In the games room, we huddled together as Rory laid out the strategy for the final assault. Basically, the Rorys and I would turn left at the top of the stairs, while Ezra would go right. Then it was just a matter of killing everyone we encountered.
“Castor oiler,” said Ezra. (It wasn’t “Castor oiler,” but those are the closest sounding English words to whatever it was he actually said.)
Robin’s humungous paws thumped and scratched the stairs as she ran up from the basement. She stood next to Ezra, lowered her head and lapped a mouthful of blood from the floor.
“Get out of it, ya mongrel,” muttered Ezra, thumping Robin’s side with his fist.
Robin raised her head and licked her slobbering lips.
We exited the room but then Rory stopped. “Wait a minute,” he said. He rushed back inside and began fiddling with the stereo controls. A red light came on and an LED display screen lit up. He turned to us in surprise as we watched from the doorway. “It still works.”
“What are you doing?” said Ezra.
Rory searched Budgie’s record collection. “Come on, come on,” he muttered. “Does he own anything that isn’t eighties rock?”
“We have to go,” said the clone.
“Wait,” said Rory. “I’ll just be a second. This could be so good.”
“What could?” I said.
“Music. Beauty. In the midst of all this sh**. We create a mood. And we send a chill up Biscuits O’Shea’s spine.”
Ezra nodded. “So, what are you looking for?”
“Flight of the Valkyries,” said Rory, crouching at the bottom shelf of the record collection. “Or maybe the 1812 Overture.”
“Yeah, I don’t think Budgie has either of those,” I said.
Rory stood and sighed. “That’s disappointing.”
I raised my head toward the top shelf. “You know what Budgie would pick.”
Rory looked at the row of pristine records enshrined above all the others. He smiled. “Yeah, why not?” He selected a random album from the top shelf and slid the shiny vinyl from its sleeve. After flipping the record over between his hands, he laid it on the turntable and lowered the needle. He turned the volume knob clockwise till it would turn no more, then nodded at us.
As “Dream Police” by Cheap Trick blared at a near-painful decibel level, we marched single-file to the stairs. The Rory clone was at the front of the line, then Rory, Ezra (with Robin at his side), and lastly me. At the foot of the staircase, Rory turned, a wide grin on his face, poked his head around Ezra and yelled at me over the music, “Hey Miles—it’s like Game of Death!”
(Game of Death is a Bruce Lee movie. In the original, uncompleted version, the hero, Lee’s character, has to ascend a five-storey building, defeating increasingly difficult enemies at each level. There is a lot of fighting, and a fair bit of going up stairs.)
We went up the stairs.
Three steps from the top, the Rory clone paused.
Rory signalled with his hand. I held my breath. He tapped the clone on the shoulder, and it leaned over the top step into the hall and flicked a grenade to the right. Machine gun fire barked. A second later a mighty explosion shook the house. The clone ran up the stairs, turned left and opened fire. Flashes illuminated up the dim hallway. Enemy gunfire answered, and Rory leapt into the hall and began firing.
“Grandpa!” yelled Ezra, as he ran up the stairs. (Again, it wasn’t “Grandpa,” but it was something like that.)
Robin snarled like a bear and hurtled up the stairs in a frenzy of bloodlust. She slid on the varnished floorboards and hit the wall, quickly regained her footing and charged. Ezra was right behind her, crouched with his shield raised, his glinting sword cocked above it like a scorpion tail. He disappeared into the darkness at the right end of the hall. Gathering my last scraps of courage, I forced myself up the stairs and slipped into the hall to the left, squatting low against the wall. The two Rorys were crouched ahead of me and advancing. The close walls lit up with a burst of gunfire, revealing four of Jimmy O’Shea’s men retreating up the hall. Another flash and only three of the men remained. Bodies spread along the floor like fallen dominoes as the two Rorys carved through enemy lines. Pressing forward, Rory and his clone ditched their rifles and took up Uzis from the dead men. Any living enemies had now taken refuge in the bedrooms. The Rorys came to the linen closet and opened the door. As the clone provided cover fire, Rory dragged three dead bodies and heaped them behind the door as a human shield. Rory and the clone crouched behind the ghoulish mini-fort and beckoned me. I crawled over and hid behind them. It smelled of smoke and blood and moth balls.
(I have to say, seeing the Rorys in action was sublime. Like watching two Mozarts play the same piano or seeing Michael Jordan play one-on-one basketball against himself. If you ever get the opportunity to see a talented person perform alongside their clone, take that opportunity.)
