“Just shove that stuff over,” said LaShawn, as I climbed into the mess of pool noodles and kickboards on the back seat of his car.
Rory sat in the front.
With a screech of tyres and a belch of smoke, we roared out of the train station car park.
“So it all went to plan then?” said LaShawn.
“The prison break was fine,” said Rory. “There was some turbulence on the flight though.”
LaShawn looked at Rory. Rory nodded.
“This is really it then,” said LaShawn, with glint in his eye.
“Yeah,” said Rory. “Is the brisket cooking?”
“I put it on at four o’clock this morning,” said LaShawn.
The drive continued without conversation for five minutes, and then LaShawn exited the highway. It was not the exit I was expecting.
“Aren’t we going to Budgie’s?” I asked.
“Just have to make a stop first,” said LaShawn.
We headed toward the coast. Beautiful beaches, five-star hotels, attractive women in swimsuits—we might have seen all of these had LaShawn not driven instead to the shipyards. The place was full of huge sheds and the screech of machinery, and it smelled of saltwater and petrol (fine smells on their own, but an unpleasant combination). LaShawn drove right on in like he owned the place, through a maze of alleys, until we reached a narrow dead end by the water. At the end of the alley stood a rusty little tin shed, nestled between a mountain of broken concrete pipes on one side and a jungle of mangroves on the other.
“You guys wait here,” said LaShawn.
He switched off the engine and got out of the car.
“What are we doing here?” I asked Rory.
“We need some gear… for the party,” he said.
We watched LaShawn punch a lengthy code into a keypad by the shed door. The door opened and he disappeared inside. Rory reached into his pocket, took out the strange arrowhead from the plane and twirled it in his fingertips.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Huh? Oh, yeah,” he said, tucking the arrowhead carefully back into his pocket. “Just, uh… just thinking about turning forty, you know? Getting old.”
“Ah, you’ll be fine,” I said. “It’s just a number. Forty is the new thirty.” (I had heard that somewhere.)
Rory smiled and nodded, but concern remained in his eyes.
After a few minutes, the shed door screeched open again, and LaShawn came out carrying a thick loop of shiny cables and a small case with a radioactive symbol on the side.
“What’s that?” I said.
“Stuff for the barbecue,” said Rory.
His voice had a tone I had heard once before—when we were roommates and he denied using my sock drawer to hatch echidna eggs. LaShawn placed the cables and the mysterious case in the tray of the ute, and then stuck his head through the open window of the driver’s side door.
“There’s more gear than I thought,” he said. “Come give us a hand.”
Rory and I got out of the vehicle and followed LaShawn to the shed. It was dark inside; a buzzing electric globe cast a pale light through the small, empty space.
“Where’s the gear?” I said.
“Stay away from the walls,” said LaShawn.
He hit a round red button the wall, and, with a mechanical rumble, the concrete floor began to descend. I moved to the centre of the floor; Rory was already standing there. The light globe dangling from the shed ceiling seemed to float up from us like a helium balloon, until it became a blip in the distance. After about ten seconds, a greater light burst in at the base of our elevator, and one of the walls lifted to reveal an enormous bright space, like an aeroplane hangar. The immense floor area was neat but full, with rows of huge wooden crates stacked along the wall to our left, and all sorts of computers and heavy machinery spread out through the middle of the floor, right up to the end of the hangar, where there was a pretty sweet looking basketball court. To the right, a platform rose next to a massive hollow in the rock wall, something like a giant subway tube. Water filled the bottom of the hollow, and jutting from the water was the dark, metal fin of a military submarine.
“Here we are,” said LaShawn.
I stood stunned. Rory left the elevator and headed to the submarine. LaShawn slapped me on the shoulder.
“You okay?” he said.
“You’re a Bond villain,” I answered.
He laughed. “It’s just a work shed. Come on, come and meet Nils.”
Nils was a friend of Rory and LaShawn’s, but first he had been mates with Budgie, the two of them having grown up together in England. In LaShawn’s extensive collection of crazy drinking stories Nils was a regular character, so I was keen to see if the image of him my imagination had concocted was accurate. Also, I wanted to see what he was like sober. Rory, LaShawn and Budgie were always reluctant to tell much about Nils—aside from their drunken escapades. I didn’t know if he had a family, or what he did for work, or even if he still lived in England.
