‘Are you sure you’re okay, Rick?’ Beth asked. ‘You look like you’ve seen a . . .’
She didn’t finish the sentence. And I was glad.
‘I’m fine, Beth. Thank you. I’ve been having pretty much the same nightmare on and off for years now, only tonight it was just a little bit worse than usual.’
‘Martin?’ she gently asked, to which I nodded in reply.
‘I guess being here, in this room, hasn’t helped . . . but I had to come back here eventually, didn’t I?’ I added.
‘Man, I thought something had hold of you by the way you screamed,’ Jimmy said. ‘That must have been some nightmare! I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like it.’
‘I’m sorry that I woke all of you,’ I said quietly. ‘I’ll be fine now. You should go back to bed and get some sleep. It’ll be morning before you know it.’
Looking at the four concerned faces all staring down at me I saw the boys nod, before then quietly slipping away and retreating to their bedroom.
‘What happened in your dream?’ Tom enquired.
Should I tell them, I wondered? Should I describe to them the scene in which their son is raped and murdered? Surely it was only a figment of my imagination anyhow, and had nothing to do with how the real murder scene played out? Or did it?
‘Maybe tomorrow,’ I said to them. ‘I’m sure that whatever happens in my dreams has nothing to do with reality. More than likely it’s just a product of my overactive imagination.’
Beth suddenly looked sad, almost as if she had been hoping for something more from me. Something that she could clutch onto, and which would give her some sort of closure.
‘Beth has had nightmares too,’ Tom said. Suddenly, I understood.
‘What do you see?’ I asked her, while patting a spot on the bed next to me, inviting her to sit, which she accepted.
‘Do you remember that day . . . when we went back to the school and went to your old classrooms looking for him?’ she asked.
‘Yes, of course. How could I forget?’
‘And that teacher we spoke to?’
‘Mr Corcoran? The art teacher?’
‘I don’t remember his name. I do remember I thought he was kind of . . . odd, though.’
‘That’s just how he was all the time,’ I replied, quickly recalling my own dealings with the man. ‘He was a bit of a strange one, and one of those touchy-feely kind of guys, although I know that Martin seemed to have liked him.’
‘I dreamed it was him. I know it’s crazy . . . I don’t even know the man.’
‘It’s not crazy at all. The counselors I saw all reckon that the last person you see in a situation like this will often be the first person you try to associate with whatever it was that happened. A grieving person often needs to lay the blame somewhere.’
‘And what about you?’ Tom asked. ‘Who do you see in your dreams?’
‘Up until tonight there’s never been a face,’ I replied. ‘They’ve always been these shadowy, faceless figures, and always leaving me in the dark. I’m often chasing after them as the culprit would drag Martin away . . .’
‘And tonight?’ Beth asked.
I hesitated for a moment, as I pondered telling them that it was Martin himself who was there showing me the way forward.
‘Tonight was different,’ I eventually said. ‘Tonight I saw everything . . . and the face of the man who did it and I just couldn’t do anything to save him. That’s what woke me up screaming . . .’ I sniffed.
‘And was it anyone you recognized?’ asked Tom.
‘Kind of,’ I answered. ‘It was the guy from this week . . . the guy who I thought might be stalking me. But I’m still no closer to knowing who he is.’
‘Does he look anything like that art teacher?’ Beth asked, hopefully.
‘No, Mama, he doesn’t. I wish it could be that easy, but this guy is clean shaven, thin, even a little athletic. Everything that Mr Corcoran wasn’t.’
‘Oh,’ she replied.
‘If it’s any consolation . . . well, it was for me at least, but I don’t think he went with the guy willingly,’ I offered.
‘I think we’d all like to believe that was the case,’ Tom remarked.
‘Oh, yes. He loved you, Rick,’ Beth added, ‘and I’m sure he wouldn’t have ever done anything like that which might have hurt you.’
‘I’m certain of that now too, Beth. But sometimes doubts can eat away at a person, however, and even if they’re unfounded the damage can be done. I have to admit that for a long while I had those doubts in my mind, so if nothing else, tonight has put my mind at ease . . . at least until something else comes along to prove otherwise.’
Beth gave me a tired smile, before then kissing me on the cheek.
‘I think you need to go back to bed,’ she ordered, as she stood up. ‘Like you said, morning will be here soon enough.’
‘I think that’s a great idea,’ I replied.
After she and Tom had left, quietly closing the door behind them, I rolled over to turn out the bedside lamp, which I must have turned on after waking, even if I couldn’t remember doing so. As I did I noticed the school yearbook sitting open on the bedside table. Picking it up I looked at the page it was open on and immediately spotted the smiling face of Martin, amongst a group of others.
It looked to be a photo of the year twelve art class, and also amongst the group of about a dozen people, all gathered around a sculpture that was sitting on a desk, was Joshua Bell and Mr Corcoran.
Both of them appeared to be looking not at the camera, but at Martin.
With a frown I flipped the book shut and sat it back on the table, then switched off the lamp.
Was that just a coincidence, I wondered?
* * *
Sleep didn’t come easily for the remainder of that night, as I tossed and turned thinking about what I had seen in that dream.
As people often say, some things that have been seen cannot ever be unseen, and after watching something like that, and listening to the sound of a knife tearing into the flesh of someone you love, even in the guise of a dream, well, let’s just say those images and sounds get burned into your memory like nothing else ever could.
At some stage I must have finally managed to doze off, however, as when I finally awoke sunlight was streaming in through the front window and traffic was quite happily buzzing along the road outside.
After sitting up and swinging my legs over the side of the bed, then placing my feet on the floor, I rubbed my eyes and scratched my head, while trying to recall the events of the night beforehand. They came to mind all too readily, leaving me with fresh feelings of anger and guilt and sadness. What had been taken from me, and from Beth and Tom also, was irreplaceable and there was nothing that could ever take away the hurt which had been caused. Even the finding of the culprit and his arrest would do little to quell the heartache he had caused, but it would be something, at least.
A quick check of my watch told me that it was already after eight o’clock and I found myself being grateful that no one had disturbed me so far. Today was Friday, and the end of one hell of a week for me, although I knew it still wasn’t over just yet.
Getting to my feet I picked up the towel that Beth had left for me, then retrieved a clean pair of shorts, a t-shirt and some underwear from my carry-all, along with my toiletries bag. When I opened the bedroom door and walked out into the hallway I could hear voices coming from the direction of the kitchen, but I decided that a shower and change of clothes first would be the best way to start the day.
I noticed that the door to the guest room was also open, however the boys were nowhere to be seen. I figured that they would have been in the kitchen with Beth and Tom, so I slipped into the bathroom before I could be spotted and closed the door, before then stripping out of the underwear I had been sleeping in and stepping into the shower.
As warm water rushed over me, washing away the worries of a restless night, I felt myself slowly returning to normal, but I knew that it wouldn’t be until I’d managed a cup of coffee or two that I would truly be ready for the day.
When I finally made it to the kitchen about fifteen minutes later I found Beth there alone, drying dishes and packing them into the cupboard.
‘Good morning, Rick,’ she said when she spotted me walk through the door. ‘I hope you ended up getting at least some sleep last night?’
‘Good morning, Mama. I think I managed a few hours, eventually. I’m sorry I woke you all.’
‘Think nothing of it,’ she replied. ‘Now, I heard the shower running, so there are some eggs, just the way you like them, and some toast in the oven for you, being kept warm. And the jug has just boiled, so I’ll make you a coffee.’
‘Thank you. But you keep doing what you’re doing, I can get myself some coffee. Where are Tom and the boys?’
‘He said he was going to give them a tour of the back yard . . . and his shed. I saw them get some fishing rods from the shed, but after that the last I saw of them they were heading out the back gate and had set off in the direction of the boat ramp. That wasn’t long ago, though.’
