Apart from the mosquitoes, the evening proved to be an enjoyable one, with some great steak, accompanied by some of Beth’s fine salads. Both Jimmy and Shane even pitched in and helped with everything from the cooking to the cleaning up. It was almost as if they had been craving a normal life, but hadn’t had any idea of how to break out of the lifestyle and cycle that they had been sucked into to be able to experience that.
At least these guys were the lucky ones who, with a little help, had been able to escape the vicious circle, at least for the time being. For most others, however, it was a case of being used up, chewed up, then spat out at the other end. If they were lucky they were still alive, but sadly, for many that wasn’t even an option.
While the steaks had finished cooking we even managed a quick look at the new sailing boat, which was a sleek looking twenty-three foot Hood 23, according to Tom. It wasn’t a new boat by any means, and it might not have been decked out with all the mod-cons, but it was definitely an upgrade on the original Gyspy. As fond as I was of the old model that I had learned to sail in, however, she wasn’t a patch on this beauty, and I couldn’t wait for Tom to drop it in the water over the next few days.
Later, as we sat on the back deck, sipping on cold drinks and watching the sun dipping low, washing the sky with a colourful sunset and bathing the evening in an ethereal golden glow, while listening to the boys talk with Tom and Beth, I couldn’t help but think that these boys may have finally found a place in the world where they could be loved and cared for. I hoped, for their sake, that they recognised the golden opportunity that they were being given here and would make the most of it. I felt sure that they would, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to talk to them about it, just to drive the point home. I knew that I had plenty of time before I had to be back in Sydney, so I figured I would just wait until the moment was right, sometime over the next few days, and have a quiet chat.
While the boys started the clean up process, without even being asked, Tom and Beth and I chatted about old times and the things that Martin and I seemed to always be getting up to. Somehow the conversation turned to my growing up in the caravan park just up the road, and then to my family.
‘Have you been in touch with you sister recently?’ Beth asked, innocently enough.
‘No,’ I said, while shaking my head. All I knew was that she had left the caravan park not too long after I had. ‘I know she left the park, but I haven’t heard from her in years. Do you know where she went?’
At the time I couldn’t have cared less what she did or where she went. We had been close, once, but after our mother had died and I had later come out she had made it perfectly clear that having a fag for a brother was just about the biggest disgrace that could have been bestowed upon her. Despite that, however, I still missed her.
‘Oh, she’s still here in Newcastle,’ Beth replied. ‘I’ve bumped into her a couple of times in the city and she seems to be doing quite well . . . or as well as she can be with her hands full like she has.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ I asked, to which Beth smiled sweetly.
‘It means, Rick, that she’s not on her own any more,’ Beth replied. ‘Didn’t you know that you have a brother-in-law and are now an uncle?’
‘What? You’re kidding me, right?’ I exclaimed.
‘Absolutely not!’ Beth replied. ‘And he’s just the cutest kid. Almost two years old now, and the spitting image of you, actually! They named him Matthew.’
‘That was my grand-father’s name . . . mum’s father,’ I said.
‘Well, we all know that you and your sister didn’t get on too well, but maybe it’s time the pair of you buried the hatchet?’ she suggested.
‘That could be easier said than done,’ I replied. ‘If you recall, when I was living here I was nothing but a dirty little slut, at least in her eyes.’
‘Yes, and as you may recall, our son was tarred with that very same brush,’ Beth added firmly. ‘But Stacey has changed, Rick . . . and changed for the better. She’s not the same person she was five years ago, and I think you’ll find that she no longer thinks the same as she did back then.’
‘I hope you’re right, Beth, I really do.’
‘I have her number somewhere, so I’ll dig it out for you. Then it’s up to you whether or not you call her . . . but I certainly hope you do. People really can change, Rick, and if nothing else, it’d be a shame to see you miss out on meeting your nephew.’
‘Thanks, Beth. I’ll think about it over the weekend,’ I replied, a little unsure about what I was feeling at this news just now. Maybe she has changed. Maybe she has opened up her mind and was no longer the bigoted and judgmental bitch that I remember, but those words, all those years ago, had really cut deep and as far as I was concerned it was going to take a lot for the scars on my heart to finally heal.
‘That’s all I can ask, honey. That’s all I can ask,’ while offering me that motherly smile that was never far away.
