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On The Rocks
By Liam Rands
“Are all bodies this heavy?” Brad asked. He struggled to maintain his grip around Wayne’s thick legs.
“He’s a dead weight alright.” Todd chuckled. He looked down at the overweight man they carried between them. “It’s all those chocolate cookies the kids in his class make for him. They stick like lead to his waist.” Todd grunted as he tightened his hold. He had his arms under Wayne’s armpits and wrapped over the large man’s chest. The two of them were holding their unconscious friend off the wooden pier.
“For God’s sake, Mike,” said Brad. “If we’re going to do this, hurry up.” He looked over his shoulder as Mike struggled to open the wire gate that led to the seaplanes’ mooring.
Mike stopped trying to fit his key in the brine-coated lock. He glanced up at the night sky and blinked. He wiped his brow. “Okay, I can do this. I just need to be focused.”
Mike giggled as he missed the lock with the key. “I just can’t seem to focus.”
“You shouldn’t drink so much,” Todd said.
Mike straightened and turned. He wobbled as he tried to stand still. He wiped a finger along the side of his nose. “Don’t worry, Doctor Richards. I can fly my plane upside down while wearing a nun if I have to.”
“We should call it a night,” Brad said. “We can’t let him crash us into the ocean at two-hundred miles-an-hour. And that’s bound to happen if we let him fly.”
“No.” Todd shook his head. “He’s okay.”
“Maybe you should do it,” Brad said. “Mike’s given you enough lessons.”
“I can fly!” Mike shouted. “I can fly!”
“Shut up!” Brad looked back towards the car park. “Are we even allowed in here at night?”
“Shhh.” Mike held up a finger. They heard the sound of the waves, lapping in a slow rhythm against the pylons of the pier.
Mike licked his lips and grinned. He pointed at Wayne slumped between the other two men. “We have to keep the noise down. We don’t want to wake the groom-to-be.”
Todd looked at Wayne’s slack face. “Not a chance. I stuck a few valium in his drink earlier. When he went to the bathroom. He’ll be out for hours.”
“Are you crazy? Brad kept stealing glances back towards the car park where his van was hidden in the shadows. He shifted his hold on Wayne. “You know it could kill him. Drugs and alcohol don’t mix.”
“Shut up, Brad,” Todd said and sighed. “We’re sick of hearing you complain.”
“What if he dies?”
“He won’t. As his doctor, I’d say I know what I’m doing.” Todd shook his head. “But I agree with him, Mike. Hurry up. Wayne’s as heavy as an elephant.”
They laughed, breaking the tension building between them. Wayne slid from their grip, landing with a thud against the weathered boards of the pier.
They laughed harder. Wayne sighed and smacked his lips together but didn’t wake.
Todd knelt and wrapped his arms around Wayne’s chest. “It’s a shame he can’t see what’s happening. I’m sure he’d get a kick out of what’s going on.”
“He’s going to wonder about the bruises.” Brad grabbed Wayne’s ankles.
Mike managed to slip the key into the lock. “He won’t notice for a while. Not with the mother of all hangovers to worry about first.”
Todd and Brad shuffled forward carrying Wayne. Mike opened the gate. It protested with a screech of salt-crusted hinges. He let the others pass before closing and locking it again. They headed for his seaplane at the far end of the pier.
Rag-doll Wayne was placed in the back and strapped in tight. Brad jumped into the seat beside him. Todd joined Mike up front after throwing off the mooring lines. Mike started the seaplane’s engine.
“Ready to go, captain.” Todd gave Mike the thumbs-up.
Brad leaned forward from the backseat. “Are you sure you’re okay to fly?”
“Hold tight.” Mike moved the throttle forward and pressed the pedal with his foot. Brad sat back and buckled-up.
The seaplane turned towards the mouth of the harbour. Mike pushed the throttle again and the plane cut across the tops of the waves, gaining speed. He waited until enough power had built before pulling back on the stick. The plane rose gently into the black sky.