I followed LaShawn to the great hollow in the rock wall; Rory passed us on the way, carrying two metal briefcases to the elevator. The hum of a generator echoed from the far end of the enormous shed, while nearby, water sloshed against the submarine.
“Hey Nils!” called LaShawn.
A long, spear-looking implement leapt out of the open submarine hatch and clacked on the cement floor in front of us. On closer inspection I saw it was a spear.
“Nils!” yelled LaShawn.
“LaShawn?” came a muffled voice from within the sub.
“Yeah. Come up here for a minute, will ya?”
“You’re left-handed, aren’t you?” answered the voice.
“Okay… Hang on.”
There was some clattering within the submarine. LaShawn picked up the spear; its shaft was six feet long, and the steel head added another foot, coming to a flat, narrow point at the end. He examined the spear head and then thrust the weapon out in front of him with a grunt.
“Yeah, not bad,” he said.
“Use a lot of spears, do you?” I said.
LaShawn whipped the base of the shaft into my left shin.
“Ah, sh**!” I said, grabbing my leg.
I noticed Rory lugging a golf bag over his shoulder, on his way to the elevator again. LaShawn grinned and leaned the spear against a nearby forklift.
“Nils, you all right?” he called.
A long, curved metal blade slid up from the submarine hatch. It swivelled one way, then the other.
“Get up there, ya bastard,” came the voice from inside the submarine.
The blade shot upward three feet and stopped, swivelled again. It was attached side-on to a long, slightly bowed wooden handle.
“You need a hand, Nils?” said LaShawn.
“Nah mate… almost got it.”
With an awkward clunk of timber on metal, the blade’s full handle extended up from the submarine hatch, fell and slid down the side of the submarine and splashed in the water.
“Ah, bugger. Get that, would you LaShawn?”
“Yeah, I got it,” said LaShawn, leaning out over the water and grabbing the floating weapon by the handle.
“What is that?” I asked.
LaShawn set his right hand at the base of the handle and his left on the small grip about halfway down; he swept the blade back and forth in front of him, close to the ground.
“It’s a scythe,” he said.
I stepped back from the widening arc of his swing.
“What—like the Grim Reaper?”
“Yeah, kind of. It’s for cutting grass. But you can use it for other stuff.”
A thump, and then another, drew our attention to the submarine. Two sets of hairy knuckles gripped the edge of the hatch, and then a face appeared above them. The face was pale, rugged and stern, with a thin nose and piercing eyes. A thick beard, with a distinguished grey streak at the chin, framed the lower half of the face. The head was bald and shiny, with a thick scar running almost exactly down the middle; it reminded me of a One Day Cricket ball. Nope, Nils looked nothing like I had imagined him. He watched LaShawn swinging the scythe for a moment, nodding with satisfaction, and then he noticed me. His eyes lit up and he smiled. He ducked below the hatch for a second, and then practically hurled himself up and out of the submarine. Standing there on the fin, hands on his hips and laughing, he gave a Peter Pan vibe. His clothing, though, was more comic book crime fighter: a dark blue, one-piece, sort of armoured wetsuit, with a bright yellow utility belt. All he needed was a mask and cape.
He jumped down onto the wooden plank that made a bridge from the submarine to the platform at the edge of the shed.
“Well, how do you like that?” he said with a laugh, striding across the plank.
“Ah yeah,” said LaShawn, putting down the scythe, “Nils, let me introduce you to Miles.”
Nils stopped and looked at LaShawn.
“Ahh… Yes, of course,” said Nils. “Nice to meet you. Miles, is it?”
“Yeah. Good to meet you, Nils,” I said.
He ignored my offer of a handshake, and instead went straight in for a bear hug. He slapped me on the back.
“You crazy son of a gun,” he said. His giant hands grabbed my shoulders and held me at arm’s length as he studied my face. “Yes,” he said with a nod, “it is good to meet you.”
I couldn’t help smiling; that kind of greeting makes you feel good.
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