‘Do I need to remind you, Cooper, of just where you are, and who you’re talking to?’ Mr Cunningham quickly responded, trying his best to assert his authority. ‘That type of language is simply not acceptable here, as I am sure you are fully aware!’
‘Forgive me, sir. Perhaps I did forget myself there for a moment . . .’ I replied in as steady a voice as I could possibly muster, which itself was something I was finding extremely difficult to control. ‘But perhaps I could remind you of something?’ I added, while leaning slightly forward in my seat, hoping to intimidate him just a little.
It seemed to work, as he leaned back in his chair, as if trying to get away from me.
‘A student of this school was murdered, in an extremely violent manner, and quite possibly on these grounds . . .’ I continued.
‘There was never any proof . . .’ he began to say, but I quickly cut him off by holding up a hand and demanding to be let finish.
After hearing of Corcoran’s actions visions of my nightmare had come flooding back to me once more . . . seeing Martin there, bound and helpless, while the rapist had his way with him. Was this actually what happened to him? Was my dream more than just a figment of my imagination?
It was beginning to appear so!
‘Then, less than a year later,’ I continued, ‘one of your staff members is caught in a storeroom with a male student, gagged, his pants down, and in the process of having his hands and feet bound to a desk,’ I seethed, ‘and you do NOTHING!!! What would have happened if that event hadn’t been discovered? Had you ever given that any consideration? Just how far would that sick bastard have gone, do you think? Was he just having some fun . . . or maybe it could have ended in another murder, perhaps?’
For what seemed like an eternity we studied each other in silence across the desk. The school principal and former student, each now seeing the other in a different light.
‘I . . . I had no choice,’ he finally stammered.
‘And what the fuck is that supposed to mean?’ I demanded, not caring at all about where I was or in whose company.
‘I was acting on the instructions of the school board . . . it was important that the school, and the diocese, avoid any hint of scandal . . . at all cost. Daniel Corcoran was dismissed immediately and a settlement was subsequently reached with the victim and his family . . .’
‘And you didn’t think for one minute to report it to the police . . . especially when you knew a gay student from this school disappeared from here and had been brutally murdered, and less than a year before?’
‘I . . . I simply couldn’t . . .’ he replied, as he slumped back in his seat, looking and sounding both sad and defeated. ‘My hands were tied.’
I had once had the utmost respect for this man, but now I had seen and heard more than enough, and so I stood up. I suddenly needed to get out of this place and get as far away from here as possible.
Picking up the damning file which contained the indiscretions of Daniel Corcoran, former art teacher, I started for the door, before stopping and turning to face him once more.
‘Mr Cunningham,’ I began. ‘You always treated us well, both Martin and me, and you made sure that the years we spent here were largely trouble free. For that I will always be extremely grateful, but now . . . now it appears that I will only ever be able to remember you as the person whose inaction caused the deaths of two more innocent people. And that is only that we know of.’
‘What? What do you mean?’ he choked, his ashen face looking up at me, aghast.
‘Before today, Mr Corcoran was just one of the suspects we had begun looking into regarding Martin’s death,’ I coldly replied. ‘But right now I’d be willing to bet money on the fact that it was actually him. Two other murders have also taken place in Sydney in this past week, and for both of them the facts are identical to Martin’s death. Should all three deaths actually be attributed to Corcoran, your not informing the police of what happened here four years ago could very well have contributed to the deaths of those two young men!’
‘I . . . I had no idea,’ he whispered.
‘This isn’t the end of it, and I hope you realise that, Mr Cunningham? What do you think your precious school board will think of that, I wonder?’ I asked, before opening the door and leaving him.
The sound of the door being closed forcefully seemed to echo along the hallway, as I headed for where I knew Rosie would be seated. Curious heads turned my way as I passed offices, but I paid no attention to them.
‘Is everything all right?’ Rosie asked when I presented myself to her desk.
‘It will be, thank you,’ I replied. ‘I was wondering if you could get me the files for a couple of ex-students please, Rosie?’
‘Of course, Rick. We’ve been instructed to provide whatever is needed. Whose records do you need?
‘Cory Harrison and Joshua Bell,’ I replied, thinking that I would still need to follow up on Joshua, even if nothing more than to satisfy my own curiosity.
‘Just give me a few moments and I’ll pull them from the archives,’ she replied.
* * *
When I stepped out into the afternoon sunlight once more, just a few minutes later, I carried with me the requested files. I was trying to recall what Cory looked like, as after all he had been in the year below me at school, but no doubt I would be able to find him in the yearbooks. Perhaps then I would be able to put a face to the name?
