Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 5.

Chapter 5

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock:

4am.

What?

Again?

Weeks and weeks had passed by and the brother and sister team still hadn’t found a solution to their problem. Eventually Edie smelled coffee. Her parents were awake and they were making her breakfast. She shuffled out of her room like a zombie. Yarrow shuffled out of his room like a zombie.

Mum and Dad watched them very closely while they ate their breakfast. Very closely, or very crossly. Probably both. They still remembered the day the kids slept in and missed school, so both parents stayed home to make sure they walked to the bus stop on time. It was not a good morning.

Edie didn’t fall asleep at school that day, but only because she asked Marcela to poke her with a pen every time she was about to doze off. They did things like that for each other all the time, even crazy or silly things, because they were such close friends. Marcela wasn’t sure at first, but then she remembered what Edie did to her birthday cake, and she was happy to poke her with a pen. Unfortunately, Mrs Kauff caught them and was mad at Marcela. She gave her a punishment, but only a small punishment, because she knew Edie could be very determined. Not bossy, just determined.

Yarrow had a bad day too.

He did maths work during reading time, then ate his lunch during the science lesson. He put on his painting apron during maths class, and put his snacks in the book shelf, then he found paint brushes in his lunch box. Plus, there was paint on one side of his face, but he didn’t even know. He only realised when his friends laughed at him and told him he fell asleep during art. His friends were sooooo cheeky. He was sooooo tired.

Yarrow and Edie were both too tired to do sport at school. They liked sport. They decided to do some sport at home and thought it might also be a way to make Ralph tired – tired enough to sleep past 4am.

They dragged their tired bodies out to Ralph’s enclosure and forced themselves to play sport.

They started playing soccer, but Ralph wasn’t interested because his feet were too small. They switched to cricket, but roosters aren’t very good at cricket – they’ve got no hands.  

“What about basketball?” asked Yarrow, but every time they bounced the ball near Ralph, they nearly squashed him. They tried handball, but Ralph kept running into the king square, even when he didn’t win the point. This made Yarrow very frustrated. Edie suggested hopscotch, but every time she put a stone in a square, Ralph thought it was food and he tried to eat it.

“We could take him bike riding,” Yarrow suggested.

“But we don’t have a helmet small enough for his head.”

The only game Ralph liked was chasings, because no one could catch him.

Image: Arib Neko

Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 4.

Chapter 4

Days passed by one after the other, and Ralph was still waking up at 4am. Yarrow and Edie needed a change. A change of plan and a change of scene. They grabbed some towels, grabbed their parents, and wandered down to their favourite swimming spot at the river. It was beautiful. The water was crystal clear and colourful birds flew between tall trees thick with rich green foliage.

As soon as they jumped into the refreshing water they felt better and the ideas started flowing.

“Does Ralph know how to count?” asked Yarrow. “If he can’t count, he can’t tell the time, so maybe we need to teach him.”

“Yes, or we could paint pictures of the sun and hang them up in his enclosure, to remind him to wait for the sun,” said Edie. Yarrow thought that was also a good idea, and immediately came up with some more, like teaching Ralph how to whisper, or teaching him how to hold his breath.

Edie thought the last idea was a bit crazy, but before she could say so, Yarrow’s head disappeared beneath the water and all anyone could see were little ripples on the surface. He stayed underwater for a long time.

After swimming and brainstorming for a little longer, the two tired children climbed up onto the smooth warm rocks to dry off. On the rocks, they were supposed to plan how they would try out all of their brilliant new ideas in the coming days, but something happened. Something not entirely unpleasant, and something not entirely unexpected; they fell asleep.

Mum and Dad had to piggy-back them all the way home.

Image: Arib Neko

Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 3.

Chapter 3

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock:

4am.

What?

Again?

Aaaaarggh, this is so frustrating!

“Your secret language didn’t work,” Edie said to Yarrow at the breakfast table.

“And your clock didn’t work,” Yarrow said to Edie.

“I’m so tired, what are we going to do?”

They started thinking of new ideas, but then they fell asleep. This was a big problem, because they woke up very late. Too late to catch the bus, and too late to get to school on time. That meant Yarrow couldn’t play handball, or do his favourite maths puzzles, or hear Mr Gresford read another story. And it meant Edie couldn’t learn about photosy…phostyso…photisyonpasenthelis…Worse still, she couldn’t apologise to Marcela for destroying her birthday cake.

Plus, Mum and Dad would not be happy when they got home from work.

Uh Oh!

Many hours later, Yarrow and Edie woke up again. They were really hungry, so it must have been after lunch time. They found themselves some food, and made their lunch. It didn’t taste as good as Mum and Dad’s sandwiches.

While they were eating, they did a brainstorm, to think of ways to make Ralph wake up after 4am. They decided they could try to make Ralph tired. Make him as tired as they felt; more tired than they felt. If they could do that, he would definitely go to sleep.

So, they walked into his enclosure and turned on some music. Then they started swaying from side to side. Then they started moving a bit faster. Ralph looked at them and he was shocked. They danced even faster and soon they were jumping and leaping and spinning around all over the enclosure. They turned up the music and danced wildly, and soon Ralph joined in. He didn’t have many dance moves, well, not as many as Edie and Yarrow, but he liked to walk round pushing his neck back and forward. He walked around the enclosure pushing his neck back and forward in time with the music, and Edie and Yarrow thought it was so funny that they copied him. They were having so much fun that they didn’t hear the car pull up.

EDIE, YARROW! Mum yelled. She was home from work and she was not happy.

That night, dinner was brussels sprouts, broccoli, raw carrot, plain rice and no sauce. Then they went straight to bed. Today was not a good day.

Image: Arib Neko

Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 2.

Chapter 2

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock.

4am.

She rubbed her eyes and looked again.

4am.

“But how, it can’t be, am I dreaming? This is not possible. I told Ralph to wake up later”

Just then, Yarrow walked into her room. He looked like a zombie again, but today he looked like a confused zombie. They both yawned.

While Yarrow was munching through his cereal, he had an idea.

“Maybe Ralph doesn’t speak English,” he told Edie.

“What?”

“Maybe he didn’t understand us yesterday,” and he rushed out the door and into Ralph’s enclosure. He started speaking to Ralph, but not in English. He used his own language. It didn’t have a name, but it had a bit of Dutch, because his favourite colour was orange. It had a bit of Japanese, because he watched anime cartoons, and it had a bit of Italian, because he loooooved pizza.

Edie and her parents watched Yarrow talk to Ralph. They didn’t understand his language, and his friends didn’t understand his language. Would Ralph understand his language?

Later that day, when Yarrow was at his friend’s place, he fell asleep while playing handball. To make it worse, he was in KING when he fell asleep. In KING! His friends carried him to the DUNCE square and left him there. His friends were always playing jokes on each other, they were great fun to hang out with. Yarrow only woke up when he heard his dad come to pick him up.

Edie’s day was worse. It should have been great, because she went to Marcela’s birthday party with all of her best friends. There was food, plus drinks, and lollies, there was a jumping castle, and even a clown. Edie was having so much fun, but then disaster struck.

Marcela’s cake was placed on the table. It was beautiful and blue with images of dolphins, because Marcela was obsessed with dolphins. Edie offered to help put the candles on the cake, and then it happened.

She placed one candle, then she yawned.

She placed another candle, and she yawned again.

When she placed the third candle, she yawned the biggest yawn she had ever yawned, and her eyes closed. Then she fell forward, further and further, until her head went SPLAT, right into Marcela’s cake. It was a disaster. The dolphins were ruined, the cake was ruined, and Edie’s face was covered in cake and icing. She couldn’t even say sorry to Marcela, because she was fast asleep.

