‘Are you ready yet?’ I heard Adam call from the other room.
The answer to that question was no. I was currently in the bathroom, standing in front of the mirror, naked, and running a finger along the five inch scar that ran across my stomach. It was a pale line against my lightly tanned skin, just below my rib cage on the left, and just below my heart, and all the while I was thinking about the strange twists and turns that our journey through life can take.
‘You know I think it’s sexy,’ he soon added, having suddenly appeared at the doorway after I hadn’t answered him.
‘Is that a fact?’ I replied, while looking up into the mirror and studying his reflection.
‘Oh, yeah,’ he answered. ‘It adds a bit of mystery . . . gives you a bit of character. Seeing a guy with a scar like that really makes people wonder about a person.’
‘You’re so full of shit. You know that don’t you?’
‘Maybe . . . but it’s true,’ he replied, as he came to me and wrapping his loving arms around me, before running his own hand over my scar, sending a wave of chills right through me. His chin was now resting on my shoulder and now it was his turn to gaze into my reflection in the mirror. ‘I’m also full of admiration for a guy who put his own safety ahead of that of someone else, and for a guy whose determination helped . . .’
‘Please don’t,’ I said, cutting him short by spinning around in his arms and placing a finger over his lips. ‘We’ve already been over this. I don’t need praise, or want thanks, or any of that crap. We all did what we had to do . . . end of story.’
‘But it’s not the end of the story, is it?’ he countered.
No. I guess he was right about that. But at least the end wasn’t far away now.
I offered a grin.
‘True that. But we’re almost there . . . or will be once I finish getting dressed and we can get to the court house.’
‘Come on then. Let’s not dilly-dally. This day has been a long time coming, and we don’t want to miss it. And besides, if we’re not there soon Tom and Beth and those two boys will start to wonder where we are.’
‘All right then. Now hand me that towel,’ I ordered.
* * *
A lot of water has passed through Sydney Heads since that fateful day on which I had earned my scar . . . my badge of honour, as some folks liked to call it . . . the day on which Danny Corcoran had died and Martin Oliver’s death had finally been avenged.
I remember waking in a darkened room on the day following my run-in with Corcoran, and it was only afterwards that the final pieces of the puzzle started to come together, and only then with the help of those dear to me.
Glancing around the room after waking, I could see that the door was shut and the curtains were closed, although I could see by the light showing around the edges that at least it was daytime outside. The bed had been raised and I was partially sitting up, but I was lost. I had no idea where I was, yet I could hear the hustle and bustle of everyday life going on outside the room I was in . . . on the nearby streets and in the next room or hallway. There were also some strange smells in the air, but try as I may I couldn’t place them.
For some reason I also felt quite odd, like I was waking from a foggy dream, but it was only when I tried to move that everything suddenly came clear, as a sharp pain shot through my body. It was then that I knew I was in a hospital room, and the sounds and smells finally made sense. Which hospital, though, that was another question.
I must have moved, or made a noise, or something, as suddenly there was a figure at my side, leaning over me, trying to hug me.
‘Oh, Rick! Thank god! I’m so, so sorry!’ Adam sobbed. His voice sounded hoarse, and different, but I knew it was him, simply by the smell of the after shave he wore. ‘You had us all so worried.’
‘I . . . I . . .’ I tried to say, but nothing would come out. My mouth was dry and my tongue seemed to be sticking to the roof of it.
‘Shhh . . . don’t try and say anything. I’ll get a nurse. Everyone is waiting outside to see you,’ he said. As he did so he reached across and pressed a buzzer on the wall beside the bed, then moments later a nurse came hurrying into the room. In the doorway behind her I could see a group of people all trying to peer inside, trying to see what was happening, before the door was closed on them.
At the sight of them all standing there, I just couldn’t help it, I started to cry.
Adam sat himself on the edge of my bed and hugged me to him, as I sobbed against his chest, while the nurse cracked the curtains open a little. I don’t know what made me react that way, because for the most part, just at that very moment, I couldn’t even recall what had happened. Later I would think that perhaps it was because of the years of pent up frustration, at not knowing what had happened to Martin. Or perhaps it was the fact that all the people in the world who I cared about were now waiting outside that door, ready to embrace me and show their love for me. Or perhaps it was because I was finally free of the past and now only a wonderful future awaited me. Who could tell, but right at that moment it was all quite overwhelming.
As Adam held me the nurse did her best to check me over, despite my groans of protests, and only leaving once she was satisfied that, physically at least, I was going to be okay, even if I was still feeling the effects of the trauma I had gone through.
When she left, I could hear the barrage of questions being fired at her as she opened, and then carefully closed, the door. The only response I heard her make was, ‘He’ll be fine. Just give him a little time.’
‘Did you hear that?’ Adam had whispered into my ear. ‘You’re going to be fine.’
I think I managed to nod. At least that’s what I thought I did, but Adam just pulled me closer and held me, telling me not to worry, that he was there and everything was going to be okay.
There was a jug of water sitting on the bedside table, so Adam poured a little into a glass and held it to my lips, allowing me a few sips. Just that little bit of moisture made all the difference and I soon found that the insides of my mouth became unglued and I was even able to open my lips slightly.
‘Better?’ he asked, to which I managed a nod.
Minutes later a doctor hurried into the room, after deciding to run the gauntlet of those who were waiting outside. He too closed the door behind him, then switched on the lights and faced the two of us.
‘It’s nice to have you back with us, Detective Cooper,’ the doctor said. ‘It seems you’re a very lucky young man. And your cheer squad outside will be pleased as well.’
This time I think I did manage to crack a smile . . . or at least the beginnings of one. He smiled back at me.
‘Now, do you remember what happened?’
At first I shook my head. I knew it was something bad, and I knew it would more than likely all come flooding back to me at some point, but for the moment my memory escaped me.
The doctor frowned slightly.
‘My name is Dr Ennis. Last night you were brought here, to the Emergency Department of St. Vincent’s Hospital, with a stab wound to the abdomen. You had to go in for emergency surgery.’
I looked down at the dressings across my stomach and chest.
‘Like I said. You were very lucky. A centimeter up or down or to either side and you could have been in a whole lot of trouble. Thankfully the damage was minimal, but we still had to do some running repairs on you. The blade missed your vital organs, so I see no reason why you shouldn’t make a complete recovery, barring something unforeseen happening, such as an infection setting in. You will have a pretty decent scar to show off to your friends later on though.’
I was alive. Having a scar didn’t worry me too much.
‘How long will he need to stay in hospital for, doctor?’ Adam asked.
‘A few days, at least. The wound was quite deep . . . that must have been some knife . . . so we’ll just need to monitor things for a while to make sure he doesn’t develop an infection . . . lord knows what bugs some of those knives may carry if they haven’t been cleaned properly. Then after that he’ll be able to go home to finish recuperating.’
The knife. I remember it had a wooden handle. I also remember it was used on someone else. On two people in fact.
‘Th . . . th . . . thank . . . you,’ I managed to croak, my voice coming out sounding like that of an old man, I thought.
‘You’re more than welcome,’ Dr Ennis replied. ‘It’s what we’re here for. Now, do you want me to send everyone away who is waiting to see you, so you can rest some more, or do you think you feel you can handle some visitors?’
Adam looked at me questioningly.
‘Let . . . them come in,’ I answered.
‘Okay. I’ll tell them just for a few minutes.’
‘That would be good, doc. Thank you,’ Adam said to him, then with a nod Dr Ennis turned and headed for the door.
Just before he opened it he said, ‘I’ll be back to check on you later this afternoon,’ then after a slight pause he added, ‘And just for the record, after hearing what he had done, I’m glad you guys got the bastard.’
It didn’t quite register at first what he meant, but as he opened the door a vision came to me of a man lying on the street, covered with blood. Things were starting to come back to me.
When the doctor stepped through the open door I looked at the faces waiting outside to see me. I recognised them all in an instant. Tom and Beth. Jimmy and Shane. Stacey, Matthew and Chris. Nick and Brad. Family and new friends, all together.