I knew that I needed to talk to him about what had happened, but even before meeting him I had a feeling that both Cory and Martin would have had quite a lot in common. I felt sure that there had to be a common denominator connecting the two . . . some reason why Corcoran would target them both. Did they look alike? Were they both in Corcoran’s art class? There just had to be some connection between them?
Without realising it I had stopped in front of the building as soon as I had stepped outside and it was only when I heard a car horn a few moments later that I discovered I was standing in front of that large white cross and staring up at it. It seemed like no matter what I did in life, I just couldn’t escape that damned thing!
As I stood there contemplating my next move my phone started ringing, and upon checking the number I saw that it was Adam.
‘Hey, babe,’ I said, as I checked my watch and noticed it was already nearing four. ‘Have you left yet?’
‘I’ve been held up a bit and I’m just getting in my car now,’ he replied. ‘How is everything going up there?’
‘Oh, just swimmingly,’ I answered, but I knew that the tone of my voice would have been a dead giveaway as to just how things were really going.
‘Ohhh—kayyy then. How about you tell me all about it over dinner? Did you find a place to stay?’
‘Errr . . . yeah. How do you like the idea of waking up to water views . . . the sound of the ocean close by and waves almost lapping at your doorstep?’ I asked him, without totally giving away my game plan.
‘Oh yeah, and what’s this going to set me back?’ he chuckled.
‘Not a thing. It’s on me. You just get your arse in that car and hit the road, then ring me when you get to Kooragang Island and I’ll talk you through the last couple of miles if you like.’
‘All right then. I’ll see you in a few hours.’
After he had disconnected I stood there for a few moments just grinning at my phone, with the excitement starting to build in me, knowing that soon not only would I be seeing him again, but I would also be introducing him to Martin’s parents. I knew that it had the potential to be awkward, but I also knew that Tom and Beth would be true to their word and would welcome him with open arms. I actually felt like I finally had something that was worth smiling about.
Snapping out of my reverie I suddenly remembered the folders I was holding and the fact that there was information which I still needed, and so I headed for Beth’s car. Once I was in the driver’s seat I took another look at Cory’s file and checked his address, which I knew was relatively close to the school. I had no idea if he or his parents still lived there, but seeing as I was already so close I figured that paying them a visit was at least worth a shot.
Starting the car I backed it out of the parking space, then sped off in the direction of the exit and then out onto the street, eager to get as far away from Cunningham and the school as I possibly could.
After a short drive and a couple of wrong turns . . . after all it had been a while since I had visited these haunts . . . I pulled up in front of a small weatherboard cottage. The area wasn’t the best part of town, and the houses showed that, but that wasn’t particularly of concern to me. I had other things to worry about.
For a few moments I simply sat there, going over things in my mind once more. I seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. Everyone who I had met and dealt with this past week, from my new work colleagues to those who were no longer with us, seemed to be there in my thoughts. But despite all of that, there was someone else who seemed to be taking front and centre, especially now that I had finally admitted my feelings for him . . . and that was Adam.
In spite of everything I couldn’t wait to see him again this afternoon, and just that thought was making all of this bearable.
I didn’t know what was going to happen once I stepped out of the car and knocked on that front door. All I was hoping for was for somehow to be able to get in contact with Cory. Perhaps his family was still living here, or if not, then hopefully whoever was living here now could give me a forwarding address.
Getting out of the car I headed for the gate, which stood open in the centre of a rickety paling fence, then up a cracked cement path and toward the front verandah. Before I could even reach the first step, however, the front door opened and a young man, perhaps just a year or two younger than me, stepped outside to greet me.
For a few moments we stood there looking each other up and down, and while I did think he looked somewhat familiar to me, I didn’t think I knew him. He had a solid build and tanned skin, with short blonde hair, and was wearing faded pink Billabong board shorts and a once white singlet that appeared to be stained by splatters of paint.
‘G’day, Cooper,’ he finally said. ’It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you around here.’
‘Yeah . . . hi,’ I replied, my thoughts having been thrown off centre for a few moments as I scrambled back through my memory banks. ‘I’m sorry, but do we know each other?’
He didn’t look pissed off or angry. In fact he kind of looked like he was pleased to see me, but that still didn’t help me put a name to the face.
‘I’m not surprised you don’t remember me, but yeah, me and my boyfriend were in the year below you at Waratah High,’ he said.
‘Are you Cory?’
‘No, that’s that other half. I’m Robbie Richards,’ he said, as he stepped forward and stretched out his hand for me, which I duly shook.
