Once I got back down the hill, I went inside for a drink. Rory was in the lounge room, struggling to pluck some Simon and Garfunkel on Budgie’s guitar.
“How did you get back here so fast?” I said.
He lifted his eyes from the fretboard. “What do you mean?”
“I thought you were taking the long way back,” I said, filling a glass with water from the kitchen tap.
“The long way?” he said. “Nope. I just walked in the house the regular way.”
I drank my water and stood there leaning on the kitchen bench, looking at Rory in some confusion. He stopped playing and stared at his left hand.
“Why aren’t you working properly?” he asked his fingers.
Nils walked in and threw his keys on the table. “Well, so much for the rocket launchers.”
“What?” I said.
“Oh, uh… Just some… hors d’oeuvres we wanted for the party. We’re going to have to make do without them. Where are the others?”
“They’re round the back,” said Rory.
“Hors d’oeuvres?” I mumbled to myself.
I followed Nils outside. He walked with urgency.
“Oi, lads,” he called, once in the backyard.
We looked near the stage but found no one. The tractor tyre, too, was gone. A long whistle drew our attention to the steep hill about a hundred metres beyond the stage. LaShawn was up there waving to us; Budgie was with him.
As we walked up the hill, I asked Nils about something he had mentioned earlier.
“Hey Nils, what’s Operation Egg?”
He broke stride and looked at me, then looked back up the hill and resumed his pace. After a few silent strides, he said, “You know that notebook you read—the one you thought was my diary?”
I scratched the back of my neck. “Yeah.”
“LaShawn told you it was written by a bad guy. Well, that bad guy is going to do some real bad stuff… Operation Egg is a plan to stop him doing that stuff.”
“Jeez. Sounds serious. Is it one of Rory’s plans?”
“He’s in on it,” said Nils, “but I came up with the plan.”
“Really? I didn’t know you did that kind of thing. Is it what Rory does, collaborating with police, that sort of thing?”
“Uh, yeah I think so,” said Nils.
Nils’s bare scalp glistened with sweat, but the heat didn’t slow him down. I jogged a few paces to catch up.
“Why is it called Operation Egg?” I asked.
“For added secrecy. If you found a file on a computer labelled Operation Deathstrike, or Operation Nightwatch, you’d want to know what was in that file, right?”
“Right. But if the file had a bland name no one would look twice at it. That was the idea, anyway.”
“Makes sense, I guess,” I said. “So you named it Operation Egg.”
“No,” said Nils. “You did.”
I had questions, but I was out of breath and Nils ran ahead; we were near the top of the hill. LaShawn and Budgie were laying tree branches and banana leaves over the tractor tyre. It must have been a mission to roll it up there. LaShawn was having a grand old time, doing a little shuffle he does and singing to himself, in falsetto of course. He was singing What’s up, by 4 Non Blondes. I sat down under a tree and rested. My thoughts drifted out of order and became a daydream about arguing with some guy in a supermarket, and I totally out-argue him, and then he’s so angry he tries to punch a pregnant woman standing next to me, but I block the punch. As usual, it made little sense, and I was the hero. I daydream a lot. I’m not sure if it’s normal. Anyway, it took a minute before my mind returned to reality and I heard what Nils and LaShawn and Budgie were saying.
“It’s him,” said Nils. “At least twenty guys with him. It’s hard to tell.”
“Sh**,” said Budgie. “So, no rocket launchers then?”
Nils shook his head. “No one’s getting out. Not by road, anyway. They let a car through this way though.”
LaShawn was looking down at the long, shallow valley beyond the front of Budgie’s house through a tiny pair of binoculars. He had an enormous grin. That was concerning.
“No rocket launchers,” said Budgie. “That changes things.”
“They were never set in stone,” said Nils. “We have other options.”
“We could go down there and meet them,” said Budgie.
“Nils said we had until six o’clock,” said LaShawn, still watching through the binoculars. “They don’t look like they’re in any hurry. I say we wait, stick to the plan.”
“Yeah, well, Old Nils doesn’t know everything,” said Nils. He took out his phone and typed a text message.
LaShawn handed Budgie the binoculars, and he looked down at the valley.
“There they are,” said Budgie. “You’re right—twenty, at least. Better let Rory know. If he hasn’t seen them already.” He lowered the binoculars and looked at Nils. “Any reply?”
Nils looked at his phone and shook his head. “Not yet.”
“Well, I reckon we get set now, in case they arrive early,” said Budgie.
“I agree,” said Nils.
Nils and Budgie looked at LaShawn.
“Okay,” he said.
Budgie took a deep breath. “This is it then.”
The three of them waited in silence a moment.
“I’ll start in the basement,” said Nils, and he turned to head back down the hill.
“I’ll take the roof,” said Budgie, joining him.
“I’ll be down soon,” said LaShawn. “I’m gonna find Rory first.”
“Rory’s in the house,” I said, standing up and brushing the dirt off my pants.
LaShawn, Budgie and Nils stood still and stared at me. They had forgotten I was there.
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