‘Adam . . . I . . . I . . .’ I began to say, but he quickly cut me off.
‘Rick, don’t sweat it,’ he scolded, even if the tone of his voice wasn’t entirely forgiving. ‘I get now that yours isn’t exactly a nine to five job, and sometimes I’m going to come second, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on you . . . even if you do test my fucking patience sometimes!’
At that, even I had to chuckle.
‘How far away is it that you’re taking the boys?’ he asked.
‘So even if you leave soon, it’ll be late when you get back, assuming you even come back tonight.’
‘To be honest, I hadn’t even thought that far ahead,’ I answered.
‘You should stay there tonight,’ Adam said firmly. ‘You said yourself that it’s been a while since you’ve seen Martin’s parents, so why don’t you visit with them for a bit? You can always hop on the train tomorrow to come back. And besides, it’ll give you the chance to start going back over Martin’s stuff.’
‘I want you to meet them,’ I said on impulse.
‘And I shall, in good time.’
‘No . . . I mean soon.’
‘What, like a meet the parents thing?’ he asked, sounding slightly amused.
‘I’m serious. They’re the closest thing I have to family, and I need them to meet you. Why don’t you take tomorrow afternoon off and come up for a drive? I’ll probably need to bring some of Marty’s stuff back with me, and that could prove difficult if I return by train,’ I almost pleaded.
‘You don’t think it’ll be just a tad awkward?’
‘No more awkward then me bringing two gay teenagers into the home in which their own son and I used to . . . well . . .’
‘And they approved?’
‘Well, not exactly, but they also didn’t stand in our way. They figured that if we were going to fool around anyhow, better that it be in a loving environment than the back seat of a car in some dingy alley.’
‘Dingy alleys can have some redeeming features, don’t you know?’ he teased.
‘Of course they do . . . we saw our fair share of those as well.’
‘You’re incorrigible, you know that?’
‘Only sometimes,’ I laughed.
‘Make all the arrangements and call me later, alright?’
‘Thanks Adam. This means a lot to me.’
‘And you mean a lot to me, Detective Cooper. I’ll talk to you later, okay?’
‘You can count on it,’ I replied, before disconnecting.
I was still smiling when I sat back down beside Casey. He looked at me with a curious expression on his face, while Helen looked across and gave me a knowing smile.
‘Everything all good?’ she asked.
‘Yeah it is,’ I replied. ‘We need to talk about what we’re going to do about this afternoon, though.’
‘Yeah. With my car still parked at the hospital, we’ll have to figure out how we’re going to get there. I’d rather not go back and retrieve it, just in case someone is watching.’
‘How about Cathy? Does she have a car? Would she loan you hers and pick up yours from the hospital?’
‘That might work, but I think we might be safer if we get ourselves a rental . . . that way we can hopefully leave town without being seen. We probably shouldn’t get Cathy involved either, by picking up my car, just in case it is being watched. It could lead our friends back to Cathy’s place if they followed her, and that’s the last thing we need,’ she said, while at the same time giving a slight nod toward Casey.
I nodded my understanding and sat back in my seat.
After a few minutes more of rocking along the tracks, the train pulled into the next station and we got off, before making our way from the platform and out onto the street. It was now well after twelve o’clock and while I wasn’t sure about the others, I was starting to feel a bit peckish. Looking around us I could see a shopping centre a short distance down the road, along with a McDonalds.
‘You hungry?’ I asked Casey.
‘Yeah, a bit,’ he answered.
‘Right-o then. First stop Macca’s, then we’ll find some wheels so we can take you to Cathy’s and pick up those other two delinquents.’
* * *
After we had eaten we went for a walk down the busy main road through the suburb and we found a car rental agency at one of the petrol stations. It was a quite well known company and had multiple agents, so we would be able to return the car to any one of them.
Helen made the arrangements for us to rent a dark green Ford sedan and a short time later we were on the road and heading towards Cathy’s.
When we pulled up outside the house it was well after one o’clock. I thought I noticed a curtain twitch as we came to a stop, then moments later, after the three of us climbed from the car I saw the front door open to reveal Cathy and the two boys standing there smiling at us.
‘Looks like you’ve found yourselves another stray,’ Cathy remarked. ‘We’ll have to start calling you King of the Kids or something, Coop!’
‘Not too loud,’ I laughed. ‘Some folks might just take that the wrong way. The last thing I need is to have that sort of a reputation. There’s already enough of that going around.’
‘She’s right though, Coop,’ Helen said. ‘You seem to have a way with ‘em . . . it must be those youthful good looks and all that charm.’
‘Well it’s certainly not my bank balance,’ I snorted.
While this was happening Casey seemed to be holding back, staying to one side and looking up at Shane and Jimmy. It wasn’t until Shane waved his hand, indicating for Casey to come up to them, that he finally moved, but even then he turned to me, as if asking permission.
‘Get going, kiddo,’ I said, as I gave him a gentle push. He grinned and almost skipped up the path and the few steps at the front of the house, where the three boys were soon hugging each other like long lost friends.
‘We were all so worried about you guys,’ Casey said. ‘Coop told me what happened though. Are you okay?’
‘Never better,’ Shane replied, even if I did notice him wince slightly when Casey hugged him.
‘Cathy, this is Casey. Casey, this is Cathy,’ Helen said as we joined them on the small porch. Then to Casey she said, ‘Now, we want you to be a good lad and do whatever she asks, okay?’
‘You’ve got to watch her though,’ Jimmy said. ‘She’s a real slave driver.’ Which only earned him another clip up the back of the head from his host.
‘I’m sure we’ll get along just fine,’ Cathy said. ‘Now, how about you good folks come inside and have a cuppa before you head off to wherever it is you’re going, while the boys show Casey around the joint.’
It seemed the coffee pot was always on in this house.
Obediently we all followed her inside, but not before I took one last look up and down the quiet street to see if there were any cars or people around who might be watching, and only following them once I was satisfied that there was no danger present.
‘Jimmy, why don’t you finish packing the few belongings we got you, and give Casey a look around,’ Cathy directed. ‘And while you’re at it you better pull those sheets off your bed . . . I don’t think Casey is going to want to sleep in those after . . . well, you know.’
I glanced up at Jimmy, whose face suddenly went a shade of red that almost matched his hair, before he quickly turned on his heels and dragged the other two boys through the door, the three of them giggling like twelve year olds as they went down the hallway to the room Jimmy had been inhabiting.
‘So, I take it there wasn’t much work done around here this morning after we left?’ Helen enquired.
‘Oh, there was plenty of grunting and groaning going on . . . but I just put my earphones in then went and busied myself in the garden,’ Cathy replied.
‘I guess boys will be boys,’ Helen added. ‘So, what belongings did you get for him? Let us know how much and we’ll get you fixed up for the cost.’
‘Oh, don’t bother about that. We just grabbed a few things from the Op Shop for him, just so he had a change of clothes, plus a toothbrush and a few basics. You’ll probably need to do the same for Shane, won’t you?’
‘Yeah. We’ll make a stop or two once we’re out of the city.’
Cathy set about making some coffee for the three of us, then when she returned to the table with three mugs she asked, ‘So, what’s Casey’s story? It is as bad as Jimmy’s?’
‘If anything,’ I said, ‘it’s worse.’
Between the two of us Helen and I gave her an abridged run-down on what Casey had been through and what he had told us about those that have controlled his life in recent years. Cathy was truly shocked by what she heard, as any right minded person would be, and promised to take care of him for as long as was needed.
‘On the outside he gives the impression he’s a tough kid,’ I added, ‘but he’s still quite vulnerable. I think he also craves contact with others, as a couple of times today he’s just thrown his arms around me and hugged me.’
‘Oh, I think he’ll get plenty of those here,’ Cathy chuckled.
It was then that I turned to Helen and asked what her plans were once we had dropped off the boys with Martin’s parents.
‘I guess we’ll turn around and come home,’ she answered. ‘Why? Did you have something else in mind?’
‘How would you feel about coming home alone?’ I asked her. ‘It’d be nice to say a little more than just hello and goodbye to Beth and Tom. It would also give me a chance to start looking through Martin’s stuff again, and bring some of it home tomorrow, either on the train, or . . .’
‘Or Adam might come for a drive, meet them, and bring me home. Do you think you can cover for me with the Inspector?’
The frown that she had started out with quickly melted away as I explained my plan. ‘I’ll tell him it was my idea,’ she said. ‘Tomorrow is Friday, so you’ll be on duty then, after that you may as well take the weekend . . . nothing much can happen then anyhow, but just make sure you’ve got your sorry arse back here by Monday morning!’
‘It’s a deal. Just let me swing by my unit to grab a few things first, though, please.’
Before long the boys returned to the kitchen and sat down at the table with us. Jimmy was carrying one of those fabric ‘take your own’ shopping bags that you get from the supermarket, which held his change of clothes and other items. It certainly wasn’t much to show for however long he had been in Sydney and plying his trade, so to speak, but then again, we all knew that he was still far better off than most others.
So now it appeared as if we were almost ready to leave. Helen was the first person to get to her feet, and we all soon followed.
‘Thank you Cathy,’ she said. ‘We can’t even begin to tell you how grateful we are for you and Megan helping the boys, and us, out like this.’
‘It has been our pleasure,’ Cathy replied. ‘We’re glad that we could help, and we’ve loved having Jimmy staying here with us. Both he and Shane can come back any time . . . in fact, once things settle down and you boys get yourselves sorted out, we’ll be expecting a visit some time, alright?’
‘Oh, you can count on it,’ Jimmy said, as both he and Shane moved over to her and wrapped their arms around her in a huge hug.
When they were done all three of them seemed to be wiping something from their eyes.
‘And as for you,’ I said, while turning my attention toward Casey. ‘Thank you for everything you’ve given us today. I’ll be back tomorrow after we get these two settled in, but if you need anything Cathy knows how to get in contact with us, okay?’
‘Okay,’ he replied, somewhat nervously.
I kind of felt guilty having to leave him like this, but I knew he was in good hands, and we’d both be back on deck tomorrow anyhow. I pulled him to me and gave him a brief hug, then when I released him I thought it was going to be me who was going to need to wipe something from my eyes.
‘He’ll be fine, Rick,’ Cathy reassured me, as she wrapped an arm around Casey’s shoulders and hugged him close to her, before then letting him go.
‘I know,’ I answered. ‘And thanks.’
She gave me a nod in reply, then it was the boys’ turn to say goodbye to each other.
Shane and Jimmy both embraced Casey and told him that everything would be fine, then Shane turned to me and asked, ‘Hey Coop, will we all be able to keep in touch when all the shit blows over?’
‘One way or another, if that’s what you want, I’ll make sure you can,’ I answered.
‘Awesome!’ said Shane, holding a hand up for a high five, which I duly returned, while the other two grinned at us.
The four of us then headed for the front door, with Casey and Cathy bringing up the rear. After quickly checking the street once more, we walked out to the car and climbed in, with Helen behind the wheel.
Cathy and Casey waved us goodbye from the front steps, then before we had even left they retreated back inside, standing at the open door.
‘All set?’ Helen cheerfully asked as she started the car.
‘Have we got a choice?’ Jimmy piped up from the back seat.
‘Nope, you’re stuck with us now.’
‘That’s kind of what I figured,’ he chuckled. ‘Just pleeeaasse don’t make us sing songs while we’re driving!’ he pleaded.
As we pulled back out onto the street, giving Cathy and Casey one last wave as we did so, we headed on our way. In just a few hours the boys would be settling into somewhere new and getting a fresh start in life. They deserved a few breaks, and thanks to what they had already given us, I intended to do everything in my power to make sure that they received every break they could.
* * *
Just to be on the safe side up to this point we had deliberately not told the boys where they would be going, as the fewer people who knew their whereabouts the happier Helen and I would be. All we had told them was that they were heading north, so it came as no surprise to them when we headed toward the city from where we were.
‘Don’t go into the city,’ I suggested to Helen. ‘Just in case the wolves are out and prowling around.’
‘Good idea. We’ll take the long way round . . . over Anzac Bridge, then come back onto the highway on the other side of the harbor.’
‘That sounds like a plan,’ I replied.
‘So, are we allowed to know where we’re going to, yet?’ Jimmy piped up from the back seat. Helen and I glanced at each other. She simply shrugged and raised her eyebrows at me.
‘Okay, I guess it’s safe enough now,’ I replied, then turned in my seat to face their expectant stares. ‘You’re going to Newcastle,’ I said. ‘Some old and dear friends of mine have offered to take you in . . . so I hope you’ll behave as well as you did with Cathy and Megan.’
‘Of course,’ Shane replied.
‘Tom and Beth live on the northern side of the city. Like I said, they’re close to the beaches and it’s a nice place. That’s where I grew up and I have a lot of great memories from there, so I hope that while you’re there you’ll like it.’
‘You grew up there? What, are they relatives of yours or something?’ Jimmy asked, his interest piqued.
‘No, mate, but to me they are about as close to being family as you can get.’ I figured I would tell them about Martin and his parents later, but for the moment that was enough information, I thought, as I noticed him nodding at me.
I pointed Helen in the direction of my unit so I could gather a few belongings, and before long we were pulling up on the Malabar Road outside the ugly red brick building I called home. Ordinarily it would be madness having someone you were dealing with on a case knowing where you lived, but in this instance I didn’t give it a second thought. I knew that these kids certainly weren’t about to rat me out to the bad guys.
‘Just give me a couple of minutes,’ I said to my companions as I jumped from the car and ran up the driveway toward the entrance. Once upstairs I grabbed an overnight bag and threw a change of clothes and some toiletries into it, then locked up and ran back down to the waiting car.
‘Okay. Let’s go,’ I said to Helen, as I threw the bag down at my feet, and before I had even pulled my seat belt on she had pulled back out onto the road.
We quickly sped through the southern suburbs before veering off onto the Western Distributor Freeway, which soon took us across the Anzac Bridge. Beyond that we zoomed through the suburbs of Rozelle, Drummoyne, Hunters Hill, before then taking Burns Bay Road, which would finally lead us back to where we could join the Pacific Motorway, which would take us north.
Being in the middle of the afternoon I had expected the traffic to be relatively heavy, but surprisingly it wasn’t that bad, so even though we were taking a longer route than most people would, we were still making good time.
‘Hey Helen, are you sure you know where you’re going?’ I heard Jimmy ask from the back seat. The kid had a smart mouth, there was no doubting that, but still you couldn’t help but like the kid.
As I looked around me at the leafy suburb we were passing through, with its stately old homes and dense gardens, I couldn’t help but wonder if indeed we were on the right path, until I heard Helen reply.
‘Yeah Jimmy,’ I heard her say. ‘I know this area. This is the area where I grew up.’
Quickly glancing at Helen I noticed she was looking my way as she had said that. I gave her a wink in acknowledgement, grateful for her having now shared something of her past with us that I hadn’t known.
‘Let me guess,’ I asked. ‘You were also a Presbyterian Ladies College girl?’
‘Ssshhh . . . not too loud,’ she chuckled, obviously wanting to keep quiet about her private school roots, lest her reputation might be shattered.
It wasn’t long before we had rejoined the main motorway and were beginning to make our way through and past the outer suburbs, before following the edge of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and onwards. Now that we were clear of the city I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed Tom and Beth’s number.
‘Hello,’ Tom said when he answered the phone.
‘Hi Tom. It’s me. Just letting you know we’re on the Motorway, so we should see you in a couple of hours.’
‘That’s great,’ he replied. ‘Drive carefully and we’ll see you soon.’
‘Will do,’ I said, before disconnecting.
‘That was short and sweet,’ Helen remarked.
‘Tom can be a man of few words sometimes,’ I chuckled.
The boys had been chatting quietly to themselves in the back seat and at one stage after I sensed that things had gone quiet I glanced back at them and noticed Shane lying down across the seat, his head resting in Jimmy’s lap and with his eyes closed, while the red headed boy was gently running his hands through Shane’s dark hair.
Jimmy noticed me looking at them and smiled up at me. I smiled back, before turning my attention forward once more, while thinking to myself how good it was to see these two boys be able to just be themselves, without any hint of being uncomfortable in our presence. Despite everything that had happened, I knew that they were going to be okay.
It had been some time since I had travelled this road and I soon found myself trying to recall what was ahead of us. As we continued on our way I began to tick off the landmarks that I could recall.
When we came to the massive cuttings that had been gouged through the middle of a mountain to accommodate the motorway, with sandstone walls more than one hundred feet high in places towering above us on either side of the six lane roadway, I looked up in awe at the sheer walls of rock, just as I did every time I saw them.
After that we began the gradual descent down towards the Hawkesbury River, which also never failed to amaze me, being an expanse of water comparable to Sydney Harbour in both size and beauty, although thankfully it was largely protected from development with the surrounding National Parks reaching right to the water’s edge.
From there we climbed over Mount White, which I knew then gave us an almost a clear run all the way through to Newcastle.
When I glanced back at the boys again a short while later I noticed that they were now both asleep, with Shane still in the same position as previously, but with Jimmy also now with his head thrown back against the seat.
‘How are they doing?’ Helen asked when she noticed me smiling at them.
‘Both out cold,’ I answered.
‘So . . .’ Helen continued. ‘You still haven’t told me about how you found Casey. What have you got, some sixth sense for sniffing out trouble or something?’
‘Ha, nothing like that, I’m afraid. When Jarvis was being taken from the court and he spotted Barrett and his friends near the back door, he looked genuinely scared. When I looked to see what could have brought on that reaction I spotted our Three Amigo’s, but almost at the same time I also spotted Casey standing in the doorway as well.
‘He looked pleased that Jarvis wasn’t getting out, but then when he looked around he too spotted Barrett, and his face just went white, while at the same time he quickly stepped back through the door, before they could see him. That was when I decided to move. Seeing as he knew them all I figured he must have been one of Jarvis’ kids. It doesn’t take genius to put two and two together. I was just lucky that he decided to duck into the toilets and not do a runner.’
‘And I’d say he was pretty bloody lucky as well,’ Helen remarked.
‘Yeah, I think so.’
For the next three quarters of an hour or so we drove on in silence, content to watch the scenery pass by. While cars whizzed past us Helen seemed to be concentrating on sticking to the speed limit, most likely not wanting to attract any undue attention, which might inadvertently give the game away, while I continued turning things over in my mind.
‘Something is bothering me,’ I said to her after a while.
‘Well, the Inspector said that my appointment came from the Commissioner himself, didn’t he?’
‘I believe so.’
‘Do you think we can get him to ask the Commissioner if it was indeed him that suggested the appointment . . . or if someone else suggested it to him?’
‘Barrett’s the one with the fetish for blondes,’ I remarked.
‘But if he fancied you, why not simply get you appointed to somewhere closer to his own office, so he could ogle you all day?’
‘Maybe it’s not me he’s actually after? Maybe I’m just eye candy to him, but if he thought he could possibly get a man inside Richardson’s command, and especially if he thought he could hold something over that man, then what better way to be able to keep tabs on your adversary? Richardson did say that they had some past history. What if he thinks Richardson is a threat of some sort?’
‘Hmmm . . . interesting theory, I suppose. But if this goes to Internal Affairs, as I suspect it will now do so, then it’s all moot anyhow.’
‘True . . . but Barrett would be arrogant enough to think himself above them anyhow. All he would be worried about is how he can keep the Inspector in line.’
‘And why would he need to do that, if he’s already ranked higher than Richardson?’ Helen pointed out.
‘I don’t know . . . maybe . . .’
‘Maybe what?’ she asked, with a questioning look on her face.
‘Well . . . I was just wondering if it might not actually be the other way round . . . whether it might not be the Inspector who actually has something over Barrett, going way back. Even though the Inspector might not have ever needed to actually use it, maybe Barrett just wanted to try and have something up his sleeve, you know, to even things up a little, just in case Richardson ever decided to use what he had?’
‘Feasible, I guess . . . but unlikely I would think. Anyhow, what does it matter now? Once Internal Affairs gets hold of Barrett, his goose is as good as cooked already.’
‘Yeah, true enough,’ I said, as I settled back into my seat for the last stretch of the drive into Newcastle.
* * *
Tom and Beth Oliver lived in a suburb called Fern Bay, which was on the northern side of Newcastle. Directly over the road from their house was the Newcastle Golf Club, while straight behind the house and just through some coastal scrub was the Hunter River, which emptied out into the sea just below Stockton, the next suburb to the south.
It may not have been the fanciest address in the city, with industrial areas, an air force base and a naval facility all relatively close by, but what made up for it was that directly north of Fern Bay there were miles and miles of beaches and sand dunes, along with massive tracts of conservation land. As kids, what better playground could we ask for?
Martin and I knew every square inch of the small suburb we both lived in. We knew every street, every vacant lot, every blade of grass and grain of sand on the golf course – where we would often earn pocket money caddying for the golfers – while the sand dunes and parklands were also a place where we would frequently lose ourselves.
Then there was the river, on which we would row, or sail, or fish, depending on the mood we were in at the time. There was a boat ramp almost directly behind Martin’s house, so access was almost unlimited and there was barely a weekend when we weren’t out on the water fooling around, or exploring the waterways and nearby wetlands, usually with a fishing rod or a camera in hand.
As for my own family, well, at the time when I was growing up we lived in the local caravan park in a permanent on-site van. It was a nice enough place, with gardens, shady trees and a pool, but the park itself was often crowded, especially around holiday times and that was enough to nearly drive me insane. The ‘van I lived in with my family was large enough, but it was an old one, so while I was lucky enough to have a small room to myself, for obvious reasons I was always glad to be able to get out of there and roam the neighbourhood with my best mate.
‘So, do you remember how to get there?’ Helen asked me as we approached the outskirts of the city, interrupting my day-dreams.
‘Yeah, you need to take the Newcastle Link Road to get into the city,’ I replied. ‘There’s an exit just past West Wallsend, I think it is. The motorway continues north and by-passes the city, but we need to take the exit. Do you want me to take over the driving once we’re closer?’
‘Nah, it’s all good. Just keep an eye out for the signs and let me know where to go.’
‘Sure,’ I replied.
‘Are you okay?’ Helen suddenly asked, perhaps sensing something in the tone of my reply.
‘Yeah . . . just reminiscing a little,’ I answered, offering what I knew was a rather sad attempt at a smile to go with it.
‘How long has it been since you’ve seen them?’
‘A few years.’
‘And what about your family? Are they still here?’ she enquired.
‘No, they’re not,’ I quietly answered.
Once more I saw her looking across at me, a quizzical expression on her face, clearly wondering if I was going to supply her with more detail.
I thought about telling her about them, but did I really want to tell her about my drunken father who pissed off one day when I was fifteen? Or about my mother worrying herself into an early grave not long afterwards? Or about my older sister who was so totally disgusted at having a gay brother that she has barely spoken to me since our mother’s funeral, even if she did become my guardian and we continued sharing the ‘van until after I had finished school?
No. I think for the time being I’d rather keep all that to myself.
‘Maybe later,’ I said to her in response to her silent question.
Helen simply nodded and turned her attention back toward the road.