The city was really buzzing when we finally stepped off the bus just near Hyde Park. It was a glorious morning and there were people everywhere, with many of them heading for Whitlam Square and the start of Oxford Street, most likely with thoughts of grabbing a good spot from which they could view the parade later in the day.
‘Have you been into the city very often?’ I asked the boys as we stood watching the stream of people pass us by.
They both shook their heads.
‘How about we wander down to the Opera House and have a bit of a look around there for starters?’ Adam suggested. ‘Then we can follow the harbour around to The Rocks and then back up into Pitt Street to check out some shops.’
‘All the floats will soon start gathering over on the other side of Hyde Park,’ I remarked. ‘How about we save the shopping for another time and see if we can get a close look at the floats as they are marshalled for the parade?’
‘Okay then . . . we’ve still got a few hours to kill, so how about we hike down to the Opera House, find something down that way for lunch and then come back up here to check out the floats?’
‘Sounds pretty good to me,’ I replied.
‘The cops have got a float, haven’t they?’ Nick asked.
‘So, are you going to be on it?’ added Brad.
‘Not a chance, kiddo. I’ll leave that to the professionals.’
‘What are you? Chicken, or something?’ he teased.
‘Brad, do you think you would be game enough to get up in front of thousands of people, while dressed in lycra, and not much of it, and flash that cute little tush of yours at them while dancing around to disco songs from the nineteen-seventies?’
He was grinning, but at the same time he was shaking his head.
‘Nah, I didn’t think so,’ I gently mocked.
‘So, you think my tush is cute?’ he responded.
Oh, fuck, I thought.
I glanced at Adam, then at Nick, they were both grinning at me.
‘Well?’ demanded Brad.
‘Well, maybe with about five more years of working out I might find it attractive . . . but you’ve got a long way to go yet, kid,’ I responded. Then, with a sudden burst of inspiration I grabbed Adam and spun him around, while slapping him on the arse and saying, ‘Now this tush . . . this one really gets my motor running!’
‘Hmmm . . . mine too,’ a stranger’s voice from behind me suddenly said. Spinning around we found two guys, both of whom looked to be in their forties, walking toward us, before passing on either side of us and keeping on going. They both looked back over their shoulders and grinned at us before continuing on their merry way, with one offering a wink before he turned back around and continued on his way.
Adam and I looked at each other and cracked up laughing. At first the boys didn’t quite know what to think, but pretty soon they joined in and were laughing with us, with both of them also giving Adam a slap on the tush as we headed off down the street toward the Opera House.
The boys were agog at some of the people we passed on the way down the hill, with same sex couples of both sexes being the norm, rather than the exception, on this particular day of the year. Even at this early hour there were dozens of people who were wearing parade outfits, or at least that’s what they looked like to me. For all I knew, however, they could have been wearing their normal dress for a Saturday night on the town, which had me thinking that if that was the case, they sure must have gone to some way-out gigs. Of course I could remember people getting dressed up in similar fashion for nights out at the Imperial, or even Caesar’s (back when I used to frequent that particular place), but even by those standards some of today’s outfits were outlandish.
Nick and Brad were walking a few metres in front of us and I could see their heads spinning from left to right as they tried taking in the sights. When a bikie chick, who bore a striking resemblance to Helen, passed them and said, ‘Hello sweetie,’ to Brad, he turned his whole body around to watch her, subsequently running straight into a leather clad man with a handlebar moustache.
‘Geez kid, you’re a bit young to be out today,’ he gently kidded him, as he helped straighten the boy back up and set him right on his feet, before he fell over entirely.
‘Oh . . . uh . . . sorry, mister,’ was all Brad could manage to stammer, while his brother could only laugh at him.
The man said, ‘No problem little buddy,’ then kept walking, while giving Adam and me a wink as he passed us by.
For the next hour we continued our stroll, exploring the Opera House and gazing up at her magnificent white sails, just like all the tourists who were doing the same, walking all the way around the landmark before finally finding one of the cafés, where we bought some lunch and continued our people watching. For Brad it must have seemed like he’d died and gone to heaven, as he was checking out both the guys and the chicks, but judging by the disappointment which showed on his face after I told him that most of the girls he had been ogling were only interested in other girls, this was a huge let-down.
Afterwards we started back up the hill, passing an ice cream vendor from whom we bought some more refreshments, before continuing on our way.
At one point a guy who looked to be at least forty rolled by on a skateboard, wearing tattered jeans, no shirt and a baseball cap that was sitting sideways on his head. For his age he still had a pretty decent body, but you could definitely tell he had seen better days.
Personally I had always found it rather sad seeing folks like that. To me it was as if they still seemed to be stuck in their teenage years; however, one day the world was bound to catch up with them and when that happened they would be in for one hell of a shock.
I distinctly heard Brad say, ‘What the fuck?’ and elbow his brother in the ribs, as they both chuckled at the sight.
As we continued on our way up the hill the boys were still ogling every good looking, half naked guy they saw, or sniggering at some of the older, though still obviously gay, guys that seemed to be living in the past.
‘Just remember boys, that gay folks come in all shapes, sizes and ages, and maybe one day it could be you getting dressed up at seventy but still going out to enjoy the parade and the camaraderie of having fun with friends you’ve had for years and years,’ I cautioned them.
‘Does that mean when we’re here in our seventies and still struttin’ our stuff, you’ll both be in your eighties and be here with us?’ Brad responded.
‘Well Brad, I don’t know about Rick, but you can count me in!’ Adam replied, just a little too eagerly, I thought.
He looked at me with raised eyebrows, as if daring me to say something to the contrary.
‘Yeah, why the hell not?’ I said with a laugh. ‘But it’ll be a miracle if your tush is still cute by then.’
‘Maybe, but it’ll still be cuter than yours,’ Brad shot back.
‘Well, the kid does have a point there,’ Adam observed.
‘Right, that does it. I’m joining a gym,’ I declared.
* * *
It was after lunch time by the time we made it back to Hyde Park, footsore and ready for another rest, but there wasn’t really time for that, at least for me, as I would soon need to front up at our squad room for the briefing.
Crossing through the park we headed for College Street, where I thought the floats would start to assemble.
‘How many floats are there in the parade?’ Nick asked me as we strolled along.
‘I’m really not sure, mate. Why? Do you want to try and get a spot on one as a dancer or something?’ I asked.
‘Oh, hell no,’ he replied. ‘Anyhow, I’m too young . . . aren’t I?’
‘Yeah, you might need to give it a couple of years. Maybe then we’ll see what you think about it,’ I chuckled, while playfully ruffing up his hair.
The look on his face just at that moment, which had quickly flushed bright red, was priceless. I simply smiled at him. Here was a kid who, only days ago, had confided in me his inner-most secret, yet he seemed to be embracing his sexuality with a maturity that was beyond his years. There was so much he still had to learn, and so much I wanted to teach him about the ways of the world, but there was also so much I wanted to protect him from. Even so, I already knew that while he would probably make mistakes along the way, just as we all did, he would still emerge from this transformation from boy to man as a self-assured and confident person, able to deal with whatever life threw at him. All I wanted was for him to be safe and happy in life, and while ever I was around I would do everything I could to help him be just that.
When we reached College Street on the far side of Hyde Park, we noticed some signs directing people and floats to the marshalling areas in the various streets joining it. There were other people following the signs, so we simply followed the crowd, most of whom seemed to be chatting away excitedly. Their levels of excitement seemed infectious, as around us people in all states of dress, or undress, as the case may be, were talking and laughing and adding to the party atmosphere which seemed to be building.
Once more the boy’s heads were spinning, with their eyes almost jumping out of their skulls.
As I looked at some of the people around us I couldn’t quite figure out what was with some of the parade participants, as the start of the parade was still more than six hours away, yet here they were all dressed up and ready to go. Perhaps it was the shock factor they were enjoying, or perhaps it was simply the freedom of being able to wear whatever they wanted on this particular day of the year, so they were just making the most of it?
I wondered how long it might be before I would need to arrest someone for indecent exposure?
Turning down the first street we came to, we were soon confronted with the spectacular sight of a row of Mardi Gras floats, all lined up along the edge of the road, while having the finishing touches applied by an army of workers.
There were about a dozen floats of all shapes and sizes, with people fussing over them as they applied streamers, banners, tinsel, ribbon and just about anything else you could imagine. In the middle of the street other people were rehearsing their dance moves, while along the footpaths there was a curious line-up of onlookers, of which we soon joined the ranks.
‘So, what do you think, boys?’ I said to them.
‘Never seen anything like it!’ Nick cheerily replied. ‘It’s like something out of . . . of . . .’ he tried to add, as he searched for just the right word.
I gave him an encouraging pat on the back.
‘It’s like Disneyland,’ he finally managed to say.
‘And the Sydney Royal Easter Show, and Christmas, and New Year, all rolled into one,’ Adam added.
‘Just you wait until the parade starts!’ I suggested.
As we continued to stroll down the footpath the boys went ahead of us, trying to get a closer look at some of the floats, dodging workers and participants and spinning around and around as they would pass them, their mouths open in a constant state of amazement.
Amongst our own kind I felt somewhat emboldened and at one point I reached across and took Adam’s hand in mine. At first I think he was quite surprised, but when he gently gave my hand a squeeze it felt empowering. I couldn’t ever recall having held hands with another guy in public like this . . . even with Martin any signs of affection had usually been kept far out of the public eye. We were comfortable enough to show some affection for each other when his parents were around, but even then it was little more than hand holding, so as far Adam’s and my relationship was going, this felt like something of a big deal.
‘Did you ever think that you’d find yourself walking down a street in the middle of Sydney, hand in hand with some guy?’ Adam asked me, as if he were reading my mind, as we stopped and leant against the front of an office. We were watching the boys circle a large trailer that was decorated with the colours of a well-known suburban based gay football club. A bunch of fit, good looking guys, wearing only their football shorts, were at work around it, and the boys seemed enthralled by them.
‘No,’ I replied honestly. ‘And to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’ve ever imagined myself being this up close and personal with a Mardi Gras parade either. Just ask Helen what my reaction was when I found out two weeks ago that I would be helping out with the police float.’
‘I’ll have to try and remember to do that,’ he replied with a quiet chuckle. ‘I take it that it wasn’t the response that she had hoped for?’
‘Let’s just say I was slightly pissed at the idea, and she was slightly pissed at the newbie showing some attitude!’
‘Nice one! Way to go with making an impression there, Detective!’
‘Tell me about it!’ I laughed.
When the boys moved on to the next float, a pink monstrosity with pom-poms attached all along the sides, we tagged along behind them. I was happy for Nick and Brad to explore things for themselves, provided they didn’t get too far ahead of us or in the way of those people working around the floats. I was also particularly pleased that Brad was at least curious about this world which his brother seemed destined to become a part of, as even if his own interest in guys changed and he grew out of that as he grew older, and ended up totally straight himself, Brad would still have an understanding of what it was like to be Nick and would, hopefully, be able to offer him some support as they grew up together.
I mentioned this to Adam as we strolled along and he agreed with me, although he was doubtful that Brad would end up straight.
‘Just look at him,’ Adam urged. ‘He’s as into this whole scene just as much as Nick is.’
‘Yeah, but he’s only thirteen, for fuck sake. How many times did you change your mind about things between when you were thirteen, and eighteen or twenty?’
‘About liking guys? None at all. I knew what I wanted and set out to get it,’ Adam replied. ‘But about other stuff, well yeah, I guess I did chop and change a bit. My guess is that Brad’s just playing the bi card like a lot of guys tend to do . . . Oh no, I’m not totally gay, I dig chicks too, so I must be bi, not gay! Don’t tell me you haven’t seen guys say or do that . . . then five minutes later go off in search of some new guy to fuck them? They use it as a convenient cover.’
‘As a cover? So, you’re saying that all guys are either gay or straight, but if they say they’re bi all that means is they’re really gay but aren’t able to admit it? It’s either black or white, and no shades of grey in between?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘So, do you even think that bisexual guys . . . ones who actually do enjoy sex with both guys and girls . . . really exist? Or are they all just gay guys using this as a convenient excuse?’
‘They exist. Of course they do. All I’m saying is that some guys who are truly one hundred percent gay just can’t bring themselves to admit it, so until they can find the courage to do that, being labelled as bisexual is the lesser of the two evils.’
Looking at Adam’s face I could see that he was becoming slightly exasperated by the conversation. Suddenly I stopped and grinned at him.
‘Now what?’ he asked.
‘Did we just have our first disagreement?’ I asked him.
‘That wasn’t a disagreement,’ he pouted.
‘Then what was it?’
‘It was more like a . . . a robust conversation about a topic we both had opinions on.’
‘And who was right and who was wrong?’
‘Neither of us. If you had been paying attention, you misunderstood what I was saying. It was you who jumped to the conclusion that things were either black or white.’
‘Is that so,’ I replied.
‘The truth is, there are many shades of grey between those two extremes. I just hadn’t had the chance to explain that to you. The real trick is, each of us just needs to find the shade that we are most comfortable with.’
‘So, what about Brad, then? What shade do you think he is?’
