Seamus awoke to the full moon shining down on the Handy Pavilion garden centre. He yawned and stretched, though even at full extension his arms didn’t go very far. He smacked his lips and put his pipe in between his teeth, though he did not, could not light it.
Standing, he began his inspection. All the neat rows of plants, all the trees and seedlings, all the ferns and that little corner full of bonsais. Walking slowly on his little legs, he began his methodical rounds, examining the leaves, testing the dampness of the soil, squinting in the moonlight for any sign of aphids or thrips.
He had one night to do it. He had to make it count.
There was a sound, a tiny sound at the very edge of Seamus’ hearing. Either a cat or… no. There, crouched on top of the wall between the garden section and the carpark. It was Zorbar. The big man moved cautiously, glancing around for any sign of danger. Lithe as a panther, he slipped to the ground. Even in the night and the distance, Seamus could see that Zorbar wore nothing but a pair of shorts. He shuddered. Perhaps Seamus was old fashioned, but was it too much to ask a man to wear a tunic? And a pair of long pants, and some buckled shoes? And a hat? Was that too much?
“Seamus,” Zorbar called. “You awake?”
“Sure and so I am,” Seamus said. “And what is it being to ye?”
“Zorbar see if you still here. Make sure you all right.”
The great soft bastard! Zorbar may have been made of solid muscle over a skeleton of even more muscle but he had a heart of… well, a heart of muscle, Seamus guessed. But that meant a strong heart, didn’t it, and that was basically what Seamus was getting at.
Seamus wasn’t good at metaphors. That was why he kept most of them to himself.
“Faith and begorrah, but you’re fooling no one here, Zorbar. You’re doing what I am. You’re checking on the bloody plants.”
Zorbar looked down on Seamus. In the moonlight, Seamus could make out the big man’s handsome features under his long brown hair. A goofy smile spread across Zorbar’s face. “It true. Handy Pavilion fire Zorbar. Say no money for Zorbar! Zorbar not care. Zorbar promise take care plant. Zorbar take care plant.”
“Sure and you’ve also been living in that display treehouse over there,” Seamus said. “Don’t deny it, now. I’ve been asleep for a month now, but I passed by it a minute ago. The smell is unmistakable.”
Zorbar cast his eyes towards the ground to avoid eye contact. Since Seamus was only six inches tall the maneuver failed.
“How do you even fit in that thing? Blessed Mary, it’s a kids’ tree-house, you blatherskite.”
“I curl up. Zorbar not care for comfort!”
Seamus threw up his little hands. Sometimes he thought he was the only person in the whole Pavilion with a brain in his head–although of course technically his head was hollow.
“Why not move back in with your family? Your real family, I mean. Not them monkeys such as raised you. Aren’t your real family rich?”
“They make Zorbar wear collar shirt,” Zorbar sulked. “Make Zorbar eat with fork. Won’t shut up ‘negative gearing.'”
“By all the saints, Zorbar Ofthechimps, sometimes, I wonder what goes on in your head, so and I do.”
“Why you use stero-ripe language?” Zorbar said. “It not cool. It pro-mul-gates social ine… inequ… It not cool.”
Seamus rolled his eyes, making a noise like terracotta tiles rubbing together. “You been talking with that girl from the coffee shop again? Faith, and it don’t matter how PC you try to be, she’d still not going to let you… What’s that?”
“Zorbar think Seamus being unfair Carol… What that?”
“That’s what I said, ye feckin’ eejit. Shush!”
Seamus strained his ceramic ears. A motor? Sometimes kids drove into the Centre carpark after hours to do doughnuts and burn outs and stupid stuff like that. This motor sound was too quiet. Seamus looked up at Zorbar, who reached down and picked him up. With catlike stealth, he crept them both towards the door to the carpark before setting him back down.
Peeking out under the iron door, Seamus saw a small van, gleaming black in the moonlight. Two long pipes protruded from the rear door, each attached to a different hatch in the ground.
“It water pipe workers,” Zorbar said, looking out through the cutaway door handle. “Probably just fix pipes. Work after time of sun. Less traffic.”
A man came around from the back of the van, and tapped on the driver side door. The door opened to reveal another man in the seat. Both men were dressed in silver uniforms with black crossed belts. Both wore helmets with respirators that completely hid their faces.