We both knew that I would eventually call my sister, of course. It was just going to be a matter of when. What I was already trying to figure out in my own mind, however, was just what I would say to her when I did make contact.
After the meal had all been cleared away we retreated inside to the living room, where we continued our conversation. This time Jimmy and Shane were included also, and under some gentle probing from Beth they began to open up, just a little, about their lives and what led them to the mean streets of Sydney. I also mentioned Casey and something of his story, although I did have to be careful of just how much I divulged, given the sensitive nature of the case and the possible far-reaching consequences.
Both Tom and Beth were visibly moved by the tales that the boys told and I made a point of reassuring Jimmy and Shane that while ever they were living here they would be safe.
‘How long do you think that will be for?’ Shane asked me.
‘I really don’t know, mate. It will largely depend on what happens with Jarvis’ court case, and how long it takes for it to be scheduled. At a guess it could take a few weeks . . . or it could take a few months . . . so you better not wear out your welcome here too quickly, eh!’
‘No way,’ he exclaimed. ‘We’re gonna love it here, I just know it.’
‘I’m sure you will, lads,’ Tom added. ‘And we’re going to love having you here as well. It’ll be good to hear the sound of someone younger around here again.’
We sat up chatting for a little while longer, but we could see that the boys were growing tired, so it wasn’t long before they excused themselves and said goodnight. Beth told them that they would find more blankets or pillows in the wardrobe in their room if they needed them, which they thanked her for, then they disappeared down the hall.
After hearing the bedroom door close behind them the three of us sat in silence for a few moments, as if expecting them to come back out, but they didn’t.
‘Today is the first time they’ve seen each other in almost a week,’ I said, breaking the brief silence. ‘I don’t expect that there’ll be a whole lot of talking in that room tonight.’
‘What we don’t know about, we don’t worry about,’ Beth chuckled. ‘If we’d have spent our nights worrying about you and Martin every time you closed that bedroom door we’d have been nervous wrecks.’
‘But we always knew that we didn’t have any concerns with the two of you,’ Tom added.
‘Because we knew about that little pact of yours . . . something to do with losing something at Schoolies,’ he replied.
‘Oh, god! Marty told you about that?’ I asked, quite surprised.
‘There were very few secrets between us,’ Beth confided.
‘Except perhaps the one he kept from us all,’ I remarked. ‘The reason why he went off and let someone . . .’
‘Yes, love. We know,’ Beth softly replied. ‘And sadly we will quite possibly never know the answer to that question. We have asked ourselves why a million times, but it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t bring our boy back. I know that it would give us all some closure at least . . . but have you also prepared yourself for what an answer to that question might actually mean, if and when you ever get it?’
‘Good or bad, I would just like to know. That’s all.’
‘Son, I know that we all would,’ Tom added.
Nothing more was said for the next few minutes as we let the sounds of the night filter in. The sound of the traffic on the road outside the house, the sound of some music being played not too far away, while in the background was the constant sound of the surf rolling in onto the beach, just beyond the sand dunes. Each sound, in its own way, was quite soothing, letting each of us get lost in our own thoughts.
‘So . . .’ Beth said, breaking the awkward silence. ‘You said on the phone that there was something else that you wanted to talk to us about?’ she gently prompted. ‘Something about Martin?’
Looking across at her and Tom sitting side by side on the couch, holding hands and looking back at me expectantly, I steeled myself for what was to come. I knew that what I was about to tell them would quite likely reopen old wounds. Still, they needed to know, so after taking a breath I started to tell them.
‘You would remember, of course, how Martin was found?’ I asked them.
‘Yes,’ Tom answered, while Beth simply nodded.
‘Well, I’m very sorry to say that there was another young man murdered in Sydney this week,’ I told them. ‘He was found in exactly the same state as Martin was . . . right down to the stab wounds, the cross and the patch of hair shaved from his head.’
‘What?’ Beth gasped, before placing a hand over her mouth in shock.
‘How could that be?’ enquired Tom. ‘I mean, what are the chances of it being a co-incidence?’
‘Co-incidence? I don’t think so. It had to be either a copy-cat who knew about Martin, or it was the work of Martin’s killer himself. I even got questioned myself, actually . . . in a fashion . . . and was asked if I did it, seeing as I knew every detail of Marty’s death!’
‘Well, of course it wouldn’t be you! That’s just absurd,’ Beth angrily spat.
‘It’s okay, Beth. I had a rock solid alibi, as I had been with Adam. And as much as it might have pissed me off, I know that they still had to ask the question, though.’
‘I don’t understand. Why would anyone do that? What would they have to gain?’ asked Tom. ‘And how could Martin and this other poor guy even be connected?’
‘His name was Alexis and he worked in one of the take-away food places in the city,’ I said. ‘He was also a friend of Helen’s and the only time I met him was briefly on Monday morning. It was the day I started in the new job, when Helen and I did the rounds of downtown Sydney. As odd as it seems, it looks like I’m the connection, but like I said, I only met him for about five minutes, that was all, then the next day he gets fished out of Sydney Harbour.’
‘Oh, that poor boy,’ Beth sighed. The silence again stretched out as they digested what I had said.
‘Has there been anything else strange happening at any of the other stations where you’ve been posted?’ asked Tom, eventually.
‘No, not that I know of. The only other thing that has come to mind is that this week I’ve had this sense I’ve been followed. I know it sounds weird, but I’ve thought I’ve seen this same person at a few different places where I’ve been . . . in the crowd at the railway station, and also at the Opera House when they pulled Alexis from the water.’
‘Is it anyone you know?’ Tom queried.
‘No, that’s just it. The face doesn’t ring any bells . . . no, let me re-phrase that. I didn’t recognise him, but there is something familiar about him That’s why I wanted to go back through some of Marty’s old school year books and his photo albums and his online journal to see if anything jumped out at me, or to see if he left any clues that might be helpful. He didn’t ever say anything to me about anyone hassling him or approaching him, but I’m really hoping that if there was something happening back then, which for whatever reason he didn’t want to talk to me about, then maybe he might have made a private entry on his journal or something like that.’
‘Well, we’ve already told you to use whatever you need. I just hope that it turns up something,’ said Tom.
‘Yes Tom. So do I.’
‘Do you think that it’s the same person involved?’ Beth asked.
‘I just don’t know, Beth. It’s definitely a strong possibility. Either that or it’s someone who knows all the details of Martin’s death and is using it to commit a copy-cat crime. Why they would feel a need to do that, though . . . well, that’s the million dollar question.’
‘Someone wanting to get back at you, perhaps?’ mused Tom.
‘But for what?’ I implored. ‘I’ve been stationed there for less than a week. How could I have made an enemy in that time? It just doesn’t make any sense!’
‘No, it doesn’t,’ Tom replied.
We sat there for a little while longer, just chatting about old times and about some of my experiences since I had joined the police force, but as nice as it was to reminisce and catch up there was still this dark shadow hanging over us all, and which wasn’t going to leave us anytime soon.
That promise I had made while sitting beside Martin’s grave, on the day I had left Fern Bay to set out and find my own place in the world, still weighed heavily on my mind. Right now, this was the closest we had ever come to getting a fresh lead on this case and for the first time I felt as if a breakthrough was finally within reach, even though my heart was crying out for Alexis, and what his family and friends, including Helen, must be going through. There was also a certain sense of guilt which was occupying my thoughts, making me think that somehow I was to blame for what had happened to both Martin and Alexis, but this only added to my determination to find the bastard who did this.
I don’t know how long we had talked for, time seemed irrelevant, but when I noticed Beth begin to yawn I realised that it must be getting late. A quick glance at the antique walnut clock on the mantle, which I knew had once belonged to Beth’s parents and yet still kept perfect time, told me it was getting close to midnight.
‘Oh dear, will you just look at the time,’ Beth said. ‘No wonder I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open.’
‘Yes, I’d say that it’s about time we all started thinking about bed,’ Tom added, before then getting to his feet and holding out his hand for Beth. I couldn’t help but smile when she took his hand and he helped her to her feet; the love and warmth between them obviously just as strong now as it had ever been.
Getting up from my seat I crossed the floor to where they were standing, and before they could even react I embraced them both.
‘Thank you both,’ I said to them. ‘I’ve really missed the pair of you and it’s so nice to be home.’
