You know how the security goons at a major cricket match get heckled and disparaged when they grab and deflate a beach ball which had been used by said crowd as entertainment during the boring bits? Well, not even necessarily during the boring bits but after the spectators downed their smuggled rum infused watermelons, frozen vodka-spiked oranges and in my case once, bottle of cheap scotch hidden in a fold up umbrella. All because the nazis decided that full strength beer was not good for the paying public but those in either the Members Stands or the Corporate Boxes are immune to the "No More Its The Law" and "Responsible Service of Alcohol" ineffectual bullshit. Yeah, you've seen it on the teev or at the ground; the plastic beer cup chains, Mexican Waves and frustrated punters screaming into the Channel Nine effects microphones. Well that's how Heather and I felt when the Rhino safed up his big fuck off cannon thing after crowing about his biceps. He saw our disappoinment, arched an eyebrow and advised us through a column of jaunty cigar smoke;
"Sorry folks, the fun park's closed. The moose out front should have told you."
Heather didn't miss a beat,
"We paid good money for this ride." She then shipped her rifle, adding,
" And that!", as she pointed to the unhooked Vulcan, "is part of it Mr Wally. This ain't our first killing."
The pachyderm man admired a particularly well self crafted smoke ring and gave us the facts in a movie style American drawl,
"You folks seem reasonable. Enough for government work anyway's. Let me cut you into the deal here. What you're entering is what we call a cross disciplinary, multi faceted, inter-nation work up of asset leveraging to defeat threats to our goals as outlayed in the mission statement and expressed by our defined corporate values. We're talking cross-silo optimisation of corporate assets here."
I caught bits of it and recognised some terms from crap, powdered coffee and stale cream biscuits training sessions. Heather just shrugged and kept her weapon shipped. Stalemate. It was up to me to penetrate the clouds of smoke.
"So, what's happenin' Rhino? Why the fuck are you here?"
Lame. I went back to what I knew best while tossing away my cigar,
" Want a drink?"
"No to the drink this time mate." he did a fair pass at Oz vernacular which is rare with a lot of North Americans. They're not always that good at going 'local' probably because they don't need to, unlike Kiwis who can sound authentic if there's a dollar to be had or local gestapo to be bluffed. Go anywhere in the world and you find that half the issues the locals have are with Kiwis pretending to be Aussies, Brits and Yanks. Hence the Aussies who go stupid at Pamplona. Oktoberfest and Calgary Stampede say they're Kiwis. Pay back for the Bledisloe and wrongly arrested diggers in Munchen and Rio. Anyway, he went on;
"Gotta go and scout out the south west approaches. Fact is I was at Richmond trouble shooting some air defence systems when the crap started. I could have gone back home but the job wasn't finished so I decided to stay. The Agency boys got me this truck, the Vulcan and some offsiders who I'm now going to round up. So if you folks don't mind I'll be on my way." He grinned, puffed another smoke ring and said,
"By the way, for the record it is good being the Stuck In Australia During End of Days Rhino."
He strapped his Vulcan to a frame on the big ute, puffed his cigar to a bright glow and blew Heather a smokey kiss before climbing into the truck and heading off to the south west. I was impressed.
I was also confused and said so to Heather who was busy stubbing out her own cigar.
"Huh? Oh yeah, the search thing. "
I noticed the other teams from our convoy working their ways back to our temporary "Stop, Revive, Survive" spot which was sans Lions Club refreshments but replete with twitchy punters and weary army and cop types.
I tapped her on the shoulder, pointing back where we came, saying;
"Okay Ripley, alien gone, we go thataway."
By fuck she looked gorgeous. Did I mention that earlier? Didn't say it to her this time. No point in stating the obvious, so I thought.
We watched the Rhino's drive to the south-west, mesmerised by what we'd seen of him. As we trudged back on our line, getting back to checking the ground, we briefly discussed the pachyderm man;
"I'd love to split some beers and whiskey with that bloke."