For a moment they all stood back, as if they were waiting for an invitation to enter, or were perhaps unsure if they should cross the threshold, but with a movement of my hand I waved them in, and suddenly they were rushing forward, with the room quickly filling.
Nick was the first to come to me, standing awkwardly by my bed, looking drawn and pale, but undoubtedly alive. Tentatively he reached out and placed a hand in mine. I noticed there was a dressing stuck to his neck. I remembered what had happened for him to earn that. I suddenly remembered it all.
‘It’s okay, Nick,’ Beth said, while gently placing her hands on his shoulders, before also dragging Brad forward to be beside his brother. Apparently they now all knew each other, and they would also know what had happened, and with Beth being Beth, she had automatically assumed the role of mother hen. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought.
‘I’m s-s-sorry Coop. It was my fault . . .’
‘No!’ I said to him, somehow managing to find my voice. ‘I’m the one who is sorry . . . sorry you got caught up in it all,’ I managed to croak, before my mouth seized up again.
Glancing at Adam he came to my rescue with the glass of water. This time I drank a couple of mouthfuls. I could feel it go down, so cool and wet and refreshing. It was the sweetest thing I had ever tasted.
‘It . . . it wasn’t your fault, Nick,’ I continued. ‘One way or another he was . . . going to try and get at me. You were just the unlucky one to be caught between us.’
‘But . . .’
‘Please don’t, Nick. I’m going to be okay . . . the doc just said so, but right now I’m more worried about you. Are you okay? Did you get hurt?’
Instinctively he raised a hand and rubbed at his throat.
‘Only . . .’ he began.
‘Yeah, mate. I’m sorry he did that,’ I said quietly.
‘I . . . I think I’m okay,’ he said.
The scar on his neck would heal quickly. What worried me were the deeper scars. The ones that didn’t bleed. The ones we couldn’t see.
‘We’ll all make sure you are,’ I promised him, as I held up an arm and invited him in for a hug.
He leaned across me and I wrapped an arm around him, drawing him to me and kissing the side of his head.
‘I’m proud of you,’ I whispered. ‘You were so brave.’
‘No I wasn’t,’ he answered. ‘That was you,’ he added, before pulling back and allowing Brad to step forward.
‘How about you? Are you okay, Brad?’ I asked him.
‘It was pretty scary,’ he replied. ‘But I’m okay.’
‘Yeah, it was scary, and I’m sorry you saw that. Kids just shouldn’t ever have to see stuff like that happen, but you were both very brave, and I’m proud of you. Now, I want you both to promise me that if you have any bad dreams about it, or if anything happens that reminds you of what you saw yesterday, or you get upset by it, you make sure you tell me, okay? You don’t have to handle it on your own. There are people who know how to help you understand it all, and I’ll make sure you get to them.’
‘You mean, like a shrink?’ Brad asked.
Jesus, this kid is unreal.
‘He means there are doctors and other people who just know how to help,’ Beth added, coming to my rescue. ‘Or even someone like me can help if you just want someone to talk to . . . sometimes that’s all it takes, you know, just being able to talk to someone else.’
‘You . . . you wouldn’t mind?’ Nick asked her, looking up at her with large, sorrowful eyes.
‘Not in the slightest, honey. Adam has told me how much you and Brad mean to Rick and him . . . you’re both like their little brothers . . .’
‘Hey, I thought that was our job,’ Shane protested, before breaking out into a huge grin. ‘So, does that mean you’re our brothers now too, huh?’ he added, while grabbing Nick and pulling him to him in a bear hug. For a moment Nick had this expression of what could only be described as sheer terror on his face, and I think we were all worried that he might freak out, but that soon vanished and he melted into Shane’s embrace, while giving me an almost guilty smile, as if he were afraid of letting someone else in.
Yeah. He was going to be all right, I thought.
They all stayed for about another half hour, until it was lunch time and a trolley was wheeled into my room. During this time I found out that it was Adam who had called Tom and Beth in the middle of the night. Beth had in turn called Stacey and Chris, and they had all jumped in their cars and driven through the night to be here. It was more than I could have ever expected, or hoped for, but having my family around me when I woke up was the best medicine I could have ever received.
Beth decided to check out what I was getting for lunch and when she lifted he lids on the containers she found only soup, some kind of custard, and a hot cup of tea. Apparently I was going to be on a liquid diet for a few days. Beth ushered everyone out of the room, to allow me to eat in peace, and together they all set off in search of the cafeteria, while Adam stayed by my bedside, once again assuming the role of chief fuss-pot, not that I minded in the least.
‘This soup doesn’t look very appetizing,’ Adam remarked, after pulling the trolley closer to the bed and lifting the lid off the plastic container it was served in.
‘You can eat it, if you want,’ I chuckled.
‘Well, just keep your eyes off my custard,’ I grumbled.
‘Bugger!’ he replied, as he pulled the lid off that container as well, then pushed it closer toward me, before finding a spoon in the cutlery package and offering that as well.
Eating proved to be more difficult than I thought it might, as I had some difficulty using my left arm. I couldn’t hold the plate very well in one hand and use the spoon with the other, so in the end Adam helped me out and between the two of us we managed to get the job done, although, quite surprisingly, the effort did leave me exhausted.
‘I can’t believe that simply trying to eat was so difficult a thing to do,’ I said to Adam as I fell back against the pillows.
‘I know, mate,’ was his reply. ‘And you’ve been talking too much too. I think you need to rest now . . . I’ll go and find Tom and Beth and everyone and ask them to give you a little space . . . come back later this afternoon perhaps.’
‘But they’ve come all this way . . .‘ I said, while trying to stifle a yawn.
‘They’ll understand. I’m sure of it.’
* * *
I don’t know for how long I slept, but when I finally woke the room was once again in semi-darkness. I could see that it was still light outside and when I tried turning to look toward the chair beside my bed, despite how difficult it was to do, I noticed it was empty.
Adam wasn’t here, and neither were any of the others.
Maybe they were still having some lunch, I thought?
Collapsing back against the pillows I let my eyes close once again. I must have fallen asleep almost straight away, and when I opened my eyes the next time I could see that there was only darkness around the edges of the curtains, even if I could see a faint glow which told me where they were. The room was still predominantly dark, but the door was open just a crack, letting in just enough light to be able to make out a few shapes, such as the shape of someone sitting in the chair once more.
‘Is that you, Adam?’ I somehow managed to croak.
In an instant the shape stirred and sat upright in the chair.
‘I hope you enjoyed your rest?’ a voice said to me.
For a moment I was confused. Was that a man’s voice? Then it finally dawned on me.
‘Yes, Helen,’ I answered. ‘Thank you. How long have you been there?’
‘Long enough, kid. Adam has gone to get something to eat, along with the others who have come to see you. I think I heard the meal trolley being wheeled around outside too, so you’ll probably get something as well.’
Others, I thought? Then I remembered Beth and Tom and everyone else. I nodded into the darkness.
‘Do you want me to switch on the light?’
‘That’d be good. Thanks.’
A few moments later I sensed a shadow get up from the chair and cross the room to the door, before flicking the light switch. Above me a fluorescent tube flickered a few times before eventually coming to life, with the light taking a few moments to build up to full illumination.
‘That’s better,’ Helen said. She was now standing at the foot of my bed, looking down on me and rather awkwardly holding a box of chocolates. ‘Oh, I got you something,’ she said, holding the box up, before coming around to the side of the bed and handing them to me.
‘Thank you. You didn’t have to do that.’
Just then the door opened, to reveal Adam and the rest of the visitors Helen had referred to, who were Casey, Megan and Cathy.
Casey was holding a bunch of home grown flowers.
‘Go in. Go in,’ Adam said. ‘He won’t bite. Why don’t you sit down, while I go and try to find a vase.’
The three of them somewhat awkwardly shuffled into the room to join Helen, before Casey assumed the position at the foot of my bed, perching himself near my feet. One hand came to rest on my lower leg and after a little while he began to softly run his hand up and down. Megan and Cathy came over to my bed and each gave me a kiss on the cheek, while Helen moved around to the other side and stood there. It was almost as if she wasn’t sure what to do.