“We have to try again,” said Edie when she got home and washed her face. Yarrow tried to watch his cartoons, but Edie was even more determined than before.

“Ralph needs a clock!” she decided.

“What’s a clock?” asked Yarrow.

“It’s a thing old people use to tell the time. Mrs Kauff uses one, and she showed us one in class last week.”

“But where do we get a clock?”

“We make one.”

So, Yarrow and Edie walked off into the bush to find materials to make a clock. Luckily, they didn’t see any snakes. Luckily, they didn’t see any spiders. Luckily, they did see a wallaby and they did see a Rosella. Edie loves Rosellas, they’re so colourful.

Edie and Yarrow found a piece of wood, which was shaped like a circle. They found some small stones, leaves and flowers. Then Edie came back with two sticks; a big one and a little one.

“Why is one big and one small?” asked Yarrow.

“The small stick shows the hour, and the big stick shows the minutes, and together they tell the time,” Edie explained.

They spent all afternoon making their clock, and it was almost dark when they finished. Finally, they took the clock to Ralph and told him:

“Ralph, look at the clock. This is 4 o’clock,”

Then Edie moved the big stick and the little stick.

“This is 6 o’clock. You can wake up at 6 o’clock, but not before.”

Ralph looked at Edie, then looked at the clock. He looked at Yarrow, then looked at the clock. He was still looking at the clock when Edie and Yarrow left the enclosure. It was dark now, and they were so hungry. They could smell their dinner, and it smelt really, really good.

Image: Arib Neko

Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 1.

Chapter 1

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock:

4am.

“Nooooo, why does Ralph have to wake up so early every day?” she sighed.

Edie rolled over and tried to get back to sleep, but it was impossible. She thought about having some breakfast, but it was too early. She thought about reading a book, but she was too tired. So, she tossed and turned and thought about how to stop Ralph The Rowdy Rooster from waking her up at 4am every morning.

While she was thinking about this, she heard a strange noise. She heard little pieces of plastic smashing together in the next room. Her little brother Yarrow was recreating a battle scene with his toy soldiers. He couldn’t sleep either.

Eventually Edie smelled coffee. Her parents were wide awake and they were making her breakfast. How come Ralph didn’t wake them up? It’s not fair, Edie thought.

She shuffled out of her room like a zombie. Yarrow shuffled out of his room like a zombie.

“Good morning,” said their parents.

“Good mor…” Edie started to say, but her greeting was swallowed by a big, long, heavy yawn.

Munch, munch, munch, she chewed through her cereal, still half asleep.

Munch, munch, munch, Yarrow chewed through his cereal, also half asleep. Edie looked at Yarrow and thought,

Do I look as bad as him?

Yes, she did.

That day at school, Edie couldn’t stay awake. She tried and tried, but she kept falling asleep. When she got home, she kept falling asleep while she was trying to make a birthday card for her friend Marcela. That’s it, she thought, I must find a way to stop Ralph from waking up so early. She walked over to the TV and turned off Yarrow’s cartoons.

“Hey, I was watching that,” he protested.

“Not anymore, we’re going to talk to Ralph.”

Yarrow followed her and did what he was told because he didn’t like waking up at 4am, and because he knew Edie could be very determined. Not bossy, just determined.

Edie and Yarrow entered Ralph’s enclosure. They scattered food scraps on the ground to get his attention.

“Ralph,” said Edie firmly, “you must stop waking up at 4am every day!”

Ralph looked up for a moment, then kept pecking at his food. Yarrow picked up a piece of apple and offered it to the rooster.

“We want to sleep for longer in the morning, can you wake up later please?” he asked.

Ralph finished eating the piece of apple, then looked at them both attentively.

“I fell asleep today when Mr Gresford was reading the book and I don’t know what happened at the end of the story,” Yarrow said sadly.

“And I fell asleep during Science,” said Edie, “so now I don’t understand photosy…phostyso…photisyonpasenthelis…oh, I don’t know what it is.”