Heather looked back as I went on,
"He's got great cigars and probably some fucking ripping yarns."
Heather nodded and drove a spin off Python riff,
"Well, they certainly wouldn't be about Eric Olthwaite. No shovel embrasure probs there and I'm sure he wouldn't be told that he's a boring tit."
She said with a twistful touch which gave me a slight worry about my chances with this woman. Again. Fuck it, insecurity had held me back way too often and the middle of an apocalypse wasn't the time to go through such crap, like a mashed repeat of old crushes and busted up hope. I didn't need to mainline another scared bunch of emotional bullshit straight into the "future action" vein. I wasn't a desparate AFL gambler trying to recoup losses whilst effused by boutique drugs and fashion models. Although at second blush, chance would be a fine thing. No, time for wondering being over I asked.
"Okay Heather. Here it is. I'm really wanting to spend a lot of time with you. I don't know how to put this properly. but ...'
I looked at her straight in the eyes and felt scared. Really scared about how this would go, She looked back at me also straight in the eyes. It was a look of no bullshit, a demand to say what it is and don't be scared. By fuck she looked gorgeous but I only touched on it as I went on with my vent,
"erm, it's not only that you're way hot and that you're unaffected by it, no. Its also that you're handling all of this better than most." By this stage we were near the convoy. I dragged her back behind one of the buses, like some sort of desparate, kidnapping stalker of hotties. She didn't flinch and came with me. Hope. Well how much hope was there? She didn't know me. I thought I'd better give her all options for an escape. Hell, in the past that was what I always gone for. She noticed my hesitation and kept on looking into my eyes. This was scary.
"Okay. Truth or dare time I guess." I swallowed a hit of nerves,
"I really fancy you. I think you're a marvel." I hesitated and with her non-weapon hand she grabbed my shaky wrist and then enveloped my fingers. That did nothing for my nerves. I gulped and continued,
"There's a heap of shit you may need to know about me and what I've done." I swallowed remnants of spit, trying to brace for the Big Confession. Her gaze remain locked on target as I continued.
"Last night at Beecroft. Was a really, really crap night. I did some bad shit..." and I let her know about capping Scooby Doo and screwing Judith The Neighbour. I also backtracked to the first time we'd met and she'd come to my flat for jelly fish sting relief, how I'd noticed her various gentleman callers with a twinge of jealousy, how I'd called her name during the tryst with Judith. I rattled out all of this angsty confession waiting for her response. She unslung her rifle but before I could think about being stitched by a lead concerto she'd put the rifle down and came up and embraced me. Then kissed me long and hard. A cartoon Terry jumped up and down then did a a Curly back spin on the ground. The real Terry kissed her back with feeling. A lot of feeling. Heather drew back, still holding me and switched on her mega smile,
"Its okay Terry. Last night we weren't together. I must admit it wasn't the best thing you could have done but I'm sure Judith would have stopped you if she really wanted to. And yes, I think I do have feelings for you as well." We hugged again and I knew what we had wasn't going to be a brief fling. It had the hallmarks of Something Serious and I was no longer scared. I was happy and I told Heather as much.
"I am too." was her low throat murmured response which made me start thinking of bed. Such thoughts were doused by the ice bucket of a cop.
"Time to get moving," and he John Wayned a "we're burning daylight."
Heather and I had time for a quick kiss and hug before grabbing our weapons and going to our cars.
The convoy pulled up to a large gate which had been installed at the entrance of the college. The main buildings sported weapon pits and the roofs were festooned with a number of gun platforms. The gate was part of a ten metre high wire fence with ports for weapons. Scorch marks, torn earth and ugly stains told a tale of zed attacks. Inside the fences were hectares of pasture, market gardens, crop fields, storage sheds, and pens for chickens and ducks. There were small herds of cattle and sheep and a paddock populated by horses. In the distance I could see people on motorbikes and an occasional farm vehicle doing the farm thing. There were also small towers every hundred metres. Gotta keep an eye on zed. After being ushered through the gate the convoy drove up to the main building. Last time I'd been here was to see my brother play in a local soccer grand final. He managed to pull a penalty through some niggling of the opposition's right wing defender who threw a punch in a discussion inside the penalty area and immediately was red carded. That was my bro. I was looking forward to meeting up with him and his de facto, Diana. She was a Chilean food technologist who confirmed everyone's stereotype of a bounteous South American beauty. How Roger had managed to nab her was beyond all human sensibility given that his taste used to be stuck in the desparation of Picture Magazine's home girls.
A couple of orange vest people trafficked us into the parking area. We were then shepherded into a group meeting where we were told about room allocations, meals, work details, computer and phone arrangements and weapons wrangling. This was run by the college admin honcho and sounded a well tested recitation. Next up to the mic was an army guy. Had pips on his shoulders, a mess of medals and thinning grey hairline. He also got our attention by thundering,
"You're all dead!" A few children whimpered. Hell, even I almost whimpered and people started looking at each other with 'what the fuck' expressions. The major calmed down and went on to explain that us fragile beings had just entered a whole new world where free choice had taken a sickie and order and structure had taken its place. We were free to take our chances outside the fences at any time. He then outlined a list of der verboten behaviours which basically amounted to regular common law "don't hurt each other or let each be hurt by your own actions or the actions of others." He also said that current laws of the state were still in force on top of what he'd outlined. Then he finished and handed the mic back to our Admin M.C. to lay down some more beats. His final tune was to say we were to assemble in the theatre at 8.00 p.m. and to take our work forms along with us. Then we were instructed to check in at the college's reception in family groups, as couples or singles. We were to do this immediately and afterwards could retrieve whatever we'd stacked in our cars, trucks and buses. I noticed that the cops and army crews had split into different groups and were being approached by senior colleagues. Then Heather and I had time for a quick conference about being a couple or singles. I voted for the former which she didn't want. She wanted her own space to start with, to see how our relationship developed without the daily pressure of wet towels on the floor and dutch ovens. However, we'd still be able to arrange conjugal visits. Reluctantly I agreed but sent a silent prayer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that our first night would be the opening episode of such visits.
My room had a mid size bed, wardrobe, ensuite, kitchenette, desk with ergo chair, bookshelves, two seater lounge and the stink of decades of skull sweat. Upon further inspection I noticed a small plaque which read, "Peter Toohey, 1974". Well strike me roan and purple I'd stumbled onto a former home of the man who was going to be the next Doug Walters. My brother had told me about his legendary status at HAC and here I was in the middle of cricketing greatness. In NSW cricket history young Peter had been a promising middle order batsman, playing for his state at a tender age and marked as a future Test player. Then in the midst of the panic when the World Series Cricket privaterrs stripped the offical Australian team of its top two tiers young Peter was tossed into the maw of the thundering West Indies pace attack on their home soil. A slaughter from which he never really recovered. During his brief stay in the Australian team he was regarded as the heir apparent to Doug Walters, the heroic figure of beer, phlegmatic card play and brilliant batting. Thus young Pete was afforded the affection of cricket fans across the country. I was impressed with being in his room, hoping some of his aura may seep in.
To break the revery I plugged in my computer and phone and checked the Cloud for messages. My siblings were secure, friends mostly so and Judith was due to go to Penrith, on the way helping to shepherd the final convoy from Parramatta. She wished Heather and myself well with a few x's and o's thrown in for good measure. That was nice of her and typical of her nature. After filing status reports to all and sundry and a quick sms to Heather I ventured out into the college proper.
I caught up with her outside the college cafeteria. Some wag had printed up a sign which read "Zed's Dead Cafe" above the serving counter. Heather and I chuckled at it, grabbed each others hand and went up to order a meal. As I read the quirky menu a familiar and familial voice opened up from behind,
"Don't order the Brainz, bro. Leave the Brainz alone."