‘See, at least I didn’t die on you,’ I said to Helen, trying to break the ice a little.
‘Lucky for you,’ Helen replied. ‘But you had us worried there for a while.’
‘Sorry about that.’
‘Maybe next time you’ll follow orders,’ she remarked.
‘Can’t do that. I’ll have a reputation to uphold now, won’t I?’
‘Anyhow, we got the bastard, didn’t we?’
‘Yeah, Cooper. We got him.’
After a few minutes she decided to pull a chair closer to the bed and sat herself down. She looked pale, even a little shaken. I could tell that she had stuff on her mind. Even after only knowing her for a few weeks, it wasn’t hard to tell when there was stuff going on inside her head.
‘So, what have the doctors said?’ Cathy asked me, doing her bit to try and get the conversation flowing.
‘I was lucky,’ I replied. ‘An inch either way and I could have been in serious trouble.’
‘You mean, you aren’t now?’ Megan teased.
‘Yeah, well . . . more serious trouble then. I’ll be fine, they say.’
‘Are you going to have a scar?’ Casey wanted to know.
‘A bloody beaut one, I’d say, mate.’
‘Promise me you’ll show it to me later . . . you know, when it’s all healed up.’
‘Maybe,’ I laughed.
‘Cool,’ Casey replied. ‘Then you’ll have to get a tatt as well . . . then you’ll be a real bad ass!’
‘Ha! I might just do that.’
Helen said something about it spoiling my good looks, while Cathy and Megan just shook their heads and laughed.
Even though I was still tired, and the shadow of Corcoran was still hanging there over us, and quite likely would do for some time to come, it felt good to be talking about moving on, talking about things that would be in the future. It was only a small beginning, but it was a beginning nonetheless.
We all chatted for a while longer, with Helen slowly loosening up as we went. It took a little while to get her back to her same old self, as apparently the whole stabbing incident had really shaken her. Partly, I eventually learned, because it was her partner who had been stabbed, and partly because she felt guilty about not being able to get there sooner.
‘But you couldn’t help that,’ I tried to reason with her. ‘I was the one who was closest and who chased after the bastard.’
‘That’s what we’ve been trying to tell her. You all had your roles to play, and it’s not Helen’s fault she was on the other side of the parade and had trouble getting through to where you were,’ Cathy insisted.
‘That’s right, you know,’ I said. ‘Anyhow, you were the one who started out telling me I need to become a hard-arsed cop . . . do you want me to start giving that back to you now?’
‘Don’t even think about it,’ Helen replied, and in her usual authoritative tone.
‘There! That’s what we wanted to hear! I’m sure you’ll be fine!’ I returned.
‘Thank you Dr Cooper. Do you want me to pay on the way out?’
‘This one’s on the house,’ I answered.
It was just then that we heard footsteps in the corridor outside my room and looking up I noticed Nick standing at the doorway, looking at the people inside, from one to the other to the next, and looking a little confused.
‘Nick, come in, mate,’ I said to him and cautiously he stepped forward.
‘I . . . errr . . . wanted to see if you wanted anything,’ he said to me. ‘You know, from the shop or something.’
‘I think I’m okay, thanks. Have you been here all day?’ I asked. ‘Where is Brad, and Beth and the others?’
‘Brad’s coming . . . he just went with Adam, just now. Beth and Tom and the boys, and the others, have all gone to find a motel or something. You were sleeping when we came back to see you after lunch, so Beth said we had to let you rest.’
‘God, bless her,’ I said.
‘The boys?’ Casey suddenly asked. ‘You don’t mean . . .’
‘Yes, Casey. Jimmy and Shane are in town. They were here this afternoon, but I’m sure they’ll be back. And while I think of it, this is Nick . . . he’s my next door neighbor. Nick, this is Casey . . . he’s the kid who helped us put Jarvis away.’
‘You’re the one that that Corcoran guy had hold of?’ Casey asked as he jumped to his feet and walked across to stand in front of Nick, while at the same time sounding quite concerned.
‘Ummm . . . ’ Nick replied. Once more he was looking a little frightened.
‘It’s okay,’ Casey reassured him. ‘He can’t hurt you any more. They can’t hurt any of us any more.’
Nick looked from Casey to me, as if he was wondering what was going on, then back to Casey.
‘You . . . t-t-too . . .’ Nick stammered.
‘Yeah,’ Casey answered, as he reached up and gently touched the dressing on Nick’s neck. ‘Did it hurt?’ he asked.
Surprisingly, Nick didn’t even flinch.
‘A little,’ was Nick’s reply.
‘Do you think this is a good idea, Cooper?’ Helen quietly asked.
‘I think it’s a good idea,’ Megan answered, while Cathy and I both nodded our agreement.
Looking at the two boys they weren’t that dissimilar, with both having looks that would turn heads, especially when they were a little older. Casey was slightly older than Nick, and slightly taller, but I thought they looked good together, and besides that, they were also two kids who were connected in other ways. Firstly there was the fact that both of them identified as being gay, but then there was the other thing that could quite possibly bond them for life . . . the fact that both had been touched by the same hand of evil.
Maybe they really would be good for each other, I thought?
Both of them were now looking at us.
‘Boys, I think there’s a visitor’s room at the end of the hall,’ Cathy said. ‘Why don’t you go down there and get to know each other for a little while? Just make sure you don’t disturb anyone else in there, okay?’
‘Can we?’ Nick asked, while looking directly at me.
‘Sure,’ I replied. ‘Just promise to behave yourselves, okay? I don’t want to get kicked out of here before I’m actually ready to be sent home, especially over something one of my visitors might have done.’
The two of them smiled, then looked at each other, then in the next instant they were gone.
‘I hope you know what you’re doing, Cooper,’ Helen warned.
‘I’m sure they’ll be fine,’ Cathy remarked. ‘After Helen called and told us what had happened, and then we told Casey, he was just as worried about the boy who had been hurt as he was about Rick. All night he was climbing the walls, pestering us for information, for us to find out what was happening . . . that’s why we had to come and visit today . . . he was ready to walk out the front door and come on his own.’
‘He’s lucky to have the two of you,’ I said to them.
‘And they’re all lucky to have you, Coop,’ Megan said.
I guess that could be taken as being right in a few different ways, I mused.
* * *
Adam and Brad returned a short time later, with Brad quickly deciding that he would go down to where Nick and Casey were. The rest of my cheer squad arrived shortly after that, just as Helen and the others were getting ready to leave. Most of them knew Helen, of course, and they all greeted each other like long lost friends, before we then introduced Stacey and Chris and little Matty to everyone else. Matty didn’t quite know what to make of all these strange people and timidly clung to his mother.
When we told Jimmy and Shane that they could find Casey down in the visitor’s room with Nick and Brad, they were quick to disappear, but even then my room was still quite crowded, which we could all see was attracting looks of disapproval from the nurses who would pause and look in as they passed.
‘I think we had better get out of here before we get thrown out,’ Cathy finally said, after one nurse popped her head in the door and rolled her eyes at the gathered throng. Once more I was given a kiss on the cheek, before she said, ‘Get well soon. Now I think I had better go and find where the boys are.’
‘Thank you for coming, Cathy. And thanks for bringing Casey. It’s great seeing him happy.’
‘Yes, it is,’ she replied. ‘And I suspect that he’s going to get a whole lot happier,’ she added, while giving me a conspiratorial wink.
As Cathy was about to head out the door, Beth asked, ‘Do you think Casey might like to spend some more time with the boys, Cathy? He’s welcome to come back and stay with us for the night . . . that’s if you and Megan don’t mind.’
Cathy and Megan looked at each other and grinned. I think the thought of a quiet night without a guest suddenly appealed to them.
‘Actually, I was going to suggest that Jimmy and Shane come back with us for the night,’ Megan answered. ‘I mean, if you’re only in a motel room it could be a bit crowded for you. At least at our place we can lock them in a room on their own.’