“This is Captain Kirk speaking,” Mike said over the headsets they wore. He paused as the others laughed. “Welcome aboard Operation Wayne. It’s going to be about four hours to our destination, so make yourselves comfortable.”
“This keeps getting better.” Brad leaned his head against Wayne’s shoulder and closed his eyes. “Wake me when we land.”
Todd looked out his small window at the bright lights of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge far below the rising plane. “It’s beautiful up here. I can see the lights all the way back to the mountains.” He took out his mobile and started dialling.
“Who are you calling?” Mike glanced over at Todd. “It was your idea this flight was to stay secret between the three of us. No wives or girlfriends.”
Todd put the mobile to his ear. “Calling the hospital. I want to check on a patient.”
Mike shook his head. “You just can’t get enough of your job, can you? No wonder three wives divorced you.”
Todd smiled. He stuck his finger in the other ear to drown out the noise of the plane’s engine.
“Or was it because of your girlfriends they left?” Mike said quietly as he turned back to his instruments. He checked their heading with the compass.
Brad leaned forward from the backseat. He tapped Mike on the shoulder. “You have anything to drink around here?”
“I thought you were sleeping?”
“Too bumpy a ride. Besides, I still have a thirst to scratch. I’m here now. I might as well make the most of it.”
“There’s a plastic cooler box back there. Todd packed it for Wayne. I think there’s beer inside.”
Searching near his feet, Brad found the cooler and sat the blue and white box on his lap. He snapped the two hinges on the side and lifted the lid. He took out a can of beer and ripped the lid. “Lovely,” he said and took a deep swallow.
The plane shuddered as it hit a band of turbulence. The engine surged momentarily as it passed through the patch of colder air.
Todd snapped the phone closed and stared out the window. Mike looked over at the friend he’d known since high school. “Bad news?”
Todd nodded as he continued to stare down at the blue-black ocean reflected by the full moon. “Kid with leukaemia. End stage. She didn’t make it.”
“Sorry.” Mike patted Todd’s leg and gave it a squeeze. “One of yours?” There was a long silence before Todd nodded. “Her parents have been maintaining a vigil by her bedside.”
Brad leaned forward and handed Mike a beer. “Shit, mate, that’s bad news.” Todd smiled briefly. “Never mind. Now’s not the time to dwell. Our boy Wayne is getting married on Sunday. We should be celebrating.”
Mike and Brad both cheered.
“Do you want a beer, too?” Brad asked.
Todd let out a long sigh. “Sure. One isn’t going to kill me. It hasn’t been much fun watching you three drink Friday night dry.”
Brad handed Todd a beer. They crashed cans.
“What else did you pack in the cooler, Todd?” Brad rummaged around in the box, pushing and prodding at the plastic packages.
“Hands off.” Todd looked back at Brad. “I packed that for Wayne. Sandwiches and fruit to help restore his metabolic balance when he wakes up.”
“Good on you, Doc’,” Brad said. “You’re a good friend.”
“Ann will be jealous.” Mike prodded Todd in the side. “It’s her job to look after Wayne.”
“How about the pretzels?” Brad held up the small packet. “He can spare one, can’t he?”
“I promised Ann I’d look after him.” Todd turned in his seat to look at Mike. “That was the deal if he was allowed to have a bachelor party. He’s my charge until he’s returned to his fiancé.”
Brad broke open the pretzels and munched on a handful.
“What a guy you are, Doctor Richards.” Mike laughed. “Shame Wayne found her first. I’m sure you would love to give Ann your ‘special’ physical examination.”
Todd frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Mike’s grin faded. “Nothing. It’s just I know how much you like…you’re always hanging around their place these days when you’re not at the hospital. And I’ve seen the way you look at her when you think no one is watching.”
“Yeah,” Brad said as he leaned forward. “I’m surprised you let that one slip past your sights, Todd. A good-looking woman like that. She’s just your type.”
