Location: Australia, Greater East-Redshores
Flint Station pulled his white 1983 Ford Falcon into the driveway of his rural property. The driveway was several hundred metres long, a barely-there collection of bitumen overtaken by grass, weeds and mud—but it was also the signpost he was home. To either side of him ran trees as far as the eye could see, great silky gums, ironwoods and paperbarks, the driveway itself lined with red wattles—and everywhere in between—two metre high sword grass.
To the untrained eye, the grass was beautiful, a simple choice in decorative fauna. To anyone who tried to walk through it, they would find themselves littered with painful, razor-thin cuts. It was also easy to grow, difficult to pass, required absolutely no maintenance and was far cheaper than manufactured razor wire to keep out nosy intruders who wanted to come at the house from an angle that wasn’t easily observed.
Flint, at the best of times, was not a fan of guests.
As the downhill, long angled driveway opened up it was easy to notice paddocks on the left and right to either side of a rundown white wooden house with a surrounding balcony on all sides, tin roof and brown wood-and-wire finished balustrades.
On the left, were two fenced-off paddocks. One paddock held a smattering of free roaming chickens that pecked and scratched at the earth, the other, a homemade constructed long range rifle shooting range. Between them lay a dirt path to a large rustic red barn, also gilded with a tin roof, but with white finishing, instead of brown. Behind and beside the barn lay more paddocks, creating long, fenced off-open spaces encased by the surrounding sword grass and bushland.
Something caught Flint’s eye as he made his way down the driveway. Before the house was parked a brand new, black Toyota Hilux. It wasn’t his. On instinct, Flint killed the motor and slowed the car he was driving to a stop, ending his momentum well short of the house and paddocks.
He pulled the handbrake up as quietly as possible, slid open the door, and quickly made sure that his prosthetic leg was well attached to the portion of leg just below his left knee. It wouldn’t pay for something to go wrong with it in the event that he suddenly needed to make a run for it. Sure, after a moment that it was well secured, he popped a button that would open the boot and crouch-walked over to it. The car boot itself seemed ordinary enough, its contents a blanket, a torch, a car jack, spare tire and impact wrench.
Flint wiped sweat into the salt and pepper extrusions that stuck out from the sides of his head, extrusions that barely passed for hair and might instead be mistaken for matted wool, wool that had also completely abandoned the top of his scalp. He hadn’t had a single visitor in the entire time that he had lived here. He wondered who could possibly have pulled up to the house on his property now, after all these years.
The aging native Australian reached a hand around in the lining of the fabric dividing the back seat of the car from the boot, fumbling until he found a sharp piece of metal that the fabric could be pressed against. He pressed the material hard onto the pointed barb, careful not to cut his finger on it, then having made a hole in the lining, worked it open so he could tear at it with both hands, stripping the material away. Task successful, he ripped away the cloth to reveal a cavity in the back of the seat, reached into it and pulled out a Franchi SPAS-12 semi-automatic shotgun, already loaded and ready to go.
He checked it over, making sure it was still operational after so long in the back of the car, and readied it for use. For a moment he looked down the weapon lovingly. He wasn’t much for close range firing of guns. But if life had taught him anything, while you could always be prepared, you couldn’t always pick the terrain of your battles. Wistfully he mused, if the car belonged to a visiting batch of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they were about to have, a really bad day.
Flint approached the open door to the house on his property as stealthily as he could, which wasn’t saying much when you were a one legged man, with a prosthetic foot, on wooden flooring. A shoe covered the foot, stopping the plastic noise of the foot itself, but stealth movements required a light touch—and he had none anymore, at least not with his feet.
The smell of spiced tobacco hit his nose before the soft feminine voice from inside reached his ears. “You won’t need that, Titch.”
Flint froze. A small knot of fear settled into his stomach and Flint grabbed the gun tighter. He used his forearm to scratch at the first of his two chins, a chin covered in three days of salt and pepper growth. No one left in this town should know where he lived, let alone that name—there was only one person he knew who smelled like that spiced smoke and as far as Flint knew, that old Red bastard was even more dead than ‘Titch’ was.
Flint approached the side of the doorway from the right, gun held before him, carefully checking the left side of the doorway and the room before it. Empty, aside from a couch, coffee table, TV and fireplace.