Ralph looked at Yarrow, then at Edie.

“Ralph, see those hills over there…” and Ralph’s eyes followed Edie’s finger as she pointed to the hills beside the family’s property.

“…you must not wake up until the sun comes over the top of those trees, ok?”

Ralph kept looking at Edie. She was sure he understood what she was saying.

“Or, you can wake up when you smell the coffee,” said Yarrow, and Ralph pushed his little beak up into the air like he was trying to smell something.

Yarrow and Edie were certain Ralph was listening, and that he understood what they told him. They were quite happy. They walked out of Ralph’s enclosure, closed the gate and walked back into the house with big smiles on their faces.

“We’re going to get a good night’s sleep tonight,” Edie assured Yarrow.

Image: Arib Neko

Mr Now!

Mr Now heard a strange noise.

Groowwwlll…

He heard it again. This time it was louder.

Grooowwwlll

Was it a bear?

Was it a tiger or a lion?

No, it was his tummy. Mr Now was very hungry.

He walked into the kitchen.

“Good morning Daddy,” he said.

“Good morning,” replied Daddy.

“I’m starving, I want some breakfast.”

“Starving? OK. I’ll get you breakfast in a moment,” Daddy said.

“No, I want breakfast now!”

Mr Now ate up all of his breakfast. Yummy.

Now it was time to play, but first Mr Now needed a box. He searched and searched the whole house and he found a box.

Why did he need a box?

Let’s find out.

In the box he put his joggers, helmet, gloves and sunglasses. Then he put his water bottle in the box.

But he couldn’t put everything inside the box.

Mr Now found Mummy, who was working on her computer.

“Mummy, let’s go for a bike ride,” he said.

“We’ll go for a ride later, when Daddy gets home,” Mummy said.

“No Mummy, let’s go now!”

Mr Now couldn’t go bike riding, so what could he do?

He sat on the lounge and started thinking.

A little while later, Mummy walked into the lounge room. She was shocked.

Can you guess why?

Mummy laughed at Mr Now.

“We can go swimming when Tim wakes up,” she said.

But Mr Now didn’t want to wait for his baby brother to wake up from his nap.

“No Mummy, let’s go now!”

When Tim woke up, they went swimming.

Mr Now loves swimming. He tried to run all the way to the lake, but he couldn’t run very fast. He couldn’t even walk very fast.

Mr Now had a great time at the lake.

When he got home, he thought to himself, what can I do now?

“Mummy, I want to paint,” he said.

“Sure, let’s paint after lunch,” said Mummy, and she went into the kitchen to make sandwiches.

“Mummy, I want to paint now!”

Mr Now started thinking.

What do I need for painting?

He found some paint and some brushes. He put some water in a jar.

“What else do I need Tim?” he asked his baby brother.

Tim pointed at the special painting apron.

“That’s right,” said Mr Now, and he put on the apron.

“Nooooooo,” Mummy called when she came back into the room.

What did Mummy see?

“What have you done?” said Mummy. She was not happy.

She put Tim into the bath to clean the paint off.

After lunch, Mummy made Mr Now clean the bathtub. It was not fun.

Later, Mr Now had an idea.

It was a good idea. Actually, it was a great idea.

He went to his bedroom. He put on a T-shirt and a long-sleeve shirt. He put on his ski pants and a jumper. Then he put on his ski jacket. It was very colourful.

What else does Mr Now need to wear to go skiing?

That’s right, he needs warm socks, gloves and a beanie.

“Daddy, where are my ski boots?” he asked.

“We can’t go skiing today, son. We’ll go another day,” Daddy replied.

“Let’s go skiing now!”

Do you know why Mr Now couldn’t go skiing?

Because it was summer. There’s no snow in summer.

Mr Now didn’t go skiing, but he did go swimming.

He didn’t paint a picture, but he did paint his baby brother.

He did go for a bike ride with Mummy, Daddy and Tim. They rode through the trees, beside the river and up and down the hills.

