Dome of Death

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 11

A Rethink is Required

Muttering angry apologies, Rory stomped upstairs.

'Stop apologising, Rory,' Jon said roughly, 'it wasn't your fault.' He grasped the older man's arm, inspected the cut, took off his shirt, ripped it into strips, and gave them to Rory. 'Here, wrap it tight.' Turning to me, he wet another strip of torn shirt, wiped away the blood, reckoned it was nothing to worry about, but bandaged it 'just in case.'

Rory continued apologetic as he used the rest of Jon's shirt to try to stem the flow of blood.

A shaking, sweaty and very nervous Matthew joined us. 'That bloke in there… his shoulder's bleeding. He's in agony.'

'Good. Is he safe?'

'Well and truly trussed. I'll get his gun.' He turned to go back.

'Leave it!' Rory snapped.'

Matthew was turning green. 'You… you're both bleeding too… and… where… where's the third man?'

'Got away, thanks to me,' Rory muttered.

'Crap,' I snapped

Jon caught Matthew as he fainted, laid him on my sleeping bag, then went downstairs to look at Scumble.

Matthew groaned, sat up, saw the blood seeping through my bandages and threw up over my bedding. I took a deep breath, quelled my own nausea and fetched him a tumbler of water. While he sipped I massaged his neck and head until colour returned. He swallowed the last of the water, handed the tumbler back and stared at the floor.

'Sorry about that, Peter. I'm not used to violence.'

'Neither are we. Well, not until recently.'

He looked at my bandage. 'You've been shot!'

'He missed. It's only a nick.'

'You could be dead.'

'You could be driven into by a semi-trailer on the way home.'

'I told Sally it was just going to be a routine witnessing of a statement. But suddenly I could picture myself dead and her and the kids alone, not knowing where I was, or anything and… I'm sorry about chundering.'

'Shut up, Matthew. I'm the one who owes you an apology. I was so keen to trap that bastard I closed my mind to the possible consequences. I knew he was a killer, but somehow thought we were immune.'

Jon ran up the stairs. 'Well, that was a waste of videotape. Fuck, what's the stink?'

Mathew blushed and helped me throw the sleeping bag out the window.

'Who shot him?' Rory asked. 'I heard nothing.'

'He used a silencer.'


'That moaning bugger in there.'

'And who shot him?'

'Jon,' I stated proudly.

Jon winced.

Rory nodded appreciatively 'Bloody quick thinking, mate.'

Jon shrugged. 'Not quick enough.' He turned to me. 'You OK?'

'Yep, thanks to your reflexes.'

'Plenty of practice on rabbits.'

I tucked my hands into my armpits to hide the shakes. 'I was certain we were done for. Thank goodness it was you with the rifle. I'd have just stood there while he picked us off.'

'Course you wouldn't.'

'I bloody would.'

Matthew added his praises.

'OK. I'm a hero,' Jon snapped. He turned to Rory. 'What sort of ammo was it?'

'Solid longs.'

'Then it probably went straight through, I'll see if I can find it.' He slipped into the other room, muttered something to Glaze, and the moaning stopped.

Rory turned to Matthew. 'Camera OK?'

Matthew came to life. 'Crikey, I left it in there. I sure hope so, otherwise it's all been for nothing.' He stood up, blinked and whispered, 'I think I'm going to faint.'

The room had become hot and very humid. I sat him on the floor, far from Jon's sleeping bag, and went in to find the camcorder. Jon was digging at a patch of stucco. Glaze was writhing in the corner, blood seeping from his shoulder, a continuous groan seeping through clenched teeth.

Jon turned to me with a grin. 'Voilà, as they say in France.' He held up a flattened bullet. 'All evidence removed.' He stepped over Glaze, kissed me lightly on the lips, and I followed him out.

Rory had removed the fainting man's shirt and was fanning him with it. Matthew's bony white chest, pale nipples, thin arms and jelly-belly made me wonder how he kept his wife faithful. Jon stood beside him, watching. The comparison was cruel, but Matthew didn't notice. I tried to imagine what I'd have done if a runt like him had come knocking at the gallery doors on a wet and windy night, instead of Jon. Matthew tested the camera, breathed a sigh of relief, swallowed manfully, stood shakily and said bravely, 'Time for interview number two, gentlemen?'

'Na, let him wait. He's only in pain. Not bleeding to death. I need a coffee.' Jon was full of surprises.

We sat in a circle in front of Glaze, dunking biscuits into our coffees and slurping disgustingly. Glaze affected not to care. Matthew set the recorder going. I started chatting.

'You're in the shit, Bob.'

'You're the fuckin' shit. Wait till MacFife gets you.'

'Don't you recognise the bloke who winged you, Bob,' I asked sweetly.

'He's just a fuckin' stripper.'

'He's the fellow you planned to drop from the roof of my house.'

Bob turned red eyes on me. 'And who the fuck are you?'

'I'm the one you nudged off the rocks so Scumble could bury me under a pile of boulders before you went back to have your way with Frances.'

Glaze's sang froid wasn't as froid as Scumble's. His jaw dropped several centimetres and for a second he appeared to forget the pain in his shoulder. 'But… But… But.' He gave up, staring at me in horror. Then… you aren't dead? It was you who….' He stopped, unable to continue.

'Who rescued Jon. Then we freed that fat sod you entombed in the hills. You haven't been a very successful combination, you and Scumble.'

Sweat was pouring off him; he was turning yellow and obviously in need of medical attention, but first he had to talk. I laughed wildly. 'Not only did you luck out with Jon and me, but you agreed to the murder of CC because of a pack of lies Jon told MacFife. I wonder what sort of welcome party MacFife will throw for you when he finds out.'

No reply.

I tried to sound businesslike, but it came out bitchy. 'You've two choices. Either tell us everything about MacFife's little game, what he's likely to do now and where we can find him, or refuse to talk and we'll leave you here to rot until MacFife comes back to finish you off - like he did with Scumble. We've not murdered anyone, and don't intend to start now. We simply want what's due to us.'

'What're you going to do if I tell you?'

'We'll take you to a tame doctor we know and tell him you had an accident while target shooting. He'll patch you up and you can go home – or wherever you think you'll be safe.'

'You'll really let me go? Promise?'

'Of course. You're no use to us….' And so it continued until he wilted and poured his woes into the video camera. The story was so similar to Scumble's they must have concocted them together in an idle moment. Naturally, his murder of Scumble was also an accident. He thought Scumble was carrying a gun and had only intended to frighten him, but MacFife had moved, jolting the car and spoiling his aim. He regretted his friend's death more than he could say. By the time he'd finished, his voice was almost inaudible and his thoughts were wandering.

Rory drove his ute over to collect his gear, and a very relieved Matthew drove home to his wife and two and a half kids with the recordings, promising to make copies and await our instructions. Jon and I removed all evidence of our stay, then helped Glaze downstairs, bundled him into the tray of Rory's ute, covered him with a tarpaulin and followed Rory in our vehicle to the emergency bay of the main hospital.

As Glaze was loaded onto a gurney by a couple of orderlies, he came to his senses. 'You promised!' he yelled. 'You fucking bastard! You promised! I'll get you for this!'

I walked across and patted him on the arm. 'This is Australia, mate. You forgot to ask if it was a 'core' promise. You'll know better next time.'

Jon was acting dumb at reception.

'…but you must know his name!'

'Like I said, Miss, I've no idea. He copped it while shootin' someone. We was jogging past and seen it. I reckon you should tie him to his bed and call the cops.' He turned to go.

'But… you can't go! Who are you? You're having me on… Come back!'

Rory was waiting. 'It's just on five. What now?'

'Go home and give Lida a kiss from us, and I'll phone the cops and tell them to pick up Scumble and Glaze.'

'Where're you staying?'

'We'll go to a friend's for a hot shower, a good meal and…' I draped my arm around Jon's neck and kissed him on the cheek, 'a comfortable bed.' Jon pulled away with an embarrassed grunt.

Rory laughed. 'Mr Cool.' He glanced at Jon. 'What're you blushing for? You're a lethal combination, you two' He climbed into his vehicle and leaned out the window. 'I know I was worse than useless, but if you decide to go after the one that got away, I'm ready. I've a score to settle too, now.' He tapped at his bandaged arm. 'Wouldn't mind another swing at the bastard.'

'You're not useless. Neither of us would have dared do what we did if you hadn't been there. Your guns and support were essential. And we're counting on you for next time.'

He nodded briefly and drove away.

Jon was staring at me, started to say something, shrugged, got in the ute and drove us towards the hills. After a couple of kilometres he pulled into the parking lot of a small hall.

'Better make those phone-calls,' he said dully.

'What's the matter?'

He frowned. 'Nothing. Phone the cops and get it over with.'

We got out and leaned on the cab, staring across the roof at each other. I punched in the emergency number and a string of computer-generated voices eventually set a living policeman's phone ringing. After about four lifetimes someone grunted, 'Incidents.'

'There's a dead body in the disused sport's club down by the beach, and the murderer is in the main hospital with a bullet wound in his shoulder.'

'And who are you?'

I disconnected.

Jon was still frowning.

'Come on, out with it.'

'It's nothing.'

'You're embarrassed because I pecked you on the cheek.'

He sighed, shrugged and said softly, 'Are you always so open about being… you know?'


'No! Yes. Oh, whatever!'

'Not usually. In fact, that was a first. '

'Why'd you do it?'

'Rory knows I'm gay and unless he's brain damaged knows you are too. Do you want to pretend we're just mates?'

'I thought so. But… it's sort of a relief to have it out in the open.'

'Hank and Celia knew Max and I were a couple, but because it was never discussed and we were never affectionate in their company, I had no idea whether they understood that we loved each other deeply, what they thought about our relationship, or even if they approved! I loved them and they loved me, but there was always an invisible barrier preventing everything from being perfect. Are you listening?'

Jon was staring across the road. 'Yeah. Go on.'

'After Max's funeral I had an argument with Patrick and they leaped to my defence. Only then did I learn that they thought our love was the best thing that had happened to Max. That made me decide to be honest with real friends. I must speak about it with them. Must be sure they're comfortable with it and still consider me to be a good man. It is not enough to have an 'unspoken understanding' because you are never sure what they really think and the relationship is tainted by fear of what people might be saying behind your back.'

'That makes longwinded sense.'

'Jerk. If we always censor our behaviour in front of friends, it's conceding that it's only OK for us to be lovers if we pretend we aren't. As though, in reality, it's something dirty and shameful. We'd go on imagining they don't mind, not knowing whether they do or not.' I was becoming agitated, remembering the years of pretence.

'Gotcha. So now Rory knows exactly who and what we are - a couple of queers with no hang-ups, who like each other.'


He grinned. 'I wonder why it's so hard to say? OK, we love each other. But you're right. Now it's out in the open with him I do feel sort of – I don't know – sort of clean inside.'

'And so you're going to be honest with everyone?'

'Yep, everyone.'

'What if they can't handle it?'

'That's their problem.'

'Brave boy.'

'What do you mean?'

'In case you hadn't noticed, we share this planet with a lot of very nasty humans. Rory already knew I was gay and I knew he had no problems with it. He'd guessed we were an item. I was simply confirming it. I don't intend to blab my secrets to everyone.'

'Neither do I!'

'Really!' I was sounding unpleasant and hated myself. I knew perfectly well what he meant, but I was worried, tired, and couldn't stop myself.

He pulled back in surprise. 'Hey, you know I'm not a blabbermouth.'

Something poisonous was worming its way into my belly. 'Yeah? Everyone knows Patrick trashed my place.'

'Peter! Stop it!'

'I don't know what you're talking about.'

'Come on.'

'You don't want to know.'

'I do.'

'OK. You say you love me, but you're everyone's best friend. Rory, Lida, the Alconas, even Matthew thinks the sun shines out of your arsehole. You treat them with more consideration than you treat me. When we're with other people I feel as though I don't exist for you - and barely exist for them.'

'You know that's not true.'

'Do I?

'Your friends are nice and… and I want them to like me too. I want them to be our friends.'

'It's not only friends. On your first day at the gallery you chatted up old man Smith so well he thought you were the director and ignored me completely. Same at Mad's opening.'

He stared at me, incredulous. 'You're crazy. That's so long ago!' He shook his head in despair. 'OK, I admit it. I've sometimes ignored you when other people are there because I didn't want anyone to guess how much you meant to me. I was – you know – ashamed. Not of you! Scared they'd think I was queer. But I'm not ashamed any more.' He blushed angrily and looked away. When I didn't speak, he turned back with a sly smile. 'You're jealous! You're jealous because when I'm there you're not always the centre of attention.'

I wondered if it were true, but saved thinking about it till I'd got one more thing off my chest. 'It's not only that. Sometimes you're so independent I'm… I'm not sure of you really need me or where I stand.'

'On the passenger side of Hank's ute.'

'Smart arse.'

'You're the most important person in my life.'

'For now.'

'For ever.'

I grunted, knowing I was being stupid but unable to stop. I wanted him to prove something. I didn't know what, but it was important. 'Promises, promises.' I was almost sneering.

Jon stared, then shrugged as though he'd suddenly realised I wasn't worth arguing over, and began to walk away. My heart slammed against my ribs. He couldn't leave me like this? Could he?

He turned back, caught the fear in my eyes and grinned. 'You stupid fart. Perhaps this'll convince you?' Strolling around to my side of the truck he wrapped his arms round mine, pulled me to him and plonked dry kisses on forehead, cheeks, nose, and a long, succulent one on the lips. 'Now do you know where we stand?'

'In front of the Bridge Club, about to be surrounded by a bevy of ancient belles.'

The doors had opened and several women were descending the steps towards the car park.

'Let's make them jealous.'

'Make them angry, you mean. Let's go.'

'Not till you apologise and say I'm the handsomest and perfectest man in the world.'

'You're the most handsome and perfect man in the world - and I love you,' I shouted, shoving him into the cab. He slid across to the driver's seat. As we drove away, giggling like a couple of kids caught stealing fruit, I waved at three elderly dames standing beside their cars. One waved back and winked.

'Park at the top of the hill so I can phone Mad.' I dropped my hand onto his thigh.

He looked across and blew a kiss. 'Tell her to get the double bed ready.'

The phone rang twelve times before she answered it.

'Hi, Mad, it's Peter.'

A brief pause, then, 'Kevin! How lovely to hear your voice. It's been ages. Where are you?'

'It's Peter, not Kevin. Jon and I are on our way up – if that's convenient.'

'Oh, what a shame, you sound so close I thought you were nearby. You must bring Cheryl for a visit soon.'

'You've got visitors?'

'I have no idea, Kevin. Why don't you give Brian a ring, he'll know. Here's his number.' She read out Brian's telephone number. We were both silent for a few seconds before she gave vent to a high pitched giggle, blew a couple of kisses down the line, said, 'Me too. Love to Cheryl,' and disconnected.

'It seems Mad has visitors she doesn't want us to meet. She pretended I was Kevin, whoever he is, and gave me Brian's number. This needs thinking about.'

'Stop fretting. It's just the vice squad. They heard we were friends with the Alconas and want to know if they know we're queer.'

'That's a relief. I thought it might be something serious.'

'You're just an old worrier.'


'Yeah, that too.'

'Not so much of the old, if you know what's good for you.'

I telephoned Brian and was informed that Dr. Alcona was in surgery. We should call back in about thirty minutes.

'Where's Brian's surgery?'

'No idea.'

It was in the telephone directory under Veterinary surgeons. Hilltop Animal Hospital: Dr. B S Alcona. We drove in the general direction, found a delicatessen, bought pies and bags of chips, took them to a park and washed them down with bottled water. Forty minutes later we rang again.

'Sorry, he's in surgery, can you ring…. Oh no, here he is. One moment please.'

'Brian Alcona?'

'Peter Corringe.'

'Peter! So you're still alive?'

'Just. Brian, I rang Mad a while ago and she was either off her rocker or there's something wrong. Do you know anything?'


I repeated the conversation.

'Where are you?'

I told him.

'Wait there until I contact you.'

A few minutes later he rang back. 'Mad had visitors. In case your name rang a bell, she pretended you were someone else. She apologises, but you can't stay with us tonight, so here's plan B. Drive to the corner of Salazar Avenue and Fortune Street. Check you're unobserved, lie down across the seats and throw something over you so it looks as though the vehicle's empty. Lock the doors but leave the keys in the ignition. When I arrive, unlock the doors but stay lying down. Got that?'

'I've also got a cloak and dagger.'

'Good for you.' He disconnected.

We decided he was over-reacting, but to humour him, drove to the appointed spot, locked the doors, snuggled together in the leg-well of the passenger side, and threw a blanket over ourselves. Jon smelled sweaty and sexy. A short while later someone tapped on the roof.

I flicked the lock up with my finger, Brian got in, started the engine, drove for a couple of minutes and stopped. 'Stay there until I've closed the doors.'

A roller door clanged down plunging the place into shadow, and we sat up. Brian tapped on our window and I opened the door.

'Where are we?'

'In the surgery's loading dock. Grab your important stuff and follow me. It's OK, everyone's gone home.'

'Did Mad give you any details?'

'No. She asked me to apologise, but said she'd prefer to wait and tell me everything when I got home. Sounded ready to cry, so although the kids will be home by now I don't want to hang around.'

'Right. Lead on.' We took phones and wallets and trailed Brian through to the staff room.

'What's wrong with your head?'

'I banged it on the corner of a building. It's just a graze.'

'Sure? I can look at it.'

'No, really. It's nothing.

'If you say so. OK then, make yourselves comfortable. There's tea and coffee in here, showers are through there. I'll drive your vehicle back to where you parked it and lock it, leaving the keys in the glove box. I left my car just round the corner from yours. You've got spare keys?'

We nodded.

'Then I'll go home and find out what's up. If the phone rings, don't answer. Leave it to the answer-phone. I'll ring your mobile.'

We nearly shook his hand off. Words weren't enough.

Brian grinned like a kid on an adventure. 'I've always dreamed of being a spy. I planned this getaway when you two set off on your search for justice. It seemed entirely probable, with your track record, that you'd need rescuing and hiding again. Thank goodness it was me this time and not Jeff. He'd never let me forget it. Cheers.' He left, and the air chilled.

I shook off the feeling and joined Jon in the laundry. There was a shower in there as well as a washing machine and drier, so we showered, shaved, washed and dried our clothes, then threw all the cushions we could find onto the floor of the staff room, wrapped ourselves in a couple of blankets from a store cupboard, and collapsed. The sex was short but sweet, followed by a review of all possible next steps.

Glaze had reckoned his boss would stay away from the tent house, but would probably keep the gallery going. He was certain no one would be going near either Scumble's or Glaze's apartments, and had insisted he knew only one other business, an up-market apartment block in Noosa, where MacFife housed his girls.

Jon suggested going there on the off chance of catching MacFife, but I'd had enough for one day. Instead, we talked until we'd convinced ourselves that, despite the murder weapon being still at the crime scene with Glaze's prints on it, when the cops went to the hospital he would still manage to pin the murder of Scumble onto us, get them to contact MacFife, and be set free. We had to get the tape to the cops and make sure Glaze's next stop was the cop shop. Then there would only be MacFife to track down.

It was only just after six o'clock so I rang Matthew and asked him to contact the police immediately, suggesting they hold Glaze until they'd seen the tapes. Three minutes later he rang back. The cops had picked up Scumble, but when they got to the hospital Glaze had vanished. Did we still want him to take the tapes to the police? There seemed little point, so I told him to hang on to them until we contacted him again.

We stared at each other in dismay.

The mobile trilled.


'Brian? Everything OK?'

By the time I disconnected Jon was twitching. 'Well?'

'You're obviously psychic. It wasn't the vice squad, but it was the cops. They'd jacked their ideas up and thought of questioning all the artists I'd had anything to do with at the gallery.'

'Took them long enough to think of that.'

'Slow and sure wins the race. Anyway, that's why they went to Mad's. She thought she'd fooled them, but they've a sixth sense that rings a little siren in their heads when someone's lying. They were there when I phoned, and when she put the phone down they pestered her with irrelevant questions until something she said must have triggered suspicions, because they returned with a search warrant and almost took the place apart. They found nothing of ours, thank goodness, but it was traumatic. They turned the main bedroom upside down, asking who slept where.

Poor Mad's nearly out of her mind, worrying about us, what the cops are thinking, whether they'll be charged as bad parents – and her guilty worries about Der and Dra have exploded into full blown fears for the survival of the family.'

'But that's crazy! The cops don't give a stuff. They were just being nosy.'

'Brian told her that, and you heard me say something similar, but she can't stop worrying. He told me we could stay here the night, but to leave early in case the cops wake up to the possibility we might be here. What do you reckon?'

'I reckon we clear out now and sleep in the back of the ute.'

'Me too.'

We raced around putting everything back as we had found it, borrowed a couple of blankets to replace my sleeping bag and, unable to open the deadlocks on the doors, climbed out a rear window, pushing it back so it looked closed. Finding our vehicle wasn't so simple. We'd parked only a few blocks away, but having crouched down on the drive to the surgery we couldn't work out what direction to take. Jon went one way and I the other, checking all the side roads. It took twenty minutes, by which time I was sure it'd been stolen. We drove until we found a construction site, parked behind the office as if the ute was a left-behind company vehicle, crawled into the back and lay awake most of the night.

Dawn was breaking as we drove north over the bridge to look for somewhere to breakfast. From above, the river appeared more swollen, swifter and much more dangerous than from the shore. I was amazed the bridge had survived and very relieved to reach the other side. Unlike the parks and beaches south of the river - either swept away or littered with flotsam and sewage - the northern beaches had escaped with little more than eroded sand dunes. We found a park with working showers and toilets, and our little petrol stove soon produced coffee, eggs and fried bread. Jon chewed his thoughts along with the food.

After an extended silence he looked across the picnic table, frowned and said quietly, 'It has to be MacFife who got Glaze out of the hospital, so we've lost our only weapon – surprise. He'll be on the lookout for trouble and if we're stupid and he gets to us first, you can bet your socks it won't be like a James Bond film where the villain sits and gloats, giving the heroes a chance to turn the tables. It'll be like it was for Scumble. Bang, bang, you're dead.'

'I've been thinking the same thing. We have to show the tapes to the cops, get Matthew and Hank to vouch for our upstanding characters, and hope for the best.'

'Yep. No point in ending up dead.' Jon agreed. 'Unless…' He slipped a sly grin.

My heart sank. 'Unless what?'

'Unless he comes after us and we have no option but to nobble the bastard.'


'Remember how Bill Smith talks?'

'Yes, and I know he took a shine to you, but isn't he a bit old?'

'Maturity adds allure, and think how grateful he'd be to escape that wife!'

'Is this leading anywhere?'

'Say something that sounds like him.'

I barked from the back of my throat, 'Bill Smith here! Rum show about old Glaze, what?'

'Excellent. A bit more plummy and you've got him to a T. Now, imagine you're him telling MacFife that the cops asked about us, and yesterday he saw us somewhere.'

'I don't like the way this is heading.' I cleared my throat and looked away so I wouldn't laugh. 'MacFife? Smith here! Bill Smith. Artist. The police were pestering me the other day about that chappie from the gallery. The one who murdered your wife! Bloody shame! Condolences and all that… What? Couldn't abide the fellow. Damned exhibitionist! Skimpy waistcoat and bare chest. Bad blood. Obviously a pervert. Harrumph. (I nearly choked on that) What's that? What am I ringing for? Ah! Yes! I've seen the young whelp. Thought I'd ring you. Can't be bothered with the boys in blue. Still on mother's milk, most of them. Yes, young Corringe. Saw him the other day in a house by a canal. Thought you should know… Don't thank me, glad to assist.' I was out of breath and my throat was sore.

'Exactly like that!'

'And what do we do once we've lured him and a dozen of his heavies to our non-existent hideout?'

'Dig a pit and cover it with branches and when they stand on it…?'

'A lot of work.'

'Shoot them?'

'And then dig a pit and throw them in?'

'A lot of work.'

'I thought we'd decided to leave it to the cops?'

'We will. I was just tossing ideas around.'

'Well, toss them back where they came from.'

It was the memory of a Roald Dahl short story that suggested the plan. I phoned Rory with the idea and he said to give him half an hour. We showered and washed my sleeping bag, cleaned and organised the back of the ute, aired our bedding and inspected the graze beside my eye. It was already healing. The weather was balmy, but our situation was depressing; Scumble's video worthless. Glaze's too.

MacFife could deny all wrongdoing because he had in fact done nothing. He had organised, paid for and provided space for the whole show, but as far as we knew his hands were clean of actual, physical dirt. He was nowhere near the gallery when Max was killed, nor when his wife was raped and murdered. He wasn't outside watching when I was being tossed over the edge of the cliff, nor at my place with Jon. Nor did he have any dealings with Patrick. As for CC, probably no one would miss her. Maybe after a couple of years someone would ask what had happened to the scrawny bitch who used to manage MacFife's girls, but no one would miss her.

If we ever hoped to restore our reputations we'd have to get MacFife to confess. I tried to imagine what the reaction would be if we breezed up to the police station and told our tale. I probably wouldn't believe it myself.

'What do you reckon MacFife's done with Glaze?'

'Good question. He'll be no use to him for a while; that shoulder was smashed to bits.'

'And he took him away before they could operate.'

'Unless he's taken him to a private hospital.'


'Yeah, poor bugger. He's been locked away to make sure he doesn't talk.'

'Perhaps he's been put down?'

'MacFife doesn't dirty his own hands. Unless he's got another assassin waiting in the wings he'll be stuck with Glaze until he dies naturally of a bullet wound to the shoulder.'

'He's not stupid enough to have any more thugs who know as much as those two.'

'I'll bet he's recruiting. Meanwhile, he'll wait and see what happens, hoping Glaze doesn't drop dead and leave him with a body to dispose of.'

'Where do you reckon he's keeping him?'

'Tent palace? Gallery? Brothel?'

'Or another place we know nothing about.'

The mobile buzzed. It was Rory with a list of requirements. I noted everything and said we'd call him as soon as we'd found somewhere suitable.

Jon read aloud what I'd written. 'Empty house on wooden stumps, more than shouting distance from other houses. Not too visible from the road. Electricity on. Water-tight. Not too much rot. We'd better get cracking.'

We drove all that day and most of the next without seeing anything remotely satisfactory. All the old houses we passed were either refurbished yuppie residences, or tenanted, or ruins, or cheek by jowl with similar houses. One road terminated at the wrought-iron entrance to a security-gated enclave for the wealthy. A guard came out and waved us away before we'd even stopped.

On the map, the route back to the coast looked promising; in reality it slunk through an industrial wasteland. Row upon row of small factories producing everything from paint to roofing iron, water tanks to glass, ceramics to sawn timber. A fish processing plant belched steam and stench and a used-car yard spread carnival flags over half an acre of restored wrecks. A road branched off to the right. On the right hand corner, a prosperous looking service station and tire repair parlour boasted a queue of cars. Next to it, a four-storeyed replica of a banana presided over the remnants of a failed amusement park.

Jon pulled in to the side of the road. 'Straight on, or turn right?'

I tossed a coin and we'd just completed the right turn when something caught my eye. 'Stop!'

He threw out the anchors and we skidded to a halt. 'Did I miss it?'


'Whatever it was I was braking for.'

'Idiot. I've seen something – perhaps. Pull up over there.'

We parked next to a gate in a white picket fence, surmounted by an unnecessarily large sign declaring the place to be "Lovable Landscapes". The corner block next door, opposite the service station, was an undeveloped couple of hectares of long grass. We got out, locked the ute, nodded to the woman nattering on the telephone in the Swiss-chalet-style office, and browsed among concrete cherubs, coy Venuses, bird-baths of every persuasion, concrete cats, birds, dwarfs, terracotta urns, fountains, garden lights, and an assortment of shrubs, potted palms, cacti and seedling boxes.

Arranged along the picket fence back boundary were piles of pavers and bricks, small mountains of gravel, sand, bark-chips and sugar cane residue - everything anyone could possible require to create the garden beautiful. We leaned nonchalantly over the fence.

'Try not to be obvious, but what do you see over there in the long grass?'

'An old mango tree and a shed rotting away beneath it.'

'A cottage. Probably the old farmhouse.'

'Your eyes must be better than mine.'

'Worth a look?'



The woman was still on the phone, so we smiled, displayed our empty hands and drove away in search of somewhere to park, make a meal and rest until nightfall.

'It's not rotting. Some of the stumps have sagged, but it's sound.'

'As far as we can tell by torchlight.'

'And dry.'

'As far as we can tell by torchlight.'

'And the power's connected.'

'And there are no neighbours.'

'Everything doctor Rory ordered.'

It was filthy, stank of rats, possums and snakes, most of the windows were broken and the chimney had collapsed, but apart from that, it was perfect. I phoned Rory, telling him we'd have it ready in a couple of days. He said it would take him that long to prepare his stuff, so we agreed to meet in forty-eight hours.

We slept the rest of the night in the back of the ute in the beachside park where we'd had breakfast, and the following day bought three sheets of hardboard, a bucket, a broom, paint, detergent, and a set of tools. Under cover of darkness we drove up to the house, unloaded, drove back to a busy section of the road, parked and walked back to the house, making sure we were unobserved.

By the light of low wattage bulbs we painted rough black shapes on the boards and screwed them to the insides of the windows of the largest room. From the road they would look like the shadowy interior. After sweeping and cleaning we repaired the locks and hinges on the outside door at the back that opened into the kitchen, and screwed the front door to the jambs. The last job was to make sure no window could be opened, and to screw shut all internal doors except the one between the kitchen and the large room.

The sun rose, the road became busy, and we collapsed into sleeping bags on the newly cleaned floor, worrying about things we might have forgotten, and arguing about the best way to trap our prey.

'Before I give MacFife my impersonation of Smith, I'll have to ring him to make sure the old bloke hasn't got a cold – or died.'

'Why not ask him to phone for you while you're at it?'

'You think he'll recognise my voice?'

'Anything's possible.'

'I'll disguise it.'

'What're you going to say?'

'No idea.'

Mrs Smith answered. 'Yes?'

'Is Bill there?'

'No! William is not here! Why do you want him?'

'To buy a painting.'

'Which one?'

'Can I speak to him?'


'I must.'

'Then go to Canada!'

'How long has he been there?'

'Who are you? I know your voice.'

I disconnected.

'One good idea ruined. The man's not even in the country.'

'Good thing. It would have been too easy for MacFife to contact Smith and check. We have to be more subtle.'

'You mean this place ain't subtle?' I looked around. 'If someone told you your enemy was hiding here, would you approach at night?'

'Not without a small army.'

'Exactly, it's an obvious trap. We'll have to meet him somewhere he won't be suspicious, then overpower him and bring him here. Where would he feel secure?'

'Somewhere public?'

'Getting warm.'

'Sauna bath?'

'Not that warm.'


'A hotel?'

'Excellent! We'll meet him in the Hilton Starlight Lounge.'

'Nope – he's used to class.'

'Then you've got me. Under the Storey Bridge is the nearest I got to class in Brisbane.'

'Do you know that mansion by the river? The one they made into a boutique hotel?'


'Well, that one.'

'And what's the lure?'

'We'll make him a tempting offer. He'll come to our hotel suite to check the goods. We snare the prick, bring him back here and torture him until he agrees to confess all to the cops. Simple.'

We argued over the details – all the details.

Rory, when he pulled up with Lida at the park the following morning, thought it a better idea than the first, but baulked at being the bait in the trap. 'I know nothing about drugs.'

'Neither do we. All you have to do is make the phone call, meet him in the foyer of the hotel in Brisbane, smooth-talk him up to your suite without his body-guard, and leave the rest to us commandoes waiting inside.'

'He'll bring his body-guard inside.'

'We're three to two.'

'He'll be armed.'

'We've got a .22 and a shotgun.'

'He's sure to have another silenced handgun.' Rory pulled a face and turned to Lida. 'What do you reckon?'

'We've done more dangerous things.'

'Not in Australia.'

She shrugged thin shoulders. 'Someone's got to make it safe for Peter to return home.' She said it simply, as though impatient with our procrastination, then turned to me. 'We'll both need new clothes, then I'll go to the gallery to find how to contact MacFife. How much money can we spend?'

'Whatever it takes.' I gave them my card and pin number, knowing they wouldn't waste a penny. After a quick cup of coffee we left Rory and Lida to turn themselves into believable members of the underworld, and set off for Brisbane to check out the hotel. We'd return the same evening to prepare the house for a guest.

Parking the ute as near the service entrance of the hotel as we could manage, we sauntered down the ramp in new overalls, tool kit slung casually over shoulder.

'Yeah? Whaddaya want?' The man's shaven, sunburnt head merged into a matching thick neck and disappeared into dark blue overalls a size too small. Tufts of red hair sprouted from nostrils, ears and neck. He was tall, wide, suspicious, and our first setback. I'd imagined that, dressed as repair men, we would be able to saunter in unopposed, case the joint, decide on a plan of action, and…

'Sink blockage on the second floor.' How did Jon come up with such brilliant ideas?

'Who are ya?'

'Sunboy's Plumbing. A woman rang. Said she couldn't get the usual bloke.'

'What woman? What's her name?'


'The woman who phoned you?'

'Didn't ask.'

'Mrs Robinson?'

We shrugged in unison.

'Hang on while I phone her.' He turned towards his telephone.

We scuttled, and drove a couple of blocks.

'Plan B?'

'Plan B.'

I changed into my by now slightly rumpled white suit, Jon into casual trousers, crisp white shirt and discount-store designer cap. The guest are of the hotel was even more splendid than I'd imagined. Creamy stone balustrades, gleaming brass, liveried footmen, polished wood, a stretch limo in the driveway, elegant patrons sipping wine and coffee on elegant furniture under the elegant shade of ancient trees, between which one could catch elegant glimpses of the river. Even the fluffy clouds chasing each other across the pale blue sky were as elegant as the muted scent of money. We sauntered into the garden bar and ordered beers.

'Christ! At this rate, how much is a room going to cost?'

'No price is too high for our good name.'

We were never going to get our money's worth, no matter how long we sat, so after an unsuspicious interval we wandered casually into the main foyer, chatting relaxedly as we headed for the stairs. An impeccably uniformed, slim young man with perfect bone structure, rich olive complexion, thick black straight hair, deep soulful eyes and lips begging to be kissed, stepped in front of us flashing thirty-two perfectly-formed white teeth.

'Excuse me, gentlemen. May I see your room cards?'

I fiddled in my breast pocket, frowned, turned to Jon and said tersely, 'You haven't left them in the car have you? After telling me I was getting forgetful.' I dowsed the young god with my best smile. 'Back in a minute.'

We strolled to the front door, bickering like a normal couple, and forced ourselves to walk slowly back towards the ute, ignominy tickling the base of our spines.

'That was quick thinking,' Jon laughed.

'Had to be. Another minute and I'd have dissolved in a puddle of lust.'

'You're easily pleased. The face wasn't too bad, but he had no bum.'

'Thank god. I can live again. Perfection's impossible to tolerate, don't you reckon?'

'But… I thought you liked me?'

'Ourselves excepted – naturally. Where to now? Shall we try somewhere less upmarket?'

'The whole world's security mad. Let's go back. I've a better idea that won't cost our entire savings.'


'I'll tell you when we're out of the traffic. You drive, I'll think.'

'Drive where?'

'Where we came from.'

'But… '

'But we're too far from home. There's no way MacFife would come down here on his own. We're both out of our depth and sinking. Trust me.'

'I find it hard to trust anyone who says that.'

'I let you drive – that's evidence of greater than sensible trust in you, so you'll just have to trust me and wait till I'm ready.'

It must have been pissing down all day because the river was visibly higher than when we'd driven over the bridge that morning. It was almost dark by the time we arrived at our little park behind the sand hills. Rain began to fall steadily. b

'Surely not more flooding!'

'I bloody hope not. The cops'll be too busy to listen to us.'

'At least they won't be chasing us.'

I parked beside the toilet block and changing rooms and we ate our hamburgers in silence. Jon's plan was simple and obvious. Too obvious? But I couldn't think of anything better. I felt sticky, cold and stale.

'Fancy a shower?'

'It'll be cold.'

'Better than stinking.'

It was cold, short and invigorating. My cloud of pessimistic thoughts thinned, the plan began to seem plausible, and we each managed forty pull-ups, hanging from the rafters. A vehicle drove past, slowed, backed up, and turned into the parking area, headlights glaring through the high windows. We dropped to the floor and threw on clothes. It was probably the cops, thinking our ute looked suspicious. That'd be the ultimate stupidity, getting picked up for something idiotic like this, having our driver's licences checked and...

We stared at each other in dismay. The headlights went out, plunging us into darkness. A car door slammed. Someone coughed. We didn't dare breathe. At least I'd locked the ute.

'Peter? Jon? You in there?'

We collapsed in relief. Of course! We'd told Rory to meet us here. Affecting nonchalance we sauntered out, congratulated them on finding the place in the dark, and told them to follow us.

The road in front of the old house was deserted and all the businesses except the service station were closed, so we drove up to the house along the overgrown, but firm driveway. As soon as the gear was unloaded, Rory and I drove out and parked the utes a block away.

In the large, dry and relatively warm room, we assembled a three-metre diameter cylindrical cage of two-metre high, diamond-mesh fencing. Rings screwed into the high wooden ceiling held it up, black polythene tubing, split along its length, accommodated the bottom and insulated it from the floor. Large staples hammered into the floor over the tubing prevented lateral movement. A metre at the join was left unfastened for entry.

A heavy-duty cable, its phase wire securely fixed to the cage, the earth and neutral wires taped back, was fed through a hole in the floor and under the house to the switchboard, just outside the back door. Rory turned off the main switch, replaced the wire leading to the electric range with the phase wire of the lead from our cage, and switched on. Nothing happened. He let out a sigh and mopped his forehead. 'Thank Christ for that!'


'Because, Lida my love, it means the cage is properly insulated.'

'What would have happened if it wasn't?'

'The fuse would've blown.' He pulled the fuse and quadrupled the thickness of the wire. 'That'll cope with a short-circuit. Now, let's see if it works.'

He fetched a blade of grass, led them inside and held the tip against the cage, sliding it up until his fingers touched the wire, repeating the process in bare feet. 'Barely a tingle. The hardwood floor's an insulator.'

'It's not going to keep anyone in for long then.'

'Patience, Jon.' Outside again, Rory crawled beneath the house, screwed one end of a heavy wire into the floorboards, the other to the earth rod below the meter box.

My turn - but I felt only a tingle.

Rory nodded knowledgably and scrubbed soapy water over the floor inside the cage until it was darkly moist.

Jon's turn. Even with his shoes on, the first touch of the grass on the wire gave him such a fright he dropped it. 'Hell, that's a bugger! Will it kill him?'

'If he hangs on to it. If he tests it with the back of his hand it'll throw him away. The voltage isn't much, only two-forty, but it's alternating and there's a fair current. I'll pull the fuse in case a rat wanders through and electrocutes itself.'

'Now all we have to do is get MacFife into it.' Lida was looking apprehensive. 'The receptionist at the gallery wouldn't tell us where he lives, but said he comes in every morning for a few hours.'

'Excellent. Let's see you in your new clothes.'

They changed quickly and stood shyly. I was glad we'd dropped the idea of dressing them up as wealthy criminals. Rory would always look like a peasant, and new clothes could never conceal Lida's spiritual wounds. Some refugees seem to emerge virtually unscathed; Lida was a living memorial to man's inhumanity. Haunted eyes gazed like timid animals from their burrows. A gangster's moll she wasn't.

'I… I don't think I'll be able to act the part you suggested, Peter.'

Rory wrapped a muscled arm around her waist.

'You could,' I said, 'but there's been a change of plan.'

By the time I'd related our abortive attempt to case the hotel, they were laughing, relaxed and relieved. 'What's the new scheme?'

'The other day Peter reckoned there'd be no flak over Cherie Culworth's murder because no one would mourn her. But what if there is a mourner?' Jon gazed expectantly at Lida. 'You, Lida, are CC's illegitimate daughter adopted out at birth. Recently, you decided to find your birth mother. She was overjoyed and you met for the first time on Sunday the eighteenth of August – that date being forever emblazoned on your soul - and you got on like a house on fire, or however women get on. She asked you to keep it a secret from her employer for a while.

'You arranged to meet again the following Sunday, the twenty-fifth, with your husband, but she didn't turn up. You've been hoping she would contact you, but after four days with no news you're worried something may have happened. Before going to the police, you thought it best to disobey her and ask her boss. How am I going?'

Lida's mouth was open; Rory frowned. 'MacFife'll just say the lovely lady never turned up for work and he was going to contact the cops himself.'

'Right, so then you'll ask to see her things, because she told you she was living upstairs in the gallery flat, and had an heirloom brooch she wanted you to have – you can describe anything you like, he won't know. Hysterical crying and sobs should get you shoved upstairs if there are any patrons. If there aren't, have a fainting spell, get MacFife into the office, immobilise him, shove him into a large sack, chuck him into the back of the ute, and bring him back here.'

'On my own?'

'Rory will be with you.'

'What say they won't let Rory upstairs?'

'We'll be there.'


'Peter has a key to the back door. We'll make sure we're ensconced before you beard the lion in his den.'


'We'll be hidden upstairs before you go into the gallery to see him.'

'And how would you suggest we immobilise the lion, once we've bearded him?' Rory was sceptical.

Jon looked at me, I shrugged.

'Chloroform,' said Lida simply. 'That's how everyone does it.'

'If you're strong enough to hold him for half a minute until it works.' Rory was less than impressed. 'What if he has a body-guard?'

'Pull a stiletto from your garter and threaten to pick out his eyes while Rory ties him in knots.'

Lida whitened. 'How did you know?' She turned to Rory. He shook his head.

'I didn't know. I was just raving.'

Lida sat motionless. Rory wrapped her in his arms and comforted the silent weeping.

I felt rotten.

Jon busied himself cleaning up.

Lida shook herself free and apologised.

'Sorry. I'm fine now. She swallowed. 'But what about my accent?'

'If he mentions it, your foster parents were immigrants and you picked it up. It's only noticeable when you're nervous or excited.'

They sat in silence.

'Well, what do you think?'

Rory sighed. 'I learned from the last show that nothing's predictable. At the worst, I take Lida home, still an unhappy orphan.'

'No! At the worst he kills us both to keep us quiet!'

That shocked the complacency out of me. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't a game. Human memory is stupid. Somehow all the horrors of the last month had been converted into a type of Bugs Bunny cartoon where I'd been run over by a train and blown up by a bomb, but magically reassembled myself. I'd imagined I was indestructible.

'Let's forget it,' I said, suddenly worried at having involved them 'It's Jon's and my problem and we're rushing things. You've already done more than enough and, as you know, I don't like other people getting involved in my affairs. With four people things get too complicated and… I don't want responsibility for you both.' I stood up to forestall argument and began gathering their things together.

Silence. Lida sniffed and said, 'But I want to help you. Deep inside me is someone who wants to punish those who hurt other people. It will take some of the hurt from my heart if I do.' Her eyes were wet. 'Peter, it shames me to say so, but you are our only real friend in this country. Before you came to live next door we hid away on our block like frightened animals, and I wouldn't let Rory invite people home.

You changed that. You burst into our lives like a beautiful spring flower. That first day when you brought over that dreadful chocolate cheesecake that gave us all diarrhoea, I thought, here is someone I can trust. Then, a few days later I forced myself to accept your invitation and visit you if we felt like it, and you were naked but acted as though it was normal, and I felt so liberated… so…so… I don't know what I felt, but suddenly I knew I was allowed to be different. It was no longer such a big problem that I wasn't the same as everyone else. You've spent hours talking with me, improving my English, making me proud to be me.' She stopped, embarrassed.

I blushed.

'St Peter!' Jon intoned. 'Bless us, thy humble vassals.'

I shoved him away and Rory exploded with laughter.

Lida frowned. 'I know what I said sounded sentimental, Jon, but it's true.'

'It doesn't sound sentimental, Lida. He did the same for me.'

'Shut it!' I snapped, angry at praise I didn't deserve. 'I'm just like every other human - selfish. I simply didn't want to get offside with the neighbours. Rory knows that. And as for you,' I turned to Jon, 'I needed someone to help at the gallery and you looked as though you'd be cheap!'

Rory grinned. 'Yes, you're a selfish prick, Corringe. Now, can we concentrate on the kidnapping?'

It was too late to think clearly, so we retired to the canopied backs of our respective utility trucks, where I, at least, lay sleepless.

Breakfast was sombre, befitting the hours before battle. No sane person willingly risks life, limb and liberty. Without the lies of patriotic propaganda, no army general would find soldiers willing to die in foreign lands. Without nonsensical cant about school and team spirit, family and national pride, few young sportsmen and women would destroy their bodies for public amusement.

No one offered any improvements to Jon's plan, so we stuck with the basic strategy, made a list of possible weapons, possible variations in tactics, and escape plans if we had to abort. After freezing showers that should have put sense into our heads, Lida changed into her new dress, Rory into his new suit, Jon and I back into jeans and T-shirts.

At nine o'clock the gallery looked deserted. The rear car park hosted only a white panel-van and a late model, metallic grey Commodore. Rory and Lida parked their ute a couple of blocks away, then wandered along to the gallery, intending to act like tourists until the place opened and they could ask to speak to MacFife. If he didn't turn up they'd make an appointment.

Jon and I drove a kilometre north, parked, and hiked back along the deserted shoreline. The river no longer lapped against the rocks below the gallery; a five-metre-wide strip of hard-packed sand and rubble had been deposited at the base of the cliffs. We had at least four hours till high tide, so Jon raced back, drove down the nearest beach access ramp and backed up, hugging the cliffs till the little truck was directly below the gallery, out of sight.

We'd just locked it and were preparing to climb the rocks when voices stopped us. A vision of Glaze standing in that exact spot only eleven days before put me in a sweat. A growling whisper from above.

'You're being watched.' Rory and Lida were sitting on the edge of the cliff, gazing out to sea. My heart slowed to a canter.

'Trying to frighten me to death?'

'The gallery isn't open yet, so we decided to hang out with the gay crowd. You never told us how beautiful it is, Peter. Like a temple of purity.'

Lida was facing north so she could watch the gallery.

'Oh! a young woman's come out the back door, and a middle-aged man. He's trying to kiss her. She's pushing him away. He's getting into the panel van… starting up… driving away. She's taking boxes out of the car boot … empty cartons like you use when you're moving house. She's going inside. Your turn, Rory, I'm getting a stiff neck and it'll seem suspicious if I stare too long.' She turned, stretched and relaxed back on her elbows.

Rory stood, swung his arms as if to improve circulation and then squatted down, apparently facing up the coast, shading his eyes against the glare off the sea. 'She's coming out again with something in her arms. Must be rubbish because she's stuffing it in the wheelie bin. She's not looking at me. She's going back in and closing the door. I reckon she's alone and the bloke was her boyfriend. She's a bloody good-looker.'

'A bloody good hooker more likely.'

'You reckon he was a client?'

'Who knows? MacFife has a stable of beautiful girls, apparently.'

'Wouldn't mind an hour alone with her.'

'You couldn't afford her,' Lida said rather too sweetly, turning to face her husband. 'Ooh look! A little car came in the drive. I can't see it now.'

'Did you get the make, Rory?'

'I think it was a Porsche.'

'That's our man. Was he alone?'

'I think so. It was all too quick.'

'What's the time?'

'Ten o'clock. Just after.'

'Give him a few minutes to feel safe, and then we'll give him an unpleasant surprise.' I hoped I sounded more optimistic than I felt.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead