Wyatt tensed. A silver BMW had emerged from the driveway of the Frome place. The headlights plunged, then levelled, as the car entered Lansell Road. Wyatt counted heads: Frome driving, wife next to him, kids in the back. He checked the time-8 pm-and watched the BMW disappear in the direction of Toorak Road.
‘Let’s go,’ Sugarfoot Younger said.
He reached for the key in the ignition but before he could turn it Wyatt’s fingers closed like a steel clamp on his wrist. He looked around. The eyes were close and remorseless in Wyatt’s narrow face. ‘We wait,’ Wyatt said.
Sugarfoot jerked free his hand. ‘What the fuck for?’
‘People forget things, Sugar. They feel cold and come back for their coats. We wait.’
‘Aaah,’ Sugarfoot Younger said.
He lit a cigarette. The match flared, illuminating his blockish face, his disgust with the world and Wyatt and all this buggerising around. He pitched the match out of the window and began to pull at his hair, caught in a stubby ponytail at the back of his head. ‘First lesson,’ he said, huffing a smoke ring at the windscreen, testing for a reaction from the still figure next to him, ‘never strike while the iron’s hot.’
Wyatt ignored him. He hadn’t wanted this, hadn’t known that Ivan Younger would be sending his brother along. He cranked down his window. It was a cold evening, the air smelling of plants and damp soil. There were few cars about, fewer pedestrians. They were watching the Frome place from the front seat of a Yellow Cab, and no one was looking twice at it, parked innocently, its headlights on.
A few minutes later, when two elderly women entered the street from a nearby house, their faces and hair dirty white in the street lights, Wyatt said, ‘Switch on the interior light and study the street directory. Avert your face.’
‘Avert?’ Sugarfoot said. ‘Speak English.’
The women shuffled past the Yellow Cab. When Wyatt turned in his seat to watch them, his bony nose cast a hooked shadow across the flat planes of his face. He saw the women stop at a small Morris sedan. After some confusion about keys and who would drive, the women got into the car and drove away. They wouldn’t remember two men in a taxi looking for an address.
Sugarfoot switched off the inside light and closed the street directory. ‘Come on, Wyatt. We could’ve done the place by now.’ He flicked away his cigarette.
‘Another five,’ Wyatt said.
He watched the street. He would wait all night if a job required it. Hoons like Sugarfoot Younger got jumpy before a job. They were never as solid as you’d like. They swallowed uppers and blundered in and made mistakes. Which is fine, he thought, if you’re not working with them.
In the seat next to him, Sugarfoot sighed and shifted his heavy limbs. He wore Levis, a denim jacket, a red bandana knotted at his throat, and calf-length tooled leather boots. He would have worn his Stetson hat if Wyatt hadn’t kicked up a fuss. He brushed his palm against the stubble on his chin. Apparently struck by the sound and the sensation, he did it again.
He’s going to start yapping again, Wyatt thought, glancing at the lightless, shallow eyes. He won’t be able to help himself.
As if on cue, Sugarfoot lounger said, ‘You know Jesse James? The outlaw? Well, get this, he had these two brothers in his gang, and their last name was Younger.’ He tipped back his head at Wyatt. ‘I reckon that makes me and Ivan the second Younger brothers.’
He watched Wyatt, waiting for a response. Wyatt said nothing, merely lifted his wrist to check the time. Like all his movements, it was fluid and economical.
‘There’s this film about them,’ Sugarfoot said. ‘The Long Riders. About how they were always getting hassled, so they hit back. They did trains, banks, whatever. I got the video at home.’
Wyatt had heard about this cowboy fixation. It probably accounted for the name Sugarfoot, a name from an old television show, but he hoped somebody was being ironical when they gave that name to Bruno Younger. Bruno Younger was the right age for a cowboy punk, about twenty-one, but he was a heavy-featured vicious boy and Wyatt could not imagine him robbing a train on horseback.
‘There’s this long scene near the end,’ Sugarfoot said. ‘The gang hits a bank in Northfield, Minnesota-The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid-but they’ve been set-up. It’s filmed in slow motion,’ he said. He paused. ‘Orchestrated,’ he said, as if testing the word. ‘It’s orchestrated. Second by second, every shot in close-up.’ He shot the windscreen with his finger. ‘Pow. There’s this sort of fantastic thunk when the slugs hit.’
Again Wyatt failed to respond. Sugarfoot, annoyed now, said, ‘Ivan reckons you’re a hotshot at banks and armoured cars and that.’
Wyatt continued to watch the sparse traffic and the Frome place behind its screen of English trees. Sugarfoot gestured abruptly. ‘If you’re so good, how come you’re doing this pissy insurance job for him?’
Good question, Wyatt thought. He sensed, without turning around, that Sugarfoot had his head cocked at a smart-arse angle. He was not surprised when Sugarfoot said, ‘I mean, it’s not what you’d call heavy-duty. Lose your nerve?’
Wyatt noted the time on his watch.
‘Ah well,’ Sugarfoot said airily, ‘Ivan reckons you’ll learn me some tricks of the trade, so I guess I better be patient.’
Wyatt stiffened. But he said nothing. It could wait.
‘Course, you could be bankrolling a big job,’ Sugarfoot said, watching Wyatt’s face. ‘Maybe with Hobba?’
‘Put your gloves on,’ Wyatt said.
Sugarfoot pulled on latex gloves and started the engine. ‘Come on, Wyatt. Is it a bank? Armoured van? You going to let me and Ivan in on it?’
‘Just drive,’ Wyatt said, taking gloves from the inside pocket of his thin, tan leather jacket.
Sugarfoot drove away from the kerb, across the street, and into the steep driveway of the Frome place. The taxi’s tyres rumbled expensively over the gravel surface. Well-tended trees arced above. Then the taxi emerged from the darkness onto a paved area at the front of the house, where a small-leafed wall ivy crept like a stain towards the upper levels of the house. A light was on above the door.
‘Park here,’ Wyatt said. ‘Do what taxis do, lights on, engine running.’
‘You told me that.’
‘I’m telling you again.’
Sugarfoot braked, shifted the gear lever into Park and both men drew balaclavas over their faces. They got out. As Wyatt pressed the illuminated buzzer set into the door frame, he murmured, ‘Remember, she’s old, she’s only the housekeeper’
‘Lesson number two,’ Sugarfoot said, ‘listen to the same shit over and over again.’
Wyatt held up his hand. A curtain had twitched at a window. The housekeeper was there, just as Ivan Younger had briefed him. That meant the alarm system was off. The housekeeper would see the taxi, take the security chain off, and come out to investigate.
They waited. When the door opened, Wyatt pushed through, Sugarfoot crowding in behind him.
‘Oh,’ the housekeeper said.
Her hand went to her heart and she struggled for breath and pressed back against the wall. Her hair seemed to spring into grey, untidy clusters. Powder had smudged the lenses of her glasses. She wore slippers. She smelt of sherry.
‘We don’t want to hurt you,’ Wyatt said gently. ‘We’ll be in and out in five minutes. But we have to tie you up first, do you understand?’ He turned to Sugarfoot. ‘Got the tape?’
Sugarfoot patted his pocket.
Wyatt turned back to the housekeeper. ‘We’ll use parcel tape. It doesn’t bite in like rope.’ He always explained what he was doing. It calmed people, made them less unpredictable. ‘We’ll sit you in a chair,’ he said, ‘so you’ll be comfortable. Unfortunately we have to put tape over your mouth. Do you understand?’
The old woman gulped and nodded.
Then Sugarfoot said, ‘Don’t make me use this, okay?’ He had opened his denim jacket; Wyatt saw the butt of a small automatic pistol in his waistband.
The old woman closed her eyes.
‘We won’t hurt you,’ Wyatt said. He elbowed Sugarfoot to one side and clasped the old woman’s elbow and led her to a small antique chair next to an antique hallstand. A telephone stood on the hallstand. ‘Sit here,’ Wyatt said, pushing down gently on her shoulders. He turned to Sugarfoot, said, ‘Tie her,’ and unplugged the telephone.
‘Not so tight,’ he said, watching Sugarfoot. ‘Now, wait by the front door. If you see or hear anything, come and get me. No heroics. I’ll start upstairs.’
‘I got two hands. I could be doing down here.’
‘I said wait.’
Wyatt felt free now. He could start work. He was tall and hard, but as he ran noiselessly up the stairs he felt light and potent and elastic. At the top he paused, then made for the master bedroom at the front of the house. He stood in the doorway and examined the room. King-size bed, dressing table, wardrobes, Tibetan rugs on the carpet, half-open door to the ensuite bathroom. The curtains were closed. He crossed the room and turned on a bedside light. The Cartier bracelet was in the jewel case. No Piaget watch, though. She’s wearing it, Wyatt thought. He put the bracelet in his pocket, ignoring rings and brooches. He found Frome’s Rolex and put it in his pocket.
He went downstairs. The dining room was also at the front of the house. According to Ivan’s shopping list, the Meissen dishes and silver goblets were in the sideboard under the window, the Imari vases and the eighty-thousand dollar antique clock on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. He found them and wrapped each piece in foam sheets and packed them into a polythene bag.
Frome’s Krugerrands and rare coins were in a desk drawer in the study. Most of the coins sat in moulded green baize in a long wooden box. Some individual coins were wrapped in small sealable plastic bags in small boxes. Wyatt tipped all the coins into a second polythene bag and returned to the entrance hall of the house.
Something was wrong.
Sugarfoot was no longer there, only the housekeeper, and she sagged in the chair, her chin on her chest. Wyatt put the bags on the floor against the wall. Still wearing his gloves, he eased the tape away from her mouth and lifted her chin.
A red weal marked her cheek. Otherwise her features were slack. Her blouse was unbuttoned and one stocking had slipped to her knee. He felt behind her ear for a pulse. Even as he found it he felt it flutter and stop. He let her go and stepped back, imagining it: Sugarfoot, pacing up and down, his impulses clashing with his intelligence, taking his grievances out on the woman.
Wyatt punched her chest several times and tested for a pulse. Nothing. He stepped back from her again for a last look around. Further along the hall the door to one of the rooms was open. It had been closed before. He looked in. It was a small, comfortable television den. Apart from some expensive paintings on the wall, it was unpretentious. But there was an asymmetry about the way the paintings were arranged on one of the walls, and Wyatt, crossing to investigate, discovered an empty hook.
He went outside and said softly, ‘Sugar.’
Sugarfoot Younger was closing the boot of the taxi. ‘Yo?’
‘Give it to me.’
Sugarfoot frowned as though puzzled.
‘The painting,’ Wyatt said patiently. ‘Give it to me.’
‘Are you kidding? Do you know what it is?’
Wyatt said nothing, his thin face tight. He held out his hand.
Sugarfoot, disgusted, opened the boot and removed a painting the size of a handkerchief. The frame was thick, ornate, the gold paint flaking. Wyatt returned to the house and rehung the painting. He was not interested in the name engraved on the brass plate.
He went out to the taxi, leaving the polythene bags and the body where they were. A cold fury had settled in him. In other circumstances he’d have left Sugarfoot’s body there too.
Sugarfoot was leaning against the door of the Yellow Cab. He saw Wyatt come out and tossed away his cigarette. ‘Where’s the jewellery and stuff?’ he said.
Wyatt ignored him. He stepped on the cigarette, picked it up and put it in his pocket. He felt close to the edge. He said savagely, ‘We’re leaving everything behind. Get in and drive.’
Sugarfoot waited a couple of beats, letting Wyatt know he’d comply if it suited him, he’d been tongue-lashed by experts, then got behind the steering wheel. Wyatt slid into the passenger seat, shut his door and stared ahead through the windscreen.
Sugarfoot drove them through Toorak and towards the Yarra. ‘Ivan’s going to be pissed off,’ he said, keeping it light. ‘What’s the problem?’
Wyatt felt his head throbbing. He waited for it to ease. ‘What did you do to her?’
Wyatt waited until they had braked to a stop at the MacRobertson Bridge roundabout, then reached across, jerked the pistol out of Sugarfoot’s belt, and jabbed it under Sugarfoot’s rib-cage. ‘Keep driving,’ he said. When they were through the roundabout and on the bridge, he said, ‘We’ll start again. What did you do to the woman?’
Sugarfoot wheezed painfully. ‘Nothing. What d’ya mean?’
Wyatt jabbed again. ‘She’s dead. You killed her.’
Sugarfoot gulped and shook his head. ‘No, mate. Not me.’
‘You frightened her,’ Wyatt said. ‘It killed her. Anyone caught handling stuff from that house would be an accessory to murder.’
‘Hardly touched her,’ Sugarfoot said, rolling his shoulders uncomfortably. ‘It was the way she was looking at me. You know.’
Wyatt sat back, turning his bleak face to the window. On the other side of the bridge, Sugarfoot turned left and followed the down-ramp to the South Eastern Freeway. The taxi despatcher’s voice faded in and out above the static on the taxi radio. The meter clicked: thirty-five dollars, thirty-six dollars, thirty-seven.
It was Friday night, the traffic heavy. As if nothing had happened, Sugarfoot began a patter: ‘Look at the way that prick’s driving… Get your eyes mended… You’ll do me, sweetheart.’
They crossed the river again and followed it to the approach roads for the Westgate Freeway. Wyatt looked out at the night. Ahead of them, the lighted bridge loomed, curving right, and in the darkness it seemed unfamiliar to him, like a bridge in someone else’s city.
On the bridge Sugarfoot fell silent for the long descent into Footscray. When he spoke again, he sounded self-conscious, as if asking for recognition. ‘That painting,’ he said, ‘was a Tom Roberts, worth a fortune. Ivan fenced one last year’
Wyatt ignored him. He’d met aerobics instructors and plumbers who now ran galleries, so nothing the Youngers knew about art surprised him. Eventually he said, ‘It wasn’t on the list Ivan gave me, meaning it wasn’t insured, meaning there was no point in taking it.’
‘Fucking list,’ Sugarfoot said.
He slowed the taxi. They were outside Bargain City, his brother’s secondhand bulkstore on a flat, windy street off Williamstown Road. A St Vincent de Paul op shop was on one side, a video library on the other. Cars were double-parked in the street, their drivers returning or borrowing videos.
‘Go around the back,’ Wyatt said.
Sugarfoot drove into a laneway and parked behind a white Statesman at the rear door of his brother’s storeroom. A band of light showed under the door. ‘Wait here,’ Wyatt said. He got out, knocked on the storeroom door, and waited.
A high, constricted voice said, ‘Yeah?’
‘It’s us,’ Wyatt said, his face to the door. A key was turned, a bolt slid back. The door opened and Ivan Younger asked, ‘Go all right?’
Wyatt didn’t reply. He nodded at the taxi, ‘This taken care of?’
‘The day driver takes it out tomorrow morning, same as usual,’ Ivan said. He walked over to the cab and leaned in at the driver’s window. ‘Park it out the front, Sugar, then come in the back way.’
Wyatt followed Ivan inside. The storeroom was large, grey and gloomy, constructed of cement blocks and steel girders. Metal shelving lined the walls. Cardboard boxes had been stacked on the floor next to gutted armchairs, warped table-tops and scratched stereo cabinets. The only light in the cheerless room came from a neon strip in the ceiling.
‘So,’ Ivan Younger said. ‘Go all right?’
Wyatt regarded him bleakly. He had worked with Ivan Younger before. Ivan believed in diversity. For a fee he’d provide false papers, explosives, guns, plastic surgery, floor plans, maps of security systems, a ‘legitimate’ set of wheels. He had contacts in Telecom who set up telephone diverters in his SP joints. He gave twenty cents in the dollar for hot televisions and home computers. He was a middle man in insurance scams, negotiating a cut of the victim’s refund or, as in tonight’s job, the reward money. He had insurance clerks in his pocket, along with cops and magistrates probably. And just lately there were rumours he’d bought into the vice operations of a Sydney syndicate expanding its Melbourne base.
Now he was staring at Wyatt. ‘Where’s the stuff?’
Keeping well clear of him, Wyatt stood where he could watch the door to the alley and the door through to the showroom. He did it automatically, in the way that he also avoided lifts, call boxes and other confined spaces, stood back from a door once he’d knocked on it, used crowds for protection, avoided unlighted areas. It was like breathing.
Ivan said again, ‘Wyatt? The stuff?’
Wyatt watched him warily. Ivan Younger was older than Sugarfoot, about forty; cleverer, less belligerent, more assessing. His bald head gleamed in the storeroom’s meagre light. He compensated for baldness with a bushy, grey-streaked moustache. He wore baggy linen trousers burdened with fussy pockets, and a bulky, brightly coloured pullover. His tasselled Italian shoes snapped on the cement floor. He reminded Wyatt of some sleek predator.
Ivan folded his arms across his thick chest, and leaned back against the bench. ‘Is something wrong?’
Wyatt’s narrow face seemed to sharpen. ‘What do you fucking think?’
‘Straightforward job, experienced lookout, right?’
‘Except there’s this hidden agenda,’ Wyatt said. ‘We have a young punk who wants to learn a few tricks so he’ll be useful to his older brother, and the older brother thinks, why not send him out on a job with a pro?’
Ivan Younger shifted uncomfortably. ‘Thought it would do him good,’ he said, his high voice a register higher. ‘What did he do?’
‘Later,’ Wyatt said. ‘Give me my fee.’
Ivan pointed at a corner safe. ‘It’s in there. I want the stuff first.’
‘Haven’t got it.’
Ivan stared at him. ‘Did you get into the place?’
‘Oh, we got in all right,’ Wyatt said.
‘Don’t fuck around. How come there’s no stuff?’
‘No way. You deliver, you get paid, that was the deal. If you’re holding out for more, you can just fuck off.’
Wyatt stood lightly on the balls of his feet, his fists ready. He kept half an eye on the alley door. He said, ‘We left the stuff behind.’
‘What the fuck for? You-’
Sugarfoot Younger stepped in from the alley. He was carrying a painting, another small one, a plain wooden frame this time. ‘Hey, Ive? He tell you what happened? Got cold feet and left the stuff behind. I snuck this out, but.’ He began to cross the storeroom towards them.
‘What do you mean?’ Ivan said. ‘There were no paintings on the-’
He stopped. Wyatt had stepped behind Sugarfoot and was jerking savagely on the ponytail. He had the pistol in his other hand. He motioned at Ivan with it. ‘You move and I’ll blow his brains out’
Sugarfoot struggled. He had the blockish body of a weightlifter but his large limbs lacked flexibility, his arms bowed out at the sides and he was a head shorter than Wyatt. ‘Get him, Ive,’ he said, grunting the words.
Wyatt ground the pistol barrel under Sugarfoot’s jaw, cutting off his voice. The pressure on the ponytail forced Sugarfoot’s head back. The painting clattered onto the floor.
‘You want him to learn things?’ Wyatt said. He tugged hard on the ponytail in punctuation. ‘Here are some basic lessons. One, obey orders. Two, know your part. Three, no guns unless the job demands it. Four-’
He released the ponytail, stepped back, and raked the pistol across Sugarfoot’s face.
‘Stay out of this,’ he said, gesturing at Ivan again. He drove his knee into Sugarfoot’s groin, let him double over, then smacked the butt on the back of his neck. Sugarfoot collapsed, dry-retching.
Wyatt prodded with his foot. ‘Four, know your limitations. You’re a punk.’
He stepped back and pocketed the pistol.
Ivan Younger relaxed. ‘In other words,’ he said, ‘he fucked up.’
It was an attempt at humour, but Wyatt took out the pistol again. ‘My five thousand.’
They stood and stared at each other. Wyatt thought about it. Stand-offs wasted time. He didn’t want the antagonism, and the longer he hung around here the riskier it would be. Still holding the pistol, he bent down and picked up the little painting and took it across to a deep stainless steel sink.
Ivan said, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’
Wyatt ignored him. He smashed the glass with the pistol butt, snapped the wooden frame and dropped the painting into the sink.
‘Jesus Christ, Wyatt.’
He watched dully as Wyatt doused the painting with methylated spirits and set fire to it. ‘A Whiteley,’ Ivan said. ‘Know what one of them’s worth?’
Wyatt knew Whiteleys. If he wanted, he could steal job-lots of Whiteleys in every house in Toorak. He watched the painting turn to ash, said, ‘Stay away from me,’ and let himself out into the night.
Ivan watched Wyatt go, feeling vaguely dissatisfied. He’d backed him down on the five thousand dollars, but it was a hollow victory. Wyatt wasn’t someone you’d normally cross. He told himself he did it because of the guy’s arrogance and the way he’d thumped Sugar.
He leaned down and twisted his brother’s ear. ‘Get up.’
Sugarfoot patted at him feebly.
‘Get up. I want to know what happened tonight.’
Sugarfoot put his weight on his hands, then his knees, and finally stood. He swayed groggily, touched his face and took his hands away. They were sticky with blood. ‘Look what the cunt did to me.’
‘I’ll do worse if you don’t fucking tell me what happened.’
Sugarfoot shrugged, his loose, pouchy face growing sullen. ‘The maid, whatever. One minute she’s all right, the next minute she carks it.’
‘Jesus H. Christ.’
‘Must’ve had a dicky heart.’
Ivan stared at his brother. ‘You didn’t help her along, of course?’
‘No. I swear-’
‘Ah, fuck off, I don’t want to hear about it.’
Ivan leaned against the workbench, concentrating hard. Wyatt wouldn’t talk. But the insurance clerk would have to be sweetened in case he developed a conscience.
Fucking Sugar. A grade-A fuckwit. That Whiteley painting could have put them all in Pentridge.
He stiffened. ‘Listen-you take anything else?’
‘Nothing,’ said Sugarfoot. ‘Look, I’m sorry, right?’
Ivan regarded his brother sourly. Sugarfoot: a joke name, yet he was proud of it, the moron. He’d been charged with his first offence at the age of twelve. That was followed by ten stretches inside for periods ranging from four days to eighteen months: indecent assault, extortion, social security fraud, possession of cannabis resin.
He grabbed Sugarfoot’s face in a pinch grip. The eyes looked okay. Whenever Sugar was on coke or angel dust or whatever, his pupils shrank.
Sugarfoot shook him off. ‘Leave us alone.’
‘Ask you to use your brains,’ Ivan said, ‘and look what happens. I’m putting you back on collecting.’
Sugarfoot dabbed at his face with a handkerchief. He shivered in the chilly air of the storeroom. ‘Yeah, well I want a change. I’m going freelance.’
‘Oh really? Doing what? Mugging old ladies?’
Sugarfoot flushed. ‘Wyatt’s bankrolling something. I’m gonna-’
Ivan jerked him by his shirt front. ‘If he is and he sees you hanging around he’ll wipe you out, no questions asked. Stay away from him.’
Sugarfoot looked down at his brother’s hand. With great dignity he removed it, gratified to see Ivan wince. He said, ‘See my face? I’m supposed to just let him get away with it?’
‘He’s bad news,’ Ivan said. ‘Look, take the weekend off. We’ll see what we can find for you next week.’
Not all that much, he told himself. Their existing set-up ticked over nicely. Sugar did the minding, he did the thinking. He was fucked if he could see Sugar doing business with Bauer and the Sydney outfit, for example.
‘Sugar?’ he said. ‘Think about it, all right? Take a couple of days off. See the girls in Calamity Jane’s, get your end in, and we’ll talk about it on Monday, okay?’
The best solution, he thought, would be to give Sugar the sort of muscle work he’d respect. Maybe Bauer could use him.
He walked Sugarfoot out of the shop to the street. Sugarfoot’s Customline was parked outside the takeaway joint. He clapped his brother on the back, returned to the storeroom, went out the back door and got into the Statesman.
His car phone was top of the range. He tapped out Bauer’s number in St Kilda. Placida or whatever her name was answered in her Manila whorehouse accent: ‘Who is speaking please?’
‘Get me Bauer.’
The handset clattered in his ear. Bauer’s raspy voice came on the line. ‘Ja?’ Amazing the way Bauer still said ‘Ja,’ even though he’d left South Africa fourteen years ago.
‘It’s about Calamity Jane’s,’ Ivan said. ‘Are you delivering the take to Sydney on Monday?’
‘Tell them I found out who’s been skimming off the top.’
‘One of the shift supervisors. Ellie.’
There was a pause. Ivan went on: ‘Want me to handle it?’
‘No. They’ll tell me in Sydney what to do. I’ll deal with it when I get back on Monday.’
‘Whatever it is, take my brother along. I need him to pick up a few clues so we don’t have to keep bothering you.’
‘Your brother,’ said Bauer repressively.
‘Sugarfoot,’ Ivan said. ‘He’s okay. He just needs someone to show him the ropes.’
In his big Customline outside the takeaway joint Sugarfoot was resting his head, waiting for his knot of bitterness to ease. Then the pain and the shame and the need for comfort told him he couldn’t stay out here all night. He fired up the big motor and drove away from Bargain City, over the Westgate Bridge again and across to his place in Collingwood. He drove slowly, one hand on the wheel, one shoulder against the door. He believed that if he moved he would fracture.
He reached his shabby terrace house feeling as though he’d been away for a week. The lights were on. The others were home, fuck it.
He went in by the back porch. In the laundry he ran cold water into the sink, leaned over, sluiced out his mouth, and washed the crusted blood from his cheek and forehead.
On the way through to the stairs he paused in the kitchen doorway. The wood stove was alight, softening and warming the room. Tina had her numerology chart open on the table. When she was not reading it or absorbing energy from crystals, she volunteered at Friends of the Earth. Rolfe was tinkering with a bicycle lamp. He wore shorts all winter and the high point of his day was running five times around Victoria Park. As far as Sugarfoot was concerned, they were both off the planet. Luckily the house was big enough for him to avoid them most of the time, and they were too up themselves to be sus about what he did for a crust.
Tina glanced up, her face as tight-arsed as ever, then down again. Usually she wore overalls but tonight she had on what looked like a T-shirt the size of a tent over purple tights and about a dozen other garments, so Sugarfoot still had no idea what sort of body she had. She didn’t notice his cuts and bruises.
He went upstairs to his room and closed the door and drew the curtains. He had all night and he was going to ease his mind.
He got out his trunk and unlocked it. With the.32 now in Wyatt’s hands, all he had left in the way of handguns was a replica, a Colt Python.357 with the six-inch ventilated barrel. But he had a Winchester rifle-a.460 magnum, blued metal, burled walnut stock. The genuine article. The problem was size and noise and getting rounds for it. Sugarfoot dreamed of close work with a sawn-off Remington eleven-hundred shotgun firing pellets the size of.38 slugs.
He had a few grams of Columbian left, hidden in a plastic bag in his shoe cleaning kit. Plastic drinking straw, mirror and razor blade. He chopped and sorted the coke into two lines and bent over them with the straw in his nostril. Two quick, strong snorts, one in each nostril, and wait, not long, for the expansion it always gave him.
Then turn on the VCR, slide in The Long Riders, watch the unfolding story of The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid. He was in the wrong century. He belonged then, not now. Carry a gun, use it, no questions asked. Quick raids on lonely towns, then slip away where they couldn’t track you down.
None of that crappy work Ivan made him do, Ivan calling him the Enforcer like it was supposed to make him feel good. Going around collecting debts, putting the hard word on mugs late with the interest. Using his muscles, never his mind.
A long film. Towards the end, Sugarfoot sat forward in his chair, feeling concentrated and alive. He would never tire of this: minutes of beautiful camera work, the action slowed down, complex angles and sound effects so you were actually in there, hearing every shot fired, hearing that incredible low whirring howl of a flying bullet, hearing it hit, a dull slap, plucking bone chips and blood.
The horses rear. The Younger gang regroups. Sugarfoot Younger saves others even as bullets slam into him. Outside the town he slumps over his saddle and when his men prop him up, concerned, he says, ‘Go, save yourselves, I’m finished.’ They don’t want to leave him but he insists. They lift him from his horse and place him behind a fallen log. ‘Give me my Winchester,’ he says. ‘I’ll hold them off for you.’ Already they can hear the posse. Troubled, close to tears, his men mount up again, wheel round and gallop away. Sugarfoot has held up his thumb to them but they don’t see that, or see him settle his Winchester on the log, firing when the posse appears between the trees.
That night, his men come back. They take his body to a secret burial place. Now, at the same time every year, silent, grim-faced men gather at the log. Every year there is one man less. You don’t survive long in this line of work.
Of all the stories in his head, Sugarfoot far preferred this one. After seeing The Long Riders he liked to go back over the action, fine-tuning it.
In another story he sometimes played with, his end is witnessed by a huge crowd and millions of viewers, television cameramen in risky positions filming him picking off Asians, wogs and poofters with AIDS-pinched faces. The government tries to play down his death and his funeral, but it’s impossible, he’s hit a nerve with the people.
But it was a problem getting all the details right in that one.
So he rewound the video. A new story came to him. In this one he uncovered the job Wyatt was bankrolling and picked him off and ran with the take.
Wyatt dumped Sugarfoot Younger’s pistol in the nearest storm drain, then drove away from the city, pushing south through the wintry night, feeling corroded and uneasy.
There had been a time when he pulled just two or three big jobs a year, banks and armoured cars, working for four weeks and living on the proceeds for forty-eight. He’d spend six months somewhere warm-Italy, the Pacific Islands, South America-and when the money ran out he’d go back to work, always choosing a hit that posed interesting problems, always working with pros, never junkies, parolees, cowboys.
He tried to shake off the sour feeling. He switched on the car radio to monitor the ten o’clock news. Nothing about the Frome job.
At Frankston he turned onto a back road and cut across to Shoreham. There’d been a time when he felt free to pick and choose his jobs, not go to sleazebags like Ivan Younger. Work had been a challenge then, it kept him alive. He’d liked the feeling of concentration, ignoring everything that didn’t relate to the job. He knew how to wait, immobile, for long periods. Small talk would bore him. He would be cold and distant, but he men he worked with never minded that: he cut through the fog of detail surrounding any job.
He turned on the windscreen wipers. A misty rain was sweeping across the Mornington Peninsula. At Shoreham he turned north, taking a narrow road into a region of orchards and weekender farms set amongst trees and dams on small, humped hills. Here and there he saw a distant light, but it was almost midnight and most of the locals would be in bed.
Italy, the Pacific-he hadn’t been somewhere like that for a while. Things had started to fall apart about two years ago. Someone shot on a job, big jobs that fell apart even before he’d applied his mind to them, too many small jobs, too many cowboys like Sugarfoot Younger on the scene. Too much high-tech gadgetry around every door, window, safe.
He came to a hairpin bend, slowed the car and steered into his driveway, a narrow track winding through an avenue of golden cypresses. Below him were the lights of Shoreham. Beyond the town was the black mass of the sea. There were no ships’ lights.
Suddenly the rear wheels lost their grip on the mud. He steered into the slide, and when the car was righting itself he saw a rain-slicked figure glisten once in the headlights and disappear.
He also saw the rifle. He pulled on the handbrake, turned off the engine and headlights, and wound down his window. He listened for a moment, his hand drawing out the flat 9 mm Browning he kept in the car. He’d taken out the bulb of the interior light and had the door open when a voice called, ‘Mr Warner? Sorry, Mr Warner, it’s only me.’
The figure that stepped out of the cypresses and onto the track wore a stockman’s waterproof coat and carried a powerful torch and a hunting rifle. It was the neighbour’s son. Wyatt hid the Browning again. ‘Craig,’ he said.
‘Sorry, Mr Warner. That damn fox again.’
Now Wyatt could see Craig’s pimples and earnest face and the troubling raindrops in his eyelashes. ‘Did you get him?’
‘I tell you what,’ Craig said, shaking his head in wonder, ‘he’s a cunning bugger.’
Wyatt nodded. He started the car again. ‘Well, good luck,’ he said.
‘Night, Mr Warner. Sorry if I startled you.’
Wyatt continued along his driveway and across his yard and into the old shed he used as a garage. He backed in, to give himself that second or two of forward advantage if ever he had to run for it, and tucked the ignition key in a slot under the steering column.
He went to bed then and in his dreams gave way to impulses to hurt and kill. He woke up sweating. He tried to read but he felt dissatisfied, on edge. It was bad enough that he’d spent hours on a minor job with second-raters and come out of it minus the money, but he’d also been too close to losing control back there in Ivan Younger’s storeroom. A job was a job; there was no room for emotions. He had hurt and killed before, but only when necessary. Otherwise it became the solution to everything and that was dangerous.
In the morning he walked. He did this after every job. He tramped around his boundary fence as though defining and measuring his fifty hectares, his cottage and reedy creek, his trees, waterfowl, leaning gates and view of Phillip Island across the bay. The farm was his. He owed no money on it and his name did not appear on any documents or electoral rolls, but, for the first time, it was all he had-apart from $1000 and $2000 emergency caches in Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, cities where he had pulled jobs and might again.
Only one person who counted knew he lived here, a retired hold-up man named Rossiter who passed on messages. Anyone looking for Wyatt knew to contact Rossiter first. The word was Wyatt was the best, he was available, but these days Rossiter rarely called with anything worthwhile.
The neighbours and the townspeople believed that Wyatt was a stockbroker named Warner who had got out at the top of the market but still dabbled in it between periods travelling overseas. They mostly ignored him. He wasn’t one of the loathed January holiday makers, but nor was he exactly a local. Whenever Wyatt travelled he paid Craig good money to keep an eye on his place. He was also quiet, courteous and reclusive, and that suited everybody.
At one o’clock he ate lunch sparingly and restlessly, then sat and brooded at his window. Sometimes, after a job, he brought a woman here for a few days, women who didn’t know who he was or what he did. They found him to be wary and emotionally invisible. When he tired of them he drove them to Hastings and put them on the train. He always took confusing back roads, and there was no number on his telephone dial, making it impossible for them to find him again. He had encountered one of these women once, in Bourke Street, and had responded so coldly that she flushed and drew back in anger. It seemed to Wyatt that he was only ever in intimate situations with strangers-a woman sometimes, a safe-cracker in a darkened room, a getaway driver after a job-and then only for short periods. He hid his past, from others and from himself. No photographs, diaries or letters; nothing kept for memory’s sake; no reminiscing.
The wind dropped in mid-afternoon and he went out in his boat, a five-metre aluminium dinghy with a Johnson outboard. He took with him fishing gear and a Nikon with a telephoto lens and puttered along the shoreline for several kilometres, stopping occasionally to fish or photograph the sea birds. But the dissatisfaction wouldn’t leave him.
At four o’clock he turned back. There would be a storm later. The sky was grey, heaving. He beat through the short, choppy whitecaps to the beach and hauled the dinghy onto the boat trailer. Fat drops of rain began to dimple the sand. An open fire tonight, he thought. Grilled fish and baked potatoes, salad, one of his dwindling dry whites. But then he felt cold, and thought again of his six months in the sun somewhere. This was a life of waiting, and he might wait forever.
The weekend passed. He gardened, gathered pine cones in the pine tree plantation, spoke to Craig, and started to clear the thicket of blackberry bushes on his southern boundary. But a sense of lucklessness seemed to wash around him. He was forty and felt that he’d lost the old easy pattern, become unrelaxed, caught up in complications and uncertainty. Nothing he touched seemed worthy of him anymore. He needed money. He needed luck.
The call came on Sunday evening. The telephone rang once and stopped. Wyatt stiffened, waiting for it to sound again, then fall silent, then sound a third time, the signal he’d worked out with Rossiter. Once, a year ago, the telephone had rung at length and at intervals all through the day and into the evening, leaving him edgy and alert, his gun at hand, the safety catch off. But nothing happened. He supposed it was a wrong number. Only Rossiter knew his address and telephone number.
The telephone rang again. Wyatt waited, and when it rang a third time he picked it up but did not speak. Rossiter said, without preamble, ‘Rob Hobba wants you to ring him,’ and read off a Melbourne number. Wyatt dialled, let it ring twice, hung up, and dialled again.
Hobba answered immediately. ‘Yes?’
‘I’m calling about your advertisement in the Trading Post,’ Wyatt said. ‘I need more details.’
‘It’s a Westinghouse,’ Hobba said, ‘very clean, large capacity but easy to shift. However, I have to sell within the next few days. Any chance you can come and see it?’
Wyatt thought about it. He’d worked with Hobba twice, a bank hold-up and an armoured-car hijack, and both had gone like a dream. Hobba was good; he wouldn’t be making contact unless he thought the job had possibilities. And it was an easy job he was talking about, a safe, but it had to be done soon.
‘Tomorrow morning would suit me,’ Wyatt said. ‘I’ll come up to Melbourne and ring you again when I get there.’
They rang off and Wyatt poured away the scotch he’d been drinking. He would not drink again until after the job. Already he felt calmer and more compact. He did not prefigure the job but went to bed and slept dreamlessly.
This time Wyatt took the train to Melbourne. He didn’t want to be burdened with a car. If the job looked like taking a while, he’d rent himself one.
He got out at Flinders Street, walked through to the Gatehouse on Little Collins, and registered under the name Lake. The room they gave him looked out onto an airshaft, but it was comfortable. Wyatt liked the Gatehouse. It was central, cheap and old-fashioned, a hotel for bemused farmers and their families visiting Melbourne from the country. You didn’t get cops checking faces in the lobby or bars at the Gatehouse.
Now he was leaning his long frame against the window, regarding Robert Hobba with cold interest. ‘Three hundred thousand dollars?’ he said.
Hobba nodded. ‘In cash.’
‘An office safe.’
Wyatt frowned. ‘Lifts, doors, cameras, security patrols, nightwatchmen… ‘
‘That’s just it,’ Hobba said. ‘It’s in a house.’
Wyatt watched him, wondering if this job was like all the others, no more than someone with an itch and a way in. At first sight, Hobba didn’t inspire confidence. He sat on the edge of the bed, narrow shoulders sloping to a bulky stomach and massive thighs. He had prominent lips in a grey, puffy face. When he was nervous he licked them.
He licked them now. ‘A converted house in South Yarra,’ he said. ‘Quiller Place. Went by it yesterday. Single storey, quiet street. A lawyer’s office. Easy’
Wyatt said nothing, deliberately putting pressure on Hobba. Then he said, ‘Tell me what a suburban law firm is doing with three hundred thou in the safe.’
Hobba wet his lips again and looked at the ceiling. ‘Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. When you want to build a shopping centre, whatever, you apply for a planning permit. If you’re out of luck, some neighbour comes along and lodges an objection. If you go through a tribunal it can take a few months. Then when you’re about to lay the foundations some other geezer objects. Your costs go up, everyone’s being fucked around, so to save hassles you buy off the objectors.’
He frowned, then looked at Wyatt and smiled in satisfaction.
‘So?’ Wyatt said.
‘So this lawyer, Finn, negotiates these things.’
‘Negotiates himself three hundred thousand dollars? That’s some fee,’ Wyatt said.