‘Right at this moment, I’d say he’s somewhere in the middle. He’s still figuring himself out. But if black is straight, and white is gay, I think that by the time he’s eighteen he’s going to be awful pale looking!’
‘I guess we’ll just have to see about that in five years’ time then.’
‘Yeah, I guess we will, won’t we,’ Adam replied, with a lopsided grin on his face, which just didn’t seem to want to go away.
‘What?’ I had to eventually ask him.
‘Oh, just that bit about five years . . .’
‘I’m just thinking how much I like the sound of you still being here then,’ he replied.
‘You better get used to it,’ I said to him, as I pulled him to me and kissed him, much to the delight of some of the boisterous crowd around us, most of whom I had no idea who they were.
* * *
I left the three of them there a short while later, after having given them all instructions to be careful throughout the day and to check in with me regularly, before I then headed for the station and the briefing.
With Adam I felt safe, and I felt loved. I could see us building a future together and I had no intentions of letting anybody stand in the way of that happening, and as I walked through the growing crowds I was as happy as I had been for ages, even if there was still that shadow hovering in the background that I knew we still had to deal with today.
When I reached the station and made my way up to our squad room I found that the team was still gathering. The Inspector was waiting, along with Helen, Garry Kwan, Craig Andarakis, Scott Willis and several uniformed officers, whom I was soon introduced to.
That still left Scott’s partner, Tom Buckley, plus Jim Harris and Joe Benevetti to arrive.
‘Good of you to join us, Cooper,’ the Inspector said. ‘I hope you are ready for what today is going to bring?’
‘About as ready as I can be, sir,’ I replied.
‘Good, good,’ he replied.
He was standing in front of a large noticeboard that took up a portion of one wall, and upon which I could see several large street maps, which, even without getting closer to them, I could tell were of the inner city. There were already a number of marks that had been made on them in red marker pen, identifying Hyde Park, Oxford Street and other key locations along the route that the parade would be taking, and it was these I knew we would need to memorise before setting out.
After saying hello to everyone else, I took a seat beside Helen.
‘Everything all right with your companions?’ she asked quietly. She already knew that Adam, Nick and Brad would be attending the parade, and while she wasn’t entirely happy about it there was little that any of us could do. Even if they had been forbidden from going to the parade we all knew that they would have found a way to attend, one way or another, so at least by having them chaperoned by Adam we were confident that we would be able to keep them safe from harm.
‘The boys are with Adam,’ I said to her. ‘I’ve just left them down near the marshalling area, checking out some of the floats. They’ll be okay.’
Just then Jim Harris and Tom Buckley arrived, which only left us waiting for Joe. I think we were all wondering whether he would show up or not, but moments later he too entered the room, his dark mood evident for all to see just as soon as he opened the door.
‘Joe! Glad you could make it,’ the Inspector said with a smile.
‘Where else would I rather be?’ he mumbled, while casting an icy stare in my direction.
‘All right then. Take a seat you men and we’ll get down to business,’ the Inspector ordered, before picking up a bundle of buff coloured folders from a nearby desk and starting to hand them out.
According to what I had been able to gather from my colleagues in the past couple of weeks, it was apparently unusual for the Inspector to be so hands on with cases in his command. In those two weeks, however, he had been there when we had taken down Andy Jarvis, and he was now taking an active role in this investigation. Nobody in our command had seen him do this before, or at least not in recent times, and it definitely had people wondering.
In due course the Inspector handed me one of the folders, giving me a wink as he did so. Looking at the front of it I quickly noticed a label fixed to the centre of the front cover which read, Operation van Gogh.
‘Van Gogh, sir?’ ventured Jim Harris.
‘Our quarry is an art teacher, is he not? And an obviously insane one at that . . . I thought it was a good fit, Jim,’ Richardson replied, with a wry smile.
‘Whatever you say, sir.’
‘Now,’ the Inspector began. ‘As you can see we have several visitors here today, being Sargents Lee and Spataro, from uniformed branch, who will be helping to co-ordinate everything from their end.’
Everyone nodded in their direction, receiving acknowledgement in return.
‘I have given this operation the title of Operation Van Gogh, the reasons for which I have already outlined. Now, as you are fully aware, a threat has been made against Detective Cooper, here, and by a man who we believe is the perpetrator of numerous crimes over the past five years, including several murders. Our aim today is to try to draw out the suspect and make an arrest, with minimal disruption to the Mardi Gras parade, or impact on the public. Is that understood?’
Murmurs of consent echoed around the room.
‘Very good,’ the Inspector responded. ‘Now, each of you has an outline in front of you with the details of our suspect, along with a plan of action. Those of you in this command will already be familiar with who we are dealing with here, while those of you from outside this division will need to bring yourselves up to speed quite quickly, as well as distribute copies of the image we have of the suspect to your own men.’
‘We have already done that, Inspector,’ one of the visitors remarked. ‘Detective Wheeler had forwarded the photo to us a few days ago, along with an outline of why he is wanted, so our men already have some understanding of who we are dealing with, and in fact have already been looking for him in recent days.’
‘Thank you. That is good news,’ the Inspector replied. ‘And nice work, Detective Wheeler.’
While this exchange took place the sound of papers being shuffled could be heard, as the rest of us skimmed through the information in front of us. I knew it all, of course, as I had already lived through it, but for some of the others there were still a few surprises. We had also previously discussed a plan of attack for the day, even if only briefly, which was also outlined in the papers. Basically this revolved around each pair of detectives in our command covering one city block along Oxford Street, with one officer on either side of the road, ready to call on any other available officer if, or when, a situation arose.
‘Sir, if I may?’ offered Garry Kwan.
‘It occurs to me that Corcoran was well aware of Cooper and Wheeler’s involvement with the police float for the Mardi Gras . . . which the attack on Jimmy Tan can testify to . . . so I suspect that at the very least he will be expecting Cooper to be somewhere in the vicinity of that float.’
‘That’s a reasonable assumption,’ the Inspector responded.
‘But the float will be moving, so how do we allow for that? Unless, of course, Cooper is on the float . . .’
‘Which can’t happen,’ Joe Benevetti interjected, ‘as he is the bait and needs to be accessible.’
I don’t think that I had really thought about it like that before. But that was exactly what I was.
‘So, how do we get around that?’ asked Scott.
‘That’s fairly simple, we all just move with the float,’ offered Helen. ‘There are four pairs of us, plus the Inspector, plus uniformed branch. If Cooper and I tag the police float and move with it, what we then need is for you other D’s to be stationed in front of and behind us. Inspector Richardson will be stationed in the control centre, monitoring the security cameras, ready to relay anything back to us that may be of use. I think we need two teams covering the blocks in front of us, and another team handling the block behind us, and for everyone to keep moving at the same pace and staying the same distance off us at all times.’
‘Do we still split and take one side of the street each?’ asked Scott.
‘Yes, I think so,’ answered Helen. ‘Your role will be to keep a look out for Corcoran, so by splitting we’ll maximise our chances of spotting him, yet we’ll all still be close enough to our partner to be able to help if needed . . . we’ll just have to cross the street to get there.’
‘And what are your thoughts, Cooper?’ the Inspector asked me.
‘I know that I don’t have a great deal of experience in operations like this, sir, but it’s the only way I can see it working,’ I replied. ‘Provided we are all in contact with each other, and have the back-up of the uniformed officers, then we should have most bases covered.’
‘I agree,’ the Inspector concurred.
‘There is one other thing that I think everyone needs to be aware of, sir,’ I added.
‘Corcoran has recently taken to changing his appearance, so if we are looking for him today chances are, especially for anyone who hasn’t actually seen him yet, that he could walk right by us and not even be recognised. He has become something of a chameleon . . .’
‘So, what are you saying now?’ Scott asked.
‘Just that no matter how hard we might try in looking for him, we might never actually find him. Rather than it being a case of us finding him, it could quite possibly end up the other way around, with him finding us, when he’s good and ready, or when the opportunity presents itself.’
There were a few moments of silence as everyone digested that information. This exercise was going to be like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack, yet as difficult a task as that might seem to be, we all knew that it was one that we couldn’t fail to complete.
For the next half hour we went over and over the details, discussing all manner of possible eventualities, until we were all comfortable with our roles and what each of us needed to do.
Tom and Scott would be the lead team, with Craig and Garry following them, ahead of Helen and me. Jim Harris and Joe Benevetti would have our backs, which in itself made me nervous, but this was something which the Inspector insisted upon, for reasons I wasn’t entirely sure of. The Inspector himself would be in the Mardi Gras security command centre, while uniformed officers would also be stationed on each and every block along the route.
‘Now, there are two more things that I want everyone to ensure they are up to speed with,’ the Inspector added. ‘The first of these is that everyone needs to be in contact with each other, so we are all going to be carrying radios. The second is that even though this operation is out amongst the public, I want everyone to ensure that they are carrying their weapons.’
‘Do you think that is wise, sir?’ asked Garry Kwan.
‘I think it’s essential. I don’t want anything to be taken for granted here, as we already know how dangerous this suspect is, and if worst comes to worst we must be prepared for every eventuality. The tactical response team will also be on stand-by, so all in all the parade will be well covered, with the greatest concentration of officers being around the police float. At the end of the day I fully expect our suspect to be in custody.’
‘Or dead,’ Jim Harris gravely added.
* * *
When we hit the streets some time later it was mid-afternoon and the crowds had grown significantly in the few hours since we had been locked away inside. Helen had been held back by the Inspector, and so while I waited on the street I called Adam to see where he and the boys were. For quite a while it went unanswered, but just before I was about to give up Adam finally picked up.
‘Sorry babe, it was hard to hear the phone,’ he said, rather apologetically. ‘There’s quite a crowd here now.’
‘Where are you?’
‘Still by the floats. We found the police float . . . it’s a shame you won’t be up on it dancing!’
‘I try. So, is everything organised?’
‘About as well as it can be. Now we just sit back and wait . . .’
‘Well, at least make sure you enjoy some of the parade in the mean time.’
‘We’ll see. How are the boys? Behaving themselves, I hope?’
‘Just like two little angels.’
‘That’ll be the day,’ I laughed.
‘They’re having a ball.’
‘All right then, just call me if you need me.’
‘Will do. You just make sure you take care.’
‘You too,’ I replied.
As I slipped my phone back into my pocket I was joined by Helen, looking a little harried after her private audience with Inspector Richardson.
‘Everything okay?’ she asked.
‘Yeah, so far so good. But it’s still early yet. What did the old man want with you?’
‘Gave me a lecture about keeping a close eye on you . . . nothing is allowed to happen to the Golden Boy,’ she gently teased. ‘So, where are your boys at?’
‘Down by the floats still. It sounds like they are having fun, so at least some of us are enjoying Mardi Gras.’
‘Don’t worry Cooper. You’ll get your chance to play dress-up next year.’
‘Geez you’re a funny woman!’
‘Come on, let’s hit the streets and check out how things are going. I want to get a look at the route while the place isn’t totally packed out.’
Looking at my watch I could see that we still had more than three hours before the parade would start, so I set off after her.
By now, most of the streets had been cordoned off with barricades, designed to keep crowds at bay, though in places there were gaps in the fencing, to allow access for security and essential services. Security itself was being handled in the most part by the Mardi Gras organisations’ own team, which was made up primarily of qualified volunteers, all of whom were clearly identified by their distinctive uniforms with fluorescent vests, while there was also a visible police presence.
When the chance arose Helen and I ducked though an opening in the barricades and onto the street, as it would be easier to walk along an empty street rather than having to dodge pedestrians, but no sooner had we done this when we were confronted by one of the security officers.
‘Hey. What do you two think you’re doing?’ the burly looking guy said to us. ‘No public allowed on the streets.’
I guess that we both looked common enough in our loose-fitting casual clothes (to cover up what we were packing beneath them) to have been mistaken for members of the general public. Helen and I both whipped out our badges and flashed them his way, which had him quickly back pedaling. At least he was doing his job. I just hoped he was still being this vigilant in about five or six hours’ time.
Continuing on our way along Oxford Street, we quickly realised that it would be impossible to allow for every contingency. There were simply too many lanes and streets which joined Oxford, from which Corcoran would be able to come or go, and quite likely without being seen by anyone on our team. With thousands of spectators, hundreds (if not thousands) of dancers and performers, and a trail of floats cruising slowly along, it was as if the whole scene had been constructed just for him, so that he could come and go, and make his play, totally at will.
‘Jesus, how the hell are we expected to be able find one person in all of this?’ Helen complained when we had stopped at an intersection, just as a council vehicle towing a trailer loaded with port-a-loos came right past us, before turning down one of the side streets after a security officer moved a barricade aside. ‘When those sidewalks are wall to wall with people it’ll be barely possible to walk along there, let alone chase a bad guy and arrest him, or stop him from getting his hands on your lily-white arse!’
‘It’s not hard to see why he said that this would be where he saw me again. It could happen anywhere, at a time and place of his choosing.’
‘Yes, but it would have to be at a specific place, he will have had to have mapped it out, planned it so that he knew just when he would come face to face with you . . .’
‘And then he would need to be able to get away, hopefully with me chasing after him . . . and everyone else getting caught in the melee.’
Helen walked out into the middle of the vacant intersection and stood there, doing a complete three hundred and sixty degree turn and looking at everything around us.
‘What about a place like this?’ she asked.
‘There’ll be too many people, because they’ll be on the actual street across the intersection, so there’s a danger he would get caught up in them himself.’
‘So, where then? Where would you choose?’
‘A smaller side street. Somewhere where he can stand out and be easily seen by me as the parade passes by, then get away relatively cleanly. Then it would need to have lanes leading off it, so that he could duck down those to try and lure me further away from any support that might be coming to help me.’
Helen stopped turning around and just looked at me.
‘You’ve been giving this some thought,’ she said.
I didn’t want to tell her that I had spent most of the last few nights tossing and turning, as I weighed up the options and tried to get into Corcoran’s head to figure out just what he might do. It had left me drained, and confused, yet in some way I believed I had actually started to think a little like him, which was another thing that had scared me.
When you get inside the head of a killer and can understand the way that he thinks, does that mean you could potentially become a killer too?
‘Kind of,’ I eventually replied. ‘But I don’t think it has helped much.’
‘You might be surprised, kiddo. You’re the only person we have who knows him, so you’re the only person we have who might be able to figure him out.’
Suddenly it dawned on me why we were out here on the street and everyone else was off biding their time and reading up on their case briefs, while waiting for the parade to start.
‘I should have known,’ I chuckled.
‘Come on. Let’s find ourselves a drink, or something, before the real excitement starts,’ she suggested.
* * *
By the time six o’clock came around, just an hour away from when the parade was due to commence, Whitlam Square was like I had never seen it before. There were crowds everywhere, all intent on trying to find a good vantage point, while floats had also started lining up in College Street closer to the starting point, to be ready to roll once the official activities had been completed.
Off to one side a stage had been erected, with portable seating alongside and directly opposite, while dancers were also starting to entertain the gathering crowd and music was blasting through a public address system. This was a carnival like no other that I had ever seen, and while I could feel the excitement pumping through my body, it was also tempered by everything else that I knew would be coming my way tonight.
Helen and I chose a high spot near a hotel on one corner, from where we could cast an eye over everything from the crowds to the stage and the tiered seating. I spent quite a bit of time scanning the crowd for familiar faces, managing to spot some of our work colleagues a few times, as well as Adam and the two boys, but search as I might, there was no sign of our quarry, so I turned my attention back to Adam and the boys.
Unfortunately they were too far away for me to be able to talk to them, so I decided to phone Adam and check in with him.
‘Hey, babe,’ he said, while giving me a wave from where they were on the other side of the square. ‘Man, this place is really humming!’
‘You’re not wrong there. Have the boys worn you out yet? And what about Brad’s eyes, have they actually popped out of his skull?’
‘Almost,’ he replied with a laugh. ‘They’ve got the energy reserves of a marathon runner! And the curiosity of a cat! You should hear some of the questions they are throwing at me!’
‘You, amongst other things,’ he chuckled.
‘Oh, man. Sorry about that.’
‘It’s all good. Nothing I can’t handle. The hardest part is just trying to keep them on a short leash. So, have you got everything in place for your big bust?’
‘About as much as we can have, I think. It’s impossible to tell where the bastard might pop up, if he does at all, but if he shows his face we should have the place well enough covered.’
‘So, how about the parade? Have you managed to find out who the mystery guest is for this year?’ he asked, referring to an advertising campaign that had popped up around the city in the past few weeks announcing that there would be a special guest artist, just as they had for most years, but with only a silhouette of the reported international star adorning the posters. To be honest, I hadn’t taken that much notice of it, apart from noting that the artist was female and had lots of hair.
‘I wouldn’t have a clue,’ I replied. ‘But when you see her you can tell me, because you’ll more than likely be closer to her than I will.’
‘I’ll see if I can get you an autograph,’ he teased.
‘You do that!’ I laughed. ‘Now, where are you going to watch the parade from? I’ll try and keep an eye out for you.’
‘Up near the top of that hill on Oxford Street, I had hoped,’ he replied.
‘Yeah, you should get a good view of everything from there.’
‘All right . . . we’re about to set off along Oxford to find ourselves a good spot. You better go and do your police work, and I’ll just stick to my babysitting . . .’
‘Before you do, you had better put Nick on, please. I’ll give him a reminder about behaving himself.’
A few moments later the excited voice of Nick came on the phone.
‘Hey, Coop. You should be down here with us. This place is just so much fun! I’ve never seen so much skin!’ he enthused.
‘Oh, God! We’ve created a monster!’ I groaned, while wondering just what his mother might think when we hand him back later tonight a total pervert.
‘Nah, it’s not your fault . . . you and Adam just brought me out of my shell,’ he taunted.
‘Same thing, smart arse,’ I countered. ‘You just make sure you behave yourself, and whatever you do, make sure you don’t get separated from Adam and your brother. Do you got that?’
‘Yes, Coop. I promise.’
‘Good. Now, go and have a good time, and try not to get yourselves in trouble, or arrested, or anything like that. Remember, I’ll be watching!’
‘Fuck!’ he moaned, before then laughing, then saying, ‘See you soon,’ then hanging up.
I was still chuckling to myself as I put my phone back in my pocket.
‘Everything okay?’ Helen asked.
‘Yeah, or at least I think so,’ I replied. ‘The boys are going gaga over all the half-naked people around the place.’
‘Sounds like the performers must be arriving,’ she replied. ‘But then again, some of these spectators could do with a visit to the opp shop as well, don’t you think?’
Looking around us it wasn’t hard to see what she meant. With it having been a particularly warm afternoon there were people everywhere who were dressed down for the occasion, and for the most part even I had to admit that I was liking what I was seeing.
‘All right, all right, you can put your tongue back in now! Jesus, I don’t know what that woman was thinking letting her boys go off with the two of you!’
‘Probably just something about the quiet night she was going to have at home, alone, without the two of them pestering her.’
‘Ahhh . . . yeah, you could have a point there.’
Up on the main stage we noticed some activity, which indicated the preliminaries were about to get underway, then moments later the M.C. started his spiel, warming up the crowd that had gathered.
‘Okay, it looks like it’s almost show time!’ said Helen, and just as she said that we both heard our radios crackle and Inspector Richardson asking us all to check in.
This was it.
* * *
The Mardi Gras Parade kicked off right on time in the early evening, with the start signaled by the plunging of a lever, jointly held by the Lord Mayor of Sydney and the international guest, who proved to be an aging American disco queen, who still looked fabulous and could still carry a note better than half the younger performers of today. Spectators squealed and cheered with delight as the plunging of the lever set off two explosions just back away from the stage, but on opposite sides of the street, sending a fountain of glitter and tinsel arching out over the street, through which the first vehicle in the parade, which carried a smaller version of the Opera House, passed through.
The crowds screamed once more as the disco diva seemed to walk through the air (in reality there was a long narrow walkway jutting out from the stage) and deftly step onto the deck of the leading vehicle, just in front of the Opera House sails, and just as the introduction to her biggest hit began blaring out over the speakers.
Even I had to admit that it was well done and looked fantastic.
Then as the first float moved forward, carrying our diva away from us, a troupe of dancers, all dressed in dazzling white outfits stepped into the void, kicking up a storm.
It was then time for the second float, this one built just like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, complete with its own dancers strutting along the decking between the two towers, to come through the fountain of shiny stuff and continue on its way.
The music blared. The crowds went wild. Mardi Gras was well underway, and it was show time for us as well.
The plan we had decided upon hinged around the positioning of the police float, which was about in the centre of the long line of floats, which numbered in excess of sixty in all, so it would be a little while yet before Helen and I would need to hit the pavement. Watching the first floats to go, each of which so far had a group of dancers or a community group marching between it and the next one, it looked like there were about three floats to the city block. This gave us a bit of an idea as to when we needed to send out each of our teams.
For an hour or more we were entertained by the antics of the dancers and the marching people, from all manner of cultural and sporting groups, who just seemed to keep showing up, ready for their time in the spotlight. The whole time we continued to scan the crowds who would gather around, hoping we could catch a glimpse of Corcoran, but it was to no avail. We could hear the Inspector in our ears barking commands, getting us to check one group of people or another as he caught glimpses of someone who might fit the description, but each time we drew a blank.
I still had it in my mind that Corcoran would surface somewhere down the road, somewhere where he could draw me out and through a crowd, then down some street or lane, just so that my colleagues would have difficulty following.
That was how it was in the dream I’d had last night. I hadn’t dared to tell anyone about that though.
When the time came for our first team to step out on to the road, Tom and Scott, the party was still in full swing. They were given the privilege of accompanying a group of performers from the drag show that Adam and I had attended just a few nights ago. Thankfully I was able to stay in the background and wasn’t recognised by my friendly drag queen.
Three floats later Craig and Garry followed suite, scoring the job of chaperoning a float loaded with gay cowboys, while their half-naked friends danced along the street in front of them, chaps and all!
‘This’ll be fun,’ I heard Craig say through gritted teeth as he stepped into the fray.
Looking back down the long row of floats that was still to come, I spotted the police float, looking imposing with the giant stiletto standing tall, while a whole lot of boys in blue were limbering up around it.
It suddenly struck me that a stiletto was an odd thing to use to represent the police force, but it was a part of Jimmy’s plan, and everyone had been adamant that we would follow through with his original concept, as some small way of honouring his contribution.
In front of the police float was a marching band, and as the whole procession crept forward I soon found that it was the police force band, all decked out in their finest uniforms, with instruments sparkling.
‘Are you two ready?’ we heard the Inspector ask in our ears.
‘Yes, sir,’ we both answered.
‘Good luck. And to everyone else, be on your toes and be ready if called.’
When the float finally made it into the starting position for the parade, just after the police band had been sent on their way, I could see Tristan at the wheel, with Ben dressed in blue as one of the dancers. Ben quickly ran over and gave me a high-five, before running back into position, laughing. He pointed at Tristan, who leant forward and did something inside the cabin, after which the air was shattered by the sound of a police siren going off, while flashing blue lights lit up the front of the float.
I laughed at them and shook my head. So that was their secret plan.
The parade officials began a countdown. Helen hurried over onto the far side of the road to take up her position, which was when I also noticed Elvira amongst the dancing troupe, and then, once a siren had sounded, we were off.
Walking just inside the barricades, within touching distance of the cheering crowds, I had the perfect position for scanning the faces of those who lined the streets.
People of all ages and walks of life had joined the fray. Single people, couples (of all orientations), and families were all enjoying the spectacle that was the Mardi Gras parade. This was my first time at seeing it all so up close and personal, and I wasn’t disappointed. The excitement was contagious and even though I knew I had a job to do, I couldn’t resist the occasional high-five when offered by a member of the crowd, at least up until I heard the steadying voice of Helen saying, ‘Just settle down there, Cooper! There’s a long way to go yet, so just keep your eye on the ball.’
‘Whatever you say,’ I replied.
‘Are you two having fun back there?’ asked Craig Andarakis.
‘Most fun I’ve had in years,’ I answered.
‘Well, at least with your clothes on,’ Craig added.
‘Let’s not go there!’ said Helen.
‘All right, you lot. Knock off the fun and games,’ countered the Inspector.
Suddenly all radio chatter ceased, as if we were naughty school children having just been scolded by teacher.
From the starting point of the parade up to where Adam and the boys said they had hoped to be watching the parade from, there was a gentle, though not inconsiderable, rise, over a distance of about half a mile.
As we trudged along beside our dancing compatriots I couldn’t help but admire what it was they were doing. It was hard enough walking and trying to keep an eye on the crowds the same time, but these guys and girls were also adding choreographed dance moves into the mix, complete with high kicks and – in some cases – pom-pom waving or baton twirling. What they were doing was nothing short of amazing, as far as I was concerned.
It was also somewhere around here that I thought Corcoran might try and make his move, as there were streets and laneways on both sides of Oxford Street where I thought he might be able to both approach the parade and also get away if the need arose.
I prayed that Adam and the boys wouldn’t meet with him, but as the hill drew nearer I was becoming increasingly on edge. I started looking around anxiously, looking for faces in the crowds that weren’t there.
So far my concerns had been for nought, as I mentally ticked off the streets we were passing. I had memorised them all . . . Brisbane Street, Pelican Street, Oxford Square, Riley Street . . . and as we passed each one I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
Then came Crown Street.
All clear, as the crowds continued to clap and cheer.
And then it was Palmer Street, which went off to our left.
And that’s where things weren’t right.
That’s where I stopped. The faces I sought were there. But just not all of them.
* * *
‘Where’s Nick,’ I anxiously asked Adam, suddenly concerned that he wasn’t with them, after having jumped the barricade and gone to where I had seen Adam and Brad standing on the street corner, just back from the parade, while Helen was in my ear asking, ‘Cooper, what the fuck are you doing?’
For the moment I ignored her.
‘He’s just gone to use the port-a-loo,’ Adam answered, while turning and pointing to the row of ugly plastic toilet buildings that had been positioned in a loading zone not far from the corner.
Looking that way all I saw were people waiting in line, but then I noticed some movement further down the street, which I could see was two people walking quite fast. My heart skipped a beat.
It was a man and a boy, and the man had an arm around the boy’s shoulder, while the boy was looking back, and looking worried, as if he was in some kind of danger and hoping someone would come to his rescue.
‘Fuck! I thought I told you guys not to get separated?’ I spat at Adam and Brad, then without even waiting for a response I started sprinting down the street toward those two people.
The boy was Nick. The man was Danny Corcoran.
‘I have our suspect in sight,’ I yelled into my radio. ‘He’s gone down Palmer Street and has now turned into Kells Lane.’
‘We’re on our way,’ Helen promised.
The last thing I had seen before they had disappeared was the sight of Corcoran smiling, knowing that it was me who was closest to him.
‘Helen . . .’
‘He . . . he has a hostage,’ I breathlessly said, as I continued running toward the lane into which Corcoran and Nick had disappeared.
‘Anyone we know?’ Helen urged.
‘It’s Nick. I need back-up, Helen, and I need it right fucking now,’ I yelled into the radio.
‘Fuck! How the hell did that happen? I’m on my way,’ Helen almost yelled into the radio.
Then the radio crackled again. ‘I’m not far behind you, Cooper.’
It was the gruff voice of Joe Benevetti and in what seemed to be only a few seconds I heard the sound of someone running down the street behind me, although still too far off to be of any immediate assistance.
As I continued to run people ahead of me scattered, no doubt fearing the madman running through the street with a gun in his hand.
‘We’re not far off you either,’ I heard someone else say, but I wasn’t sure just who.
I soon reached the entrance to the laneway and was quick to point my pistol in Corcoran’s direction, but I was suddenly stopped in my tracks as I took in the scene in front of me.
‘Put the gun down, Cooper, or I’ll cut the little fuckers head off!’ Corcoran bellowed.
Behind Corcoran the laneway was blocked. It wasn’t usually a dead-end, but today, with Mardi Gras in full swing, there was a large truck, belonging to a media company of some sort, blocking the end of it. It appeared that Corcoran’s plans had gone awry. There was no way out for him, and he knew it. But with one arm wrapped firmly around Nick, while the other held the sharp blade of his knife threateningly against the boys’ tender throat, he knew that he also held all the aces.
Nick was petrified, it wasn’t difficult to tell that much. There were tears running down his cheeks and he was sobbing uncontrollably.
Corcoran, on the other hand, seemed to be right in his element. He was laughing, while at the same time holding his cheek against the boy’s, even at one stage licking the side of Nick’s face in a disturbing act which reeked of depravity and showed the level of his insanity.
‘Hmmm . . . he’s a sexy little fucker. You had him yet?’ Corcoran taunted.
‘You sick fuck!’ I spat back at him.
For a few moments nobody moved. My gun was still focused squarely on Corcoran, but my eyes were looking at that blade against Nick’s pale skin, then from right to left as I tried to take in everything about the lane we were in.
‘Put it down!’ Corcoran screamed once more, only this time he seemed to give Nick a shake as he did so. I immediately noticed that he had nicked the skin, as a trickle of blood began oozing its way down the boys’ neck.
Someone behind me screamed.
‘Last chance, Cooper!’ Corcoran said, only this time his voice was controlled.
What options did I have? There was still no help at hand. My only chance was to do as he said, then try to keep him talking until someone else could arrive.
Making my decision was easy.
Slowly I spread my arms apart. Holding the pistol out to my side, before gradually leaning down and placing it on the ground. I then kicked it away with my shoe.
I was sure the others, who were running down the street, would be able to see me do that, and chances were I would end up in trouble because of what I had just done, but the life of someone I cared about was at stake and I didn’t care about anything but getting that boy away from Corcoran.
‘Nice to see you’ve finally learned some common sense,’ Corcoran said with a sneer.
‘Hopefully a bit of it might rub off on you,’ I calmly replied.
‘It’s a bit late for that, don’t you think?’
I simply shrugged.
‘It was all because of you, don’t you know?’ he calmly said.
‘Why? What did I do?’ I pleaded.
‘You weren’t like the rest of them . . . you were so . . . so beautiful, and yet so untouchable . . . and you made sure I knew it. Of course, there were others at that school who loved the attention, who enjoyed it when I would come on to them, would touch them . . . but you and Martin . . . you two were different . . . you thought you were so much better than me. The two of you, always flaunting yourselves in front of me with the way you carried on together, tempting me . . . yet that one time I did reach out for you, you pushed me away,’ he said, in a voice that now trembled with both emotion and venom.
There were others who had succumbed to his advances? Fuck! How many?
‘I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw you on the streets here a couple of weeks back . . . I only came back to Sydney for Mardi Gras, to visit some friends and have a bit of fun, and for the parade, of course, but after seeing you . . . that’s when something went off in my head and I knew it was finally time for me to make you pay . . .’
By this time Beneveti had arrived, panting and puffing, but I could he see was focused, and taking everything in. His gun was now trained on Corcoran. Joe looked from Corcoran to me and back again. He knew what the game was and from the cold steel I could see in his eyes I knew he would back me to the hilt. My fears about him hadn’t been warranted.
Then I looked back at Nick, who I could see was scared shitless. His face was drained of all colour.
I took a step forward, and to one side, moving away from Joe, just as another set of boots came running up to us. I didn’t dare look to see who it was.
Suddenly Corcoran was on edge, waving the knife menacingly toward us, from Joe, to me, and back again, waving it wildly in front of Nick. Every time it passed in front of Nick’s face I could see him close his eyes, as if he was trying to shut out the image.
‘How, Danny? How did you want to make me pay?’ I asked him, as I took another few steps in the same direction. I knew full well what the answer would be, but I still wanted to hear the admission come from the man himself, especially with Benevetti and whoever else was around, standing close by to hear it.
‘You’re the detective now. Haven’t you worked it out yet?’ Corcoran challenged.
‘I’m still new at this. Why don’t you tell me?’
‘I’m surprised at you, Rick. You were always a good student, so I thought you would be smarter than that.’
I shrugged, but said nothing.
‘I just couldn’t let someone else have you, you know,’ Corcoran said, almost wistfully. ‘If it wasn’t going to be me . . . then it wasn’t going to be anyone. Can’t you see that now?’
‘And what about the others? What about Cory and Robbie?’ I asked. ‘Did you get pushed away by them too? Did they have to be punished as well? And what did Alexis and Jimmy Tan ever do to you . . . other than talk to me?’
‘They couldn’t be trusted,’ Corcoran sneered. ‘You’re all the same . . . none of you boy-whores could be trusted . . . even one so beautiful as you . . .’
‘So, what? Everyone has to die? Even me?’
‘Yeah. That’s just how it has to be,’ he replied, as he looked down at Nick, whose body I could see was trembling, almost violently, even if his sobbing had quieted.
What was going through Corcoran’s head right now, I wondered, but no sooner had that thought come to my mind when Corcoran raised his hand, as if he were going to bring it down and stab Nick. For a few moments he seemed to hold the knife up, glancing at it for a moment, like he was contemplating what he was about to do, but then I saw him waver, and his hand started to fall.
Instinctively I ran forward and dived for the two of them, not caring about anything but preventing that knife from reaching its intended target. Corcoran must have sensed my movement and glanced my way, looking startled at first, then in that instant I saw this huge smile come over his face, as in one motion he forcefully flung Nick to the ground and then spun toward me, with the knife now pointing perilously in my direction.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, yet try as I might there was nothing I could do. I was in mid-air and even though I tried, there was no way I could stop, or even change direction enough to avoid contact with that deadly, shining blade. I could only watch on in horror, looking down as I fell forward and witnessing the murderous blade sink into my own abdomen, feeling not the sharp pain of the knife as I had expected, but rather the dull thud of the heavy impact between our bodies.
It didn’t matter though. If I saved Nick, that’s all I could hope for.
So much happened in those few moments before I found myself sprawled across the pavement.
The sounds of the distant parade were quickly drowned out, at first by screams, and then by the sound of gunfire. I heard three distinct shots ring out . . . then I heard Nick scream, ‘Noooooooo . . .’
Then everything went black.
* * *
Pain shot through my body as I attempted to roll my head from side to side, to try and see what was happening, but there was little I could see, at least not at first.
Gradually, however, as I lay in the dingy laneway, I tried to start piecing together the scene, but there were still so many gaps in my mind.
Looking up at the tall buildings on either side of us, all I could see at first was the fiery orange sky of a summer day drawing to a close, where just a few wispy clouds drifted by. What a beautiful, surreal day it was for a parade, had been my first thought.
Somewhere off in the distance I could hear noise. It was a rumbling kind of sound, yet I couldn’t quite recognise it.
It wasn’t until I was able to roll my head slightly to one side and was able to let my eyes settle on the lifeless form of Danny Corcoran, lying just a few metres away, that the reality of it all finally started to sink in. The front of his white shirt was covered with blood and his lifeless, open eyes were staring my way, just below a bullet hole that had been placed in the middle of his forehead.
The man was dead.
He was finally dead.
Relief washed over me. I knew that I should have been happy about that, but they were only a few of the million thoughts and emotions that were now coursing through my mind.
Suddenly I thought of Nick. What had happened to him? Was he okay?
It was then that I became aware of a crowd starting to gather, and someone else telling them to keep them back, although why they would want to get closer I couldn’t imagine. The horrified expressions on their faces told me all I needed to know; they were afraid to become involved . . . not that I could really blame them.
I knew that I recognised the voice of the man trying to keep them away from me, but I couldn’t put a name to that voice, nor a face.
I knew that I had heard the sound of someone scream.
I knew that I had heard someone frantically shouting, ‘Officer down! Officer down!’
Who was it they were talking about? Was it me?
Now I could hear the sound of people sobbing.
From somewhere behind me came the sound of boots running toward me, while off in the distance somewhere was the sound I finally recognised as being that of a passing parade. People were clapping and cheering and laughing, and the bands were playing, all oblivious to the death and drama that was oh, so close to them.
There were sirens as well, growing louder with each passing moment.
Yes, it was definitely surreal.
Someone came to me. I felt them touch my shoulder, but I had difficulty trying to move my head again to see who it was.
‘Hang on, Cooper. Just hang in there, kid,’ I heard the man say. Whoever it was then reached under my head and lifted it up a little, while at the same time turning my head slightly toward him. When I managed to roll my eyes in their direction and focus I saw that it was Joe Benevetti, kneeling beside me, his ashen face etched with concern.
Why had his voice sounded so different?
Joe. The hard nosed cop who I had thought hated me. Maybe he was a bit softer on the inside than I had imagined?
Kneeling beside him was Adam, my lovely Adam. His face was damp from tears, but I could see he was trying to be brave, while Nick and Brad were standing just behind them, their arms around each other and both quietly sobbing.
‘We’re all here, mate,’ Adam said, as he brushed his hand over my forehead and through my hair.
‘There’s an ambulance on the way, Cooper. And so is Wheeler, and the others,’ Joe solemnly said.
I tried to speak, but my cotton-mouth felt like it had been glued together from the inside.
Everything seemed to be spinning around, and the pain in my guts was unbearable . . . as if a red hot poker had been shoved right through me and out the other side. With some difficulty I managed to look down at my stomach, where I soon found the cause of my problem . . . the wooden handle of a knife was sticking out of me.
Was that the same knife that had killed Martin and the others, I wondered?
For a few moments I concentrated on that thought.
No, not the one that killed Martin, I eventually realised. That one he had dropped when he had been disturbed while attacking Cory.
It’s funny the things that go through my head sometimes.
Looking back at Adam I could see the fear in his eyes. What did that mean, I wondered?
‘I love you,’ he whispered, as the colours of the day began to fade, and the darkness started creeping in.
I wanted to tell him that I loved him too . . . but nothing happened. My mouth just wouldn’t work.
Suddenly the sound of yet more people running toward us could be heard and the next thing I knew Wheeler was there, on her knees beside me, opposite Adam and Joe, and holding one of my hands while leaning over me.
‘Don’t you dare die on me, Cooper. I haven’t lost a partner yet, and I’m damn sure I don’t want you to be the first!’ she commanded.
I tried to smile, but I don’t think I managed even half a one, before I simply closed my eyes.
I could hear Adam and Wheeler and Benevetti all urging me to wake up, to hang in there, to be strong, but all I wanted to do was rest, as my life seemed to flash before me. Funny, I had always thought it was bullshit when I heard people say that about their near-death experiences, but now I knew they were telling the truth.
What would be next? A white light from which Martin and my mother would emerge, embracing me and welcoming me to the other side?
I knew I would see them again some day . . . but was this the day it was going to happen?
I hoped not. There was still so much I had to do.
As the minutes passed and my head continued to swirl, there was none of that, however. There were no white lights or long lost friends or relatives reaching out for me. Nor were there any robed figures with long flowing beards standing by pearly gates with welcoming arms, or demons reaching out between gaping holes in the earth to hungrily grasp at my soul, while flames lapped at the edges.
There was nothing but darkness.
Then even the sounds began to fade away to an eerie silence.
The darkness seemed to be welcoming me now, and for what seemed like the first time in years, as I felt it embrace me and rock me in a gentle dance, I finally felt at peace.
Well … maybe not quite! 😉
There is an epilogue chapter . . . CLICK HERE