It had so far proven to be something of a frustrating week, and I had to admit that by the Thursday morning I was beginning to feel a bit down, even if that was the day on which both Assistant Commissioner Barrett and the Police Minister were due to face their accusers, according to our friends in Internal Affairs.
Helen and I had already done the rounds, having spent the morning traipsing up and down the streets of inner Sydney, before settling for a bite to eat from the café located at the corner of Hyde Park. From where I now sat at my desk, which was one I had scarcely seemed to have even had the chance to become acquainted with so far, I looked up at the clock on the wall and noticed that it was now after one o’clock. I hadn’t ever thought that I would become a clock-watcher . . . especially not after only such a short time on the job . . . but even I had to admit that right at this moment my mind was elsewhere, as I contemplated what was about to happen right about now in other parts of the city.
Somewhere there was a senior figure in the New South Wales police force about to be questioned by Internal Affairs, while elsewhere a senior government minister would also soon be facing his own inquisition in the bear-pit that was the state parliament.
The careful timing of both events had been exquisitely orchestrated, so that neither man would have any idea of what was happening, nor would they be able to contact the other to warn him.
‘You okay?’ Helen asked, apparently noticing the funk that I seemed to have fallen into in the last hour or so.
‘What? Oh . . . yeah, I’m fine,’ I answered. ‘I was just thinking about what’s happening elsewhere right about now. A part of me thinks we’ve won, but another part of me also thinks that this is just the beginning of an even longer journey.’
‘Take that second piece of advice and don’t go celebrating too early,’ Helen warned. ‘A great deal of water will flow through Sydney Heads between now and when we finally shut the books on these cases . . . but rest assured, when we finally do have everything done and dusted the party is going to be something special, believe me!’
‘Your shout?’ I suggested.
‘Don’t count on it, sunshine!’ she chortled, just as the chime on her phone went off, signaling a message had come through. After checking her message I noticed Helen smile. ‘How about we head over to Parliament House and sit in the bleachers for a while. It might just prove to be an entertaining afternoon after all.’
I had been to Parliament House a few times over the years. The first time had been while I had still been at school and our class had travelled to Sydney for a school excursion. We had sat in the public gallery and listened as the politicians went about their business, most of which seemed dull and boring to us school kids. The official procedures and way of doing things, steeped in hundreds of years of tradition, were nothing like we had ever seen before. That was, of course, until they came to question time, which is where the members of parliament from both sides of the political fence are given the opportunity to direct questions toward the government. When they had started question time all hell seemed to break loose and it had proved to be the highlight of our excursion. I don’t think anything had changed since.
Questions could usually be lumped into two categories; those coming from members of the opposition, often on the scent of some scandal or other, or those coming from members of the government, praising their fellow members for some initiative or other. Questions would also be divided into those asked With or Without Notice, being those asked in writing, for which a reply must always be provided in writing, or those asked from the floor of the house. Those asked Without Notice would often include questions coming from an elected member who may have been approached by one of his concerned constituents, who would then in turn direct the question toward the minister responsible. Irrespective of the type of question, or who was asking it, ministers are required by the rules and conventions of the Westminster system to give an answer, and one which must be neither untruthful nor misleading.
This was where the swords would come out . . . figuratively speaking of course . . . and many a political career has been ended, or government thrown out of office, following the event that a member of the government had answered something untruthfully, or had misled the parliament.
By the time we reached Macquarie Street my funk appeared to be lifting, thanks in part to the stunning day and my anticipation of the show that I hoped we were about to witness.
I knew that question time was usually due to start around two o’clock, and so we were running pretty close to being on time, but even so I still figured that we had a little bit of extra time up our sleeves as the house first went through their traditional formalities before getting down to business. I had no idea just when the attention would be focused on the Police Minister, but I could only hope that we weren’t too late.
After climbing the steps and entering Parliament House, we flashed our badges at the security guard on duty and were quickly waved through as he returned his attention to checking in a group of school children who were also in the process of visiting, just as I had done many years ago.
We soon found the sign pointing to the public gallery, and after climbing yet another set of stairs and making our way along a corridor lined with portraits of past political heroes – and some villains too, no doubt – we arrived at the gallery entrance. We then passed through the deep mahogany coloured doorway and we found ourselves a couple of seats in the back row, just before the group of school kids arrived, hot on our heels.
From the chamber below us we could hear the politicians going about their business, with the insults and banter already flowing freely, just as it did every day. Decorum was a word very few of our politicians knew the meaning of, and despite both sides always promising to clean up the parliament and restore some integrity and honour to the place – promises that were usually only made around election time – it seemed that each year their behavior only became worse.
When I looked down into the chamber, with its dark timber benches, deep green carpets and reddish-tan leather seats, very much in the image of the hallowed halls in London upon which it had been modeled, I could see that today the room seemed to only be around two-thirds full. Quickly I scanned the faces of those present, looking firstly for the Police Minister, and then the Premier, both of whom I readily found, seated in the front row on the government’s side of the chamber; both looking somewhat bored and disinterested as another member of their government was prattling on about the good job the government was doing by allocating money for a community health centre in some outlying city suburb.
Around us the school group had settled in and apart from just one or two of them who seemed to be paying attention to what their young female teacher was saying, most were already looking quite bored themselves.
‘Let’s hope something happens soon,’ Helen said to me quietly. ‘Otherwise these kids will nod off to sleep.’
‘Or go right off and totally wreck the place!’ I replied.
For about the next fifteen minutes we were all made to endure more grandstanding and back slapping from the government, but as I glanced down at the opposition benches I could see that something was afoot, as several of their front-benchers, including their leader, were involved in deep conversation, even if in muted tones. I also noticed a mobile phone get passed from one to another. I suspected that the bait for their trap had just been provided.
The movement on the benches didn’t get missed by Helen either, judging by the elbow in the ribs she gave me.
Just at that moment we saw the leader of the opposition party step forward to the dais on their side of the house, while the member from the government side resumed his seat.
‘Does the Honourable Leader of the Opposition wish to speak?’ asked the Speaker of the House, the chairperson for the parliament and who controls all that happens within a sitting of the parliament.
‘Indeed I do, Mr Speaker,’ replied the opposition leader, a gentleman by the name of Neville Wright, who was the Honourable Member representing some obscure seat on the central coast. ‘If I may, Mr Speaker, I wish to direct a question Without Notice toward the Honourable Member for Westwood and Minister of Police, Mr Cummings.’
I had to chuckle to myself at the way these politicians always referred to each other as the Honourable So-and-So. I knew it was convention and all a part of the theatre and pageantry involved with parliament, but honestly, the majority of those who were running our state were far from being honourable, as parliamentary enquiry after parliamentary enquiry into one scandal or another regularly proved.
The Speaker gave a nod, and almost immediately there were rumblings of discontent coming from the government members, who were always quick to smell an ambush.
‘Thank you Mr Speaker,’ the opposition leader responded, with a broad smile that reeked of triumph, coupled with a certain amount of calculated malice. Everyone in the house who had been paying attention just knew that something juicy was coming. ‘Mr Cummings, as the Minister for Police, could you advise the house if you were aware that in recent times one of your Assistant Commissioners has been under investigation by the Police Internal Affairs department, and that on this very day, as a result of those investigations, he has been arrested in relation to the high profile child prostitution case currently before the courts? Furthermore, could you please advise the house of the full details of your relationship with Assistant Commissioner Barrett and if any other members of the government are aware of your relationship with Mr Barrett, or the activities for which he has been under investigation.’
Before he had even finished speaking the uproar began, with members of the opposition quick to heap scorn upon the police minister, throwing insults left, right and centre. As the opposition leader returned to his seat, looking quite pleased with himself, I looked down upon Cummings, only to find him looking visibly shaken. Some other members of the cabinet were frantically trying to talk to him, but it was the reaction of the Premier that was most telling, flashing his Police Minister a glare that would melt steel, which, in my mind at least, seemed to be a dead giveaway that the Premier knew exactly what this was all about.
The questions that really needed to be asked of the Premier, however, were just how much he knew about his Police Minister’s activities, and for how long had he known?
As it was his duty to respond, Cummings got to his feet and rather unsteadily crossed the floor to the dais, where he stood for a few moments, focusing not on the hecklers in the seats opposite, but staring down at the row of leather bound volumes, which contained all the laws that governed our state, which were stacked neatly along the middle of the long table which separated the two sides of the house.
‘The Honourable Member for Westwood will now reply,’ the speaker announced.
‘Thank you, Mr Speaker,’ Cummings responded, in a voice that sounded anything but confident. ‘In response to the questions of the Honourable Leader of the Opposition, I can advise that no, I was not aware of any investigation into the activities of Assistant Commissioner Barrett, and furthermore, I resent the implication that there is anything improper regarding the relationship between the Assistant Commissioner and myself. And that is all I intend saying on the matter.’
As the Minister resumed his seat, and the jeers of the opposition benches grew louder, Helen and I glanced at each other. We knew he was lying, of course, just as the entire bench of opposition members – and the majority of his own party members as well, no doubt – also knew. It was obvious to all that he was trying to bluff his way through the situation, but in doing so the feeling I had was that he had only dug a deeper hole for himself. It wouldn’t take a great deal of sleuthing by any worthwhile member of the press to find a link between them, and just as soon as it could be proven that he had misled parliament his career was as good as over. The days ahead were going to be very interesting indeed.
When we saw him scurry out of the house a few moments later, reaching for his phone before he had even cleared the doors and leaving behind a room in uproar, Helen leaned over and asked, ‘What do you reckon? Seen enough of this debacle?’
‘Fuck yeah,’ I replied. ‘I think I need a coffee.’
‘Fuck the coffee. I think I need something stronger,’ Helen laughed.
* * *
If we had been hopeful that the afternoon would provide us with some entertainment, we certainly weren’t disappointed. It wasn’t every day that a member of the state government appeared to be caught out telling untruths to a sitting of parliament, and when the newspapers and the television reporters cottoned on to what had taken place and began their own investigations, which were inevitable, everyone in the state was bound to know it. Just as Inspector Richardson had predicted, there wouldn’t be a place in the country where he would be able to hide.
I was already looking forward to catching the television news tonight to see what else might get dug up.
In the end Helen settled on a coffee as well, although I was pretty sure that she ordered one with a dash of something stronger thrown in, just for good measure. We had headed back toward the city, where we eventually found ourselves at the same little shop where Alexis had, until quite recently, worked. While Helen handled the orders I stayed on the footpath and decided to call Adam, to see what he was doing.
‘Hey, babe. What are you up to?’ he asked, just as soon as he picked up the call.
‘Just about to have a coffee after a visit to parliament house.’ I replied.
‘I would have thought you’d need something stronger than coffee after going to that place. Anything interesting happen?’
‘Funny. That’s just what Helen said. As for anything interesting happening . . . well, you’ll just have to catch the news tonight and find out,’ I chuckled.
‘Hmmm . . . I guess we’ll have time,’ he mused.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Oh, nothing much. I’ve just organised a little distraction for us tonight.’
‘What kind of distraction?’ I cautiously asked him, even if I was, however, secretly rather pleased about the idea, especially after what had been a particularly frustrating week.
‘Oh, you’ll see,’ he replied. ‘So, what’s with the news? Are you expecting something big to happen?’
‘Oh, you’ll see,’ I replied with a quiet chuckle.
‘You’re such a bitch sometimes!’ he teased.
‘And loving every minute of it!’ I responded.
I would have loved to have filled him in on all the details, right then and there, but that would have to wait, as I noticed Helen walking my way with our coffees.
‘I’ll fill you in with all the details later,’ I said to him. ‘Helen has just arrived with our coffees.’
‘Sure thing. I’ll pick you up after work again. Just message me if you’re going to be late, or anything.’
‘Will do,’ I replied.
‘Adam?’ Helen asked as she handed me a cup.
‘Yeah. He says he’s organised some sort of a distraction for us tonight.’
‘Sounds intriguing,’ she remarked. ‘A night on the town, or a night in?’
‘That I’m not sure about,’ I chuckled, as I took my first sip and we began to walk along the street once more.
‘So, what did you think of that circus this afternoon?’ Helen asked as we headed for Hyde Park. ‘Did Cummings give you the impression he was telling the truth when he said he didn’t know anything about Barrett being investigated?’
‘That’s hard to say,’ I replied. ‘If he’d have known about the investigation then surely he would have said something to Barrett, wouldn’t he? After all, each of them are in this as deep the other.’
‘That’s true, I suppose.’
‘I do think that Cumming’s surprise at hearing of Barrett’s arrest was genuine. As for the other part about Wright implying that there was some kind of relationship between Cummings and Barrett, I think that’s what really got him rattled . . . he now knows that people are onto them.’
‘Yeah, I tend to agree. And what about the Premier? Did you see the way he glared at Cummings?’
‘Yeah. That was a bit hard to miss. He’s clearly in the loop about what has been happening between Cummings and Barrett . . . after all, the stories of Barrett’s activities being covered up have been doing the rounds for a little while now, at least according to the Inspector, so I would think that he’s bound to have been aware of what’s been going on.’
‘Hmmm . . . and now that it has all bubbled to the surface he could be in just as much shit as the rest of them, politically speaking,’ Helen responded, as she took another sip from her cup and we continued our walk.
‘How so?’ I asked her.
‘Potentially, for covering everything up. If it can be established that the Premier knew about whatever Cummings and Barrett were up to, and did nothing about it . . .’
‘Yeah, that would drop him right in it, wouldn’t it? And I guess that will then flow all the way down the chain of command, both in Macquarie Street and for the police force as well?’
By this time we had reached the corner opposite the start of Hyde Park, where we stopped and pressed the pedestrian button at the lights in preparation to cross the road. It was while we were standing there waiting that I heard someone approach us from behind and when I glanced backwards to see who it was I found myself staring at the face of a man who was familiar to me, even if I couldn’t quite put a name to him.
‘Hello, Detective Cooper,’ he said to me. ‘Did your friend manage to find you the other day?’
He now had my full attention, as well as that of Helen, who had spun around to see who it was. ‘What are you on about, Sid?’ she demanded.
It was only then that I realised who it was; Sid Partridge, the fallen from grace former barrister, whom I had met briefly last week.
‘There was a man who has been looking for your young offsider,’ he offered. ‘Said he was an old friend.’
‘When was this, exactly?’ I probed, while reaching into my pocket for the photo I had been carrying around and soon showing it to him.
‘Yeah, that’s him. The first time was a little while ago . . . maybe Monday . . . no it had to be earlier than that,’ he said, as he scratched his rather unkempt grey hair. ‘Friday . . . it was Friday . . . I’m sure.’
That made sense. If he’d been looking for me on Friday and couldn’t find me, that was because I was in Newcastle.
‘What did you mean by the first time? Have you seen him more than once? And what did he say, exactly?’ snapped Helen.
‘I’ve seen him twice. He didn’t say a lot. He said he had seen me talking with you two earlier last week, but had missed the chance to catch up with you, so he was wondering if I knew how to get hold of you.’
‘And the second time? When was that? And what did he say then?’ I urged.
‘Two days ago. He said he still hadn’t caught up with you, but he felt sure that he would see you and your friends at the parade on Saturday.’
‘Where did you see him? Do you know where we can find him?’ Helen asked, sounding quite anxious.
‘Why?’ he cautiously asked.
‘Because he’s no friend,’ I answered. ‘He’s a pedophile and a killer, and we need to catch the bastard as quickly as we can.’
For what seemed like quite a long time Sid looked at me, studying me carefully, as if he was unsure if I was telling the truth or not.
‘He’s being serious, Sid,’ Helen eventually said. ‘This scumbag is bad news.’
‘All right then. I’ll ask around and see what I can find out,’ Sid replied.
* * *
The encounter with Sid had me on edge for the remainder of the day, especially as I now knew that Corcoran had actively been searching for me. I couldn’t help but wonder what he was up to, especially after his having told Sid that he was expecting to see me and my friends at the Mardi Gras on the weekend.
Just what was he planning? And if he was up to no good, as I had no doubt he would be, how the hell could I prevent anything from happening to Adam or Nick or Brad, unless, of course, I could keep them from attending; which I already knew was simply not going to happen, no matter how hard I might try and talk them out of it.
It was more than just a little disturbing not knowing how Corcoran was thinking. Was he still fixated on me, in the same way we think he had been back when I was at school, or was it something different that was driving him these days? Even I knew that I was well past being the cute teenage twink that I had once been, so if it wasn’t because of some ongoing attraction toward me, then what was it? Could it really be something as simple as a desire to prevent anyone else from having me, like Helen and I had discussed? Could it be jealousy? Or revenge?
Adding to my confusion was the fact that he was now getting closer to me. If it wasn’t bad enough that he knew where I lived and had already approached people I cared about, he was now actively looking for me elsewhere, after not being able to find me at home, and with the stated intention of us ‘catching up’, as if we were old buddies. That was certainly one label I wouldn’t ever have used to describe our relationship, and I could only hope that no one ever thought of us in those terms.
The more I thought about it all, the more confused I was becoming. But that wasn’t all. I was also becoming angrier and angrier at the fact that this guy was playing with me, and with people I loved and cared about. The list of names of the people whose lives he had ruined was growing rapidly, and I was determined that, while ever there was any breath left in my body, I would do everything in my power to ensure that there wouldn’t be any more names added to that list.
At the end of the day I was still stewing it all over in my mind when I eventually found myself down on the street and waiting for Adam. To try and take my mind off Corcoran I thought I would check in with Jimmy and Shane, and so after pulling my phone from my pocket I flipped it open and hit their number on speed dial. Shane picked it up on the third ring.
‘Hello there, Coop,’ he cheerfully said. ‘What are you up to?’
‘Just checking up on a couple of young punks,’ I replied. ‘I heard there was a disturbance up that way, so I thought I’d better make sure it wasn’t you pair who were getting up to no good.’
‘What? Us? Up to no good? What do take us for?’ he laughed.
‘Well, you I’m not worried about so much . . . but that other bugger . . .’
‘Yeah, I think I know what you mean,’ he chuckled.
‘So, what have you guys been up to?’ I asked. By the sound of the seagulls and the boats in the background I imagined they were down on the water someplace.
‘Right now we’re with Tom at the dock where he ties up the boat. We’re trying to catch something for dinner . . . Beth said she’d cook it if we caught it . . . but she has some sausages on stand-by, just in case.’
‘At least someone up there is still thinking straight,’ I teased. ‘And what else have you been doing?’
‘Well, today we went surfing over on the beach . . .’ he added, with the excitement clearly evident. ‘And yesterday Beth took us over on the ferry and into the city to go shopping . . . and we had lunch near the beach . . . and we met your sister and little Mattie . . . and . . .’
‘Whoa . . . slow down kid. You’re making me exhausted already,’ I chuckled, even if I was secretly pleased to hear him talking like an excited kid again and not the scared, jaded and disillusioned youth that he had seemed to be just a matter of days beforehand. I also had to admit that I was a little bit concerned about their having already met Stacey and Mattie, but checked myself before saying anything and made a note to talk to Beth about it later. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t trust either of the boys, it simply seemed a bit soon.
‘Sorry . . . it’s just that, I don’t know, I guess it’s just that I can’t remember ever having it so good.’
‘I’m so glad to hear that, mate. And what about Jimmy?’
‘Oh, he thinks this place is just heaven,’ Shane laughed.
‘Heaven? Did he actually say that?’
‘Well, kind of. He says that if we had been living in hell before, then this must be heaven we’re in now, and it was the angels who saved us and took us in.’
‘Wow! When did he say that?’
‘The other night, in bed,’ he said quite softly, as if he didn’t want the others hearing. ‘Sometimes he goes all deep and meaningful, you know, especially after we’ve just . . . errr . . .’
‘It’s okay, I think I get the picture,’ I quietly chuckled. ‘Well, you better put the larrikin on the phone, so I can find out if you really have been behaving yourself. It’s great to hear you sounding so happy, Shane. We’ll try and come up again soon to see you guys, all right.’
‘That’d be awesome,’ he replied, before adding, ‘Okay, here’s Jimmy,’ then passing the phone over.
‘Hey, Coop. How’s it hanging?’ Jimmy asked, which only made me laugh.
‘Loose and full of juice, man!’ I cheekily replied. ‘How’re things with you, mate?’
‘Well, that Adam fella must be doing it all wrong then!’ he countered.
‘Well, you’ll never find that out, will you?’ I responded, which earned a laugh and something about not needing to ever go there.
It was good to hear that he was still his usual cocky self, but at the same time, as crazy as it might sound, even just from this brief exchange I could tell that in the past week he had changed. His voice sounded deeper and somehow more confident, with just a hint of the man he was going to become shining through.
‘So mate, you sound happy,’ I suggested.
‘You have no idea, Coop. This place is fantastic. And Tom and Beth are simply the best.’
‘And what’s this I hear about heaven and angels and stuff? You’re not going all religious on me now, are you?’
‘No way, man. Don’t you know that they frown down on our sort at church?’ he laughed. ‘I just figure that seeing I said enough prayers over the years, maybe it was time to acknowledge they really do exist, especially now that they’ve been answered and me and Shane aren’t living in hell no more.’
‘Jimmy, I don’t really know what to say to that.’
‘You don’t have to say nuthin’ Coop. Just know that we’re going to be forever in yours and Helen’s debt . . . and Tom and Beth’s, of course.’
‘We were just doing our job, mate. But you just make sure you both give those two angels up there a hug sometime,’ I urged.
‘Already done that!’ he said proudly. ‘So, when are you coming up here again? Or do you think we might be able to go to Mardi Gras this weekend?’
‘We’ll get up there soon . . . maybe the weekend after Mardi Gras . . . and the answer is no, you can’t go this weekend, you’re supposed to be lying low, remember?’
‘Damn. You’re no fun, you know that?’
‘That’s not what Adam says,’ I laughed, which earned a groan from the other end. ‘Now put Tom on, will you please? I’ll see you guys real soon.’
‘Okay. See you soon, bro.’
Bro, huh? I think I liked the sound of that.
‘What’s all this about Mardi Gras?’ I heard Tom say just as he was being handed the phone.
‘Coop says we can’t go,’ I heard Jimmy answer.
‘Damn straight you can’t go,’ Tom scolded, before finally putting the phone to his ear and saying to me, ‘Don’t they know they’re supposed to be hiding out up here?’
‘That’s just what I got through explaining to him,’ I answered. ‘So, how have they been, Tom? No troubles?’
‘Nah. No troubles. In fact, they’ve probably been easier to deal with than the last pair of teenage boys we had in the house,’ he mischievously replied.
‘Is that so?’ I responded.
‘Oh , yeah. This pair just seem to spend all day locked in their room. What do you think they could be doing in there?’
‘I’m sure I wouldn’t know, Tom. Why don’t you ask them?’
‘I . . . errr . . . don’t think that would be a very good idea, do you?’
‘Probably not,’ I laughed.
‘So, have you caught our man yet?’ he enquired.
‘We almost had him,’ I answered.
‘Yeah, really,’ I replied, before then proceeding to explain the events of the past few days, including our subsequent unearthing of his lair and what it contained, along with the most recent development of Corcoran’s seeking me out.
I had promised both Tom and Beth that I wouldn’t keep anything from them, and apart from that, I felt better for having someone who I trusted and who I could talk to about everything that was happening. For a few moments Tom went silent, as he often did while digesting what he had been told, and as always I waited patiently for his comments and advice, which I trusted implicitly.
‘He’s not going to give up, you know?’ Tom eventually said.
‘No. I don’t think so either.’
‘But it’s also going to be different from here on in,’ he offered.
While I contemplated that remark I decided to sit down on one a nearby bench, as I waited for Tom to continue.
‘I don’t think he’s interested any longer in just making sure that some other guy doesn’t have you,’ he offered.
‘If he’s trying to get closer to you, it can only mean one thing . . .’
‘That he wants the grand prize?’ I mused.
‘Yeah, something like that,’ he replied.
‘That’s what I was thinking too.’
‘Promise me you’ll take care of yourself, Rick. Don’t go taking any unnecessary risks just because of this guy. We want him caught, of course, but we couldn’t stand losing another boy . . .’
‘Don’t worry. I won’t be doing anything foolish,’ I answered, just as I noticed Adam pull into the kerb. ‘Look, I have to get going now, Adam has just shown up. Give my love to Beth, won’t you please. And I promise I’ll call again soon.’
‘Okay. Please take care.’
‘I will,’ I said, before disconnecting.
When I climbed into Adam’s car he was all smiles, which was in marked contrast to how I was feeling, which he quickly picked up on. I wanted to reach out and hug him, and kiss him, and have him tell me that everything was going to be all right, but at this time of the afternoon, with the streets packed with people rushing home, it just wasn’t the done thing in downtown Sydney, and we both knew it.
‘Is everything okay?’ he asked.
‘I’m not sure,’ I replied. ‘Apparently Corcoran has been asking after me with some of the people we know from the streets. Telling them that we’re old friends and saying he wants to catch up.’
‘Shit. What do you think that means?’
‘Possibly that he’s shifting his focus. I was just talking to Tom about it and he thinks that it’s no longer just enough to keep these other guys away from me . . . now he actually wants me.’
‘Which could at least explain why he’s been coming around to your place . . .’
‘Yeah, I guess it could.’
‘So, where do you go from here?’
‘That’s a very good question,’ I replied. ‘But one for later on. Right now all I want to do is go home, have a shower and then head out on the town. I’m not going to let the thought of this prick stalking me ruin the night you’ve got planned for us.’
‘That’s the spirit,’ he chuckled.
‘So where are we going?’
‘Newtown,’ he answered, as he pulled out into the traffic. ‘I got us some tickets for a new drag act playing at the Imperial Hotel, called The Twisted Sisters. Should be good for a laugh or two.’
‘Brilliant! I could do with something like that right about now!’
* * *
Just as soon as we arrived back at Adam’s place he switched on the television, apparently having not forgotten what I had said earlier about catching the news.
‘I’ve been curious all afternoon,’ he said when he noticed me grinning at him. ‘I was even checking the online news sites to see if there was anything juicy that could have been what you were hinting at. I figured that it would have had to have been something to do with state parliament, seeing as that was where you had been.’