‘And then turn the music up really loud to drown out their carrying on,’ added Cathy.
It looked like my guess was wrong, and now it was Tom and Beth’s turn to grin at each other.
‘Are you sure?’ asked Tom.
‘Yes, of course. I mean, really, how much trouble can they get into? We’ve already had Jimmy as a guest, so we know what he’s like, and I don’t think Shane can be any worse than the other two, can he?’
‘You might be surprised,’ Beth replied with a knowing smile. ‘But thank you. I know they’ve certainly been missing him, and they’ve been worried about him, so I think that the three of them all spending a bit of time together would be a great idea.’
‘That sounds like it’s settled then,’ I suggested.
‘That’s great. I’ll go and let them know,’ Cathy said, before heading out the door.
When she was gone Megan then offered me a kiss as well, while and also promising to return.
‘We’ll come by and see you tomorrow, Coop,’ Helen said, as she briefly held one of my hands, before then letting go. For her I figured that was something of a breakthrough.
I simply smiled and said, ‘Thank you. That’d be good.’
I had the feeling that there was something else she wanted to say, but for now she chose to keep that to herself.
With a nod she turned to leave, just as Cathy returned with all five boys in tow. Jimmy, Shane and Casey came into the room and all three of them kissed me goodbye, then did the same for Tom and Beth. I had to smile at seeing Tom being kissed by them, and when I glanced at Stacey and Chris and saw them smiling as well I knew just how far my family had come since those early times.
Casey and the boys all hugged Nick and Brad, with Casey holding on to Nick for what seemed like a long time. When they parted they both promised to call each other, so I guess their friendship had already taken root. Just how far that would go I wasn’t quite sure, especially given Casey’s past and whether Nick would be able to see beyond that, but I had a feeling that this might just be the beginning of something worthwhile for both of them.
After they had left, that still left nine of us in the room, but things suddenly seemed so much quieter.
Beth came over closer to the bed and sat in the chair beside it, before reaching up and taking hold of my hand, then giving it a gentle squeeze.
‘Thank you,’ she quietly said to me, almost in a whisper.
I looked into her eyes and could see the relief that was there. Not only did she finally have an answer to the question that had plagued her for years, but she had an outcome that meant she could finally put all her fears to rest. The murderer of her son was no longer in the community and could no longer wreak havoc on the lives of those he touched. The nightmare was finally over and they would be able to move on with their lives, content in the knowledge that the death of their son had now been avenged.
‘You don’t have to thank me,’ I replied. ‘I may have sworn that I would do whatever I could to ensure that whoever did that to Martin would eventually face justice, but it wasn’t just me.’
‘Maybe not, but if it wasn’t for you, it probably wouldn’t have ever happened,’ Tom added.
‘And if it wasn’t for what you’ve done, then there would have been many more families who would have felt the pain of Corcoran’s actions . . .’ Stacey added as she came closer to the bed, with Matty perched on her hip. ‘I didn’t ever fully comprehend what happened all those years ago, nor did I ever really take the time to understand what was happening in your life back then . . . but I understand now and . . . and . . .’
‘Stace . . . you don’t . . .’ I began to say, only to be silenced by Beth.
‘Rick, just let her say what she needs to say,’ Beth whispered.
‘No, Rick. I do need to say this. I’m ashamed of the person I was back when we were growing up. Nothing I can say now can change anything, but what I’ve seen you become . . . what I’ve seen you do with these boys . . . and what you’ve done in the past few days . . . I just want you to know that I’m so proud of you and that you’re an inspiration. And if Matthew grows up to be half the person you are, whether he’s straight, gay, or whatever, I know I’ll be just as proud of him also.’
By the time she had finished I knew that there was a tear or two just starting to creep from the corner of my eyes. I didn’t know if anyone had seen them just yet, or not, but I didn’t want to try and wipe my eyes, just in case I gave the game away.
Stacey came in closer and leaned down close. She sat Matty on the edge of the bed and then wrapped her arms around me, before kissing me. It was she who noticed the beginnings of the tears and wiped them away.
‘And I know mum would be so proud of you, too,’ she whispered.
‘Thank you,’ I whispered back. ‘For everything.’
* * *
In the days that followed my list of visitors steadily grew longer, with all of the officers from our command eventually paying me a visit at some stage, as well as Elvira, Ben and Tristan from the parade float.
Joe Benevetti and Jim Harris were the first to arrive on the Monday morning, with big Joe somewhat cautiously sticking his head around the corner to see if I was awake, before they both came in.
‘We came yesterday,’ Jim said to me, but you were sleeping, so we didn’t stay,’ Jim said.
‘Thanks guys. I really appreciate your coming,’ I replied.
‘Well, I guess it’s better coming here than going to a funeral,’ Joe grumbled.
‘I guess you’re right there,’ I chuckled, before an awkward silence seemed to take over.
I had found out yesterday that it had been Jim who had been the second man to arrive on the scene when I had bailed-up Corcoran in the laneway, even if it hadn’t registered with me at the time. And despite the misgivings I’d had about Benevetti at various stages, I knew that my fears about him were totally unfounded, and that the events of Saturday had proved beyond doubt that he was a guy who you would want to go into battle with any time, and anywhere. Just how I was going to be able to tell him that without sounding like a total prat, I wasn’t too sure.
In the end I decided I just needed to tell it like it is.
‘You know, Joe, I think I owe you an apology,’ I said to him.
‘What the fuck for?’
‘Well, when I started there a few weeks back, I wasn’t sure just how to take you . . .’ I replied. ‘I guess you always came across as not liking me, so for that reason I wasn’t sure if I could trust you, if and when it mattered . . .’
‘Hmmppff . . . and there was me thinking I wouldn’t be able to trust some rookie that was just about straight out of the academy and still wet behind the ears . . . and a poof at that,’ he groused.
At that I just couldn’t help but smile. And the surprising thing was, I got a smile in return.
‘Well, anyhow, I’m sorry that I doubted you, and I also wanted to say thank you, to both of you, for what you guys did on Saturday . . . I can’t even beg . . .’
‘It’s okay, Cooper,’ Jim said, cutting me short. ‘It’s all a part of the job . . . and I’m sure that had our places been reversed you would have done exactly the same thing.’
‘But . . .’
‘No buts, Cooper,’ said Joe. ‘We’re all trained to do a job, and even if we sometimes have doubts, or maybe even feel guilty about it later, it’s the training that kicks in. Surely you would have known what you were doing, the way you were talking to him and trying to get him to split his attention between the two of us by moving away and making the gap between us bigger? It was only when you did that that I knew you were thinking right and would do everything you would have been trained for.’
‘You did good, Coop,’ said Jim. ‘Even if it was a bit foolhardy diving for the dude and getting yourself stabbed . . . but we know why you did that, and we’ve got to give you some credit, and some respect, for your doing that.’
‘You mentioned guilt,’ I said to Joe. ‘Do you feel guilty?’
‘Do you?’ he shot back. ‘There’s one less rock-spider on the streets of Sydney, so, sorry, I can’t feel guilty about that.’
I could only agree.
‘In the end, all that matters,’ Jim continued, ‘is that we all did what we had to do to keep the boy, and the community, safe! And when Internal Affairs comes to pay you a visit, as they inevitably will following a fatal police shooting, all you’ve got to do is tell them just that, while also telling them exactly what happened, in your own words.’
‘Thanks,’ I replied.
‘So, how long did they say you’d be in here for? And when will you be back on the job?’ Jim enquired.
‘A few days, they said. Not sure about work, though. I guess the old man will have to decide whether he wants me back,’ I wondered out loud.
‘Oh, I don’t think there’ll be any issues there, Cooper,’ said a voice from the doorway.
We all looked that way, to find the Inspector standing there. Joe and Jim both smiled, but all I could think about was shrinking as far back into mattress as it would allow.
‘The old man wants you back on the job just as soon as you’re capable of being there,’ he added, with a wry grin.