‘It’s so nice to have you home, Rick. And I think it’s wonderful to see you helping kids like Jimmy and Shane like this,’ Beth said to me. ‘Martin would be so proud of you, as we all are.’
‘I’d like to think so,’ I replied, before kissing them both on the cheek, just as I had been doing since Marty and I had come out to them all those years ago. It was a small gesture which had originally started as something of a friendly joke, yet as time passed it became much more than that. And tonight it meant much more to me again. It meant that I was in the best place possible. It meant I was amongst family, and no matter what happened in the future, right now I was exactly where I needed to be.
After saying good night I left them to turn out the lights and then headed down the hallway toward Martin’s room, pausing only briefly at the door to the guest room and having a listen for any sound of nocturnal activity. All was quiet and so I made my way into Martin’s room and quietly closed the door behind me, before leaning back against it and taking another good look around.
While I had slept in this room hundreds of times before, this was to be the first time I had slept in here since Martin’s death. I couldn’t help but think that it was going to be a strange feeling crawling into this bed without him.
* * *
Sleep is one of those things that can sometimes be difficult to grasp hold of. On some nights it comes easily and no sooner than when your head hits the pillow you are out like a light, as the old saying goes. On other nights, however, it is not quite so forthcoming, leaving you tossing and turning, or staring at a blank ceiling and watching shadows dance about the room.
And then there are the dreams which invariably occupy those corners of the night when you do manage to get some restless sleep, bringing with them everything from joy and wonder to sorrow and fear, or even sheer terror.
In the years that followed Martin’s death it was always the latter type of dreams that seemed to invade my sleeping hours. Some nights weren’t as bad as others, but mostly they were dark and shadowy dreams, yet always with the same theme; that of my searching for Martin. They would always leave me bathed in an ocean of sweat, my senses tingling and my nerves on edge, such were their detail and sharpness.
Of course the perpetrator of the crime was never revealed. All I ever saw in these dreams was the look of anguish and terror on Martin’s face as he was dragged through darkened hallways, while never quite being able to reach him myself. Sometimes I would hear his screams echoing along lonely corridors, then there would be silence, until finally a haunting laughter would charge the air, filling the void left by the silencing of the screams, teasing me, tormenting me, until finally I would wake, calling out his name, my eyes filled with tears for the love I had lost.
Would tonight be any different, I wondered, as I flicked off the lights and opened a window, before then stripping out of my clothes and slipping between the sheets. Would Martin come to me in my dreams once more? Would he, this time, with us once again being so close together, finally help me unravel the mystery?
These were the thoughts that raced through my mind as I curled up into a ball, upon the bed we had so often shared, and closed my eyes. Pulling his pillow close to me, hugging it as if I was hugging him, his lingering scent seemed to comfort me, and that was how I finally managed to sleep.
* * *
‘Rick! Rick!’ a familiar voice was calling.
‘Go away!’ I tersely replied. ‘Can’t you see I’m trying to sleep here?’
‘You haven’t got time for sleep. There’s work to be done . . . and there are things you need to see,’ the voice chuckled, before adding in a more somber tone, ‘Please don’t give up on me. You’re so close to finding the answer you’re looking for.’
‘Fuck off, Marty. Just save your bullshit for later, will you . . .’
It was then that I was suddenly, totally awake, and finding myself sitting up in the bed, while rubbing sleep from my eyes.
‘Is that really you, Marty?’ I whispered, while looking around the darkened room, somewhat apprehensively, wondering in what shadowy corner he might be hiding. ‘Are you really there, babe?’
For a few moments there was nothing, but then a small gust of wind came whistling through the open window, billowing the curtain inwards and blowing open the year book I had earlier left on the bedside table.
‘Please don’t fuck with me, Marty. You know how I hate your practical jokes,’ I sighed.
As I peered into the darkness of the room there was nothing but silence. I could hear the sounds coming from outside . . . the surf on one side of us and the hum of the city just across the river . . . but within the boundaries of this sanctuary all was still and quiet.
Reaching out to the bedside table on my left I switched on the lamp, which at least lit up the room enough to see by, even if the corners of the room were still in shadow. I knew, of course, that Marty wasn’t here, but that still didn’t stop me from getting out of bed and taking a look around the room, just to reassure myself that it really wasn’t anything more than just another dream.
