Tent flaps rustled in the dusty wind. Sand blew through in gusts and had by now covered the Persian carpets. PJ thought they were a nice touch, if excessive. Anything to alleviate this dismal situation. His seat, gilded with a fine weave base, was barely more comfortable than a fold-out camping chair. It was short but his feet still didn’t reach the carpet.
Three men lounged on large pillows placed in a semi-circle around the tent’s interior. The first ate an apple with a knife, marginally aware of the conversation. The second stared at PJ with an unsettling focus. His beady little eyes were almost entirely hidden beneath hair. PJ couldn’t figure out why he chose to keep it that long in this heat. The third was in charge. His was a massive throne-like chair. How or why they carried it out to this meeting place was beyond PJ. All of this was.
It was meant to be a simple exchange. Papers for the case. It could have taken a minute, but they were now in the fourth hour. This on top of the nine ass-breaking hours of driving in a barely functional pickup without air conditioning. At least the beady-eyed man hadn’t been there for the ride. None of them had. PJ met them all here in this tent.
PJ tried to talk business as soon as they’d finished greetings. That’s the way he liked in. Quick in, quick out. No chit chat. These guys saw things differently. PJ was growing impatient. That wasn’t good for anyone. Said things he regretted. That’s how he almost lost Lorraine. That and the job.
“God damn this heat,” he mumbled to himself wiping his forehead with the small rag they’d handed him. They knew he was uncomfortable; it was obvious. That’s why they picked this place. He’d have bet on it.
“A little hot for you?” the leader Ashjab asked. “Yes, it is quite hot. You’d get used to it in time. But you don’t have time, do you? Always in a rush, you Australians.” He sat cross-legged, covered in robes, seemingly unaware the temperature was pushing fifty.
“Yes,” PJ responded briskly. “If it’s all the same to you I’d like to conclude our business. I have a long trip back.”
“Of course my little friend.” Ashjab laughed. PJ sneered. He hated height jokes. Always had.
He couldn’t see the guns. Hoped they were stashing them out of sight. Damn well better be. He didn’t come all this way for nothing. He was taking something back with him. And maybe a little extra for the joke.
“I’ve got the papers. Where’s the gear?” PJ asked, patting his left breast shirt pocket. He pulled the envelope out, waved it around. Maybe more to keep it from sticking to the sweat beading down his hairy brown chest.
“They’re on their way. A little patience is all.”
“We’ve been here four hours Ashjab.” PJ scanned the other two. Rat Eyes stared at him. The Apple Man was still whittling away at nutrients. How had he made it last so long? Where there more? Was there water? He’d finished the pitcher they set out all to himself. Needed more.
“Calm yourself, little one,” Ashjab said with a grin. Apple Man did likewise.
“God. Damn. It. Do not call me –”
“Do NOT speak blasphemy!” Rat Eyes interrupted.
“Really? Etiquette? Now? I don’t have time for this shit!” PJ jumped off the gilded stool, the force toppling it backward.
“Calm yourself,” Ashjab advised again. Apple Man steadied his blade, tip pointed at PJ.
“We’re done with ‘calm’, mate. I want my guns now. Right now.” PJ had his free hand on his waist, inches from the blade in his belt their fool guard had overlooked.
A rustle behind him. A hammer pulled back. From the click, PJ knew it was a compact AK-74, banana clip, shoulder stock, sandy brown finish. One point three meters at 18:30. That made this guy the priority target.
“Don’t move flipper face,” the guard said. That crossed the line. The heat, the insults, the fake gilding on the stool with no cushion and now probably bed sores to boot. PJ had had enough.
“Oh yeah?” he called to the man behind him without turning his head. He stared at Rat Eyes, matching his intensity. PJ’s eyes said, “You’re next, bitch.” Rat Eyes knew. His tremor gave it away. Faster than a dust storm rolling over the dunes, PJ went into action.
