‘Are you okay?’ I heard Adam ask, attempting to drag me back from wherever it was I seemed to have drifted off to.
Looking around me it soon dawned on me just where I was – standing outside Doc Shortis’ surgery – and that I was holding my phone in my hand, with a menacing face looking directly at me on the small display screen. It wasn’t quite the well groomed stalker I had seen earlier in the week . . . this guy now had a few days growth on his face . . . but it was unmistakably the same person I had seen. And it was unmistakably Corcoran. I was now sure of it.
‘Rick?’ Adam asked. ‘Are you with us? Who was on the phone?’
Turning toward the sound of Adam’s voice I found him standing at the doorway, staring at me with a face etched with concern.
‘He knows where I live,’ I said. ‘The sick fuck knows where I live . . . and Nick and Brad as well . . . he’s even spoken with them . . .’
‘What? How do you know?’
Without saying a word I held up the phone toward him, watching his expression pale as a flicker of recognition seemed to pass over his face also.
‘And he’s spoken with me too,’ he responded. ‘Who sent you that?’
‘Nick . . . just now. That was him who called me. He said some guy was hanging around the apartment building . . . and he was even asking about me. Nick managed to snap a shot of him . . . and it’s the guy who was stalking me. What do you mean he’s spoken with you? Where did you see him? And what did he say?’
‘It was outside my unit, a couple of mornings ago. He didn’t say much . . . he just asked directions, I think. Is that actually Corcoran?’
‘Yeah, I’m sure of it now . . . especially now that it looks like he hasn’t shaved for a few days. That fuzz on his face makes him look a little more like the Corcoran of old. Did he do anything odd?’
‘Not that I can recall. He was looking kind of lost . . . he only asked what direction the train station was in, I think, so I told him where to go and then left for the office myself.’
Up until now I was sure that it was only me that Corcoran was watching. Now, however, with it becoming apparent he has been talking to others that I care about also. I now had to consider the safety of those around me . . . although why that didn’t dawn on me earlier, considering that the bodies of two people I had recently met were now lying in the morgue, I had no idea. Maybe I wasn’t as smart a cop as I had thought?
This certainly changed things now. I couldn’t risk letting anything happen to any of the guys around me; Adam, Nick, Brad, or anyone else I happened to know. The next question was; how the hell was I going to stop anything from happening to them? Would I be able to draw Corcoran out so that we could grab him before anything could happen? At least that seemed to be the logical step. But . . .
‘So, what do you do next?’ Adam asked.
What indeed? I thought.
‘Are the boys still in with the Doc?’ I asked.
‘Okay, I need to call Helen, and probably the Inspector as well. Can you just keep them there in reception for a few minutes when they come out . . . while Doc sees to his other patient? Just tell them I’m on the phone and I’ll be back inside shortly.’
‘All right then.’
‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘I promise I won’t be long,’ I added, as I gave him a brief hug, before watching him disappear inside, casting a worried look back over his shoulder as the automatic doors closed after him.
Quickly turning my attention back to my phone I scrolled through my contacts list, then hit the button to dial Helen. We needed to move . . . and fast.
‘Hi, Rick. What’s happening?’ she said after just the second ring.
‘I’ve got a problem,’ I replied.
‘Corcoran,’ I said. ‘He knows where I live. He knows where Adam lives. It looks like he’s been staking out our places and has already spoken with Adam and the two boys who live next door to me.’
‘Sweet Jesus! How the fuck did you find this out?’
‘Nick, the kid next door just rang me. He was worried about this guy hanging around and asking if I lived there.’
‘Nick sent me a photo he snapped of the guy with his phone. It’s Corcoran, I’m sure of it. Then when I just showed it to Adam he went white and told me he’d spoken with him as well.’
‘You’ve got a photo? Can you send it to me?’
‘Yeah, will do. Now, I also gave Nick your number, just in case Corcoran shows up again.’
‘That’s fine,’ Helen replied. ‘Did you also tell him to stay the fuck away from the guy?’
‘You better believe it!’ I replied. ‘I’m worried he might take an interest in them.’
‘Yeah! Just get me that photo and I’ll get it circulating . . . and I’ll arrange for some patrols in the area around your unit. You had better text me your address as well, okay.’
‘And what about the kids’ parents? Have you spoken with them to warn them?’
‘It’s just them and their mother . . . I’ll try and get hold of her and see if she might be able to take them away for a couple of days,’ I suggested.
‘Good idea,’ Helen remarked. ‘Now, about Corcoran . . .’
‘You said you had a few ideas about his motives . . . have you given that any more thought? Is there anything you’ve come up with? What else can you remember?’
What else? I wondered. What had I actually told her so far?
Looking around me I spotted a bench seat nearby, so I walked the few steps and sat down, while gathering my thoughts. Then, for the next ten minutes I told her just what those thoughts were that had slowly begun to gel in my mind.
I told her about our online discoveries of that very morning. I told her of my apparent repressed memories of what Corcoran had tried with me, then how he had then seemed to transfer his attentions to Marty.
I told her about how twelve months later he did exactly the same thing with Robbie and Cory.
I hadn’t realised it at first, but after seeing Robbie and Cory together it came to me that on both occasions the boys he had first tried it on with were blonde surfer types, being me and Robbie. When we had both rejected his advances he then turned his attention to our boyfriends . . . with results that could only be described as devastating.
‘So, what are you saying? He has a definite type? And then, if his approaches to them don’t pay off he turns toward their partners?’
‘Well, kind of, I guess.’
‘But it’s the partners who end up on the receiving end of his punishment?’ she observed.
‘But why?’ I asked.
‘How about payback?’ she replied, after a brief pause.
‘Okay, think of it this way . . . if there’s something you desperately want, but it becomes patently obvious that you can’t have it, no matter what you try, what are you most likely going to do?’
‘Steal it, maybe,’ I offered, but just then the penny seemed to drop. ‘Or . . .’ I continued, ‘Or you make sure nobody else can have it!’
‘It couldn’t be that simple . . . could it? He couldn’t have you, so by killing Martin he made sure his competition was out of the way . . . and that way Martin couldn’t have you either’
‘Then he couldn’t have Robbie . . .’ I continued, ‘So then it was Cory who became his next target.’
‘But what about Alexis and Jimmy in Sydney? I mean, you weren’t involved with either of them . . . so why kill them?’
‘Pure jealousy?’ I suggested. ‘Who knows for how long he might have been stalking me? Maybe after all these years he simply spotted me in the city talking to them and he just lost it?’
‘So, anyone who you spoke to, or looked like you could be friends with, they immediately became his competition . . .’
‘And they just had to go . . .’ I supposed.
‘Well, as fucked up as it sounds to you and me, for someone like Corcoran it probably seems quite logical.’
‘Yeah, but what worries me now is whether he has Adam and the two boys from next door in his sights.’
‘Send me that photo and I’ll get the uniformed boys on to the case. We just have to get him before he ends up with anyone else in his sights, but you need to get back here though . . . and as soon as possible.’
‘Yeah, unless things change we were going to head back first thing in the morning. I’ll give you a call just as soon as we’re there.’
‘You do that. I’ll see you then,’ Helen replied, before disconnecting, which just happened to be as Doc Shortis’ other patient came out through the doors, looking less than pleased.
When I went back inside I found Adam and the boys waiting in the reception area, chatting with the doc.
‘Everything okay?’ Adam asked.
‘Oh, about as good as it’s going to get,’ I replied, which simply earned me curious looks from the others. I felt like I probably should have explained, but my head was swimming with details that I didn’t really want to share just at that moment. Perhaps later, I thought.
Doc filled me in on what happened with Jimmy and Shane and that he thought everything appeared to be fine, but would contact me with the blood test results just as soon as they were back. After that we said our farewells and headed back outside, but only after the doc reminded me to not be a stranger.
‘I won’t Doc, and while ever these boys are here with Tom and Beth I suspect you’ll be seeing a whole lot more of me.’
‘I look forward to it, lad. I look forward to it,’ he cheerfully replied.