Mr now even found some jumps.

At the end of such a long day, Mr Now was tired.

Then he heard a strange noise.

Growwwlll.

Was it a bear?

Was it a tiger or a lion?

What was it?

After a tasty dinner, Mr Now had a bath, put on his pyjamas and brushed his teeth.

Then he took two books from the bookshelf. His two favourite books.

Daddy read one book to him, and Mummy read the second book. Mr Now loved reading books, so he raced to the bookshelf and grabbed more books. Many more books.

“We’ve finished reading. Nigh night beautiful boy,” said Mummy.

“Time to go to sleep now.”

“No Mummy, not now.”

Image: Garrett Jackson

Ruler of Waters

Pristine waters so tempting and forbidden.

Ominous black clouds wrapped Saiylie in a blanket of stifling tropical heat. She had been summoned, among hundreds of compliant subjects now shuffling reluctantly into the palace of King Manzi, Ruler of Waters.

Clad in black, as per custom.

Eyes downcast, as per custom. No witness to the magnificent waterfalls cascading down the façade of the palace, to the rooftop fountains and fantastical tributes to the Ruler of Waters. Eyes downcast, gazing into the moat below. Now devoid of deadly creatures. Now the world’s largest swimming pool. Inviting. Tempting. Forbidden to all but the 10-year-old Prince.

“My legacy,” screeched King Manzi, in a grating voice bereft of the gravitas of a great ruler.

“My legacy, my gift to you my people, is The Speaker,” and the ruling elite beamed in admiration as they gathered en-masse in the palace forecourt. The ailing and bumbling King had emerged from his private sanctum to deliver unto his people ‘The Speaker’.

The Speaker would be the voice of all future AI applications, into eternity. King Manzi was adamant the one single voice would emerge from his people. Thus, Saiylie was now shepherded between a sea of electronic cables belonging to the world’s pre-eminent AI experts tasked with measuring clarity, timbre and resonance before selecting the voice to rule all voices.

King Manzi gazed skywards, addressing the black clouds. Holding the clouds, holding his audience.

The recording began. Saiylie waited; for orders and relief from the heat. None came.

The ruling elite performed at their erudite best in the search for perfection and the hope of becoming The Speaker.

Eyes downcast, Saiylie saw the first drop, then the second. The clouds had begun to empty. An umbrella was thrust into Saiylie’s hands, and hundreds more soon snapped open to protect the elite and their precious recordings.

The rain grew heavier.

“Closer,” Saiylie was ordered.

“Closer,” and she shuffled closer to the surrounding umbrellas to form a compact canopy over the aristocracy. Massive drops of monsoonal rain then pounded defiantly on the King’s forecourt and sent the elite into a harried cacophony of raised voices.

“Continue,” commanded the King.

Louder and louder they spoke until they created their own cloud of steam underneath the canopy.

“Continue,” King Manzi yelled.

Temperature rose inside the canopy. Saiylie began rocking to and fro with uncontrollable giddiness. She felt increasingly lightheaded, and felt her feet leave the ground as the cacophony of voices created their own microclimate. Saiylie began to float, upwards and away from the voices.

Was she fainting?

Was she flying?

She rose higher and higher as the heat and humidity turned the interwoven umbrellas into a hot air balloon. Higher and higher they rose until above the palace walls.

Saiylie spotted the moat below. She released the umbrella and raised her arms skyward, slipping out of her black robes and into the blissful waters of the moat.

Instaworthy.

“I’m not surprised. I just don’t understand why.”

“So true Cody. Chaz Girewski can’t win, but he’s in the start hut for run 2.”

“This can’t be good.”

“Tyler, you’re track side, buddy, what’s happening?”

“Well Cody, I can’t get to Chaz because it’s absolute mayhem here. Officials, doctors, even other riders are all surrounding Chaz and, wait…someone just tried to take his bike off of him…but that’s not his bike, it’s Seth Daley’s, but Chaz won’t let it go, oh boy!”

