It was Sebastian’s sharp eyes and even sharper mind that found the grandpa’s money compartment, hidden under a false panel beneath his seat. The money was stored in a small cedar wood box, carved with fragile flowers. There was a lock on it, made of fine brass. Sebastian cracked it open with his knife. Inside were three rolls of hundred Euro notes, creased and grimy, but still acceptable, along with a wad of old Francs, back from before the Euro reform in 1999. Each roll of Euros was ten notes, or one thousand euros. Sebastian split it into three sets of eight notes and one set of seven, which he took for himself rather than risk a falling out. The Francs were a roll of twenty, so he quickly dealt out five each. The box also contained two photographs. One was a photo of the old man and his grandkids, in formal clothes and smiling outside a, large old country house. The other a photo of the grandpa with two adults, maybe the parents, smiling in a pretty garden. There was also a small porcelain ballerina. Jax tore up the photos, smashed the ballerina against the wall of the digger, then stomped on the box, crushing and splintering the fine wood. Sebastian looked on, unmoved. He’d begun to get a measure of Jax, and knew he was venting his guilt and grief into an elemental rage. Jax breathlessly pounded the box, again and again, his mouth set into a thin determined line. Sebastian turned to Pauly and Tanaka, who both seemed a little disturbed and frightened by Jax’s violent fury.
“Get these kids outside,” he said, “They probably haven’t been outside in days.”
Pauly look up at the ladder and the hatch, which allowed a single beam of daylight to penetrate the dusty interior. He pointed up at the old man’s body, which still blocked the ladder. “But the old man…”
Sebastian shrugged. He was tired, and shaken, and sick, and he couldn’t find it in himself to feel for the corpse of a crazed old Frenchman. He reached up and yanked the body down, hard. The body fell to a horizontal position then stopped suddenly, with a crack like that of a felled tree. The old man’s left leg had become tangled in the rungs, locked up and then snapped when pulled. His shin bone had broken through the wrinkled, leathery skin. There was a plopping sound as residue of his brain and other gore drained from his skull. One eyeball swung pendulously, popped out by the pressure of the gunshot but still attached by tendons and nerve. Sebastian grimaced, but otherwise showed no reaction. Tanaka ignored it, and concentrated on keeping the sullen children’s attention turned away. He drew his gun, floated it up his grip and back down again, wrote his name in a quicksilver blur, holstered, and reversed the action. The children’s large eyes followed faithfully, but they showed no joy. Pauly, for the third time that day, felt like he was going to vomit. This time, however, he needed no reprimanding. He looked away and took deep breaths, but stood firm. Sebastian grabbed the old man’s foot, pulled it straight, and slid it through the rungs. The corpse fell to the floor with a wet thud. Jax stopped stamping on the box, and starting rummaging in the back storage area, which had already been upturned by their search for money. Sebastian went up the ladder first, and told Tanaka to follow with the children. Tanaka lifted the smallest up into Sebastian’s arms, before signalling for the older, bigger child to climb up ahead of him. Pauly followed right after Tanaka. He nearly fell over himself to get out of the cramped dark cabin that was now filling with the stench of death. Jax came last, with a can of petrol.
Once in the daylight the children looked worse than ever. It wasn’t just the grime and the rags. Their feet were raw and blistered, from standing barefoot on sun heated steel. Their skin was pimpled and cracked from time in darkness and in filth. Their eyes were slits, red and sore, unused to bright light. There were sores around their mouths, and Sebastian saw at least one cut he thought was infected. Despite this, the children blossomed now they were outside, skipping and dancing in the open space offered to them. The sight disturbed Sebastian. It was like watching a zombie jump with joy. Tanaka seemed unbothered. He stood laughing gleefully at the sight, before dashing into the fray to tussle with the long-haired eldest.
Sebastian turned his attention to Jax, who was now emptying the canister of petrol onto the roof of the digger.
“What’re you doing?”
Jax waited patiently for the last few drops to fall before tossing the canister aside. “I’m going to roast that old man like a pig in an oven,” he said, kicking the hatch closed. “And I’m going to send Drake out like a Viking.”
Sebastian was smart enough not to ask who Drake was. He remained silent.
Jax looked at Sebastian and Pauly both. “I need someone to help me get him up.”
Pauly recoiled emotionally, but did well to only shudder outwardly. Sebastian just nodded, and tracked over to Drake’s upper body. He hooked his arms under Drake’s armpits, and heaved him up. Half of Drake’s digestive tract, along with various organs, fell onto the sand. Sebastian’ s legs were drenched in blood and gore. If this bothered him, he gave no sign.
“Do you want the organs too?” he asked.
Jax, extremely disturbed by the scene, mutely shook his head. Sebastian hefted Drake’s body up so Jax could grab his arms and drag the torso the rest of the way up. Sebastian then picked up Drake’s legs, cradling them in his arms. These were passed up without trouble or incident. Jax arranged Drake’s body in the puddle of gasoline, then kneeled in a dry corner of the roof. He took out a lighter, one of the metal ones with an engraving, and violently mashed the button. The flame didn’t take, and he began flicking the button over and over again, more forcefully each time. His breathing was laboured and his rat eyes had narrowed to vicious slits. Sebastian hammered on the steel side, making Jax jump. His head whipped to face Sebastian, the tendons straining in his neck.
“Breath, dude. Deeply. Push the button once, calmly. Light the fire.”
Jax forced in one ragged, heaving breath. He struck the button once, neither fast nor slow. The spark jumped and a bead of orange danced. Reverently, Jax lowered this small pearl of energy onto the dark stain of the petrol. With a great WHOOMPF the flame caught. A wall of heat and light exploded from the roof, engulfing Drake’s cadaver. Jax leapt down quickly, and rolled in the sand, unsure whether he’d caught fire as well. Finally convinced he was fine, he accepted Sebastian’s hand and was helped up.
Everyone had stopped what they were doing and now watched the growing inferno. The smell of roasting flesh made everyone’s mouths water, although none of them would dare admit it. Pauly’s ‘times I felt sick’ count rose to four. Sebastian and Jax stood side by side watching.
“Hell of a send off,” Sebastian said.
They stood in sombre silence for a while. Sebastian’s mind kept turning over something Jax had said earlier the way a tongue keeps working at a popcorn kernel trapped between teeth. He turned to Jax.
“Did you put petrol inside the cabin too?”
Jax laughed sadistically. “Yeah. Up to his fucking eyes.”
Sebastian nodded, satisfied, as though Jax was confirming something he’d always known. “Yeah, okay, we’re getting out of here. Yeah, RUN!” he said, shouting the last command.
He turned and sprinted off to the far end of the quarry, where a shallower slope, probably for the access of the digger, had been dug. The rest of the group followed close behind, Tanaka and Pauly carrying a child each. He lead them to the top, over a dune, then another, and another. Pauly, though strong in the chest and arms, had no cardio or leg strength. He collapsed heaving on the fourth dune. Sebastian stopped and dropped down, hugging the side of the dune. The rest of the group followed suit, but not quite so drastically. Jax and Tanaka merely crouched.
“What is it?” Tanaka asked. Sebastian held a hand to his lips then raised it to signal he was waiting for something. They waited, panting. Nothing happened.
“No seriously, what?” Tanaka asked. Sebastian stuck his fingers in his ears and nodded at the others to do the same. Tanaka did, and made sure the children did too. Jax merely crossed his arms, and Pauly was too busy heaving for breath.
“For fuck’s sake, what-”
The world split and shattered with a thundering boom. A shockwave rushed over the dunes that kicked up sand and slammed into Jax’s chest. He keeled over, shocked. Everyone else felt it too. The thump and the pressure coursing through them. The disorientation as it hammered their skulls. For everyone with their fingers in their ears, it was loud, for Jax and Pauly, it was ear splitting. The sand resettled. The world returned. They could hear their breathing again. Sebastian sat up, smiling in a self-satisfied way.
“That,” he said, “is it.”
The petrol inside the cabin and the engine had vaporised in the heat of the flame. The gas had expanded, the pressure built up inside the enclosed space. Then it had ignited.
The explosion had released a spire of flame bursting up into the sky that blossomed into a rose of orange fire. The glow could be seen from the horizon, and in Sixty Clicks it was clearly visible. To the group only four dunes clear, it was a colossus of hellfire and heat. They stood watching as it rolled in on itself and shed its orange silky skin to reveal a tempest of black smoke. It boiled ferociously in the sky before being whisked away in the wind. A shard of metal, perhaps the hatch itself, escaped from the hole and spun away to the North.
Sebastian turned to Jax again, smiling a toothy grin that reflected the sunlight. “I take it back. THAT was one hell of a send off.”