The Rorys held their fire. Behind us came sporadic gunshots and yelling. It looked like Ezra and Robin were involved in some sort of stand-off, waiting a few metres from the door to the last bedroom down the hall. The door was open, likely blown to bits by the grenade. The walls and ceiling were smashed up too. Below us, Cheap Trick continued playing. The Rory clone, with the dark red handprint marking his scalp, turned and signalled that we should advance. Rory nodded in agreement, then nodded at me to get ready. We stood, and the clone stepped out from behind the linen closet door with his Uzi at shoulder height, ready to fire. A rat-tat-tat roared from up the hall, and bullets thudded the linen closet door—one went right through and whizzed past my ear. I dropped my handgun and grabbed an iron from the shelf in the closet. The clone returned fire; up the end of the hall there was a grunt then a thud of a man collapsing.
“Miles!” called Rory.
I ran past the clone and up the hall, my special shoes keeping me as silent as a ghost. With a full force shoulder charge, I barged through the nearest bedroom door, whipping it open and striking an unprepared goon in the face—there were four of them in the room, they had not heard me coming. As he turned, cradling a likely broken nose, I slammed the iron into the face of a stocky man in front of me. He fell back unconscious. I hurled the iron toward a lanky fellow in the corner. He ducked it, and I ran at him. As he rose, bringing his Uzi up to fire, I grabbed his wrists and forced him side-on. He instinctively fired, peppering the fourth guy with a dozen bullets in his belly and chest as we spun around. The window shattered and the walls thumped as we wrestled for the live weapon. I managed to get in a position with some leverage, tripped the goon to the floor and landed on top of him with my knee in his side, just under his ribs. His eyes bulged, the gun spilled from his grasp, and he wheezed desperately for breath. His body had seized up, perfectly rigid—I must have hit him in the sweet spot. His teeth clenched in pain as I raised his arm and gave him a hard left hook between the shoulder blades. An arm wrapped around my neck and another pressed the back of my head in an attempted choke hold. Thankfully, I was sweaty and managed slide my head to an angle that allowed me to breathe, although my jaw felt like a vice was crushing it. My hands flailed behind my head as I tried to grab a piece of whoever was attacking me, while he rolled onto his back with me on top of him. He adjusted his grip and got his forearm across my throat again. I kicked and squirmed, then a bright ray of inspiration burst through the panic—I reached down and grabbed the man’s groin. He squeezed my neck hard, but I squeezed his testicles harder. He released his grip. I rolled off him and scrambled to my feet, gasping. It was the guy with the broken nose. He was now clearly in a never-imagined-possible amount of pain. With an agonising struggle he sat upright and blinked the water from his eyes, and I swung a young George Foreman-style right hook that hit him in the temple and knocked him to sleep. The man I had wrestled with and squashed with my knee was beginning to reanimate. I gave him a kick to the kidneys, and he froze up again, his face red and ready to burst. I dragged him across the room, lifted him upright and leaned him against the windowsill, then grabbed his legs and tipped him out. He hit the ground outside with a thump.
I should explain. Back by the linen closet, in the split-second that bullet flew past me, an extraordinary force commandeered me. Perhaps it was the “fight or flight” instinct, or a surge of adrenaline, perhaps a guardian angel was at my side, or maybe it was just good old fashioned temporary insanity. Whatever it was, I suddenly stopped thinking about trying to survive, and I just knew—I decided, as though I had the power to determine how things will be—that I was going to defeat Jimmy O’Shea and his men. I have never felt so sure in my life. It was brilliant. I have since tried to summon that feeling on several occasions, but without success.
Anyway, as I went and picked up the Uzi, I saw the Rorys in the doorway. The clone kept watch while the real Rory came in and looked around. “Miles, you maniac,” he said. He stood over the man whose face I had smashed with the iron and fired two shots into his chest. He checked the guy riddled with bullets, and then examined the fellow with the busted nose. “What happened to him?”
“Door hit him in the face,” I said.
Rory’s eyes narrowed. “Was that it?”
“Well, first the door hit him, and then he tried to strangle me, uh… and then I grabbed his balls, and then I punched him in the head.”
Rory looked at me and then crouched beside the man. He pressed two fingers to the man’s neck and felt for a pulse. “How hard did you hit him, Miles?”
“As hard as I could.”
“Huh,” he said. He stood. “The clone and I will take the next bedroom. Go and see if Ezra needs a hand.”
“Okay,” I said.
Rory and his clone moved up the hall toward the guest bedroom, and I headed back the other way.
Ezra and Robin were standing between the bathroom and the last bedroom on the right. In front of them the floor was ripped open; I could see down into the laundry.
