by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 4

Bart and Robert.

Fidel dialled the number then passed the receiver to Arnold, who seemed nervous.

'Bart? You probably don't remember me, I'm Constable Jurgenz who… Oh you do? I'm flattered. I'm ringing from your parents' place, Fidel gave me your number—I'm with him now. I wanted to speak to you about the other fellow… yes Lance, but not over the phone. Can we meet sometime? Today? Sure? Ok, sounds great… see you then. Cheers.'

He shook his head as if confused as he replaced the receiver. 'We've been invited to lunch! And I thought he wouldn't remember who I was.'


'When what?'


'In an hour. He sounds exactly the same as when he was sticking up for his boyfriend. Are they happy do you think?'

'Completely, I'd say. Well, let's find you something to wear.'

Robert and Bart were nervous. They had wisely decided never to tell anyone the truth about Robert's killing of the headmaster and setting Lance up. It was hard enough for them to pretend to others that Robert was innocent without burdening anyone else with such an explosive secret. As Sanjay had warned, a secret is only a secret until you tell the first person. Robert's parents didn't count, of course, as they had as much to lose as their son. But what could Jurgenz have to say? Surely he didn't suspect the truth! And what about Fidel? They'd never spoken about the murder.

'We'll tell Fidel the official story one day.'

'Of course. But nothing else. He's such an honest bloke he'd never be able to dissimulate.'

'I don't like it. Why's that cop coming?'

'Yeah. After nearly three years I'd finally stopped feeling guilty every time I see a cop, telling myself it's all over, we've nothing to worry about. And now this—whatever it is.'

'Probably nothing. Perhaps Lance has suicided or been stabbed to death in prison.'

'I'm nasty enough to wish that were true. I feel sick.'

'Calm down, Robert. Jurgenz didn't sound official. He just thought we'd be interested to know something about Lance.'

'Perhaps he's escaped and is coming for us?'

'I think we'd have been told officially. Come on, help me prepare lunch.'

Forty minutes later, Fidel and Arnold, both wearing Fidel's shorts and tank tops, knocked at the door. One relaxed and cool, the other panting and sweating.

'Robert opened the door, invited them in, asked how long it had taken to jog, congratulated Fidel on his obvious fitness and laughed good naturedly at Arnold's heaving chest. 'I thought policemen were supposed to be fit, Constable Jurgenz?'

'Please, call me Arnold. No, fitness isn't a priority—haven't you seen the fat guts on most cops?'

'Bart has just popped down to the corner shop for a couple of things. Come in, sit down and I'll get you some water.'

Bart arrived, was reintroduced, everyone expressed surprise at how little they'd changed, then they sat down to lunch and Arnold satisfied their curiosity.

'I received a note in my inbox that Lance Ozbairne is appealing his conviction.'

'Robert's eyebrows rose. 'His conviction, not the sentence?'

'His case is to be reopened. The father has been belatedly throwing money at lawyers and there seems a good chance he'll win.'

'On what grounds?' Robert managed to sound politely interested, as if it had nothing to do with him.

Arnold shot him an odd look. 'All the evidence is circumstantial in both the headmaster's murder and the poisoned kid. There's a hearing next week. Probably nothing will come of it, but I thought I should let you know.'

Robert answered Fidel's questioning look with a brief explanation. 'Lance hated me and because I reported him for gay bashing, he now blames me for getting caught.' He turned back to Arnold. 'Do you think he might come after us?'

'He was already a nasty customer, and unless he's become a saint, prison will have made him ten times worse.'

'Why were you informed? Are you still attached to the case?'

'No, I quit detecting and am now involved in keeping tabs on recently released prisoners, ostensibly to be useful, but in practice just waiting to nab them when they make a mistake.'

'Sounds unpleasant.'

'It's as depressing as all police work. There's no attempt at rehabilitation, because it seems the sole aim of the so-called corrective services is revenge with as much pain and humiliation as possible. A sane society would only lock up people who are dangerous; everyone else should be given a location bracelet and allowed to work off their crime while also attending classes that will give them the skills, self confidence and self respect to enable them to live at peace in society. That would save the billions of dollars annually that are currently spent on prisons, and would almost eliminate recidivism—saving billions more. Our prisons take naughty men and turn them into vicious criminal thugs through a system based on punishment instead of rehabilitation. Hundreds of inmates are put in solitary for no reason—alone for twenty-three hours a day. The United Nations says solitary confinement is torture, and we're not supposed to be a country that tortures people, but we do! It drives them crazy. No exercise, no books, not enough food because of the system. Non-contact visits only twice a month, their families bankrupted and thrown into poverty, it is cruel and insane and shames me to the core.'

'I had no idea.'

'No one does, it's one of thousands of secret shames of our very imperfect society. It seems they don't want reformed criminals; they want them to come back and back forever to keep the system flourishing. And nothing changes because the media only focus on violent crime, making ordinary people want to hurt prisoners as well as lock them up—as if locking them up isn't punishment enough—instead of understanding they're ordinary people who've made silly mistakes. If the truth were told about the innocents who've only given the cops the finger, or argued about moving on, and been incarcerated and abused for a year or more, turned into criminals and made unemployable forever, then things might change. But we're governed by self-serving fuckwits who care for nothing except the polls and getting re-elected so they'll get their generous superannuation package.'

'I guess prisons are the same in most countries.'

'The Australian journalist imprisoned in Egypt for two years was better treated than inmates of Queensland maximum security jails—he was able to socialise and take a university course that gave him another degree—so he left in better shape than he entered. There's no education program in Queensland prisons. There's no charter of rights, no attempt to follow practices that will reduce criminal behaviour and turn misguided people into useful citizens. It's like a death—death of all that's decent.'

'That's terrible! But you're not going to get in trouble for telling us this are you?'

'Don't care if I do. Like Inspector Kareltin I'm disillusioned with the justice system, but can't see my way out.'

'We're very grateful.'

'Don't be. As I said to Fidel, ever since that night at your place I've been thinking about you guys and your family; wondering how you were.' He grinned boyishly. 'Perhaps this was just an excuse to find out. According to Fidel, you're as nice as I imagined.'

'Fidel's paid to promote us. What about you, are you married?'

'Yes, unfortunately.' With a little prompting from Fidel, Arnold elaborated.

'As you've no kids and your wife's never stopped work, you can solve all your problems in three easy steps,' Bart said with a slight frown. 'Get yourself fit so you feel able to take on the world again; divorce your wife, and work out why you're so interested in Fidel.'

Arnold's head swivelled from Bart to Fidel and back in alarm. 'Fidel you haven't…?'

'No, I haven't.' Fidel said trying not to laugh. 'Bart looks like a sweet old man, but he's as sharp as a dagger and misses nothing.'

'I'll deal with you later, Fidel!' Bart waggled a finger.

'The thing is,' Robert said with a predatory gleam in his eye. 'You haven't told us what happened last night after realising your wife was trying to make you look ridiculous. And forgive the curiosity, but why are you wearing Fidel's shorts and singlet?'

'You tell them, Fidel,' Arnold whispered. 'I'm too embarrassed.'

Fidel spared Arnold's feelings and kept to the bare facts.

'I can't see what you're embarrassed about,' Bart grinned.

'I'm a cop! I'm married. I…'

'Which begs the question, how come you've managed to switch from married heterosexual to gay libertine overnight with no obvious mental trauma? Most guys agonise for ages over their sexual orientation and then still feel guilty.'

'When I joined the force I volunteered for gay sensitivity training, and someone lent me an excellent novel in which a teacher with an odd name, takes fifteen teenagers into the rainforest and teaches them about what it means to be a real man. When a couple of the kids asked about guys having sex together he said something like: "Sex is just sex, no matter who you do it with; perfectly normal if you enjoy it, abnormal if you don't. There are as many ways of being normal as there are humans, so decide for yourself, don't let others pressure into being what you're not." And that kept bugging me. You see my relationship is crap and fucking her was about as exciting as fucking a cushion. I felt nothing. So when Fidel kissed me and I thought I'd explode from sensual overload and lust, I realised I'd been fooling myself about what was normal for me, and the sooner I dumped the heterosexual act as well as the woman, the better. Simple.'

'Most interesting,' Bart murmured gently. 'It's a relief to know that becoming a cop isn't always the path to red-necked bigotry and intolerance. So you don't think last night was merely a reaction to your wife's traitorous behaviour?'

'No way. That was real.'

'So what're you going to do about it? Aren't you worried that if you go home tonight she'll convince you she was really proud of you and suck you back in? Probably cry as well. Women are very, very good at manipulating men.'

'You're right, Bart. I'm a sucker for female tears; always give in and they walk all over me.' Arnold turned a red face to Fidel. 'Would you…? Would it be alright if…? Do you think…?'

'Sure. No probs. Be a good idea to stay away another night, it'll show your wife you don't need her.'

'Meanwhile,' Bart continued, face serious, 'we have to think about Lance and his bid for freedom. '

'Ninety percent of guys come out of prison worse. They enter as silly men, and exit as cunning, skilful criminals, partially insane because of the solitary that's handed out as easily as a slap on the wrist for even minor infringements. The authorities either don't realise that solitary confinement is a serious form of torture that renders many men crazy, or they don't care—I suspect the latter. Queensland prisons are the cruellest in the country and they're proud of it. They reckon it'll teach them not to be bad, whereas it teaches them to be worse.'

'I wonder how Lance is faring,' Robert said thoughtfully. 'He was a nasty bully at school, but scrawny. He'll either make everyone so angry with him he'll get murdered, or he'll spread lies and make everyone else hate each other. I can't begin to imagine what it must be like in prison.' He shook his head and looked down.

'Lance was actually a very smart, albeit twisted kid,' Bart said softly. 'I don't think he'd leave himself open to trouble—he gets others to do his dirty work.'

The talk turned general and, among other things, Arnold admitted he'd neglected his fitness and agreed to accompany Fidel to the next 3V session.

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