It was crazy . . . or perhaps it was just me who was crazy . . . but I even checked behind the sliding mirrored doors of the wardrobe. At least the curtains at the window didn’t reach all the way to the floor, so it was safe to assume that there was nobody lurking there.
Finally, when I was satisfied that I was indeed all alone, while shaking my head at my own cowardice, I retreated to the bed and crawled beneath the covers once more.
This wasn’t the first time that something like this had happened, so at least this time it didn’t freak me out as it had done previously. I guess that given my surroundings and the fact that I was in our bed, I actually should have expected at least something like this to happen.
It took a few minutes for me to settle back down again, after having just had both my heart and mind racing, but before long I was once again beginning to drift off to sleep, with recollections of my lover taking me on yet another trip through my not so distant past.
For a while that trip was a smooth one, with all the fun and happy occasions coming to mind. His smiling face. The love of his family. Fishing. Sailing. Exploring the wetlands and the dunes. They were good times, and they would never be forgotten.
But then the clouds began to gather, as they invariably did, and before long I found myself standing at the gates of our high school, staring at a white cross at the far end of the drive, while above me the storm began to boil and churn.
‘Walk with me,’ I heard Martin say from right beside me, and when I turned my head I found him standing there, holding his hand out for mine. As always, in my dreams at least, he was dressed just as he had been on that morning I had kissed him goodbye and wished him luck; in his school uniform of grey school pants and white shirt, accompanied by a maroon tie with the school emblem on it. With his hair trimmed and neatly combed into place he looked as handsome as always, and quite smart, ready to take on the world. This was how he would be forever remembered.
As I reached out my hand he gently took hold of me, then together we started the long walk down the driveway, toward that iconic cross. It was a school day, and it appeared to be the end of the day, as students and teachers bustled about, leaving their class rooms and heading for the front gates, happy and cheerful and discussing their plans for the afternoon or the upcoming weekend. As we walked hand in hand no one paid us any attention. It was as if we were totally invisible to them.
‘Where are we going?’ I asked him, but he simply looked at me and smiled.
When we reached the half way mark Martin stopped, and so I did too. When I looked at him he simply nodded toward the end of the driveway, and when I glanced that way I found myself doing a double-take, as there was another Martin, pushing his bike past the white cross.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked him.
‘Follow me,’ he simply replied. ‘That me, down there, with the bike,’ he added, while pointing.
I turned to look at the distant figure, pushing the red racing bike, then when I turned back to face the Martin that was standing beside me, I found that he was gone.
‘Shit!’ I muttered. I had no choice now, and so I set off after Martin and his bike.
It didn’t take long for me to realise where he was headed . . . toward the senior class rooms . . . although I had no idea if that was for a specific purpose, or just because they were located between the admin buildings and the exit. Nonetheless I hurried along, hoping to get close enough to see where he eventually went to, brushing past some of my classmates as I went, totally unseen, as I did so.
From a distance I even spotted Andrew and Mel, whom I knew I would be meeting on the road later, as they were climbing into their car. I also noticed that Josh Bell’s car was parked just near theirs, but so far there was no sign of him anywhere.
For a moment I lost sight of Martin, somewhere amongst the gardens and the throng of students, but then, just as I was about to panic I spotted him locking his bike to a railing and then entering one of the buildings.
‘Martin! Don’t!’ I screamed out to him, but it was no use. He couldn’t hear me.
Running as fast as I could I headed for the door, yanking it open and rushing inside, just in time to see Martin disappear around a corner at the end of the corridor. Suddenly everything seemed to change . . . the lights dimmed and things became blurred and even shadowy. Reality had ceased to exist. It was like I was in another world, one where time, sound and motion operated on a whole different level, one where all movement was in slow motion and sounds stretched out, almost to forever.
‘Maarrttiinnnnn . . .’ I heard myself scream out, but of course there was no response.
Running down the corridor as best I could, in what seemed to me to be more like a slow and disjointed stumble, I reached the corner where I had last seen Martin disappear. Once again I caught a glimpse of him . . . but this time he wasn’t alone. He was with a man. A man who appeared to be surrounded by shadows.
Just as the two of them were passing through a doorway and I knew I would lose sight of them once more, his new companion turned and looked back at me. In that split second I could see that he was forcefully holding Martin by the arm. And as the shadows cleared, just briefly, for the first time I could also see his face.