Todd smiled good-naturedly and nodded his head. “That’s right. I’d be a liar if I said I hadn’t thought about Ann. She is a smart and beautiful woman. Nevertheless, off- limits to me. Wayne’s a friend.”
“Must be a sign of maturity,” Mike said. “It just can’t be old age.”
“What’s that?” Todd asked.
Mike winked at his friend. “You’re not going to ruin two more lives.”
“How about a song?” Brad said leaning between them. “Something to keep us occupied until we land.”
Mike slouched back in his seat as he took a mouthful of beer. “What did you have in mind?”
“Let’s do nine hundred and ninety-nine green bottles…”
The plane landed on the water. In the greying light, it reduced speed as it cut a white path through the green ocean that appeared around them. Mike let the seaplane coast towards the cluster of black rock stubs thrusting up from the dead-calm sea. A giant igneous backbone—made up of seven black vertebrae—the small natural platforms were the first pieces of land they’d seen since leaving Sydney. Mike veered sharply to the right as a partially submerged outcrop threatened to damage the seaplane. He navigated a safe passage around the obstacle and when the floats touched against one of the black islands, he cut the engine. He opened his door and jumped out onto the large rock. “Toss me the mooring rope,” he said. It was time to start phase two.
Brad and Todd slid Wayne head-first out of the plane into Mike’s waiting arms. Mike managed to lay Wayne down on the folded-out army cot he’d erected on the flat rock surface.
“Isn’t he cute,” Todd said. “Look at the way he’s sleeping like a baby.”
Brad laughed. “One huge baby.”
Wayne just managed to fit on the torn and patched green cot—his feet dangled over the end and the rest of his body was hugged in a canvas embrace where the bed sagged in the middle under his bulk.
“Pass me the cooler,” Mike said as he straddled the cot.
“How’d you find this place?” Brad asked. He scanned the horizon. There was nothing but green ocean in all directions.
Mike took the cooler from Todd and put it down on Wayne’s thighs. “Tourist flight I ran about a month a go. Japanese couple wanted to see some whales. They’d been spotted off the coast heading south towards Jervis Bay.”
“Sounds amazing,” Brad said. “Did you find them?”
Mike shook his head as he adjusted the front of Wayne’s diaper. They had taken off Wayne’s clothes and replaced them with the white cloth they’d wrapped around his crotch. “No, unfortunately. But I did spot this little oddity as we were heading back to Sydney. When I told Todd, he insisted it was the perfect place to bring Wayne.”
Brad laughed as he looked at Todd. “Well it’s certainly better plan than my bucks’ party,” he said. “And to think I was angry at you guys for leaving me strapped to a dead cow in the middle of a farmer’s field.”
“Or me, when you left me naked and painted blue in Trafalgar Square,” Todd said.
Brad smiled. “What about when we shipped you by mail to Darwin in that wooden crate—” “I ended up with splinters in both butt cheeks,” Todd said. “Even after they were removed, for weeks I had to use a pillow to sit down.”
Mike bent over Wayne and started squirting blobs of sun block cream onto his friend’s chest and rubbing it in. He looked up and grinned. “I still think your third bucks’ night was our best.”
Todd looked sour. “Oh yes. I try to forget about that.”
“Those men didn’t actually touch you,” Brad said. “We were explicit in our instructions.”
“Yeah,” said Mike. “We just wanted to scare the hell out of you.” “It worked.”
Both Mike and Brad laughed.
Todd shook his head. “What would you do if you woke up in a giant bed bound naked with four naked men sleeping beside you?”
“Pray none of them woke up?” Brad said and laughed again.
Mike straightened. He looked over the rock’s edge into the water. “I didn’t realize when we landed, and you can’t tell it from the air, but there’s more to this thing hidden below the surface. It’s like an iceberg.”
