We walked back along the tunnel, took a left turn and headed up a long, steep ramp.
“So, what are the clones going to do?” I asked.
“They’ll split up,” said LaShawn. “With them running around, it will confuse Jimmy O’Shea’s men—the clones might even kill a few of them. And, hopefully, they’ll keep Rory from getting shot.”
I stopped. “How will we know?”
“What do you mean?” said LaShawn, turning around.
“I mean, how will we know if Rory is okay—the real Rory? How will we know him amongst all the clones?”
LaShawn smiled. “The tattoo.”
I squinted at him. “What?”
“The Optimus Prime tattoo on Rory’s arm. On Rory’s arm, Optimus Prime’s legs are blue, like in the cartoon. On the clones’ arms his legs are red.”
We continued up the ramp.
“The clones will deteriorate soon enough anyway,” said LaShawn.
The ramp flattened out and we came to the end of the tunnel. LaShawn peered into a crude periscope.
“I think we’re all good,” he said. He switched off the safety on the Uzi and handed it to me. He kept the shotgun for himself. “When we get above ground, stay quiet and keep your head down—O’Shea’s men will be looking for us.” A thrill of anticipation flashed in his eye. “If anyone fires on you, fire back. And if you see any of O’Shea’s men, don’t hesitate.”
I nodded as bravely as I could manage.
LaShawn, the shotgun in his left hand, began climbing the ladder to the surface. He stopped halfway and looked back at me.
“Do you need a lozenge?” he asked.
“Piss off,” I said, with a laugh.
(The lozenge reference was an inside joke. If I gave you a short explanation of it, you’d think I was crazy or a pervert, and to explain it properly would take an entire story of its own, so I’ll just leave it unexplained. It also relates to why I sometimes clench my butt cheeks when I’m scared.)
He turned the handle on the tunnel hatch and eased it open. After a quick look around, he gave me a nod, and I followed him above ground into an entanglement of trees and bushes and overgrown vines in the hills behind Budgie’s place. The evening shadows had merged into one, with only a distant sliver of purple through the trees—the last trace of the fading sunset—providing me with any sense of direction. We waited a few minutes. There were shouts in the distance but only chirps of insects nearby. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. LaShawn raised his shotgun in front of him and crept out from out hiding spot. I followed, my Uzi ready. Making no sound above that of breathing, we moved quickly through the scrub, climbing slightly uphill, until we came to an old fallen gum tree. Crouched behind the tree, we could see down the hill to the house. There were gunmen stationed on both sides, while a floodlight at the shed lit up the backyard and the dozen bodies lying there.
A bright silver half moon rose. LaShawn checked his watch. A rapid chak-chak-chak of gunfire punctured the stillness, and we looked toward the house. The shooting continued for a few seconds and ended with two Rory clones and three of Jimmy O’Shea’s henchmen fallen dead near the back door of the house. It was disturbing to watch the clones die; they looked so much like Rory. Two more henchmen came over to inspect the bodies. There was some obviously confused discussion about the two Rorys. One of the men went inside the house and returned a minute later with Jimmy O’Shea. O’Shea knelt and examined the dead clones. He stood and paced back and forward a few times, then stopped. His right arm began to glow green. It grew brighter, until he almost disappeared in its light, then he raised his arm toward the hills north of the yard. I felt a tiny tremor underfoot and heard a crash in the distance. I looked to where Jimmy O’Shea had aimed his arm, but trees obscured the view. He turned his arm a fraction, adjusting his aim; the earth trembled, there was a whoosh, and the crack of breaking timber, then a huge flame swirled above the tree line from the hill next to us. O’Shea moved his arm again, this time right toward us.
“Get down!” whispered LaShawn, but I had already ducked behind the tree trunk.
The air whirred and burned, and then a humming whoosh shot above us. The ground shuddered, and fifty metres up the hill a circle of trees burst and splintered in a ball of flame. When the flame vanished a moment later, there was nothing left there but a crater the size of a swimming pool.
“Jeez, that was close,” said LaShawn.
We peeked over the tree trunk; down at the house, Jimmy O’Shea had fifteen of his goons lined up and was snarling orders at them. His green glow had faded from his arm. The men, led by Red Ned, turned and marched across the yard. At the foot of the hills, they split up into two groups. One group began the rocky ascent on the hill next to us, while the other group headed in our direction and disappeared into the trees.
LaShawn checked his watch again.
“What is it?” I said.
He opened his mouth to speak, but then paused and tilted his head. He signalled for me to keep quiet. After waiting for what seemed a long time but probably wasn’t, LaShawn’s eyes widened, and he dropped and crouched behind the tree trunk, dragging me down with him. We waited another tiny eternity, and then he pressed the butt of his shotgun against his shoulder and raised the barrel. I readied my weapon. My knee began to ache from crouching, and my heartbeat thumped in my ears. A cool breeze rustled the treetops and cooled the sweat on my forehead. And then I heard them—the crack of a twig, the crunch of a dry leaf—footsteps coming our way.
LaShawn turned his head and nodded for me to get set. There was a faint smile on his face.
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