‘Oh, hang on, you were one of that pair of kids Martin and I stopped from getting beat up in the toilets that time?’ I asked. ‘You used to have long shaggy hair, am I right? And so Cory must have been the other one. So, he’s still around here then?’
‘Bingo! And yeah, we live here together. His folks retired and set off on one of those round Australia holidays, so it’s just the two of us . . . and their dog, of course. He should be home from school fairly soon . . .’
‘Yeah, he’s a primary school teacher across the river. This is his first year out of university.’
‘Ahhh . . . now I’m with you. I’ve been trying to come up with an image of him for the last hour or so, but I know now. He’s a tall and skinny black haired guy, and always looked a bit shaggy too? And didn’t he play in a band or something?’
‘Yep, that was him. Geez, you’re on a roll now!’ Robbie laughed.
‘And he’s a teacher now? Good for him.’
I could remember them both, always together, but I didn’t ever think that they were actually a couple. With his mop of blonde hair, I guess Robbie and I weren’t that dissimilar in looks, while Cory had been a good looking guy himself.
‘He always wondered if you’d ever come around to see him,’ Robbie stated, as he pointed to a chair on the verandah. We both sat down.
‘About what?’ I asked, knowing full well what his answer would be.
‘The old art teacher . . . Corcoran . . . that’s why you’re here isn’t it?’ he replied, to which I could only nod. ‘So, you know about what happened between Cory and that scumbag?’
‘Only just,’ I answered, before adding, ‘I’m a cop now and as there have been some new developments relating to Martin Oliver’s murder, so I’ve been at the school talking to Cunningham. I’ve only just found out about what happened between Cory and Corcoran.’
‘Yeah, the bastards at the school made certain that it was kept quiet,’ Robbie remarked.
‘You’re certainly not wrong about that.’
‘And what about Corcoran? Do you think he had something to do with what happened to Martin?’
‘Well, he was already a suspect in Martin’s death, but after finding out about Cory today, I think the odds of his being involved have just shortened.’
He nodded, but didn’t say anything for the time being, so I simply let the silence stretch out between us.
‘We were so sorry about Martin, you know. He was one of the good guys . . . you both were, actually. We all looked up to you. For younger gay kids at that school, knowing that there were others just like them who were leading the way, it made it . . . I guess, easier for us all.’
‘Thank you. I really had no idea at the time that there were others . . . although it stands to reason that there were.’
‘Anyhow, after, well . . . what happened . . . Cory and I always had this feeling that Corcoran also had something to do with what happened to Martin. But that fucking school made Cory and his family sign agreements though, so they wouldn’t ever spill the beans, in exchange for the cash,’ he said, with just a hint of bitterness in his voice. ‘They were more worried about their precious reputation than they were about the welfare of their kids.’
‘That explains a lot,’ I remarked.
‘He . . . he still has nightmares about the whole thing, you know,’ he added.
‘So do I, mate. And all too often, let me tell you,’ I replied. ‘And what about you? If Cory is a teacher, what do you do with yourself?’
‘Oh, I’m just a struggling artist. Can’t you tell?’ he chuckled, while pointing at his paint splattered clothes. ‘We get by with what Cory earns, and the bit of money I get from selling paintings we’re putting aside so that one day we can buy our own place. Our dream is for a nice place up the coast somewhere, with some acres, ocean views and plenty of room. I’ll have to sell a lot of fucking paintings to make that a reality though.’
At the mention of the word artist my interest was piqued.
‘An artist, huh? So you were in Corcoran’s class?’
‘Yeah . . . the sleazy fuck. It was like he was always coming on to me, trying to touch me and stuff.’
‘Yeah, I remember that too.’
‘Were you in his class too, then?’
‘No, but Marty was. That didn’t stop him from trying though . . . every time I was anywhere near him. What did you do? How did you handle it?’
‘I told him to back the hell off, otherwise I would go to the principal.’
‘And did that work?’
‘And how long after that was it before he tried it on with Cory?’ I asked, as my brain started churning through the data, trying to come up with possible scenarios.
‘Only a matter of weeks, really.’
As I contemplated what he was saying my phone started ringing once again. It was Helen, and so I excused myself for the moment and said I needed to take the call, then stepped down off the verandah.
‘Hi. How did it go?’ I said to her after pressing the button and connecting.
‘Pretty damn good. I expected them to be all hard-arsed, but they treated the kid well and in the end they got everything they needed. Megan talked one of the partners into taking the kid on, so he got looked after. Casey never missed a beat, even when they tried tricking him up, and with Jimmy and Shane’s statements to back up what Casey was saying it was almost like they could smell the blood in the water.’