Todd looked at his watch. “How much longer, Mike? I have another shift at the hospital tonight.”
“That’s a real bitch,” Brad said.
Todd shrugged. “I swapped to have Sunday off for the wedding.”
“Don’t worry,” Mike said. “You’ll be back in plenty of time to get some beauty sleep. Give me a hand. I’m done here.”
Mike climbed into the plane and all three looked down at Wayne.
“He’s never going to forgive us for this,” Brad said. “But it’s our best work ever.”
They all laughed.
“Let him sweat it out for a while,” Mike said. He wiped the tears from his eyes. “The tide has just turned. Plenty of time before it comes back. And we’ll be here to pick him up long before that.”
“Enjoy the beer and the view,” Brad said.
“And the delicious food I made.” Todd’s smile was wide. He gave a quick salute.
Mike started the engine. The seaplane moved away from the rock as Mike eased the throttle forward. He turned in a large arc, slowly gaining speed as they completed a circuit around the island where Wayne rested. When the plane had enough speed, Mike eased the stick back.
“Look out!” Todd pointed through the window at the small patch of white swell in their path. Mike jerked the stick to the right as he planted his foot on the pedal. The seaplane roared in protest but managed to avoid clipping the partially hidden rock.
“Jesus! That was close!” Mike’s eyes were wide.
Brad looked out his window and waved to Wayne as the seaplane lifted into the air. “I can’t wait to see your face when we get back.” He giggled. He sat back and closed his eyes. “How about another round of nine hundred and ninety-nine green bottles?”
Wayne opened his eyes then quickly shut them again, blocking out the shafts of light that seared his eyeballs, sending fine wires of pain shooting into his brain. He groaned then wished he hadn’t. His temples throbbed in rhythm to his heart. Lifting his fingers, Wayne probed his scalp, feeling for the red-hot rivet he expected to find buried in the top of his skull.
It took another ten minutes before he had enough courage to sit up and open his eyes. He took in the ocean. Looked at the cot and cooler. Saw the scattered chain of black rocks and noted the conspicuous lack of land in any direction.
“Bastards.” His voice was raspy. “Utter bastards.” Nevertheless, he admired his friend’s ingenuity. He managed a weak grin. This was the best prank they had pulled so far. He rubbed his gummy eyes. It was also finally a relief to know what they’d been planning all week.
Wayne dragged the cooler closer and noticed the diaper. He would have laughed if his head hadn’t hurt so much. At least they didn’t leave him naked. Lifting the lid, he looked inside and found the beer.
“Beautiful.” He held it up to his lips and passionately kissed the side of the cold can. He pulled the top and took a long swallow, quenching his thirst, but also dousing the fire-breathing monster rampaging behind his eyes. He let out a long sigh of pleasure. Hair of the dog always worked wonders.
Wayne leaned forward and explored the cooler again. This time pulling out a sandwich sealed in a plastic bag. Taking a bite from the chicken and mayo’ on brown—just the way he liked it—and then a swig from his beer, he had more time to look around at his new surroundings. Wayne wasn’t a sailor by any measure. He’d done enough fishing in his teenage years around Watson’s Bay to know the tide had recently turned. It would be late afternoon before it came back to cover the chain of rocks and his temporary home.
Standing on wobbling legs, Wayne straddled the end of the cot and managed to stay upright without pitching into the water. He finished the sandwich and drained the rest of the can. His body was starting to recover from his heavy night of drinking. The food and beer were certainly helping. He undid the front of the diaper and relieved himself into the ocean, smiling as the tension drained from his aching bladder.
When he’d finished, Wayne sat on the side of the cot and inspected the contents of the cooler again. He pushed the fruit and sandwiches aside and pulled out the biggest plastic bag full of chocolate-chip cookies. He licked his lips in anticipation as he tore the top open.
“Had to be Todd,” Wayne said as he crammed three of the sugary delights into his mouth at once. He blinked rapidly as he chewed. The cookies had an unexpected sour tinge.
