Image for THE MAN FROM H.O.D.G.

Act 1: Force of Will

Wearing an Ugg and a Blundstone boot gave him a curious gait. He hovered at the traffic lights, flicking glances at the clouds, the surrounding buildings and at the green “Walk” sign. When the angry flashing of “Don’t Walk” settled into a solid red command he hobbled across. Frowns rippled across his forehead; eyes misted, focused, then fogged again. He probably didn’t see the bus bearing down on him. Just felt the strong pressure of a palm between his shoulder blades and the powerful thrust that propelled him out of its path. He turned to see who had shoved him and caught a fleeting glimpse of an athletic frame in an immaculate suit. Chiselled jaw, steely gaze. Then the bus was hurtling past, the slipstream snatching at his breath. By the time the blur of steel and glass had cleared his saviour had vanished.

He stumbled on. Bystanders gawped openly at his swimming trunks, pyjama top and the shower cap gripping his crown. His restless pupils ping-ponged in his sockets as he tried to make sense of his surroundings. He limped through a door, canting in mismatched footwear, swaying as he approached the counter.

“I… I want to confess to a crime…”

The woman behind the counter squirmed uncomfortably. “I’m sorry sir. This is a bank.”

He was vaguely aware of a ghost shimmering in the plexiglass that separated him from the teller, the image of a figure behind him. The impeccable suit, the firm line of the jaw. By the time he turned the lobby was empty except for a clutch of customers hiding their grins as they looked him up and down. He zigzagged between them, grappled with the door. Outside, he tried to extract a soft-drink from the ATM.

As he negotiated the pavement he fought to recall his training. As an agent he was accustomed to being followed. He steadied himself against a shop window. As his fingers pawed at the cool pane he realised the glass extended around a corner. He ambled into the alley, willing his ill-shod feet to carry him to a garbage bin near the far wall. He fell behind it, struggling to loosen his pistol from its shoulder holster. He grasped the top of the bin and hoisted his face above it.

The figure stood in the shadows, legs slightly apart. Arms fanned out from the trunk slightly like a relaxed gunslinger. The agent propped the gun barrel on the lid of the bin and squeezed off a shot, point blank. The bullet struck the figure full in the chest. The agent could see the hole. And the fine filaments that cracked away from it, spider-webbing. The figure still standing. Panicking, he fired more shots. The image of the stranger shattering, cracking, breaking into jigsaw. He emptied the pistol into the reflection in the shop window.

The figure took several long strides forward and caught the agent as he sagged against the brickwork at his back. The agent recognised the features that swam before him. Darkly handsome, freshly tanned. A wry turn of the lips and something ruthless concealed in the eyes. Will Solitory, the man from H.O.D.G.

“I’m… I’m from L.A.B.O.R.,” the agent stammered. “The Left Activists Being Over-ruled by the Right.”

“I know who you are.” The voice calm but edged with menace. “Tell me where she is.”

“ She’s gone rogue, Solitory. Dr Giddings is out of control. She’s… she’s allowing union busting. She’s got a secret army being trained in Western Australia and she’s backing the standing down of prison guards who only want…”

The shot was silenced but Solitory’s trained ears caught it. The agent jerked, slumped, the fever finally leeching from his agitated eyes. Solitary ducked for cover and his gaze swept the entrance of the alleyway but the assassin was gone. He regarded the body slumped behind the bin with a brief moue of pity. The pocket of the pyjama top bloomed with blood.

When the H.O.D.G. forensic unit materialised they studied the bizarrely garbed corpse with astonishment. “Cutting edge fashionista” quipped one.

“I watched him try to get stamps from a baker, a pizza from a post office and service from Service Tasmania,” said Solitory grimly.

“So the rumours are true. The Latte Aficionados Banging On Righteously have perfected a Confusion Ray.”

“Yes. And they’re not adverse to experimenting on their own agents. There are a lot of confused L.A.B.O.R people out there.” Solitory turned his steely gaze on the white-coated specialist. “But I thought the acronym was Legislative Antics Bemusing the Ordinary Rank-and-file.”

The specialist shrugged and closed in on the body. The man from H.O.D.G. allowed himself a rueful expression. That was the trouble. Nobody seemed to know what L.A.B.O.R. stood for.