Tufty paused under the bed for long enough to be sure there really was no one around, then he slunk to the bedroom doorway to check out the hall. If he could get outside the flat, he could surely find some fire-lighting tools. The newsagent on the corner would certainly have something he could steal.
If only it was that easy.
‘Mmmmmierda!..’ long and quiet, Tufty swore to himself as he turned his head from left to right. The hall was all but bare. There was nowhere to hide other than the phone table, but it was down the wrong end of the corridor. He could go into the laundry, he supposed. That was closer. But he didn’t remember any likely spots in there either. Except for the Magic Litter Tray – and that would be a ‘no’.
Phone table it was, then. He sidled along the wall and re-positioned himself in the corner amongst the shoes. Just as he remembered, they stunk. Poo!
He stayed there anyway, peeking out as best he could and listening hard. In the next room the students continued to rattle around, attempting to cajole Five in annoying out-of-tune sing-songy voices. She had obviously placed herself somewhere remote and unobtainable.
‘Here puss pussy puss puss..,’ Flat-top wheedled. ‘Come down to handsome daddy and there’s a nice treat for yooo-oo…’
‘Here kitty kitty kittikins…’ Frazzle Fringe backed him up. ‘Nummy nummy fish bits… all you can eeee-eat…’
Tufty smiled to himself. Those kids had no idea who they were dealing with. Five would surely be the master of this stand-off. He turned 360 then shook his body down for the long haul.
A long time passed. A very long time. However, just as Tufty’s legs were going numb, Flat-top spat the dummy. ‘I HATE these stupid cats,’ he hotly declared, throwing his box of treats aside. ‘And I’m hungry. I’m getting burgers before they close. Maybe the smell of hot food will bring her down.’
‘OK,’ Frazzle Fringe concurred. ‘I’ll keep an eye on her. Burger with the lot and some chips – extra crispy – while you’re at it. And don’t waste all the 20’s on Time Pilot.’
Tufty crouched low. Full of sudden adrenaline, he was ready to spring free. This was his chance!!
Sure enough, Flat-top meandered down the hall, wallet in bandaged hand. As soon as he unlatched the front door, Tufty leapt from the shoes and raced for it. MWRROWWW…..!
‘What the…!!?’ Flat-top jumped aside as a hot furry blur tore between his ankles, smashing the screen door out of his hands and wide open.
Tufty didn’t look back. He flew down the stairs and out into the dark street. He’d done it! He was free!
He cornered left and paused briefly behind some mailboxes, allowing his racing heart to settle. But there was no time to hang around. He wanted to get to the end of the block to stake out the newsagent. He knew it fronted the street from the corner, but perhaps there was also a back entrance or a handy side window? Of course, it was night time and nothing would be open, but he would be Prince of Darkness, owning the lie of the land. That, and he wanted to get as far away from Flat-top as possible.
He set off down the block at a brisk pace.
Tufty knew this territory well and was comforted to find that it was more-or-less the same as when he woke up this morning. However, as he moved along, he couldn’t help but notice some peculiarities. For a minute he had forgotten he was now more than 30 years in the past, but the different flower beds, the young leaves on the eucalypts, and the slightly diminished splendour of the Moreton Bay figs lining the roadside gave it away. He clocked a crunched can of KB Lager, an empty box of Fags lollies and some fresh Throwdowns in the gutter. 1986 had been the last legal cracker night in NSW and people were obviously using up their stash. The cars parked along the block were also boxy-looking in their design compared to those he remembered. Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores featured heavily.
But perhaps the greatest difference of all – to him anyway – was the offensive stench of another tomcat. At every driveway fencepost, on every car tyre, amid each fig’s spectacular buttress roots, his neck prickled and spiked. He was smart enough to know this was just a cave-cat thing, but what would he do if he bumped into his 1980s predecessor? Relationships between men were complicated. Would he be given the chance to explain himself? Or would it be fight first, bond later? There was also the sweet enticing whiff of local ladies nearby. This would undoubtedly heighten the mix.
Then Tufty got another surprise. As he approached the newsagent he noticed that all the lights were on, spilling a bright white square onto the footpath. There were also a couple of small tables and chairs out the front. Nooooo! He hadn’t thought of that! It was no longer a newsagent at all! It was a 1980’s fish and chip shop!
Confused, he stopped, sat down and looked around. Then he quickly got up again and dashed behind an alleyway bin. Flat-top was coming down the road behind him, looking gimlet-eyed and cranky.
From shadow of the bin, Tufty thought hard. He would have to revise his plan…
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