“Those don’t look like the water supply people to me,” Seamus said.
“Then who they? Eugh!”
Seamus smelled it a moment after Zorbar. Shit. There was no other word for it. The smell of human shit was welling up from the nearest drain in the garden centre’s concrete floor.
“I see what they’re doing!” Seamus said. “Those feckin’ bastards are trying to back the sewage up through our drains!”
“Who gives a shite why? I don’t care who these people were, or what they’re about. Nobody messes with me plants! We’ve got to get them!”
If he’d taken a moment longer to think, Seamus might have given a more precise order. Before he could rethink it, Zorbar grabbed him. In a second they were both on top of the wall. Seamus’ curses and orders were drowned into inaudibility by the Zorbar’s bloodcurdling scream, and the next he knew he was in freefall.
Had he been dropped? No, he was still in Zorbar’s hand, swinging back and forth like an enraged pendulum as Zorbar charged the silver men.
“Please, let me go before you punch someone,” Seamus whimpered.
Zorbar went one better than that. Seamus flew through the air as Zorbar threw him at the driver of the van. The driver’s helmet visor shattered. The man cried out in pain as Seamus slipped, dazed, to the seat. Outside, he could hear sounds of shrieking and screaming–terrible, wet blows of fist on flesh–the occasional crack of bone.
The driver was fumbling with the handbrake. In a moment he’d try to close the door, Seamus realised. Quick as he could, he lowered himself to the floor, then dropped down to the tarmac, chipping his conical hat in the process. Behind him was a squeal of tires. He turned his head, and before his painted eyes, he saw smoke rising from behind the rear wheels as the panicked driver accelerated too quickly and in the wrong gear.
Seamus rolled out of the way, fearful of being crushed once the drive wheels gained some traction. His motion came to a stop against something fleshy. Above him, he heard a yelp, and then something heavy was pinning him to the ground.
Seamus pulled himself out and dusted himself off. The van was squealing away in the distance, its rear doors flapping open and the second silver man holding with one arm to the pumping equipment inside. The pipes had come right out of the pump and lay there, oozing noxious sludge. Seamus heard a groan, and realised what had happened. He’d tripped Zorbar, and the big man lay moaning on the tarmac.
“Zorbar think he bite tongue. Ouch.”
“Oh, be quiet ye big baby,” Seamus said. He scratched the glaze of his beard. What had just happened? Well, he’d just saved his beloved plants, sure as eggs. On the other hand, who had those people been, and why were they threatening the Pavilion?
“Faith, and sure you did a number on that one you was fighting.”
“Zorbar learn fight from apes–not Marquis bloody Queensbury.”
Seamus smiled. In spite of himself, he liked the big galoot. “Well, I’m lucky I’m still in one piece, and all. After the way you threw me.”
“Seamus have luck of Irish.”
The little gnome laughed a big belly laugh. He sat on the ground and extended a leg to show Zorbar the bottom of his left shoe.
“M… mad-e…” Zorbar read. “Made. Made in kuh-huh… Chuh… China. Made in China.”
“Faith and begorrah, sure and I don’t have the luck of the Irish,” Seamus said. “I’m a feckin’ Chinaman.”
“That not acceptable ethnic…”
“Just get me back home, lad. And keep an eye out for them gobshites in future. Unless they come back on the full moon, I won’t be able to help you.”
Zorbar jumped them back over the fence. Back home. Seamus didn’t like being away, though technically the carpark was part of the Pavilion.
The smell was already clearing and the plants were safe, unbefouled by sewage, for now. Again Seamus wondered what this was all about, who the silver men were, and why they had tried what they had tried. Again, he had no answer.
Yodeling a yawn, Zorbar returned to his treehouse to sleep. Seamus bid him good night and went back to his rounds, checking his plants. Only they weren’t his plants, were they? Over the course of a month, there must have been a huge turnover, especially of the seedlings. How often did he see the same plant twice?
Seamus pushed the thought from his mind. They were still his plants. This was his garden, and looking after the plants was what his kind did. The full moon was on the horizon, and it would set soon. Seamus returned to his spot under a sign reading ‘Not for sale’. He adjusted his pipe in his hand, assumed his pose, and slipped silently back to sleep.