The train ride from the airport was pleasant to begin with; outside the window, white clouds drifted through blue skies, while frangipanis bloomed amid the trees whizzing by. Rory regaled me with humorous stories from his prison stay—the humour was black, of course. Very black. The inventiveness of some of the prisoner suicides disturbed me. About twenty minutes into the journey Rory’s tales ceased, his look became serious, and he shrunk down a little in his seat.
“You okay?” I asked.
He nodded but said nothing. Since he was uninterested in conversation, I read a book.
At the next stop, Rory kicked my foot; I looked up from Lolita (honestly, I was thankful for the interruption. I like novels where I can cheer for the protagonist, but that book made it nigh impossible). Rory leaned forward and said in a hushed voice, “Behind me, four seats back, there’s a guy in a green t-shirt. See him?”
I looked and saw the guy. His shirt was white, but its sleeves and collar were green. His hair was slicked back in a ponytail, designer sunglasses perched just above his eyebrows, and a gold earring dazzled his earlobe. He was obviously proud of his sparse beard but would have looked better without it. He looked at me. I averted my gaze, feigning interest in a billboard outside the window near him. The billboard advertised an upcoming movie about a man who can talk to machines—actually, it did look pretty interesting. I stared at it for a few seconds, wondering if the man who talked to machines would turn out to be a machine himself, then looked back at the guy in the somewhat green shirt. He was still looking at me. I lowered my gaze and turned nonchalantly to look out the window at my side. I rubbed my hand over my mouth and said to Rory, “Yeah, I see him. He’s looking at me.”
The doors slid shut and the train whirred into motion again.
Rory scowled and muttered a curse. “That’s the last thing we need.” He stared out the window for a moment. “We’re getting off at the next stop.”
That ride to the next stop seemed a lot longer than the scheduled five minutes. Maybe nine minutes. I tried to resist the urge to look back at the guy in the white shirt with green sleeves, but I couldn’t help myself. He never looked at me again, but he knew we were there. How could I have been so naïve? If the Millennium Falcon could not escape the Death Star without The Empire planting a homing device on board, why did I think Rory could just stroll out of the most heavily-guarded gulag in New Zealand without a government assassin or two on his tail? My heart pounded.
Finally, the train pulled up at the next station. As the doors hissed open, I leaned forward in my seat, about to stand, but Rory whispered, “Not yet.”
I stayed put. A young couple boarded the train and walked by us: he was dressed head to toe in black, and advertised his love of heavy metal music in the tattoos on his arms; she wore blue, and her inkless arms forced the observer to guess as to her musical preferences. Between them I stole a glance at the man in the white shirt with green sleeves; he looked up from his phone at me. There was a sharp whistle outside.
“Now,” said Rory.
He stood up and made for the door; I rushed after him. At the door I looked back; I froze as I saw the man in the green-but-mostly-white shirt stand up, his eyes fixed on Rory. Rory grabbed my arm and dragged me out the train just before the door closed. A train station attendant yelled at us. The train slithered away at speed, while I watched the man in the minimally green shirt, who never took his eyes off Rory.
Rory offered the attendant an apology just sincere enough to stop her glaring at us, and then slapped me on the back, shaking me from my fearful stupor.
“Who was that guy on the train?” I said. “Assassin? Secret police? A bounty hunter?”
Rory gave me a weird look. “Bounty hunter? What? No, that was Grayson Tyler. I went to high school with him. He was always deep and intense—about everything. I just didn’t want to deal with him right now.”
“Are you serious? I thought your life was in danger.” I breathed a sigh three parts relief and one part annoyance. “I left my book on the train.”
Rory checked clock at the ticket booth.
“What now?” I asked. “Wanna get the next train?”
He shook his head. “We had to get off at this stop anyway. LaShawn is picking us up here.”
“Yeah. Come on.”
Rory and I walked along the platform, past the station attendant shaking her head at us, and took the stairs down to the car park. LaShawn was there, easily recognisable by his short red mohawk hairstyle, handlebar moustache and faded black, mid-nineties rock band t-shirt (this time it was Stone Temple Pilots). He was waiting beside his F250, a beast of vehicle, which he purchased “for work.” He was a water aerobics instructor.
© 2020 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED