I crested the hill in my SUV and flew down the other side, briefly losing control with the unexpected bounce and subsequent swerve. Ignoring my skipped heart beat I rammed my foot down on the pedal and the engine revved loudly in reluctance before relenting to raise the speedometer dial at a disappointing rate.
The phrase ‘driving it like I stole it’ came to mind. Not because I’m a thief but because I wanted to excuse my reckless driving behaviour and also feel cooler about my mission. My boring mission.
It was a standard parcel pickup manoeuvre. Drive the chosen vehicle to the specified location, ensure pickup of all goods listed on the mission brief, then return to base. As far as simple boring missions go this was as simple and boring as they come. On the positive side of things at least it got me out the house.
I didn’t even need my gun. It was a public mission, risk rated at level EXTREMELY SAFE so bringing my gun didn’t even factor in to my thinking. It would have been like wondering if I need my gun to visit my grandma.
Of course things don’t always go as you expect. That’s Field Training 101 right there but I had been in the deathly boring wilderness of governmental monotony for so long that I was a little rusty. I saw every action through the beige-coloured glasses of the bureaucratic world in which the only thing close to a deathly danger is when I make a calculation error in a spreadsheet and feel mortal embarrassment.
The first feeling I had that something was not right was when I noticed the other cars. More specifically how there was not a single other car on the road with me. These roads were normally busy enough, even in the twilight hours of a long-weekend Monday, that I should have seen at least a handful of other drivers. Not today. It was like a ghost town.
Initially that was a positive. It gave me freedom to drive more haphazardly than I normally would; cutting a corner here, speeding a little there. It felt like my own private road and I could drive however I damn well please. Elite super cool spy, like a well known Mr Bond.
In reality, I had no more freedom on the road than the average joe. In fact if I were to be pulled over for reckless driving it would actually create a bigger-than-normal fuss. The policeman would attempt to look me up on his database, only to be rebuffed by his lack of relevant security clearance. If there is one thing a policeman hates more than snot-nosed reckless drivers it is not being allowed to exercise their authority over said snot-noses.
Dropping my foot off the accelerator I eased around the final curve and cruised down the quiet suburban street that meandered behind my destination.
The car had barely stopped moving when I jumped out and took off with a skip in my step. Despite the mundanity of my mission I was still happy to be out and about, doing something substantial, making a contribution.
I used my thumbprint to unlock my phone and opened up my special app, subconsciously taking the steps two at a time whilst I refreshed myself on the details of my pickup mission. Seemed simple enough and-
A affront to the senses hit me at the top of the steps, first assaulting my ears with a deafening roar and then offending my eyes with what could only be deemed as a chaotic carnage.
The normally laconic and relaxed business centre was a disaster zone. A heaving mass of people, screaming and kicking and punching, pulsed back and forth against an invisible barrier at the front of a store. Bloodied and lifeless bodies lay on the ground, trampled by the rest of the mob as they attempted another surge forward, nearly breaking through what I briefly saw was not an invisible barrier but just a flimsy line of security guards wildly wielding batons and tasers. They were massively outnumbered and were obviously scared shitless.
I felt like I was living one of those that’s good-that’s bad stories. This was exactly where I needed to be to complete my mission (that’s bad), at least I had found where everyone was (that’s good) but it looked like we were suffering some end of days style apocalypse (that’s bad) and I just remembered that I left my gun at home (fuck).
What happened next I would like to put down to bravery, cleverness, or some other positive attribute but the truth is that it was 90% stupidity and 10% extreme stupidity.
I charged in.
The first man I pulled back turned and snarled at me, an almost animalistic growl, before throwing a wild haymaker at my head. I ducked outside the arc of his wayward punch, used his momentum to turn his body away and delivered two swift strikes to his neck. He dropped to the ground unconscious, but was quickly replaced by two more of the mob who had noticed me and were approaching warily. They were almost physical opposites – one small and wiry and the other tall and big like an over-the-top gym junkie.
I stepped back to free up some space and nearly stumbled over another fallen body. The two men took their opportunity and launched a simultaneous attack. I made the split-second decision to defend against the bigger attacker, block his punch with my forearm. raising my right knee in to his abdomen, spinning him around and locking his neck in a classic sleeper hold that you would witness almost any night out in the Valley.
Choosing to defend the bigger man had a downside. It left me exposed an vulnerable to attacks from the other man but these are the decisions you make in uneven battles. Sometimes you have to cop a few knocks in order to survive. A few bruises would be worth-
The little mother fucker had a crow bar! That would have been useful information to have had before I decided to ignore him.
That was at least two broken ribs now. I felt the immediate burst of pain explode somewhere around my 5th or 6th rib, followed by an ache that radiated out across my chest, a deep throbbing pain and the edges of my vision turning yellow and fuzzy.
I called upon my field training, using a mind focus technique to compartmentalise the pain and separate my current mind from it. It was like building a wall around the broken ribs. I knew the pain was there but, for the time being, it was contained. Dealing with that would be future Jack’s problem.