We had missed the start of the bulletin, but I knew that they always did a recap at the end of the show, so while we busied ourselves finding some clothes we kept a close eye on the television.
At the end of a commercial break which followed the weather report the presenter came back on air, saying, ‘And now recapping today’s top stories . . .’
Both Adam and I immediately focused our attention on the screen, while sitting down on a nearby sofa.
‘The New South Wales Police Force is in crisis tonight, with the arrest of Assistant Commissioner Colin Barrett on charges relating to a child prostitution ring, while the Police Minister has also come under fire in State Parliament and been questioned about his knowledge of the affair . . .’
The statement was accompanied by a few seconds of footage of the day’s action in parliament, showing a very worried looking Police Minister and a grinning Leader of the opposition.
‘Holy shit!’ Adam exclaimed. ‘Is this for real?’
‘Very much so. This is pretty big,’ I replied. ‘And I don’t think it’s going to stop with just those two either.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You should have seen the look the Premier gave Cummings when the Opposition Leader asked his question. Helen and I both reckon he knows all about it . . . and if it comes out that he has covered anything up, it’ll be his head on the chopping block as well.’
‘That guy from the opposition sure looked smug. I reckon they’ll be thinking they’re on to something here . . .’
‘And that’s just it . . . they’re all over it.’
As he got up from the seat and switched off the television he said, ‘I can’t wait to see tomorrow’s papers then.’
‘No, neither can I,’ I replied as we both headed for the bathroom, pulling off clothes as we went.
The show at the Imperial wasn’t scheduled to start until after nine o’clock, which had given us plenty of time to have a shower and get ready then grab something to eat, before heading to Newtown. We ate at a café not far from Adam’s place, then headed across town by taxi, as neither of us wanted to be driving after the show with alcohol in our system. The trip took about half an hour, and we arrived at the Hotel with plenty of time to spare. Even before we had climbed out of the vehicle we could see the place was jumping, with music blasting from open widows and the colourful crowd spilling onto the footpath. This was the hotel which featured in the movie Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, and while I had been here several times over the years, I had never seen it quite this busy.
‘Must be a lot of extra people here because of Mardi Gras,’ Adam said, after paying the cab fare and joining me on the footpath.
‘You said you had tickets, didn’t you?’
‘Yeah. We’d have Buckley’s* chance of getting in otherwise.’
‘Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s not waste them,’ I urged, as I took his hand and started dragging him toward the front door, eager to push the events of the day as far back into the recesses of my mind as I possibly could.
It was a pub just like thousands of similar pubs that could be found in Australia, yet it was unlike any other I had ever been inside. The traditional solid brick construction with a liberal insertion of dark timber had stood the test of time, yet the lights and the gaiety, in stark contrast with the interior walls that were painted black, and the almost exclusive gay clientele, set it apart from most other similar establishments. It was a place that needed to be experienced, and as we pushed our way through the throng and made our way to the bar, where I ordered us both Whiskey Sours, that was exactly what I hoped to do tonight, with Corcoran and everything else that was going on to be forgotten about.
Around us there were people laughing, people drinking, and people generally having a great time, while posters and signs were plastered everywhere promoting the Mardi Gras and the various acts that would be providing entertainment at the Imperial over Mardi Gras weekend. The most prominent of these seemed to be that for The Twisted Sisters, featuring Trixie Peanut, Christie Sausage and Star Crackers, and their stage names alone were enough to start me chuckling, so I had high hopes for an entertaining evening.
Adam seemed to know a few of the people here, as I noticed him nod to someone, or say hello to others as we waited to be served, then, with our drinks in hand we pushed back through the crowd and found one of the few empty tables in the place, where we sat down and started watching the passing parade of patrons, all the while being bombarded with flashing lights and loud, thumping music with a dance beat.
There were people of all ages and from all walks of life, with everyone from the young twinks just beginning to spread their wings, to older guys and gals just sitting back and watching in amusement as they recalled their own youth, and everyone in between.
It was the younger ones who tended to grab my attention, as I was one of those who was happily remembering my own youth and my first uneasy visits to places like this, even if it wasn’t that long ago anyhow. Some of tonight’s kids looked a little nervous, while others seemed much more comfortable in their own skin; confident and really putting themselves out there. Some were dressed conservatively, while others were dressed in leather, or in some cases very little at all, giving everyone a good look at what they had to offer; and judging by the expressions on the faces of some of those around us, I figured there would be plenty of offers taken up tonight.
‘So, what do you think?’ Adam asked, while almost having to yell at me to get his question across.
‘The place is really rocking tonight,’ I yelled back. ‘I’ve been here before, but it’s never been this busy.’
‘Yeah . . . I guess Mardi Gras will do that. Do you want to stay here, or should we go into the function room and grab our seat?’
After glancing at my watch I saw that the show was due to start in about fifteen minutes.
‘Come on, let’s find our seats,’ I answered, as I got to my feet. Adam joined me and we soon joined a throng of people heading down the dark hallway to the function room, which we soon found was already more than half full, and filling rapidly.
Adam showed our tickets to the good looking young doorman, who pointed toward the front of the room, and we soon began to make our way between the rows of tables.
At the front of the room there was a stage, complete with what looked to be a red velvet curtain, while at the back of the room there was a bar, which was already doing a roaring trade. The rest of the room was filled with rows of round tables, each with space for six people.
‘Front row. I’m impressed,’ I said to Adam as we found our table.
‘What can I say . . . it sometimes helps to know someone who knows someone,’ he replied, as we settled into two of the seats.
‘I’ll have to try and remember that. And are we expecting company?’ I remarked, noting the four extra seats at our table.
‘I hope you don’t mind,’ he said. ‘The tickets were offered to me by a friend after someone couldn’t make it, so that’s why I was able to arrange it all at short notice.’
‘Why would I mind? I haven’t met too many of your friends yet . . . apart from those who you were with at Caesar’s when we used to go there.’
‘Well, in that case you’ve probably already met a couple of our companions for tonight . . . but I’m not sure about the others.’
‘The more the merrier, I say.’
‘That’s what I hoped you would say,’ he offered, as he leaned across and gave me a quick peck on the cheek.
‘What was that for?’ I chuckled, suddenly feeling like a teenager out on a first date.
‘Do I need a reason?’ he pouted.
‘No, of course not. You can do it any time you want to, as far as I’m concerned.’
‘Good. You might just get a few more of those before this night is out.’
‘I’m counting on it,’ I replied, as I leaned in and returned the favor.
‘Well, well, well. Don’t tell me someone has finally managed to snare young Adam Bennett?’ a deep voice said from behind us. ‘I never thought I’d see the day!’
Quite surprised I turned around to see two men standing there and grinning down at us. One was a big guy, tall and well built, who I would have guessed to have been in his forties, while his companion was a small and effeminate looking guy, who didn’t look to be much older than me.
‘I told you that you’d missed your chance Nathan,’ Adam said, while getting to his feet and shaking the hand of the older of the two.
‘And as I told you, you were always too damned butch for my taste,’ the big man laughed, while putting his arm around the waist of his companion and pulling him close. ‘Hi, I’m Nathan Sharpe, I’m Adam’s boss,’ the big man said, as he thrust out a hand toward me.
‘Nathan, this is my partner, Rick. Rick Cooper,’ Adam responded.
‘Partner? Damn boy, you sure move quick,’ Nathan laughed loudly as I shook hands with him. ‘When did this happen? And why wasn’t I told?’
‘About a week ago. I’m sure I sent you the memo,’ Adam teased. ‘Anyway, Coop, and this is Ryan Langdon . . . he’s the only guy I know, apart from me, of course, who doesn’t take any crap from the big guy here,’ Adam added, while indicating his boss’ partner.
‘It’s nice to meet you,’ Ryan said, in a voice that could hardly be heard amidst the noise of the rapidly growing crowd.
‘And you also,’ I replied.
While we were all still standing we were also joined by another couple, whom I recognised as having at least met before, at Caesar’s if my memory served me correctly, even if I couldn’t immediately put a name to their faces.
Once the greetings were out of the way we resumed our seats and started chatting, while Nathan caught the eye of one of the waiters who was serving drinks and ordered a round of cocktails for us all.
‘So, Adam, you’ve sure kept quiet about this one,’ Nathan observed.
‘Just didn’t want you drooling all over him, I guess,’ Adam replied, to which we all managed a laugh, even his boss.
Upon sitting down the conversation started to flow, and while at first Adam’s employer seemed a little loud and overbearing I soon found myself liking him, and especially his no nonsense, ‘call it like I see it’ attitude. The other two guys, Ian and John, also appeared to be good company, and over a few drinks, while we waited for the stage show to commence, there were plenty of laughs to go around, which only slowed when the lights began to dim. The sound of conversation everywhere quickly dried up, then being quickly replaced by whistles and cheers from the raucous crowd as they really started to come alive.
Gradually the shadow that was the stage curtain at the front of the room was pulled back, yet despite the room being in darkness it was easy enough to make out the faint silhouettes of three figures standing in the centre of the stage, given away by the occasional glint of a sequin or the sheen from some shimmering material.
Suddenly three spotlights came on, revealing a blonde, a brunette and a red-head, all decked out in makeup, sequins, high heels and feather boas. Parts of the crowd went wild just at the sight of them, which left me thinking that I was missing something here.
‘At first I was afraid, I was petrified . . .’ began the all too familiar song, accompanied by some mimed actions from the blonde as she stepped forward into the centre of the stage.
‘Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side . . .’ added the red-head as she too stepped forward.
‘But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong . . .’ mimed the brunette as she joined her companions, before the three of them started working together as the song led into the chorus.
Looking around me I could see dozens of faces, either singing along, or simply with what seemed liked looks of rapture upon them, which, given the fact that the performers had only just started, was quite amazing, or at least to me, anyhow.
‘Did you think I’d crumble . . .’
‘Did you think I’d lay down and die . . .’
‘Oh no, not I . . .’
‘I will survive . . .’
Being the anthem that it was, the song was infectious, and quite quickly had people swaying in their seats, or dancing around, mimicking the extravagant mime and dance movements of the three stars on stage before us. When I glanced at Ryan, who was sitting beside me, I could see that he too was quite taken with them.
‘Are they really well known?’ I asked him, still feeling as if I were missing something. At first he looked at me in amazement, as if I must have been totally mad, but then he smiled.
‘Have you been living under a rock or something? They’re only the world’s biggest drag act. They come from Las Vegas.’
‘I . . . errr . . . haven’t been to Las Vegas,’ I lamely replied, which earned me exactly the look that I deserved.
At least I knew now why everyone was going crazy.
When the end of the song came the place erupted, while the three starlets basked in the applause, blowing kisses to the audience and taking a bow, before the blonde finally squealed, ‘Hellooooo Syd-e-neeee,’ as she pranced along the front of the stage, waving to everyone, which only seemed to earn them more wild applause from the crowd.
While I had seen drag shows before, they were usually amateur pub acts and were often crappy and unprofessional, with performers often fluffing their movements, telling really bad jokes and not taking things too seriously at all. After just one song from The Twisted Sisters, I could already tell that this wasn’t one of those crappy pub acts, and it was going to be a night that I would remember for a long while to come.
From ‘I Will Survive’ the act launched directly into ‘You’re The One That I Want’ from the movie Grease, which I couldn’t ever recall having been done in drag before. This proved to be just as big a hit as the first song, as the blonde and the brunette pushed each other back and forth across the stage, just like Olivia and John had done all those years ago. From there it was a medley of other nineteen seventies disco songs, familiar to me only because I had heard them and seen them performed in Australian movies like Priscilla or Muriel’s Wedding, or in other drag shows.
‘Oh my,’ the blonde eventually said at the end of that set, in a sultry American voice, as she sat down on one of three stools that had been brought on stage, while her companions each took a seat on one of the other stools. ‘You’re such a wonderful audience. I think I’d like to take some of you home with me,’ she cooed, which earned some cheers and some laughter, and some wise ass down the back yelling out, ‘Pick me . . . pick me . . .’
‘Now Trixie, you shouldn’t be greedy,’ the brunette said. ‘We might want to take some home too!’
‘Screw you, Star. You can go find your own,’
‘Well, while you two are fighting over who’s going to do what, I think I’ll go and do exactly that,’ the red-head said, as she got to her feet once more and started for the front of the stage.
‘Christie, get your ass back here!’ the other two called out to their companion, only to be dismissed with a nonchalant flap of a hand as the red-head sat down on the edge of the stage and swung her long, stocking covered legs over the edge.
‘Oh, Mr Light Man, can you shine your light along the front here please,’ she seductively purred, and with a wave of her hand, as the lighting technician did exactly that.
The spotlight swung from one front row table to the next, before being waved on by Christie, but when it settled on our table she cast her eyes over the six of us and then loudly said, ‘Stop right there!’
‘Shit!’ I muttered.
Christie Sausage walked around our table looking down at us, but when she stopped directly behind me I just knew I was in trouble.
‘My, my, isn’t he pretty,’ the husky voiced red-head with an American accent said as she twirled her boa around me. ‘Can I take him home with me?’ she asked Adam, who vigourously shook his head from side to side and said no.
The crowd laughed some more, while I was left shaking in my boots. For starters I wasn’t exactly the type of guy who liked being the centre of attention, or at least not out in public, so that, coupled with the fact that I was in the position I was in, had the potential to put me in a difficult spot.
Then, before I had even had a chance to say a word, I found myself with a lap full of American drag queen.
‘Oh, my. I sure hope you’re a police officer . . . because if you’re not, I don’t think that concealed weapon you’re carrying would be legal in this country, would it?’ she announced for all to hear, before leaning in close to me and whispering, ‘Just be a sport and I’ll be gone in a jiffy.’
‘Christie Lee Sausage . . . leave that boy alone and get your sweet little fanny back on this stage RIGHT NOW!’ her two companions shouted.
With nothing like this having ever happened to me before I had no idea where to look, or what to do, much to the delight of Adam and friends, and those at the surrounding tables, all of whom could clearly see my discomfort.
Christie soon managed to extricate herself from my lap, then straighten herself up and adjusted her clothes, before then leaning over and giving me a peck on the cheek.
‘Thanks honey. You’re a peach,’ she quietly said to me, before placing a finger under my chin to raise my head so that I was gazing into her eyes, then giving me a wink and heading back toward the stage, amidst wolf-whistles and calls of, ‘I wouldn’t mind some of that,’ and, ‘What about me?’ from various sections of the crowd.
‘Damn girl, you do that every time we go out somewhere!’ Trixie scolded her as she climbed back onto the stage. ‘We’ll be lucky if we’re invited back again!’
‘Honey, don’t you know you’ve got have balls to get away with the things I do?’ Christie replied, which really brought the house down.
A sluice of bawdy jokes soon followed, most of which I hadn’t ever heard before, then for the next hour or so, until an intermission break at least, I was able to totally forget all my troubles as the trio of lovely ladies on stage kept the music, the dancing and the jokes coming, one after the other, after the other. I couldn’t remember ever laughing so hard, and as a distraction from the evils of my day job, it was entirely welcome.
Eventually they came to a stop and said that they were going to take a short break, but we weren’t to go away anywhere. The lights came on and people started getting to their feet to stretch their legs and grab a drink. Before we could do anything about that ourselves, however, a waiter appeared at our table, carrying a tray with a single cocktail glass upon it, which was soon set down right in front of me.
‘What’s this?’ I said to him.
‘Compliments of the man at the bar, sir,’ he replied, before motioning toward the bar area.
We all looked that way, and despite the crowd starting to gather there I could easily see who it was that the waiter had referred to.
‘Oh, fuck!’ was all I managed to say, before the crowd seemed to take over and block my view of Daniel Corcoran.
To be continued . . .