“Tyler, is he wearing someone else’s helmet?”

“Yeah, that’s right, it looks like Sepp Bol’s helmet, guys it’s pure chaos here.”

“Thanks Tyler. Well folks, Slopestyle finals here at Crankworx Whistler have been stopped while they try to prevent Chaz Girewski from taking his second run, so let’s look back at the replay to see where it all went wrong.”

“Rider no. 4, Chaz Girewski, the Phoenix Phenom. 19 years old and one of the hottest Slopestyle riders on the planet right now.”

“Without a doubt Cody. He’s about to absolutely send it. He’s been posting amazing tricks on his insta @chazzyg lately and this could be epic.”

“Rolls into the first ramp, big air and a Can-Can with double Bar Spin and a Superman”

“Oh…My….God, did we just see that?”

“He’s hunting Emil Bjornssen’s 94.20 folks and he’s all in”

“2nd ramp, what’s he got?”

“Tsunami Backflip with a Tailwhip and a Cork 360 “

“No, this is insane!!!!!!”

“He’s killin’ it, Cody. He’s taking huge speed in to this final jump. Pushes hard into the ramp and rocks a Highland Fling up onto the Whale Tail”

“First time ever in competition. We are witnessing history!!!!!”

“Off the Whale Tail with a Nac-Nac into a Cash Roll and…”

“Oooooh, eeeeuuuwwww, yuk, no…”

“Oh no, that’s nasty”

“He’s slammed into the ground super hard and he’s not moving.”

“Doctors are on the course and holding his neck. Chaz is still not moving and there’s an eerie silence over this huge Crankworx crowd.”

“Let’s see what happened. Off the Whale Tail and then halfway through the Cash Roll he loses his rotation and we can see his foot off the pedal, then the rear wheel hits the lip hard and he flies over the handle bars.”

“Oh guys, this is hard to watch”

“In slowmo we see the visor snap and part of his helmet crack, his goggles fly off, snapped spokes and parts of his bike, I think it’s his brake mount, go spiralling into the air…”

“Wow, that’s nasty”

“We can see now that doctors are asking him to press on their hands”

“Well, that’s to check for a spinal injury, Cody”

“Wow”

“That’s how it happened folks, now we’re back live and Tyler is finally with Chaz in the start hut.”

“Chaz, buddy, that was a massive crash, you should be in hospital dude, what are you doin’ here?”

“I have to do that run again, I forgot to turn on my GoPro.”

Lennie.

A substance thick as honey ran down Lennie’s shirtfront. It was one of the many he had spilt, smeared, dribbled or dropped on his person over the last few hours, during which the general frivolity had afforded him a degree of freedom. But soon his mother caught him.

“I gave him that shirt just this morning,” she bemoaned, as she wiped away the stains and her maternal guilt.

“Leave it,” said a voice of similar vintage, and Lennie recognised the delicate perfume of his aunty Suzie.

 “Charlie was exactly the same when he reached that age.”

As his mother and aunty mourned the loss of their baby boys, Lennie wrestled himself from their attention and set off in search of another prize. He’d spotted the red heart-shaped delicacies the moment he arrived, but had been obstructed by the customary platitudes and gushing sentiments from friends and relatives as they’d arrived one after another.

Now he stumbled to his feet and bumped his way through the blur of bodies surrounding the food table. Countless guests insisted on kissing him and smothering him with affection, but Lennie was obsessed with other matters of the heart. He thrust his hands into the bowl and clawed as many little hearts as possible, before plonking himself on the floor. Nearby guests simply laughed and shuffled away to avoid stepping on him, and Lennie focussed his entire concentration and limited dexterity on extricating the chocolates from their wrappers, before gorging himself on mouthfuls of pure pleasure.