‘He only gets a percentage,’ Hobba said. ‘There’s a deal going through on Friday and he’s the banker for a few hours. We’ll only have one shot at it.’
Wyatt had not moved from the window. He leaned against the frame, arms folded now, assessing Hobba and his story. He said, ‘How come you know all this?’
It was eleven-thirty. Hobba had arrived at eleven-fifteen and already had smoked three cigarettes. After each one he took a mint from a rattling tin and tossed it into his mouth. Now he shuddered and coughed, and Wyatt, recognising a delaying tactic, said sharply: ‘Where did you hear it?’
Hobba sighed. ‘The horse’s mouth.’
‘Not him,’ Hobba said. ‘The partner. A bird called Anna Reid.’
‘Don’t like it,’ Wyatt said. Then, ‘How close are they?’
‘Not close at all. Just partners.’
Hobba wet his lips again, drew violently on his cigarette, and knocked off the ash with three dainty taps of his forefinger. He wore glasses, looked crumpled and gave an impression of incompetence, but Wyatt had worked with him before, had seen the excessive gestures disappear and the shapeless body grow still and efficient.
Wyatt continued to watch him. He waited, saying nothing. Sometimes people found him to be patient beyond reason. Finally Hobba shifted restlessly and said, ‘You know Maxie Pedersen?’
Wyatt remembered a hard, sandy man who specialised in safes when he wasn’t dealing dope on a small scale. ‘Last I heard he was doing five for blowing a TAB safe. He also deals, so no thanks.’
Hobba shook his head. ‘He’s given that away. Strictly safes now. Anyhow, he got out a year ago on parole. The Reid woman is his lawyer, Legal Aid. She told him about Finn’s safe.’
Wyatt was liking this less and less. ‘If Pedersen’s fucking her, that’s it, I’m out.’
‘Nothing like that.’
‘But she’s got him excited about three hundred thou that isn’t hers.’
Hobba shrugged. ‘All I’m saying is, according to Max she’s not pulling his dick. The money’s there.’
There was a silence. Wyatt turned on the electric kettle. He tried to go behind Hobba’s story. He wondered about the woman: maybe she was bored, kidding herself she was living on the edge, flirting with hard men and risks.
He made tea with the hotel’s tea bags, waiting for the water to turn a deep reddish-brown. He threw away the bags and handed a cup to Hobba, who sipped from it cautiously and then reached for the sugar.
Wyatt blew on the surface of his tea. ‘Let’s suppose Pedersen’s right. The woman bothers me. She’s got too much to lose. Her share of three hundred thousand dollars isn’t going to be all that much. How do we know she’s not after thrills? Maybe she’s setting us up. “Your Honour, I was helping Mr Pedersen rehabilitate himself-I had no idea he’d fallen in with thieves again”.’
Hobba was losing heart. ‘Talk to her, mate. She convinced Max Pedersen, who’s no mug, and he convinced me.’
Wyatt said, ‘She approached Pedersen because he knows safes?’
Hobba nodded. ‘She defended him on the TAB job. Anyhow, he told her he couldn’t do it alone. She doesn’t like it but she said she’d meet us.’
He looked up. ‘Remember that armoured car? Or that bank in that shopping centre? You’d spend a few days checking out car parking, front and rear access, then strike quickly when it was quiet. This job could be like that, nice and simple.’
‘I’ll check it out,’ Wyatt said.
‘I mean, me and Max need this one, Wyatt, really need it. You know how it’s been lately. No decent jobs around, no cash anymore, everything’s plastic cards or electronic transfer’
Wyatt watched him toss another mint into his mouth. Hobba was broke. He spent it, lost it, forgot it, gave it away to hangers-on and ex-wives. But he’d put his finger on the general malaise.
‘I’m not promising anything,’ Wyatt said, ‘but I want you to tell Pedersen and the woman to keep this evening free for a meeting.’
‘You going to check out Quiller Place?’
Hobba sighed. His jaws closed on the mint.
At two-thirty Wyatt alighted from a tram outside a strip of salons, bookshops and designer-wear showrooms on Toorak Road and walked through to Quiller Place. He wore an overcoat over a casual brown- and grey-flecked woollen suit, white shirt and plain tie. His shoes were brown. It was a suit for any purpose. He might be a professional punter, a businessman, a client keeping an appointment with his lawyer.
He had altered the contours of his face. His hair, normally fine and straw-coloured and pushed indifferently to one side, was now oil-darkened and drawn back close and gleaming against his skull. He had applied a small smudge of soot to the edge of his bony jaw. He wore steel-framed glasses with chipped lenses. The frame was crooked. It was a face of false but compelling and contradictory surfaces.
He walked once down to Quiller Place. It was one block long, ending in a T-junction at each end. There were houses along the northern side, one of them converted into the offices of Finn and the Reid woman. Opposite them were the rear entrances, courtyards and customer-parking areas of the shops on Toorak Road. That was good; the street was a backwater, meaning few potential witnesses. Then Wyatt explored one block north and one block south of Quiller Place, checking for laneway access and dead-end or one-way streets.
At five minutes to three he stopped outside number 5. It was a restored Edwardian house like those on either side of it. The stonework was soft and clean, the woodwork painted in period colours. A cobblestone driveway curved round at the front of the house and there was room for two cars at the side. A car was parked there, a pastel-green Mercedes bearing the plates FINN. The words ‘Finn and Reid, Barristers and Solicitors’ were engraved on a brass plate next to the front door. Anna Reid, Wyatt thought. He didn’t know Finn’s first name.
A smaller sign read ‘Please Enter’. He pushed open the heavy, glossy black door and found himself in a long hallway. The air, centrally heated, smelt of new carpets, paint and furniture polish. A recent injection of money, he thought. Floorboards and heating vents gleamed in the hallway. A telephone chirruped in an end room. He heard expert fingers pause on a computer keyboard. A voice said, ‘Can I help you?’
A receptionist was looking at him from a small carpeted office to the right of the front door. This was the designer-punk end of South Yarra: the receptionist had elaborately untidy black hair and wore black tights and skirt, a striped waistcoat over a scarlet lycra top, silver bracelets, and four silver rings in the cartilage of one ear. She wore plum eyeshadow like a bruising around each eye. She was happily chewing gum and the smile was genuine.
Then, as Wyatt approached her desk, she frowned. She was disconcerted by his crooked glasses and smudged cheek. Her fingers itched to make adjustments. Wyatt said, ‘You were able to squeeze me in for a three o’clock appointment with Mr Finn.’
She snapped her fingers, remembering. ‘Mr Lake?’
An embarrassed half-smile as she looked at a point next to his ear. ‘If you’ll just take a seat in the waiting room? I’ll tell Mr Finn you’re here.’
Wyatt removed his overcoat and stood at the waiting room window, ignoring the Scandinavian-look leather armchairs in the room. He automatically studied the window and ceiling. As he expected, there was an alarm system. In a room somewhere along the corridor, a vigorous male voice talked and laughed. Finn? Was the safe in his office? Would he interview Wyatt there or take him to a consulting room? Whatever, this was all part of filling in the background. Wyatt wanted firsthand knowledge of the layout, an impression of Finn, a feeling about the job itself. If everything seemed right he would call a meeting. It was not a big job, but it was the best he’d been offered in months. If it fell through it wouldn’t be for want of solid groundwork.
He studied the rest of the room. Pale wallpaper, mass-produced prints hanging from an old-style picture rail, empty fireplace, business magazines on a glass-topped table. He returned to the window. A minute later he saw a black Volkswagen slow in the street outside, its turning indicator flashing. It gave way to a passing taxi and pulled into the driveway next to Finn’s Mercedes. A young woman got out, dressed in dark, expensive winter clothes. Wyatt stood at the window’s edge, watching her approach the front door. When he heard her footsteps in the hall he stepped back and began idly flicking through a magazine. The footsteps paused at the waiting-room door. Wyatt looked up, as anyone might. He saw solitary, complicated good looks, curious green eyes, an impression of impatience. Then she was gone and he heard her enter a room somewhere along the corridor. Hobba was right. She was too classy for Max Pedersen.
The receptionist appeared, staring this time at Wyatt’s shoulder. ‘This way, Mr Lake. Mr Finn will see you now.’
Wyatt followed her along the corridor. More evidence of the alarm system. Anna Reid had closed her door. The receptionist stopped at the end office, smiled, extended an arm, and Wyatt entered.
The man behind the massive leather-topped antique desk pushed back and half turned in his swivel chair and got up, his hand outstretched. ‘Mr Lake,’ he said. ‘David Finn. Have a seat.’
Finn was an inch taller than Wyatt, at least six-two, solid, not heavy. He was about fifty and had the blunt look of a man who gets timid clients to the point quickly. He wore an expensive suit, striped cotton shirt and a floppy, hand-tied silk bow tie. A camel hair overcoat hung on a chrome coat rack in one corner. Two stiff modern chairs faced the desk, and a bench under the window supported a fax, a telex, a paging device and two mobile phones. Leather-bound law books sat neatly in white bookshelves. Well-known Boyd and Nolan prints were on the walls. The safe was there, a squat black Chubb set on tiles in the unused fireplace. On the mantelpiece above it were sporting trophies and two small team photographs. No comfortable chairs, no ashtrays, no clutter. It was an odd room, as though furnished absent-mindedly from antique shops and designer showrooms.
Finn shook hands and abruptly sat down. ‘What can I do for you, Mr Lake?’
Wyatt hovered, then sat, hesitant, nervous, on the edge of a stiff chair opposite Finn. If Finn wanted him intimidated, he would be intimidated. In a rush of words he said, ‘I was told you’re the best person to see about problems with building permits.’
Finn straightened invisible papers on his desk. ‘Depends. What sort of problems?’
‘I’m speaking on behalf of others,’ Wyatt said. ‘If what we think is going to happen happens, we’ll be ruined.’
Finn was a busy man. ‘Mr Lake, what exactly is the problem?’
‘I own a bookshop, rare books, two others sell antiques, another runs a print gallery. It’s that sort of area,’ he said apologetically.
Finn nodded. ‘Go on.’
‘Well, we understand the hotel on the corner has applied to extend its licence and build a beer garden and a bigger car park. We’re open on the weekends. That’s when we do most of our business. We don’t want yahoos coming and going. Police breathalysers. People urinating and throwing bottles.’
Finn laced his fingers together and began to recite. ‘The Planning and Environment Act stipulates that anyone has the right to object to building development. You may appeal on social and economic grounds against council decisions to award planning permits. If a developer gets a building surveyor to give the go-ahead under the Building Control Act, you may then take the matter to the civil court.’
Wyatt shifted in his seat. ‘Is it… does it cost a lot?’
Finn swung idly in his chair. ‘Court costs can be high, certainly.’ Then he leaned forward and said, ‘It needn’t get that far.’
Wyatt looked alert.
‘Appeals to council decisions are heard by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal,’ Finn said. ‘Many small objectors use it. It’s not like the normal court system, where if you lose you have to fork out.’
The word ‘lose’ seemed to worry Wyatt. There was silence in the room. After a while Finn said, ‘How’s business?’
‘Business?’ Wyatt said.
‘You know what I mean. High interest rates, limited cash flow-small businesses are failing left, right and centre. Am I right?’
Wyatt was embarrassed.
‘There are ways,’ Finn went on, ‘where you can have cash in hand even if development does go ahead.’
Got you, Wyatt thought.
Finn fiddled with his watch, a chunky, complicated metal and plastic affair decorating his wrist. Wyatt bet that he wore a gold chain, Reeboks and tight jeans on the weekends and drank coffee at sidewalk cafe tables.
‘Once an objection has been lodged,’ Finn continued, ‘developers are very vulnerable. It can take eight months before a case is heard by the Tribunal. Meanwhile costs escalate- interest rates, landholding costs, etcetera, etcetera. You can imagine the mindset of someone in that predicament.’
Mindset. Jesus. Wyatt kept his face polite, expectant, naive.
It seemed to irritate Finn. ‘Mr Lake, I’ll spell it out. In return for withdrawing the objection, developers have been known to pay tens of thousands of dollars, or compromise, or offer work in kind. Perhaps you need a new shop front?’ He shrugged. ‘Whatever.’
Eagerness flickered on Wyatt’s face. But he played responsible again and said, ‘Is that legal?’
‘Depends how you look at it. A persistent prosecutor might do something with it, but why bother? In the long run it will be easier to tighten up the legislation. Wise people are acting now.’
Wyatt was anxious. There was a lot to take in. ‘I’ll have to talk to the others,’ he said.
Finn stood up and looked at his watch. ‘Why don’t you all come in? Say, sometime next week. Bring all relevant documents with you so we can map out a plan of action. I tell you what-if we do decide to go ahead, I won’t bill you for today’s consultation. How does that sound?’
‘That’s very kind of you,’ Wyatt said, standing and shaking Finn’s hand.
‘See Amber on your way out. She’ll fix you up with an appointment.’
Wyatt left the room. Finn was already working on something else, scribbling on a pad, frowning. Anna Reid’s door was still closed. Wyatt could hear her murmuring to a client. He made his way to the reception desk. Here Amber watched him get into a tangle buttoning up his coat.
Finally she couldn’t help herself. ‘No offence,’ she said, ‘but there’s a bit of dirt on your cheek.’
‘God, is there?’ Wyatt said. He went out, rubbing at it.
In Toorak Road he telephoned Hobba. ‘So far so good.’
‘You checked it out?’
‘Finn’s bent. Now we’ll check the woman. My room, eight o’clock-but tell Pedersen seven-thirty.’
Monday, and Sugarfoot Younger still felt bad. He got up late, taking his time, hitting the street late, just before lunch. The traffic was heavy, the Customline hemmed in by mugs in suits in the company Holden. On Victoria Street he leaned on the horn for effect, then searched the dial for some decent music. If it wasn’t easy-listening crap it was new-wave crap. Eventually he found something to match his mood, Roy Orbison singing ‘Only the Lonely’, the Big O’s voice cutting in and out because it was coming from fucking Geelong.
Matched his mood because even with having the weekend off he felt depressed. His body ached. He kept trying to get a mental grip on Wyatt, put him into some kind of perspective so he wasn’t a threat, but the picture kept slipping away.
In Elizabeth Street he stopped at a speed shop and bought twin air horns for the Customline. Got some looks-blokes admiring the restoration job he’d had done, the glossy chrome and duco and the white-wall tyres. The personalised plates: CUSTOM.
He wasn’t going to bust a gut getting to Bargain City. For old time’s sake he cruised past the Vic Market, throttling back, letting the Customline mutter past the donut trailers, the stalls where on market day you had overweight men and women in track suits, and foul-mouthed sorts scuffing along in moccasins, and ethnic guys with blow-waved hair, handkerchiefs stuffed down the front of their stretch jeans.
The thing about your ethnic is, he doesn’t trust banks. Just one of the many possibilities Sugarfoot intended to explore when he finally broke with Ivan and went freelance.
He stopped to let a garbage truck back out of the fruit and vegetable section. He had lifted his first wallet at the Vic Market, felt up an ethnic chick in a jeans stall while her old man was serving a customer, scored his first line of coke from some Asian kid, who’d told him there was a Melbourne Triad and what to expect from it if he didn’t keep his mouth shut.
But that was back in his small-time period, working with mugs who only had a limited range-like they’d do burglary but they wouldn’t do arson, kind of thing; not to mention this one guy who couldn’t control himself and always had to have a crap at the scene. Sugarfoot wound his way through to Footscray Road, saying aloud, ‘You’re a long way past all that, Sugar.’
There’d also been his Pentridge period, but that had been due to monumental bad luck. Everything had been going along sweet-six dole cheques, a bit of bag-man work, a bit of distributing, day manager of an escort agency. And then it all collapsed in a heap. He’d run up a couple of debts, bugger-all really, but the heavy boys came round and said he could either drive for them, just the once, settle his debt, or end up another statistic of the Portsea rip.
‘Crass stupidity,’ the trial judge said. No way known. He’d been set up, or someone had tipped the Feds off. Eighteen months in Pentridge.
He learned how slowly time can pass. He’d been expecting gang rapes in the showers, vicious guards just a gun and a uniform away from prison themselves, ‘invitations’ to be bum-buddies with some guy with AIDS. But the real punishment was time and tedium: up at the same time every morning, back to the cell at the same time every night; the meagre time allotted for showering, shaving, eating, exercising; the long hours at some sweatshop sort of job; the same juvenile crap on television every evening, chosen by the lifers and the long-sentence boys whose brains had turned to prison porridge. What really got to him was the simple lack of natural light and natural darkness-wherever he went they had an electric light on, bright during the day so the guards wouldn’t miss anything, dim at night but leaking into his cell, his brain, nevertheless. Sugarfoot had wondered how he would survive the eighteen months, was thankful they hadn’t given him longer, and knew he was never going back.
He came to Williamstown Road. The lights were against him but the dickheads were trundling across the intersection like they were out for a Sunday drive, so he leaned on the horn, turned left in front of them, and opened up along Williamstown Road.
He parked at the back of Bargain City and walked through to the showroom. Leanne, who helped in the mornings, was trying to talk some dickhead into buying a vacuum cleaner. ‘The cord goes in here,’ she was saying. Sugarfoot stood next to her until she looked up.
‘Ivan in?’ he said.
‘He’s at an auction. Be back by lunchtime.’
Beautiful. Time to do some Wyatt groundwork. But just as Sugarfoot turned to walk away, Leanne said, ‘He wants you to move those rolls of carpet out the back. He says they’re starting to pong.’
Things like this could break the camel’s back. Forcing himself to stay cool, Sugarfoot said, ‘No worries. By the way, you got the key?’
‘Yeah, the cupboard.’
She turned to the customer and pointed to a box on the floor. ‘It comes with all the attachments,’ she said. Turning again to Sugarfoot, she said, ‘The key’s in my top drawer.’
‘But don’t forget he wants you to move those carpets.’
The customer said, ‘You sure it works all right?’
‘Like new,’ Leanne said. ‘Our technician tests everything before it’s put in the shop.’
Fucking technician. Ivan with a rag and a screwdriver. Sugarfoot went into Leanne’s tiny glassed office, found her keys, and walked through to the storeroom at the rear of the shop.
Ivan kept ‘SOLD’ and ‘SALE’ stickers, price tags, receipts, invoice books and files locked in a grey steel cabinet. Anything else he needed to know he carried in his head. Sugarfoot was hoping that addresses and phone numbers were not in this category.
Among the files and records he found a small box of filing cards labelled ‘contractors’. The cards listed names, contact information and brief comments. The card with Wyatt’s name on it simply said ‘messages via Rossiter’ and ‘works with Hobba’. Hobba’s card carried an address in Flemington and the words ‘works with Pedersen’. Pedersen’s card carried an address in Brunswick and the words ‘works with Hobba’.
There was also a card for Rossiter. Sugarfoot wrote down addresses for Rossiter, Hobba and Pedersen, locked the cabinet and returned the keys to Leanne’s desk. She was counting out change to the customer, who stood frowning in doubt at the vacuum cleaner coiled in a carton at his feet.
She looked up at Sugarfoot as if surprised to see him there. ‘Don’t forget you have to do the carpets.’
‘It’ll have to wait,’ Sugarfoot said. ‘I have to go out.’
‘But Ivan’ll go mental.’
‘Too bad,’ Sugarfoot said. Jesus Christ she pissed him off sometimes.
He turned his back on her and picked his way through the scungy tables and armchairs, liking the way his cuban heels snapped on the old floorboards. Behind him, the customer was saying, ‘Thirty days’ warranty isn’t much.’
And in front of him Ivan was just coming in. ‘You done those carpets?’
‘My ribs hurt,’ Sugarfoot said. ‘Could be cracked.’
Ivan was going to walk past him, busy man with his finger on the pulse, but then he stopped, showing concern. ‘The carpets can wait. Did you do like I said, take it easy over the weekend?’
Ivan said, back to business again, ‘Stick around. You might be doing a job with Bauer later’
Bauer. Now that was big time.
Andreis Bauer spent the morning reporting to the Sydney outfit and by three o’clock he was in the arrivals hall at Melbourne Airport again. He could see his luggage revolving on the Ansett carousel but he walked by it, stopped at the public telephone next to the Men’s, and called Ivan Younger. He faced away from the wall. Guard your back, the first rule in this game. He listened to the ringing tone and looked bleakly out at the hall. He was slight and wiry. He had bloodless lips and pale skin that seemed to be stretched over a frame of sharp bones. He scowled at a blow-waved Greek loading luggage onto a trolley.
Ivan Younger came onto the line, saying, ‘Bargain City,’ in that high voice of his.
Bauer said, ‘That shift supervisor at Calamity Jane’s-what is her name?’
‘The one skimming the profits? Ellie.’
‘What time does she come on duty?’
‘She does four to midnight,’ Younger said. ‘Listen, what did Sydney say? Are they pissed off?’
‘They are not happy,’ Bauer said. ‘They say you don’t run a tight ship, your profits are down.’
‘Come on,’ Younger said, aggrieved. ‘What about those slags Ken Sala runs for me, Cher and Simone? You can’t say that’s not profitable.’
‘You don’t understand,’ Bauer said. ‘If you are careless enough to let one of your staff skim off our profits, you are careless enough to let everyone do it.’
‘Says them,’ Ivan said. ‘Come on, Bauer, it won’t happen again. I’ll waste the bitch.’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ Bauer said. ‘I will talk to her this afternoon.’
There was a pause while Younger absorbed this. Bauer watched the swinging door to the Men’s. There had been times when he’d used toilet cubicles for his hits. The mark was most vulnerable then, his trousers around his ankles. The cleanest way was a silenced.22 fired just above the hairline, but a guy had once reared up at him and he’d been forced to punch the guy, knocking his nasal bone back into his brain.
Ivan Younger was talking again. ‘You’re the boss. But like I said before, if you could take Sugar along with you, he’d learn something, so we wouldn’t have to hassle you in future.’
Bauer shrugged at a passing clergyman. ‘So long as he keeps out of the way. Tell him my place, four o’clock.’
He hung up and collected his overnight bag and got into a Silver Top. The driver was Asian. That didn’t surprise him, you found them everywhere. ‘St Kilda,’ he said.
On the Tullamarine Freeway he watched the scenery, the satellite industries that cluster around airports everywhere, the miles of tiled roofs stretching to the city skyline, the gloomy clouds caught at the tops of the high city buildings. He asked, as if he were visiting the place, ‘Where’s the action in Melbourne?’ He called it research. He minded several Melbourne operations now, and whenever he was in a taxi he liked to ask background questions, taxi drivers being well-known for having a finger on the pulse.
‘Depends,’ the driver said, ‘but you’re starting at the right place. Most people try St Kilda first.’
Not much accent. Probably been sponging here for years. ‘Depends on what?’ Bauer said.
‘You want a girl? Little boys? A game? A club? Things to put in your body?’
Smart-arse. ‘What about all of the above?’ Bauer said. ‘I hear you people are good at things like that.’
‘My people,’ the taxi driver said. ‘Who would they be?’
‘Don’t get smart,’ Bauer said.
‘Look, I don’t have to take you anywhere,’ the taxi driver said. He slowed the taxi and edged into the emergency stopping lane on the approach to the Bell Street exit. ‘This all right? No charge.’
The driver was small, skinny, the kind with a mop of black hair flopping over black-rimmed glasses. Nothing to him, Bauer thought, but maybe he fancies himself in unarmed combat. He rested his arm along the back of the seat and let his hand drop to the driver’s neck. He felt for the pressure points with his fingers and began to squeeze. With his other hand he steered the taxi as it began to slow. The driver’s eyes rolled back. His body began to droop.
By now they were almost stationary. The driver’s foot was no longer on the accelerator. Bauer released his hold and, still steering, slapped the driver’s cheek and whistled piercingly in his ear. When the taxi was motionless he moved the gear lever into Park.
He opened the window. The air was very cold. The driver recovered, shaking his head. ‘You bastard,’ he said.
‘You feel a little dizzy,’ Bauer said, ‘but the sensations are coming back to your fingers, correct? You can see and hear and breathe again.’ He reached forward and turned off the taxi radio. ‘You will not call your base about this. Now, let us begin again. Where is the action in Melbourne. I want the names of places. Think carefully, now.’
‘I don’t know,’ the driver said. ‘I am part-time only’
Bauer shook his head in disgust. ‘You’re a student? I suppose the government is supporting you? I suppose you will stay on when your visa expires? You make me sick.’ He sat back and pointed ahead. ‘Go. St Kilda.’
He appeared to go to sleep. The driver eased back into traffic and drove across the city. Where Fitzroy Street meets the Esplanade in St Kilda, Bauer said, ‘I will walk now.’
He paid the fare and an extra twenty dollars, saying, ‘You won’t be following this up. You’ll take the money and keep quiet.’ He reached into the back seat for his bag, got out, and stood waiting on the footpath.
The driver sat, the engine idling. Then he opened his door, stood half in and half out of the taxi, and called shrilly to Bauer, at roof level, ‘Your sister sleeps with black men.’
He jerked back into the driver’s seat and sped away in the direction of Luna Park.
Bauer shrugged. ‘Haven’t got a sister.’
He drew the strap of his bag over one shoulder and walked back along Fitzroy Street. Palm trees, lawns and buildings on the other side of the street, Italian bistros, ice-cream parlours, adult bookshops and local residents on this side. Junkies and drunks blinking in the wintry sun.
He turned into a side street and began the climb to his walled-in house. He didn’t like living in St Kilda, but he had no choice. The Sydney outfit wanted him close to their Melbourne interests, their clubs and other front operations, their pushers and pinball parlours. Not that he had to do much, just make sure people like Ivan Younger didn’t have their fingers in the till, put the frights on if someone played up, fly to Sydney with the weekly take.
The worst part was working with trash. He found Sugarfoot Younger waiting outside the front gate, his fleshy face perplexed by Placida’s squawk on the intercom.
Sugarfoot nodded hello, keeping it cool, letting Bauer know he wasn’t fazed. He took in the dark cord trousers and the ribbed blue pullover under a short leather jacket, the pale hair cut close to the scalp, the shadows like gashes in Bauer’s hollow cheeks.
But Bauer ignored him and punched numbered keys next to the intercom. The electric lock disengaged. Bauer said, ‘Please go in, my friend.’
Sugarfoot felt like sneering. Bauer looked tough, until you heard that stupid accent. ‘Ta,’ he said, entering the front garden.
He let Bauer go ahead of him down a brick path to the front door. It was plain and solid, with no knocker or buzzer, only another set of numbered keys. Sensing movement, he glanced up. A security camera was trained on him. He looked at the windows on either side of the door. They were barred, but Sugarfoot wouldn’t mind betting there were also electric eyes everywhere. Bauer was probably like Ivan in that respect-had a consuming sense of security and survival. ‘Nice place,’ he said.
Bauer ignored him and entered another code. The front door clicked open and he stood back and said again, ‘Please go in, my friend.’
Sugarfoot stepped into the house. The hallway was cold and smelt of furniture polish. He’d barely taken two steps when he heard the click of paws on the wooden floor and a dog emerged from the shadows. It crouched, utterly still, observing him. Sugarfoot held his breath. Among the many things Ivan had warned him about was Bauer’s killer dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. His hand slipped instinctively inside his coat.
‘Keep still,’ Bauer said softly. Then more sharply, ‘Down!’
Sugarfoot began to drop.
‘Not you,’ Bauer said, and Sugarfoot saw the dog lie flat and baleful on the floor.
‘Not a bad dog,’ Sugarfoot said.
Bauer regarded him expressionlessly for a moment and Sugarfoot wondered if he’d offended the man. ‘Don’t upset him,’ Ivan had said. ‘Just watch and learn and do as he says.’ Sugarfoot tried to meet Bauer’s eyes.
Suddenly Bauer smiled, a slight relaxation of his facial muscles, and said, ‘So. You are here to help me with your brother’s problems.’
Sugarfoot cleared his throat. ‘Ivan said this bird at Calamity Jane’s been skimming off the top.’
Bauer nodded. ‘Come in. Sit for a minute. Would you like something to drink?’
Surprised, Sugarfoot said, ‘Got any Corona?’
‘Corona,’ said Bauer oppressively.
‘Yeah, you know, it’s this beer.’
‘Oh well, give us a Fosters, whatever,’ Sugarfoot said.
Bauer barked, ‘Placida!’
Sugarfoot heard footsteps. He looked along the corridor toward the back of the house. A young, dark-haired woman had appeared. She was meek and subservient and excessively still.
‘A bottle of beer for our guest. I will have mineral water.’
The woman disappeared and Sugarfoot followed Bauer into a sitting room. The carpet was sombre, the curtains thick. A massive sideboard faced a suite of black leather armchairs. There were no books or pictures, only a hunting magazine on a low glass coffee table.
Sugarfoot thought about the woman. According to Ivan, Bauer had ordered her through a mail-order bride catalogue. She was more servant than wife. Bauer kept her shut away here, dependent on him for a few dollars to send home to her family. Ivan reckoned Bauer was recreating the life he’d had in South Africa, without the risk of prosecution under some immorality act. Sugarfoot lost Ivan at that point: it all sounded complicated, like something on Sixty Minutes.
He looked at Bauer. ‘How do you reckon on doing it?’
‘Doing what?’ Bauer said.
‘Throwing a scare into this woman,’ Sugarfoot said.
Bauer held up his hand. ‘Wait.’ He looked past Sugarfoot to the door. ‘Put the drinks on the coffee table. You may listen to the radio in the kitchen.’
Jesus, Sugarfoot thought. Poor bloody bitch.
When Placida was gone, Bauer said, ‘We will go there and we will talk to her.’
He wouldn’t say more than that. Sugarfoot drank his beer quickly, wanting to get this over with. You don’t exactly yarn over a beer with the Bauers of this world.
Sugarfoot found it all a bit shadowy. He knew that Bauer worked for the Sydney outfit, which had fingers in several pies-drugs, gambling, kickbacks, places like Calamity Jane’s- but he couldn’t quite work out the chain of command. Bauer was sort of in charge, but you wouldn’t exactly call Ivan a member of staff. He had money invested with them and he managed some rackets for them. The only explanation Ivan would give him was that, in this game, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and you don’t ask questions.
Sugarfoot put down his glass. Bauer said immediately, ‘We will go now.’
Sugarfoot drove them in his Customline. As they wound through the streets of St Kilda, he dropped a few leading remarks about the V8, the restoration job, where to go for a good rechroming, but Bauer ignored him.
So he raised the Calamity Jane job again, approaching it sideways. ‘There was this bloke,’ he said, ‘I put the frights on a couple of year ago, before I started working with Ivan. Anyway, he threatens to go to the jacks. I said, mention my fucking name, mate, and you’re dead. I said, if you go to the cops, I’ll come in your bedroom and kill you while you sleep. That’s fear for you, going to bed not knowing if you’ll see the morning. I go, I’ll burn you and all your family, me, personally. You, I said, your daughters, especially your daughters, plus that slag you’re married to, every one of youse. I said, you got to sleep sometime, pal, you can’t fucking stay awake twelve months of the year. Work it out for yourself, I said. What’s more important, keeping up your payments or waking up one morning with a hole in your head?’ He paused. ‘Worked,’ he said, nodding his head.
There was silence. Bauer stirred. He said deadeningly, ‘You talk too much.’
Yeah well, fuck you. Sugarfoot cornered the Customline and pulled up at the kerb. Calamity Jane’s resembled a western bordello, complete with a red clapboard facade and Wild West decor and writing. On summer nights the girls lounged on the iron lace balcony in saloon-style garters, ribbons and corsets, hooting invitations to passing men and insults at women. A number of signs were tacked to the wall near the front door: ‘Private Suites’, ‘Adult Movies’, ‘B amp;D’, ‘Waterbeds’. The word ‘Aids’ in ‘Sex Aids’ had been painted out and the word ‘Appliances’ substituted. Sugarfoot had an image of doing it with a Mixmaster.
They went in. There was nobody in the front room. Whenever he came here for a freebie, Sugarfoot tried to place the smells: cheap perfume, cleaning fluids, incense, no trouble there, but under it all was a faint, troubling smell he supposed was sex itself.
They turned around. A young Thai woman stood in the doorway of a room along the corridor. Then she recognised them and her professional expression disappeared and she looked afraid.
‘We want to see Ellie,’ Bauer said.
She went upstairs. Two minutes later a well-dressed, middle-aged woman came slowly down the stairs. She stopped on the last step, saw Bauer, and paled.
‘We want to talk to you,’ Bauer said.
She looked at them, nodded briefly, and turned to go up again. They followed her to a room at the back. It was furnished with a king-size waterbed, angled mirrors and a mohair rug. A small open door revealed an ensuite bathroom.
Bauer turned to Sugarfoot, said, ‘Do not speak. Do not interfere, just watch,’ and pushed the woman onto the bed.
Sugarfoot watched him take a thin nylon rope from his pocket. He bound the woman’s ankles and wrists, bent back her knees, and looped a noose around her neck. If she struggled or straightened her legs a fraction, the noose would tighten and slowly strangle her. Even as Sugarfoot watched, the woman began to choke. She struggled against it, which only increased the risk.
Bauer placed his face near hers. ‘You are dirt,’ he said. ‘You are nothing. You have been extracting a percentage for yourself each week, am I right?’
Sugarfoot gathered from the woman’s noises that she was assenting. He saw that she had wet herself.
‘We are short by seven thousand dollars,’ Bauer said. ‘You will repay that, with interest, yes?’
Again the woman gurgled.
‘You will work for it, here,’ Bauer went on. ‘Yes?’
The woman nodded her head, moved her legs, and blacked out.
‘Release her,’ Bauer said.
Sugarfoot bent down and fumbled at the knots, feeling oddly disturbed and excited by the coldness, the professionalism. Bauer was mad, no risk, but Jesus, he knew his stuff.
He heard taps being turned on in the ensuite bathroom. Bauer was washing his hands.
Pedersen arrived twenty minutes late. He came into Wyatt’s room at the Gatehouse bringing with him a smell of Chinese food and industrial toxins. He shook Wyatt’s hand, crossed immediately to the window, and prowled the perimeter of the room. Habit, Wyatt thought. Pedersen was thirty-five and had spent half his life in small spaces-cells and cheap rented rooms.
Pedersen finally sat on the edge of the bed and crossed one leg over the other. He wore an oiled black japara, jeans, thick socks and-a vain touch-expensive, soft ankle boots. A John Deere cap was pushed back on his head. Wyatt heard keys chime on a key-ring on his belt. Pedersen had the smallest mouth Wyatt had ever seen on anyone, and a plain, forgettable face, but he seemed to be harder and more alert than Wyatt remembered. Perhaps, like many ex-cons, Pedersen had built up his body in prison and maintained it when he got out.
‘Beer? Scotch?’ Wyatt said. He was drinking tea.
‘Got any mineral water? My guts.’
Wyatt tensed at that. He opened the little refrigerator. ‘Soda.’
‘That’ll do,’ Pedersen said.
He reached, and Wyatt grabbed the outstretched arm and pushed the sleeve up above the elbow.
Pedersen jerked back, tugging at the sleeve. ‘Fuck off, Wyatt. I went off it five years ago. Cold turkey. And I’ve gone off the booze.’
Wyatt held out the bottle of soda. Pedersen took it, his face tight. ‘Where’re the others?’ he asked.
‘On their way.’
Pedersen drained the little soda bottle. Wyatt said nothing, wondering what Pedersen would do. He never felt the strain of waiting, of long silences. Pedersen scowled, as though he knew he had to start sounding convincing and resented it. He’s fresh out of gaol, Wyatt thought, and if he’s working again already it’s because he needs the funds or he wants to prove to himself it was a fluke he got caught.
Pedersen looked at him sourly. ‘You got me here early’
‘Fill me in. The woman, the money, everything.’
‘She knows the money’s there,’ Pedersen said, his voice bored. ‘She can’t get at it, so she hires herself a pro.’
‘I’m good, Wyatt. Unlucky, that’s all.’
Wyatt nodded. It was true that Pedersen was good. And, like all the others, he explained everything in terms of good or bad luck. ‘What I’m getting at is, how come this classy female lawyer takes a pro aside and asks him to crack her partner’s safe?’
Pedersen shrugged. ‘Nothing surprises me.’
Pedersen breathed out heavily, as though bored. ‘She doesn’t seem bent,’ he said finally. ‘I’d say this is a one-off job for her.’
There was a knock on the door. ‘Damn,’ Wyatt said. He got up and opened it and stood back as Hobba and Anna Reid entered the room.
‘Nippy out,’ Hobba said, hunching his shoulders and rubbing his hands together. He seemed to be unsettled by the Reid woman’s proximity and luminous looks. After introducing her he sat in the chair in the corner of the room, his bulky frame consuming it.
Wyatt ignored him and watched Anna Reid. She examined the room and nodded briefly at Pedersen. Then, regarding Wyatt expressionlessly, she unbuttoned a bulky, broad-shouldered leather jacket. When she turned around, looking for somewhere to hang it, her black hair swung with the movement, gleaming with light. She smelt of shampoo and scented soap. She was tall, and Wyatt had an impression of physical and mental agility. Saying nothing, he took the jacket from her and draped it over the back of a chair. She nodded guardedly and sat far apart from Pedersen on the edge of the bed.
Hobba opened his tin and fumbled for a mint, then offered the tin. ‘Anyone? Anna?’
Her look said he had to be joking. She turned to Wyatt. ‘I had to cancel something to come here. I don’t know anything about you, but they say you’re good, so it looks like I’ve got no choice.’ She hesitated. ‘I’ve put myself on the line, I’ve handed you a dream of a job, now it’s your turn.’
Her voice was low and deep, tinged with the impatience Wyatt had noticed that afternoon. Perhaps she was starting to regret this, was measuring him by his down-at-heel partners. He said, ‘Explain the job to me.’
‘Haven’t the others told you?’
‘I want to hear it from you.’
The voice was low and bitter. ‘I’m in trouble. I owe someone a lot of money, I can’t pay him, and he’s threatening me.’
Wyatt watched her. He could see a bleakness under the sleek exterior. ‘Tell me about the money,’ he said. ‘We don’t want cheques.’
‘Don’t worry, it’s cash,’ she said. ‘This isn’t the sort of deal Finn puts through his books.’
‘But three hundred thousand dollars? That’s some kickback.’
‘We’re talking about a ten-storey office block in the city,’ she snapped, ‘not someone’s bathroom extension.’
Wyatt nodded. ‘All right. But who’s getting the money? Why cash? Banks report large transactions.’
‘What do you care? I don’t imagine your share is going anywhere legitimate.’
Hobba spoke for the first time. ‘Groundwork.’
