8am, 5th July (the next morning). Compassion
The early morning sun warmed the western lawn, the rich green turf glistening with a full crop of overnight dew like diamonds strewn across a green blanket. Kris stood still, transfixed in the midst of the sea of grass, her eyes closed and her lungs full.
The smell of freshly cropped grass was one of Kris’ strongest and most personal sensations she harboured, reminding her of her childhood and all the times she had helped mow the broad lawns of their far North Queensland home. The drenching, tropical rains made lawn maintenance a common, weekend activity and she loved it. Sure, it was hard work, but she had never considered it a chore. It was something she and her father did together. It was their job and their time as father and daughter, sacred and special.
When the job was done, they would sit on the steps of the back patio and share a lemonade to cool down, talking about nothing, but life in general. It was relaxed. It was nice and above all, it was safe, unlike today.
‘Anything else you want outside, Kris?’ the assistant shouted from beside the semi-trailer.
Breaking from her day dream, Kris turned and looked into the lit interior of the massive semi-trailer. Racks of dumbbells, barbells and other fitness kit lined the walls. It was a virtual fitness emporium and it was Kris’ source of physical inspiration for Max’s training routine, as provided by Joe.
‘Grab two more twenty kilo dumbbells,’ she called out, ‘and put them down the far end of the course.’
‘Okay,’ came the reply as the assistant turned and headed up the ramp and into the trailer.
Kris lifted her sunglasses and rubbed her eyes. It was going to be a long day. The lack of a decent night’s sleep had seen to that. Quickly she turned her attention to something else, not wanting to allow the still buzzing fears in her mind to rise back up.
Turning, Kris looked out over the wide swath of grass that had hosted yesterday’s training course and impromptu political games. It was much clearer and normal looking now with the helicopters repositioned onto the eastern lawn on the other side of the property, the scene more easily fitting the bill of a regular, billionaire estate, if that really was normal? Kris’ assistants were still busy running around the lawn, completing the final stages of setting up a new course for Max to charge through and as she surveyed the scene, Kris’ gaze was quickly dragged to the centre where with his back to her, stood the man himself. Max.
Kris held him in her gaze for a few moments. He was not stretching. He was not warming up. He was simply still, statuesque. When Max was in motion, Kris felt the overpowering purpose he exuded, but even now, completely stationery, that same purpose radiated. He was a literal force of nature and even though she had only known him for less than a week, if the world needed saving, she could hope for no better champion. Her only concern was exactly what value could she add to his preparation? The man was already fitter than a team of oxen and just as strong to boot. How was she going to make him better?
Just then, a new voice brought Kris’ attention around.
’As salam alaykum,’ Sheikh Abdullah said in his rich, rolling accent. ‘Good morning, Kris.’
Kris turned and found the Sheikh standing behind her, dressed identically as the day before. His pristine white robe gleamed flawlessly in the bright early morning sun, his hands hidden inside his sleeves and his face sheltered behind dark sunglasses. Abdullah’s countenance emanated complete serenity and calm, his manner and speech soothing and relaxed, but still Kris’ intuition held him in deep suspicion. Abdullah spoke eloquently and logically, but so did Joe and she trusted him, so why did she not trust this man? Was the Sheikh just different or was it something else? Until Kris knew more about him, she was not letting her guard down.
‘Be right with you, Max!’ Kris called out. Max waved back to her without turning around. Kris returned her attention to the Sheikh. ‘Good morning to you, your Highness. Is there something I can help you with?’
‘No, thank you,’ he said. ‘I have come only to watch. Max’s prowess yesterday was absorbing and like nothing I have ever personally witnessed, so without anything pressing to attend to right now, I wish only to observe some more and not be in your way. Can I seek your permission to do so?’
‘Sure,’ Kris said, shrugging. ‘We’ll be over that way, so steer clear. I’d hate for Max to clean you up with a barbell or something.’
‘Thank you,’ Abdullah said, bowing slightly.
Kris turned and started to walk out towards Max when the Sheikh’s voice brought her up again. She rolled her eyes and turned back.
‘What now?’ Kris asked a little more harshly than she would have with a good night’s sleep.
‘My apologies and I do not wish to pry,’ Sheikh Abdullah started, ‘but I could not help that you are looking a little weary this morning.’
‘Yeah, tough night’s sleep,’ she answered, realising her sunglasses were still on her forehead and pulled them down. ‘Strange house and all that.’
‘Yes, I am sure,’ Abdullah said. ‘I do, however, have one further question to ask, which is also of a personal nature and which you may ignore and leave be as you wish?’