* * *
The ride back to Tom and Beth’s house was a relatively quiet one, with the boys both having asked if I was okay, but soon figuring out that I really didn’t want to talk just now. Adam said to them that there was something going on back in Sydney and they both nodded their understanding.
Tom and Beth were all but ready and waiting when we finally arrived at the house, with the finishing touches to a hamper being packed and them both sounding and appearing to be quite keen to head out onto the water.
‘So, how did you go with Doctor Shortis?’ Beth asked the boys as she handed each of them some of our lunch supplies.
‘Errr . . . okay, I guess,’ Shane answered, somewhat quietly.
‘Doc Shortis said everything looked fine,’ I offered, hoping to save the boys from any great embarrassment. ‘And he’ll let us know when the results are back in.’
‘Yeah, and he sure had a good look,’ said Jimmy.
‘And feel,’ Shane added, which brought forth a few chuckles from Adam and Tom.
‘Yeah, but you looked like you were enjoying it!’ teased Jimmy, which only caused Shane to blush.
‘All right, Jimmy, that’s enough,’ scolded Beth. ‘I think we get the picture,’ she added, while rolling her eyes.
‘Well, you did have to ask,’ I admonished her.
‘You’d think I would have learned by now, wouldn’t you?’
‘You’re just out of practice,’ I joked, as I followed her out of the kitchen and onto the back deck, while the boys skipped down the steps and headed for the back gate, carrying our provisions for the afternoon ahead.
‘So, what else happened?’ Beth asked me once the boys were out of earshot. ‘When you arrived home you looked like the weight of the world was on your shoulders. Is everything truly okay with this pair, or is there something else that you’re not telling us?’
‘What? Oh, it’s nothing like that . . . I was just talking to Helen while they were in with the Doc . . .’
‘And?’ Tom urged.
‘Stuff with Corcoran,’ I answered. ‘And something we found in Marty’s journal this morning,’ I tentatively added.
‘Stop dilly-dallying . . .’ Tom demanded. ‘What did you find?’
Looking at Adam I noticed him give a slight nod, before crossing the deck and taking my hand.
‘It’s okay,’ he whispered. ‘They deserve to know everything you’ve found.’
‘Rick! What is it?’ Beth urged, her voice having an anxious note to it.
‘I . . . I can’t even remember it happening . . . but Corcoran apparently hit on me before he turned his attention toward Marty,’ I stammered. ‘And I didn’t do anything about it . . .’
‘What do you mean?’ Tom asked.
‘What I mean, is that the lecherous bastard tried to feel me up. We all knew what he was like, of course, but apparently one day he went a bit far . . . and the only person I seemed to have told was Marty . . . but I can’t even remember any of it even happening . . .’
‘So, you were molested by a teacher, Marty made a note in his journal . . . and you what . . . you just forgot about it?’ he snapped.
‘Tom!’ Beth scolded, but it fell on deaf ears, as Tom stormed down the steps, passing the boys where they were waiting at the back gate, and heading straight for where the boat was moored.
‘It’s okay, Beth. He can’t say anything I haven’t already said to myself this morning,’ I quietly offered, as we watched Tom walking away.
‘It’s all still very . . . raw, you know,’ Beth stated. ‘Most days are okay now . . . but some days are just . . .’
‘I know, Beth. I know,’ I said, as I hugged her.
‘What else was in there? Can we see it?’ Beth asked.
‘Yes, of course you can see it . . . just . . . just be aware that there might be some things in there that you might prefer to . . . errr . . . not see, if you know what I mean.’
‘It’s okay, Rick. Given some of the things I found in his room when I was cleaning it up, I think I can handle most things that my son and his boyfriend were involved with.’
‘Well, you can’t say that I didn’t warn you,’ I gently teased.
‘Oh, no, I could never say that,’ she replied. ‘Now, why don’t you give Tom a few minutes to gather his thoughts, then go and join him on the boat. Adam and I will keep the boys here for a little while so the two of you can sort things out. It won’t take him long to come to his senses.’
‘Okay,’ I answered, before giving her a kiss on the side of her head and letting go of her.
‘Just go. We’ll see you shortly,’ Adam said to me when I turned to face him.