This wasn’t going to be bad at all, he realized as he looked around. The sun felt wonderful against his skin. He reached in a grabbed another beer and opened it. At least he couldn’t complain about the view. He also had all the supplies he needed to make his short stay comfortable. Shame they hadn’t packed a radio for him to listen to. Now he was here, he intended to make the most of his last day of solitude as a single man. Tomorrow belonged to Ann.
He popped another two cookies in his mouth and raised his can in salute to his friends. He coughed.
A sharp pain shot down the sides of his throat into his chest. He took a drink to ease the ache. Maybe he shouldn’t have eaten so quick after waking.
He coughed again and clutched his throat, dropping the beer and cookies. It felt like someone had fed him pieces of red-hot glass. Wayne groaned as he staggered upright. His face contorted as invisible fingers ripped and tore at his belly. A fire was building in his chest, clamping hot claws of flame around his wildly beating heart. Sweat popped on his brow as his tongue started to swell. He couldn’t feel his lips. Wayne staggered against the cot. He lifted his leg, intending to lie down until the pains eased, but managed instead to push his foot through a tear in the faded material, trapping his ankle. The pain chewed at his insides. Thousands of sharp, hungry mouths ran chomping from his stomach into his chest and throat. Pain charged his body as he lurched again. His captured foot twisted savagely beneath him as he staggered forward. He would have shrieked in agony but his throat was seized shut.
Wayne’s last image was of falling. Falling to the water. There was no sensation of hitting, or feeling the cold. His leg still pierced the canvas cot, making it a reluctant companion as they slid beneath the waves. He struggled for a moment. The water filled his lungs. It didn’t take long for the darkness to fill his eyes.
“I don’t see him.” Brad had his face pushed against the small window as the seaplane coasted towards the rock.
“He’s probably hiding,” Todd said. “Watching us and laughing while we run around looking for his floating corpse.”
“Corpse?” Brad peeled his face away from the window. “What do you mean corpse? You think he’s dead?”
“He’s not dead,” Mike said as he cut the engine. “Wayne’s not the one to play that type of joke either.”
“Where is he then, Mike?” Brad leaned forward. “Why isn’t he here? I knew this was a bad idea from the start. Didn’t I say this was a bad idea?”
“Shut up, Brad.” Mike touched the seaplane’s floats against the rock. He opened his door and stepped out onto the black surface that should have contained the cot and a laughing schoolteacher, ready to berate his friends for leaving him in such a clever predicament. Instead, there was nothing but barnacles beneath his wet feet as the waves rose on the returning tide. The rocks would be covered in less than an hour. He turned full-circle and scanned the ocean.
“Any sign?” Brad asked.
“Nothing. Where is he? Where the hell did he go?”
“Maybe he went for a swim,” Todd said. “It’s such a lovely day. Or maybe he met a mermaid and they’re visiting her underwater kingdom.”
Mike frowned. “You better start taking this serious, Todd. Wayne might be in trouble and need our help.”
Todd nodded, a slight smile on his face. “You’re right of course, Mike. Very bad of me.”
“We should call the coast guard,” Brad said. “If we get enough planes in the air, we should find him soon enough.”
“Can’t.” Todd pointed at the seaplane’s instruments. “The radio’s shot and Mike hasn’t had it fixed.”
“That’s insane. You let him fly knowing we couldn’t call anyone if we got into trouble?”
“Wait a minute.” Mike held up his hand. “I can do a quick search before we start calling anyone for help. Wayne could be floating close by.”
“I think Brad’s right,” Todd said. “I think we should return to Sydney and contact the coast guard. No offence, Mike, but you’re not trained to spot a man in the water.”
Mike shrugged. “It can’t hurt to have a look first. It wouldn’t take long.”
