7:30am, 12h November (1 month later). Arena Plans
Abdullah and Joe walked into the mansion’s informal dining room and kitchen area to find Max, Elsa, the kids and Kris all together. The rooms were a bustle of activity, just like any family or group of friends getting ready for the day ahead.
Max sat at the table with Millie and Jason, a pile of bacon and eggs on his plate, his second breakfast already half demolished after having been put through an early morning training session by Kris. In the kitchen Elsa moved from the cupboards to the bench, making the children’s meals, while Kris poured milk into her bowl of muesli.
Joe looked around and found Peter out on the balcony, his phone in hand as he talked to someone. Joe waved him in and Peter wound up his conversation.
‘This looks ominous,’ Elsa said as she moved to the dining table to place plates of buttered toast in front of Millie and Jason.
‘Nice to see you all this morning,’ Joe said carefully, looking around at all the activity, ‘and why exactly is our appearance ominous, Elsa?’
Elsa moved back into the kitchen to put four more slices of bread into the toaster. Kris slipped past her with her muesli, while Max remained hunched over his own plate of food.
‘It means,’ Elsa started, ’that it’s not often we see either of you this early in the day, so when both of you turn up together, it’s ominous.’
Joe nodded and glanced sideways to watch Peter come in off the balcony through the sliding door.
‘That’s an interesting assumption,’ Joe replied. ‘Perhaps we need to make a concerted effort to come and share breakfast with you more often?’
‘That’d be nice, but we know you’re busy men,’ Elsa said, just as the toaster popped up the four slices. ‘Toast?’
’No thank you. We both had our breakfast earlier while watching Kris put Max through his paces this morning. Breakfast and a show, so to speak.’
‘Yeah, I saw you blokes up there, sipping your lattes while I broke a sweat,’ Max said as he swallowed his last fried egg and stood up to take his plate back to the kitchen. ‘Kris even made me do some extra plyometrics for entertainment value. You two blokes owe me.’
‘Don’t worry about him,’ Kris chimed in as she paused in between mouthfuls. ‘He’s all talk. He’s just miffed about me nailing him with the baseball pitching machine.’
‘My back’s all purple polka dots right now,’ Max replied as he grabbed an apple out of the fruit bowl. ‘In some countries you’d go to jail for what you did to me this morning. Assault and battery comes to mind.’
‘Aww, see, kiddies, what Kris puts your daddy through,’ Elsa said to Millie and Jason as she came to sit at the table with them to eat her toast. ‘She can be so mean sometimes.’
‘Wait till I get that baseball pitcher upgraded to a medicine ball cannon,’ Kris said, a grin in place.
’A what?’ Max shot back.
Kris continued. ‘A medicine ball cannon. Abdullah promised me he’d get his engineers to whip one up for us.’
’Not for us,’ Max said. ’For you.’
Kris shrugged and got back to her muesli.
‘You were saying, Joe?’ Elsa said, returning the focus to Prime Minister Tollsen.
‘Thank you, Elsa, and I must say it always make me feel at home seeing you all together and enjoying each other’s company,’ Joe said, casting a quick glance to Abdullah who shot one back with a slight nod. ‘However, your suspicions, Elsa have proven correct, we do have an ulterior reason for calling on you all this morning and before I go on, sorry for the late notice, but we are going to disrupt your plans for today.’
‘Sounds fine to me,’ Max said, tossing his apple core in the bin and grabbing a second one. ‘Anything to get Kris away from cannons that shoot big heavy things at me.’
‘What’s on your mind?’ Elsa asked as she pushed Jason’s plate back in front of him to better catch at least some of the crumbs tumbling from his mouth.
‘We are going to take a small excursion to see the progress of the arena construction,’ Joe said.
Max slid a gaze back to Prime Minister Tollsen, but held his tongue. Peter also flicked a quick glance to Joe before returning to subconsciously scanning the windows.
‘I will now pass over to Abdullah to explain the operation,’ Joe continued, ‘and why it has taken so long for us to divulge anything regarding the arena project.’
All eyes turned to the Sheikh.
’As salam alaykum,’ Abdullah greeted. ‘Good morning, everyone and may I also express how comforting it is to see you all together.’