The knife was out of his belt and careening toward the guard in a flash. While it soared PJ hunched down and launched himself in a reverse air-born somersault. He spun two full circles through the air and as he turned back he saw the blade hit home. The guard had had no time to protect his left eye. PJ added a twist in mid-air for good measure, landing on one knee atop the fresh corpse. Facing the three stunned survivors. He retrieved his weapon with a wet squishing sound.
Apple Man lifted his knife hand too slowly. They were always too slow. PJ rolled over his bent knee, grabbing the AK and leveling it in a fluid motion. As Apple Man’s knife hand moved forward, his head flew back with three new eyes. PJ laughed.
“Who’s little now?” he shouted. Surveying the carnage, Ashjab quivered, threw himself off his chair. He was crawling backward into cushions that wouldn’t move. “Who…who are you?”
PJ stared him down. Laughing half-mad, tearing his shirt wide, he roared, “I’m Platypus Jones, mother fucker!” He threw aside the wet rag taking one, two, quick steps forward. Rat Eyes saw into PJ’s eyes and at that moment finally backed away. Too late.
“Haha!” PJ screamed, barreling through the air with the speed and grace of a ninja shot from a canon. Thud, thud. His boots hit the floor mid-flight. The spurs behind his webbed feet shimmered in the sun now piercing through the tent flaps as they bore down on Rat Eyes. He tried to turn but too late.
Thwack! Thwack! Each spur hit its target. Rat Eyes screamed underneath PJ, squirming, trying to pull webbed feet from his face. PJ pushed down and pivoted on his right foot. Rat Eyes’ screams filled the tent. PJ pulled up his left foot with a pop, taking a beady little ball with it.
He paused, breathing heavily, balancing on the writhing man. PJ stared at Ashjab. The man spun around trying to burrow into cushions, looking for protection like a child in a fort.
“Assshhhjjaaaaab!” he boomed, his voice shaking the tent walls. With a wet slap, his foot hit the ground. He wrenched out the other with the same effect. He pursued Ashjab slowly, each step reverberating a moist sandy crunch. PJ marched to the man quaking on all fours. He kicked his ass aside, knocking him over. Looming over Ashjab, all two feet of PJ’s ripped muscular duckish body flexed terror into the man.
“Take them! Outside! The guns are underground! Take them!” Ashjab pleaded.
“Oh, I will. G’day, bitch!”
A shriek, a snap, a souvenir and all was quiet.
“Where the fuck are they,” PJ shouted to no one as he searched outside the tent for a hatch, a cover, some sign of the guns. “God damn it!” A pause. “You hear that? Who’s blaspheming now, mate?!”
A rumble in the distance drew his attention. Dust clouds were growing larger by the second. Backup coming in fast.
“Shit.” PJ heaved a stone into the pickup. With the AK strapped across his back, he leaped in. He pushed the clutch with the AK’s stock, started it on the third try. Wedged the rock over the gas pedal. Into first. Pop. It lurched forward, gaining speed.
“Gotta head south.” He pulled out his SAT phone. “Bruce! Bruce! You read me? The Birjand deal went bad! Bruce!” He yelled over the roars of the truck and dust storm.
“G’day! What happened?”
“No time! Heading to Bandar Abbas, can you ready a boat?”
“Eleven hours. More if there’s trouble.”
“There’s always trouble with you, PJ.”
“Eleven hours, Bruce.” He didn’t wait for a response.
In the rearview, he saw the enemy gaining. “Let’s dance assholes!” he bellowed out the window. With the rock flooring the gas, PJ jammed the AK into the steering wheel, locking it on course. He rolled over the back seat into the turret position. With the expertise of a grizzled veteran, he threw back the action on the .50 cal and aimed for freedom. Boom! Boom! The first enemy vehicle lost its gunner in a dusty mist. “HAHAHAHA!” PJ yelled. “Bring it!”
Boom! Boom! Boom! He held the trigger down, the massive recoil shaking what little stability remained in the pickup’s struts. The truck behind him exploded into flames, shot through the air and tumbled to the side of the road. The wind tore around PJ’s head, the sand making it hard to see. But he could. Just enough. He released the trigger. With the gun silent, he heard the second truck before he saw it leap through the dust cloud.
