A spurt of metallic barking shattered the moment, and three bullets smashed into the base of the stage. Any higher and they would have taken out Nils. I froze in terror, wishing not to die, not just yet.
“Who was that?” demanded one of the men in black. He stepped forward from the line. He was smaller than the others and he carried no weapon. He had also added a dash of colour to his outfit—a blue T-shirt beneath his jacket. “Ned,” he said. There was a pause. “Red Ned!”
The man in the tracksuit turned to him.
“I said to wait for my orders. Who fired those shots?”
Red Ned pointed out a big guy with a mohawk halfway down the line. The big guy, who just a moment ago had looked so fierce, was now six feet, four inches of pure timidity. The smaller man removed his jacket and extended his arm in the direction of the mohawked man with the itchy trigger finger.
“No, wait,” pleaded the big guy.
The thugs standing near him dived out of the way.
“Biscuits, I swear I didn’t—”
There was a whir and a flash, and the man with the mohawk was flung back ten metres. He landed with a thump on the grass and laid there like a pile of laundry.
“Check that out,” said Nils, his eye on the smaller man.
The man stood there, his arm still extended and now glowing fluorescent green. Like an x-ray image, the bones in his arm were visible, only they didn’t look like real bones; they were too thick and had moving parts.
“Jimmy O’Shea,” Rory said to us, by way of explanation.
“He’s a neon cyborg,” muttered Budgie in fascination.
So, there he was. Jimmy “Biscuits” O’Shea, the murderous London mob boss who had devoted himself to hunting down and killing my friend. He turned to face us, the green luminescence fading from his right arm. He looked immediately and only at Rory, and in his cold eyes there flashed an acknowledgement, almost a respect.
“Hello Rory,” he said.
“Hello Biscuits,” said Rory.
Biscuits walked forward and stood alone in no man’s land, halfway between the house and the stage. “I wasn’t expecting to take you without a fight.”
“Yeah, well, you caught me off guard, inviting all those people here.”
Biscuits nodded. “You’re predictable.”
Rory shrugged. “You’re an a***hole.”
Biscuits stood still and silent for a minute, his stare losing its focus as his eyes darted about. Then a look of disappointment came over him.
“You know it’s all a game,” he said. “It’s all f**ked up, but you tried to make sense of it. There is no sense to it, and if you think there is, then you’re a bigger a***hole than I am.” He sighed a heavy sigh, and then the coldness returned to his eyes. “Anyway, this is for Terry.”
He turned and walked back to his henchmen.
Receiving their cue from Biscuits, the men in black marched toward us with their guns ready.
Budgie cleared his throat. “There are worse ways to go, I suppose,” he said. His voice was raspy after the singing.
“Yeah. You could be burned alive,” said Rory.
“Crushed under a truck,” said Budgie.
“That’s true,” said Nils. “Or what about going feet first into a woodchipper.”
“Ooh, yeah, that’s a bad way to go,” said Rory. “Miles?”
I watched the executioners pace toward me. “Well, uh… what if someone suffocated you with a pillow… while another person kept kicking you in the balls?”
“Yeah, good one,” said Nils.
I glanced at LaShawn; he was oblivious to our morbid game. He watched the approaching gunmen and slid the screwdriver from his pocket. Of course he did. He was going to charge a firing squad with a hand tool.
The armed men stopped about twenty metres in front of us and prepared to fire. I clenched my butt cheeks.
Have you ever heard a fairy-wren whistle? (If you are unfamiliar with fairy-wrens, just choose the call of a tiny bird you are familiar with. That will have to do.) Imagine just a split-second of that sweet, soft little chirp. That was the sound I heard. One of the gunmen dropped his weapon then collapsed. The wren whistled again. One of the other gunmen slouched—the top of his head had caved in like failed papier mâché—and then fell backwards. As the men in black looked aside at their fallen fellows and began to realise something was amiss, the wren called a third time. Another man fell to his knees with a look of terror, grasping his throat, before collapsing face down, buttocks up.
“Sniper!” came the call, and the gunmen looked to the hills behind us.
Okay, now forget about the fairy-wren. This time I want you to think of a larger bird. Much larger. Say, a bird the size of a big man. And imagine this bird is operating a jackhammer right beside you. The sound of the jackhammer is what I heard next. An invisible wave swept across the yard; it tore up the grass like a horde of weekend golfers, then swelled to shatter the house’s upstairs windows, before settling on its target, the gunmen. Four of them dropped immediately; a few of the others ran for cover, while most of them crouched and returned fired toward the machine gun nest.
“Run!” cried Rory.
© 2021 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED