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Twistie Buffet had been taunted through school for his poor hand-eye coordination. It was most evident when he was about 13 or 14. Being mocked at such a young age is bad enough, but he went to Elswiston Grammar, a private school in the northern suburbs where all the kids were particularly dorky. Being ridiculed at a state school by an overweight bully from a broken home is fair game, but when the bullies are the nerdish sons of accountants, with ill-fitting glasses and braced teeth — that was the ultimate humiliation.
'Buffet's got poor hand-eye coordination,' they'd sing rather literally, 'doo dah, doo dah.'
'His neural mechanisms aren't working properly,' the taunt went on, as they demonstrated their grasp on the scientific cause of the issue, 'doo dah, doo dah.'
The schoolchildren were, of course, making a perfectly valid observation. All through school, Buffet had never caught a ball; except once, in golf, purely by accident. And, yes, they played golf at his school, where they were taught how to come in under par whilst using the game to negotiate a business contract to supply uranium to a visiting Middle Eastern royal. Buffet was never successful at either pursuit — scoring a deal or winning the game. And in cricket and rugby, the two other big games at the school, he always missed the ball.
That's what made the events on the 14th floor of the VastTel building so peculiar. The rocket fired from the Black Hawk helicopter was propelled through the huge panoramic window, and Buffet, for the second time in his life, caught something.
The rocket fired from the Black Hawk helicopter was propelled through the huge panoramic window...
It was purely unintentional, of course. Buffet was incapable of quick thinking, and even more unable to turn a thought into a swift action. It's just that the torpedo had hit him in the centre of his ample belly, forcing him to bend forward, and his hands, wanting to grasp his stomach in agony, grabbed the torpedo as he fell to the floor, securing a soft landing for the weapon.
Parsons, who had dived for cover behind Buffet's desk, was waiting for the explosion. After a few seconds, when all remained quiet, he looked out towards the helicopter, where the three men were standing, their eyes closed and their fingers in their ears. Slowly, one by one, they also realised there wasn't an explosion. The men, all Elswiston boys, were astounded. Buffet's reputation was still the subject of schoolyard banter.
Somewhat embarrassed, they quickly sped off into the distance, one of them feverishly scanning the user manuals to see if there was some setting they hadn't configured properly. They'd never used a rocket launcher before. Life generally wasn't that exciting in the Australian secret service, but they knew there would be hell to pay if there was something obvious they'd missed out on because they hadn't read the manual properly.
Still, they assumed that their job was done. Few men could survive a missile in the stomach, whether it went off or not. Even allowing for the size of Buffet's stomach, which wasn't exceptionally large — just the average obesity level for a middle-aged male — he would surely be dead within minutes. Their concern, though, was the onlooker. Someone else had been in the room, and looked to have survived. That was a big worry. This was supposed to have been a secret mission. They took his photo before fleeing the scene, and later used their photo-identity database, which suggested the unnamed man was actor George Hamilton. It's fair to say the software was still in the early stages of development.