He stepped back from the door, far enough that were someone in the doorway, they would not be able to reach him before catching a shotgun blast in the face. Flint stepped in front of the open entry. A young woman sat at an old white and grey Beechwood dining table with matching faded chairs, behind her was a library and corridor leading into other rooms. She smoked an ornately carved native American tribal pipe, and eyed him curiously. As she held no firearm, and made no move of aggression, he ignored her.
Still unsure if this was a trap, he stepped to the left of the door so he could see the right side of the door frame and into the room beyond. The door was at an angle that no one could hide behind it, and the room itself was an empty kitchen.
He looked down at the floor in front of the door and stared in annoyance at the trip wire that lay disarmed on the tanned wooden floorboards. Presumably, his guest, had cut it.
“Bit old school, isn’t it? The tripwire I mean…” came the voice from the woman at the dining room table.
“Tried and true, not like that modern electronic shit. Motion sensors and lasers are for kids. A wire cable never stops working in a power outage, and power out here, is spotty at best.”
“Easy to see though, if you’re looking...”
He grunted unhappily. “Apparently…”
She nodded and puffed twice on her pipe as if, not surprised, but satisfied by the answer and seeming to enjoy the exchange. She motioned at the chair across from her. “I’d say come in,” she said congenially between breaths, “but it is your house…”
Flint stepped in the door, over the tripwire, even though it was cut. It would be just his luck to step on it and still set it off somehow.
He looked up. The cable had been attached to a pulley system, with three shotguns above the door frame pointing straight down towards anyone who walked in the front door. Unfortunately, without their triggering mechanism, they’d transformed from deadly, to useless, ornaments.
He kept the shotgun levelled at the woman across from him. She wore a grey pin stripe suit and white button up shirt, both meant for a man. Her skin had a deep red hue to its tan, her neck thick with tribal tattoos. Her hair was a deep brown, shorn short at the side, long on the top and back, shaped into a style similar to dread locks. Long earrings of gold, beads and feathers hung from her ears onto her chest. Her makeup and eyebrows were immaculate. She would probably have been stunning, were it not for a deep ugly jagged scar that ran from the corner of her right lip all the way into the hair above her right ear—effecting a half ‘joker’ face.
“I suppose you don’t need me to tell you that you’re a hard man to find with traditional methods, Titch.” Her eyebrows went up marginally, showing she was mildly impressed. “Not a skerrick of paper trail, not a deed, not a bill, not a bank account with your name on it…”
Flint shrugged, still pointing his weapon at her. “Evidently, that was the point. So how’d you find me?”
“We have people who don’t need eyes to see, or a paper trail, to find someone.” She pointed at his weapon with her pipe. “I said you don’t need the gun.” So saying she leaned back and undid the button on her jacket, displaying a leather vest littered with knives. Flint ran his eyes over the impressive display of blades, understanding the move had been no accident. She was being polite, so he wasn’t entirely sure whether she was trying to assure him that she had no firearms, or warn him that she didn’t need one to deal with someone like him. Probably both.
Flint sat at the seat across from her, putting the shotgun on the table, barrel facing towards her, finger still on the trigger. “Looks like you had a run in with one of your toys…” he said motioning towards her knives.
If she took offense at his pointing out her scarring, she didn’t show it. Instead, the corner of the right side of her mouth rose in a smile; pushing the scarring out at awkward angles. She pulled out her pipe and made a point of emptying its ash onto his table, a tiny power play to tell him—that as far as she was concerned—he may hold the gun, but she was in charge. “A little girl wanted something I had. We disagreed. I lost.”
“Doesn’t sound like the Tworivers’ way…”
She didn’t look up at him, instead made a point of packing her pipe from a leather pouch. “At least you understand who you’re dealing with. That’s a good start, Titch.”
Flint twitched at the use of his long dead childhood nickname, but quickly buried the emotional response. “You’re one of Meeko’s kids?” asked Flint.
She finished packing her pipe, inspecting it one final time. “Yes. Grace.”
Flint laughed, a surprised chortle filled with disbelief and mirth. “The little girl with the pig-tails—get out!”
She gave the half smile again, twisting the scar. “Like I said, you don’t need the gun. We’re old friends. I sat on your knee once, remember?”
Flint shrugged and made a point of angling the weapon further towards her. “Sorry love. Seems you grew up to be just like your father. So, I’m going to have to insist—”
Too late, Flint heard the creek of floorboards behind him. He felt the hard steel of a metal chamber against the back of his head. “Actually, mate, I’m going to have to insist.”
Flint sighed. He was getting old, too old, for all this bullshit. Guns and secrecy was a young person’s game. He took his hands off the trigger and put both hands in the air.
Tworivers put the pipe in her mouth, lit it, and spoke around the stem between puffs. “Titch, Omeo. Omeo, Titch. Corporal Omeo, here, is on loan to the Tworivers family, courtesy of the ADF.”
Omeo walked around Flint, keeping his weapon smoothly trailing against the side of the older man’s head. A dark black native Australian, the size of a mountain, wandered into Flint’s view and picked up the shotgun.
Flint opened his mouth in shock.
Omeo laughed at his expression, misunderstanding his reaction. “I know. I’m quiet for a big bastard, right? That’s pretty much everyone’s reaction when they realise the size of the bloke that snuck up on them.” He leaned in silently towards Flint, his smile genuine. “Bit surprised I got you to be honest. Grace here sells you like you’re a ghost. Really thought you’d check the perimeter before you went in…”
Flint opened and shut his mouth a few times in shock, “…Station?”
Omeo raised an eyebrow in surprise. “You know me, old man?”
Tworivers cut in. “He knew your uncle—”
Flint’s verbal shot back was instant. “Station never had a sibling—”
Tworivers shrugged. “Officially… no. Unofficially… his father had a lover—got her pregnant—and she had a son. Omeo is that man’s son, born and raised in Redshores. Your friend never mentioned why his family suddenly left Redshores—why he moved to Brisbane?”
Flint balked. “We were kids. I doubt he even knew… all he said is they just packed everything one day and left.”
Tworivers nodded as if the explanation made sense. “Now you know why...”
Omeo turned back to Tworivers, holding the shotgun pointed directly at Flint’s face. “Need me to stay?”
The Red skinned woman shook her head. “No, this visit is friendly. Keep an eye on the perimeter, if anyone comes—deal with it—but quietly. No corpses.”
Omeo put a hand to his forehead in lazy salute, offering a—‘Sir, yes sir,’—before putting the pistol he’d initially been carrying in his belt and swapping away from it to favour the use of the shotgun. Omeo gave the older man a cheeky wink, “Best of luck, mate. I know this may taste like a cock-flavoured lollipop right now, but she’s a good friend to have. Besides, it hurts less if you work with her, mate, rather than have her go in without the lube.” Not waiting for a response from Flint, the big man lumbered out of the house.
Tworivers smoked her pipe, watching the emotions play out on the old man’s face quietly.
Flint’s expression slowly changed from shock, to sadness, to anger. “You brought that big cunt on purpose, to fuck with my head…”
Tworivers didn’t move a muscle, simply observing him. “Yes.”
“To remind you, that even you don’t always know everything, Titch.”
Flint’s face darkened further. “Stop calling me that. He’s dead, buried, just like your old man and Station. You have no idea what I had to do to get rid of that na—”
“I know exactly what you had to do.” Her voice was cold, quiet, firm, unforgiving. It was the voice of someone who had measured and judged you for your sins.
Flint stopped speaking and swallowed, waiting to hear what she wanted.
Tworivers reached under her chair and pulled out a small blue esky with a white lid, placed it on the table and shoved it towards him. It left a streak of condensation on its pathway to him.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“A peace pipe, tailored specifically to you.”
Cautiously he opened the box, his eyes widening in delight. “You little rippa!” He pulled out a bottle of beer from a small ice covered pile of other similar bottles with the word ‘Falstaff’ on the label. Without even pausing he cracked open the lid and immediately began to chug down a half bottle. He finished swallowing and tipped back the beer from his lips, giving a solid exhalation of satisfaction, “I haven’t had this—”
“Since 1965, I imagine. Third largest beer brand in America at the time, at least until they acquired a Narragansett brand. After that, Falstaff ended up in an anti-trust lawsuit with the government that almost closed their doors. You can’t get it over here, but it’s still around, back home, in the States. It was also the year you started your service with my father…”
Flint’s eyes darkened at the memory. “Not my start… Alinta’s—Jedda’s… She was the one in bed with your old man. And I mean that in every way…”
Tworivers nodded and shrugged, as if the distinction made no difference to her. “Still… She brought ‘Titch’ into the family with her. And let’s be honest, you’ve belonged to us ever since…”
Flint pushed the beer away, its joyous memory suddenly tainted. He looked up at her, his face hard, uncooperative in anticipation of where this was going.
Tworivers arched an eyebrow slightly. “Are we really going to do this?”
“You mean the part where you tell me that ‘Titch’ worked for your family, then I tell you ‘Titch’ is dead, that he worked for your father—not you—and Flint wants nothing to do with either of you.”
“And then?” She smiled, now definitely enjoying the back and forth.
“You threaten me and I tell you to go fuck yourself, right?” Flint folded his arms, his face hardening further. “Yeah… we’re definitely going to do that.”
Tworivers gave a small chuckle, then made a ‘tsk’ noise as if chiding a child. “There you go again, Flint—”
“At least you got the name right this time...”
Rather than press him, she smiled crookedly into her scar once more and held it. Quietly smoking, watching him.
She waited so long it started to become unnerving to Flint, discomforting to the point that he felt the sudden need to pick up the conversation himself. “What is it that you think that I always do?”
“Why did I bring Omeo, Flint…?”
Flint grunted in a way that reminded Tworivers of Jedda, and then answered her. “Cos you’re a fucking bi—”
She cut him off impatiently, her words slow and deliberate. “Why—did—I—”
Flint harrumphed and folded his arms again. “To prove a point…”
“Exactly. That you don’t know everything.”
“And, what don’t I know that’s so important to you? That you think you need me for?”
“He’s coming back.” Tworivers stopped speaking abruptly, simply observing him, watching to see what kind of reaction he would have to her news, and then to the task she had for him. In her experience, silence was often its own reward, always needing to be filled by someone. Sometimes you learned more from saying nothing, or alternatively, offering a person a scrap of information, rather than giving them all you had.
Flint looked lost, not at all understanding what she was saying.
Obviously not getting the reaction she wanted, she expanded her point slightly further. “The kid... He will come to you, and when he does, I want him.”
The folds of Flint’s aged face creased further in obvious confusion.
Tworivers tapped her scar with the stem of her pipe.
Understanding suddenly dawned on Flint’s face who she was speaking about. “Eric…?”
Inside she gave a small smile. She honestly hadn’t been sure he’d ever had any contact with the boy before this moment. “I want him, Flint—and he’s coming, specifically to you. Our people, our medicine men and women, they’ve seen it.” That part was true, her people—the ones who had found Flint in the first place, they’d had a vision. It was her reason for having left the native tribal lands of the Mohicans and having returned to Australia.
“You’re why Eric went missing?”
“No.” She reached into her jacket, put away the leather pouch of tobacco into her right pocket and from her left jacket pocket pulled out another leather pouch. From this she pulled something dark, brown and dried. She took a bite and chewed slowly. She motioned the leather opening towards Flint questioningly. “Buffalo jerky?”
Flint looked at it, mildly suspiciously. “Your father stripped hair off my arse with that stuff. How spicy is it?”
“You got any hair left down there?” she asked smiling around the chewing of the meat. “This will take the rest.”
He held up both hands as if warding off danger. Seeing his reaction, she tied the bag closed and put it away before continuing, still chewing the buffalo meat and taking the occasional puff of her pipe with the other hand. “In April of 1986—you did a job for our family. A little OP, so that we could keep something quiet...”
Flint went pale. “You don’t mean—”
She tapped the stem of her pipe against her cheek again. “One of them did this. That’s who got the kid, that’s why he’s missing—”
Flint shook his head in disbelief. “Then he’s dead. It’s been a bloody year. Eric’s been ripped inside out and probably rotted in the ground somewhere.” Without thinking, he picked up the other half of the beer and drained it, then opened another. “If it’s one of those things… he’s just… just…”
“You encountered a fresh one. This wasn’t like that. This thing was old, controlled. It didn’t come to kill him, it specifically knew what it wanted and came and took him from us—”
Flint spluttered on the beer, choking in mid-pull. He coughed out a question. “It what—?” He smacked himself in the chest, trying to clear his lung. “What do you mean? They don’t think—they’re monsters!
“This one was more…”
Flint blinked at her with saucer eyes. “You’re serious. One of those things, it saved him and it left you… alive?”
“Absolutely no interest in finishing me off once it had the kid.” She tapped her scar again, “Gave me this souvenir and hexed my head so hard that it was two days before I woke up in my own piss, shit and vomit—maggots knee deep in the bodies of everyone around me, their blood and bones stinking up the place that they had been tasked to protect...”
The two sat in silence, neither willing to speak, and neither quite sure what that chain of events meant. Tworivers sat back and relaxed a little. At least the man was taking the news well. Perhaps he wouldn’t be as difficult to deal with as she’d thought—her father had always described Flint as obstinate, but worth the effort. She looked at the beer she’d brought Flint, then around the room. “You wouldn’t have any green tea, would you? I went to Japan a few years ago and got a taste for it…”
Flint didn’t answer her, busy mulling, thinking.
Tworivers waited, watching him chew over what she had said, considering, and then seemed to come to some sort of decision.
He shook his head lightly, as if discussing the weather. “Sorry love. I have nothing in here, Grace. See, I don’t l actually live in this place, in this house I mean. It’s just a shell, a honey pot, in case some dickhead like you ever came looking to find me.”
Tworivers eyes went wide in apparent surprise, the most expression she’d probably shown in a year. “You’re kidding?”
“Nah... I mean there are clothes, books and electrical equipment lying around to suck in any local crooks that might come looking to rob the place. But the pipes aren’t even connected, drawers are empty. I’m shocked as hell I got a Tworivers with it. You guys obviously didn’t do that much of a sweep…” He reached under the table and the sound of tape tearing could be heard. Suddenly a grey remote control switch appeared in his hands.
Tworivers stood up quickly in surprise, dropping her pipe. Understanding instantly and obviously dawning on her at the remote detonator Flint now held in his hands.
Flint shrugged, standing up along with her, just on the other side of the table. “You’re standing on enough C4 to level this property and anything parked around it. I gotta be real, Grace—you were a nice kid, I always liked you. But if this little interaction is anything to go by, you grew up to be every bit the manipulative cunt your father was.” He stepped back and away from the table, his face darkening. “Now get the fuck off my property before I decide I want to see Station in person, instead of just talking to his grave, or his nephew.”
Tworivers began to reach for one of her knives even as she circled towards him.
“You’re not really that stupid are you? Meeko would be disappointed.” He tapped the remote with his free hand. “This is a dead man switch. I go down… you’re about a microsecond behind me.”
She froze. Her eyes narrowed, but her hand drifted away from the knife. Her words whispered out coldly between clenched teeth. “You don’t want the Tworivers tribe for an enemy, Flint…”
He barked out a laugh. “Because being friends with you lot did me so many favours? I don’t think so.” He motioned to the door with a nod of his head, “Now git and don’t think about coming back. I got lazy, forgot how the game is played. But I’ll be ready next time.”
Her face remained hard, her voice soft. “I will get him, Flint.”
“Not from me you won’t, you venomous cunt. And according to your medicine lads, no matter what you do, I’ll definitely get to him first.”
Tworivers remained impassive, but didn’t argue. She bent over and regathered her father’s pipe from the floor, and then calmly, she did up the buttons on her jacket. She walked to the door, pausing without looking back at him. “Did you know my father spoke highly of you? He always said, if there was a job that no one else was willing, or able, to do—you could do it. He told me that there were a million people in the world you could hire for a job who would do it for the money or the politics… you were the only man he ever met that was in it for the challenge. Do you know what that means?” She glanced over her shoulder at Flint for a half moment. “My father didn’t just think you were effective; he actually liked you, Flint. You were more to him, than his tool of choice. It would be a terrible shame, a terrible loss for the Tworivers family, to have to kill you.”
He shrugged, as if the entire exchange was par for the course. “I always respected him, Grace. But I never liked him. Can I keep the beer? You can tell Station’s clone out there that it’s trade for the shotgun.”
Tworivers nodded, not angrily or in acceptance of his request, but respectfully at quietly having been bested at this particular juncture. She disappeared in the direction of her parked car and Omeo, a puff of spiced smoke, all that was left in her wake.