‘What? Hasn’t he even called in, or anything?’ Helen asked the girl, sounding quite surprised when she was told that Alexis hadn’t shown up for work. The girl simply shook her head, then asked if we wanted to order anything.
Helen didn’t answer immediately, the deep furrow across her brow indicating that her thoughts were elsewhere, so I asked her for two cappuccino’s to take away.
‘So, what do you think that’s all about?’ I asked when the girl left us to go and make our coffees.
‘I’m not sure,’ she replied, ‘but I guess he’ll surface when he’s good and ready. Randy bastard probably scored last night, or something.’
‘Sounds like a randy bastard and a lucky bastard then!’ I added.
‘Don’t you talk!’ she scolded, with a laugh. I simply winked at her in reply.
While we were waiting for our coffees I turned and leant back against the counter and looked out onto the street, watching the world pass by in their early morning rush. If there was one thing that I could say about the inner city it was that it certainly attracted all sorts.
Everywhere you looked you could see people from all walks of life. There were the young high-powered suit wearing, briefcase carrying, executive types, rushing here and there and always running late. The derro’s and prostitutes – including those that were both too young and too old – who lived in Hyde Park and the surrounding back alleys, and plied their trade anywhere they could. Then there were the respectable shop-keepers and the wide-eyed tourists all jostling for their piece of the sidewalk.
It was certainly a strange mixture of humanity, but somehow everyone seemed to get by without any major problems. Or at least it seemed that way on the surface. What may be festering below, however, was another matter altogether and that was a side of the city, where the grimy underbelly of society resided, that I was yet to become fully acquainted with.
As we waited there I noticed an old man start to cross the street and head toward the shop we were in, dodging between one row of cars, then theatrically holding up one hand and stopping the next lane of traffic as he crossed the busy road. He received an angry blast from the horn of a taxi that he had stopped, gave a one-fingered salute in return, then continued to proceed toward us as if nothing had happened.
He walked with an air of authority which belied his somewhat incongruous appearance and even without knowing anything about him I could almost sense that he was, or had once been, a somebody. Whatever he may have once been however, it was a far cry from what he was now.
He was wearing joggers, that I can only presume were once white, an ill-fitting and rather tattered pin-striped suit over a grubby business shirt, all of which was topped off with a mop of thick grey hair which, no matter how many times he tried to pat it down as he walked, seemed to defy gravity.
At first glance I would have put him in his sixties, but as he came closer to us it came as quite a surprise when I realised he wasn’t anywhere near as old as that. In fact, if I’d have had to have a bet on it I wouldn’t have put him as being any older than fifty.
When he reached the footpath he headed straight for the door to the café and stepped inside, however he almost stopped dead in his tracks when he noticed Helen and me waiting by the counter.
Recovering his composure rather quickly he gave Helen a slight nod, which was returned, and then proceeded toward the far end of the counter where he fingered the coins in his hand and carefully counted them. He ordered and paid for a coffee and a croissant from one of the other girls in the shop, asked where Alexis was today and received the same reply that we had, which only seemed to cause him to frown, then he stood back and watched us out of the corner of his eye while he waited for his coffee.
‘You know him?’ I whispered to Helen.
‘Yeah,’ she replied. ‘Everyone knows him. His name is Sid Partridge. Used to be a big time Barrister, until he got into the habit of celebrating his famous victories with a little too much exuberance. Ended up losing his wife, his kids, his house, his job . . . everything. And that was when he really hit the bottle.’
‘What does he do now? Live on the streets?’
‘He seems to be quite wary of you. What did you do, bust him for something?’
‘Nah, but we’ve had our fair share of run-ins over the years.’
‘I bet you have.’
‘Don’t ever underestimate him. He can be a useful person to know, even allowing for his current . . . errr . . . circumstances. He can also be as dangerous as a snake; especially if you happen to get between him and a bottle of booze.’
‘I’ll try and remember that.’
‘You just make sure you bloody well do!’
We left the café a few minutes later after our coffees were brought to us and I had paid for them, all the while under the watchful eye of Sid Partridge who seemed to be scrutinising us out of the corner of one eye.
Helen asked the girl who had served us to make sure that she told Alexis that she had been asking after him, then she turned to Sid and said, ‘See ya, Sid.’
He gave us a nod and then quickly turned away, while we made our way back out onto the street and turned toward Circular Quay, which we knew would still be packed with commuters heading for work.
‘He sure seemed like a bit of an oddball,’ I said to Helen as we strolled along in the morning sunshine, while sipping our coffees.
‘Yeah, he is. But like I said, kid, just don’t underestimate him.’
She gave me a nod, as if she were satisfied that I really did understand what she meant and after that we walked along in silence, as traffic whizzed past close by us on the nearby street. I do have to admit that I still wasn’t quite sure what it was that she meant exactly, about underestimating Partridge, but my curiosity was certainly aroused by the air of mystery that Helen had now given him. I guessed that given time I would find out all there was to know about the man, but I had already decided that I was going to ask around anyway.
Suddenly we copped a blast of the exhaust fumes from a bus, bringing me swiftly back to the present. As I coughed and spluttered and tried gulping in something that was a bit fresher, I came to the realisation that I wasn’t quite so in love with the inner-city any more.
* * * * *
We took our time as we headed down to Circular Quay, where we found the air somewhat cleaner and the River Cat having just docked, with passengers from Parramatta now disembarking. From a distance we stood and watched them shuffle off the boat and along the wharves until the last person had passed us by. I noticed that Helen seemed to be studying almost every face, but she said nothing to me as she did so, and I offered no questions either. I figured that if there was something I needed to know I would be told all in good time.
After we left the wharves we took a stroll around the grassy park area between there and The Rocks, where people were sunning themselves in the glorious morning, or reading their morning newspapers, or feeding the pigeons. Helen said nothing as we strolled around amongst the punters and so of the purpose of this walk I wasn’t quite sure, but once more Helen seemed to be looking for something. Or someone.
Not long after that we found ourselves heading back toward Darlinghurst Station, with my legs starting to ache from all the walking and the climb up from the Quay. After a couple of blocks Helen started opening up again, filling me in on some more of what she thought I should know about those I was now working with, but saying nothing more about our morning walk. All things considered, however, the walk still proved to be quite enlightening, although not exactly what I would be able to call exciting.
We crossed Elizabeth Street at the intersection with Market, then strolled through Hyde Park, past the beautiful Archibald Fountain and along the path, sharing it with walkers and skateboard riders and the like. Eventually we came out of Hyde Park and I found that we were almost opposite St Mary’s Cathedral, which was where the one exciting moment of our morning occurred, while we were waiting at the traffic lights to cross the road.
As we stood there I noticed a group of what were mainly teenagers riding their skateboards on the vast concrete forecourt of the cathedral. Helen and I were both watching them, showing off in front of their mates and laughing and carrying on as if they hadn’t a care in the world. There was one boy in particular that stood out from the others and he was the one I soon found myself staring at; which was something that didn’t go unnoticed by Helen.
I would like to think that it may have been the daring manoeuvers he seemed to accomplish with such ease that caught my eye. In reality however it was more likely the fact that I was a relatively normal gay male in my early twenties and he was a real live skater boy, around eighteen years old, wearing no shirt and with the body of a Greek god; which was glistening with sweat on this warm morning. What clothes he did wear were all the latest rage, as he had wisps of long brown hair sticking out from beneath his tea-cosy hat, while the tops of his boxer shorts protruded from the waist band of his loose hanging cut-off cargo pants.
‘What do you reckon he’ll do for his next party trick?’ Helen asked me as we watched him skate lazily around in a large circle, having just completed a spectacular mid-air triple spin after skating off the top of a set of stairs and landing safely at the bottom.
‘Who knows?’ I shrugged, then whispered, ‘But I wouldn’t mind taking him home and finding out just what other tricks he has up his sleeve.’
She glanced sideways at me with an expression of mock disgust, then simply grinned and shook her head and turned away.
We didn’t have long to wait to find out what his next trick was to be however, as we watched him line up and skate toward another set of stairs which led to another lower level. There was a railing down the middle of the steps, which he seemed to be heading straight for, and as we saw him gathering speed it wasn’t too difficult to work out what he was planning.
As he launched himself into the air there was a collective intake of breath from those who were standing around us, all of whom seemed to be watching skater boy’s show as well. That sound was soon replaced however by a collective groan, as we saw his board hit the railing and skater boy fly head-first onto the concrete paving.
We watched as he got back to his feet and brush himself off, with his mates all cheering and laughing at him, as he quickly looked around to see how many other people had witnessed his fall from grace. He then re-adjusted the shorts that were hanging low on his hips and we all soon realised that apart from a few bumps and scratches maybe, the only thing that was hurt was his pride.
It was then that the lights turned green and we all crossed the road, with Helen and me heading for the station and our squad room, which we predictably found to be empty.
‘What next then?’ I asked Helen as I perched myself on the edge of my rather empty desk. She walked around to her chair and sat down, picking up and reading the scraps of paper that had been left on her desk.
‘How ‘bout you tell me, hotshot?’ she replied, after quickly shuffling through the messages and then putting them back down. ‘I reckon it’s about time I found out for real if you’re everything they say you are!’
There was a mischievous gleam in her eyes, as if she thought that she was throwing out a challenge that would catch me out, and while my first reaction may have been one that scared me I quickly realised that this was what I was trained for and if I didn’t react now then my future here would be a short one.
‘Well?’ she demanded.
‘Well, I suppose we’d best head over to St Vincent’s and see how the kid that got bashed is doing, and see if he’ll give us a statement. Then we’d best check out your friends and see if their guest managed to behave himself last night. Then depending on how things go there we may have to swing by and visit with our Mr. Jarvis and possibly bring him in for a quiet chat and some happy snaps. And after that . . . I guess we should probably go and find out what the big deal is out at the motor-pool. Did I miss anything?’
‘That’ll just about do it, kid. Although I’m sure that if we try hard we’ll be able to throw in a few other adventures for you.’
‘Why am I not surprised?’
‘Come on. Let’s get our asses over to the Hospital before some idiot discharges the boy because they need the bed or something.’
* * * * *
It wasn’t that far to St. Vincent’s Hospital, but we decided that we had had enough of walking for one day and so we took Helen’s car.
After asking directions at the front desk we made our way to the ward where the kid had been taken and after that it didn’t take us long very to find out which room he was in. I think it was the uniformed cop sitting on a chair outside the room that was the dead giveaway.
We flashed our badges at the Constable, who looked as if he was fresh out of the Academy, and with a nod he let us pass – not that he could have prevented us from doing so anyway considering he didn’t even get to his feet, or ask us who we were.
I opened the door and then followed Helen inside, closing the door behind us then turned to take in the contents of the room, which was much like any other you would find in a hospital. The place smelled like any other hospital ward I’ve ever been in, with an almost overwhelming stench of disinfectant. There was a window, which looked straight out toward the blank brick wall of another wing of the hospital, plus two small lockers standing in two of the corners, next to two beds, of which only one was occupied.
The boy would have only been about fifteen or sixteen, I would have thought. He had dark eyes and short brown hair that somehow still managed to jut out all over the place, and apart from the extensive bruising and the cuts on his face he would have been quite a looker; a prime piece of merchandise for someone like Jarvis.
As I watched him looking back at us with eyes that were wide with fear I also thought that I could sense a sadness in him, which was hardly surprising considering the life he was leading and the ordeal he had just come through. It made me extremely angry that anyone could do something like this to a kid.
‘I suppose you’re cops too, then?’ the boy asked us, before either Helen or I could say anything. He said it in a manner that was half belligerent, but was probably more bluff than anything, as if he were trying to put up a tough exterior and make out he was more than just the scared kid that he appeared to be.
‘Why do you say that? Have there already been some cops in here to talk to you?’ Helen asked him.
‘Duh, yeah! Two of ‘em,’ he replied. ‘But I never told ‘em nothin’. I didn’t much feel like talkin’.’
Helen glanced across at me, with a rather puzzled expression on her face.
‘Do you know what their names were?’ I asked.
The boy simply shrugged and said, ‘Ain’t much good with names. All I can tell you is that one of ‘em was a slimy wog lookin’ dude. Anyhow, what’s your names then?’
I reached into my jacket and pulled out my badge, holding it out for him to see, while Helen did the same.
‘I’m Detective Cooper. This is Detective Wheeler,’ I said to him. Looking at the name tag attached to the wall above his bed I saw that they had written the boy’s name, Shane Leggatt, along with that of his Doctor, a Dr. Mason.
‘You are the kid that Jimmy Taylor calls ‘Legless’, aren’t you?’ Helen asked.
‘And those bruises on your face?’ she added. ‘Were they put there by a guy named Jarvis?’
At the mention of that name the colour quite literally drained from the boy’s face and he turned quickly away from us, preferring instead to look at the plain brick wall that could be seen through the window of his room.
‘Shane,’ Helen asked softly. ‘Will you tell us what happened? We really need to know exactly what Jarvis did to you if we’re going to be able to do anything about him. We don’t want what has happened to you, and Christ-only-knows how many other kids, to happen to anyone else.’
For quite a while he said nothing. He just continued to stare out the window, biting his bottom lip and giving the occasional sniff, as if he were trying to fight back tears.
‘Don’t you cops know nothin’?’ he finally said to us. ‘You can’t do anything about him. You can’t touch him. He knows people. Important people! Or that’s what he’s always told us. If we ever talk we’d get . . .’
He broke off in mid-sentence, tentatively reaching up and touching a bruise on his cheek in what I figured was simply a subconscious reaction to where his thoughts were taking him.
‘Shane, that’s where you’re wrong,’ I said to him. ‘He’s not untouchable. He can be put away. . . and for a very long time. That’s what we want to do, but we need some help to do it. We need your help, and Jimmy’s help, and the help of anyone else who may have ever seen anything happen at Jarvis’ place. How many boys have there been, just since you’ve been there, that have ended up looking like you do now. . . or maybe even worse . . .’
At that remark he snapped his head back in my direction and glared at me.
‘Yeah Shane, we’ve got a pretty fair idea about most of the things that he’s done,’ Helen offered. ‘We’ve just never been able to pin anything on him without having any concrete evidence, or anyone willing to verify what’s happened. What we really need is a witness, you know . . . someone who has seen it all first hand. You don’t want there to be another one do you? Some of those kids are even younger than you, aren’t they?’
He looked from me to Helen and back again, then looked down at his hands, which were sitting in his lap. I could almost hear the cogs turning over in his head as he tried thinking through what we had said to him. Despite the brave face he was trying to put on, to me he was genuinely looking like a frightened little boy.
After a lengthy silence he eventually asked, ‘Where is Jimmy at? And what did he say?’
‘Jimmy is safe. He’s with some friends of ours,’ Helen answered. ‘He said he saw Jarvis beat you, and that he’ll testify if someone else does. He also said that he thinks some of the other boys will testify as well, once they know that at least a couple of you guys are willing to stand up to Jarvis.’
‘So, what do you reckon then?’
‘I dunno. Why should I believe you? Those other cops said I was in trouble too . . . you know, for doing what I’ve been doing for Jarvis.’
‘Shane, whether you believe it or not we’re actually on your side, and we really do need each other,’ I answered. ‘We have to get Jarvis off the streets as soon as we can, and the only way we can do that is with your help. It’s the only way that we can make it safe for you and all of the other kids out there that Jarvis has already fucked over . . . not to mention stopping him from getting his hands on anyone else for his little operation.’
‘And as for you getting in any trouble,’ Helen added. ‘Well, that’s just bull shit! You help us out here and we can make sure that nothing like that happens. We can probably even help you get your life back on track so you won’t ever have to resort to . . . to what you’ve been doing, again. ’
He nodded briefly, but he still looked as scared as hell. He seemed to be thinking about what we had said to him and it seemed like an eternity before he turned back toward us and made as if to open his mouth to speak. He tried to say something, but nothing would come out. The scared little boy had taken over.
Walking around to stand beside him, while Helen remained standing at the end of his bed, I pulled a chair in closer and sat down. He turned his head and looked at me, with the fear now clearly showing in his eyes.
‘Shane, will you help us? Will you tell us what happened?’ I asked him gently.
He looked from me to Helen and then back again, then after a few moments more he eventually nodded.