“What about your mobile?” Brad reminded Todd. “You could use that to call for help.” Todd shook his head. He pulled out his phone and glanced briefly at the screen. “No signal this far out. We should head back to Sydney, Mike. Ann will need to know. And she’ll need to be comforted while we wait for news.”
Mike gave his friend a hard stare. “And I suppose you volunteer for that job. I see your priorities haven’t changed, Todd.”
Todd shook his head. “We’re wasting time sitting here.”
“We should go,” Brad said. “Please, Mike, before it gets dark.”
After taking one final look around, Mike climbed back into the seaplane. He turned to the other two men. “One quick look from the air and then I promise we’ll head back to Sydney.”
The other two nodded. Satisfied, Mike shut his door and started the engine. Mike increased the plane’s speed as he circled the chain of rocks.
“Mike!” Todd cried as he spotted the shape snagged against the semi-submerged outcrop.
Too late. White, green and a flash of Wayne’s face. Todd noted the details in the impartial part of his mind as the seaplane hit.
It only took seconds. The nose snapped forward, burying itself into the green waves. They screamed as they somersaulted, an endless series of flips as the plane tore itself apart as it bounced from nose to tail across the hard surface of the ocean. The hapless men inside were tossed into the churning waters as the seaplane disintegrated around them.
Only one struggled to the surface gasping for air. #
He reached up with bloody fingers and grasped the sides of the rock. It took all his reserves to pull himself slowly onto the top. Panting and coughing after swallowing so much water, Todd rolled to his knees and raised his head.
There was no sign of the plane. Nothing of Brad and Mike. All gone in the accident. Accident? He managed to climb to his feet and stare out at the water he’d just left. The image of the white and green shape flashed before his eyes. The thing they struck. Wayne? The cot? Wayne’s staring face flashed again in his mind. Todd laughed. He bent back his head and laughed until the tears streamed down both sides of his face.
“You fat fuck!” he screamed. “You’re dead and you’re still getting in my way.”
Falling to his knees, Todd alternated between laughing and weeping. Clapping his hands with mirth or clasping them together in anguish.
At least part of his plan had worked. The poison laced food was quick and efficient. Most pathologists wouldn’t find traces unless looking, and would have pronounced Wayne dead of a heart attack. Or far more ironic, labelled his death the result of a bite from a tiny octopus. Using Tetrodotoxin extracted from the Blue Ringed Octopus had been a stroke of genius. The pathology mimicked that of a heart attack. Being his doctor, Todd would also attest to his friend’s bad health and produce the records he had already doctored for such an occasion.
He’d even sabotaged Mike’s radio and had his little speech prepared for when they arrived and would find Wayne slumped on the cot. Of course, he would have made his best efforts to revive Wayne—his dearest friend, but nothing would bring him back from the black abyss Todd had spun him into.
The tears would have been easy. He would have explained to Mike and Brad about Wayne’s ill health. And the part where Wayne had sworn him to secrecy about his heart problems. Even Ann wasn’t to know.
It was all going to be easy. Once the funeral was over, Ann would naturally turn to him. His charm would be hard thing for her to resist. He’d wait though. Perhaps even a year. Let them become closer friends first. Then things could get more serious. But that wasn’t going to happen. Not now. Without a plane to fly him back to Sydney, he was stuck on the rock. He needed help.
He pulled out his mobile. No signal. He dropped it into the water.
The first wave rolled over the top over the rock and surged around his ankles. Todd looked down as another wave joined the first.
He wondered how long he could float. Twelve hours? Fifteen? Was it possible to swim back from here? It wasn’t fair to die after all the planning he’d done. There wouldn’t even be a search party to look for them. No one knew where they were. That had been part of his plan. He’d made sure the others kept the secret. Not even Ann knew. He’d just winked and assured her he’d bring back Wayne in one piece.
Another wave crashed into his legs.
Todd launched himself into the water. He rose and took one last look at the rocks before he turned and began to swim in the direction of the setting sun.
Contact Liam at firstname.lastname@example.org