The little man raised his arm to swing his weapon again and in the process exposed himself for me. I thrust my left foot into his stomach, serving the dual purpose of stopping his brutal attack on my poor ribs and also knocking the air out of him. I dropped the bigger man (who had now passed out) and turned to face the other assailant. He was perched on all fours, clutching his stomach, trying desperately to suck air back in. The human body is funny like that. There are dozens of critical strike points across the body that, when hit with enough force, cause instant uncontrollable bodily responses that render someone temporarily incapacitated.
I aimed a kick directly at his knee, at another one of those strike points, and he collapsed to the ground writhing in agony as he clutched his shattered knee. At least now I was sure he wouldn’t be able to get up and attack me from behind.
Briefly I considered taking the crow bar but the crowd of people I was trying to push through was too tight. I would have no room to adequately swing the bar and it would end up being more of a liability than a benefit.
I pulled another three men out of the crowd, one by one, and incapacitated them as a fast as possible – breaking arms, kneecaping, or knocking them out. The fourth person I grabbed turned out to be a little old lady. She was at least 80 years old, wearing her Sunday best flower-patterned dress, and was splattered in blood. Her eyes burned with a fire that belied her age and she smiled in a pleasant way that reminded me of my grandma. Then she stabbed me.
When I had thought that the two broken ribs was painful I had no idea what I was talking about.
The knife pierced my left arm, slicing in to the meaty part of my bicep which split apart like a well worn seam on my pants after a big christmas lunch. Through the fresh slice I could actually see inside my arm – layers of muscle and tissue and a surprising amount of flowing blood that quickly covered some white thing I think was my bone.
I felt very dizzy and uncomfortable about my place in the world. Luckily my training instincts took over.
The old lady had fooled me once but even with my left arm hanging uselessly by my side I knew I could handle her. She came at me again with the knife and I pivoted on the balls on my feet, letting her wild stab hit nothing but air. I shot my right hand out to grab her wrist, securing the weapon, and slid in to her open stance jamming the point of my right shoulder inside hers. As my shoulder hit I pulled my right hand down sharply and thrust my head backwards into her face – simultaneously dislocating her wrist, disabling her shoulder, and breaking her nose.
Nobody gets away with stabbing me. Not even little old ladies.
By this time I was suitably ready to give up, go home and patch myself up but I noticed that I had caused enough damage that the guards-to-wild-mob ratio was evening up. I could even see some gaps in the battle line where I could squeeze through. Damn me and my inability to let something go unfinished.
I ripped off my shirt and tightened a quick tourniquet around my arm. I had an emergency medical kit in my car so I could patch myself up properly in a few minutes. Just as soon as I finished what I came to do.
Swooping down to pick up the knife I ran charging at the thinnest part of the front-line between the security guards and the raging mob. I took another two men down as I surged forward from behind them, eventually bursting their ranks and hurtling myself over the barrier and in to the safety beyond.
I landed hard, with a loud thud on the cold hard tiles that squashed every molecule of oxygen out of my body. Everything hurt. My ribs and arm obviously, but also suspiciously my knee and my jaw too. I must have copped some blows in the heat of the battle that I did not remember. I mentally added painkillers to my list.
Giant blacks boots surrounded me and I was invited to perform a microscopic quality assurance check on the pointy end of a taser. It all looked in order to me.
One of the overbearing security guards grabbed me roughly and dragged me away from the chaos He had a moustache that looked like a baby bird had fallen asleep under his nose, or maybe died. His reddened cheeks spoke of a man with a strong drinking habit that was bordering on problematic. If he came any closer I was sure I would be able to smell last night on his breath. He looked at my expectantly, waiting for me to identify myself.
I was desperately trying to suck air in to my ribcage whilst also trying to limit my deep breathing just in case my broken ribs might pierce one of my lungs.
‘My name is Jack Brumby.’ I took a sharp breathe, an even sharper cough, and felt a not insignificant amount of blood fill the back of my mouth. That was not a good sign but I gritted my teeth. I had a mission to complete.
‘I’m here for a pickup.’
Then I passed out.
‘Can I help your sir? Sir?’ The voice snapped me out from my reverie. I opened my eyes and reality came crashing back. ‘Sir?’
The mustachieod operator manning the cash register was looking at me expectantly and the growing chorus of grumbles behind me indicated that I was holding up the already angry mob of queuing shoppers.
The oddly-sized gay couple in front had completed their transaction and were heading out the door. The little old lady who had rudely taken the last bunch of bananas just as I reached for them gave my arm another stab with her pointy elbow, herding me to the register. Somewhere towards the back of the line a boisterous bunch of children screamed at their parents demanding rewards of toys, chocolates, or both.
As I paid for my groceries and headed back to my car I realised that I had just discovered hell on earth: 4pm at the only supermarket open on Labour Day.