‘Yes, sir,’ I meekly replied.
‘Well, we’d best get back on the beat,’ Jim suggested. ‘Otherwise the old man will be wanting to know just where we are.’
‘Yeah . . . and he’s a real handful when he gets worked up about something,’ added Joe.
‘Well, thanks for calling in guys. And, Joe, I’m sorry I misjudged you,’ I said, as they started to make for the door.
Joe stopped and looked back at me. ‘It cuts both ways, Cooper. So let’s just call it even, eh?’
‘Sounds good to me.’
With a nod, and just a hint of a grin on his face, he turned and followed Jim out past the Inspector.
‘So, Cooper, I’m glad to see you are on the mend,’ the Inspector said, as he crossed the room and settled onto the chair beside my bed. ‘You had us worried there for a while, let me tell you.’
‘How are you feeling?’
‘Sore, sir. And quite tired. But overall, I’m relieved, sir.’
‘Yes, well, I can understand all that. That was a very brave thing you did . . . a tad foolish perhaps, but brave nonetheless.’
‘I only did what I had to do, sir. He was about to harm someone else I cared about, and I couldn’t let that happen, no matter what the consequences were.’
‘I can understand that.’
‘I’m just glad that Joe and Jim had arrived in time . . . firstly to hear his admission as to why he did what he did to Martin, and secondly to provide some back-up and take some action when it was needed.’
‘Did you expect it to come to the conclusion that it did?’ he asked.
‘Not entirely, sir. But I think I did have a gut feeling before the parade that he was at the point of no return, and he knew himself that his time was almost up.’
‘So . . . suicide by cop, perhaps?’
‘It wouldn’t be the first time it has happened, sir.’
‘And I’m damn sure it won’t be the last,’ the Inspector replied.
‘No, sir. I don’t think it will be.’
‘So, what was that I heard you saying to Joe about misjudging him?’ he asked, after a short pause, during which I think we both tried gathering our thoughts.
‘I . . . I’m afraid that I was guilty of judging him before getting to know him, sir.’
‘I think we’re all guilty of that from time to time, son. How so with Benevetti?’
‘Well, from the time I arrived at your command I had the feeling that he disliked me, sir. And for that reason, I didn’t know if I could trust him . . . especially when he seemed so pissed off about having to be at the Mardi Gras parade in the first place.’
‘Yes, well, he can sometimes come across as being a cranky bastard, which is exactly what I believe Helen told you on your first day, if I’m not mistaken.’
‘I believe you are right, sir.’
‘But believe me when I tell you that there is no one else in our command that I would rather have at my back in a stoush . . . and that was exactly why I had insisted that he and Jim be the team to follow you in the parade . . . just in case something did eventuate.’
‘And what about this boy who Corcoran had grabbed?’ the Inspector asked. ‘Who was he?’
‘He was my next door neighbor, sir. Nick. He recently came out to me and my partner, Adam, and that’s who he was attending the parade with. Nick was the one who took the photo of Corcoran near my apartment.’
‘You don’t think that was a bit dangerous, his being at the parade at that age?’
‘I think it was a lot dangerous, sir. But the alternative was for him to sneak out of his apartment with his brother and wander the streets on their own, which is exactly what they had full intentions of doing if Adam hadn’t agreed to chaperone them. At least this way I knew they would be with someone we could trust, and if anything did happen they knew how to get hold of someone to help.’
‘That seems reasonable. And your relationship with the two boys . . . there’s nothing there that would be of concern to anyone?’
‘Sir? I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at?’
‘Don’t be coy, Cooper. I’m only asking you just what Internal Affairs will ask you when they investigate the shooting of Corcoran. They will want to know if there is anything more to your relationship . . . like are you sleeping with either of them?’
‘Absolutely not, sir! And I’m offended that anyone would even think that without knowing either them or me.’
‘Keep your shirt on, son. I’ll back you to the hilt, but I’m just trying to help you out here so that you are prepared. Just as you would be wise to prepare them.’
‘Yes, sir,’ I replied.
‘Police shootings often attract all kinds of attention . . . sometimes warranted, and sometimes unwarranted. This whole scenario with Corcoran is going to be gone over with a fine tooth comb, and while I don’t personally have a problem with anything that has happened under my command, or in relation to his incident . . . I think that there will be some do-gooders out there who will try and make trouble . . . especially given the whole Jarvis and Barrett scenario being linked in as well.’
‘I expect that everything that has been done by our command will be vindicated and that we will all emerge with our reputations intact, or if not, then slightly enhanced . . . that’s part of the reason why I have been more hands on with these cases than I otherwise might . . . but we can certainly expect for everything that we have done to be scrutinized, so we need to be prepared.’
‘I understand, sir.’
For the next half hour or more we continued to talk about the cases that had taken up so much of our time in recent weeks and would cast a shadow over us all for weeks to come. For each of us there were still some gaps in our knowledge of all the cases we were dealing with, and which we were able to fill in, by talking openly and honestly with one another, but at the end of the day there was still one question which bugged me, and for which no answer had ever been forthcoming.
I decided it was time I needed to ask that question.
‘Sir, if I may, there’s still one thing that I haven’t been able to figure out,’ I ventured.
‘Why was it that Barrett would have wanted someone in your command to start with? What was it that happened between the two of you that would make him want to do that?’
For a moment the Inspector’s face seem to cloud over, but then he grinned at me.
‘I had been wondering if you would get around to asking that question, and I guess that you deserve to know,’ he said.
For a few moments he seemed to gaze out the window, as if he were gathering his thoughts. I said nothing, knowing that he would reply all in good time.
‘I told you previously that we had some past history, I believe,’ he said.
‘But I haven’t told you the nature of that past history?’
‘Hmmm . . . well, where do I begin . . .’ he said as he got to his feet and crossed the room to the window. ‘We actually met at the academy . . . it was a long time ago now, though. The young Colin Barrett that I got to know was actually a charming guy . . . at least at first. He was good looking, popular amongst all the other cadets, and we made a connection, or so I thought.’
I wasn’t sure where this was heading, but already there were some words that had been said on my first day at this command that were starting to come to mind.
‘It wasn’t long before that connection we had seemed to develop into something more than just friendship . . . if you can get my meaning . . .’
‘Do you mean that you and he were . . .’
‘Yes, Cooper. We were lovers . . .’ he sighed. ‘At least for a short time anyhow . . . until I found out that he was also pressuring other young cadets at the academy into sex.’
‘When I found that out I broke off our relationship . . . if it could even be called that . . . and threatened to expose him to the authorities.’
‘But you didn’t, did you?’ I asked.
‘No, I didn’t. He pleaded with me, swore to change and promised never to do anything like that again . . . and to his credit I believe that’s exactly what he did. None of the other cadets would come forward, for fear of damaging their own careers . . . not even the guy I had caught him with . . . so there was no point in pursuing it if I didn’t have any witnesses.’
‘But there was still you, sir.’
‘And destroy my own fledgling career in the process? You have to remember that this was more than forty years ago, Cooper, and even being gay back then was still illegal in this state.’
‘So basically, he got away with it.’
‘Let’s just say we called a truce and both got on with our careers, and our lives.’
‘But then he got promoted to Assistant Commissioner, with only one more step to the top job . . .’ I suggested.
‘Yes. And suddenly he also finds me in command of the precinct considered to be the gayest in the state. My presence here came back to haunt him.’
‘Kind of ironic, don’t you think, sir?’
‘I thought it was simply beautiful,’ he replied.
‘Had there ever been any suggestion of the information having become known, sir?’
‘I believe I said to you on your first day that it was hard to keep secrets in the force, Cooper, so the answer is yes, there had been the occasional whisper . . . about both of us, which is what made him most nervous I think. Personally I wasn’t so worried any more . . . it’s actually possible to be an openly gay person in the force these days and still get ahead . . . as both Wheeler and you can testify to.’
‘So that’s why he might have wanted someone close to you? He was worried his cover might get blown.’
‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Isn’t that how the old saying goes?’
‘I do believe you’re right, sir,’ I grinned at him.
In the short time that followed we discussed how far the secret he had been keeping may have spread. The only people he had ever discussed this with, he said, had been a couple of other gay cops he had come to know over the years, and in more recent times, the Internal Affairs officers I had spoken with recently myself.
‘There would, no doubt, be others who had heard the whispers and innuendo over the years, possibly even some within my own command, I believe,’ he said to me. ‘But that is of little consequence now. Still, I’m not the kind of person who likes to be in the spotlight, Cooper, so I would appreciate it if the conversation between us remains just that . . . between us.’
‘Of course, sir.’
‘Very good. Thank you.’
It was then that Adam made his first appearance for the day, running late it seemed, because he had been cajoled into picking up Nick and Brad and taking them around to Megan and Cathy’s for the day.
I introduced him to the Inspector, who was both polite and discreet, before making his excuses and leaving, but not before saying, ‘I look forward to having you back on deck soon, Cooper. Of course you will need time to recuperate, so you will be placed on leave until you are ready to return.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
With a nod he then turned and left, leaving Adam staring at me with a questioning expression on his face.
‘Maybe later,’ I said to him. ‘Now, tell me what happened with the boys,’ I demanded.
* * *
My next visitor for the day was Helen, arriving about half an hour after the Inspector had left and bringing with her a copy of the day’s newspaper.
‘Did you know you’re famous?’ she asked me, as she plonked the newspaper down on the table from which I ate my meals. ‘You’ve even got your photo in the paper!’
‘Fuck no! They didn’t, did they?’
With a flourish she picked up the newspaper and opened it to page three, before beginning to read.
‘The headline reads, Mardi Gras Terror,’ she began. ‘Then there’s another sub-heading below it . . . Police hero injured saving teenage boy from killer pedophile.’
‘Oh no,’ groaned Adam. ‘That’s all we need . . . there’s nothing like a juicy headline associated with Mardi Gras to bring out the nutters and do-gooders!’
Helen brought the paper over closer to show it to me, holding it out in front of me and allowing me to see the heading, which was situated just above two photographs; one of me in uniform, which had been taken while I had been at the academy, and one of Corcoran, the one taken by Nick.
‘I’m really not sure I want to read that,’ I complained.
‘Then I’ll do it for you,’ Helen snickered.
‘Sydney police were involved in a fatal shooting on Saturday night, just metres from where thousands of Sydneysiders, as well as visitors from interstate and overseas, were enjoying the annual Mardi Gras parade.
‘The incident followed the abduction of a teenage boy during the parade by a known pedophile, and occurred following armed officers having cornered the man, who was also armed and considered to be extremely dangerous, in a lane not far from Oxford Street.
‘The intended victim, whose name has not been released, is reported to have suffered a knife wound to his throat, while his abductor, Daniel James Corcoran, who was known to police and was currently being investigated over his involvement with the recent child prostitution case that has been in the news, was shot dead following a scuffle with Detective Rick Cooper of the Darlinghurst command.
‘The victim was treated at St. Vincent’s Hospital following the incident, while Detective Cooper, who also suffered a serious stab wound in the scuffle with the offender, is now recovering in St. Vincent’s Hospital following surgery. Both are expected to make a full recovery.’
Apart from this one incident, Mardi Gras organisers were full of praise for spectators following the event, with incidents and arrests at an all-time low.’
‘See, that wasn’t too bad now, was it? It even made you out to be some kind of a hero . . .’ Helen proclaimed.
‘What, instead of the foolhardy prat that I really am?’ I replied.
‘You did what you had to do, Rick,’ Helen responded. ‘No one thinks you’re a fool. No one thinks you did the wrong thing. If it wasn’t for you, Nick would probably be dead now . . . and how would you be feeling then?’
‘Helen’s right, babe,’ added Adam. ‘He was lucky you were there.’
‘I . . . I guess.’
‘Great. Thank Christ that’s settled,’ said Helen. ‘So, what did the Inspector have to say? Anything I need to know?’
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her whether she knew anything about his past, but in the end I decided to leave things well enough alone. He had asked for my discretion, so that’s what I intended to give him. Maybe one day Helen would say something about the rumours that I knew were bound to surface again, and if that ever happened I might say I had heard them, but that would be where I would leave it.
While ever the man who had so far shown his faith in me continued to do so, it would be my intention to remain true to him and honour his request. He was, after all, more like me than I had ever imagined.
* * *
It has now been more than a year since the day that I had earned my scar. Another parade has been and gone, and this time, thankfully, nobody died.
Life goes on. Everything changes. The hurt and pain fades away, yet it can never be forgotten.
About Corcoran, I knew I should have felt happy about that . . . about his death, I mean . . . and to some extent I did feel that justice had finally been served, but in some ways I also felt I had been cheated out of seeing him be made to pay for his sins.
Because of him I had lost a lover. Three families had lost their sons. And a whole lot of heartache had been doled out. He had deserved to suffer. Why couldn’t he have suffered? We had all asked that question, but it was impossible to answer.
So all we could do was move on, comforted by the fact that he had been made to pay, and that our loved ones would be forever in our hearts, while around us the world moved on.
And move on it did.
Once the press had sniffed out all the details of the events surrounding the Mardi Gras, piecing together everything from the deaths of two innocent guys, Alexis and Jimmy Tan, in the weeks prior to the Mardi Gras, the additional death at the Imperial Hotel on the eve of the Mardi Gras, and then the bloody climax that occurred in Kells Lane, the story of the Mardi Gras Murders quickly became front page news. Of course, added to this were the links between Corcoran, Barrett and Andy Jarvis, as well as those between the Assistant Police Commissioner and the Police Minister himself, and it seemed like the whole world couldn’t get enough of the scandal that was brewing.
For weeks afterwards the fall-out continued, and with pressure mounting on the State Premier it came as no surprise to anyone when he was eventually forced to resign. It had been established beyond any doubt, through leaked emails and memos, that he had indeed known about what was happening within the ranks of his government, and in particular between his Police Minister and Assistant Commissioner Barrett. Their house of cards came tumbling down and the whole political landscape, as well as that of the police force, had suddenly changed. And all because, at least in part, of a seemingly innocuous event that had taken place more than six years earlier.
Would things have been different if I had called Corcoran out on that day he had hit on me?
I had thought about that often, and I knew that the answer was undoubtedly yes, yet what was the point in even contemplating such things? I couldn’t change what happened. I couldn’t bring Martin back. And I almost certainly wouldn’t have even met the people who today fill my heart with such joy.
Life was what it was, and all we can ever do is make the most of the cards we are dealt. It was all up to us.
And so it was, that as Adam and I stepped from the taxi we had taken to the courthouse, we looked up and saw Tom and Beth and two of the three boys who had been so integral to our case against Andy Jarvis, waiting at the top of the steps and smiling at us. It had been weeks since we had seen them, and Jimmy and Shane quickly bounded down the steps and greeted us, hugging us both and not caring who in the world saw it.
Today was the day on which Jarvis’ sentencing would take place, following his finally having been found guilty. The case had dragged on for months, more than a year, in fact, with adjournments and delays and appeals, but today was the day that these boys, and the families of the victims, would finally get justice for the atrocities committed upon them, and others.
‘Have you heard from Casey yet?’ I asked them as we climbed the steps of the Downing Centre court complex to join Tom and Beth, who had brought the boys down from Newcastle especially for this appearance.
They had been here right throughout the trial and they had, along with Casey, proved to be the most reliable of witnesses, defying all attempts by the defence to unsettle them.
‘They’re all on their way,’ Shane had replied, and no sooner than had he said that than a mini-van taxi had pulled to a stop at the foot of the stairs below us, with Cathy and Megan, Helen, Casey and Nick all spilling out onto the sidewalk.
‘Looks like there’s going to be quite an audience today,’ Tom remarked. ‘Let’s hope they put on a good show for us all.’
At the sight of Casey and Nick, holding hands as they climbed the stairs, I couldn’t help but be proud of them both. Since that day when they had met in my hospital room the pair of them had become almost inseparable. Casey had comforted and supported Nick as he had recovered from his ordeal at the hands of Corcoran, while Nick had also supported Casey right throughout the Jarvis trial.
Just like Jimmy and Shane, the two of them were now joined at the hip and, for me at least, it was a beautiful thing to see.
Glancing at the smiles on some of the faces around us, of people coming and going, I could see there were others who approved of the boys and their small show of affection, although judging by the occasional frown there were obviously still those who found such relationships a bitter pill to swallow.
I didn’t care, however. And neither did the boys.
It was their life, so it was their rules. And for as long as I drew breath, I would defend their rights to live those lives as they saw fit.
‘Hey there, Coop,’ they both said as they joined as at the top of the stairs, before hugging both Adam and me, then high-fiving Jimmy and Shane and also greeting Tom and Beth.
‘I hope you guys are all ready for this?’ I said to them.
‘Hell, yeah,’ said Casey. ‘We’ve been waiting years to see this happen.’
‘Yeah, it’s been way too long coming, Coop,’ added Jimmy. ‘And we want to be right there, so we can see the look on his face when the judge gives him the electric chair!’
‘Sorry, Jimmy, you’re in the wrong country for that. But I get what you mean.’ I said.
He just grinned at me.
‘Okay then, let’s head inside and watch the show,’ I suggested.
Together we headed for the sliding glass doors and entered the old building, crossing the ornate tiled mosaic of blue and gold, then made for the court room where we knew the verdict would be read. It was at the entrance of Court Room One where we found the Inspector and Warwick Cooke already waiting.
‘Good morning all,’ the Inspector said to us. ‘How are you feeling, boys?’
‘Better than Jarvis,’ Casey replied, to which the Inspector could only smile.
In the months that had passed since the bloody Mardi Gras we had lived through, the Inspector had taken something of an interest in the lads, getting to know them as they sat through days and weeks of testimony, consoling them when the gruesome details came to light of the other boys that Jarvis had killed, or ordered to be killed, and rejoicing with them (privately, of course) when a guilty verdict had finally been handed down for all charges.
Without his backing it would have been much more difficult for us to succeed in securing both the charges against Jarvis and the safety of the boys. And now, Jimmy and Shane and Casey all had real homes and people who loved them, and they knew who it was they could thank for that.
And they showed their thanks every opportunity they got.
Warwick Cooke led the way into the court room and we found some seats not too far behind where the prosecutor would be sitting. His co-counsel was already waiting at their table, shuffling through documents. It was only a few minutes after that when Roderick Carlton, Jarvis’ QC, also entered the room, looking decidedly glum. He had already lost the case, a rare enough occurrence in itself, but now his client was about to be staring down a hefty sentence, possibly even a life sentence, but the thing about sentencing is that you can never tell just how things might go.
As we settled into our seats, while looking around the court room as we did, we could see quite a crowd starting to gather, including Jarvis’ wife and mother. There was also a large media contingent as well, with the newshounds no doubt being eager to wrap up the story they had been following for so long now. Of the others, I wasn’t too sure who they were, although I had no doubt that some would be the family members of some of the victims. It did cross my mind that there could also be some of Jarvis’ associates amongst them, or perhaps his competition, wanting to ensure he was well and truly taken out of the game. For a fleeting moment I was concerned for the boys’ safety, worried that there could be someone there who may wish to cause them harm, but given that Jimmy and Shane were living outside the city, and with Casey still in the care of Cathy and Megan, still laying low, and with the force having his back, I think he was relatively safe.
When the judge appeared a short time later and the bailiff asked us to ‘Please all stand,’ the stage was now set. All that remained was for Jarvis to be brought in and the sentencing hearing to begin.
* * *
‘Andrew Stephen Jarvis. You have been found guilty on all counts for the crimes with which you have been charged,’ the judge began. ‘It is now my duty to pass sentence upon you for those crimes, after having given careful deliberation to the facts that have been presented to this court.’
For the next twenty minutes the judge, who looked to me to be far too young to be in such a position, read through each of the charges and outlined the evidence presented on each.
We heard once more the details of how poor young Greg Walls had been bashed by Jarvis, before later being found floating in Botany Bay.
We heard the details of how another boy, Paul O’Dea, had disappeared from the house that the boys all shared, only to be found buried in the sand dunes of Kernell, having been partially uncovered by a dog being taken on its morning walk by its owner.
Then there were the many hundreds of connections made between the boys and Jarvis’ clients, each of which had been meticulously recorded in the infamous little black book, with Jarvis’s right-hand man, Gus Arbecca, also offering testimony to verify everything listed.
It was a damning list of crimes, yet we all knew that this barely scratched the surface of those that Jarvis had actually committed.
In the end the judge said, ‘Mr Jarvis, I find that you are a despicable human being, who, for nothing more than your own financial gain, has preyed on those less fortunate for far too long.
‘It is therefore the opinion of this court, that for the murder of one Gregory Peter Walls, a sentence of life imprisonment, without the option of parole, should be imposed. For the murder of Paul James O’Dea, a sentence of life imprisonment, without the option of parole, should also be imposed. For the various acts of assault, the running of an illegal house of prostitution, your participation in child sexual assault, child exploitation and enslavement, I sentence you to a period of imprisonment of not less than twenty-five years.
‘And for the record, Mr Jarvis, if there were a harsher penalty that could be applied for the crimes you have committed, then I assure you that I would have had no hesitation in applying that.’
Then with a bang of the gavel on the bench he said, ‘Bailiff, please remove this scum from my court,’ as the crowd erupted, the boys shouted ‘YES!’, and punched the air with their fists, while some of the many family members of the victims openly wept.
The bailiff moved on Jarvis swiftly, giving him little time even say farewell to either his mother or wife, who had both been sitting directly behind him, and before long he was being led away. Unfortunately that meant passing not far from the position where we had been sitting and as he did so he looked directly at the boys and spat, ‘You’re all dead!’
‘We’ll see who ends up dead first,’ Jimmy shot back, before the bailiff managed to drag Jarvis away. Judging by the grin on the bailiff’s face, and others who were close by and heard the brief exchange, I could tell that they all agreed.
With Jarvis now gone it was time for us to leave. We thanked Warwick Cooke for everything he had done, and he wished the boys well, before falling into conversation with the Inspector.
We then made to leave our seats, only to be stopped by Mrs Jarvis – the mother – while the wife pushed past us all.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, directing her statement toward the boys. I don’t think that they were prepared for that, and they nervously looked around at the rest of us, as if looking for some support.
‘Thank you, Mrs Jarvis,’ I replied. ‘And we are sorry for you as well.’
Mrs Jarvis simply shrugged, before looking around her. ‘It was always going to happen,’ she said, then adding, ‘He was always going to get himself in trouble, that one.’ Then with a sigh she turned and left the court room.
‘I kind of feel sorry for her,’ Nick said to me.
‘Yeah, mate. I know. But it wasn’t her fault her son ended up they way he did.’
‘Do you ever think he’ll get out?’ Casey asked.
‘Not alive,’ I gravely replied, as I stepped out into the aisle and motioned for the boys to follow. We only made it to the door, however, as the way was now blocked by a rather large man with a ruddy complexion, whose gaze seemed to be fixed upon the boys.
I was instantly on edge, but then I noticed the moisture in the man’s eyes.
‘I just wanted to say,’ the man began, ‘I just wanted to say thank you,’ he said. ‘I’m Gregory’s dad, and I want you to know that you are all very brave boys. Thank you for helping to put that bastard away.’
The man was emotional. You could hear it in his voice, as well as see the evidence upon his cheeks.
Jimmy was the first to step forward, rather awkwardly putting his hand out to be shaken, but the man was having none of that. He took Jimmy’s hand, then pulled him to him, wrapping the boy up in a bear hug. We saw their bodies shake, as the man began sobbing, but then he released Jimmy, before turning his attention to Shane, and then Casey.
‘Greg was our friend,’ Shane said, as he started wiping away tears of his own. ‘We didn’t know what happened to him, but we’re glad we could help put that man away.’
‘Your families should be proud of you. I know that you’ve probably not spoken with your parents in a long time, otherwise you wouldn’t have been on the streets and got yourselves caught up with that bastard, but they should be proud of the people you have become. God bless you,’ the man said, before turning and leaving the court room.
When I looked back at the three boys, I could see they were all struggling. Then as I glanced around our little group I could see they weren‘t the only ones.
‘Okay you lot. Now that’s all over, how about we hit the road?’ I said, trying to change the subject, while hoping the tremble in my own voice wouldn’t be noticed.
* * *
Even before the trial had finished we had made arrangements to take all of the boys with us to Newcastle for a few days following the sentencing hearing, where they could camp out, go fishing and swimming, and just be boys again, while trying to put the whole ordeal of the trial behind them.
Both Nick and Brad were on the guest list as well . . . like there was any chance they would be left off it . . . and so after their saying farewell to the Inspector and Helen, and Cathy and Megan, we watched as Tom and Beth, along with Jimmy and Shane, set off back toward Newcastle in their car. Adam and I would soon follow, along with Casey, Nick and Brad (once we had collected him), but in a rented four-wheel drive, that was just a bit bigger than Adam’s sports car and in which we could at least carry enough luggage for five.
‘How are you guys getting there?’ Helen enquired, suddenly remembering that we had arrived in a taxi.
‘We’ve got a rental packed and ready to go,’ Adam replied. ‘We certainly couldn’t fit all this lot in my little jalopy, so we’ll catch a taxi back to the unit and pick it up, before then collecting Brad and hitting the road.’
‘Sounds like you’ve got it all planned,’ Cathy chuckled.
‘Down to the minute,’ I replied.
We then said our own farewells, with Casey being particularly thoughtful towards Megan and Cathy, then we left them all at the top of the steps before hailing a cab for the ride back to Adam’s.
‘Well, boys, that’s all behind you now,’ I said to them as we set off toward Adam’s.
‘And thank Christ for that,’ Jimmy replied.
‘And you, too,’ Shane added. ‘It wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t get involved.’
‘You mean if I didn’t bust a lung running Jimmy down that first day on the job?’ I chuckled.
‘Well, boys, we’ve all been through a lot, so now it’s time to let our hair down for a few days, then get on with the rest of our lives,’ I suggested.
‘I like the sound of that,’ said Shane, as he reached across and took hold of Jimmy’s hand.
* * *
It was late in the afternoon when we finally arrived at Tom and Beth’s home, driving straight round the back to where the gate was into their back yard, and finding it open and ready for us.
On the strip of land that ran between their back yard and the edge of the Hunter River we could see a couple of tents had already been erected, in preparation for our stay, while I also noticed that Gypsy 2, Tom and Beth’s sail boat, wasn’t in the yard; not that it would be hard to guess where it was.
Even before we had pulled to a stop we noticed two boys running down the yard toward us, both shirtless and wearing shorts, and already in the mood for a party it seemed. Tom and Beth soon followed them.
‘I put the boat in the river,’ Tom said to me when they got to us. ‘You and Adam can stay in her if you like. And we’ve set up some tents for the boys. They should be far enough away from everyone so that the noise won’t bother them.’
‘Hey, who are you calling noisy?’ teased Jimmy.
Tom didn’t reply, but we all got the message.
‘What about heading over to the camp site on the wetlands reserve?’ I asked.
‘We can do that tomorrow. I’ve borrowed a little tinnie with an outboard, so we can transfer everything over there in it. Then the boys will really be able to make some noise,’ he replied.
‘And scare away the fish,’ offered Adam.
‘Do you really think they’re going to be that interested in fishing?’ I said.
Glancing at Nick and Casey, I could already see them blushing.
After the boys unpacked their belongings and threw them into one of the tents Tom suggested he would start the barbeque, while Beth said she would start preparing some salads. They both asked the boys to help out, and once Jimmy and Shane eagerly said they would, the others soon followed.
That only left Adam and me to find something to do, but that issue was soon solved when Adam suggested we go for a drive.
‘What? We’ve been driving all afternoon,’ I complained.
‘Just humour me, won’t ya?’ he pleaded, so in the end I gave in, before then calling out to Beth to let her know we were heading out for a bit.
‘Take your time,’ she called back through the kitchen window.
Even then I didn’t think anything of it. I guess I was just getting tired.
We drove out the back gate and back around onto the road, turning right and heading back toward the city. Even when Adam slowed a short while later, indicating that he was turning into the cemetery, I still didn’t think that there was anything out of the ordinary going on.
It was only when we pulled to a stop besides Chris and Stacey’s Ford that I finally twigged.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked him, suddenly on edge.
‘You’ll see,’ he replied with a grin, before stepping out of the car.
As I too stepped from the car I looked around, but I couldn’t see Chris and Stacey anywhere, so I guessed they must have been down by my mother’s grave.
‘Come on,’ Adam said, as he came around to my side of the vehicle and took my hand. ‘We better tell Martin how it all went today.’
Ahhh . . . so that was why we were here.
It had become one of our little rituals each time we came to visit Tom and Beth and the boys, which had been reasonably often over the past year. It was always at this time of day, as it was my favourite time. On some occasions Jimmy and Shane had even come too, seeing as they felt that they had slipped directly into Martin’s life, almost, and had gotten to know him, through Tom and Beth and the many things of his around the house.
And so together we strolled down the gravel pathways between the rows of headstones until we reached the familiar grey marble of Martin’s resting place. As I often did I sat on one corner, while Adam sat on the other, with both of us looking toward his picture that had been fastened to the granite.
‘Hey, babe,’ I said to him, and almost immediately I felt the breeze start to pick up. Adam and I both smiled. It happened often, often enough for me to start to place some faith in thinking that Marty was responding to us, and even though the first few times it had felt weird . . . even freaked me out a little . . . it was now a thing of comfort, in knowing that he was still there.
‘Hey, Martin. See, I brought him back for you again,’ Adam said.
‘We finally put Jarvis away, mate,’ I continued. ‘He got life. So he can’t hurt anyone again. The boys are all so happy . . . they can move on with their lives now.’
Once more we felt the breeze swirl around us, only this time a little stronger, picking up a few leaves and other detritus as it went.
We stayed there for a little while longer, telling him about the man who had confronted the boys as we were leaving, and about Jarvis’ threat to the boys, but then it was starting to get darker, so we knew we had to go. We still needed to visit my mother as well.
I kissed the end of my fingers and touched them against Martin’s photo, and then Adam dragged me to my feet and we set off for the grave of my mother.
Long before we reached it I could see Chris and Stacey standing there looking down, while Matty was playing in the gravel at their feet. As we grew closer, however, I could see that something was different, and when we finally reached them and I looked at the grave, I was totally blown away.
No longer was there only a simple wooden cross with peeling paint looking out over a bed of weeds. There was now a white marble headstone, and a white stone border marking the outline of the grave, and white pebbles filling the border.
In the centre there was also a white cement vase, in which a bunch of red roses sat.
I was gobsmacked.
I looked at Stacey and could see her grinning at me. Then she motioned toward Adam.
‘It was all his doing,’ she said.
‘But Stacey picked everything out,’ Adam responded.
Around us the world was aglow in shades of gold and orange. It was how I had always imagined heaven would be.
‘It’s perfect,’ I said to them, before hugging them both. I even felt a tear or two form in my eyes, which Adam brushed away with his thumb as he held me.
‘Everything about today has been perfect,’ he said.
And as the sun finally began to settle behind the mountains, and the light began to fade, the five of us began the long walk back to the cars. Matty was walking between his mother and me, holding both our hands and from time to time trying to swing between us, laughing as we would pull him up and swing him forward, then letting him land his feet on the gravel path, kicking up stones as he did so, and letting out giggles.
Yes, it was a perfect day.
And just about perfect is what life had finally become.