After school the next day, Billy took Tommo to see his find. He threw open the door with a flourish and said, ‘Welcome to a bottle flipper’s paradise.’

‘Looks more like a bottle flipper’s junkyard,’ Tommo said, peering in.

‘Yeah, but it’s perfect. We just have to clean up a bit.’

Tommo sneezed. ‘Clean up a lot.’

Billy pushed aside some boxes. ‘OK, trial noise run.’ He tossed two bottles into the air. They landed with a loud thud-thud on the wooden floor. ‘Head down to the landing and see if it sounds that bad from down there, will you?’

A moment later, Tommo called out, ‘OK, testing – one two, one two.’

Billy flipped the bottles. ‘How about that?’ he shouted hopefully.

‘Elephants jumping on a drum,’ Tommo reported.

But this was Billy’s chance to get off the bottom of the ladder in the Bottle Flippers League and he wasn’t giving it up that easily. ‘Stay there, I’ll see if I can fix it,’ he shouted down. He pulled off two blankets that were covering the old mattress and laid them on the floor. Then he put a big piece of chipboard on top and flipped a couple of bottles onto it.

Tommo said nothing.

Billy flipped again.

Tommo appeared at the attic door. ‘Well, go on. What’s up?’

Billy turned around from stacking boxes into a sort of three-step staircase. He swept his arms out wide. ‘Nothing. It’s perfect! Even comes with a practice staircase.’

‘And a scoreboard,’ Tommo said, pointing to a child’s blackboard at the far end of the attic.

Billy dragged the blackboard over and drew up the columns.

‘Cool,’ said Tommo, stepping back into the attic. ‘Let’s get flippin’.’

They had been practising for about half an hour when the doorbell rang and Billy’s mother shouted, ‘Be quick Terry, whoever it is, we have to go.’

Billy heard his dad open the door and say in an irritated voice, ‘Good grief,’ and then louder, ‘Ellen, it’s that rubbish from your Aunt Sarah.’

His mother’s voice sounded in the hall too. ‘Don’t be rude, Terry. It was very nice of her to send it all this way. It’s very…’

His dad said, ‘Ugly,’ just as his mum said, ‘Characterful.’

‘Put it in the attic. It’ll completely block up any other room in the house,’ his dad said.

Billy looked at Tommo in dismay. He’d only had his perfect practice spot for half an hour, and it was being taken over already.

He stuck his head out of the door and saw two men shoving and grunting their way up the stairs with a large, dark wardrobe between them. It had old-fashioned locks and keys and a mirror set in one door.

His dad pointed up the attic staircase. ‘Only one more flight.’ He spotted Billy peering out of the door. ‘What the devil are you doing up there?’

‘Bottle flipping,’ Billy said. ‘Tommo’s here.’

His dad opened his mouth, but one of the men said crossly, ‘Can you step aside?’ and he had to get out of the way.

A couple of minutes later, the ugly wardrobe was shoved into the attic and the two men stomped down the stairs saying, ‘If you need anything else moving, mate, make sure you lose our number.’

A moment later Mum called up, ‘We’re going! Won’t be long,’ and the front door banged.

‘Well, if I’m gonna get kicked out of my own practice room, I may as well enjoy it while I can,’ Billy said. But ten dismal minutes later he added, ‘Five more flips and I’m done for today.’

He tossed the next flip on autopilot and barely watched the result. The bottle upended and turned a graceful twist. It headed for the bottle already on the staircase and landed in a perfect cap-to-cap. No wobble, no misalign, just like a butterfly landing on a leaf.

Billy stared. He looked at Tommo, who stared too. He crept away a few steps, slid to his knees, pumped his arms out and back and shrieked, ‘Did it! Did it! Diiiiii-id it!’

But there his luck ran out. His punching right arm gave an old standard lamp a powerful thump. The lamp fell sideways, knocking hard against the key of the new-old wardrobe. The key snapped and dropped to the ground, followed by the lock. A fine stream of sawdust puffed out of the hole and settled over everything... and the wardrobe door creaked open.

Billy stared for a long moment as an old man’s face stared back at him. Billy shrieked, grabbed Tommo by the shoulder and shoved him towards the attic door.

‘Hey, my bottles,’ Tommo protested.

‘Get new ones,’ Billy said and bundled him on down the stairs.


About two o’clock that night, Billy woke with a start. He lay in bed listening. Somewhere above him were muffled voices. Why didn’t his dad come racing out onto the landing to find out what was going on?

He listened more and was sure he heard a voice say, ‘Yee-ees, one o’ them triple-step thingies.’

Ninety-nine percent of Billy’s brain thought, Aargh, too weird. But the bottle flipping part thought, wow, did he just land a triple staircase? Brilliant!