The driver’s and gunner’s faces froze at speed. Sun glistened off PJ’s duckbill as if in warning. The pursuers slowed. They recognized their target. Fear overcame them. They knew the legends, tried to run. But they were too slow. They were always too slow.
The massive gun and little platypus became one. Bullets shot out almost telepathically. Each knew their target, sought it out ruthlessly. Mangled metal and flesh fell behind, no longer a threat.
PJ wiped his eyes and bill, slid back into the driver’s seat. He looked at the watch Junior had given him last Christmas. “I’m coming, PJJ. I’m coming home.” The old pickup roared into the horizon, to the docks, to home.
PJ reached Bandar Abbas the next morning. Ditched the car far from town and hitched the rest of the way with goat merchants. At the dock, he found a surprise. “Bruce, you rustic cunt,” he muttered when he saw his ride. Bruce hadn’t gotten him a boat; he’d gotten him passage on a goddamn freighter. Typical. And he wasn’t responding on the SAT.
PJ left him a message. “Bruce, when I get back to Geraldton — in a god damn week,” onlookers at the dock eyed him warily, “we’re having words.” He stared at the giant cargo vessel that would be his temporary residence, thought of his real home, his family. PJ picked up the phone again. “Hey. Thanks. Over and out.” He boarded.
A week later, scruffy, dirty, tired, shirtless, PJ flapped his webbed foot on Oz. He bent down, scooped up a handful of reddish dirt. Tasted it. It tasted like home.
“Oy! Mate!” Bruce called from his two-door hatchback.
“Git in mate!” PJ rose slowly. He turned, catching Bruce’s smile set within that chubby ginger frame. PJ smiled back. He jumped from the ground straight into the passenger seat. “How are ya, mate?” Bruce asked as they clasped hands.
“Good to be back.”
“Good to have you.” Bruce shot off towards PJ’s place.
“That’s the last time ASIS fucks our operation.”
“You say that every time, PJ.”
“Yeah…” PJ had enough of government creating problems for him, his friends and family. “How’s Lorraine? PJJ?”
The hesitation in Bruce’s voice shook him. “What? What is it, Bruce?”
“You’ll see for yourself. They’re good, I mean, but well, you’ll see.”
“What happened??” PJ slammed his hands on the dash. Bruce could see the fire welling in PJ’s eyes. It scared him even after all these years.
“They safe mate. They’re ok, I promise. But…but you’ll have to see.” Bruce handed him a letter. The envelope fell open. PJ eyed Bruce sideways. “I had to read it, sorry mate. Had to know if we needed to pull you out early.”
The letter hurt more than all the bullets and knives he’d taken over the years. He read it three times before folding it and carefully putting it back in the envelope. Lorraine was gone. Back to America, staying with her folks. Needed “time to think.” She’d taken PJJ.
“PJ — I’m sorry buddy.” They sat in silence for the rest of the ride.
At home they sat in the backyard, overlooking the vast desert. So like the one, he’d just left. But without the violence, the death. PJ stared into his whiskey.
“I’m going to get them. Bring them home. How soon can you get me on a plane?” he asked without looking up.
“What is it now?” PJ squeezed the glass until it almost broke.
“PJ, I tried. Tried everything. I knew you’d want to go so I made calls. But…”
“What?? Out with it!”
“It’s not possible mate. They won’t let you in country, not after the Iran job.”
“Why the hell not?! Who??”
“The Americans. Some crazy new law. They think you might be a terrorist.”
“Me?! I’m Platypus fucking Jones! How many times have I saved their Yankee asses?!” He threw his glass into the rocks, shattering it like Lorraine had his heart.
“I know mate. I’m sorry.”
“Who did this? Who’s responsible?” PJ’s words came out like liquid fire. Bruce squirmed in his seat.
“That new president.”
PJ’s eyes narrowed. Grinding his bill, he turned to his old friend. “Tell him I’m coming. Tell him they can try to stop me.” Looking into the desert, his voice resonated with the cruel, dry heat. “Tell them they can try to stop Platypus Jones.”