Ah yes, The Barnacles! Don’t they seem to just grow right out of the rocky shores of Sydney Harbour. Regular readers of the full-colour Real Estate supplement would be familiar with their Jet-Age design, the roof-top helipad and the glamorous interiors – and some of their well-heeled and kooky occupants.
Anyone viewing them on this early December evening would have been overcome with Christmas cheer. The apartments were festooned with strings of gaudy Christmas lights and geeky displays. There were simulated reindeer and shoals of leaping fluorescent fish; break-dancing Snowmen; a Santa and elves in little carriages riding a rollercoaster.
Miniature light shows projected spectacular 3-D effects from inside some of the apartments. From the penthouse apartment a simulated (and slightly phallic) rocket ship launched itself only to explode into a confetti of snowflakes.
Even the expensive motor-yachts moored at the private wharf below were decorated with lights. One would conclude that the people in The Barnacles must have been filled with an overabundance of Christmas joy (and if you were wealthy and living at the harbourside with a cooling nor-easter on what was a hot night in the outer suburbs, why wouldn’t you be?)
The building itself was something of an architectural conjuring trick. From the roadside it sat behind a tall hedge and substantial security gates. Even then, the driveway plunged out of sight down a steep hill.
Indeed the only place for an observer to really appreciate this view was from a boat, or perhaps from the little bushy island in the middle of the harbour. Filled with awe, that observer would certainly not have noticed the dark coloured kayak tied up near the private wharf or the figure clad all in black who had just climbed up the side of the building with all the determination and skill of a koala scaling a Eucalypt.
The black-clad man, who went by the name Dimas, released the pressure of the suction cup on his glove then stepped onto the balcony rail of the penthouse apartment and jumped and silently landed on the balcony in crouch position. He tested the balcony door and as he’d hoped, it opened.
From a coffee table a digital projector was emitting flashing lights. Dimas knew that he could use his flashlight without drawing the attention of any observer below.
He let out a whoah! when his flashlight picked out the objects in the lounge room. A humungous television hung on the wall; there was a white leather sofa the size of a small whale; plush carpets with the texture of a featherbed mattress; a sound system that could have come from a recording studio.
In a glass cabinet Dimas’s flashlight illuminated shelves full of shiny things. There were trophies and medals and trinkets collected from around the world. There were models of rocket ships and landing modules; space memorabilia. Then there were the photographs; a tall confident figure in a space suit shaking hands with various people: the Prime Minister, the President of the United States, the Pope.
But none of those objects was of any interest to the black-clad burglar. He was looking for something else. He pushed on down the corridor inspecting the photos and paintings of stars and planets hanging on the wall. At each one he would tilt it and inspect the wall behind it.
Dimas continued to the bathroom, all shiny and white like an operating theatre with brilliant chrome taps and fixtures. There was a clothes basket in the corner that reminded him of the movie Aladdin, where the street urchin hid from the palace guards.
The master bedroom, with its ceiling depicting the Milky Way in luminous paint drew another whoah!, although by now Dimas was becoming a little anxious. He had already spent far longer looking for the safe than he’d hoped. He flipped the flashlight around the walls. Right above the bed was a painting of the planet Mars. He hopped on the bed, which turned out to be a water bed, requiring him to put his arms out like a surfer to get his balance. He lifted the painting off its mount and grinned when he saw the safe behind.
He took out his hand-crafted precision listening device from a pocket of his jump suit and planted it against the lock of the safe and put his ear to the other end. Dimas the good thief, went to work.
At last he heard the final tumbler fall into position. The anxiety left him and was replaced by the excitement of a boy searching under the tree on Christmas morning. He opened the door and aimed his flashlight in the safe.
He looked inside. Blinked. Opened his eyes wide. Rubbed them. Peered inside again. Felt around with his black-gloved hand. The safe was empty.
Dimas was befuddled. It should be there. This was not fair. He felt like swearing but froze when he heard a creak coming from the corridor. He had been concentrating so hard on listening to the safe that he hadn’t noticed the footsteps until now. He quickly pushed the safe door although he couldn’t get it to close properly, re-hung the painting, and crept into the walk-in robe just as the new intruder stepped into the bedroom.
