Dome of Death

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 10

Rescue and…

I don't remember getting to the ground, but the rope burns lasted for weeks. Fortunately, it took several minutes before MacFife was ready. No one saw me race round the dark side of the building to the ute, and by the time they drove away I had the engine running. It was after midnight so traffic was light and following difficult. When we got to the motorway with the extra traffic it was easier and I let a couple of cars slip between us.

At the Caloundra exit, the bloke in front of me stopped on an orange light while the Mercedes turned left. When the lights changed I passed dangerously and shot after them, catching up at the next set of lights where they turned right and disappeared under a block of apartments. I parked illegally just beyond the entrance and raced down the ramp in time to see them supporting Jon towards the lift.

I raced up the stairs, checking every floor. They reached the tenth before me, but not much. I peered from the stair well in time to see the door to 1002 clunk shut. Time to call the cops. As I dialled 000, the door opened again. I scurried out of sight and disconnected.

'Find out how much he knows and who else he's told,' MacFife snapped. 'I'll be back with Bob as soon as he's cleaned up the gallery and disposed of CC.'

'No worries.'

Scumble's door closed and MacFife walked softly to the lift. As it started to descend, my mobile rang, frightening the shit out of me. No one I knew would be ringing at that hour. It had to be Scumble trying Jon's shortcut keys. I switched off. With MacFife gone I had a chance. I scoured the corridor for weapons. Nothing, unless…?

I swung the fire-hose reel out, turned off the nozzle, opened the tap, then dragged the hose to the door of 1002. After pulling myself plenty of slack I took a deep breath and knocked firmly. Inside, a chair fell over and feet scuffed to the door. I pressed my back against the wall on the same side as the opening. The door opened slightly, not enough for Scumble to see me. If it was on the safety chain, I'd had it.

It was. The chain glistened in the light. Fuck!

'Who's that?'

In what I hoped were the fruity tones of his master, I said, 'It's me again, Ian'

Scumble disconnected the safety chain and pulled the door a fraction wider. 'What's up, b…'

I kicked the door wider and directed a jet of water between his eyes, knocking him back into the room. He opened his mouth and the jet must have nearly ruptured the back of his throat. He collapsed to the floor, gagging. I smashed the nozzle against his head, let it go and belted him as hard as I could on the skull with a solid looking chair. He slumped, shook his head and lowered it for a charge. I belted him again. This time he stayed down.

Before he could revive I unplugged a standard lamp, ripped off the cord and bound his wrists together. There wasn't enough for his legs so I grabbed sheets from the bedroom, used Der's knife and tore it into strips for his ankles. The nozzle was still thrashing around so I caught it and turned it off; more for my safety than anything else. And then I lost it. I took off his socks, rammed the stinking things into his mouth and couldn't stop tying and wrapping till he looked like an untidy mummy.

Where was Jon? I searched the bedroom, lounge, study, bathroom, toilet, kitchen and dining area, balcony. Panic. MacFife might be back at any moment. Crazy with fear I forced myself to take ten deep breaths and a slow, more careful look. The lounge was cluttered with empty cardboard cartons and chairs. Jon's mobile was lying on a glass-topped table. I shoved it in my pocket. There was only one cupboard, and it was empty.

The main bedroom – nothing. The study had never been used. I looked in the bath. In the linen cupboard. Back to the study again, a curtained window, but it was an inside wall! The curtain concealed a door to another bedroom. Jon was on his back on the mattress, tied to the frame with nylon line. Der's knife again. Jon was groaning, sluggish. I'd already been there too long. I sat him up and tried a bit of gentle slapping and sweet talk. He groaned again, then slumped, head in hands.

'Fuck I've got a headache! Stop hitting me! Whadaya want?'

A sharp blow with the knuckle to the temple causes temporary blackout. It can also cause memory loss, internal haemorrhaging, stroke symptoms, paralysis, brain damage. I fought back a scream of frustration and a desire to finish Scumble off.

'I need your help.'

'What's the prob.?

'We've got to carry the bloke in the other room down to the ute.'

'Who's he?'


'Do I know him?'

'He's the bloke who gave you the headache.' I led him into the lounge.

'What's with the bandages?'

'He had an accident.'

Scumble groaned.


Scumble was heavy. Much too heavy to carry, so we dragged him out to the corridor and rolled him to the lift. Expecting MacFife to step out when it arrived, I had ready a cast-iron frying pan from the kitchen. Fortunately, it wasn't needed.

Down at the garage I checked the coast was clear, then we kicked and rolled Scumble to an alcove behind the lift. I smashed the nearest light bulbs with the frying pan, told Jon to stand out of sight, and dashed up for the ute. Hoisting Scumble into the back was gut breaking; he must've weighed a hundred and forty kilos. I closed the canopy door, told Jon to get in the passenger seat, and drove sedately up the ramp.

MacFife and Glaze sped south in the Mercedes as we drove north. They didn't give us a glance. For the first time that night I relaxed, although I had no idea where to go with our cargo of unlovely flesh, or what to do with it when we got there. Jon was humming monotonously.



'Do you remember what you've been doing tonight?'


'Do you remember performing at the gallery for CC?'

'I wish she was dead.'

'She is.'

'Good.' He continued humming.

'How's your headache?'

'What headache?'

Grateful for the moonlight, I drove around ruined canal estates looking for empty houses. The rear halves of three in a row had disappeared into the mud. The garage of the middle one was leaning but intact, and with a bit of shoving and heaving I pushed up the roller door, drove in and closed it behind us. I was desperate for a shit. Jon joined me in the garden.

'Are we staying here?'

'For a while. I need a rest.'

'Me too. I'm utterly stuffed.'

I dropped the tailgate of the ute and rolled Scumble onto the concrete floor. He landed with a thump, groaned and struggled. I checked his wrists and ankles to make sure they hadn't loosened, and his pulse to ensure there was still enough blood circulating to keep him alive. I didn't care if he was hurting. I hoped he was. After a much-needed drink of water we rolled out the sleeping bags and climbed in without undressing. I tossed and turned; brain a seething morass. Jon leaned across and stroked my forehead. Within seconds, I was asleep.

Something woke me. I was sweating, pulse hammering in my throat. It was dark. I sat up and bashed my head on the side of the canopy. Jon groaned, rubbed his eyes and stared at me, jaw dropping stupidly. I put a finger to my lips. There it was again, a dull thumping, vibrating through the floor of the ute. Cautiously, Jon crawled to the back, opened the flap and peered over.

'Who's the inexpertly wrapped mummy kicking our tyres?'


'So,' he said softly, 'it wasn't a nightmare.'

'Yes it was.'

'I remember arguing with MacFife outside the gallery, and then you and me rolling that bundle of shit along the ground … And then a car ride… And that's about it. Jeeze, I've got a headache.'

'Food'll fix it.'

We had enough salami, bread and tomatoes to keep appetites at bay, and washed everything down with bottled water. Scumble could live off his muscle and fat. Eventually I relented and poured some water onto his gag and let him suck a bit, but wasn't generous. During breakfast I told Jon what'd happened.

He shook his head in disbelief.

'It's like something out of a cheap thriller. You're so fucking brave and I'm the jerk in constant need of rescuing.' He gave an embarrassed grunt. 'How can I thank you, fair knight?'

I was tired and couldn't stop the irritation. 'You stupid prick! You were the one laying his life on the line – not me. So don't come over all grateful or I'll thump you.'

He grinned. 'So, wonder-boy, what now?'


'Let's check out the neighbourhood.'

Dull clouds obscured the sun and threatened more rain. Walking cleared our thoughts, and talking removed my fears for the actors in the previous night's show. The girl that Jon and the other bloke screwed was a professional. She did the same show regularly - sometimes a victim, sometimes a nympho. He'd been arguing with Scumble beforehand because he didn't want to risk the injection. The younger chap, who was twenty, not fifteen, was a gigolo and used injections regularly, so did it for him. Luckily, nothing had gone wrong. As for the wrestling girls, it was an elaborate act. The blood trickling from chewed nipples and other bits came from capsules in their mouths, which burst when they bit on them. The hair ripped out was false.

We stopped and gazed vacantly across at the remains of jetties and villas on the other side of a swamp that had once been a canal.

'You said CC's dead. How?'

I told him.

He nodded, sighed, skipped a stone across the marsh, disturbing a dozen scavenging birds, and said in a voice devoid of emotion, 'It's my fault.'


'I told MacFife CC had been putting the hard word on me, and when I turned her down she threatened me.'

'Did she?'



His look was inscrutable. 'I told him that when I told her to fuck off, she got angry and said MacFife eliminated people who annoyed him, and he'd erase me if she asked him to. I told him I didn't believe her because he was obviously an A1 guy. But I thought he shouldn't let CC spread such rumours because someone might believe her.'


'Perhaps justice isn't an idle concept after all' He turned cold eyes on me. 'And I want an even worse end for Scumble, Glaze and MacFife.'

I waited in vain for his usual lop-sided, just-kidding grin. Gentle Jesus nonsense of turning the other cheek had cluttered my head since childhood. I feared that if I acted like the MacFife's of this world I would become as evil as them. My silence probably seemed accusatory, but I couldn't think what to say. Jon sat on a pile of rubble and tossed stones. I watched the gulls.

'You think I'm as bad as them, don't you?'

'No I don't! It's just that… that I don't want us to become like them.'

'When I was a kid,' he said quietly, 'a bull got under a fence into Mum's garden. He was a mean bastard and refused to budge. We tried to shoo him out the gate but he got nasty and threatened to charge. I took a stick and tapped him on the nose, but he flicked it out of my hand, lowered his head and began pawing the ground. Mum got frightened and told me to get out while she waved the rake at him. She only just escaped. He had deadly horns and could easily have maimed us.

I ran to Grandpa's and he came over with a pitchfork. It was really something to see a skinny old man stalking such a huge beast. He held the pitchfork at the ready and inched forward, daring the bull to do something. Suddenly the bugger charged and Grandpa buried a tine deep in the bull's nostril. The poor beast stopped dead, shook his head and, nearly pulling grandpa over, yanked backwards to pull out the spike. He then stood quietly, head down, blood pouring from a fucking great hole in his nose, flanks twitching. Grandpa walked around behind him, patted him on the rump and the bull trotted quietly out and back to where he knew he belonged.'

I tried to look intelligent, unsure what he was getting at.

'What grandpa did to the bull taught me you've got to treat people in ways they understand. Humans are just animals – no better, no worse.'

'You make me feel like a snag.'


'Sensitive, new-age-guy. A wimp.'

'You're certainly not a wimp. I'm an Old Testament lad. Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. In my book, CC had it coming - and I'm glad.'

'If I'm honest with myself, I guess I am too.'

'Good on ya.'

'But I can't get away from the idea that if I retaliate in kind I'm as bad as them.'

'You're joking.'


'Who started all this crap?'

'They did.'

'Do you have the right to defend yourself?'


'Will they stop persecuting us if you ask nicely? Will they go to the cops and confess to the murder of Frances and tell them you didn't do it? Will they give you back your inheritance from Max? Will they apologise for trying to murder us and Patrick? Will they….'

I shoved my hand over his mouth. He was getting worked up and I didn't want to draw anyone's attention. Not that there were people about.

'You're right. A hundred percent right. I agree. It's like our Dutch neighbour used to say, soft doctors make stinking wounds.'

He wasn't to be mollified. 'Are you easy about the fact that everyone thinks we're murderers? That the cops are after us? That…' He stopped, slumped onto his knees and buried his face in his hands.

I prised his fingers apart. He was crying. 'Hey. Hey. I agree with you. I just needed to be reminded. I'm sorry.'

He wiped his eyes roughly, almost angrily, then stared into the distance, unsmiling.

'Come on,' I said with laboured joviality. 'We'd better keep moving. My head isn't clear yet.' I dragged him to his feet and we strolled on, arms round each other's waists, bravely uncaring. We saw no one so our bravery was untested. After half an hour of silent plodding, an idea began to bubble. I closed my eyes and let Jon lead me until I tripped.

'Lift your feet, bumble foot.'

'Sorry. Had my eyes shut.'

'Eyeless in Gaza.'

'You've read Huxley.'

'I'm not uneducated.

'Far from it. But I've seen a way out of this mess.'

'The Blind Seer.'

'We get Scumble to telephone MacFife and say that somehow you escaped, he recaptured you and took you somewhere, and now he wants them to join him. We hit them on the head as they come through the door and hand them over to the cops.'

'I escaped from the bed with wrists and ankles tied to the legs with nylon fishing line. Good one.'

'OK. The gas man came to check for a leak, so he had to get you out of the place and…'

'At two in the morning.'

We mulled over all the reasons we could think of for Scumble taking off with Jon, but had to give our brains a rest. Finding a safe hiding place was more important. Back at the garage we unwound the bandages from our prisoner. He was looking bruised, pale, and turning yellow at the extremities.

'If I take out your gag, will you shout?'

He shook his head, but as soon as the socks were out, gave vent to a bellow. Jon clonked him on the head with a length of timber he had picked up from the road. Our little talk had done me good; worries about Scumble suffering from concussion or brain damage never crossed my mind. While he was unconscious we removed the torn sheets I'd used to secure his wrists and feet, and replaced them with cord. It wasn't too soon. Much longer and we'd have had a gangrenous corpse.

I rubbed his toes and fingers until the yellow turned blue and then pink. The pins and needles of returning blood set him groaning. He struggled and nearly strangled himself. We had replicated his hog tying of Jon, lying him on his stomach with a noose round his neck, wrists secure behind his back, knees bent and ankles tied securely together, a short line joining ankles, wrists and neck. Very neat, very efficient, very satisfying.

'Thirsty,' he rasped.

'Open wide.' Jon pissed over Scumble's mouth. The joke wasn't appreciated. I trickled some water between dry lips, before stuffing the socks back and securing them.

'What's the stink?'

Scumble had shat himself. We looked at each other, nodded in agreement, and with Der's knife hacked off the big man's clothes, leaving him blood speckled, and squirming on the filthy floor of the garage. I took a bucket down to the canal, found a patch of water between the mud, and hurled it at his filthy rump. Jon went for the second bucket, returning with a long-handled toilet brush.

Scumble's posterior was raw but clean by the time we bundled him into the back of the ute. The place wasn't safe. The house directly opposite had sprouted signs of life in the form of five tattooed youths and a motorcycle, and several other houses were obviously occupied. Even if they were squatters like us, we couldn't afford to make contact. After checking the coast was clear we opened the doors and drove sedately away from the coast.

'Where are we going?'


'Won't the cops be watching the place?'

'Probably, so we'll drive straight past and visit Rory and Lida. They'll be wondering what happened.'

'About time. I haven't seen them since the night before that bastard in the back tried to kill me. Must be ten days ago.'

'Only ten days? Seems like a year.'

'I reckon. D'you think they'll have heard about it?'

'The cops have probably been pestering them.'

The drive was uneventful and, in Hank's little truck, as bumpy as I remembered. Scumble was going to be bruised. We drove quietly past my gate. No evidence of visitors. Rory and Lida's place appeared deserted. We parked and knocked at the caravan door. No reply. Their ute was in its usual spot, so they had to be around somewhere. A flicker of movement a dozen metres away between the trees and there was Rory, shotgun at the ready. I waved and called out, but he brandished the gun as if to say, clear off. Jon waved and started to walk towards him. This provoked a stream of abuse that ended with, '…so get ya fuckin' arses off my place.'

'Either he doesn't recognise us,' I whispered, 'or he does and thinks we're murderers. I'll do the talking.'

'Rory. It's me, Peter. This is Jon. He's shaved his head and borrowed those stupid clothes.' In the unforgiving morning light, Jon certainly looked a desperado. Dark rings round his eyes, head bald, too many earrings, tight jeans and bare chest, and like me, in need of a shower and shave.

'Get your hands up!'

We held our hands high, open palms facing him. He took a couple of wary steps towards us, squinted intently, and snapped, 'Taking a risk, aren't you?'

'How do you mean?'

'Cops are after you for killing that woman at the gallery where you worked. You'd better get out of here.'

'Rory, we didn't kill that woman. Do you honestly think I'd kill someone? It's a frame-up and we're the patsies.'

'They said you'd say that.'

'Who did?'

'The plain-clothes cops who came looking for you the next morning.'

'Did you check their ID? They weren't cops. They were the killers!'

'Oh yeah? How come they're after you?'

'I discovered they'd murdered Max, so they tried to get rid of me, but I escaped. Then they came up here to kill Jon, but I got here first.' I was pleading, in danger of crying, and despising myself for the weakness.

'It's true, Rory. And you bloody know it.' There was no pleading in Jon's voice. 'Be a man for chrissakes. Put the stupid gun down and go and get Lida. She's got more sense than you. She'll know we're telling the truth.'

Lida appeared at the edge of the trees. Cautious but curious.

'Is it really you, Peter? And Jon? Surely it's too dangerous for you here? The police keep checking your place in case you return.'

'We guessed as much. Can we go inside in case someone wanders over?'

They looked at each other. Lida nodded and Rory waved us towards the caravan. We sat at the table. Rory stayed at the door, gun at the ready.

'Put that thing away!' snapped Lida. 'They're not going to hurt us.'

When he tucked it behind the bed, I felt as though I was coming up for air after too long under water. Shotguns can be very tense making, especially when pointed at your useful bits.

'OK. What's the story.'

I gave them a fairly graphic résumé of the past ten days. The stunned silence was gratifying.

'It has to be true. No one would make something like that up.' Rory stared at us. 'Where's he now? Still in the back of the ute?'

I nodded. 'You might recognise him. He was probably one of your plain-clothes cops.'

'I'll switch out his lights while you and Jon dig a big hole.'

'Thanks, but we need him.' I outlined our idea.

'Risky. But as you say, you can't go to the cops; they'd never believe you. Hell, if we half believed you'd killed the woman, the cops certainly will.' He pushed himself to his feet. 'But it's a crappy plan.'

I shrugged, feeling like a kid who hasn't done his homework properly.

He sniffed. 'What's the real reason you came up here?'

'Like I said, to let you know what had happened and make sure you were both OK. After I spirited Jon away from my place there was no telling what they'd do. If they thought you'd helped him, they might have got nasty.'

'They weren't nice, but they weren't nasty.'

'They were menacing and I hated them.' Lida was angry.

'And you waited ten days to find out if we were OK. Some friend.'

'Rory! I was busy!'

'Yeah, yeah. Just winding you up. So you want me to give you a hand?'

'It never entered my head. Honestly! There's no way I want you risking anything for me.'

Rory grinned and turned to his wife. 'Make us some coffee, Liebling, while we take a look at the murdering bastard in the ute.'

Outside, Rory winked, 'Let's put the wind up him, eh?' When we got within hearing distance he began talking loudly, accent slightly stronger than usual and dripping with menace. 'Yeah, no worries. Back home I got rid of dozens of slimy infiltrating commie bastards. One quick tap on the back of the head, and dump them in a pit. There's so much land here no one will ever find the body. Grows good vegetables after a while too.'

'But what if the tap doesn't kill him? Jon grinned.

'I make bloody sure it doesn't! Much better if he wakes and dies real slow while the dirt works into his lungs.' He gave a resounding and evil cackle.

'If he doesn't do as he's told, he's all yours,' I said. 'I'm in no mood to muck around.'

I opened the back door of the canopy. Rory peered in, poked Scumble in the ribs and laughed, 'Plenty of meat on him. Ever tasted long pig?'

'Long pig?'

'Roast human.' He smacked his lips noisily before adding, 'I sure hope he doesn't cooperate. I've got a sudden hankering for a tasty bit of flesh.' He roared with laughter, landed a resounding wallop with the flat of his hand on Scumble's bare buttock, slammed the door and led us back inside to coffee and cakes.

'Here's what we'll do. You sort out your plan, get everything ready, then give us a ring.' He slapped me on the thigh and turned to Jon. 'You're a bloody wizard, mate. The ute's as good as new. That's the only reason I've offered to help. Can't risk losing the best mechanic in the neighbourhood.'

'And he feels guilty for believing you might have killed that woman. But even if you had killed someone,' Lida added darkly, 'I would still love you, Peter.'

Rory blushed and nodded. 'I was stupid.'

'I'd call it sensible, so stop apologising. We'll need your number. If I'd had it I could have rung you and got you to warn Jon.'

'Think of all the fun you'd have missed.'

I turned to Lida. 'Is it OK with you for Rory to help us?'

She looked perplexed. 'But of course, darling. I want to help too.'

I found I couldn't speak, so mumbled something I hoped sounded like thanks, and stood up to go.

Rory took me by the shoulders and shook me. 'Take bloody good care, mate. Some time tomorrow, then. I'll be sitting by the phone.' With a thump that almost dislocated my shoulder he led us out and they both stood waving.

Jon drove and I telephoned the Alconas to let them know we were still alive. Mad was out so the call was redirected to Brian's surgery. He was relieved to hear from me, had no news, and didn't know any Justice of the Peace who was young, active and a freethinker. The only one he knew was an elderly, fundamentalist Christian opposed to birth control, abortion and homosexuality, but in favour of corporal and capital punishment.

I called Hank on his mobile. He and Celia were enjoying themselves, had gone whale watching and fishing, spent a couple of days on Fraser Island and were feeling relaxed. Patrick, according to his secretary, was physically recovering but still a neurotic mess. In my opinion he always had been, but I didn't say so. I told them everything was fine with Jon and me and we were making good progress, but I needed the services of a trustworthy and adventurous JP. He gave me the number of his accountant, Matthew Kingstone.

'But no funny business, Peter. Patrick and I still need his services, and so, I imagine, do his wife and kids.'

I promised to take as much care of Matthew as I did of Jon, and said I'd ring as soon as I had anything to report.

Back at the coast we looked for a safe house in the washed-out beachside suburbs because they were now the least populous. It sounded simple; find an isolated place where we could come and go without attracting attention, but by four o'clock we were getting desperate. I was gazing in despair at the mess that had once been a sports ground, when something caught my eye.

'What's that behind the trees?'

Jon backed up. The playing fields had dissolved into a foetid swamp, but the concrete changing rooms with their upstairs clubhouse were intact, and the drive towards it seemed solid enough. The houses and shops opposite had been abandoned to encroaching marsh, and a clump of dying cottonwood trees hid the building from the road. The entrance was on the side furthest from the shops and road, invisible unless you went round the back. Ideal.

We stopped in front of the door and dumped our cargo. I untied the rope between neck and ankles, grasped it firmly and prodded. The downstairs changing rooms were knee deep in muck, so we forced Scumble to slither up the concrete stairs, scraping off a few patches of skin on the way. One false move and I could yank on the rope and strangle him, or kick him back down.

The stairs opened into a large and airy room. On the far side a door gave on to a wide but narrow space with high windows along each side. I lengthened the noose rope and tied it to a stanchion between the windows on one side, then slipped a second noose round his neck and fastened it to the stanchion on the other. There was enough slack for him to sit down, but as his hands were still behind his back, not enough to let him reach the knots. The gag stopped him chewing on the rope.

We spread ourselves in the main room and pooled ideas. After an hour we still had no plausible reason for Scumble to take off with Jon, stay hidden for a couple of days, and then ring MacFife for assistance.

'My stomach thinks my throat's been cut. Who's getting dinner?' We tossed for it and I drove a couple of kilometres to the nearest store and stocked up on tins of ham, fresh apples, bananas, bread, biscuits, and a crate of bottled water. There was certainly no shortage of food in the shops. Scumble got a couple of bananas.

An idea jelled. 'How about this?'

'I'm all ears.'

'The police were called to a domestic dispute in the flat next door. They knocked on Scumble's door and told him they would need to interview him afterwards, so he took off.'

'How serious was this argument?'

'It'd have to be life threatening.'

'And if MacFife checks the story?' Jon pulled a face. 'You can do better than that.'

'OK. He got a call from the cops asking to see him. Guessing that one of their many enemies had dobbed him in, he thought it best to scram before they arrived.'

'And the fire hose? Water everywhere?'

'Beats me.' I had run out of ideas.

'And why would the cops ring first?'

'OK, smart arse, your turn.'

'Instead of cops, how about if a buddy had rung to warn him of a rumour that the cops were searching suspect houses?'

'Better. And the fire-hose?

'That was a warning to MacFife that something was wrong.'


'Mmm. Let's see what the expert has to say.'

'Right. But, exactly what did the police suspect?'

'Drugs? You told me they were snorting lines at the party.'

'And the blokes with briefcases the other day. They'd come to pick up supplies, you reckon?'


'And ArtWorks?'

'Let's ask Scumble.'

Our prisoner looked more humble than Scumble and made no attempt to call out when we removed his gag. His flesh was grey, unappetising and soft; a muscle freak with withdrawal symptoms. At the orgy in Frances's bedroom and again at the gallery, he had pumped himself up. Now belly, tits and bum were sagging.

I stared at him. He stared belligerently back.

'You're not as beautiful as the first time I saw you.'

'Who the fuck are you?'

'I'm the guy who's arse you split open with a purple dildo and then dumped tons of rubble on, at the back of the gallery, before going back inside with Bob Glaze to rape and murder Frances. And this is my partner, whose neck you were going to break before tossing him off my roof.'

Like all good and true Aussie blokes, Scumble had no use for displays of emotion. If he was surprised, he kept it hidden. Although after the previous twenty-four hours he'd probably used up his meagre reserves of feeling.

'Whaddaya want?'

'What's ArtWorks?'

'Get fucked.'

Jon thumped one of the noose ropes with the side of his hand, making Scumble's eyes pop.

'Answer the question,' he said evenly.

'Get fucked.'

'Is he into drugs?'

No answer.

We tightened the ropes from neck to window until he was standing, and left him to his thoughts. Having forgotten to buy candles, we went to bed. The concrete was hard and cold through the sleeping bags. Even a heart-warming cuddle couldn't keep the bogeyman at bay, and sleep was fitful until dawn. Scumble was nearly dead on his feet. I lengthened his ropes. He sagged onto his knees, breathing ragged.

I tried the salesman's trick – first names.

'No one knows you're here, Ian. No one at all. If you do as we say – convincingly, we will feed you well, and if the outcome is successful, we will let you go.'

'Like fuck you will.'

'We will let you go. You're no prize. Neither is Glaze. We want MacFife. He's the one who took my inheritance. It's all about money, Ian. You're just a lump of useless shit. Certainly not worth a murder rap. When Frances died I should have inherited half her estate. It was in Max's will. Do you know how much that is? Millions, Ian. Millions of dollars that should be mine.'

Fortunately for my credibility, Scumble was ignorant of the contents of Frances's will. His eyes focused. Money was something he could understand.

'But you also want revenge,' he said with quiet certainty.

'For what?'

'What we did to you.'

'You're joking! You didn't do anything. You failed. But I bet MacFife won't fail when he discovers you and Bob couldn't eliminate a naked bloke bound hand and foot. And when he realises the stripper who told lies about CC so he got you to snap her neck out the back of the gallery, was the same bloke whose neck you were supposed to snap at my place, what do you reckon he'll do? Why should I bother with revenge when MacFife will do it for me?' I smiled fetchingly and let that sink in. 'Unless, of course, you help me get to him before he gets to you.'

He flicked me an indecipherable look.

I shrugged and continued as though it was neither here nor there. 'I don't blame you for what you've done. You were just doing your job. Not very well, but I imagine you were doing your best. No, Ian, I'm not interested in revenge, I just want my money.'

Scumble had gone a funny colour.

'How'd you know about CC? The kids were all upstairs.'

'Openings in roofs are not only for shoving people to their deaths; they also provide front row seats for porn shows.'

He turned to Jon. 'So CC hadn't been blabbing?'

Jon smiled evilly.

Scumble shook his head in guarded admiration.

'Fuckin' clever. You did me a favour; I hated that bitch.

'Glad to be of help. Were the shows in that tent place in the hills any better?

'It was you!'

'What was?'

'You set that fat pig free. You… You… Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!' He spat, missing by miles.

'And you,' Jon grinned.

Scumble turned his face away and sulked; offended more than frightened. Time was disappearing. He had to be more frightened than offended. We shortened the noose ropes again until he was standing on his toes. Jon took out his knife and started cleaning his nails, looking speculatively at our victim.

'Ian's not circumcised, Peter. That's unclean. We ought to set things to rights before he meets his maker.'

'Good idea,' I agreed, hoping he wasn't serious.

Scumble nearly strangled himself when Jon pulled out his foreskin and pricked it with his knife, drawing a drop of blood. A high pitched humming squeezed through Scumble's clenched teeth. My flesh crept.

'How about infection?' I asked innocently. 'It smells as though he hasn't washed that thing for a while. And shouldn't you wear rubber gloves?'

'Yeah, get me some. As for infection – the way he's going he won't live long enough for it to matter.'

I brought in a couple of plastic bags. Jon shoved his hands into them, grabbed the penis again and made another slight nick. Droplets became a trickle. Scumble slumped, gurgled, eyes popped. Swaying on his ropes. Jon slapped him across the face.

'What are ya? A fucking girl? Come on, take it like a man. I know what I'm doing, I've castrated dozens of bulls and rams. Circumcising can't be that much different. Hey!' He turned to me excitedly. 'Let's castrate him at the same time.'

I shrugged, apparently indifferent.

'Suits me. I'll get a bucket for the blood.' I left the room again. We were running out of bluff and I was beginning to panic. When I returned Jon was making another, deeper cut.

Scumble's resolve collapsed. 'OK! I'll do anything! Anything! Just get that fucking knife away from me!' His voice was high and hoarse, neck knotted with strain.

John looked up, disappointed. 'Are you sure? I was just getting the hang of it.'

'Of course I'm bloody sure! And you'll let me go afterwards?'

'As soon as MacFife's in the same situation you're in now.'

'Just tell me what you want me to do.' He sounded convincingly broken. But then he had managed to look sorry for CC just before breaking her neck.

We let him sit, fed him, gave him a bucket to shit in, threw water over his face and groin, and a rug over his shoulders to remind him that life would be better if he cooperated, and discussed the story he was going to use to set the trap for his boss and Glaze. It took the rest of the morning.

Scumble reckoned he knew nothing about MacFife's business arrangements. As far as he knew, no drugs had been sold through the gallery. Indeed, he seemed confused by the idea. He was simply a bullyboy, a performer, and part-time pimp for a house of prostitutes further up the coast. In the middle of a discussion about how best to entice his boss to our lair, he began losing concentration so I wrote everything down for him while Jon went out and bought a pizza and bottle of wine. When he'd eaten we made him more or less comfortably secure, and left him to recover. He had to sound convincing.

I went outside to telephone. The Justice of the Peace Hank had recommended had a pleasant voice and was very friendly until I told him I was the bloke accused of murdering Frances. He drew an audible breath, but didn't interrupt while I gave him an outline of my side of the story. I waited a full minute in silence before he snapped, 'Why are you ringing me?'

'Hank Fierney said you might help.'


I told him.

'It's going to be dangerous.'

'Not for you, unless…'

'Exactly.' Another long silence. 'Hank Fierney. It was Hank who recommended me to you?'


'OK. Give me a call when you're ready. I'll keep the mobile switched on.'

Relief made me giggly. When I telephoned Rory to tell him we were running a day late, he asked if I'd been drinking. I told him the good news then went back to relieve Jon at his post.

Our prisoner slept like an innocent all afternoon and right through the night. It wasn't a question of no brain, no pain, it was no conscience no insomnia. The following morning early we fed him well, freed one hand while keeping the nooses tight so he could wash himself and defecate in the bucket, and at six o'clock guided him through a dozen dummy runs with a block of wood instead of a phone. When he had his spiel off pat, I dialled the number he gave me. Nothing. No sound.

'Flat battery?'

'It's brand new.'

'Maybe the concrete's insulating us.'

We encouraged Scumble to slither up the stairs onto the flat roof, and tried again.

'It's ringing.'

'You're a dead man if you stuff this up.' Jon's tone even convinced me.

Scumble's face came to attention, his body tightened and a nervous twitch played with his lips. 'How's your mother…? Yeah, my mother's well too…. Yeah, sorry boss, things got a bit hairy there for a while, but it's all sorted… It was that fuckwit, Argyle. The cops picked him up for speeding, breathalysed him, searched the car and found grass. The bastard slimed his way out of it by naming me as the supplier! Then he reckoned he felt guilty and rang to warn me. Christ he's dead meat… Yeah, it was a bit of a rush… I threw the hose and water around to warn you and give the cops something to think about… Na! I'm not stupid. The place is clean as a whistle. There's nothing there… Yeah, you do that. Bloody Argyle needs topping. He'll deny it of course. Fuckin' slime ball… Yeah, I bloody know it's two and a half days. I'm not stupid… Like I said, I couldn't ring you because I left my mobile behind in the rush. I wrapped the kid in sheets and didn't realise till this morning that he had one in his pocket... Yeah, I know I should've looked… OK. OK! Here's the number.'

Jon passed him a paper and Scumble read it out, then listened to a long diatribe from MacFife before butting in angrily.

'I nicked a fuckin' ute from the basement car-park, that's fuckin' how… Why the fuck would I run out on you? I was protecting you! Making sure I hadn't been followed! That's why I left it a couple of days before contacting you! Because I didn't want you walking into a trap! …Yeah, that's right. If I'd been followed they might have been lying in wait to see who joined me.'

Scumble was irritated and that was excellent. Much more convincing than crawling. 'Exactly!' he sighed in exasperation. 'That's exactly why I didn't go near the gallery... I've got me a perfect place for the moment, but I need Bob to spell me, and you to make the bugger talk. I've been a bit heavy handed, so it's best if you take over while he's still got a mouth he can talk out of. What's a fuckin' cert is that he knows more than's good for us, and he's told someone else. But he's an irritating cunt and I'm gunna get so mad I'll kill the bugger before he tells me everything… Ha, ha. Beaut… Right. Here's where we are…'

Jon leaned over and switched off the phone.

'What the fuck?'

'If you give directions now, even if you tell him not to come until twelve-thirty, there's nothing to stop him checking out the place. Then he'd see Rory and the JP arrive.'

My spine tingled. How many other things had we forgotten? The phone shrilled. It would be MacFife, wondering what had happened.

'Hang on!' Jon stared at Scumble. 'When you answer it, speak very quietly. Tell him about having to come up on the roof because the walls are so thick, and some kids are hanging around outside and you ducked so they couldn't see or hear you, and inadvertently shut off the phone. Tell him the building's locked and these are the first people you've seen near the place, so it's perfectly safe, but midday will be best when everyone's at lunch. If he asks the address, pretend you can't hear, the reception's fading, and you'll ring him at twelve if the coast's clear.'

Scumble, frowning in concentration, whispered into the mouthpiece. 'Yep, it's me again. Sorry about that,' and followed Jon's instructions almost verbatim. He was shaking when he disconnected. 'He's suspicious.' He looked across at me in fear. 'It wasn't my fault! You heard me. I did my best.'

'Yeah. You were bloody good, Ian. Take it easy.'

Jon brought us back to reality. 'We've got two and a half hours.'

Scumble's protests at being bound and gagged again in his room were stopped by a pull on the neck ropes. I went back up to the roof and telephoned Rory and the JP.

Rory, in overalls and heavy boots, arrived within the hour. He parked his ute in an adjoining street and jogged over with a holdall from which he took his shotgun, a pump-action .22, a vicious-looking knife with a zigzag blade, a pair of sports trousers, flowered shirt, shoes and socks.

He and Jon went in to Scumble's room, untied him and told him to get dressed. I removed the slop bucket then waited out at the road trying not to panic, certain I'd forgotten something. A snazzy little metallic-gold sports car zipped in to the kerb. I got in and we drove a couple of blocks away to park. Matthew Kingstone, in baggy beige knee-length shorts, white shirt and leather scuffs, was tall, skinny and palely freckled, with short-cropped auburn hair, looking nothing like any Justice of the Peace I'd ever seen. He offered an engaging smile, tripped over his feet, dropped his briefcase, laughed and suggested I carry the camcorder if we wanted it to arrive in working order.

Showing no surprise at Scumble, now dressed in the smaller room, he asked us to remove the gag. After introducing himself, he told Scumble he was here to get the real facts, his voice suggesting that everyone except Ian was a liar. Ian relaxed. Matthew set the camcorder on the floor, checked the viewfinder, set it going, and began chatting. But the camera unnerved Scumble. Rory's knife pushing his Adam's apple a millimetre or two out of alignment magically freed his inhibitions. Rory withdrew and went downstairs to keep guard.

Then we couldn't stop him. Matthew's grunts of compassion and comprehension, coupled with sympathetic tuts of commiseration fuelled the confession and denouncement of his corrupt and vile former boss. In Scumble's bosom dwelt a simple, peace-loving soul, desiring nothing more than the chance to live an honest, law-abiding life. He had been an unwilling slave for nigh on five years, after hitting someone too hard during a game of cards. It was an accident, but when the bloke died, MacFife convinced him that if the cops got to him he'd spend the rest of his useful years in jail.

He admitted to pushing Max over the edge of the dome, but it too was an accident. He'd just decided to disobey MacFife's orders and not murder Max, when Bob Glaze pushed his arm. So it was Bob's fault. When bulldozing the rocks onto me, he had deliberately missed me and tried to create a cave so I could dig myself out. Thus, he had saved my life. Frances had attacked him with a knife. In self-defence, and not realising his own strength, he had accidentally knocked her down the stairs and killed her.

Of course he'd had no intention of snapping Jon's neck! He was only waiting for a chance to immobilise Bob before letting Jon go. Patrick arrived before he could manage that. He had pleaded with Bob to let Patrick go, but when they telephoned MacFife, he insisted they imprison him, so their hands were tied. He had tried, ever since the capture, to find an excuse to go up to the hills to release the poor man, and he only discovered Patrick had escaped because he had secretly gone, that very day, to release him.

As for CC, it was a dreadful accident. MacFife had forced drugs on him earlier in the evening, knowing they would blow his mind and he would be unable to control his strength. So when he learned CC was blackmailing them, he took her outside to persuade her to stop. He'd only intended to frighten her and hadn't realised how fragile her neck was. He directed a trusting gaze at Matthew.

'Thanks, Ian. That will certainly convince everyone of your true character. You've been very wise and brave. Well done!' He leaned forward to shake the misunderstood man's hand, but was wrapped in a bear-hug. I released the safety-catch on the .22, and Jon stepped behind, ready to slit Scumble's throat. He looked up, apparently surprised.

'Hey! Cool it. I only want to hug the first man to try and understand me.'

'Let him go.'

'I thought you trusted me?'

'It's the old problem of actions and words.'

Scumble looked stupid, and suddenly I realised that he was. He was cunning-dumb and I almost felt a pang of pity. Almost.

'We believe you, Ian, but you have to prove it by finishing the job.'

'You're right, Peter.' He blushed and looked almost shy. 'Is it OK if I call you Peter?'

'You can call me on the phone, if you like.'

He thought I was laughing at him and a flash of anger flickered, to be quickly replaced by the usual expressionless stare. My guts turned queasy.

He turned to Matthew. 'I've just thought of something. I reckon MacFife won't come inside unless he sees me.'


'So you're going to have to let me go down and talk to him. If I just shout down from the window, he won't come up. He's suspicious already.'

Matthew looked at us. 'This is your department, gentlemen. 'I'm merely your quasi-legal eyes and ears.'

We argued for a bit, then Rory came up with the solution. We'd let Scumble do as he suggested, but a length of nylon fishing line would be round his neck, trailing invisibly up the stairs. We went over everything again. I reminded Scumble that MacFife would kill him if he found out the truth, so he'd better keep all his hopes in our boat. He nodded distractedly.

Having twenty minutes to spare we went over the plan again. Rory would wait in the downstairs changing rooms with his loaded shotgun in case someone stayed behind in the car. If they did, he'd capture them. If both went upstairs, he'd follow and prevent their escape. No one dared think about what we'd do if half a dozen thugs arrived.

Jon and I would be out of sight at the top of the stairs, hanging on to the nylon noose round Scumble's neck. Matthew would wait with his gear in the smaller room ready to record two more confessions, and Scumble would wait at the foot of the stairs, ready to welcome MacFife, allay his suspicions, and usher him up.

'Hang on,' I said. 'What's going to happen to the line when Ian comes back upstairs?' I slipped it round my neck and tried it. It was hopeless. The line curled, tangled, knotted and tripped me. We'd have to trust him.

'If big-boy runs for it, I'm waiting with the shotgun.'

'You can't watch two people.'

'I've got two barrels, but to make certain, you wait at the window with the rifle until I shout, Jon. Just make bloody sure the guys in the car don't see you.'

In the increasingly unlikely event that we managed to lure them upstairs, Jon would cover them and Scumble with the rifle while I immobilised them. We had rope, lumps of wood, and not much else. If Scumble decided to change allegiance, we'd had it. If MacFife had a gun, we'd had it. If … so many ifs.

I avoided looking at Matthew's increasingly pale and worried face.

It was twelve o'clock. Back on the roof, Scumble telephoned MacFife. 'Yeah. Gidday, Boss. Everything's clear. No one's been near since I called last. It's a fuckin' cemetery, so you can come on over… Whadaya mean I didn't tell you? I bloody did. Jeeze, must be getting old timer's.' He laughed unconvincingly, gave precise directions and disconnected. 'Fuck I need another piss. This is bloody nerve wracking.' He leaned over the edge and urinated down the wall.

My Mercedes, in need of a wash and polish, drew up at the bottom of the stairs where Scumble waited. He'd complained about the flowery shirt, reckoned it was a give-away as he'd never be seen dead in a poncy thing like that. We convinced him MacFife would think it was a brilliant disguise. Rory hovered unseen and unseeing in the gloom of the changing rooms below. I peered down on Scumble's bristly head and massive shoulders from the top of the stairs. Jon, .22 at the ready, squatted under the window. Matthew waited in the back room. The air was utterly still. Not a breath stirred the dying leaves. No sound came from either the town or the marshes beyond the low dunes.

The car window whined down and MacFife said, 'Raise your hands above your head, Ian, and no sudden moves. It's not that I don't trust you, simply a precaution.'

Scumble raised his hands. 'No worries, Boss. I don't trust no one neither.'

'Very wise,' replied MacFife.

Two almost inaudible pops, and Scumble collapsed onto the bottom step where he twitched and kicked several times before rolling onto his side. A trickle of blood stained the flowered shirt and ran on to the concrete. Silence for several very long seconds, then Glaze's voice, 'I reckon it's all clear, Boss.'

The murder left me blank. We'd planned for everything except that. I froze. Jon looked a question, and Rory, unaware of the killing and unable to see what was happening, stayed listening for someone to go upstairs. Matthew later said he was wetting himself in the back room.

Two shadows crossed the threshold at the foot of the stairs and a suede shoe nudged Scumble's thigh. I scuttled across to Jon and whispered, 'They shot Scumble.' We tiptoed into the back room, closed the door, warned Matthew to silence with fingers to the lips, and flattened ourselves behind the door. There was nowhere else to hide.

Glaze and MacFife made no noise on the stairs and didn't speak. I was nearly insane with fear when the door burst open, slamming against my knee.

Glaze grunted. 'The fuckin' place's empty.'

MacFife's voice, 'Behind the door.'

Glaze leaped into the room, landing on his toes facing us, handgun at the ready – just like the movies. Before his heels touched the ground, Jon's discharging rifle smashed my eardrums and something burned the side of my head above the left ear. Glaze spun back, gun flying as he clutched at his shoulder.

In the eerie silence we heard MacFife run down the stairs into the waiting arms of Rory. But what had seemed like hours to us upstairs, had been less than a minute. Rory, unaware Scumble had been shot, had remained at his post to cover the car and be available when we shouted. As soon as he heard the rifle he broke cover, raced for the stairs and tripped over Scumble's body. Before he could pick himself up, MacFife knocked him flying. He fell against the steps, gashing his arm.

I raced downstairs to find Rory scrabbling for his gun, and the Mercedes racing away. Rory cursed and shook his fist, then turned to me in despair. Blood was pouring from a deep cut on his upper arm.

'Come on, let's get back upstairs before the neighbours get curious,' I said, brushing sweat from my eyes. My hand came away bloody.

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