‘Thanks,’ I replied, before then giving him a brief hug also.
When I made it to the back gate I found the two curious faces of Jimmy and Shane were waiting for me.
‘Is Tom okay?’ Shane asked, clearly concerned.
‘Yes mate. I just need to go talk to him for a bit. Beth and Adam will come down to the boat with you soon, okay?’
‘It’s not something we did, is it?’
‘What? Oh no, it’s nothing like that, so you can get that idea right out of your head. Tom is just . . . no, let’s just say it’s something I did, so I just need to go straighten things out with him, that’s all.’
He nodded briefly and I playfully ruffed up his hair, before he smiled and tried swatting my hand away. The more I was having to do with these boys, and in particular Shane, the more I was liking them. That brashness I had seen in them both in those first few days after meeting them was continuing to fall away, revealing two vulnerable and caring boys, whose greatest fear, it seemed, was that nobody would love them. They didn’t want anything more from life other than to be loved, and to be able to love someone in return, and for that I knew that they were in the right place.
Leaving them standing there I headed through the gate and set off toward where I knew the boat would be rocking gently at her mooring. I was anxious to set things right with Tom, even if I had no idea what I would be able to say that could ever make up for the fact that my blocking out those events of five years ago could have possibly prevented what happened to Martin, or at the very least, helped bring his killer to justice.
Walking through the mangroves along the narrow boardwalk a few minutes later I spotted the boat moored to the pontoon, on the edge of which I noticed Tom sitting, his feet dangling close to the water.
He looked up and saw me coming toward him, fixing me with a gaze that seemed difficult to read, before then glancing away, gazing off toward the wetlands that we had planned to visit that very afternoon.
Undeterred, I finished my walk along the jetty and eventually sat down beside him, with Tom glancing my way briefly, before turning away once more, this time to study a freighter making its way toward the mouth of the river and the open sea, bound for who knows where.
Seagulls squawked and squabbled around us, and for a few moments I watched the ship also, massive and painted white, while noting the rust coloured streaks adorning its’ hull.
‘Doc Shortis tells me that memory loss isn’t uncommon for people who have experienced traumatic episodes,’ I said.
‘Yeah, I’ve heard that,’ he replied.
The foghorn from the freighter shattered the silence that yawned between us.
‘Look, I’m sorry I snapped at you,’ Tom eventually offered. ‘It just . . .’
‘It’s okay, Tom. You have nothing to be sorry for,’ I assured him. ‘You lost a son, and if I . . . well, if circumstances had been different that might not have happened.’
‘And you lost someone you loved also . . . I do sometimes forget that, you know . . .’
‘It’s okay,’ I promised. ‘And even though nothing is going to bring him back . . . we are getting closer to catching the man we think was responsible . . . and when that happens maybe then we’ll all finally be able to put this behind us.’
‘What makes you so sure you’re getting closer to him?’
Reaching into my pocket I pulled out my phone and went straight to the image that Nick had sent me, which was now stored in the images folder of my phone. I then held it out toward Tom so that he could see the face of his son’s killer.
‘That’s Corcoran,’ I said to him. ‘It was taken just this morning . . . outside my building, by my young neighbour.’
‘What?’ he exclaimed.
‘Nick, one of the two boys who live next door to me with their mother, was worried about this guy hanging around and asking after me. It seems that for whatever reason, Corcoran seems to have figured out where I live,’ I answered. ‘Rather than me having to hunt him down, it looks like he’s coming to me instead.’
Taking the phone from my hand he held it in front of him, taking a good long look at the face of malevolence staring out from the screen, before eventually handing it back to me.
‘I showed the photo to Adam. He says that Corcoran has spoken with him as well, so it looks like the sick fuck has really been doing a good job of stalking me.’
‘I still don’t quite understand,’ he remarked. ‘Why would he be doing that?’
‘Helen and I think we’ve been looking at things all wrong . . .’ I replied. ‘He’s not targeting these people because of some desire to have them . . . he’s targeting them to stop someone else from having them . . .’
‘Because it’s that someone else who he really wants for himself?’
‘You?’ he asked.
I nodded and said, ‘And Robbie as well, who became his obsession the following year, after I had left the school.’
‘But why? What makes the two of you stand out?’
‘I’m not entirely sure just yet . . . but it could be something as simple as we were his type . . . young, blonde, tanned . . . Robbie and I weren’t that different in looks. He hit on both of us . . . and without success . . .’
‘So, he saw your boyfriends as being threats to his being able to have you for himself? Or he simply decided that if he couldn’t have you, then no one else could either?’
‘We think so.’
As we sat there contemplating these developments, two kids on a surf ski came zooming by, the sounds of the engine and their squeals of laughter shattering the relative quiet of the early afternoon.
‘And these other boys in Sydney that were killed?’ Tom eventually asked, after the kids had reached the bridge and quiet had been restored, ‘How do you think they fit in? Why were they killed?’
‘All I can think of is that he has snapped. Maybe he has seen me in the city and that was the trigger for those old feelings of wanting to possess me coming flooding back? Who knows how long he had been stalking me for . . . maybe he spotted me talking with Alexis and Jimmy Tan and simply decided then and there that they were threats, however improbable that may seem. It’s all very circumstantial, of course, but it does seem plausible.’
‘I tend to agree . . . and that now brings us to his staking out your flat and approaching your young neighbour . . .’ Tom observed.
‘Yeah,’ I dryly replied. ‘I’m not so worried about me . . . it’s more the fact that he has approached the boys that has me really concerned.’
* * *
Beth, Adam and the two boys joined us shortly afterwards, their curious expressions clearly signaling their wanting to know whether things had been sorted between Tom and myself, yet not quite sure if they should ask straight up. We quickly put them at ease, however, and once we had stowed away our lunch supplies and readied the boat for an afternoon on the water, we cast off.
With Tom barking orders at the boys, I was pleasantly surprised at just how easily Shane and Jimmy had taken to the task at hand, quickly having the jib in place which, once it had been set for the light breeze around us, gave us enough movement to clear the floating pontoon to which we had been moored.
It was a pleasant, almost cloudless afternoon, with the sun shining bright and just enough of a breeze for a perfect afternoon of sailing.
‘Okay you boys, it’s time to put up the mainsail,’ we heard Tom order, and quickly Shane and Jimmy applied themselves to the job, soon having the sail unfurled and being raised up the mast.
When the wind soon filling the sail and billowing it outwards, we all felt the immediate surge of power as the bow sliced through the water, a fine spray blowing up around us.
‘Woo-hoo! We’re kings of the world,’ I heard Jimmy call out, as he ran forward to the bow, grabbing hold of a line, while dragging Shane with him, the pair of them laughing freely.
Looking up at them from where Adam and I were sitting with Tom and Beth at the stern of the boat I noticed they had both stripped off their t-shirts and were enjoying the early afternoon sun. They both turned back to face us, with Jimmy standing closest to us, his arms outstretched and doing his best Leonardo DiCaprio impersonation, while Shane looked back at us over Jimmy’s shoulder, smiling broadly, his arm wrapped firmly around Jimmy’s waist and holding on tight.
They both looked carefree and happy, and once again I couldn’t help but think how great it was seeing them like this. On a whim I pulled my phone from my pocket and quickly snapped a photo of the pair of them, knowing full well that despite their obvious love for each other this moment of happiness might not last forever, but at least there would always be something to remind us of this day.
As I put my phone back in my pocket the pair of them came back and joined us, crowding into the small cockpit, for which it was soon obvious that there were way too many people in there.
‘Why don’t you two louts head into the cabin,’ Tom said. It was more a direct order than a question, but before they could move I countermanded the order.
‘Why don’t you and Beth head inside instead, and give me a go at steering this thing for a while?’ I suggested. ‘I’ve been busting to have a go at it . . . and it’s not like I don’t know my way over to the wetlands.’
‘Fine by me,’ Tom agreed, while flashing me a smile. ‘Just don’t put her onto the rocks, eh!’
‘Yeah, as if!’ I replied, as Tom and Beth moved toward the entrance to the small cabin, while the boys carefully maneuvered around them and eventually took their seats.
Once everyone was settled I decided it was time I tested out this little boat, so I spun the wheel hard to port. Instantly the yacht responded. It felt like it would spin on a dime, as the old saying goes.
From inside the cabin I heard Tom yell out, ‘Hey, what the hell are you doing out there?’
‘Just testing her out, Tom. You just sit back and enjoy the ride!’ I called back, as I then proceeded to spin the wheel to starboard.
Once more the boat responded easily, coming around quickly, while my passengers held onto the rails, before I straightened the wheel and returned to our previous course.
‘Very nice, Tom!’ I called out to him. ‘I wish you’d have had one of these when me and Marty were sailing around here!’
‘What makes you think I would have let you pair anywhere near her?’ he called back.
‘Yeah, he’s probably got a point there,’ I quietly confided to my companions.
Looking around us I started taking in the familiar sites from my youth, from the oyster beds to the various small jetties, to the rusting hulk of an old fishing boat that had once caught fire and sunk in the relatively shallow water, leaving the deck and wheelhouse above water. Marty and I had climbed all over it when we were kids.
Nothing seemed to have changed much at all, apart from perhaps a few more houses along the river bank.
‘So, where is it we are going?’ Shane asked.
‘Right there,’ I answered, pointing ahead to a small jetty sticking out into the river from the mangroves, on the opposite side to where all the houses were. There were already a few boats tied along its length, indicating that some other locals had come up with the same idea as we did on this lovely day.
‘Doesn’t look real flash from here,’ Jimmy observed.
‘Just wait ‘til we get there,’ I replied. ‘There’s a pretty nice picnic area, and on the other side of it the mangroves have been cleared away and the grass goes right down to the water.’
‘I’ll take your word for it,’ he cheekily responded.
With the sun shining down on us and with the wind in our hair we sailed on, simply enjoying everything about the day. Little did I know how things were about to change.
‘Hey, why did you take a photo of us back there? Jimmy asked. ‘Do you like pics of half-naked boys, or something?’
‘I just wanted to remember the moment,’ I honestly replied.
‘Can we see it?’ Shane asked.
‘Sure,’ I answered, as I pulled the phone from my pocket once more and opened up the images folder.
There weren’t that many photos in there, so I was quickly able to scroll through the thumbnails and find the one I had taken, before opening it up and passing the phone to Jimmy, who was sitting closest to me.
‘Hey. That looks pretty good,’ Jimmy said, while showing it to Shane also.
‘Yeah, it’s great. Can we get a copy of it?’ Shane enquired.
‘You got any other hot pics on here?’ Jimmy asked, and before I could even answer him, or stop him, he pressed a button on the screen, which I soon found out took him to the previously filed photo.
He looked up at me, his face twisted with confusion as he turned the phone back toward me.
‘Hey, what have you got a photo of him for?’
Once more I was staring at the photo of Corcoran that Nick had sent me that morning. Suddenly a chill ran down my spine as it dawned on me just what that question meant.
‘Why? Do you know him?’ I cautiously asked.
Jimmy turned the photo around to show it to his boyfriend.
‘We know of him,’ Jimmy answered in a tone that was less than friendly.
‘Yeah, we’ve seen him. It’s Casey who really knows him though,’ Shane offered.
‘He was one of his regulars, I think. His name is Danny something or other,’ added Jimmy.
‘What? Are you sure?’ I asked them.
‘Yeah, of course we’re sure. Why are you so interested?’ asked Jimmy.
By this time I was starting to tremble, as wild thoughts started to rush through my head. If he was a regular client of Jarvis, then it stood to reason that his name, or whatever alias he was currently going by, would be in that little black book.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would get such a strong lead on Corcoran . . . and especially not from what I had thought was a totally unrelated source. It hadn’t even occurred to me that it would be possible that any of Jarvis’ boys would know Corcoran.
‘Well?’ Jimmy urged. ‘You going to tell why you’re interested, or what?’
‘Yeah, mate,’ I replied. ‘That’s the fucker who killed Martin.’
To be continued . . .