“You all right, Ez?” I said.
I kept still while Robin sniffed my shoes then licked my leg. Good grief, her head was massive. It reminded me of those dragons used in Chinese dragon dancing. Gunfire roared again up the other end of the hall.
“Yeah,” shouted Ezra. “The grenade must have taken out most of them, there’s just a couple left in the bedroom. I can’t get in, and they’re not coming out.”
From our narrow angle I could only see into a moonlit corner of the bedroom. There was a thin strip of floor we could shuffle across to get near the room, but it was risky and would probably leave us open to gunfire when we made the last long step over the hole to the doorway.
“Fire a few shots through the door,” said Ezra.
I raised my weapon and squeezed the trigger, but immediately let go and dropped my right hand. A tremendous squeezing pain surged up my forearm. At the other end of the hall the firing continued.
“Go on,” said Ezra.
I shook my head. “I can’t. I… I think I broke my hand.”
Ezra took my gun and tried to fire. Nothing happened, it was out of ammunition.
“So much for that,” said Ezra. “Let me see your hand.”
I showed him. It had puffed up like an inflated rubber glove. He gently pressed my palm.
“Ah, damn it! Stop,” I said, drawing my hand back.
“Yeah, broken I reckon,” he said.
My supernatural courage was wearing off.
Back up the hall, the gunfire slowed off to a few random shots, then ceased.
“Clear!” called one of the Rorys to the other.
“Clear!” the other replied.
They emerged from the guest bedroom and ran down the hall to join us.
“What’s happening?” asked the clone. He was pale and sweaty.
“The last of them are in the bedroom,” I said.
The Rorys studied what was left of the floor. I looked and saw the clone’s right shoulder had caved in a little.
“Are you okay?” I asked, holding the clone’s wounded arm. It was as soft as jelly.
“I’ll be all right,” he said. “We can patch it up later.”
“How many are in there?” asked Rory.
“Don’t know,” said Ezra. “Not many.”
“Watch out,” said Rory, stepping against the wall to get a wider angle. He raised his Uzi and fired a long blast through the doorway and the smashed wall beyond it. “I know you’re in there, Biscuits!”
We watched and waited. I scratched my knee.
“Come on out, O’Shea!” called Rory. “Time to face the music.”
He readied to fire again, but then a timid British voice answered, “Biscuits isn’t here.”
“The f**k he isn’t,” snapped the clone. “We’ve checked every other room. Ez, you checked the bathroom, right?”
Ezra nodded. “It’s empty.”
“Come out of there, Biscuits!” yelled the clone. “Come and get wherz cummel dun…”
His voice slurred and trailed off. He looked exhausted.
“You all right?” I said.
He nodded and waved his hand as if it were nothing. I scratched my knees. Rory fired a short burst through the bedroom door.
“Biscuits!” he called.
“Biscuits isn’t here” answered the voice, in almost a whimper.
Rory looked at Ezra. Ezra tilted his head as if to say the voice might be telling the truth. Rory, holding the Uzi in his right hand, reached down with his left and scratched his knee. My hand throbbed.
“I swear to God, he’s not here,” pleaded the voice. “I… I just want to go.”
Ezra hammered his sword against his shield with a loud clash. “Send out Jimmy O’Shea,” he bellowed, “or I’ll cut your hands and feet off and set the dog on you!”
“No, please!” said the voice. “He’s not here. He’s not here!” The voice began sobbing.
Ezra looked at Rory and shook his head. Rory sighed.
“All right,” he called. “you want to go?” He stepped to the side, took aim and fired, shattering the bedroom window. “There—you’re free to go.”
We waited. There was a shuffle in the room, then rushed footsteps. A big man in a black jacket ran and dived through the open window.
“Bloody hell,” said Rory.
“What?” said the clone.
“A fella just did a Superman, right out the window.”
“That’s a five-metre drop,” said the clone.
“He was terrified,” said Ezra.
“Then Biscuits really isn’t here,” said Rory, his shoulders dropping. “I don’t get it. I was sure he came inside.” He scratched his knee.
Ezra squinted at Rory for a moment, then turned and looked up the hall. A tremor rippled underfoot. Cheap Trick abruptly fell silent. Ezra looked around at us standing there together, then gaped in awful realisation. “It’s a trap.”
“What?” said Rory.
“Oh man, my knees are itchy,” I said, scratching furiously.
Rory looked at me in terror. From above the house a loud, excruciating drone, like creaking metal, filled the air.
“Run!” cried Rory.
© 2021 MILES VENISON ALL RIGHTS RESERVED