Dimas put his ear to the door. Sure enough he heard the intruder get onto the bed and fumble with the Mars painting. He pushed open the wardrobe door a touch and could make out a figure, black-clad just like him, opening the safe door. Suddenly the intruder turned on a flashlight and flashed into the open safe.
Dimas flung the door open and darted across to the bed and leapt at the intruder. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t keep his balance and the intruder slipped from his grasp and gave him an almighty karate chop to the back of the head. As he collapsed to his knees he grabbed hold of a leg and lifted it, and as he tried to get to his feet on the unsteady surface another foot caught him square in the balls.
He let out a gasp and bounced onto the floor. The intruder was on him in a flash and pressed a boot onto his throat. Dimas could see the glint of a knife blade in the intruder’s fist.
“Where is it?”
It was a woman’s voice.
“Where’s what?” said Dimas in a whisper.
“You know damn well what. Don’t piss around with me mate or I’ll cut your gonads off, dip them in sugar and feed them to a reindeer.”
“I’m not lying. It was already gone when I got here. I’m just as confused as you.”
A crashing noise came from the corridor. The girl released the pressure on Dimas’s throat and he grabbed her foot and tipped her over and shot out the door. He had to hurdle the clothes basket that was lying on its side across the hallway. Dimas tackled a short man carrying a sack under his arm and they both went crashing to floor.
The girl came up to them, brandishing the knife.
“Give it here,” she said.
The short man lifted an arm and from his hand a beam of purple light issued from it, knocking the girl over. He raised his hand towards Dimas who backed away. The short man picked up the sack and turned and ran out of the apartment, triggering an alarm.
Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!
Dimas made for the balcony.
“You’d better leave, the cops will be here soon,” he said to the girl who was lying on her back and clutching her chest.
“I need help. I can’t walk,” she said, sucking in oxygen.
“Not my problem,” Dimas replied as he fastened a rope to the balcony railing.
A police siren blared not far away.
“Please,” she said, gasping. “What kind of a man are you?”
Dimas got up on the railing and looked down at the harbour shore then up at the sky for inspiration. Venus, Mars and Jupiter were almost aligned directly above his head.
“Shit!” he said again. He got back down and went into the apartment and in one movement picked up the girl and slung her over his shoulder.
* * * *
On the private wharf Dimas shifted the girl to his other shoulder and ran along the wooden beams trying to be as quiet as possible. Realising the kayak was not going to be any use to two people he went further down the wharf to where a small aluminium dinghy was tied up. He set the girl down gently on the front seat then sat in the middle and positioned the oars in their rowlocks.
There was a shout. Someone was running up the wharf towards them.
“Stop. Take me with you and I won’t shoot.” It was the short man from the apartment. He raised an arm and pointed a purple light at Dimas’s chest. Under the other arm he carried the sack from the apartment. Surely it was what Dimas and the girl were after.
“Ok, hurry up and get in. The cops are slow around here but they’ll be checking the water soon.”
The short man jumped in the rear seat of the dinghy and placed the sack at his feet, keeping his other hand trained on Dimas.
Dimas powered through the water and in the purple glow he studied the man in growing amazement. His face was almost pale blue, as though he was wearing stage makeup. His eyes were a garish sulphur colour and his ears were pointed. He looked like he’d escaped from some nightmarish Christmas pantomime.
“Pull in at that little island over there and we’ll rest up,” the blue faced man said.
No sooner had they hauled the boat under some bushes on the island when a police launch sailed past. Searchlight beams played over the bushes as they lay as flat as they could in the boat. Eventually the police accelerated up the harbour.
“We stay here tonight,” the man said. “But keep under cover.”
Dimas gently shook the girl who was lying curled up in the front of the boat.
“Ouch,” she said, holding her chest. “Where are we?”
“Ssh! Do you still have the knife?”
She felt a pocket at her hip. “No. I must have dropped it.”
“Bugger. Get some rest. Tomorrow we’ll figure out something.”
* * * * *
Dimas woke to the sound of gulls and the ripple of water from a passing ferry. It was already late morning, the sky a brilliant blue, the air smelling of salt.
He unzipped the black jump suit down to his waist and did a few push ups and sit ups to clear the fog in his brain.
The girl was walking stiffly towards him, her hand pressed against her chest. She had wavy dark hair and an olive complexion. The jump suit stretched tightly over her curves.