They were all looking at her now and she curled her lip. ‘Oh, I am relieved,’ she said, putting her hand to her heart. ‘Just imagine if I’d put myself in the hands of amateurs. The money goes to a fucking charity, all right? They go to the bank and say they’ve had a successful fund-raising. Then it’s moved sideways.’
Hobba and Pedersen grinned, enjoying this, but Wyatt kept pushing. ‘Split four ways, we get seventy-five thousand each. Not bad, but not huge, either. Are you going to risk everything for that?’
‘Until Max brought you and Hobba in on this,’ she snapped, ‘my share was twice as much.’ She brought her voice under control. ‘It pays my debt, so I’ll take a chance.’
‘Tell me about Finn.’
‘He’s a sleaze. He gloats. I’d like to rip him off.’
Then she smiled. It held a challenge, as if she were daring them to question her motive. Wyatt watched her, assessing the personal factor. In his experience, simple greed was a reliable motive, revenge wasn’t. There are well-buried secrets here, he thought, none of them good.
‘Okay,’ he said, still pursuing her, ‘he’s due to hand over three hundred thousand dollars, but someone comes along and rips it off. What’s he going to do?’
‘He can’t do anything. He can’t afford to draw attention to himself. The thing is, he can absorb the loss. He won’t like it but that’s what he’ll do.’
There was a pause. Wyatt said, ‘Describe what happens on Friday.’
‘The money arrives lunchtime. Finn hands it over late that evening, about ten o’clock.’
‘Today’s Monday. Doesn’t leave us much time.’
‘So let’s get on with it.’
‘How do we do the hit?’ Wyatt said.
She stared at him. ‘Why ask me? Ask Max, he’s the safe expert.’
This will be her plan, Wyatt thought, watching Pedersen. Pedersen cleared his throat. ‘Anna turns off the burglar alarms when she leaves work on Friday. We break in at six, six-thirty, cutting the alarm system so it doesn’t look like an inside job, blow the safe, then split in different cars to confuse possible witnesses. I take the money to my place and we divvy up there.’
No thanks, Wyatt thought-potential there for a sweet cross. He automatically rejected plans that others made. The only plans he relied on were his own. He looked at Hobba, Pedersen and the Reid woman, assessing them quickly. Every job was the same: there was someone he could trust, someone he’d never met, someone who could finger him, someone who might try a cross. The ones to watch were Pedersen and Anna Reid. There didn’t seem to be anything between them, but if they did cross him, he’d kill them. Pedersen would know that.
‘Well?’ Anna said.
‘No good.’ He began counting on his fingers. ‘Security patrols, noise, people on the premises after dark.’ He looked at her. ‘Plus which, you’re an automatic suspect.’
They were silent. Then mints rattled in Hobba’s tin. ‘How about we intercept it?’ he asked, looking around at them.
‘Intercept?’ Pedersen said.
‘Yeah, you know, find out the route when it’s being delivered or after it’s handed over, block the road, grab the cash, you ride by on your Honda… ‘
Wyatt was watching Anna Reid. Her face was irritated now, but for a moment there’d been something like panic there. He heard her say, ‘What’s with all this macho stuff? Do you want the whole world to see? If they use a security service, are you going to shoot it out with them? God!’ she said, shaking her head. She looked at Wyatt. ‘What about you? Have you been watching too many films?’
Her green eyes were challenging and complicated and unimpressed, and he wondered what exactly was eating her. ‘Only re-runs of Get Smart,’ he said. ‘Yeah, I agree, a street snatch is out. What we do is hit your office Friday afternoon when you’re at work.’
More irritation. ‘That’s idiotic’
‘Not if we’re quick and look legitimate from the outside.’
Hobba was looking interested. He turned to Anna. ‘What kind of safe is it?’
She shrugged. ‘Just a safe.’
‘It’s a little Chubb,’ Wyatt said.
That made her sit up. She put her head on one side, concentrating on his face. ‘The waiting room,’ she said, nodding slowly. ‘This afternoon.’
Wyatt held her stare. ‘We’ll tie everyone up,’ he said. ‘If you’re one of the victims, you won’t be suspected.’
‘What about clients? What if I have to go out? I need to know roughly when you’ll do it.’
Wyatt waited. Finally he said, ‘All right. Cancel your late afternoon clients. If Finn has a client with him, too bad. We’ll hit at four-fifteen. Will you all be there?’
She nodded. ‘Finn goes out for coffee at three-thirty, but he only stays away ten minutes.’
‘Four-fifteen?’ Pedersen said. ‘Are you mad?’
Wyatt turned to him. ‘Later. Okay?’
Anna was smiling, going over the idea in her mind. ‘Finn will think he’s been hit by someone he does business with. I like it.’ The smile faded. ‘But what about my share? There I am, tied up, while you lot disappear.’
Hobba and Pedersen seemed to grow alert at that. Wyatt looked at them warningly. He turned to the woman again. ‘You’re the finger,’ he said. ‘You can put all three of us away. We won’t rip you off. I’ll pay you myself on Saturday.’
She gave him another complicated look. He saw the motion in her throat as she swallowed. ‘How will you get in and out without attracting attention?’
When Wyatt didn’t reply she frowned and looked round at the others. Finally Hobba answered her. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘it’s best if you don’t know. That helps protect you, and you’ll behave more convincingly when the time comes.’
‘Oh great. Shall I scream when the time comes?’
Wyatt handed her a pen and a scrap of paper. ‘Give me your address and phone number.’
‘Why do I get the feeling this is no longer my job?’ she said.
They ignored her, watching her write. Then Wyatt pocketed the note and crossed to the door and stood there, facing her, his hand on the door knob. She got up and walked towards him, half amused, half angry.
‘Don’t try to contact us,’ he said, ‘and we won’t contact you, unless there’s a hitch. If all goes well I’ll let you know on Saturday where to find me.’
Her eyes were half closed. ‘Won’t you be here?’
She waited. When Wyatt didn’t reply, she gestured irritably and left the room.
When she was gone Hobba raised an eyebrow and said, ‘So, Wyatt, what do you reckon?’
‘About what?’ Hobba threw up his arms. ‘Her. Anna. I like your chances there, pal.’
Wyatt watched Hobba coldly. He refused to be drawn, had no time for it, couldn’t understand how anyone lacked focus when they had a job on. Finally Hobba gave a self-conscious shrug and said, ‘Okay, how do you see the job?’
‘We’ll use a van, something that won’t look out of place. We drive up, go in as tradesmen, lock the doors, disarm the phones, crack the safe. Max, Chubbs are easy, right?’
‘Some of them,’ Pedersen said. He’d been playing with the zip on his japara. ‘A van,’ he said, ‘some sort of disguise. Going to cost a fair bit. Guns too?’
‘Yes,’ Wyatt said. ‘But no shooting.’
‘I got a gun,’ Hobba said. ‘Wyatt, you got guns.’
Wyatt shook his head. ‘I’ve never used my own on a job and I’m not going to start now. We get new ones.’
Wyatt waited, watching him. Hobba liked to play devil’s advocate. It was how they ironed out the wrinkles. ‘Where from?’ Hobba said. ‘They put Payne away last week for shipping M16s to Fiji, and I wouldn’t want to be caught with something that fell off the back of a truck in the saloon bar of the Kings Head.’
‘Max, what have you heard? Who else is supplying?’
Pedersen tugged back and forth on his zip again, thinking. Eventually he said, ‘There’s this guy near Burnley Station. Somebody Flood.’
Wyatt nodded. He knew of Flood.
Hobba got to his feet and stretched, getting the kinks out of his massive back. He lit a cigarette and began to circle the small area between the bed and the door to the corridor. ‘What with?’ he said. ‘I haven’t got any spare cash. Max here hasn’t.’
Wyatt had withdrawn his final cache that afternoon. It would do for the guns and incidentals and his hotel bill, but that was about it. He said, ‘I’ll take care of the guns.’
Hobba looked at him shrewdly but said nothing. Pedersen removed his japara at last. The fawn shirt under it blended with his sandy colouring, making his features even less distinct. He folded the japara over his knee and said, ‘Okay, you buy the guns. But where do we get the cash for a van and the other stuff? I mean, this is pretty central to the whole deal.’
‘We bankroll it,’ Wyatt said. ‘Pull a couple of small jobs.’
Hobba sat down again, his bulk disturbing the surface of the bed. ‘Ivan Younger is good for any of the stuff we need.’
Wyatt grinned. ‘Yeah, well that’s a long story.’ He told them about Sugarfoot and Ivan and the dead housekeeper.
‘Was that you?’ Pedersen said, amazed. He looked troubled, as if Wyatt had come down in the world. ‘Ivan Younger’s someone you buy from. He’s not someone you work for.’
Hobba began to wheeze like an accordion. He was laughing. ‘You got out of it lucky. Young Sugar is going to find himself in a shallow grave one day.’
We could go on like this all night, Wyatt thought. He said, ‘So we can’t use the Youngers. Who else is there?’
He knew the answers to most of these questions, but the scene changed quickly, so it was important to double check. Hobba said, ‘Eddie Loman.’
‘Eddie Loman’s good,’ Wyatt said. ‘You go and see him in the morning and order a van.’
‘He won’t come through unless we pay him up front.’
‘The way to deal with the Eddie Lomans of this world is let them see some cash, say a thousand. He’ll come through then.’
‘A thousand? I bloody haven’t got a thousand.’
Silently Wyatt pulled out his wallet and counted out one thousand dollars. ‘Give him this. I’ll see about the guns. Meanwhile, I want a stake-out on the target over the next few days. Max, you’ll take the first shift tomorrow.’
Pedersen nodded. He seemed pleased to be working again.
Hobba was still looking for hitches. ‘We can’t use our cars for the stake-out. We’ll have to use rentals. That means fake ID.’
Wyatt opened his wallet. ‘This is my passport photo. You get yours taken tonight, use one of those machines, and ask Loman to fix us up with ID. As for the bankroll, there’s one scam I know of, but it won’t bring in enough cash. We need a second scam.’
A slow, wide smile formed on Hobba’s face. ‘Ivan Younger runs a couple of call-girls over in Fitzroy. How would you like to get back the five thousand he owes you?’
Later, when he was alone, Wyatt heard the knock, two soft, confident raps. He opened the door and Anna Reid was there, her low voice saying, ‘I waited in the lobby. I saw them leave.’
She regarded him calmly, her hands resting in the deep pockets of her jacket. Wyatt stared at her, then stepped back wordlessly to let her in.
At the centre of the room she removed the jacket and looked for somewhere to put it. She didn’t speak. No explanations or justifications, no ‘Are you surprised?’ or the other openings he expected.
But as she stepped by him to drape the jacket on a chair, her arm brushed against him. He tensed. In the silence she said, ‘Two things. First, I’ve been stealing from my trust account.’
‘To repay a bookmaker,’ she said. ‘I have to put the money back before I get found out. Second, I could take some polaroid photos of the layout and the alarm system if that would be a help.’
Wyatt ran through the possibilities. Perhaps she wanted him to trust her. Or she wanted to know if she could trust him. Or it was all a game to her. ‘Photos would be useful,’ he said. ‘Take them tomorrow. I’ll be in touch.’
She looked at him ironically. ‘You’ll be in touch.’
He nodded, refusing to smile. ‘About the money you owe,’ he said. ‘You just decided you’d ask Max to rob a safe for you.’
‘It wasn’t quite as blatant as that. I was explaining his parole provisions one day, and he told me I was wasting my time. He said he expected to be back in jail again sooner or later.’
‘That got your mind working.’
She smiled. ‘I didn’t say anything for a few days. He didn’t seem like an idiot, but I couldn’t be sure, so I sort of circled around the topic to see how he’d respond.’
‘What did he say when you finally mentioned it?’
She shrugged. ‘He didn’t seem surprised. I was just another crook; this was just another job.’
They hadn’t wasted time with small talk or hedging, and now they were silent. But Wyatt wanted to know more. After a while he said, ‘How come you’re Finn’s partner?’
‘He knew my father in Brisbane. When I came down here he took me on.’
She looked, briefly troubled, at his face, and he understood that she was unhappy. Beauty attracts the bad offers, he thought, and she’s accepted some of them. He said suddenly, ‘Finn expected you to go to bed with him.’
‘Well, well,’ she said, raising her eyebrows. She went serious again, wrapping her arms around her chest. ‘At first I didn’t mind. I was young, he gave me a start, he can be very compelling. Later on we stopped but he still looks at me like it’s there whenever he wants it.’
Wyatt was silent, waiting for her to say more. She cocked her head. ‘He lost a lot of money in the ‘87 stock market crash. After a while I realised he’d gone crooked. He started doing the planning kickbacks, and there were lots of little things- for example, every month he has the place swept for wiretaps and bugs. He tells us it’s Telecom doing maintenance.’
‘How did you know about Friday’s drop?’
‘He’s always very careful, but I overhear bits and pieces and I fill in the gaps. Some of his planning appeal work is genuine, but a lot of it’s rigged-straw objectors, inflated settlements, all earning him huge kickbacks. When something big goes through, he likes to brag.’
‘Using it as a come-on,’ Wyatt said.
Her eyes were large and when she smiled they seemed to lengthen and tilt upwards. She reached forward and brushed his chest almost as if she hadn’t done it. ‘I was thinking about you downstairs. Most people who aren’t straight eventually become wary and secretive. I think with you it was the other way around.’
‘So let’s hope it means you’re less likely to make mistakes.’
Usually when they started analysing him, understanding him, it was time to get out. But there were gaps in this job and he might learn something. Besides, she made him feel alive and well. Her knuckles brushed his chest again and he didn’t flinch. ‘You can afford to pick and choose your jobs,’ she said.
If he’d known her better he might have told her about scraping the bottom of the barrel with people like the Youngers. But he felt his luck had changed now; the Youngers were irrelevant. ‘I like working through the details,’ he said.
‘That’s obvious. Just now, when everyone was here, you seemed to be interested only in the job. Not them, not me.’
‘I keep the distractions till later.’
‘Uh huh,’ she said, nodding ironically.
He waited to see what she would do.
What she did was touch his chest on the way out and say, ‘I can do more than just take polaroids of the layout.’
Monday night was Sugarfoot Younger’s night for prowling the bars and dance floors of Club H in King Street, keeping an eye on the patrons, thumping heads that got out of line. Ivan had hard cash invested in Club H. Sugarfoot didn’t know if Club H was a Bauer operation or not. All he knew was, he hated the powder-blue tux, and the women were slags. You’d think as bouncer he’d be in a position to grab some of the action, but he hadn’t scored once. All the chicks seemed to come from Mount Waverley and wanted to know how come he drove an old car.
At eleven o’clock he popped his knuckles and stepped out for some fresh air. Being a Monday night, and mid-winter, there wasn’t much action in King Street. Not like the time he worked a Saturday night shift: guys openly dealing, chicks crying rape, torn scalps, cops, ambulances, a couple of bouncers charged with assault. Do this full time? Fifteen bucks an hour? Forget it.
He was more and more determined to turn pro. Seeing Bauer in action this afternoon had left him feeling unsettled and excited. Bauer had the right idea.
Monday night bouncer? Collector of small debts? No input into planning? Fuck that. One swift, clean, impressive hit, that’s all he’d need.
He finished work at one o’clock. By one-thirty he was sitting in the Customline in the car park of the Housing Commission flats in Racecourse Road. Hobba lived on the eighth floor, but Sugarfoot didn’t go up to check it out. Too many ethnics about. Leave your car unattended and they’d strip it. Look twice at them and they’d knife you.
Sugarfoot started the Customline and drove out of the car park and across to a long, narrow street in Brunswick. He looked sourly at the houses. They were small workers’ bungalows, but the street was well on the way to becoming yuppie heaven. Already there were brass numerals and restored verandahs. Pedersen’s weatherboard was set amid tidy garden beds and gravel paths. Gloomy fruit trees dominated the back yard.
Sugarfoot sat for a while. There was no sign of life, but he didn’t expect there to be. If Hobba and Pedersen did have something planned with Wyatt, and if it hadn’t happened yet, their daytime movements might be the key. Meanwhile, finding out where they lived was all part of the groundwork.
Sugarfoot drove home and set the alarm for eight o’clock. Fucking terrible hour but he was treating Tuesday as the first day of the rest of his life.
Before going for the guns on Tuesday morning, Wyatt checked out of the Gatehouse. He never spent more than one night in a place when he was setting up a job. He checked into a cheap hotel nearby, put his remaining cash in a money belt around his waist, and entered the Underground at Parliament Station. He caught a train that went through Burnley. Out of habit he sat at the end of the carriage, where he had a clear view of the aisle and the entry and connecting doors. He kept his hand on the knife in his pocket. That was habit, too. But knives were useful. People respected the swift threat of a blade where a gun or a raised fist simply flustered them.
The carriage was almost empty. Two men, one elderly, the other about forty, sat near the middle doors. Three middle-aged women were going home with their shopping. Wyatt listened to them comparing the hairdressing salons in Myer and David Jones. Two young Vietnamese men, quick and glittering, sat at the far end of the carriage. Across from Wyatt was an overweight teenage mother wearing stretch jeans and scuffed moccasins. She had trouble keeping still, and shouted rather than spoke endearments to a squawling child in a pusher. There was graffiti on the windows, the script bold and mocking.
He got off at Burnley Station and stood at the timetable board watching others get off, watching for lingerers. He saw the young mother light a cigarette and shake the pusher. She joined a huddle of people at the exit gate, people who could easily be her parents, siblings, neighbours. They disappeared into the flat, exhausted streets. Sour poverty and contention and mindless pride, Wyatt thought. He’d grown up in a suburb like this. Everyone had talked solidarity, but he’d never seen it.
Other trains came in and pulled out again. He left the station and walked to Cowper Road, a narrow street of sodden workers’ cottages and grimy workshops. Cars heaved across small craters in the road surface, throwing up gouts of oily water.
Number twenty-nine was a corrugated-iron shed about thirty metres deep. A sign above the door said Burnley Metal Fabricators. On a smaller sign was the word ‘office’ and an arrow that pointed left to a turn-of-the-century cottage which shared a wall with the shed.
Apart from the patchy lawn and a chained Alsatian on the verandah, there was no sign of life at the cottage. The curtains were imitation lace. Steel bars secured the windows. Keeping a wary eye on the Alsatian, Wyatt mounted the steps to the door. The dog opened and closed an eye and yawned squeakily. Its tail flapped. Wyatt pressed the buzzer.
A voice crackled on the intercom. ‘Yeah?’
‘I rang you last night,’ Wyatt said.
He heard shuffling footsteps behind the door and sensed an eye at the peephole. Two locks were opened. The door swung back. Flood, a small, gloomy man dressed in overalls, said nothing but turned and shuffled back into the house. The air was hot and stale and smelt of toast and pipe smoke. Wyatt followed Flood through a poky sitting-room where gas flames flickered in an ancient heater, to a kitchen at the back of the house. The ceramic sink was chipped and yellowed. Beaten fruit-tin lids had been nailed over cracks in the linoleum. A nervy black cat eyed Wyatt from a wooden kitchen dresser.
‘I asked around,’ Flood said. ‘The word is, you’re okay.’
Wyatt said nothing.
Flood shrugged. He had a staved-in face. Whisker tufts grew high on his cheeks as if he shaved without a mirror. A thin brown rime coated his lips. ‘Suit yourself,’ he said. He sat down. There was another chair but Wyatt remained standing. ‘What are you after?’
‘Prices range from two hundred and fifty bucks. You good for it?’
‘I’ll buy back after-half what you paid.’
