We made a frantic exit stage right and bolted. LaShawn and I ran for the trench at the back of the yard, while Rory and Budgie split from us and made for the hills. I didn’t see where Nils went. Gunfire barked and whirred all around, interspersed with shouts and screams. The machine gun nest flashed and roared as one of the guns sprayed monstrous calibre bullets in a wide arc. LaShawn, being the better sprinter, was well ahead of me as we ran for our lives. A bullet thumped into the middle of his back, toppling him forward onto the grass. As he scrambled to get to his feet, I caught up to him and lifted him upright.
“Keep going,” he said, shoving me toward the trench.
As I helped him up, I looked back and froze at the destruction before my eyes. Flashes of gunshots, bullets tearing through flesh, men falling, and then a bright green glow by the house—Biscuits O’Shea extended his right arm toward the stage. There was a whoosh, a crack and a sudden wave of heat; the stage exploded into a hundred pieces; a flaming guitar flew straight up into the air, twice the height of Budgie’s house, before crashing back down to join the wreckage.
“Come on!” yelled LaShawn, grabbing me by the collar and practically dragging me to the trench.
I toppled in and clutched my stomach with a grimace.
“Are you all right?” he said, throwing my hands aside and looking for a wound. “Are you hit?”
“No, I’m okay,” I groaned. “I just… I need to do a poo.”
“You can sh** later,” he said, a little annoyed.
“You got hit,” I said. “I saw it.”
He turned around to show me his back. “The vest caught it.”
There was a hole in his shirt where the bullet had struck. The bullet-proof vest had saved his life.
The machine gun fire ceased; there were a few random bursts from Jimmy O’Shea’s men, but then they stopped firing too. LaShawn put his index finger upright to his lips, giving me the international signal for shoosh. He motioned for me to follow him, and we hurried, crouched low and silent (literally silent—our footsteps made no sound thanks to the space age shoes Nils had given us), along the trench until we reached the machine gun nest.
Rory stepped out the back of the nest, carrying a shotgun, and climbed down into the trench. He looked bad. His face was pale and clammy and kind of droopy.
“You saved our lives, man,” whispered LaShawn.
Rory ignored him.
“What are you doing here?” I said. “I just saw you running up the hill back there.”
Rory screwed his face up and squeezed a thick drop of sweat from his forehead; it rolled to the end of his nose. “What are you talking about?” he slurred. “I’ve been here the whole time. You left me here, remember?”
“Forget about it,” said LaShawn. “We need to move.”
One of Jimmy O’Shea’s henchmen stepped to the edge of the trench and looked down at us in surprise. He cursed and fumbled for his weapon, which had slung over his shoulder, apparently not expecting to find anyone waiting there to be killed. Rory raised his shotgun. (Though fearful, I was also a bit excited. Rory had shared many stories with me of his days in the military, and I was thrilled to now get a chance to see him in action.) The gun grip slipped from his right hand, and the weapon dangled in his left, the barrel aiming harmlessly skyward. (I was a little disappointed.) The henchman got a grip on his Uzi and aimed, but before he could pull the trigger, he threw his head forward with a grunt and a gnash of his teeth—during the henchman’s second of clumsiness, LaShawn had taken the opportunity to raise his screwdriver and plunge it through the man’s boot. As the gunman reeled forward in pain, LaShawn reached up and tore the Uzi from his grasp, turned it on him and loosed a generous peppering of ammunition into his face and chest. The force threw the man back and left him lying in an awkward, bloody heap, his foot pegged to the ground.
“Come on,” said LaShawn, wrenching his screwdriver free from the gunman’s foot, “we have to go.” He scanned the ground and found a rock the size of a half-deflated soccer ball. “Here it is.”
He gave the rock a twist and then lifted it, and an attached trap door. There was a tunnel beneath the trench. (When did Budgie dig all this?)
“Quick, get in,” said LaShawn.
He didn’t need to tell me twice; I put my feet on the short ladder and began to descend. As I was just about to disappear below ground, a flourish of gunfire sounded over by the house.
Rory squeezed the sides of his head. “Argh, that’s so loud,” he said, and stood upright to look above the trench.