‘That’s great. So, what do they do next? Are they likely to make arrests, or at least haul them in for questioning, this quickly?’
‘I don’t know. They said they’ll need to review everything and talk to their superiors, so I’ll let you know what happens just as soon as I know it. So, how are things up there? Are you getting anywhere?’
‘It’s Corcoran, the art teacher. I’m sure of it,’ I replied. ‘I’m still not sure about my Sydney stalker, but Corcoran got the sack the year after Martin was killed . . . he was found with a boy in a storeroom. The school and the local diocese swept it under the carpet, not wanting to attract any negative publicity, even paid the victim and his family some hush money.’
‘Fuck! And have you got a statement yet?’
‘No, I’m just waiting for the victim, Cory Harrison, to come home so I can talk to him. The school principal gave me the teacher’s file . . . that’s how I found out . . . and I’ve just been talking to Cory’s boyfriend, who also went to school there.’
‘Any idea of a motive yet?’
‘I’m still working on that, but there are certainly some similarities between Martin and Cory, so I have some ideas. In the meantime, can you start the ball rolling with trying to find out what you can about Corcoran?’ I asked, as I started for the car. ‘Just give me a sec and I’ll give you his details from the file. Somehow we need to try and find where he’s been for the past four years, in particular for the past couple of weeks.’
I walked back out onto the street and retrieved the folder from the passenger seat of the car and opened it, then read out Corcoran’s personal details to her. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy tracking him down, especially after four years, but at least it was a start. Hopefully, if he’s continued to behave in the same manner, there might be some record of him in the system.
‘Okay, got it!’ Helen said once she had finished taking down the details. ‘I’ll see what we can do.’
As I walked back toward the house I heard a car slowing down, and when I looked that way I noticed a small silver car turned into the driveway. The driver appeared to be staring at me all the while as he pulled to a stop, then after switching off the ignition and getting out of the vehicle he continued to hold me in his gaze.
It was obvious he knew who I was, so I started walking toward him, but then he looked away, as if he was unsure about whether or not he wanted to meet me. Robbie got to his feet and came over to where I was standing, placing a hand on my shoulder and saying quietly, ‘Just give him a minute. He still finds it difficult to talk about it all,’ before continuing over to where Cory stood and taking one of his hands in his.
‘He’s got some news,’ I heard Robbie say, at which point Cory’s head snapped back toward me.
‘Is the bastard dead yet?’ Cory asked.
‘Sadly, no,’ I replied. ‘But I’d really like to talk with you if I could,’ I added, before pulling back my jacket to expose my police badge once more. ‘I’m a cop now. I’m sure you remember my boyfriend, Martin? There have been some developments in his murder case, so that’s why I’m here.’
I saw his eyes widen at the site of the badge, then he looked back up at my face.
‘Was it Corcoran?’ he asked, his voice barely more than a whisper.
‘We’re beginning to think so,’ I answered.
* * *
Cory Harrison, who was no longer the skinny rock and roller I had remembered, was now a well-dressed, well presented, and gorgeous young man. It would be almost two hours later before I finally left their house, my head filled with information about Corcoran and what he did, after finally being able to coax a statement out of his victim.
It took a little prompting, but Cory finally opened up, and once he had begun describing what happened to him it was almost as if he was describing the dream I’d had last night, sending shivers down my spine as he did so.
It was all the same. The dark hallways. The locked doors. The sense of a skewed reality which he described. It made me think that perhaps he was drugging the boys in some way, so they would put up less of a fight.
‘Can you remember him giving you anything?’ I asked Cory. ‘A drink, or a smoke of something? Or did he prick you with a needle?’
‘I . . . no . . . I can’t remember . . .’ Cory answered.
‘But he eventually managed to tie you to a desk or a table of some sort?’
‘Yeah. I do remember that,’ he said, as I jotted down his response.
‘And did you put up a fight?’
‘I don’t know,’ he snapped.
I looked across at Robbie and noticed him shake his head at me slightly. I nodded, realising that I had probably pushed that little bit too far, so I decided I needed to change tack. He was obviously right when he said that Cory still found it difficult to talk about it all.
‘So, Robbie, you said you were an artist. Is that one of yours?’ I asked, getting to my feet and walking over toward a painting on the wall. It was a stunning picture of two surfers standing on a beach with their boards, silhouetted against an incredible, fiery sunrise.
‘Yes, it is,’ he answered as he joined me. ‘I took some photos of Cory one morning when we were at the beach early. Both of those figures in the painting are actually him.’
‘It’s brilliant,’ I said. ‘I’d love to see some more of your works, if I may?’
‘Of course. My studio is just out the back. I’ll take you through,’ he said, before turning to Cory and saying, ‘Do you want to come out too, babe?‘
Cory looked up at him, and then at me. I could see he was having difficulty handling the fact that the whole sorry saga had been dragged back up again, but I wasn’t sure what I could do to help. I figured if we gave him some time to gather his thoughts that might help, as I really needed to try and get him to open up some more about what had happened. I still didn’t know a whole lot about Corcoran and his methods.
I started to follow Robbie out of the room, but then I stopped and walked back over to Cory, then knelt down in front of him on one knee. Perhaps if I levelled with him, I thought, and told him exactly what was going on, he might come around?
As I looked him in the eye he looked scared shitless, but he held my gaze and remained sitting there.
‘Cory, I’m really sorry that this has all been dredged back up again, but there’s actually more at stake here than just what Corcoran did to you. We’re almost certain he was involved in Martin’s death, and now there have been two more murders of young guys in Sydney who I had recently met. The methods all matched what happened to Martin . . . right down to the last detail . . . and now that I know in part what he did to you, it matches your case too. I don’t want to pressure you . . . I know enough about what you’ve gone through . . . but I need to stop this bastard before he hurts someone else, and I could really use your help here.’
When I finished his eyes were wide, as he took in what I had said, but I simply got back to my feet and gave him a gentle rub on the shoulder, then followed Robbie out of the room, leaving Cory to think about what I had said. I had no idea if he would come on board and help me out, but I was truly hoping he would recognise that he was quite possibly our best hope of being able to finally put Corcoran away.
‘Like I said earlier . . . he still struggles a bit with what happened,’ Robbie said to me as we walked through the house.
‘Yes. I can see that. Please believe me when I say that the last thing I want is to hurt him.’
‘I know,’ he replied.
Robbie’s studio proved to be located outside, at the back of the house, taking up a considerable part of a large shed in the garden. We walked down a well shaded path lined on either side by large ferns and shrubs, with everything smelling earthy and damp, before I was shown into a light and airy space, filled with vibrant colours and the heady smell of oil paints, linseed oil and turpentine.
Immediately I was struck by a sea of colour, coming from the many paintings scattered around the room – some propped against walls, while others were sitting on benches or easels, all in varying stages of completion. Turning my head from side to side, as I tried to take it all in, my gaze settled on a work that appeared to be not quite completed. It was a magnificent nude portrait of Cory, sitting on sand, amongst the windswept grasses growing on the dunes, one leg stretched out, while the other was drawn up, covering his privates, and with his hands and chin resting upon his knee.
From what I could see of it, the detail was amazing. It reminded me of some of those artists whose web sites I’ve seen, with their paintings of gay themed subjects . . . only this was better.
When I glanced back at Robbie with raised eyebrows he grinned at me. ‘What can I say? He’s my favourite subject. It’s not quite finished yet, but I’m hoping to enter it into a portrait competition in a few months time. They said that nudes were okay, there just couldn’t be any hint of arousal . . . so that’s why his leg is covering him up,’ he cheekily explained.
‘It’s absolutely stunning,’ I said to him, ‘You’re very talented.’
‘Thank you. I appreciate that,’ he replied. ‘Unfortunately, however, poor and talented artists are a dime a dozen,’ he grinned. ‘But I want to be more than that. I still have a ways to go, but I think I’m getting there.’
‘Have you ever had an exhibition?’
‘No, not yet . . . but one of the galleries in the city did put out some feelers after I had won a prize in one of the local competitions, so I’m hopeful.’
‘I’m sure it’ll happen for you. Especially if this gets seen.’
‘Let’s hope you’re right,’ he replied.
He showed me through the racks of his paintings, which were a mixture of portraits, seascapes and landscapes, including some more amazing works depicting Cory, which were, apparently a part of a series.
As he continued showing me around we chatted about this and that, both of us trying our best to keep the subject matter light and free of the drama which had brought me here, but I have to admit that I was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on what we were talking about, as questions and possible answers kept running through my mind. In the end I simply had to give up pretending.
‘Can I ask you something about that day?’ I enquired, to which he looked at me and simply said, ‘Of course.’
‘Who was it that found them together?’
‘That would have been me and Mr Cunningham,’ he replied.
‘Why the two of you?’ I urged.
‘I was supposed to meet Cory after the last lesson, but he didn’t show, so I started back toward admin . . . I was going to see if he had gone there or left a message or anything. I met Cunningham on the way and just happened to ask him if he had seen Cory anywhere.’
‘And had he?’