She said, “Don’t let me stop you. You need to keep fit for your next climb. I’m Kate by the way. Thanks for helping me get away last night.”
She offered her hand.
“I’m Dimas,” he said, shaking it.
“It says so on your pecs… I mean, that tattoo on your chest. Three men on a cross, there must be a story behind that?” she said, sitting on a rock and inspecting his muscular chest.
“That’s Jesus in the middle. The bad thief on the left. And on the right is Dimas the good thief.”
“Religious are you?”
“I believe God gives you abilities for a reason.”
“So how long have you been in this business for?”
“Ever since I’ve been called.”
“But do you ever think of going straight?” she said, holding his gaze for a moment.
Dimas thought it over. “I suppose it would be nice. I spent last Christmas in the slammer, which wasn’t much fun. Then again, if you don’t do what you’re passionate about, what kind of life is that?”
“How about you?” Dimas asked. “Why did you get into this game?”
“Practical reasons. I just love Shakespeare and joined an acting school. I have to put myself through college somehow. Break and enter pays a lot better than flipping burgers. I’ve only got six months of my course left. The Mars Rock was going to be my final heist. After that I’d planned to go straight.”
“Ah yes, the Mars Rock,” Dimas said shifting his gaze to the bushes where the short blue faced man was inspecting the boat.
They were silent for a while. Kate scrolled through her phone.
“Hey Dimas have a look at to this,” she said handing him the phone.
It was a news article:
BREAK-IN AT FAMOUS ASTRONAUT’S PENTHOUSE
Gerry McDowell, the first man to walk on Mars had his Sydney penthouse broken into last night. It is believed that personal memorabilia has been stolen. Mr McDowell broke off his holiday at Port Douglas and flew down to Sydney this morning to help police with their enquiries. He has offered a reward for information about the theft.”
The burglars in black turned in unison towards the strange blue faced man, who, seemingly feeling their eyes upon him, looked up from his inspection of the boat.
“Ok, Ok, I’ll explain everything,” he said, putting the sack under his arm and coming up to them.
“My name is Zeus – um, sorry about shooting you last night. You might find this hard to believe but I am an envoy from the planet Mars – “
“Ha! You really are off your face aren’t you?” said Dimas, shaking his head.
Zeus clicked his fingers and Kate disappeared.
“What the hell…” Dimas stood up and looked about.
“Sit down, you’ll draw attention.” Zeus clicked his fingers again and Kate was back sitting on the rock.
“Do you think people from Earth can do that? It’s an easy thing for Martians to do in your rotten atmosphere.”
“What just happened?” said Kate.
Zeus repeated his disappearing act with Dimas. It left Kate staring like a roo caught in headlights.
He continued: “around 20 earth years ago, a man from your planet called McDowell landed on Mars with a few colleagues. He found the secret entrance to our underground civilisation. We don’t have weapons of any kind – this beam from my hand only works because of your greenhouse gases – and although there was just a handful of them, they were too powerful for us. He brazenly stole the most sacred artefact of our planet.”
“The Mars Rock?” said Kate.
“That’s right. The rock contains all the knowledge and wisdom of our planet. Without it we are a rabble. Civil society is now breaking down. To prevent a calamity our leaders sent me here to reclaim it. You see, if McDowell keeps it, he will use it as proof that we are weak and uncivilised and our planet can be plundered at will.”
“So now you’ve got it, how do you get it back? Have you got a spacecraft hidden in a garage somewhere?” asked Kate.
“No spacecraft, just teleporting. And it only works when Venus, Mars and Jupiter are in alignment.”
“That happens tonight,” said Dimas. “So all we need to do is hang around here until nightfall and boom! Off you go back to Mars. Simples.”
“Not quite so simple,” said Zeus. “I can’t just be beamed up from anywhere. Our technology is not that exact. It needs a large steel structure to capture the beam – and a representation of a cosmic object to focus it.”
“A cosmic object?” Dimas said.
“Like the sun or the moon or a planet. But that’s not all. It needs some form of ignition – a large jolt of power … what you earthlings call electricity.”
“That’s not possible. Not tonight anyway,” said Kate.
Zeus looked so despondent that Dimas and Kate left him alone and crossed over to the western side of the little island and stared out over the harbour.