‘Ahhhhh . . . well, at least it will keep them all occupied for a while,’ I replied, as I retrieved a mug from the cupboard, before adding some instant coffee, sugar and hot water to it.
As I looked out the back window I could see that both the door to Tom’s shed and the gate at the bottom of the yard were indeed open, and when I shifted my gaze along the line of fences which marked the boundaries of all the back yards of houses in this row, I spotted three heads bobbing along, heading in the direction of the boat ramp, fishing rods slung over their shoulders.
Behind the row of houses that stood on Nelson Bay Road, there was a strip of land about eighty metres wide which led down a slope to the edge of the Hunter River. The houses were safe and out of reach of the water on those rare occasions when the river flooded, but it was the mangroves which lined the river bank which usually bore the brunt of nature’s fury.
I remember many a game of neighbourhood cricket being played on that strip of land when we were kids, even if we were often interrupted by one of the neighbours driving through the middle of the game with their car while towing a boat on a trailer. They would either be heading to, or coming from, the boat ramp, which was located at the southern end of the strip, directly behind the second house in the row.
‘I think that Tom is going to enjoy having those boys around,’ Beth said, after noticing the direction where I was staring. ‘I’m sure that he misses all that boy stuff that he used to get up to with Martin and you. It’ll do him the world of good having something to do again,’ she added, sounding somewhat wistful.
‘And what about you?’ I asked. ‘What will you do?’
‘Oh, the usual, I suppose. Of course there’ll be extra cooking and cleaning and ironing to take care of, so I suspect that the three of them will enjoy being fussed over. And I still have my ladies group . . . you wouldn’t believe some of the things we’ve been getting up to lately,’ she said.
‘I’m almost afraid to even ask,’ I chuckled.
‘Anyhow, I’m going to love hearing the sound of young people in the house again. I think that’s one of the things that I’ve missed the most.’
Reaching out I put my arm around her shoulders and hugged her to me, kissing the side of her head as I did so.
‘There’s so much that we’ve all missed out on,’ I said to her. ‘Let’s just hope that everything goes to plan and that these two will get the chance to settle in here for a while.’
‘Yes. I think I’d like that,’ she replied, before slipping away from me and walking to the wall oven, then opening it and pulling from it a plate filled with steaming scrambled eggs.
‘Hmmm . . . smells great, as always,’ I said, as she set it on a placemat on the pine kitchen table. It didn’t take long for me to sit down, and after being passed some cutlery I tucked in, while Beth simply leaned back against the kitchen sink and watched, all the while grinning at me.
There was nothing on earth like Beth’s scrambled eggs, complete with some diced up onion, capsicum and tomato, and just a dash of curry to add some kick. I had long ago lost count of the number of times this meal had been served up to Martin and me of a weekend, and no matter how many times I had tried to duplicate the recipe while living on my own I could never get it just right.
‘Tom and I have been thinking,’ Beth said to me as I continued eating. ‘The boys don’t have much in the way of clothes and personal items, do they?’
‘No,’ I replied. ‘If I can borrow a car sometime today I thought I’d take them shopping and get a few things for them.’
‘Well, I guess they’re about the same size and age as you and Martin were . . .’ she began, before stopping herself.
I stopped eating and looked up at her.
‘Beth, you don’t have to do that,’ I said, remembering all too well how adamant she had been in the weeks following Martin’s death that nothing at all was to be removed from his room.
‘They’re only going to waste,’ she shrugged. ‘I’ve been meaning to take them to St. Vinnies or somewhere anyhow . . . it’s silly having a wardrobe full of clothes sitting there like that when someone could be getting some use out of them. You wouldn’t mind, would you?’
‘No, of course I wouldn’t mind. I just don’t quite know what to say. Thank you, I guess. And I’m sure the boys would appreciate the gesture.’
‘Of course some of them might be too small already, and you’ll still need to get them some new underwear and personal items,’ she added. ‘But if they’re not worried about hand-me-downs then there’s bound to be some clothes there which they can at least get some use out of.’
‘Mama, I truly can’t thank you enough,’ I replied. ‘You’re an absolute angel.’
‘Well, I guess that’s got to be better than some of the names I’ve been called over the years,’ she chuckled.
* * *
It wasn’t until a couple of hours later that Tom and the boys returned to the house. Of course they were without any fish, but all the same they were in good spirits.
From experience I knew that the best times for catching fish in the river around here were usually either at sunrise or sunset. I was sure that Tom knew that also, so I suspected that their little sojourn to the river bank was for something other than trying to catch dinner. I figured that Tom was simply trying to spend some time with them so that he could get to know them a little.
In their absence I had retreated once more to Martin’s room, with all full intentions of going back through more of those school yearbooks, and also getting a start on the photo albums. When Beth came in a short while later, however, and started looking through the wardrobe, my plans were quite quickly changed.
For a short time I helped her sort through and select some of the clothes I thought the boys could use . . . old jeans and button down shirts, shorts and t-shirts, a few rugby tops, plus some dress clothes, then we transferred them into the boys’ room and laid them out on the bed, so they could sort through them and try them on for size, once they had returned.
It was while we were doing this that I heard my phone ring, which I had left sitting on the table beside the bed, and so I left Beth with the clothes and went to answer it.
‘And about time, Golden Boy. What kept you?’ Helen demanded.
‘Just sorting through some of Martin’s old clothes for the boys,’ I replied.
‘And Beth doesn’t mind?’
‘Actually, it was her idea.’
‘God bless her.’
As we talked I started walking back through the house and out onto the back deck.
‘So, how was the trip back?’ I asked.
‘Oh, the trip was fine. It was the reception committee at the other end that had me worried for a few moments, though.’
‘When? Last night?’
‘Yeah. I dropped the rental off, then caught a cab to where my car was still parked. Just as I was unlocking it I heard a sound behind me and when I turned around there were two friends of ours standing there. Scared the crap out of me, I don’t mind telling you.’
‘The very same. Looks like they were lying in wait.’
‘Shit! What happened? What did they want?’
‘You mean other than to get me shaking like a leaf? They tried coming on all strong and belligerent, as you would expect, but when I explained to them that I had my hand wrapped around my service pistol in my handbag they soon took a step back and changed their attitude.’
‘I’d have liked to have seen that,’ I chuckled.
‘It seems they were looking for Shane, seeing as he wasn’t in the hospital any more. They demanded to know where we took him.’
‘What did you tell them?’
‘To fuck off! What else would you think I’d tell them?’ she laughed. ‘And in a round-about fashion they also tried finding out if I knew where some of the other lads may have disappeared to . . . in particular a blonde headed kid that had been running with Jarvis’ lot. Honestly, these guys are clueless. I get the feeling that they were clutching at straws and don’t even have any idea that we also have Jimmy and Casey safely tucked away.’
‘That’s good then. It takes a bit of pressure off.’
‘Yeah, I think you might be right there.’
‘So, if Shane is their focus, because he’s the only one that has popped up on the radar, I bet they’re thinking that if they can find him and get him to talk to them, he might just lead them to Casey. Then, once they have their hands on Casey they will be able to silence him, all to protect their master! That must have been their end game all along!’
‘Priceless, isn’t it?’
‘It’s beyond priceless! Have you spoken to Richardson about it?’
‘Yeah, we had a session this morning. Me and him, along with Warwick Cooke and a couple of Internal Affairs guys. We filled them in on what we’re certain has been happening with Barrett, Azzopardi and Ryan, and how they’re tied up with Jarvis. They’ve also read Jimmy and Shane’s statements, so they know that they can both put the finger on Barrett and the others. Internal Affairs thinks that it might reach higher than just Barrett, however . . . they’re thinking that there has to be people above Barrett who are in the know, seeing as every time there’s a hint of scandal about him it quickly gets covered up. They want to act, and they want to act quickly, but they really need to talk to Casey and get his statement first . . .’
‘But?’ I asked, sensing the hesitancy in her voice.
‘But . . . I don’t want it to be here, or in any other station . . . and especially not at Cathy and Megan’s house either. I don’t want to put Casey, or Cath and Megan for that matter, in a position where they could be got at if someone gets a whiff of where the kid is staying. I’ve told IA that I won’t produce him unless I can guarantee that he can’t be got at.’
‘That makes sense.’
‘So, you got any ideas, hot-shot?’
‘Let me sleep on it,’ I answered.
‘Well, you better make it a fucking quick nap, because it’s got to happen today!’
‘Okay. I’ll have a think and call you back shortly. Oh, hey, has there been any word on Jimmy Tan?’
‘No, nothing, and now I’m really getting worried,’ Helen replied. ‘And Elvira is simply beside herself . . . she’s certain something has happened to him.’
‘And what about you?’
‘Like I said, I’m worried . . . actually, I’m more than worried . . .’
‘I’m sure he’ll turn up,’ I replied, trying to sound much more confident than I was feeling. That same nagging feeling that I had experienced earlier was back again.
‘Yeah, but in what state?’ Helen sighed.
‘And what about that project?’ I asked, suddenly wanting to change the subject slightly, while also realising that the Mardi Gras was little more than a week away.
‘I spoke to the Inspector and he understands the difficulties we’re having. We’re thinking that if Elvira can muster together a few dancers for on the float, we’ll put a call out to all the stations and try to get some uniformed officers just to march in front of it. It may not be ideal, but it’ll be better than nothing . . .’
‘Just make sure they’re young, good looking and not wearing very much!’ I chuckled.
‘Just be careful what you wish for, sunshine . . . you’ll probably end up being the one leading the parade and twirling the baton!’
‘Not fucking likely!’ I spat back, at which she simply laughed.
After that we disconnected and sensing some movement down at the bottom of the yard I looked up to see Tom and the boys coming through the back gate, fishing rods in hand and deep in conversation. The boys were smiling, obviously having enjoyed their morning and Tom’s company.
They waved when they saw me on the deck at the back of the house, before then disappearing inside Tom’s shed to put the fishing gear away, emerging shortly afterwards and heading toward the house.
‘I thought you were going to bring something home for lunch?’ I called out to them.
‘Nothing biting,’ Jimmy replied, sounding somewhat down about that fact.
‘But we saw a shark in the river,’ Shane added excitedly.
Looking at Tom I could see him grinning. ‘Maybe we just need to try at some other time of the day,’ he mused.
‘I’d try around sundown if I were you guys,’ I offered. ‘There’s bound to be something out and about feeding around then.’
‘You reckon?’ asked Jimmy.
‘Yeah, mate. I reckon. Now, how about you guys head inside and wash up. Beth has something she wants to show you both.’
In two strides the pair of them bounded up the steps and onto the deck, before kicking off their dirty joggers and heading inside.
Seeing what must have been an amused expression on my face Tom said, ‘We all had a good chat this morning and I took the opportunity to explain a few things to them about how things work around here. I also had a listen to some of the things that worry them both . . . they’ve certainly had to put up with a great deal these past few years.’
‘I think they both could do with some guidance, Tom. And you’re just the man to do it, I reckon.’
‘Oh, I’m not so sure about that. I do know that they both just need some loving . . . and the chance to just be themselves, without the pressures associated with having to make other people happy.’
‘That’s something that they wouldn’t have been able to experience in a long time, I would imagine.’
‘No. You’re right there. For the past couple of years their lives have apparently been ruled by a tyrant. They haven’t been able to forge any kind of lasting relationships, apart from with some of the other boys, so obviously it’s going to take some time for them to adjust to the real world.’
‘You got all that out of them from one failed fishing trip?’ I teased.
‘That and a bit more,’ he chuckled.
‘And what’s the rest of it then?’
‘They both seem to have a pretty high opinion of you. You’ve made one hell of an impression on them, and on that other boy as well. What was his name?’
‘Casey,’ I replied.
‘Yeah. That’s him. You didn’t go into much detail last night when you mentioned him, but the boys told me some of the things that have happened to him. Pretty harrowing stuff.’
‘Yeah, it is. He’s safe now, though, and hopefully we’ll be able to get him out of Sydney as well.’
‘He said he has an uncle up bush somewhere who he is pretty sure is gay, so we’re going to try and track him down to see if he’ll take him in.’
‘And if that doesn’t work out?’
‘I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,’ I replied.
* * *
When Tom and I finally made it inside we found Beth and the boys down in their room, going through the clothes that had been laid out for them. I had kind of expected them to be a little hesitant about the idea of wearing someone else’s clothes, however, they both seemed quite pleased with the idea.
‘How about we let you boys try them on, while we go and put the kettle on. Whatever you decide to keep we’ll put through the washing machine and freshen them up, then if there are any that are too small just put them aside and we’ll do a run to the St. Vincent de Paul store later on,’ Beth suggested, while ushering Tom and me straight back out the door.
As Beth filled the electric jug and switched it on we could hear the excited chatter coming from down the hallway.
‘It sounds to me like they are enjoying themselves down there,’ I remarked.
‘Well, I don’t suppose that they’d have been able to experience things like Christmas or their birthdays too often over the past few years,’ Beth mused. ‘When you don’t have much, and don’t have family around you, I imagine that being given something, even just clothes, can be quite a big deal.’
‘Thank you, to both of you, for this, and for everything you are doing,’ I said.
‘Enough with the thanks, already,’ Tom scolded. ‘We’re just happy that we are in a position to be able to help, and I’d like to think that all we’re doing is what any good hearted person would do.’
Before I could respond we heard the sound of laughter coming from their bedroom, then Shane calling out for me, asking me to come down to their room.
‘I bet this’ll be good,’ I said, before leaving Beth and Tom in the kitchen and heading down the hall toward the sound of their voices.
‘What’s your problem?’ I asked when I got to the doorway. Shane was standing with his back to me, wearing only his underwear, while Jimmy was directly in front of him.
‘Oh, good. How do you tie these damn things?’ Shane asked me. As he stepped aside I found that he had nicked my own neck-tie, the one I had been wearing yesterday, from Martin’s room and was now trying to fasten it around his boyfriend’s neck.
When I looked Jimmy up and down I noticed he was wearing a pair of dark blue dress trousers and a white shirt, topped off with my blue-checkered tie hanging loosely around his neck.
‘Very smart,’ I said to him. ‘Now, give me a go at this.’
While I quickly looped the tie and fixed the knot, Shane pulled on a pair of dark grey pants and a black shirt, a combination that I recalled Martin wearing often. When I turned around and saw him standing there my heart gave a sudden lurch in my chest. Dressed that way, and with his darker hair and features, it was like Martin was standing there once again. The resemblance was quite uncanny. I just hoped that Tom and Beth would be able to handle seeing him like that.
‘So, what do you think?’ Shane asked as he posed before me.
‘I’m speechless,’ I replied honestly. ‘Just hang on . . . I’ll see if I can find a tie for you too,’ I added, before ducking into Martin’s room and sliding open the wardrobe doors and finding Martin’s collection of ties hanging there.
Returning to their room, with a bright pink tie in hand (one which Martin had bought specially for a party we had gone to, as I recall), I quickly wrapped it around his neck and tied it, despite his attempts at protesting.
‘That suits you,’ Jimmy teased him.
‘Fuck you,’ came the terse reply.
‘What? I was trying to be nice!’ Jimmy pleaded. ‘You look hot.’
‘You really think so?’