‘No . . . but after what happened the year before . . . with Martin, he tended to be something of a worry-wort every time someone wasn’t where they should be. He told me to come with him and we would have a look around . . . and as we were closest to the science and art building that’s where we went first.
‘As school was out we found nobody in any of the science rooms, but when we started on the art rooms I noticed that the door to Corcoran’s room was open, so I headed for that, while Cunningham was still checking some of the other rooms.’
‘How long was this after the last class had been dismissed?’ I probed.
‘I’m not really sure. More than half an hour, but not quite an hour I wouldn’t have thought. The school was basically empty, apart from the kids still waiting at the bus stop out the front.’
‘And was there anyone or anything in Corcoran’s room?’
‘Yeah . . . Cory’s school bag was sitting just inside the door, so I knew he couldn’t have been too far away.’
Robbie pointed to a couple of stools and so we both sat down and took a load off. I was sitting with my back to the door, while Robbie was facing it, as we continued our conversation.
‘So what did you do?’ I asked him.
‘I stuck my head back out the door and called for Cunningham, then went straight to the door at the back of the room, which I knew was to the storeroom, to see if they were in there. It was empty, but the door from there out into the corridor behind it was also open.’
I nodded, knowing full well just how much like rabbit warrens the old school buildings were.
‘I heard a loud bang come from somewhere down the corridor, so I set off in search of what might have made that noise, trying every door as I went, before eventually coming to one of the storeroom doors, which thankfully had a small window in it. When I looked inside that’s when I saw them,’ he said, in a voice that seemed to tremble slightly, and as I noticed that his hands were also shaking slightly.
‘Sweet Jesus,’ I whispered, suddenly having flashbacks to the vivid images I had witnessed in my dreams.
‘What did you see? And what did you do?’ I asked.
‘He saw me being tied to a desk,’ said Cory from the doorway behind me.
Looking at Robbie I saw his eyes light up, before he quickly stood up and crossed the floor to his boyfriend. I stood up and turned, just in time to see them hug and kiss; a sight which I found enchanting.
‘Just how much do you remember?’ I gently asked, once they had finished.
‘I can’t remember everything that happened,’ Cory said. ‘Some of it is really quite hazy . . .’
‘Go on,’ I urged.
He looked at Robbie, his expression one of uncertainty, but his boyfriend nodded and smiled.
‘It’s okay,’ Robbie whispered.
‘I went into the art room . . .’ he continued. ‘I think Corcoran must have seen me outside and called me in, but I’m not totally sure about that.
‘Then, as I met him he put his arm around my shoulder and said he had something he wanted to show me and led me toward the storeroom at the back of the classroom.’
‘Didn’t that alarm you?’
‘No, he was always like that. Real, touchy-feely, you know what I mean? So I wasn’t very concerned. I actually kind of . . .’ he started to say, but then looked up at Robbie and cut himself short.
‘It’s okay, babe. It doesn’t matter,’ Robbie urged.
‘What were you going to say?’ I asked him.
He looked back at me, the guilt plainly written on his face.
‘I was going to say that in a way, even though I knew it was wrong in so many ways, I kind of liked it,’ he said. ‘When he would touch me like that, or run his hand down my back, it actually sent a shiver through me.’
‘It’s okay. I know exactly what you mean,’ I offered. ‘Can you remember what happened next?’
‘He . . . he did give me something to drink, I remember now. He had a flask of something in the cupboard where he kept his personal items. He poured some out into a cup and drank some himself, then handed the cup to me. I don’t know what it was, but I figured if he’d drunk some it must have been okay.’
‘What did it taste like?’
‘Sweet. Kind of creamy. And it left me with a warm feeling all the way down to my stomach.’
‘And after that?’
‘We talked. He rubbed my shoulders and started touching me. It felt . . . I don’t know . . . it was like the world was spinning . . . and it felt nice . . . kind of like a dream’ he said, while looking quite guilty and trying to avoid Robbie’s gaze.
‘Has he told you this before?’ I asked Robbie. He nodded, and as he did so I noticed a single tear trickle down his cheek, which I saw Cory reach up and brush away.
‘I’m so sorry,’ Cory whispered to his lover.
‘Don’t be. It’s not your fault, it was his fault. And you’ve got nothing to feel guilty over, you hear me?’ Robbie whispered back.
Suddenly I felt like an intruder, butting in on a tender, private moment, and so I stepped away from them, just to give them some space.
As I thought about what Cory had said so far it all began to make sense to me. Corcoran had given Cory something, so it stood to reason that he had done the same thing a year earlier with Martin. If that was the case, then was this a proven formula for him? Had he done it before? Were there any other victims?