‘Next door,’ Flood said.
He led Wyatt into the backyard and through a side door to the long shed. It was dark inside, the air heavy with the smell of oil. Dismembered machines, heavy lathes, copper tubing, iron scraps and metal shavings were scattered about the floor. Weak, wintry light barely penetrated the grimy windows in the roof. Everything was coated with grease and dust. Flood picked his way through the shed. It was an unlikely place for such small, precise instruments as guns. Wyatt was about to challenge Flood when Flood pulled back the corner of a dirty rug to reveal a trap-door. They climbed down into a long, narrow chamber.
Wyatt understood. ‘Nice,’ he said.
The armourer showed emotion for the first time. ‘Like it?’ He pointed at the walls, floor and ceiling. ‘Completely soundproof. The lining absorbs ricochets. The target’s down there.’ He indicated the overhead pulley system and the sandbags stacked at the far end. Rubbing his hands together, he said, ‘Let’s do business.’
‘Light, accurate, good stopping power,’ Wyatt said. ‘Untraceable.’
‘That’ll cost you,’ Flood said. ‘What sort of job you pulling?’
Wyatt ignored him. He kept a.38 revolver at Shoreham and a Browning automatic in his car. They were for his protection when he wasn’t working. They were new, untraceable. He’d never used them. When he was working he’d buy a gun and discard it after the job. He used a different supplier each time. He never bought guns that might tie him to someone else’s job, someone else’s shooting. ‘Show me what you’ve got,’ he said.
Flood unlocked a steel cabinet and began taking out handguns and arranging them in rows on the benchtop: Colt Woodsman.22 target pistol, 9 mm Beretta, Browning automatic, Smith amp;. Wesson.38 Chiefs Special, Walther PPK, and the first Sauer Wyatt had seen. The final gun was a chunky Uzi machine pistol the size of a heavy revolver.
‘Forget the Uzi,’ Wyatt said. ‘I’m not fighting a war.’
‘Good persuader,’ Flood said, but Wyatt was pulling on his latex gloves and reaching for the Browning. He wanted to compare it with his own. Like Flood’s other guns, it had been smeared with gelatin and sealed in a plastic bag. But that was recent; it hadn’t always been cared for. The butt showed traces of rust. A hand print was etched permanently into the barrel. The serial number had been scratched out with a file. But the clip was full. Wyatt shrugged. He would try it at least. ‘Ear plugs.’
Flood handed him a pair of industrial earmuffs, then clipped a target to the pulley and sent it down to the end of the room. When Flood was out of the way, Wyatt positioned himself and snapped off several shots. The gun jammed.
Flood was unembarrassed. He flicked a switch and the target came back to where they were standing. Wyatt examined the spread pattern. Only three of his shots had hit the target, and well to the left of centre. He was never that bad.
‘This gun is shit.’
‘Bargain basement,’ Flood said. ‘What next?’
Wyatt didn’t know the Sauer. The Woodsman would be light and accurate but it was too long, too difficult to conceal. ‘Give me the Beretta,’ he said.
It was a 15-shot Parabellum model, blue steel construction, wood grip. It wasn’t new, but it was clean and it didn’t jam. The spread pattern was tight and accurate. A maybe. But who knew what some punk had used it for in the past?
He consciously tried the Smith amp;. Wesson last, and immediately felt at home with it. At 14 ounces the weight was right, and it came with a natural rubber grip. It looked new.
‘Part of a gun shop haul in Brisbane last year,’ Flood murmured. ‘Never been used.’
‘Got any more?’
‘I’ll try it.’
The two-inch barrel would not mean great accuracy over distance, but then, accuracy beyond 20 metres is doubtful in any handgun. The raid on Finn’s office would be strictly close-range stuff-if it came to that, and it wouldn’t. Wyatt fired the revolver rapidly. The pattern was perfect.
‘I’ll take three,’ he said. ‘And ammunition.’
‘Three hundred and fifty bucks each and I’ll throw in a box of shells,’ Flood said. He was belligerent, expecting Wyatt to haggle over the price. But all Wyatt said was, ‘The numbers have only been scratched off. That’s not going to stop the forensic boys. Got any acid?’
Flood nodded. ‘There’s some hydrochloric upstairs.’ He turned to make for the steps to the trapdoor.
‘Just a moment,’ Wyatt said. ‘You’ve got records for these?’
Flood paused reluctantly. ‘In there.’
He was indicating a two-drawer filing cabinet. ‘I want them,’ Wyatt said.
He reached out, keeping an eye on Flood, and opened the cabinet. The filing system was simple: folders arranged alphabetically according to gun name. This was Flood’s insurance. If ever the cops traced a gun back to him, he would have something to offer them in exchange for a reduced sentence.
As expected, Flood had handled dozens of Smith amp; Wessons. Details of each had been recorded in full on a filing card: model type, serial number if present, description of the condition of the gun, dates, provenance, and information about the purchaser. A small, sealable plastic bag was stapled inside each folder-test slugs that Flood had fired into a sawdust channel and kept to help identify the guns he sold.
Flood watched Wyatt flip through the folders. Aggrieved, he said, ‘You’ll fucking mess up me system.’
Wyatt ignored him. He found seven recently dated folders for unused Smith amp; Wesson.38s. ‘Brisbane Small Arms,’ he said, reading from the first folder. ‘These the ones?’
Flood nodded sourly.
Wyatt burnt the cards and pocketed the test slugs for disposal later. He left the other folders. They had nothing to do with him.
They went upstairs and coated the filed serial numbers with acid. Flood then cleaned the guns and put them in a shoe box inside a Safeway bag.
Wyatt paid him and left the house. On the verandah the dog groaned and stretched and lifted its tail.
Quarter to twelve. Wyatt did not return to Burnley Station but walked to the pavilion in Richmond Park where Hobba would pick him up. The air was cold. A small boy, bloated in a coat and scarf, walked unsteadily with his mother. A council gardener was hoeing weeds along the paths.
At five minutes to twelve the gardener loaded his tools onto the back of a council truck. He got in and left. At twelve o’clock a white Holden turned off the Boulevard and stopped. Hobba was driving.
Wyatt left the shelter of the pavilion and walked toward the Holden. He passed the child’s mother, buckling her son into the back of a Volvo station wagon. The only other vehicle around was a massive 1950s car pulling onto the grass verge on the Boulevard. It had tinted windows. Wyatt could hear the thump of its stereo.
Wyatt opened the driver’s door of the Holden. ‘Let me drive,’ he said.
Hobba moved across to the passenger seat and Wyatt climbed in behind the steering wheel. He started the engine, then jerked his head at the big car behind them. ‘How long’s he been there?’
Hobba began to chew on a mint. ‘After I ordered the van I called in at my place to get a jacket. He picked me up there.’
Wyatt put the Holden in gear. ‘Have you been treading on any toes lately?’
Hobba shook his head. ‘You have,’ he said. ‘It’s your little mate.’
‘That car of his sticks out like a sore thumb,’ Hobba said. ‘Dumb prick.’
Wyatt turned onto the Boulevard and accelerated. ‘Bright enough to know he could find me by following you.’
Hobba grunted. ‘Think Ivan put him up to it?’
‘We’ll soon find out.’
A few minutes later they were in back streets much like those in Burnley. Now and then Wyatt glimpsed Sugarfoot Younger’s massive red car in the rear view mirror, gingerly negotiating the humps and holes in the bitumen behind them.
Hobba tossed a mint into his mouth. ‘What’s he want anyway?’
Wyatt shrugged. ‘Get even with me.’
‘Muscle in on this job?’
‘Why don’t we just waste the little prick?’
It seemed to be a rhetorical question, but Wyatt treated it seriously. ‘It hasn’t become necessary yet. We can’t afford heat at this stage.’
‘He’s a mad bastard,’ Hobba said after a while. ‘He’s stupid, but dangerous with it. Gun happy.’
Wyatt nodded. ‘Got Hoddle Street written all over him.’
‘Before Ivan took him on he was trying to be Mr Big, but he was just a jumped-up standover merchant. Ivan’s got him at his natural level. If a head needs kicking in, send young Sugar’
Wyatt checked the rear view mirror again. He grinned. ‘I think Ivan’s trying to smarten him up. Like sending him with me on that insurance job last week.’
‘Sort of work experience,’ Hobba said, enjoying this. He almost never saw Wyatt smile. ‘Writes it up afterwards, three-hour exam at the end of the year’
‘TAFE certificate after two years,’ Wyatt said.
They drove deeper into the back streets, peering into alleys and lanes. Wyatt said, ‘Go all right at Loman’s?’
‘Beautifully,’ Hobba said. ‘He gave me three sets of fake ID. Tomorrow he’ll have a van ready with clean papers, plus some handcuffs, a drill and bits for Max, and C4 plastic if we need to blow the safe.’
‘Hassle you over the money?’
‘I gave him the thousand,’ Hobba said. ‘Like you said, all he needed was a sweetener. He’s expecting another six and a half within the week.’
Wyatt nodded. ‘How about the transfers?’
‘Ready tomorrow. ‘Compatible Computer Servicing’. Black letters on a white background.’
‘Good. What about Max?’
‘Watching Finn, like you wanted. We’re going to need cars though, Wyatt. You can’t watch a place on foot. People notice you.’
Wyatt nodded. There was a give-way sign ahead. He slowed for it and entered another narrow street. Hobba lit a cigarette and threw away the match. ‘Try there,’ he said suddenly, pointing to an alley.
Wyatt slowed, but accelerated again. ‘Too open.’
After a while, Hobba said, ‘How come it’s never straightforward, Wyatt? You ever wondered that? I mean, is it because we’re bent? God looks down, sees what we’re doing, and sends Sugarfoot along to fuck us around? I often wonder.’
‘Could be testing us,’ Wyatt said.
‘What’s the point? We’ve already failed. Nuh, God likes to fuck you around. Take a bloke, he’s a pillar of society, wife and kids, church on Sunday-if he fucks up you can bet he’s got something going on the side.’ Hobba finished his cigarette and popped another mint. ‘Check this one,’ he said, pointing ahead.
Wyatt braked. They were at the entrance to a narrow, cobblestoned, dead-end back alley lined by high rusty fences. The cottages and sheds on either side were boarded up and empty-looking. He glanced in the rear view mirror; the red Customline was two blocks behind them. He drove a short distance beyond the entrance, shifted into reverse, and backed into the alley. He reversed for fifty metres and stopped, keeping the engine idling. No windows overlooked the alley. No-one was about. They slid down in their seats so that the car looked to be empty.
‘Entering now,’ Hobba said, listening to the Customline rumbling towards them. He raised his head a fraction to look. Sugarfoot Younger, surprised to see no-one sitting in the Holden, had driven far into the alley.
‘Go!’ Hobba said.
Wyatt slammed his foot on the accelerator. The Holden leapt forward. They saw the look of alarm on Sugarfoot’s face and saw him turn his head desperately and begin to reverse. The big car swerved erratically. Suddenly its rear bumper caught a pole and the car slewed and stopped. Wyatt did not reduce speed. He swept through the gap and braked a short distance beyond the red Customline, effectively boxing it in between the street and the walled-in end of the alley.
He took a Smith amp; Wesson from the shopping bag and gave another to Hobba. ‘He could be carrying,’ he said.
They crouched and moved down on either side of the Customline. Sugarfoot wound down his window but otherwise didn’t move. The heavy motor belched and muttered.
Wyatt stopped at the back door. ‘We only want to talk,’ he said. ‘Leave your gun there and come out. Otherwise we put holes in your nice car.’
There was a movement in the car. ‘Did you see that?’ Hobba said. ‘Little prick gave us the finger.’
Wyatt released the safety catch on his revolver. ‘Let’s take him.’
They rushed the two front doors, keeping low.
But Sugarfoot gave them no trouble. He turned off the engine as they began to move, and they found him staring defiantly ahead, his hands on a magnum revolver in his lap.
‘Out you get,’ Wyatt said, opening the driver’s door. ‘We want to talk to you.’ He reached for the magnum. ‘Jesus Christ, a replica.’
Wyatt stood back as Sugarfoot got out of the car. He saw strength in the bulky frame, but no grace, agility or swiftness. ‘Why’re you tailing us?’
Hobba reached out for Sugarfoot’s ear and jerked on it. His hand came away with the earring. Sugarfoot flinched, then straightened, putting his hand to his bloodied ear.
‘Answer the man,’ Hobba said.
‘You two and Max Pedersen got a job on.’
‘What makes you think that?’
Sugarfoot Younger’s face creased in exasperation. ‘I’m not bloody stupid. If the great Wyatt pulls a small job he’s got to be bankrolling a big one.’
‘What’s it to you?’ Wyatt said.
Sugarfoot looked down and muttered, ‘That was a cunt act, belting me in front of Ivan.’ He looked up again. ‘I want to be in on this job. I’ve got skills.’
‘You fucked up once, you’ll fuck up again. We’re taking you home to Ivan.’
‘He’ll fucking kill me. Give us a go, Wyatt. I’ll drive, keep a lookout, whatever.’
‘Lie down on the ground,’ Wyatt said.
Hobba grinned. Sugarfoot, panicked, said, ‘Jesus, no need for that. I won’t tell. Just let me go.’
‘Shut up,’ Wyatt said. ‘No-one’s going to shoot you. Just lie there on your stomach.’
Sugarfoot, afraid now, settled onto the damp cobbles. When Hobba rested a foot on his back, he uttered a small, shocked cry.
‘Don’t be a sook,’ Hobba said. He began to prod Sugarfoot with his shoe. ‘What’s with the pony tail and the earring, Sugar?’ he said. ‘Eh? You a poofter?’
‘Fuck you. I’ll fucking get you cunts. I’ll track the three of youse down.’
‘Leave it,’ Wyatt said wearily. He pulled on Hobba’s sleeve. ‘I want a word.’
A short distance away he muttered, ‘We can’t waste time with this. We’ve got work to do.’
‘Waste him,’ Hobba said. ‘You heard him, he’ll just keep hassling us.’
‘Then we’d have Ivan’s hoons after us. We don’t need that. Throw a scare into him and let him go.’
Meanwhile, pain was beginning to register above Sugarfoot’s fog of dreams and grievances. He raised his head from the ground. ‘I’m fucking bleeding to death here.’
‘Shut up,’ Hobba said. He swiftly crossed to Sugarfoot and, taking a knife from his pocket, knelt down and sliced off the pony tail. He showed Sugarfoot the blade and the hair. ‘See this? If I see you again, even by accident, I’ll slice off your balls. Then I’ll start on your face.’ He stood up and kicked Sugarfoot’s ribs. ‘Now piss off.’
Sugarfoot scrambled to his feet and made for the street in a stumbling run. He didn’t look back.
They watched him go. ‘What a prick,’ Hobba said. ‘I didn’t mean he had to leave his car behind.’
Wyatt was still, concentrating hard. They needed a safe house now, till the job was over. Without one they risked being found by the Youngers.
But they had a job to do in Fitzroy first.
Of the four thousand prostitutes in Melbourne, nine hundred work in legal brothels. Escort agencies, street trade, and a thriving cottage industry account for the remainder.
Two were run by Ken Sala. Cher and Simone operated out of a two-bedroom townhouse in the Caribbean Apartments, a converted bluestone factory in Fitzroy, turning tricks for clients in hotel rooms or in the townhouse itself. On a good weekend they could each pull in fifteen hundred dollars, and another fifteen hundred during the week. Ken, who lived in one of the adjacent apartments, gave back only a third, but he paid all their bills and didn’t steer any creeps their way, so they weren’t complaining. Anyway, as he was always reminding them, he was just a cog. He pocketed a thousand bucks in commission and the remainder went to some syndicate in Sydney.
It was three in the afternoon and Ken was starting a new day. First he did the paperwork for the weekend’s takings. The deal was, he collected from Cher and Simone on Monday, did all the paperwork on Tuesday, and waited till the bagman came around in the evening to collect.
Five thousand, six hundred bucks. About average. There was a travel agents’ convention starting Friday, so things would pick up a bit then. He stuffed the money into a cash box, locked it and shut it in the bottom drawer of his desk.
Every afternoon at this time he liked to wander down Lygon Street. He’d tried Brunswick Street but the style there was more your ponytails, ‘fifties gear and anaemic punk birds dressed in black. Lygon Street was more his scene. He went into his bedroom and put on the baggy electric-shimmer trousers with the pleated front, a black silk shirt, a drape jacket with broad shoulders and discreet checks, and low profile Italian slip-ons so slight they felt like slippers. He finished by gelling his hair. He looked at his face. Not one you’d mess with.
Three-twenty-five. Time to cruise. ‘Hey, Ken,’ the guys would say on Lygon Street. ‘How’s tricks?’ He hadn’t seen the joke at first, but now he did, and knew it meant that he was accepted.
His buzzer rang. He put his eye to the spyhole. No-one there. The courtyard was empty.
‘Who is it?’ he said.
It was the kind of thing kids were always doing. This one kid would come around delivering the Herald-Sun and ring on every bell whether the person took that paper or not. Ken opened the door. He’d soon sort the little bastard out.
It was the kind of thing that happens in a bad dream, the two men wearing balaclavas coming through the door at him. Something-the door?-split his lip open. The men punched him, pushed him against the wall, kicked the door shut. It was over in about five seconds.
Less than a minute later they had him in an armchair and one, a fat one smelling of mints, was waving a gun in his face, going, ‘Kenny, we want the cash.’
The other one, a slender, fluid, hard-edged looking guy, did a quick check of the other rooms and came back and leaned in the doorway. There was an air of stillness about him.
‘What cash?’ Ken said.
The hard-looking one stirred. He said, ‘He’s wasting our time. Take the place apart,’ and started to rip prints off the walls and tear the covers off the Penthouse magazine and the Stephen King paperback on the coffee table.
The fat one pulled out a knife and slit the grey and pink leather sofa, three thousand bucks in Scandinavia World.
‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Ken said. His voice squeaked a little. He tried again. ‘Who are you? What do you want?’
The hard one said, ‘The cash. The week’s takings.’
‘You don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for,’ Ken said. ‘I’m connected. There are going to be some pissed-off people as a result of this.’
‘So you admit to the cash?’ the fat one said.
‘There’ll be fucking trouble. Plus which’-and Ken’s treacherous voice rose again-’how the fuck am I going to pay them back?’
The hard one looked at him. ‘Just get the money.’
On the way out the fat one grinned and the hard one said, ‘Like the threads, Ken.’
It was three-thirty. They had been in and out in less than five minutes.
By four-thirty Wyatt was on the footpath outside a building near Queens Road, having his hand shaken by a man who said, ‘Mr Lake? Call me Rocky.’
Rocky drove a black Porsche Targa with a car phone and personalised plates. He wore a white shirt and a double-breasted suit sharp as a knife. He released Wyatt’s hand and clapped his palms together. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Short-term rental, fully furnished? No problem.’ He spoke urgently, his face too close, as if Wyatt’s only wish in life was to hear his words. ‘What firm you with?’
Wyatt mumbled a name. ‘Sydney based,’ he said. ‘Today I learned I’ll have to stay here for another three weeks, so I thought, why not the wife and kids as well? They’ll be down on the weekend. That’s why I need the extra rooms. Plus I’ll be doing a certain amount of entertaining, and you can’t do that in a hotel room.’
Rocky watched Wyatt’s face, fascinated. Then he couldn’t help himself and said, ‘Excuse me, I think the frames of your glasses are twisted.’
‘Yeah, damn things,’ Wyatt said.
There was a pause. Rocky clapped his hands together again. ‘Right.’ He indicated the building behind him, three storeys of pastel pink stone, and grey doors, window frames and entrance canopy. ‘We got several apartments available.’ He numbered his clean, white, ringed fingers. ‘You got your VHS, CD system, central heating, washing machine, two phones, proper down doonas. You got your intercom at the main entrance here, and your lock-up garage in the basement, room for two cars.’
‘Can I see the garage?’
Rocky looked surprised. Usually they wanted to see the apartment first. ‘Sure. No problem.’ He led Wyatt down a ramp to a large, dim, underground space. Along one wall were twelve steel garage doors. ‘Incredibly secure. The lift’s on the other side. I’ll show you.’
Rocky unlocked one of the steel doors, revealing an empty garage with space for two cars. It smelt faintly of old oil and exhaust fumes. He drew down the door, locked it, and opened a strong, plain wooden door set in the back wall. This led into a small passageway.
‘You got your lift,’ Rocky said, pushing a button. The lift arrived and Rocky took them to level two. ‘Got a nice corner apartment,’ he said. ‘Three bedrooms plus all I said before.’
It was apartment 8. Rocky took out a large bunch of keys, unlocked the door, and they entered the apartment. Wyatt walked to the main window, which looked down over Queens Road, the golf course and Albert Park Lake. Some mugs were out on the lake, one or two miserable sails bending in the wind. He turned away, examined the room, and went into the bedrooms and the bathroom. Rocky followed him, almost upon his heels, keys rattling, smelling nastily of aftershave.
It was like being in a resort hotel, like a beer baron’s wife’s idea of good taste. Pastel walls, glossy white wooden surfaces, terracotta ornaments, varnished cane and rattan, bright cotton cushions and chair coverings, Mexican rugs, vaguely Aboriginal prints on the walls, vases the colour and shape of candy chips.
‘You got your coffee percolator, your microwave,’ Rocky said, ‘for the wife.’
‘Very nice,’ Wyatt replied. ‘Quiet?’
‘Absolutely. Double glazing, thick walls, carpets in the corridors. You won’t hear a thing. No-one knocking on your door for a chat. Actually-’ Rocky coughed, a little embarrassed ‘-we’re not fully occupied at the moment.’
‘Things are tough everywhere,’ Wyatt said.
‘It’ll pick up,’ Rocky said. ‘Always does.’ He coughed again. ‘We would require a deposit, of course, if you were interested in taking the place.’
‘Full amount up front,’ Wyatt said, ‘in cash. That’s how I work.’ He got out his wallet.
Rocky opened and closed his mouth. ‘You’ll take it?’
‘I’ll take it.’
‘You won’t regret it. This is a quality facility’
‘Right,’ Wyatt said.
They went down to the street level and filled out the papers in Rocky’s car. ‘You want anything else, just call me,’ Rocky said, giving Wyatt his business card and keys for all the locks.
Wyatt went back inside and rang Pedersen with details of the evening’s plans. Then he made tea, settling down to wait for six o’clock when he would call Anna Reid and arrange to pick up the photographs. He felt impatient, and that surprised him.
In Bargain City, Ivan Younger was pacing the storeroom floor, jabbing his finger, saying, ‘You’re a fuckwit. What are you?’ He stopped pacing. ‘You’re lucky they didn’t cut your throat. That’s what I would’ve done. Where you going?’
Sugarfoot shrugged. ‘Get my car back, then collect the take from Ken Sala.’
Ivan thought about it. ‘That, and nothing else. No more fucking adventures, understand? Drive straight here after. Stay out of Wyatt’s way. You’re not in the same league.’
Sugarfoot scowled. He’d been hearing nothing else all afternoon. Hours of listening to crap, being treated like shit. Worse, stuff about IQ, snide stuff he’d been hearing all his life. On top of being bashed twice in a week. They could all go and get fucked.
Sugarfoot buttoned up his coat. A good coat, ankle length, warm, concealing, mean-looking. He had this idea for a shotgun on a sling. Sawn off, it would weigh as little as six pounds. Just fold back the coat flap, whip her up, blam.
But just thinking about it seemed to pull at his bruised ribs and stomach. He grimaced in pain. Ivan said, his voice a shade kinder, ‘You all right? Want me to drive you there?’
‘I rang a cab. I’ll be all right,’ Sugarfoot said.
But he felt stiff and sore. His right eye was puffy, going black, almost closed. Blood crusted his ear and neck. His hair looked like a Victa had been through it.
Ivan touched his arm. ‘Look, mate, one day we’ll get back at the bastards, okay? They went too far. But as a favour to me now, stay out of their way.’
Mr Hotshot. Number one son. ‘Fuck off,’ Sugarfoot said.
He went outside to wait for the taxi. He could feel Ivan watching him from behind the advertisement-smeared plate glass window of Bargain City. He hunched deep into his coat. The wind was cruel on his ear.
A horn bipped. He looked up. A Silver Top, the ethnic driver giving him the once-over. ‘You been drinking? You chuck in my cab, mate, and you can clean it up.’
‘Get stuffed,’ Sugarfoot said.
‘Yeah, well you too, mate,’ the driver replied.
‘Let’s just go, all right?’ Sugarfoot said.
He gave directions to his place in Collingwood. ‘Wait here,’ he said. He went upstairs, unlocked the chest under his bed, and pocketed a flick-knife. He needed a handgun, and soon. Something small enough to tuck in his sock or conceal in his hand. What would be really good, though-apart from a sawn-off on a sling-would be to fire from high ground with his sniper’s rifle fitted with a scope. Bullets coming out of nowhere, this look of surprise on Wyatt’s face when his chest explodes. Other people looking around, taking awhile to work out what’s going on.
He went downstairs and told the driver to take him to Richmond. They cruised for fifteen minutes as he tried from memory to find the Customline. Wyatt had left Richmond Park, gone along Swan for a while, then up Burnley, then into side streets. It was all depressing.
‘Listen, pal,’ the driver said. ‘I’ll take you to Sydney if you like, but I got better things to do than cruise around Richmond.’
‘Any of your business?’ Sugarfoot said.
If he hadn’t been feeling so bad, he might have sorted the bastard out then and there. But they were slowing for a tight roundabout in the road and he saw an alley and a flash of red at the end of it. ‘You can stop here,’ he said.
The driver looked around, dismissing it. ‘Here?’
Sugarfoot scowled. The cunt probably lived in a two-storey red brick wog mansion in Sunshine. ‘Keep the change,’ he said, tipping two dollars. ‘Buy yourself a bar of soap.’
For a moment he thought he’d done it, but the driver gave him the finger and sped, tyres squealing, towards Bridge Road. Sugarfoot tried a grin with his bruised face and walked down the alley to his car and saw, bastards, lines scratched all over the duco. Around here it would be Vietnamese, got nothing better to do than damage other people’s property, walk by good car flesh with a knife blade or the edge of a coin. Cunt. Sugarfoot beat his fist on the Customline’s boot lid, then circled the car, trying to get calm, trying to tell himself at least they hadn’t let down the tyres or broken in.
He ground the starter, listening, waiting for the big motor to catch. It did, belching smoke, then settled, grumbling sweet as you like.
He half turned to look through the rear window and backed out, one hand on the wheel. Seated like that, he could feel pressure from the little knife in his pocket.
It was hassle on hassle. In Johnston Street he heard a siren and looked around and it was a cop car telling him to pull over. He quickly fumbled the knife out of his pocket and under the seat. He had his licence and a puzzled look ready when the two cops got out and came over to his door. ‘Anything wrong?’
Two constables, so young they had bum fluff on their faces. ‘Ace car,’ the first one said.
‘Didn’t steal it,’ Sugarfoot said. ‘I can show you the rego papers.’
The second cop said, ‘Relax. Just wanted a look. My mate here’s got a Galaxie.’
‘Fully restored. Did it myself,’ the first cop said.
Sugarfoot almost warmed to him. ‘Good cars, Galaxies,’ he said. Fucking crap cars.
He got out and the three of them walked around the Customline for a while. The cops said it was bad news about the scratches in the duco. Sugarfoot told them it was Vietnamese-that’s how he got beaten up, protecting his car- and the cops understood and clicked their tongues and told him to have a nice day.
He got to the Caribbean Apartments in Fitzroy in time to find Ken Sala in tears, the place a wreck, a bag half packed on the bed. He slapped Sala’s flabby cheeks and got some story about his being jumped by a couple of guys with guns.
He picked up the phone. ‘Ken, old son,’ he said, punching the number for Bargain City, ‘you’re in deep shit.’
Ivan was there in thirty minutes. He paused at the bedroom door, looked in horror at the bed, and said, ‘Jesus Christ, what did they do to the poor bugger?’
Ken Sala was lying on his side, a thin yellow nylon rope looped from his bound ankles to his neck. He was red-faced with effort, his face wet, his eyes popping. The rope was slowly strangling him and he was powerless to stop it happening.
Sugarfoot turned around. ‘It’s okay, I’ve got it under control. He’s going to answer a few questions, aren’t you, Kenny?’
‘Let him go, for fuck’s sake.’
‘How do you know he isn’t trying to rip us off? If he staged it himself, we’ll soon know.’
Ken Sala managed to gasp, ‘It wasn’t me. I’m not stupid. Two guys. Let me go.’
‘Let him go, Sugar’
Grumbling and sighing elaborately, Sugarfoot leaned over and began to pull at the knots. When he discovered that they were as tight as pebbles, he took out his knife. Ken Sala began to thrash about on the bed, grunting terribly. ‘Settle down,’ Sugarfoot said. ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’
He cut through the rope. Ken Sala’s relief was palpable. For the next two minutes the only sounds in the room were the coughs and gasps as his breathing settled back to normal. He sat up weakly. ‘Honest,’ he said. ‘Two guys done me over.’
‘How much did they get?’ Ivan said.
‘Just over five thousand. I’ve got it written down somewhere.’
‘One was on the heavy side, the other was thin, that’s all I can tell you.’
‘They had masks on. Them balaclava things.’
‘Not much to go on.’
‘Look, they knew who I was and everything. The fat one breathes lolly breath all over me and goes, “Where’s the cash, Ken?” ‘
Sugarfoot stiffened. He said involuntarily, ‘Hobba. I smelt it on him this afternoon.’
‘Jesus Christ,’ Ivan said, his voice low and passionate. ‘This is all your fucking fault. Last week you fucked up Wyatt’s insurance job, today you go following him all over the place. I’d like to know how your mind works sometimes. What did you expect he’d do? Take it lying down? He’s telling me he can hit me where and when he likes.’
‘Bullshit. He’s bankrolling. He’s got a job on with Hobba.’
‘So? That doesn’t change the fact he nabbed five thousand bucks of the outfit’s money. What am I supposed to tell Bauer? “Sorry, the take’s a bit less this week.” Jesus, they already got their eye on me. This’ll convince them I’m holding out.’ He looked across at Ken Sala. ‘I’ll make up the difference myself. What Bauer and Sydney don’t know won’t hurt them. We’ll deal with Wyatt later.’
Sugarfoot shrugged. ‘Suit yourself.’
‘Just keep your trap shut,’ Ivan said. ‘Okay?’
Then he sat next to Ken Sala on the bed. He explained how none of this was Ken’s fault, and he, Ivan, would put it right, and Ken could go on as before, so long as he kept his trap shut, okay?
‘Okay,’ Ken Sala said.
He fingered his neck worriedly.
Wyatt called Anna Reid at six o’clock and she said she had the polaroids, come around any time, and now they were in her lounge-room and she was riding him on the rug in front of her log fire, concentrating hard. He looked up at her face, the parted lips, the eyes staring as if hypnotised by the patterns in the rug. Now and then she came out of it, saw him and grinned, leaned over his face to give him a nipple or to let the line of his cheek and jaw brush her breasts left and right. Sometimes she clenched her face in a kind of fury, as if this were not enough and she wanted to consume him as well. She would bite, ride him quickly for a while, ease again.
‘This is what I’ve been thinking about,’ she said, ‘not the money’
In answer, Wyatt raised her a little with his hands and pushed up. She bent her head back. Then he rested and she lifted herself and they watched as she moved on him again.
When she pulled at his shoulder, he rolled with her. She backed along the rug, wanting him to follow. She climbed backwards into an armchair, Wyatt almost losing her, then flopped back, getting her breath, while he moved in her again.
She said, ‘I want to finish, yet I don’t want to.’
Wyatt gravely took both her hands and moved them down. She looked questioningly at him, then smiled slowly, and he watched her long fingers begin working, circling, pushing hard at herself. He was on the edge too so he watched her face, and when her eyes opened in a kind of sorrow he let himself go.
The room was hot. They were perspiring. Wyatt, arms locked to support his weight, looked down at Anna, who watched him drowsily, her face swollen, heavy-lidded. She blew air between her breasts and onto his chest and it felt like a cooling breeze.
After a while he pulled away and fell back onto the rug. It was an expensive rug and he seemed to sink into it. ‘I feel exposed up here,’ she said, lying down with him. A moment later Masher joined them, purring, coiling his furry back into Wyatt’s waist.
They slept. Later, stroking Anna’s arm, Wyatt asked, ‘Did anyone see you using the camera?’
She groaned and stirred. ‘Back to reality. No. I waited till they were away from the office.’
‘Did you get shots of every room?’
She put her head on his chest. When she answered, her voice seemed to amplify, to carry in his chest cavity. ‘Every room, the alarm system, the safe.’
Wyatt tried to see her face. He saw only her scalp through her hair. He flopped back again, looking around at the walls and ceiling, the paintings, the light fittings. She had expensive tastes.
Soon he felt restless. Anna was looking down the slope of his body, tracing its hard, muscle-corded surface with her hand, but he’d begun to think about the job he had planned with Pedersen later this evening, and about the Finn job itself. He looked at his watch. Seven-fifteen. He shifted slightly, disturbing Masher, who stretched and shuddered and began to purr again.
Anna sensed the change in Wyatt and pulled away from him. ‘Are you going?’
‘I’ll get the photos.’
In a graceful single motion, she uncoiled from the floor and stood back from him. He got to his feet, watching her cross the room to where a leather bag had been placed on a small table. She had a lithe, unselfconscious style of walking. The red marks on her skin from his body and the carpet were oddly appealing and in other circumstances he would want her again.
She came back with a handful of polaroid shots of Finn’s office. He began to shuffle through them. He came to one that showed the safe and he stopped, thinking hard. He stood like a statue, staring into Anna’s fireplace without focusing on it, trying to work out the details.
She touched his arm. He seemed to jerk awake and she flinched a little at the look of coldness and distance on his face. ‘Whoops,’ she said.
He muttered something.
‘You were far away,’ she said.
He hated to be interrupted when he was concentrating on a job. He wanted to leave, go for a walk somewhere, find a quiet place where he could think. But that might offend her, so he started to say something reassuring. And then the answer to the Finn job came to him, quick and complete. A smile creased his face, transforming it.
‘Welcome back,’ Anna said, stepping close to him.
He watched her. She had the control now. This was what she was good at. Her head dipped and she moved down his body, nuzzling him. Later, when they were on her rug again and she was moving on him, she leaned forward to kiss him and he could taste both of them on her lips.
Her thighs began to pull at him as if measuring desire and anger. Her face was severe. ‘I didn’t expect any of this,’ she said.
He nodded. ‘I’ve got a place on the coast,’ he said, watching her. ‘We’ll go there when this is over.’
She smiled and stopped her pulling and they fell into a trance-like rocking. Masher woke suddenly, licked a foreleg, fell asleep again.
By eight-thirty that evening, Wyatt and Pederson were watching cars hiss along Chapel Street in dismal rain. An Alfa and then a BMW paused outside Henri’s Bistro and drove on again, looking for somewhere to park. Five minutes later the occupants were back, running in the rain, getting their feet wet, ruining their composure.
Pedersen was sour about it. ‘It wouldn’t hurt these guys to drop their chicks off and then park.’
‘There’ll be a gentleman along soon,’ Wyatt said.
They were standing under the awning of a shoe shop two doors down from Henri’s. They wore hired navy-blue uniforms, gloves and caps, decorated with enough gold braid to unnerve the Queen. In his pocket Wyatt had a dozen cards, printed with the words ‘Valet Parking’. In smaller type at the bottom was a disclaimer: ‘The management takes no responsibility for loss or damage’. He got a kick out of that.
‘What’s wrong with these fuckers?’ Pedersen said. He was hyped-up, cracking his knuckles, pacing back and forth.
‘Take it easy,’ Wyatt said.
Pedersen sniffed. ‘I do safes, not this shit.’
Wyatt turned to examine him, his face expressionless. ‘There’s no guarantee we’ll score. Waiting’s part of the job, you know that.’
‘Yeah,’ Pedersen said. ‘In the rain.’
Wyatt said nothing. There was always someone who got jumpy before a job. There was always someone not as solid as you’d like. Always some personal problem, some quirk, but if you spent all your time ironing it out, you’d never get anything done. He just hoped Pedersen was sound in the long run.
‘This is a bummer,’ Pedersen went on. ‘We could give the money you took off that pimp to Eddie Loman and owe him the rest. Let’s pack it in.’
‘A few minutes, okay?’
Then out of the corner of his eye Wyatt saw Pedersen place something on his tongue and snap it back like a lizard with a fly.
‘Oh terrific,’ he said, slamming Pedersen against the wall. ‘Hobba said you were clean. You said you were clean.’
‘Only an upper, to focus me.’
‘Focus on this. You want a hand on your shoulder inviting you to come down to the station and turn out your pockets? What else are you on?’
‘Nothing. Take your fucking hands off me.’
With a contemptuous gesture, Wyatt released him. They stood far apart, and waited, and the rain fell.
‘Listen Wyatt, I’ve gone off the hard stuff, okay?’
Wyatt seemed to ignore him. Then he shifted position. ‘I’ll only say this once. If you’re on anything when we do the job, or try to cross me in any way, you’ll be part of the food chain before you know it.’
Pedersen scowled and began to bounce on the balls of his feet.
Then he stopped, suddenly alert. ‘Check this.’
‘I see it.’
A white Mercedes 380 SE had pulled out of the line of traffic and stopped, brake lights flaring, outside Henri’s. Thirty seconds passed. The people in the Mercedes seemed to be conferring.
‘This is it,’ Wyatt said. ‘Stay with me.’
They approached the car, umbrellas up, just as the woman in the passenger seat turned up her collar and reached to open her door. Pedersen said, ‘Allow me, ma’am,’ opening the door, holding his umbrella over her.
Wyatt tapped on the driver’s window. The window whispered part-way down.
‘We have valet parking now, sir,’ Wyatt said. ‘Here is your receipt. Hand it in after your meal and someone will fetch your car for you.’
‘I don’t know,’ the driver said. He was overweight, grunting with exertion. He seemed to be suspicious, so Wyatt steeled himself to run.
‘How much is this going to cost me?’ the man said.
The woman stirred under Pedersen’s umbrella. ‘For God’s sake, Neil, give him the car. It’s wet. I’m going inside.’
‘It’s a free service, sir,’ Wyatt said.
The driver got out, showing the effort. ‘If there’s one scratch on this, just one, I’ll have your balls.’
‘You won’t see a thing,’ Wyatt said.
‘Can you drive one of these? It’s not some Japanese tin can, you know.’
‘Neil,’ the woman said.
‘Coming, coming,’ the fat man said. Wyatt escorted him to the shelter of the awning above Henri’s front door and watched him follow the woman inside.
