I assumed this whole British-mafia-boss-coming-to-murder-my-best-friend thing was one of LaShawn’s odd jokes. I don’t always get jokes. I stared at him, awaiting an explanation, but he just nodded, then went and crouched between two nearby bushes and looked about in the fallen leaves and dirt like he was trying to find a lost contact lens. Maybe that was part of the joke too.
“Here we go,” he said, brushing some twigs aside and picking up a dusty old piece of rope.
Footsteps came through the trees. I turned to see Rory walking toward us, eating a peach.
“Hey guys,” he said.
“Hey mate,” said LaShawn.
“What are you doing back out here?” I asked.
“You saw them then?” asked LaShawn.
“Yeah,” said Rory. He ignored my question. “I know Old Nils said we had until six, but I reckon it wouldn’t hurt to get set now.”
“Yeah, that’s what we were thinking too,” said LaShawn.
He looped the end of the rope around one wrist, gripped it with both hands and began to drag it back. The rope tightened, there was a metallic groan, and then a large, rectangular section of ground shifted, following the rope. As LaShawn dragged the rope further back, the dirt and stones and leaves slid from what turned out to be a thick sheet of iron, which had been concealing a shallow bunker. LaShawn looked down into the bunker and rubbed his hands together.
“Hey Miles,” said Rory, “you got a minute?”
He took the last bite of his peach, tossed the pit away, then wiped his hands on his pants. He found a grassy spot beneath a shady tree and motioned for me to join him. I looked back at LaShawn; he was descending the stairs into the bunker, singing a high-pitched version of “Spoonman” by Soundgarden. I sat down next to Rory.
Rory looked up at the treetops, smiled and took a deep breath. “Beautiful day, huh?” he said.
I looked up at the treetops. He was right.
“Listen, Miles,” he said, “it’s uh, it’s going to be a big night tonight.”
“Sure is,” I said with a smile.
He nodded. “We’ve been planning this party for a while, but I haven’t told you too much about it. The same way we didn’t tell you much about the plan for the prison break.”
My smile faded.
“You remember that story in the paper I showed you yesterday—the one about the British mob boss who went missing?”
“Yeah. LaShawn just said that’s him down near the bowls club.”
Rory nodded. “That’s right. Jimmy O’Shea. Biscuits, they call him. Those other men work for him.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “In a few hours they are going to come here to the house. They will be coming to kill me.”
“LaShawn already said that. I don’t get it. What’s the joke?”
“It’s not a joke,” said Rory. “Do you remember when I was bounty hunting?”
“Yeah. That was a while ago.”
“Right. Well, there was one assignment, over in England. This fella was bringing in shipments of drugs, cash, ivory, stolen art, sex slaves—you name it.”
“Yeah, you told me about that one.”
“Yeah. With the shootout on the boat, right?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” said Rory.
Behind him, I saw LaShawn coming up from the bunker with two of the biggest machine guns I had ever seen. He set them down on the ground and then went back down.
“Well, during that shootout,” said Rory, “I killed a man named Terry Ward. Terry was a sort of father figure to Jimmy O’Shea. Ever since then, O’Shea has been looking for revenge.”
“Are you serious?”
Rory nodded. “I gave him the slip for a few years, but eventually he tracked me down.”
“But he didn’t kill you.”
“No. But not for lack of trying. Do you remember when we were at the beach that time, and the ice cream truck got smashed up, looked like a giant had karate chopped it in half?”
“Of course. We were standing right next to it.”
“That was Jimmy O’Shea.”
“How do you know?”
“Do you still have that arrowhead from the plane?”
“Yeah.” I took it from my pocket. I had moulded a chunk of Blu Tack around it so it didn’t cut me. “Here it is.”
Rory took the arrowhead and carefully removed some of the putty. Behind him, LaShawn came up from the bunker carrying a wooden chest about a foot long. He set it on the ground with a thud and then returned below ground.
“See this stuff?” said Rory, pointing out the hard, glinting substance from which the arrowhead was made. “This is one of the rarest materials on earth—almost impossible to get, and it costs a fortune. Jimmy O’Shea is one of the few people who uses this kind of weapon. At the beach that day, I found some shards of this stuff near the ice cream truck. I knew this was what did the damage. Itchy knees, see?”
LaShawn ascended the bunker stairs. In each hand he had what looked like a strange, metal briefcase.
“Yeah, remember?” said Rory. “When we were waiting in line for ice cream, you and I got really itchy knees.”
LaShawn set one of the cases on the ground and turned a lever at its base. The case creaked ajar then spread like a set of jaws, until it was wide open and flat, displaying a circle of long metal teeth pointing upward. He backed away from it.
“Uh… I don’t remember having itchy knees,” I said.
“Well you did,” said Rory. He shoved the arrowhead in front of my face. “When this stuff is coming for you, you get itchy knees. Which reminds me—if your knees start itching tonight, run. Run for your life. Are you listening to me?”
LaShawn poked a fallen tree branch into the open metal jaws, which jumped and slammed shut, snapping the thick branch like a crayon.
“Here,” said Rory pushing the Blu Tack-swaddled arrowhead into my hand. “Hang on to this.”
I put it back in my pocket. I shook my head and rubbed my eyes. “Hang on,” I said. “If that guy down there with the funny backpack is really Jimmy O’Shea, and he’s really coming to kill you, then why don’t we just call the cops?”
Rory shook his head. “What are they gonna do? They’ll ask Jimmy to leave, and he’ll come back another day, when we’re not expecting him.”
“You were expecting him?” I said.
“Well, yeah,” said Rory. “I mean, I invited him.”
“Wait—you invited this guy here, knowing he wants you dead?”
Rory nodded. “It was our best chance. I can kill him before he kills us.”
“A few years ago, I visited Jimmy in hospital when he was having his bionic arm attached.”
“He has a bionic arm?”
“Yeah, well, they had to amputate his arm after I shot him.”
“You shot him?”
“Yeah, the night I performed Hamlet, but he got away.”
“Hamlet? I was there that night.”
“That’s right, you were,” said Rory. “So anyway, I was at the hospital where Jimmy was getting his new arm—state of the art—and we got to talking. Turns out I killed Terry Ward on his fortieth birthday. So, I casually mentioned that I would be turning forty in a few years, told him I was planning a big bash. I saw in Jimmy’s eyes I had given him an idea. He wanted to kill me on my fortieth birthday. Fitting revenge. So, he started asking what I was planning to do for my fortieth, when and where and so on. I told him I’d invite him to the party, but he had to leave me alone until then. We shook hands, and that was that. Now, here we are.”
I was furious. And still a little confused. And starting to get scared.
I shook my head and shrugged and tried to say something. It took some more head shaking and shrugging before I finally came out with a self-pitying, “What the f**k, man?” And then, after some further head shaking and spluttering, “So you made a truce with some psychopath who wants to kill you, and now the truce is about to end, is that it?”
“Yeah, he’s a psycho, I’ll give you that,” said Rory, “but even psychos have rules they play by. Hell, he even sent me fair warning—almost taking down the plane yesterday.”
“That was a warning?” I hung my head and closed my eyes. “We’re gonna die.”
Rory punched me in the arm. “Hey,” he said. “You think I haven’t figured it all out? We’re ending this tonight. Okay? Jimmy O’Shea has his crew—well, I’ve got my crew. Jimmy’s got his weapons—we’ve got our weapons. We’ve planned for this.”
I looked at Rory. “Is this Operation Egg?”
“How do you know about Operation Egg?” he said.
“Nils was talking about it this morning in the kitchen, remember?”
“Oh. No, this isn’t Operation Egg.”
LaShawn, after having brought out five crates of ammunition and a remote-control toy Jeep, dragged the iron sheet back over the bunker and covered it with leaves and branches. He dusted himself off, did a little Muhammad Ali shuffle and started throwing jabs at the air. I sighed.
“I’m telling you Miles,” said Rory. “We’ve planned this better than any other operation I’ve been involved in. Old Nils has been in on it from the start.”
“Why do you guys always go to Nils for these things?”
“Well, hindsight’s twenty-twenty, Miles. Might as well use it.”
“Right,” I said, without understanding what he meant.
He grabbed me by the shirt and looked at me earnestly. “Hey, I know this is a sh**ty situation, and you don’t have to stay, but when have I ever let you down? We made it out of Belgium, didn’t we? And Tokyo. And we got home from New Zealand.”
“All right,” I said. I rubbed my eyes. “You’re the birthday boy, and if this is the party you want… I’m in.”
Rory grabbed me and hugged me and slapped me on the back. “Hey LaShawn,” he called. “Miles is in.”
LaShawn’s eyes lit up. “F**king yes!”
He started jumping around with his hands above his head. I had to laugh.
LaShawn grabbed a giant machine gun and a box of ammunition and headed down the hill, toward the other side of the yard.
“What do you need me to do?” I asked Rory.
“Give LaShawn a hand carting that gear. I’ve got a few things to set up, so I’ll catch up with you soon, okay?”
I nodded, and Rory turned and walked back through the trees.
“Hey Rory,” I said.
“Where did you get that peach?”
He pointed. “Over there. There’s a peach tree. Took me a while to find a good one though—they aren’t ripe.”
I trekked through the scrub in the direction Rory had aimed his finger, and soon came across the peach tree. Rory was right; the peaches were not ready for eating. However, all I had eaten that day was a slice of cold pizza, so I was feeling peckish. I picked the biggest peach I could find; it had a tinge of yellow, so it must have been close to ripening. The flesh was a little crunchy, but it tasted okay. I ate six and a half peaches, each one less ripe than the last. As I threw the last half-peach away, I heard a dragging rustle nearby. I backed up and scanned the area. That bloody goanna. Another rustle. I picked up a long stick. There was a scraping scurry near the peach tree; I held the stick in front of me and looked for the terrorising lizard. Then I heard a voice.
“You are a spectacular f**king failure,” it said. “You are going to f**k this up just like everything else you do. Useless piece of sh**.”
I stood there stuck for a moment. My shoulders drooped. The stick slipped free from my fingers and clacked on the hard dirt. There was a slow scrape behind the peach tree.
“You think you’re going to save the day? Ha! What a f**king joke. Fat Boy here thinks he’s going to help his friends.”
I backed away from the tree.
“You. Are. A. F**king. Failure,” chanted the voice.
I turned, put my head down and quickly walked away.
“Oh, running off again?” called the voice after me. “There’s a surprise. F**king pathetic!”
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