Lennie was then captivated by the golden glow of the beer fridges. Had such a wondrous sight ever existed? From his vantage point on the plush but soggy carpet, Lennie gazed up enraptured at the two towers of temptation gleaming with hitherto undiscovered flavours.

Lennie will one day hear a theory that alcohol labelling is deliberately designed to evoke associations with positive childhood memories of certain shapes, colours and images. Well, it was working today, and he reached for a bottle containing a pleasure he had not yet known. Just as he touched the ice-cold bottle, a strong and dominant hand pulled his away.

“Bit too early for that Lennie,” the owner admonished light-heartedly.

“Already going for the imported stuff,” another voice joked.

“Maybe another day my boy!” and the men enjoyed a concomitant chuckle as they downed the bottles they were holding.

A clink on a glass and the room fell silent and still.  

Lennie was ushered to the stage, and his eyes lit up with wonderment yet again on this fantastical evening. A giant cake covered in thick, luscious, colourful icing sat before him. His hands extended instinctually, and simultaneously his father swooped to snatch the razor-sharp knife that lay beside the cake.

Lennie smashed through the icing and plunged his forearms into the soft and doughy interior of the cake. He swam unabashed in the innocent, creamy, sensual pleasure until his mother’s voice pierced his reverie:

“Happy 40th Lennie!”

Image: Jess Bailey

Burned

“The business dies without it,” declared Mr M with palpable anxiety.

“We know it arrives tonight, but we don’t know where.”

Nadia’s father and his associates were still desperately poring over a heavily coded message and a map when she snuck into his secret room. Suddenly, the door swung open. Nadia leapt for cover.

“What the hell Benny!” admonished Mr M, “knock 3, wait…knock 2, wait…How many times have I told you?”

“Sorry boss,” whimpered Benny, grasping for the pride he’d felt moments earlier after returning from the first meaningful task he’d been entrusted with; buying burner phones. He chose the ones with flame symbols on them, thinking that was why they were called burners.

Phones were hastily shoved into pockets and the men returned with increasing concern to the code and the map.

“Where is the drop site?!” Mr M demanded of his subordinates. Nadia felt her father’s anger and snuck out of the room. She didn’t know exactly how he paid her private school fees, but she had some idea what ‘hostile takeover’ meant in his line of business. She counted 10 seconds then burst back in with exaggerated clumsy innocence. An uncomfortable silence lingered.

“What about the Eels last night, eh” Mr M said eventually.

“Um…ah….yeah,” replied Stan.

“They’ll win the comp this year,” declared the boss calmly.

With doe eyes and rehearsed timidity, Nadia apologised profusely and asked for the day’s newspaper,

“…for the crossword.”

Her father thrust it at her and his boiling frustration swept her out the door.

Mr M didn’t understand his 13-year-old daughter’s obsession with cryptic crosswords, any more than he understood the code which hid the location of tonight’s shipment. When he emerged in a frantic search for whiskey, Nadia told him. He wasn’t convinced, so Nadia explained the hidden meaning behind each clue, and subsequently the precise location of the drop. Her father didn’t know whether to feel shocked, angry, usurped, proud, humiliated or impressed, so he succumbed to all of the above.

“You got lucky this time,” is all he could muster. Nadia smiled inwardly and returned to her cryptic as her father gathered his boys and rushed to the drop site.

“Move the second I call you on your burner,” added Mr M after he’d explained the meticulous plan to intercept Mr Smith’s shipment.

“Now spilt up!”

“How does the boss know so much about Mr Smith’s operations?” Benny asked Stan when they set off for their posts.

“They were partners until Smith crossed him, took every penny from their biggest haul years back.”

Truck after truck arrived.

The boss waited and breathed deeply. Revenge and riches were within arm’s reach. He was bursting with excitement and desperate to reveal himself to Mr Smith with the haul safely in his possession.

This is it. His trembling hands dialled the number and raised the phone to his ear.

‘Welcome to Flame mobile – your call has been placed in a queue and will be answered shortly…’