‘To be fair, Your Highness,’ Elsa said, ’we’re actually not all together unless Joe and yourself are with us too. We’re not Team Max without either of you.’
Abdullah smiled and bowed. Joe let his lips curl slightly and nodded, not to Elsa, but more to himself as a gush of warmth spread through his chest.
‘Thank you, Elsa,’ Abdullah replied. ‘Your words are very kind and so now, as Joseph said, I will outline to you where we are going and how.’ Everyone held quiet, either continuing to eat or pausing their meal to stop and listen. ‘Deliberately, we have not discussed the venue for the arena duels up until now. The reason for that is simple. Security. There are still several factions and organisations in the world that provide very real and credible threats to our safety. They still distrust us and would prefer to disrupt our preparations for New Year’s Eve and even kill us for their own reasons. Some are political. Others are religious and some are totally unexplainable. Regardless of the motives, the dangers of revealing the arena location too soon were too great, but now as New Year’s Eve approaches and the stadium construction matures, it is time for you all to witness the site ahead of any other delegations.’
‘Is it far,’ Elsa asked, ‘and is it safe to take the kids?’
‘It is not far and yes, it is safe to take Millie and Jason. Your protection is assured.’
‘How far is not far?’ Kris asked. ‘Somewhere on the east coast? Brisbane? Sydney? Melbourne?’
‘It is on the east coast of Australia, yes, but it is not in any of the capital cities,’ Abdullah replied.
‘If it’s not in a city, then I can’t think of any stadium big enough,’ Kris added. ‘I assume you’re inviting a crowd?’
Peter watched the interplay between Abdullah and Kris, his own mind asking exactly the same questions, but his voice remaining silent.
‘We are not utilising an existing stadium,’ Abdullah replied. ‘Rather we are constructing a new, fit for purpose stadium that will, yes, be able to hold a crowd. Not too large, but large enough for a representative audience to witness the event first hand.’
’So where is it?’Max asked.
Abdullah turned to Max and said, ‘Saint Augustine Island.’
Max, Elsa and Kris all looked searchingly at each other, shoulders shrugging.
‘It’s next door,’ sounded Peter’s voice. All eyes turned towards Team Max’s head of security. ‘It’s just over that way about fifty kilometres,’ Peter added, jerking a thumb behind him.
‘You’re building a secret stadium right next door to us,’ Kris asked slowly, ‘knowing the whole world has their eyes on this island right here?’
‘We are,’ Abdullah answered, ‘and you have Joseph to thank for the brilliance in the simplicity. While the world is focused on our little island here, we have distracted them from the stadium island, which is so close, but so deeply in our shadow that no one would notice it.’
‘How much have you built so far?’ Kris asked.
‘We have been under construction for almost a month and are nearing completion of the main frame. We now would like you all to visit and especially Max and Kris to outline any preferred arena details you would like integrated such as weapons ports, shape of the arena space and the type of duelling surface. It is time to start designing and building these elements in.’
‘You mean you want to know,’ Kris began, ‘what we need to gain ourselves an advantage?’
‘Yes. You need to identify what elements will suit your strategy and skills, so we can make sure these elements are meticulously integrated. This may, unfortunately, require you to think somewhat like an engineer, but I assure you, my men are the most capable available to assist us.’
‘How is it you can manage to get a construction project like this going right now, all things considered?’ Elsa asked, getting up from the table and gathering her plate along with Millie and Jason’s plates. ‘I mean, sure we’ve managed to bring the world back from the brink to an extent and everyone’s a bit happier, but we’re all still perched on a knife edge and here you are, building a new stadium. The money I imagine is not an issue, but the logistics and in particular, the people. To build a stadium right now and in a matter of months compared to the usual, I don’t know two or three years it would normally take, where are you getting the people? You’d need thousands of workers and I can’t imagine there are thousands of willing workers just floating around right now?’
‘Your observation is astute,’ Abdullah said. ‘So, we had to adapt and the first criteria for the new stadium was the size. Saint Augustine Island is not overly large. Also, we do not plan on an overly large audience. We are designing it to accommodate approximately twenty thousand people, which by today’s standards is small, but given the stadium’s remote location, the fact it will be televised globally and our need to maintain security right up until the event commences, an overly large audience does not suit our planning.’
