Howie stood transfixed, unable to move as the demure young lady standing next to him at the zoo put down her handbag and started to climb calmly into the tiger enclosure.
Surely it was a prank; that was it, of course! But no, her brown court shoes found holds in the fence and her sinewy arms, clad in a white blouse, pulled her up.
A handful of shocked bystanders stood gawping. Suddenly a fat woman screamed and her husband, unexpectedly thin, rushed forward. Simultaneously an alarm sounded and a keeper appeared from nowhere. “Hey, come down, that’s dangerous!”
But with a bob of neat chestnut hair the girl clambered across the slanted barrier at the top and dropped into the enclosure.
Hitting the earth, she fell forward and sensed pleasure at the panic around her. Then overwhelming fear as the odour of the powerful animal that appeared filled her nostrils. It snorted and padded slowly and deliberately towards her.
Eight feet away the burning yellow eyes observed the woman and sensed her fear. The keeper’s uniform behind caused a momentary hesitation and then the huge creature leapt, almost gracefully, towards her, its recently sharpened claws, four inches long, fully outstretched.