We spent the next hour and a half setting up weapons, hiding spots, booby traps, decoys and ammunition stashes. Not all of it made sense to me. Budgie spent nearly the entire time—and time was a precious and fleeting resource—up on the roof installing an antenna. Surely with a platoon of British gang members about to attack, clearer television reception was not top priority. Plus, the ten-metre ladder he was using was old and rickety and nearly perpendicular to the ground, giving him a decent chance of falling to a serious injury and/or his death. Nils disappeared; he had gone into the basement and didn’t resurface. Rory came over to help LaShawn and I set up a machine gun nest on the north side of the yard. For all his military experience, Rory sure seemed to be having a hard time loading the weapons. He kept opening and closing his left hand, complaining his fingers were “like play dough”. At one point he stopped and stared at the trees with a blank expression. When I asked him if he was all right, he stood up and stormed off with a petulant, “F**k this sh**.”
I went to follow him, but LaShawn put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Just let him go.”
“What’s gotten into him?”
“Don’t worry about it,” said LaShawn. “Nils said this would happen. Hey Rory, make sure you stay in the shade!”
After LaShawn and I finished loading the guns, he replaced the batteries in the remote-control car and sent it for a spin around the yard. He handled it like a pro. Round in circles, zigging one way then zagging the other, the mini-Jeep whizzed to the far side of the yard, stopped, and then turned around. The wheels spun, a tuft of grass flew up, and the car tore straight back across the yard, its motor screaming, until it came to a skidding halt at LaShawn’s feet.
Satisfied the vehicle was in working order, LaShawn took out his phone and called Budgie. I looked up to the roof and saw him take out his phone to answer.
“Yeah?” said Budgie (on speaker), sitting and dangling his legs over the side of the roof.
“How are we looking up there?”
“Test run was all good. I’m done up here.”
LaShawn checked his watch. “How about our guests?”
Budgie put a pair of binoculars to his eyes and looked to the north end of the valley. “The vans are still there. Wait… they’re packing up the tent. Looks like they’re getting ready to move.”
“Okay. Well, we’re all set down here. Let’s get in position.”
Budgie returned his binoculars to his toolbelt, slung his thick plait around his neck and over his shoulder like a scarf, and began the perilous climb down the ladder. LaShawn took the ten-inch screwdriver from his pocket, examined it and polished a smudge from its tip with his thumb. He then spun it in his hand like a cowboy with his pistol and shoved it back in his pocket. My stomach squeezed and gave me a short pang, and then made a high-pitched gurgle. LaShawn slapped me on the shoulder and nodded.
“We’ll be all right,” he said. He inhaled slowly and looked out across the yard with a smile. “It’s going to be a good night.”
I had to sit down.
After returning inside the house for a few minutes, Budgie trotted over to us at the trench behind the machine gun nest, carrying a bulky hessian sack. He jumped down into the trench.
“How are we doing, lads?” he said.
“Good, mate,” said LaShawn.
I nodded, doing a decent job, I think, of hiding my anxiety. Rory returned from wherever he had wandered off.
“You all right?” asked Budgie.
Rory nodded and drowsily rubbed his face. “My head feels weird,” he said.
“You’ll be right,” said LaShawn.
Budgie opened the sack and reached inside. “Here we go. Costumes for everyone.”
He took out a bullet-proof vest for each of us and we put them on. The vests were thinner than I thought they’d be; I did not feel overly protected. Budgie must have sensed my unease.
“These will stop a bullet,” he said. “But, of course, it’s safest not to get shot at all.”
Great pep talk.
Suited up with our vests, Budgie then handed LaShawn and me a pair of shoes each. These were no ordinary shoes. They were the softest, most comfortable shoes I have ever worn. Each one was made from a single piece of squishy, blueish-grey material, which felt like a thin membrane filled with gel. There were no laces; the shoes somehow moulded to my feet, and when stepped I down, the sole of the shoe hardened underfoot. I noticed Budgie was already wearing the same kind of shoes.
“These are so comfy,” I said. “Where did you get these?”
“Nils sent them,” said Budgie. “They muffle the sound of your footsteps. He thought they might come in handy.”
“Do you have a pair for me?” asked Rory.
“Ah, no, sorry,” said Budgie. “Maybe they didn’t have your size.”
From the bag he took out a handgun and two extra clips and handed them to me. It had been a while since I had held a gun.
“You good with that?” said Budgie.
I nodded and shoved the gun in my pocket.
“Don’t hesitate,” said Budgie. He took another gun from the bag and offered it to LaShawn.
LaShawn shook his head. “I’m good,” he said, and patted his pocket.
Rory held out his hand for the weapon. Budgie hesitated. He looked at LaShawn; LaShawn nodded. Budgie gave Rory the gun.
“All right,” said Budgie, holding open the sack. “Phones in here. They can track them. From now on it’s radio silence.”
LaShawn and I put our phones in the sack. Rory checked his pockets.
“I don’t have my phone,” he said, with a confused look.
“No worries,” said Budgie, closing the sack. He paused a moment. “Any sign of Ezra?”
LaShawn shook his head.
Budgie took a deep breath. “Well, this is it, lads. Good luck. I’ll see you on the other side.”
He climbed out of the trench and ran off toward the house.
LaShawn checked his watch. “We have an hour. Unless they arrive early.”
We climbed out of the trench and waited in the machine gun nest. Fifteen minutes we sat in silence, then LaShawn jumped up and said, “Shit—the brisket!”
He ran off to the shed to check on his cooking. After a while, Rory began scratching his head and muttering to himself.
“You doing all right, Rory?” I said.
“This sucks, man. This whole thing. Don’t you reckon?”
“Yeah. But like you said, better to end it now. Right?”
“How the f**k would I know?” He laid down and dug his fingernails into his scalp. “I’ve got ants in my head,” he groaned.
“They’re eating my brain.”
LaShawn entered the back of the enclosed shelter. I started.
“Sh**, you scared me,” I said.
LaShawn laughed. “It’s the shoes, right? You couldn’t hear me coming.”
I nodded toward Rory. LaShawn watched him with a furrowed brow for a moment, then lifted him and propped him against the wall.
“Come on, sit up. There you go. Deep breaths. Damn it, you’re all sweaty. Did you go out in the sun? All right, just sit tight, okay? Relax.”
Rory calmed down and stopped trying to tear the skin from his head. LaShawn came and stood next to me.
“What’s wrong with him?” I whispered.
“Don’t worry about it,” said LaShawn. “He’ll be fine.” He looked over toward the shed. “The brisket turned out nicely.”
“Oh, well thank God for that.”
He laughed and slapped me on the back.
A crow flew over us and alighted on Budgie’s new antenna.
“Craaark,” called the crow.
LaShawn checked his watch.
“How long till they arrive?” I asked.
My stomach gurgled.
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