“Well aint you de perdy-one!” said Nash, climbing over the rope barrier and approaching Petra with a friendly smile on his face.
“Don’t you perdy-one me,” retorted Petra, tersely “I heard all about your Tuesday night misadventures with that blondie in Lake Tekapo.”
“Hey I’ve been getting enough flak from Lorry about that without you starting. It was a perfectly innocent rendezvous with an old acquaintance. Nothing happened, we just talked.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.”
“Hi boy,” said Jamie running up to Nash’s co-pilot, an aging Blue Heeler. He embraced the dog warmly and giggled as it licked his face rapidly. “You missed me, didn’t you…oh what a good little doggie you are, you are, oh what a good little doggie you are.”
“That’s Tango.” announced Adina with a big smile. “He’s everyone’s favourite puppy.”
“It’s almost as nine,” affirmed Petra, gently prising Jamie away from Tango “some puppy.”
“He’s all tongue and tail and a belly full of barks,” added Jamie, wiping dog drool from his cheeks.
“And I take it that you’re Nash.” I ventured staring up at the Helicopter Pilot that towered over me.
“Nash the Slash,” mumbled Travis almost crushing my fingers as he snatched my left hand and shook it with vigour “that’s what they call me.”
“Nash is Petra’s boyfriend,” teased Jamie.
“Don’t be silly, Jamie,” she scolded.
“Jan might be right,” laughed Nash “I’m a complete package; tall, handsome and a few bob in the bank, after all what damsel in distress can resist the Woop-woop man!”
“Wake me up, Nash! I wouldn’t be your partner for all the tea in china. What would Loretta say?”
“Or your blonde Bimbo in lake Tickle Poo-poo?” added Jamie then cringed as Petra swatted the back of his head with her open palm.
Nash signed some sort of document on a clip board then we all busied ourselves with the drop-off. Senior Serenes handed a number of small boxes to their subordinates who stacked them in metal meshed trolleys (similar to those you may find in a supermarket except these had six wheels instead of four) which were wheeled over to Jamie, Adina, Travis and I to transport back to the van. Tango ran around barking and getting under everyone’s feet in an attempt to trip them, but they took his mischief with good humour.
I kept close vigil on Jamie throughout, who seemed to be obsessed with time and became more and more stressed each time he checked his watch. He tended to stay within the main group of activity and I got the impression he was afraid that he was for some reason feeling venerable as if a wounded elk being stalked by some unseen predator; safety in numbers.
We loaded up the van and headed back, with Adina taking her turn in shot gun and me sitting in the back with Jamie and Travis. Petra bypassed the turnoff and continued along the sealed road that seemed to twist and turn for an eternity until finally connecting with yet another road leading to the Commune’s Main Entrance.
A guard waved to us from the top of a watch tower and moments later the gates opened allowing the van to enter, then shutting with a loud clang after us. The compound was alive with Serenes and Scallies toiling at their designated chores and more than once Petra had to resort to blasting the horn to avoid hitting some of them but eventually managed to get to the Administration building in the North western sector without incident.
“Okay guys, best get these packages unloaded before Malcolm throws a hissy-fit,” advised Petra, killing the engine and removing the keys.
The four-storey Administration building with its dark tinted windows seemed almost out of place among the minimalistic cabins and huts that occupied the compound. Two colourful hedges aligned either side of the flagstone walkway leading to the sliding doors, which were controlled from a remote site. Once inside Petra gave us strict instructions to be on our best behaviour and not to speak to any of the administration staff unless they spoke directly to us.
The lobby was quite well furnished with leather armchairs, sofas and oak coffee tables. Old black and white photos and Landscape paintings hung on the walls and sitting in the far left corner was a fish-tank housing numerous colourful fish. Its carpet felt spongey to walk upon and was of far superior quality to the torn and lifeless blue one that lay in my cabin.
An attractive woman in a skimpy pink outfit gave us a welcoming smile as we placed the packages one by one onto a conveyer-belt to the left of her mahogany reception desk and watched it take them into another room via a sizeable slot in the wall.
“They’re off to the sorting room to get sorted,” explained the receptionist to me in a condescending tone “Then they’ll be delivered all over the compound and you and Jamie are going to be the number-one deliverymen today.”
“I did it last time!” groused Jamie “and the time before that. Why can’t someone else do it?”
“You said you liked being Postman Pat, sweetheart.”
“I don’t care…I don’t want to be a postman anymore. Delivery mail’s like boring.”
“Not if you delivered it with a helicopter.” I suggested in an attempt to re-motivate him before he ended up getting into trouble with Petra.
“I can’t fly a helicopter,” he countered despondently.
“Nash could teach you.”
“I’m too young to learn.”
“You’ll grow older. Come on Jamie, let’s be delivery men.”
About a quarter of another later the receptionist informed us that the packages were ready for delivery. I followed Jamie through a green door to the left of the reception desk and down a dimly lit narrow passageway; listening to his tiresome rants about being always ending up having to do the type of chores that no one else wanted to do.
We came at least to a frosted glass Exit Door; the type that is hard to see through. Jamie tapped in a code on the wall to the right of it. A shrill buzzer sounded followed by a clicking noise. The door slowly slid open and quickly shut behind us once we were outside.
“You must be Matthew, Petra mentioned you’d be helping with the deliveries” interrupted a thickset woman in her early fifties, loading the last of the packages onto the backseat of a green three wheel cycle-rickshaw with a blue canvas canopy acting as its roof. Attached to the rear of this was a small red wagon cum Trailer. “My name’s Veronica but most people call me Bubbles.”
“Hi Veronica,” I replied giving her a polite grin. There was something about nicknames that had always bothered me, sort of a long rant which I’ll get back to in time but suffice to say I preferred to address people by their actual name. “My Grandma used to say "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”. My Granddad worked at the post office.”
We set off at a moderate speed with Jamie in the driver’s seat and me in the back to the left of the mail bag; taking turns dropping off various items to various cabins. It gave me a chance to meet other members of the commune. Most of them greeted me with indifference, whilst others with a slight distrust or at least mild distain. Our task continued without incident, until we reached Cabin number 16 and that is where it started turning pear shaped.
A slim blonde teenage greeted us with a disgruntled scowl as we entered the cabin. Behind her sat two other girls at a small table playing cards and lying face down on the lower bed of a double bunk in the far right corner was a forth.
“About time!” she scolded “I’ve been waiting half an hour for you guys to show up.”
“Nash got a little delayed,” explained Jamie, nervously handing the parcels to her.
“What about the other one?”
“What other one?”
“You know very well what one I mean, the one with the chocolate.”
“There was only three addressed to this cabin.”
“Don’t lie to me! I’m onto your scam; pretending not to know anything about it and then greedily pigging out on it when you think no one is watching.”
“I wouldn’t do such a thing.”
“I’m going to search that cart from top to bottom and you’d better pray I don’t find that package.”
Jamie gave a slight whimper as she snatched his hand and towed him back out the cabin. The door slammed behind them and I could not help but feel apprehensive for him.
“So you’re the new commune eye candy,” said the younger of the two girls at the table. She rose and approached, stopping just short of me. “My name’s Crystal…I’m small and fragile.”
“Hi Crystal my name is Matthew,” I said shaking her soft moist hand “I’m ruff as guts”
“And I’m Natasha; the naughty party animal.” announced the other girl not bothering to get up “Take no notice of Crystal she’s just teasing; does it to all the new comers.”
“Not all, just the cute ones” retorted Crystal boldly wrapping her arm around my shoulders as if we were long-time friends.
“And you think I’m cute?” I asked curiously.
“Careful how you answer that Crystal, Norton might get jealous,” teased Natasha.
“Who’s Norton?” I wondered out loud.
“A cute flat chested rebel and born leader of the pack.” affirmed Crystal, drawing a love-smitten sigh. “He’s got fair hair, dreamy blue eyes and charming smile.”
My attention shifted to the lower bunk as the girl lying there twitched in her sleep. She was wearing tight fitting red top that did not quite reach rim of her peach coloured shorts. Each of her toenails were tinted a different colour as was her fingernails and someone had etched a crude smiley-face on her left heal with a red pen.
“So what do you think of our commune so far?” asked Crystal, snapping me out of my licentious daydreams.
“It’s okay I guess.” I answered. “Seems a strict type of place; full of all sorts of strange rules. There is definitely a pecking order and those who at the bottom rung of the ladder are forever having their bottom pecked at.”