‘Okay,’ Elsa said slowly, ‘and the workers?’
‘Yes, the workers,’ Abdullah continued. ‘Given the relatively small size of the stadium and the fact it is a once-off event and so will not require durable construction, we realised we could build using a temporary design with temporary materials. Therefore, the key was not heavy machinery and cutting-edge construction technology, but rather simple materials and people power, hence why your question, Elsa is so important. We needed construction workers. Thousands of them and not necessarily skilled in any way. Worker bees if you will and only a handful of skilled supervisors to ensure progress and integrity of the work. Fortunately, only minimal technology and advanced engineering are needed for this approach, so the project is actually quite simple to execute.’
Elsa opened her mouth to ask again, but was cut short by Abdullah.
‘India,’ he said. ‘We sourced much of our labour force from India, where we knew there were tens of thousands of willing workers with no families of their own to spend these last few months with. So, we promised them two things if they joined our team. Subsistence in the form of guaranteed food and comfortable shelter and then payment in full of a substantial reward if our civilisation continued beyond the arena.’
‘You promised them riches if we all survived?’ Elsa asked. ‘And they bought into that?’
‘In their droves and as I am sure you would know,’ Abdullah replied, ‘I would like nothing more than to pay them their riches. The finances are already in place.’
‘You said it’s only a small stadium,’ Kris cut in. ‘Who’s invited?’
Abdullah waved a languid arm towards Joe who stepped forward.
‘Select world leaders only,’ he said. ‘There is a coalition within the United Nations that Sheikh Abdullah and I have managed to forge over the last few months, who have assisted each other in many ways to maintain a core of peace and control in the world. Be under no illusion that if this coalition did not exist, anarchy would have overcome us months ago despite the positive impact of Team Max. It is these dignitaries and a few more that will be in attendance. They are allowed to invite any direct and extended family relatives and some close associates if they wish.’
‘That won’t fill a twenty thousand capacity stadium,’ Max said. ‘Who’s making up the numbers?’
‘The workers,’ Joe answered. ‘We have fifteen thousand on site, so that should go a long way to filling the seats.’
‘Clever,’ Max added before throwing his second apple core in the bin.
The room fell quiet, except for Millie and Jason who were now tickling each other at the table.
‘Right,’ Elsa said. ‘I better get these two trouble makers out of here and into class. What time are we off?’
‘One o’clock,’ Joe replied. ‘We will convene on the north lawn and go via helicopter shuttle.’
‘Not the Black Hawks again?’ Kris said. ‘They’re so noisy.’
‘I’m sorry, Kris, but yes,’ Joe said.
‘Sir?’ Peter started. ‘Can I cover off a few things with your security chief before we go?’
‘Please, do,’ Joe replied. ‘Excuse me, Max?’ May Abdullah and I have a quick word with you and Kris?’
‘Sure,’ Max replied as he began peeling a banana. ‘It better be quick though. I’ve got weapons training in half an hour.’
Joe then led Max, Kris and Abdullah through the dining room and into the living room where they stood clustered around the coffee table. Joe began.
‘Max. Kris. We really do need you both to think carefully about what arena details you would like to have designed in and why. We were thinking things such as how weapons are positioned or made available around the arena. Perhaps they could be delivered through portholes in the floor or via windows in the surrounding wall? Also, would you like grass or some sort of synthetic surface on the arena itself? Kris, please also give thought as to how you would like to interact with Max on the night and Max, think about where and how you would like your family to be accommodated. This is just as important as weapons distribution as we want to make sure you have as much peace of mind as possible regarding your family’s comfort during the duels and also that you can see them clearly and they have no obstructions or difficulties in seeing you.’
Max nodded. Abdullah now spoke.
‘We are approaching the last, my friends,’ he said, his normally melodic rolling tone now serious. ‘Our planning and preparations are at the critical stage. Do not hold back on your requests. If you can imagine it, my engineers will make it so. Let hope drive your creativity.’
Joe looked on as both Max and Kris nodded, gravity clearly etched on their features. Abdullah was right. The planning was coming to a close. Fate would imminently arrive. The only question left unanswered is, would doom come hand in hand.