Budgie Smugglers of Lead

Jon Wesick

“You mean it’s an atomic bomb?” Novice FBI agent Ryan Newcomer wanted to run. He lowered his smartphone and backed away from the metal box the size of a filing cabinet before changing his mind. If he did not defuse the bomb, who would?

“Right! Sounds like a one-megaton nuke, probably of North Korean origin,” Australian weapons scientist Platypus Jack Wellington said over the phone.

“Hell of a first day at the FBI. My God! I wish I were back at the accounting firm.” Ryan loosened his tie and took off his suit jacket to reveal the sweat stains under the arms of his dress shirt.

“No worries, mate. I’ve defused hundreds of these devices from Cape Town to Yongbyon,” Platypus Jack said. “I’ll walk you through it. Can you send me a picture?”

"Here you go." Ryan held up his smartphone, snapped a picture, and sent it via email.

“Didn’t come through,” Platypus Jack said. “Radiation probably fried your camera.”

“Radiation!” Ryan could almost feel the alpha particles ripping through his cells and mutating his DNA.

“Gamma rays turning your knackers into charcoal briquettes is the least of your worries, mate,” Platypus Jack continued. “If this beast goes off, it'll blow a hole ten miles wide in San Francisco. I'm talking a half-million dead as mutton, their skin broiled like chook on the barbie, and internal organs turned to soup from the blast. Not to mention contaminating the western United States with radiation for centuries.

  “Before we start the hard yakka, you might want to hit the dunny or get yourself a bit of tucker. I find a tall black and some dimmy really settle the nerves. Once we begin, you’ll have only six minutes to disarm the fuse before the bomb detonates.”

“Let’s get this over with.” Ryan brushed a lock of hair off his sweaty forehead.

“Just sussing out the design on my lappy,” Platypus Jack said. “Ace! Set your torque wrench to fifteen Newton meters and remove the bolts attaching the faceplate to the frame."

“Torque wrench?” Ryan looked at the humble tool in his hand. “I only have a Swiss army knife."

“That will defo do. Shame to strip the bolts, though.”

Ryan unscrewed the bolts and removed the cover. Inside were tangles of wires, a red-and-white wheel, and a digital countdown clock made of glowing, nixie tubes.

“Okay,” Ryan said, “six minutes until it blows. I’m counting on you.”

“Good on ya.” Platypus Jack took an audible sip of tea. “Now, the next thing you're going to do is disable the varactor attached to the Wien bridge. You'll find it behind the worm gear by the mule block."

“Mule block? What’s a mule block?” Ryan asked.

“You can’t miss it. It’s about the size of a stubbie holder and looks a little like a bandicoot’s bum.”

“Bandicoot? Is that like a bird that plays electric guitar?”

A bell sounded. Ryan stumbled backward and tripped over the bomb's cover plate.

“What was that?”

“Don’t pack your dacks, mate,” Platypus Jack said. “Just a reminder to take my ankle-biter to Maccas after kindie. A bandicoot’s bum looks a little like the planetary gears on a synchromesh transmission. You do work on cars. Don’t you?”

“No, I’m a goddamned accountant!” Ryan screamed. “So, knock it off with the hotdog bridges, Jupiter levers, and koala rectums. Just tell me how to disarm this bomb!”

The wheel inside the bomb started turning, and the countdown clock jumped from five minutes to one.

“Something’s happening!” Ryan said.

“It’s the arming sequence. Things are crook in Tallarook, but you still got a fair go. If your kangaroos are loose in the top paddock as far as cars go, picture a Zener diode attached to a flyback supply."

“This is your last warning,” Ryan hissed through clenched teeth. “If you don’t start speaking English, I will crawl on hands and knees from the radioactive ruins, hunt you down, and ram whatever’s left of the donkey block down your throat!”

“No worries, mate. She’ll be apples. I’ve got a colleague who can help right here. However, you could show a little more cultural sensitivity if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“Cultural sensitivity doesn’t enter into it!” Ryan slapped his forehead as he paced in a circle. “I’m sitting on top of a bomb!”

“All I’m saying is that there’s always time for respect.”

"No, there isn't! It's going to explode in thirty seconds. Now, put the other guy on the phone!"

“Bonjour, monsieur. Quel est le problème? Je suis prêt à aider,” Parisian weapons scientist Claude Marseille said.


About the Author

Jon Wesick is a regional editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. He’s published hundreds of poems and stories in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, New Verse News, Paterson Literary Review, Pearl, Pirene’s Fountain, Slipstream, Space and Time, and Tales of the Talisman. Jon is the author of the poetry collections Words of Power, Dances of Freedom, and A Foreigner Wherever I Go as well as several novels and short story collections. His most recent novel is The Prague Deception. http://jonwesick.com