“Rory, get down!” said LaShawn.
There was another burst of fire; with a zip and a thud, Rory’s head rocked back. He fell in slow motion, his gun dropping to the ground and his arms going limp. With a crash like a felled redwood, he came to rest in the dirt, majestic and tragic. I froze, my hands still gripping the tunnel ladder, and stared. My thoughts screamed and swirled as they struggled to comprehend what my eyes showed them. My lips spasmed, trying to form words.
“F**k,” said LaShawn, with a sigh of one who has been inconvenienced.
“Ror… Rory?” I whispered.
“Get into the tunnel, mate,” said LaShawn. “They’ll be coming for us.”
Tears welled in my eyes. “No, no, no. Rory, come on, man. It can’t be… He can’t be…”
I looked to LaShawn for a glimmer of hope. He casually picked up Rory’s shotgun. A dozen or so footsteps thumped across the yard toward us.
“Get in the tunnel,” said LaShawn. “We have to go now.”
“We have to go,” I repeated, then started to climb back up the ladder and out of the tunnel. I didn’t mean to. I think I was in shock.
LaShawn kicked me in the chest and I fell back down the manhole. It was only shallow, but I landed on my back and had the wind knocked out of me. He dragged Rory’s body over and rolled it into the tunnel; it landed face-down beside me. LaShawn climbed into the tunnel and closed the trap door above him; the tunnel became perfectly dark. Wheezing and sobbing, I grabbed Rory and heaved him onto his back, as a gentle glow emerged and filled the tunnel, courtesy of small, square lights in a row along the walls, similar to the glow-in-the-dark lights you might find on the ceiling of a child’s bedroom. Feeling temporarily disconnected from reality, I leaned over Rory’s body and looked at his face. His eyes were closed, his cheeks sunken. There was a hollow above his eye where the bullet had entered. It was like viewing the body at an open casket funeral: I knew the person who belonged in that body, but I could see that person was no longer there.
Hunched over with my head on Rory’s chest, I blubbered and apologised to him.
“Miles,” said LaShawn, “stop crying, this isn’t—”
“Stop crying?” I blurted, standing up. “He’s dead! Don’t you get it?”
LaShawn shook his head. “No, it’s okay mate.”
“It was his birthday,” I said. “Oh man, they killed him on his birthday.”
There was a thump overhead. I whimpered and sniffed. LaShawn put his hand over my mouth and his screwdriver under my chin; his eyes widened in threat.
“Don’t make a sound,” he whispered.
Voices murmured above. I squeezed my eyes shut and tears streamed down my cheeks; my chest heaved. LaShawn shook his head slowly and added a little pressure to the tip of the screwdriver.
“Quiet,” he mouthed.
Voices mumbled, there was a muffled shout; footsteps padded, and then, at long last, there was silence.
LaShawn looked to the ceiling and listened. He took his hand from my mouth and slid the screwdriver back into his pocket.
“Miles,” he said.
I stared at Rory, lying there on the ground. LaShawn snapped his fingers in front of my face.
I looked at him.
“Miles, listen to me—are you listening?”
I sniffed and nodded.
“That’s not Rory.”
I looked at Rory, and then back at LaShawn. LaShawn nodded.
“It’s all right mate,” he said.
I shoved him away and burst into tears.
“Miles, damn it,” he said, stepping in front of me, “I’m trying to tell you—”
I shoved him again. He grabbed my collar, and I turned to get loose; he slapped my face, and I swung a wild backhand; he ducked and punched me in the chest (it turns out bullet-proof vests are also pretty effective against fists), and I wrapped him up in a bear hug. After a brief struggle, he headbutted me in the nose—nothing too fierce, but enough to make me release him. He locked his leg behind mine and threw me backwards to the ground.
“Miles, ya stubborn sh**, will you listen to me for a second?”
I sat up and touched my nostrils to see if my nose was bleeding. It was. Other than that, the headbutt seemed to do me good, bring me to my senses. LaShawn pointed to the body lying on the ground, then turned to me and smiled.
“That guy there—he’s not Rory.”
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