The tunnel levelled out and divided in three directions. We turned left and kept moving, as gunfire and the roar of Budgie’s tractor tyre grew louder above. A great thump, like a cannon firing, struck directly above us. The tunnel shuddered and the lights went out.
“Run!” yelled LaShawn.
I kept one hand on the wall beside me as a guide while I sprinted in utter darkness. Overhead, creaks and cracks chased me, and loose dirt rained on my head.
“It’s gonna collapse!” he called.
Frighteningly, his voice was now far ahead of me. I ran as fast as I could. The ground quaked as a distant thump struck. As a crash echoed from far behind me, a surge of adrenaline gave me extraordinary speed. It was a short-lived speed, as I immediately crashed into something waist-high. Whatever I had struck made a grunt almost like a duck’s quack as it toppled, while I flew forward blindly and belly-flopped onto the hard ground, knocking my chin and dropping my gun on impact. I skidded a few feet on my bullet-proof vest, and then laid there a moment slightly dazed. The ceiling gave a slow, painful creak. Footsteps scuffled just behind me—I realised what it was I had tripped over—then a second later little hands groped me and flipped me onto my back. The same little hands found their way to my face and repeatedly slapped me.
“All right, all right!” I said after the third or fourth slap. “Stop it!”
“Come on,” screeched Rory’s little clone, helping me to my feet (he was surprisingly strong), “we have to go before it all caves in!”
We ran for perhaps a hundred metres, until the groans of the failing subterranean structure were only echoes behind us.
I stopped and leaned against the tunnel wall while I caught my breath. The lights flickered and came back on. The little Rory clone was standing beside me.
“That was a close one,” he said.
Just ahead of us was a fork in the tunnel. We looked at each path. They both looked the same.
“LaShawn!” I yelled. There was no answer but a volley of echoes. “Which way did he go?”
The clone stepped forward. He looked one way, and then the other. He scratched the back of his misshapen head.
“Well,” he said, “LaShawn said we were going to the mango tree. That’s on the north side of the house.”
“So, we just need to find out which way is north.”
He squatted and scraped a tiny mound of dirt together on the ground, then leaned over it and dribbled a long, thick string of saliva onto it. After stirring the saliva into the dirt with his finger, he scooped the mud into his palm and stood up.
“Here,” he said, “bend down.”
“I need to put this on your eyes.” He dabbed two fingers into the soggy mixture.
“To find out which way north is. Come on, Miles, keep up. This is the way Jesus did it. Now bend down.”
“Yeah, I don’t think putting mud in my eyes is going to help us find our way,” I said.
“You calling the Son of God a liar?”
“No, I just mean—”
The clone kicked me in the shin. As I leaned over in pain, he reached up and smeared the mud in my eyes.
“Ah, damn it!” I said, trying to wipe my face.
The clone grabbed my arms. “Don’t touch it! Leave it in, leave it in!”
“All right, fine!” I said. “Now what?”
I stood there with my eyes closed and a drop of clone saliva dribbling down the side of my nose. I was annoyed. (By the way, I looked it up. Jesus did put mud on a man’s eyes, but it was not to get directions, it was to cure the man’s blindness.)
“Now,” said the clone, “I’m going to count to three, and after I count to three, you have to say either blue or orange, okay?”
“Here we go—One, two, three!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t think about it,” said the clone. “Just blurt it out, okay? This time say either red or green, all right? Red or green. Don’t think about it. One, two, three!”
“Okay,” said the clone. “Green it is. This way.”
I wiped the mud from my eyes and saw the little clone marching down the tunnel to the right.
I followed, figuring I was as lost as he was, and I had to choose a path anyway, so I might as well try this one. The tunnel made a sharp right turn, continued about fifty metres and then came to a dead end, where there was a picnic basket filled with weapons, and a ladder to the surface. Since I had lost my Uzi way back in the tunnel, I rummaged through the basket and selected what I believe was (if my memory of action movies serves me correctly) an AK-47. I climbed up the ladder and eased the tunnel hatch open a fraction. It was dark above, except for a wedge of light at a staircase—it was Budgie’s basement. There were voices upstairs—British, angry, and many. I closed the hatch and descended the ladder.
“Well?” said the clone.
“It’s Budgie’s basement,” I said. “We’re at the house. Jimmy O’Shea’s men are upstairs. We have to go back.”
“Bullsh** we’re going back,” said the clone. He took a tall, Zulu style shield from the basket.
“Mate,” I said, “we’re outnumbered. We’d be volunteering for an ambush.”
“It’ll be an ambush, all right,” he said. He leaned the shield, which was two feet taller than him, against the wall. After adjusting its angle, he pointed to a spot about two-thirds down the shield. “My legs are too short,” he said. “Kick it here.”
“Kick the shield really hard, right here.”
I kicked. Nothing happened. The clone steadied the shield and nodded.
I kicked. This time the shield cracked.
“Go again,” said the clone.
This time I got it. My foot went right through the wood, snapping the shield. The clone wiggled the bottom third of the shield loose and cast it aside. He held the remainder up in front of himself, weighing it.
“This’ll do nicely,” he said.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s go back and try the other tunnel. LaShawn must have gone that way.”
“You go,” said the clone, slinging his Uzi over his shoulder. “I’ve got unfinished business with Biscuits O’Shea. Here—”
He handed me the shield and climbed the ladder. At the top, he opened the hatch, crawled out, and then poked his skinny round head back over the hatch opening. He reached his hand down and I passed him up the shield.
“Hey Rory,” I said.
He stopped. “Yeah?”
“Thanks, Miles,” he said.
I think he winked. It was hard to tell.
He closed the hatch, and I turned and ran back along the tunnel. Above me I heard muffled screams and gunshots.
As I returned to the fork in the tunnel, I saw LaShawn turn and disappear down the path that was on the verge of collapse.
“LaShawn!” I yelled.
Two seconds later he came running back around the corner. He smiled when he saw me.
“Bloody hell, Miles, where have you been? I’ve been looking for you—I was afraid you might have got crushed back down that way.”
“Nah, I’m okay,” I said. “Just took a wrong turn.”
“Have you seen the clone?”
“Yeah, he was with me, he just went up into the house. Jimmy O’Shea’s men are in there. I couldn’t talk him out of it.”
LaShawn looked down, his eyes darting in thought. Finally, he sighed and nodded. “God speed, little clone,” he said.
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