“I’VE GOT IT!” Kate shrieked. “Zeus, come here.”
Zeus scrambled over. “What is it?”
“The Harbour Bridge. It’s made of steel. At night it’s decorated with a giant Christmas tree with a star on top. That’s a cosmic image isn’t it?”
“Yes, but what about the electric ignition?”
“At 9:00PM the lights of the Christmas tree are turned on. That’s a big surge of electric power.”
Zeus clapped his hands.
“That’s it, Kate. I can’t believe it. It might just work.”
Zeus high-fived Kate and Dimas and wiped a tear from his eye. He went over and rested in the boat, the heat too much for someone used to -80 degrees on Mars.
“Why should I help him though? What’s in it for me?” Dimas said to Kate when Zeus had gone.
“I don’t know. Just think, to his people you’ll be a saviour.”
* * * * *
The sun was a blood-red smear on the western horizon when they launched the dinghy into the dark water. Kate was well enough to put in the first stint on the oars. Dimas was at the back and Zeus crouched down at front, the Mars Rock wrapped at his feet.
They expected the journey would take them nearly an hour but the westerly breeze slowed their pace. To make it to the top by 9:00PM they couldn’t afford too many delays.
When they were nearing Fort Denison a large motor cruiser pulled up alongside them. The name “Fire Star” was spelled out in lights on the sleek, dark hull. Zeus had flattened himself in the bottom of the dinghy, his cloak pulled over him.
A man wearing a baseball cap cupped his hand and called out – “Hey you, in the dinghy. Have you seen a freaky looking short dude out on the waterfront?”
The man’s straight white teeth and healthy tan were clearly visible in the fast fading light. Although grey haired, the man was tall and ripped. Gerry McDowell seemed larger in real life than on any photograph.
“Maybe. So what if I did?” Dimas answered.
“There’d be a substantial reward for turning this guy over.”
Dimas’s mind ticked over. “How much?”
“Fifty thousand. I have my cheque book with me.”
The money could change a lot of things. It was within Dimas’s reach. Just one word and the reward was his.
He looked at Kate who glared backed at him, and gripped an oar as though she was about to swing it at him.
“Mate,” said McDowell, “If you do know something it would be in your best interests to let me know. You do know who I am don’t you? I’m an Aussie hero. No – more than that, I’m a hero to the whole fucking planet. Look at you, you can’t even afford a motor for your dinghy and you get your girlfriend to row. Even lowlife like you deserve a break once in a while. Get photographed with me turning over the freak and you’ll get your two cents of fame. So don’t stuff me around. Tell me where he is.”
Dollar signs rolled in Dimas’s head. A little voice said: Dimas the good thief, another said: Dimas the Saviour.
He answered: “I was just kidding. I haven’t seen anyone. And you know what? I prefer my heroes to be more…humble.”
“Dickhead,” said McDowell. He waved to the skipper of his boat who opened up the throttle, their wake almost tipping them over.
“Thank you,” said Zeus from underneath the crumpled cloak.
* * * * *
After landing near the south pylon of the Bridge the three of them climbed the stairs to the pedestrian deck. Dimas and Kate were in their black jump suits, Zeus in the cloak with a hoodie. He looked like a small pale-faced child.
It was busy on the bridge, tourists and locals enjoying the warm evening. Dimas checked his watch – 8:50PM – they had ten minutes to get to the top of the Bridge. They quickened their pace.
They stopped near the middle of the Bridge near where a yellow-vested security guard was pacing slowly back and forth.
“Now Kate, time for the diversion. You know what to do. See you at the rendezvous,” Dimas said, winking at her. She winked back and whispered good luck. She took out a small bag from her pocket and placed it on the ground in front of her, cleared her throat and spoke out loud:
“Now is the winter of our discontent,
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that that lour’d upon our house…”
Some passers-by stopped and listened. One person threw a coin in the bag. Others followed. A crowd began to form around her. The security guard tried to force his way past the people to see what the matter was.
Dimas pulled the balaclava over his head. He bent down for Zeus to hop on his back.
“Hurry along, we only have a few more minutes,” Zeus whispered.
Dimas jumped and gripped the barbed wire expertly and pulled them both over the wire before dropping onto the roadway.