Instantly I knew that I had seen him before.
He was pale, with a thin build, and dark hair, tinged at the sides with grey. He was a good looking man, distinguished even, but at the same time there was also something sinister about him.
The first time I had seen him had been on the train platform at Bondi station. The second time had been amongst the crowd which had gathered beside the Sydney Opera House.
He still reminded me of someone else I knew . . . but just who the fuck was he?
As I ran toward them I yelled out to Martin, but it was as if he didn’t even hear me. Then they were gone, the door slamming shut even before I’d made it to half way.
When I reached the solid door I tried the handle, I tried shaking the door, pushing at it or pulling on it, but there was no use. The door was locked. There was no way in, so running back to the other corridor I started searching for any open doors that might just bring me closer to Martin and the stranger holding him captive. I had to try and do something!
The second door I tried proved to be another corridor, and it looked like it ran parallel to the first, so without any hesitation I started running down it. On one side there were windows, which faced outside, while on the other side there were numerous doors, spaced well apart, with each of them also having a window. When I looked through the first of them that I came to I could see it was a classroom. Giving the door handle a try I soon found that it was locked also, so I hurried on to the next one.
I tried three more doors, without success, but when I reached the last door and took a look inside I found a scene which horrified me. There was Martin, naked and tied face down across a desk.
I tried the door handle, but it too was locked. I banged on the door. I yelled. I cursed. I cried. But nothing worked.
Looking around me I soon noticed a fire extinguisher mounted on the wall just a little way away, so I ran to that and grabbed it, bringing it back with me to try and smash in the window.
With every ounce of energy I had I swung that extinguisher at the glass. It came in contact, but nothing happened. Again and again I tried smashing at that window, but yet again it stood strong.
When I paused for a moment and looked inside once more, I spotted the stranger standing with Martin. He too was naked and sporting a gigantic erection. His intentions were obvious, as he ran a hand over the globes of Martin’s bum, then down the cleft between his cheeks, before pausing and then pushing a finger inside, then two, then three, thrusting his hand forward and back. Judging by the pearls of liquid that were dripping from the end of his cock, he was clearly enjoying what he was doing.
While this was happening Martin was flipping his head from side to side, trying to look back to see what was going on, but with the way he had been securely tied that was impossible.
Once more I began bashing at the door with the extinguisher, again and again and again, until my arms were about to fall from their sockets and my back was aching. Tears were falling from my face as I called out Martin’s name, over and over again.
When I dropped the extinguisher, exhausted, I looked once more at the scene inside that classroom. Martin was looking straight at me, his face contorted by fear, tears streaming down his face, his eyes pleading with me to do something, before I saw him mouth the words, ‘Help me.’
As I wrestled with the fact there was nothing I could do, I noticed the animal that was holding him spread his cheeks apart and line up his massive cock with Martin’s hole. The precious gift that Martin had saved for me was about to be taken away, and I knew that Martin’s very life itself would be next.
‘Noooooo . . .’ I screamed, as the stranger’s hips thrust forward, his cock driving deep, impaling Martin in one massive, painful thrust.
Martin screamed, his cries echoing around the room and along the halls, as his rapist thrust in and out of him, then from seemingly out of nowhere a knife appeared in his hand, which he raised up high above the bare back of my lover.
I stood transfixed, unable to believe that this was happening. Unable to believe what I had witnessed already, and what it was that I was about to witness.
The devil smiled at me, but then as his hand started to fall, tracing the arc that would finish at a point somewhere in Martin’s back, I screamed and turned away, shutting my eyes, unable to look upon this horror.
Martin screamed once more, as the blade must have sunk into him, while the laughter coming from his murderer sent chills down my spine, as it echoed all around me.
When I opened my eyes a few moments later I found that I was no longer at the school. I was no longer standing in that corridor. I was sitting up in bed, sweat dripping off me, my heart racing, my hands shaking and with tears streaming down my face.
Seconds later the door burst open as two almost naked teenage boys, their faces showing clear concern, came rushing into the dark room. Moments after that a concerned looking Tom and Beth also appeared at the doorway.
‘Are you all right, Coop?’ Shane ventured to ask.
‘Yeah, mate. I’m okay. It was just a nightmare.’