‘I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it, Doofus!’ Jimmy replied, while giving his boyfriend a playful shove.
‘What do you think, Coop?’
‘What he said,’ I answered. ‘You look so hot I might just have to steal you off him myself!’
‘Hey! Cut that out, Coop! He’s already taken, and you ain’t getting your grubby old hands on him!’ Jimmy decreed.
‘Relax, Jimmy,’ I laughed. ‘You’re both safe, and you both look sensational . . . like you’re almost ready for a big date. Now, before you come out to the kitchen just go into the bathroom and tidy your hair up a bit. I’ll go and tell them to put their sunglasses on so their eyes don’t get hurt by the dazzling beauty that they’re about to see.’
‘Very fucking funny!’ Jimmy declared.
I was still laughing when I reached the kitchen, where Beth and Tom were both fussing around fixing some cups of coffee for us and pouring cokes for the boys.
‘I think you had best brace yourselves,’ I said to them as I entered the room.
‘Oh, why’s that?’ Tom enquired.
‘You’re about to see a couple of amazing make-overs!’ I warned. ‘And when you see Shane, I don’t think it will be just him who you’ll be seeing.’
They both looked at me with rather quizzical expressions on their faces, but I said nothing more, before next we heard the sound of footsteps coming up the hall and Jimmy announcing, ‘Coming, ready or not!’
The three of us turned to face the doorway, just as the boys arrived. They stopped and quickly posed themselves, mimicking the pose that Martin and I had struck out the back by the river all those years ago; standing back to back and at something of an angle, their arms folded across their chests and with cheeky grins on their faces.
‘Oh, my Lord,’ I heard Beth gasp as she looked at the pair of them, before quickly turning and burying her face against her husband’s chest.
Tom and I both looked from the boys to the picture of Martin and me on the wall, which was almost right beside where they stood, and back again. I was sure that the three of us must have all thought the same thing; that Shane was the spitting image of Martin all over again.
‘What’s the matter?’ I heard Shane ask, sounding quite concerned. ‘Have we done something wrong?’
‘No, Shane, everything’s fine,’ Tom answered. ‘I think you’ve just given Beth a bit of a surprise, that’s all.’
‘Take a look at the photo on the wall,’ I said quietly as I walked over to where they both stood, looking somewhat shell-shocked, and embraced them. ‘You both look amazing, so handsome all dressed like that, but Shane, you look so much like Martin it’s spooky,’ I whispered to him. ‘How about you both go and change into something a bit more casual . . . some jeans and t-shirts or something, then I’ll take you across to a nearby shopping centre and get a few other things that you’ll need, all right?’
They nodded and quietly slipped out of the kitchen and went back to their room.
‘I’m so sorry Beth . . . I should have realised . . .’ I meekly stated.
‘No, it’s quite okay, Rick. Really. It was a bit of a surprise, but I’m fine,’ she said, as she dabbed at her eyes with the sleeve of her blouse.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Positive. And you did warn us,’ she sniffed, before offering me a wan smile.
As she sat down at the kitchen table, with Tom passing her a cup of tea, she looked back up at the picture on the wall. I thought for a moment that she was about to say something, but just then my phone started to ring in my pocket, which spoiled the moment.
Glancing at the display screen I could see that it was Helen, so I pressed the button to connect.
‘Hi. Sorry, but I haven’t had a chance to figure anything out yet,’ I quickly said, deciding to get in early.
‘That’s not why I’m calling,’ she replied, in a voice that sounded ominously flat. Immediately I was on guard.
‘Jimmy Tan has turned up.’
Judging by her voice the news wasn’t good.
‘And in what sort of state?’ I ventured to ask.
‘Same as Martin and Alexis,’ she replied flatly, the anguish in her voice clearly evident.
‘Oh, god! I’m so sorry.’
‘It’s not your fault, Rick,’ she replied.
She was right of course. It wasn’t my fault. But somehow I still couldn’t help but think that I was at least partly to blame!