A car zipped by almost hitting them. Dimas dashed across the outside lane, activated his custom suction and started to climb up the central girder of the Bridge.
Ten metres up, Dimas looked down to see how the diversion was going. It was chaos where Kate was performing her one woman show. People were cramming into the space and a number of security guards were trying to restore order. One man at the back of the crowd was filming Dimas with his phone. There was not much he could about that so he kept going. A quick glance at his watch showed it was 9:00PM. It looked as if they weren’t going to make it.
“Don’t worry, Dimas. If the council that controls the Christmas lights is anything like the councils on Mars, they are bound to be a bit late.”
Dimas kept climbing and could now see the wire frame of the star on the Christmas tree. Just a few more minutes and he would be at the top.
A whooshing sound came from out of the sky.
“Shit! A chopper!”
The helicopter swooped down towards them. It hovered about twenty metres away. McDowell appeared at the hatch with a megaphone. “Game’s up folks. Bring back the Mars Rock and no-one needs to be harmed. He waved a pistol at them to emphasise the point.
Zeus stretch out a hand and fired a purple beam. McDowell returned fire, the bullets pinging off the steel girder. The chopper pulled back out of range.
“Hang on Zeus, one big effort now.” Dimas made a mad dash up the last five metres and Zeus hopped off his back and climbed onto the wire frame of the star. Far above, Venus, Mars and Jupiter were aligned perfectly. Everything was in place. But where were the lights?
“Come on fellas, hit the switch,” Dimas muttered
The noise of the chopper’s rotor changed. It was circling back towards them. McDowell had dispensed with the megaphone and was taking aim with the pistol in both hands.
More beams flew out of Zeus’s hand and McDowell cursed when he got hit. He fired a volley of wild shots in reply that ricocheted of the steel. Dimas felt one bullet whizz past his nose.
There was a rumble and a deep hum. The girders vibrated and the Christmas lights started to come on. Dimas waved at Zeus, who grinned and waved back then clicked his fingers in his direction.
For a moment all the lights went out, not just on the Bridge but from much of the city below. Then a giant purple beam like a bolt of lightning appeared out of the sky, hitting the Bridge, bouncing around the steel girders before concentrating at the star where Zeus was standing. Then there was a boom like a thunderclap and all the lights across the city came back on.
Zeus was gone.
“Where did they go?” he heard McDowell shout to his pilot.
“Must have fallen off.”
The chopper turned and flew back down the harbour. Dimas, realising that he must be invisible, quickly began his descent. He wasn’t sure how long the effect would last.
* * * * *
Dimas walked into the Rendezvous Bar at the Opera House forecourt. Kate beamed at him and waved him over. She was talking to an elderly man.
“Dimas,” Kate said, tapping a stool for him to sit on. “This is Julius Stevens from the Sydney Theatre Company. He has something to tell us.” Kate’s dark eyes were sparkling. It looked as though she was about to wet herself with excitement.
Stevens was a tall, angular man, in his sixties. He had the look of a one-time Thespian. His face was vaguely familiar to Dimas.
Stevens said, “firstly, I have booked Kate for a month’s worth of solo shows. We’re calling it – Kate does Shakespeare.”
Kate quietly fist pumped about five times.
“And, I’ve shown this to the casting director at Cirque de Soleil.” Stevens placed his mobile phone on the table and played a video. It was of Dimas climbing up the steel girder. “They said it was the best audition tape they’ve ever seen. They’ve offered you a three month contract for their European shows starting in May. What do you say?”
Two hours and much champagne later, the two ex-burglars, hand in hand, walked out of the Rendezvous Bar. They paused under a small arch and watched the giant lighted Christmas tree twinkling on the Harbour Bridge.
“I can’t believe how this night has turned out,” Dimas said, staring into Kate’s luscious eyes.
“And you know what? We are standing under the mistletoe.”
“So we are. Kiss me, Kate.”
They kissed then Kate whispered, “Come home with me, Dimas. I want to inspect that tattoo a bit more.”
“And I’ll tell you if your bruise is on the mend. But this all seems too good to be true. A contract with Cirque de Soleil? I’m never lucky. I’m sure something will go wrong.”
“You’re a worrier. Seriously, what could happen, Dimas?”
“An earthquake or a war or something.”
“Maybe… I don’t know, a global pandemic?”