Ten minutes passed in our small concrete fortress. The air was stuffy. Sweating my arse off under the afternoon sun had gifted me a noticeably stale aroma. Even Rory, usually anointed with a subtle touch of top-shelf aftershave, now had a whiff of old cheese about him. It added an extra unpleasantness to an already stressful situation. I don’t remember what LaShawn smelled like. Thankfully, the sun had dipped toward the horizon, sending some much-welcome shade stretching down from the gum trees on the hills behind us. I watched Rory sitting there; one moment he was jittery, the next he was calm and focused, a moment after that he drifted into a sad, lobotomised expression. LaShawn stood still and calm, like an owl in its hollow high in a tree. His keen, avian gaze watched through the narrow opening of our stronghold, like a nocturnal predator waiting for approaching prey. From his beak (i.e., his mouth) came the whispered melody of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” as haunting as a distant hoot in a dark forest. (Sorry, I’ve got the television on in the background while I’m writing. There’s a nature documentary on about birds. I’ll turn it off.)
In those ten minutes, thoughts stampeded through my head. What were my chances of dying here? How bad would it hurt to get shot? My wife and children—what was the last thing I said to them? Had I imparted enough wisdom to my kids that they could go on without a father, or would they derail and career toward an adulthood of drug use and gambling debts? Was I a brave man? I had seen little to convince me so. Would I capitulate in terror at the first sign of battle? What did these English gangsters look like? How big were they? My hands were sweaty. And my friends, would they die tonight? Would LaShawn, seemingly invincible, go down in a blaze of glory? Would Rory, a soul as bright as a flame, be snuffed out before his time? My stomach felt weird. What if my gun jammed? I could run away right now if I wanted. No one would stop me. Why didn’t I go to the beach more often? It’s so beautiful, and just a short drive from my house, but I hardly ever went. Too late for that now. In a matter of minutes, would I be standing before the Almighty? I sat down and buried my face in my hands, silently begging forgiveness. Dear God, what had I done with my life? Why hadn’t I been nicer to people. Why hadn’t I invited my neighbour over for dinner? Because he talks too much? Good grief, he lives alone, poor guy. An old fellow like that, he probably just wants some company. Not everyone lives to be old though. Thirty-nine years is a pretty good run. I should be grateful. I stood up and wrapped my hands around the machine gun grips. No way, I’m not dying today. I’ll fight like a maniac. I’ll shoot anyone who comes around the corner of that house. Sh**, no I won’t. Oh man, what do I do? LaShawn stopped singing mid-chorus. His hands gently raised to take hold of the other machine gun. I’ll follow his lead. Yeah. That’s my best chance.
I heard it. The soft growl of approaching engines.
Footsteps crunched the gravel around the front of Budgie’s house; men’s voices spoke to each other. LaShawn swivelled his mounted weapon toward the sound of the voices. I did likewise. Everything became quiet; I heard neither bird nor insect. My breathing raced and my heartbeat seemed to shake my chest. Then they came around the corner—two men; I grit my teeth and squeezed the trigger.
LaShawn raised his hand. “Hold your fire.”
I released the gun, stepped back and breathed a heavy sigh. The two men continued around the house and into the backyard; they looked around and shrugged their shoulders. They didn’t look like mafia enforcers—not the kind portrayed in the movies anyway. These men were young, maybe twenty years old, thin and slouching. They wore skinny jeans and T-shirts. Also, they were unarmed.
“Here,” said LaShawn, “you left the safety on.”
He showed me how to turn off the safety on the machine gun. Three more men appeared from around the side of the house, and with them two young women.
“They’re just kids,” I said.
“They look like university students,” said LaShawn. “I’m pretty sure this isn’t Jimmy O’Shea’s crew. Wait here, Rory, okay? Come on Miles.”
We left Rory there, sitting hunched over and mumbling to himself, and went over to the young men I almost mistakenly shot. LaShawn was right—they were students. Apart from that, we ascertained only that they had come to Budgie’s address because a text message from a friend had told them to. By now at least thirty people were wandering around the backyard, with more coming up the driveway. They weren’t all student-types: there was a man in a bus driver’s uniform, a group of ladies in their forties, and eight members of the local cricket team wearing their club shirts. LaShawn buzzed around from group to group, looking for answers. A young woman with purple dreadlocks smiled and nodded and showed him her phone. LaShawn thanked her and ran back to me.
“Okay,” he said, “there’s an open invitation to Rory’s party on social media. It says there’s going to be live music and free alcohol.”
“We could end up with a couple of thousand people here.”
“That wasn’t part of the plan, was it?” I said.
LaShawn shook his head.
“What’s going on?” asked Rory, jogging up behind me.
He looked much better. LaShawn grabbed Rory’s wrist and turned the inside of his forearm upward. He looked at his Optimus Prime tattoo, then released him.
“What are you doing?” said LaShawn.
“Are you feeling okay?” I said.
“As good as can be expected. Who are all these people?”
“I take it this isn’t your doing then,” said LaShawn. “The party has been advertised on social media. It’s gone out to everyone. Says there’s live music and free booze.”
“Free booze?” said Rory. His eyes narrowed and he scratched his cheek for a moment, then a smirk of admiration broke through his stony focus. “That sneaky bastard.”
“What?” said LaShawn.
“Biscuits,” said Rory. “Biscuits O’Shea put it on social media. He wants to flood this place with innocent people. Sh**. I knew things were running too smoothly.”
“Wait,” I said. “Why does he want all these people here?”
“As cover,” said Rory. “He knows we won’t fire on him if there are bystanders. They won’t stop him from shooting though. He just bought himself a free pass.”
“Then our offensive is f**ked,” said LaShawn. “As long as these people are here, the plan is useless.”
“Well then, let’s get rid of these people,” I said.
I ran about, yelling warnings and trying to herd all the gatecrashers back down the driveway. Some laughed, others told me to piss off, and most of them thought I was drunk. Everyone ignored me. By the time I abandoned the evacuation, another hundred or so random people had populated the backyard. I slunk back to join Rory and LaShawn where I left them. Budgie and Nils were there too.
“It was worth a shot,” said Rory, patting me on the shoulder.
“They’ll only leave if they want to,” said Nils.
Rory squinted at Nils then started pacing back and forward.
“As long as they expect live music and free beer,” said LaShawn, “they’re not gonna want to leave.”
“Let them stay here then,” said Budgie. “We’ll take the fight to O’Shea, meet him in the valley before he can get here.”
“No,” said Nils. “We’d be too exposed and have to fight on two fronts. As soon as we leave the property our chances nosedive. We have to stay.”
Budgie looked around and shook his head. “Then we’re looking at a few hundred casualties.”
“We could barricade the front of the house,” suggested LaShawn, “fight them from there. We’ll need to bring the gear around front.”
“We’d be sitting ducks,” said Nils. He rubbed his hand across his forehead. “How did I not see this?”
Rory snapped his fingers and stopped pacing. He smiled at me. I knew what he was thinking before he said it.
“They came for live music. We’ll give them live music. They can have the free beer too.”
LaShawn, Budgie and Nils stared at Rory, awaiting an explanation. He let them wait.
“Well?” said LaShawn, at last.
A huge grin spread across Rory’s face. “We’ll play the music.”
“Us?” said Nils.
“Yeah. You still have the instruments in the garage, don’t you Budgie?”
“Well, there you go. We set the gear up on stage and play. We’re the band tonight, boys.”
“What’s that going to achieve?” said Nils.
“It’ll get rid of everyone,” said Rory.
“Jeez, we’re not that bad, are we?” said Budgie.
“Tonight we will be,” I said.
The guys looked at me. Revelation dawned on their faces.
“Oh sh**,” said Budgie.
“Oh-ho, yes!” said LaShawn.
Nils thought for a moment then nodded. “That could work.”
“It’ll work, all right,” said Rory. “We just have to play the worst live music anyone has ever heard. Yeah?”
We agreed it was our best option.
“All right then,” said Budgie. “Let Operation Sh**tiest Band Ever commence.”
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