I made a mental note to check his employment history against any possible similar cases from towns where he had been working.
‘I don’t remember how I got to the other room,’ Cory eventually continued, forcing me to turn back toward the two of them.
‘Which room? The one which Robbie found you both in?’ I asked.
‘Yeah. The next thing I remember was hearing a loud banging noise and waking up, stretched across a desk.’
‘What else can you remember?’ I gently asked.
‘It was Robbie . . . he was making the noise . . . he was banging something against the window in the door.’
Glancing at Robbie I saw him nod. ‘It was a fire extinguisher,’ he said, which caused my heart to skip a beat.
‘But I couldn’t move. My hands were tied. I couldn’t move my feet either. And it was cold. That was when I realised my trousers were pulled down, and my shirt was off me too. Suddenly I was very scared . . . but I couldn’t understand why Robbie wasn’t coming in to get me.’
‘Just then was when Cunningham arrived. When Corcoran saw that he panicked . . . he dropped a knife that he had in his hand . . .’ Robbie said, before trailing off. I noticed him squeeze Cory’s hand as he did so.
We all knew what the significance of that knife was. That knowledge hung in the air between us. Cory had been a very lucky boy.
‘What did Corcoran do?’ I urged.
‘Just as Cunningham unlocked the door with his master key, Corcoran pulled up his strides and bolted out the far side door. And that was the last anyone ever saw of him at that school.’
‘And the knife and whatever he used to tie Cory up? What happened to those?’ I wondered aloud.
‘I guess you’d have to ask Cunningham about those,’ Robbie said.
‘And what about the police?’
‘They never spoke to me,’ Cory said.
‘Or me,’ added Robbie. ‘We never saw them.’
‘Fuck. So the only record of what happened is what’s in Cunningham’s files,’ I bemoaned.
‘And in my diary,’ Robbie added. ‘I wrote it all down just in case this day would come and something might be able to be done about him, in spite of Cunningham’s hush money.’
* * *
It was getting late when I finally left their house, my head now crammed with answers to almost every question except the one that really mattered.
I knew now just how Corcoran was able to do what he did, but I still didn’t know the reason why. Why the hell would he get so close to these boys, drug them, rape them, and then stab them? What possible motivation could he have for doing that?
Checking the time I figured that Adam would soon be getting close, and so with my nerves starting to tingle and the butterflies in my stomach beginning to become active, rather than heading back toward Tom and Beth’s house I headed in the direction of Stockton Bridge, which was where Adam would cross the river. I figured that was as good a place as any to wait for him.
When I reached the spot I had in mind, a wide grass verge along the side of the road, just past the off ramp, I pulled over and parked with the car facing back toward the bridge. That way I would be able to keep an eye out for his flashy car, while also being able to look out over the river toward the city. It wouldn’t be long before the sky would start to turn, as sunset approached, but I was hoping that Adam would be here well before that. This spot also wasn’t far from somewhere else I wanted to visit before I left here this weekend, so I hoped that Adam wouldn’t be running too late and that I would be able to find the time to call in there this afternoon.
As I sat in the car waiting I picked up Corcoran’s file and started looking through it once more, not really knowing if I would find anything more of use there, but curious all the same. Starting with the various pages tagged with the yellow sticky-notes, I began flicking through those. I found a couple of incident reports, where students had raised concerns about inappropriate touching, although nothing seemed too serious and there was no real action taken, other than a warning being issued. Even so, under normal circumstances those actions would be enough to raise a red flag for most people, yet there was no note of any follow-up between Cunningham and Corcoran or of any other action being taken, such as police or education authorities having been notified, which was something that I certainly found odd.
Another entry in the folder dealt with the incident involving Cory, which was immediately followed by an entry from Cunningham which outlined his version of events, which were close enough to what Cory and Robbie had described to me. He had finished with a statement saying that Corcoran had disappeared and his employment had been terminated.
Before I could read any further, however, my phone started to ring and so I answered it, expecting it to be Adam. As it turned out it wasn’t him, but instead it was a rather excited Shane, who had apparently just returned from sailing up and down the river with Jimmy and Tom. After enduring his enthusiastic descriptions of what they got up to, what they saw and where they went, he wanted to know where I was.
‘I’ll be back home soon,’ I promised. ‘I’m just waiting for Adam to show up, then we’ve got one more pit stop to make before we get to the house. Just let Tom and Beth know for me, will you please?’
‘Sure thing,’ he answered, before disconnecting, leaving me smiling at the thought of his teenage exuberance and remembering having those exact same feelings flooding through my veins after my first full day out on the water with Martin.
No sooner than I had disconnected the phone rang once more, only this time it was indeed Adam.
‘I’m just approaching the bridge,’ he said to me, even before I could get a word in myself.
‘Great. I’m waiting at the other end,’ I replied.
‘Okay babe, I’ll see you soon,’ he responded, before disconnecting.
Getting out of the car I walked around to the front, to where I could see the traffic coming across the bridge, and propped myself against the bonnet, watching the steady stream of vehicles. It wasn’t long before I spotted the flashy red vehicle zooming across the bridge, which immediately brought a smile to my face.
As he approached the end of the bridge I noticed the car slow down, then drive off onto the exit, so I moved around to the side of Beth’s car so he would be able to see me more easily as he approached.
Despite what had been going on today, right now I was feeling just as excited as Shane had been just a few minutes ago when he called me. This past week had made me realise so many things, about both myself and the people I cared about, and I had so much that I wanted to say to Adam. I just hoped that I would be able to get it out without making a complete arse of myself.
As he came closer he flashed his lights at me, indicating that he had spotted me, and then began to pull over toward the side of the road and onto the grass verge, before finally coming to a stop almost right next to me. We were both grinning at each other.
‘I’m glad you could make it!’ I said to him, as I pushed myself off Beth’s car and started toward his.
‘What can I say? It was an offer too good to refuse!’ he replied, before stepping out of the car and coming around the front toward me.
‘Damn, it’s so good to have you here,’ I said to him, as I started walking toward him. ‘There’s something I’ve been wanting to do all day.’
‘Which is?’ he chuckled.
Without saying a word I met him and wrapped my arms around him, then pulled him close and kissed him, forcing my tongue inside his mouth and refusing to let go of him until we were both light headed and in danger of passing out.
Out on the road a couple of cars blew their horns at us, while some yobbo yelled out and told us to get a room. I didn’t care though. After the week I’d had, I now had Adam in my arms and I wasn’t going to let him out of my sight.
When our lips finally parted Adam leaned back slightly and said, ‘Wow! You’ve sure been saving that up!’
‘You have no idea, Adam,’ I replied. ‘There has been so much going on this week that my head has been spinning.’
‘Oh, I think I have a pretty fair idea,’ he remarked.
‘I was talking to Tom and Beth about you . . . and honestly, they can’t wait to meet you . . . but Tom asked me something that really made me think.’
‘He asked me if I loved you.’
‘Oh shit . . . here it comes,’ he said. ‘And just what did you tell him? I’m curious to know.’
‘I told him the answer was yes,’ I sheepishly replied. ‘And the more I’ve thought about it since then, the more convinced I became. I love you Adam Bennett, and I don’t ever want to lose you!’
I was looking up into his eyes, which seemed to be smiling back at me, filled with joy and light, and I was feeling happy, as if a weight had been taken off my shoulders, now that I had finally opened up.
‘Are you sure about this?’ he asked.
‘What? Don’t you want me now?’
‘Oh, Rick . . . more than ever!’ he said, before kissing me once more. ‘And don’t you ever doubt it . . . but I just want to make sure that you’re sure.’
‘I’m sure,’ I firmly replied. ‘You’re stuck with me now!’
‘So, is this where I get to meet the in-laws? This was your plan all along, wasn’t it?’ he teased.
‘Yes, you’ll meet Tom and Beth shortly, but before we go there would you mind if we made a pit stop?’ I asked.
‘Of course not.’
‘Thanks, babe. I promise we won’t take long. How about you follow me.’
After one last kiss we both went back to our vehicles, and when I pulled out onto the road Adam was right behind me. It was only a short drive to where I needed to go, and wondered what he would be thinking when I put my indicator on just a few hundred metres down the road and turned into the Stockton Cemetery.
We both came to a stop in the car park, side by side, and I noticed him look across at me, his expression hard to read, before we both got out of our cars.
‘I know this probably isn’t quite what you might have had in mind when I said I wanted to make a pit stop,’ I said. ‘But it’s my favourite time of day to visit, and it’s about the only chance I’m going to have to come here while I’m in town. I hope you don’t mind,’ I said, as I walked around to where he was standing and held out my hand for him.
‘I don’t mind at all,’ he replied, while taking my hand. ‘I know that this place will mean a great deal to you . . . it’s a part of what makes you, you. I’m just pleased that you’re willing to share this with me.’
‘Thanks for understanding,’ I said, as we set off along a path that led between two rows of gravestones, hand in hand, and with the golden glow of the setting sun behind us bathing everything in a magic light.