Skins shirt was also torn and soaked with blood.
    "I'll get Kathy," said Biffer.
    He found her in the kitchen and told her everything.
    Kathy looked shocked. "Take him into the back room," she said. "I have a medical kit in there."
    When the shirt was cut back and his forearm bathed the wound did not seem to be so bad, three fairly deep scratches about two inches long.
    "I think we should go straight to the police," said Kathy, emphatically. "People who let this happen should not be allowed to keep wild animals. Skin could have been killed."
    The two boys looked at each other. "You know our situation with the police, Kathy," said Biffer, quietly. "We'll go and see Mr. Patel first and see what he says."
    "What about my papers?" asked Skin, suddenly remembering. "I've still got some left to deliver."
     "Don't worry about those, Skin," said Biffer. "I will deliver them. It will give me a good excuse to have a dekko at Impala Lodge."
    He left Skin in Kathy's good care, grabbed the bag of papers and cycled off.
    It was quite light when Biffer arrived at The Avenue and some of the residents were already driving off to work. But Impala Lodge seemed quiet enough. He gazed through the wrought iron gates and was impressed at what he saw. It certainly was a magnificent pad. A three-storied mansion built in the Romanesque style with huge fluted columns and an intricate moulded fa├žade. Along the front and side grew a mature wisteria, climbing up and up. At this time of year there was not a trace of bloom but the leaves were changing colour adding to the beauty of the building and somehow providing an air of mystery.
    Biffer turned his attention to something closer at hand. The gates. Of course, attached to one gate was the notice warning of wild animals. But there was also a panel of buttons let into the right hand red brick support, and down below, close to one of the hinges, an electric motor.
    "Automatically opening gates," thought Biffer.
    Next, he spotted some deep grooves gouged out of the gravel directly inside the gates, and on the pavement by his feet, numerous red spots. He crouched down and dabbed at one with his finger. It was still wet. Blood. Skins blood. He stood up again, satisfied that he had seen enough and proceeded to deliver the rest of the newspapers.
    Mr. Patel was serving some customers when Biffer arrived at the shop. Three young children. Their mother was taking them out for a ride in the country. They left clutching sweets and comics and chatting excitedly.
    The shop owner was pleased to see Biffer, but his smiling face slowly changed to one of anger as Biffer explained what had happened to Skin.
    "Will you look after the shop for a few minutes," said Mr. Patel, immediately the boy had finished his story. "I want to phone Impala Lodge right now and give them a piece of my mind."
     Mr. Patel hurried off into another room and soon Biffer could hear his voice raised in anger.
    It was not long before he reappeared, his face still flushed with rage. "I spoke to a Mr. Fugg," he said. "We have met. He has been in here once or twice. Nasty fellow. Anyway, he was full of apologies and said the animal should not have been in the front garden. He also said he would pay for a new jacket." Mr. Patel gripped Biffer by the arm. "And tell Skin he won't ever have to go near Impala Lodge again. I will strike them off the delivery list. If they want their magazines and papers in the future, they can pick them up at the shop."
    Skin was still in the back room of The Buccaneer, but now relaxing in a deck chair with his bandaged arm resting on a strategically placed table next to him. Nurse Leanne was in attendance.
    Biffer laughed. "The patient appears to be in a stable condition."
    Skin looked up and grinned. His natural colour had returned and he seemed to be getting back to his normal, happy self.
    Leanne was more cautious. "The patient needs plenty of rest," she said, seriously. "He is still suffering from shock."
    "Absolutely! Whatever the nurse says," agreed Biffer, amused.
    Skin was very relieved he did not have to deliver papers at Impala Lodge anymore.
    "And I have telephoned the garage and spoke to Mr. Wood," went on Biffer. "He sends his regards and wishes you a speedy recovery and says we don't have to go in until you feel really up to it."

chapter 10