Kris squinted behind her sunglasses as she unconsciously squared up a little on Abdullah. It was at that point she noticed two of his hulking body guards lurking a short distance away behind him, their massive physiques obvious in their well tailored, casual slacks and shirts. Kris also noticed Peter step into her field of vision a little further behind the two giants, his attention firmly fixed on the two guards.
‘What’s on your mind?’ Kris asked evenly.
‘Your family’s security and your well being,’ Abdullah said.
Kris tilted her head slightly askew, eyeing off the man. ‘What are you talking about?’ she asked, her jaws set.
Abdullah paused, then answered.
‘I have been informed that your brother’s house was broken into yesterday and that he, his wife and your parents were present during the invasion?’
Kris froze. She suddenly became acutely aware of the buzzing in her head.
‘How do you know about that?’ she replied sharply. ‘Have you been spying on them?’
‘The only answer I can give is yes, but please, let me explain as it is only for the best of intentions?’
’And those intentions are?’ Kris asked, her tone rising and the buzzing ticking up a notch as well.
‘To keep them safe and...’
‘Fat load of good that did!’
‘...to ensure your peace of mind.’
‘My peace of mind?’ Kris almost shouted, the buzzing ratcheting up. ‘What business of your’s is my peace of mind?’
Abdullah bowed his head. ‘I have come to offer you my help,’ he said quietly.
Kris opened her mouth to shout again and then realised Max was standing beside her. Momentarily startled by his sudden and silent appearance, she held her tongue and just looked at him.
‘What’s going on?’ Max asked, looking between Kris and the Sheikh.
Abdullah started. ‘I have come to offer my assistance to Kris and her family,’ he said, ‘but have unfortunately managed only to offend.’
Max looked at Kris who was still looking silently back at him. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked.
Kris closed her eyes and shook her head. The buzzing quieted slightly.
‘Yeah. Fine,’ she said tensely.
‘Doesn’t sound like it?’ Max persisted.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Kris shot back. ‘Let’s get on with this. We’re late.’
Kris started to walk away. Max watched her go and then turned back to the Sheikh.
‘Anything I need to know about here?’ he asked.
‘Thank you, Max, but I shall keep the details of my disagreement with Kris private,’ Abdullah said. ‘However, when you manage a moment, please inform her that I would like to offer the services of my own personal body guards as full time security for her family until this is all over.’
Max held Sheikh Abdullah in his gaze for a moment, searching the man’s shielded eyes and face for any hidden meaning in his words.
‘That’s pretty good of you, your Highness,’ Max said finally.
‘My intentions are directed towards maintaining Kris’ peace of mind by ensuring she knows her family is safe.’
‘Yeah, I get that,’ Max replied, nodding slowly, ‘but it’s still a hell of a nice thing to do.’
Abdullah dipped his head slightly. ‘I cannot abide injustice where I can assist.’
‘You know, I’m not a deep and meaningful kind of bloke, but I can usually pick the good guys from the bad pretty quickly and I have to say, you’re well and truly on the good side.’
‘Thank you, Max. Again, your honesty and forthrightness are refreshing and appreciated.’
‘And don’t worry about Kris. I’ve only known her for a few days more than I’ve known you and she’s right up there on the good side with you, so whatever’s bugging her right now, she’ll be right. I’ll get Elsa to talk to her and I’ll pass on your offer as well. She’ll take it up. I know she will. She’d be mad not to.’
‘Again, it is appreciated,’ Abdullah said.
‘Okay, well, I better get out there,’ Max said, jerking a thumb back over his shoulder. ‘Got a human race to save and all that. I’ll see you later.’
Sheikh Abdullah bowed again and Max turned and jogged over to Kris. The Sheikh looked back up and watched as Max and Kris held a short conversation and then Max began his training session with push ups and burpees. Kris flicked a quick glance in Abdullah’s direction and then turned her back on him. A pang bit into Abdullah’s chest. He barely knew Kris, but she had strength, mountains of it and that was good. She would need it, as would they all.
The Sheikh then looked across at Peter who was now standing alone off to the side of the course. The man was looking directly back at him, his own sunglasses hiding his eyes, but even from where he stood, Abdullah knew Peter’s gaze was acute.
Abdullah looked away, thinking to himself. They were all good people and strong too, but they were not yet the team they needed to be. He had to find a way to bring them together. As individuals they were each formidable, even Elsa in her own way, but until they all bonded, Max, Elsa, Kris, Joe and even himself, would sooner or later be swept up in the chaos threatening to engulf the world and their doom would be assured. Together though and with God willing, they stood a chance. Despite the darkness encroaching all around them, they might just be able to light the spark that would keep the light alive. Maybe, they could do it. Maybe, but time was short and it was already darker than he had expected.