‘Let’s go,’ Pedersen said.
Pedersen drove, Wyatt directing, to a public car park where Wyatt picked up the Holden. Then he led Pedersen across the city to Sydney Road. Both cars drove steadily, obeying all the road laws.
They came to a suburb of narrow streets, where small factories huddled between workers’ houses and the street lights were faulty or broken. Wyatt parked the Holden a few metres beyond a set of steel doors in a brick wall. A strip of light showed underneath the doors, and a small sign on the wall said ‘AP Motors’.
Wyatt got out and walked back to where Pedersen waited in the Mercedes. ‘This is the place,’ he said.
He walked up to the doors, knocked once, paused, knocked three times, and heard bolts being drawn back. A voice called out, ‘Bring her in. Quick about it.’
Wyatt signalled to Pedersen to drive in. He followed the Mercedes into the shed and helped a man in overalls to close the steel doors.
He looked around. The set-up looked professional. A number of late-model Holdens, Falcons and Hondas were being dismantled. Some battery-powered ignition drills lay on one bench, among tins of corrosive solution for removing serial numbers.
The man who had opened the steel doors waited in the shadows. Two other men stood motionless at the back of the shed. A fourth man stepped out from behind a Jaguar XJS, saying, ‘Merc, eh? Lovely’
He wore overalls open to the waist, and gold chains of various lengths around his neck. He stood before the Mercedes, regarding it with his hands on his hips.
‘Very nice. I’m Ray. Which one of you is Lake?’
‘I am,’ Wyatt said, ignoring the proffered hand. He did not introduce Pedersen.
Ray looked from one to the other. ‘Well, you’re both a bundle of laughs,’ he said, and he began to examine the Mercedes. He sighted along the panels, dropped to the floor to peer at the chassis, and lifted the bonnet and poked about with a small torch. Finally he took a small magnet from his pocket and fastened it randomly on the body of the car. Satisfied there was no rust filler under the paintwork, he said, ‘Very clean.’
‘We know that,’ Pedersen said. ‘What’s your offer?’
‘Hold your horses, sonny Jim. Buyer beware, eh?’
‘So? You’ve checked it out, now make us an offer.’
‘I’m dealing with Lake,’ Ray said. ‘Lake, tell Chuckles here to shut up.’
Ray’s three assistants moved out of the shadows. ‘Let’s all calm down,’ Wyatt said. He felt very tired. He turned to Pedersen. ‘Take it easy, okay?’
‘Ask him what his offer is.’
Ray pointed. ‘You got a lot to learn about doing business, pal. We go in the office, break out the Scotch, talk it over, nice and civilised.’
‘Lake, my boys are going to sort your friend out in a minute.’
Wyatt stepped close to Ray and said softly and rapidly, ‘I’m sorry, Ray. You know how it is. He’s a good driver, but he’s no good with people.’
‘The cunt’s high as a kite. He’s going to turn up in the river one day’
Wyatt nodded. ‘He’s got a shitty personality. Look, we’ll pass up on that Scotch. I don’t trust him to keep his cool. So, if you’d like to make us an offer?’
Ray thought about it. He made a what-can-I-do? gesture. ‘Five thousand. Best I can do.’
‘Jesus Christ,’ Pedersen said. ‘I heard that. What a fucking rip-off.’ He was jumpy now from the upper. ‘These fetch bloody a hundred grand in Sydney.’
Ray was beginning to turn nasty. ‘At this stage in the process it’s a buyer’s market. Plus which you’re outnumbered. Five thousand, take it or leave it.’
Wyatt told him they’d take it.
Later, when Pedersen started laughing in the Holden, whooping and singing ‘Some fun tonight’, Wyatt came very close to calling the whole thing off.
They got back to the safe house at nine-thirty. Wyatt drove slowly past the building once and then came back. No cars, no pedestrians.
They found Hobba waiting for them in the flat. He had taken off his shoes and was slumped in an armchair. The room smelt of cigarette smoke and mints. ‘Nice,’ he said, when they came in. ‘This is the life. This is private enterprise for you.’
Wyatt ignored him. He crossed to the window and looked out.
Behind him, Pedersen entered reluctantly, scowling back at the indentations his feet had made in the thick carpet. He had changed out of his doorman’s uniform. Dressed in a flannelette shirt, jeans and japara again, he showed signs of feeling exposed and untidy. ‘We got to stay here how long?’
‘Until the day after the job,’ Wyatt said. ‘Don’t go home, either of you. Buy anything you might need. We don’t know what the Youngers have got in mind. If we stay here, no-one can find us before we pull the job. But keep your eyes open all the same.’
‘You should’ve wasted the little prick,’ Pedersen said.
Hobba sniggered. ‘Gave him a fair old fright though.’ He explained about the ponytail and the earring.
Pedersen snorted. ‘I like it.’
‘Had to be done,’ Hobba said, holding his arms wide.
They began to discuss it, grinning broadly. Wyatt watched them. After a while they felt it, and fell silent, settling back in their chairs.
‘Right,’ Wyatt said. ‘This is how we do it-a simple hijack.’
Pedersen began to nod, thinking it over. ‘It’s not fastened to the floor?’
‘No. I’ve seen the pictures.’
‘Then I like it. We’d be out quickly and we can open it or blow it elsewhere in our own time.’
Hobba frowned at Pedersen, playing devil’s advocate. ‘Like where? We can’t use your place now, in case the Youngers are watching, and I’m buggered if I’m going to wait on a side street somewhere while you work on it in the back of the van.’
They both looked at Wyatt.
‘We do it here,’ he said. ‘Downstairs in the lock-up garage.’
‘That’s a lot of coming and going.’
‘This place is like a tomb during the day. No-one can see into the garage. No-one knows who we are, where we’re from. I paid cash, the whole lot up front. We’ve got all the room we need, plenty of exits, privacy. It’s perfect.’
‘If you say so,’ Hobba said.
Pedersen leaned forward. ‘What if I have to blow the safe? You can’t hide that kind of a noise.’
‘We’ll take a chance,’ Wyatt said. ‘There’s no-one around and the lock-up is below ground level. While you two open the safe, I’ll keep watch up in the street. Can you get us some radios?’
‘By late tomorrow,’ Wyatt said, ‘we’ll have everything we need: the van, handcuffs, overalls, transfers, explosive, electric drill
He fell silent. They were all imagining the job. It seemed possible now.
Then Wyatt said, ‘Let’s see what we’ve got on Finn. What time did everyone arrive this morning?’
Pedersen opened his notebook. ‘Anna and the girl arrived at eight-thirty. Finn at nine.’
Wyatt turned to Hobba. ‘What time did they leave?’
‘The girl at five, Anna five-twenty, Finn five-thirty.’
‘Pretty ordinary. Between ten and eleven, all three cut through to the coffee shop and came back after about fifteen minutes. Then at three-thirty, Finn went out.’
‘We’ll check on that over the next few days,’ Wyatt said. ‘When we hit on Friday we want them all in the office.’
‘What about the time?’ Hobba asked. ‘You still want to hit when it’s peak hour?’
‘It ties up the cops as well,’ Wyatt said. ‘Accidents, cars parked in the bus lanes. If we know the short cuts, we’ll be all right. I want this to go like clockwork.’
Hobba shrugged. ‘You’re the boss.’
They eased back in their bright fabric chairs. Outside a misty rain blew against the thick glass windows. It was warm and sheltered up here, high above the greasy streets and headlong traffic.
On Wednesday morning Wyatt and Hobba hailed a taxi and went shopping. Their first stop was Eddie Loman’s. The N in EDWARD LOMAN HARDWARE was back-to-front and Loman himself had a drooping right shoulder and a stiff leg that swung out as he walked. When the taxi was gone he jerked his head to indicate a workshop at the rear, closed the steel door behind them, and said, ‘Got the balance?’
Wyatt handed him a wad of money. Loman counted it, six and a half thousand dollars, his lips moving in his grey, unhealthy face.
‘Right,’ he said, ‘your stuffs over here.’
He wheeled round on his left leg and led them to empty fertiliser bags heaped on the floor in the far corner. Under them was a grimy styrofoam Esky. Inside it were four pairs of police handcuffs, a block of Semtex explosive, and an electric drill and bits.
‘I don’t seem to see a van,’ Hobba said.
‘Out the back,’ Loman said. ‘Keep your shirt on.’
He took them through a small door to an empty lot behind the workshop. It was choked with weeds. Steel girders and a cracked expanse of cement indicated that this was a building that had never got beyond the foundations stage. A white Econovan was parked on it. The paint was clean. There was no rust and the tyres had been blacked.
‘What’s she like?’ Wyatt said.
‘What you ordered,’ Loman said. ‘Reliable, fair acceleration, untraceable.’
‘Let me check.’
‘No skin off my nose,’ Loman said. He handed Wyatt the keys.
Wyatt warmed the engine for five minutes before testing the handbrake and the clutch. Then he took the van for a ten kilometre test run. He listened to the engine’s response to varying conditions and ran up and down the gears several times. The Econovan was twelve years old and would not win any races, but it would do.
Back at Loman’s he nodded and said simply, ‘Okay.’
He let Hobba drive back to the city. After some minutes he began to look fixedly at Hobba’s face. Hobba began to squirm and shift in his seat, and finally he said, ‘Something wrong?’
‘You told me Pedersen’s clean.’
‘Far as I know’
‘He was feeding his face with uppers last night.’
‘Max was?’ Hobba shook his head as if to say human weaknesses caused him no surprise, only great weariness. ‘Stupid, stupid bastard.’
‘It’s not that simple,’ Wyatt said. ‘I don’t want him fucking up. At the first sign, I abort the job and I waste him. I want you to tell him that.’
Hobba drove with one hand and fished a mint from the tin in his pocket with the other. ‘Will do,’ he said around the mint. He had paled a little.
Wyatt sat back and closed his eyes. There was nothing more to be said. He was no good at small talk, though he knew how much other people depended on it. Small talk saw them through tension and assured them that they had a place in the scheme of things. But Wyatt wasn’t in the mood for Hobba’s observations about life and fate and God, and he knew that his closed eyes would dissuade the fat man from making any.
He thought about Pedersen and his habit and the Finn job. Wyatt liked to think that he never tempted fate. If a job didn’t look safe, he wouldn’t do it. But he wondered how true that was. Wasn’t he in fact addicted to a certain type of risk?
Then he thought about Anna Reid. It was unlike him to be distracted by a woman before a job, or to let himself get in a position where he was distracted. He realised that he enjoyed working with her. She had a role to play in this job, sure, but it was more than that. He wanted to please her, and he found himself thinking about the time after the job.
Hobba coughed. ‘Wyatt? We’re here.’
Wyatt opened his eyes. The van was travelling adjacent to a block on Elizabeth Street devoted to cheap car-rental firms. Hobba swung into the kerb.
‘You know what to do?’ Wyatt said.
Hobba nodded. ‘Take over from you at three-thirty.’
Wyatt got out and crossed the road to Economy Rentals. He heard Hobba put the van in gear and pull out into the traffic again. He pushed open the door of Economy Rentals and went inside. He looked at his watch. Midday. In half an hour he would be taking over from Pedersen.
Twenty minutes later he was turning into Quiller Place in a brown Falcon sedan.
Wyatt stopped at a customer carpark behind the shops that fronted onto Toorak Road, backed in, switched off the engine and opened a newspaper. He looked like a man waiting for his wife.
At first, Quiller Place seemed to be dead, but bit by bit Wyatt gained an impression of the daily rhythms of the little street. A postwoman came by soon after he started his watch. She wore a slicker, though it was not raining, and pushed her cart with an air of contempt for the street, the postcode. As soon as she had gone, all the elderly people in the houses on either side of Finn’s office came out to check their mail boxes. They greeted one another, or stopped to talk. One disappointed woman looked twice in her box, stepped out to watch the postie’s departing back, looked sourly up and down Quiller Place. An old man in a walking frame crossed to the shops. Five minutes later, a home-care nurse ran out, looking around wildly for him.
Between twelve-thirty and one, sales assistants and managers straggled into Quiller Place from the Toorak Road shops. They sat in their cars to eat sandwiches or drove somewhere for lunch. Most were back by two.
Then came a wave of afternoon shoppers. Wyatt watched them above his newspaper, young mothers mostly, creeping down Quiller Place in glossy Range Rovers, Volvos and Mercedes wagons with ski racks. They parked in the street or the customer parking areas and locked their cars, braced for the chilly wind in Italian leather coats or bright ski parkas and high boots and gloves. They were away for long periods, and emerged from the lanes leading to Toorak Road laden with parcels. One or two with small children met lovers, mummy’s friend.
Five people visited Finn’s office. Wyatt tried and failed to guess whose clients they were. They were well-dressed-two yuppies and three smart, middle-aged women-and if they were distressed or in trouble you’d never know it from looking at them. He checked his watch each time: five minutes to the hour, five minutes to the half hour.
Did Anna Reid inspire trust in her clients? Suddenly Wyatt wanted to see and touch her. The feeling came so hard and strong that he realised he had been suppressing it. He remembered how it had been last night, her swinging hair and her long throat and the smell of her skin. Within minutes of his arrival she had been wearing nothing under her skirt and was hoisting herself onto the kitchen bench to let him nuzzle her while she held him there in the clamp of her gleaming legs, her back arched. It had been rich and humid and now Wyatt wanted her again. He tried concentrating, willing her to appear. But she did not, and he felt foolish.
Ten past three. No one paid Wyatt or his shabby car any attention. The people here were too self-absorbed for that. But he knew they were not so self-absorbed as to overlook a car that never moved, or a man who never shopped or picked up his wife or finished reading his newspaper. That’s why the three shifts each day, the three different vehicles.
At three-fifteen a police car turned in at the top end of Quiller Place. Two young constables, a man and a woman, examined both sides of the street. Wyatt started the Falcon, drove forward at an awkward angle, and, looking behind him, his arm stretched out along the seat, backed up as if to correct the angle.
He did this three times while the patrol car cruised along and out of the street. Nothing unusual-just someone who has muffed his parking.
Wyatt thought about it. A cop car on a side street in the middle of the afternoon? A regular beat? Just in case, he got out of the Falcon and stood out of sight near the ornamental shrubbery behind a bookshop. He would wait for Hobba there. If the cops came back, he would abandon the car and slip through to Toorak Road.
Fifteen minutes went by. At three-thirty Finn came out of his office, crossed Quiller Place, and went into the rear entrance of the cafe. His coffee break. Wyatt wrote down the time. The cops would have been back by now, surely.
When Hobba appeared, passing slowly down the street in the Econovan, Wyatt put away his notebook and got into the Falcon. He didn’t acknowledge Hobba but drove out of the street. He was hungry and thirsty and cold and the day wasn’t over yet.
If Ivan wants to drop his bundle, Sugarfoot thought, that’s his problem. No way am I going to just act as if nothing’s happened.
Once planted, the resolution grew. He could see three clear reasons for going on the offensive. One, settle his personal scores with Wyatt and Hobba. Two, recover Ken Sala’s take so they wouldn’t be out of pocket. Three, hijack Wyatt’s job and make some real money for a change.
But Ivan had him airing mouldy carpets and collecting small debts all day on Wednesday, so by the time he got to the saloon bar of the Kings Head and put out some feelers, the only thing available was an old.25 pistol with a silencer.
Even at home he couldn’t get any peace. Rolfe was in the kitchen mixing dried fruit and nuts for a bushwalk next weekend, and Tina was going on about how men never put the seat down afterwards, they always splashed and dribbled, and she for one felt revolted and in future someone else could clean the loo.
So Sugarfoot shut himself in his room, did a line of coke and turned on the box. He watched the Channel 2 news because (a) there were no ads, and (b) he liked the way Edwin Maher did the weather.
At seven-thirty he went downstairs. Tina was doing the washing-up. He wanted to say it wouldn’t hurt her to include him in the evening meal sometimes, but remembered it would be lentils, so he said what he’d come down to say: ‘Tina, are you going out tonight?’
She didn’t turn around. ‘Why?’
‘Can I ask a favour?’
‘Can I borrow your Kombi?’
This time she turned around. ‘What’s wrong with your car?’
Well they fucking know my car and I don’t want to get ambushed again. ‘Nothing,’ Sugarfoot said. ‘I told this mate of mine I’d help him shift some furniture.’
‘You’ve got a mate?’
He said bitterly, ‘Forget it,’ and turned to leave.
‘Come back, Sugar. I didn’t mean it.’ Her face was red, half remorseful. ‘When do you need it?’
She began shrugging and showing indifference-a typical woman thing, Sugarfoot thought. Finally she said, ‘I suppose it’s all right.’
Couldn’t be a simple matter, though. Couldn’t just hand over the keys. He had to wait while she said, ‘Be careful with it. Plus if you could put some petrol in.’
Fucking do me a favour sometime. Sugarfoot took the keys from her outstretched hand. Then she seemed to notice him for the first time. ‘There’s something different about you. Have you had a haircut?’
‘You could say that.’
He turned around and left the room. Upstairs he watched a video. At nine o’clock he stuck the silenced.25 in his belt, put on his long coat, went downstairs, and started Tina’s Kombi.
By nine-thirty he was outside Hobba’s scungy Housing Commission flat on Racecourse Road. He had no clear plan, intending only to rely on surprise. He went up to the eighth floor, knocked, got no answer, and came down again. He didn’t want to miss Hobba, but he was also nervous that the ethnic kids might decide to firebomb Tina’s van.
Plus there was a lot of action going on. Police and ambulances up and down Racecourse Road, shouts in the darkness, hoons laying rubber in their panel vans, the police helicopter poking about with a searchlight.
Animals staggering home from the pub, pissing and chucking in the lifts and stairwells.
When Hobba hadn’t shown by midnight, Sugarfoot thought, maybe the bastards are all at Pedersen’s. Ten minutes later he was negotiating the tidy garden beds and gravel paths around Pedersen’s neat weatherboard house. He got in through the porch at the rear and made his way-flat against the wall, both hands on the.25, barrel next to his ear- through every room in the house.
Pedersen wasn’t home either.
He sat on a vinyl couch and thought about that.
They’ve done the job and Pedersen is out celebrating. He comes in late and tired. He’s just going to turn on the light when a voice comes out of the darkness: ‘Been out, have we? About that job you pulled… ‘
Pedersen paralysed, mouth open, a sitting target.
By 2 am Sugarfoot was thinking, bastard, he’s probably in Bali, getting his dick massaged on Kuta Beach.
He left, using the front door this time.
And felt his foot kick against something on the welcome mat. He crouched down to look. Just shows you, never jump to hasty conclusions. Two copies of the Herald-Sun, yesterday’s and today’s. Pedersen hasn’t been home at all. Nor has Hobba. They’ve gone to ground somewhere.
The trouble with being a loner is, you can’t have guys watching until someone, somewhere, shows himself. Sugarfoot drove the Kombi back to Collingwood, feeling tired and depressed. Another big day tomorrow.
On Thursday morning, Hobba took the eight-thirty to twelve-thirty shift, Pedersen went out to buy the two-way radios, and Wyatt picked up the transfers. They were fancy transfers, the bogus company name in futuristic black lettering. He was applying them to the sides and back of the van, smoothing out the wrinkles and air pockets, when Pedersen returned with the radios.
‘We’ll test,’ Wyatt said.
He closed the steel garage door on Pedersen and walked up to the street level. He let a taxi pass, then pressed the transmit button. ‘How’s that?’
Pedersen’s voice erupted, sharp and distorted: ‘Loud and clear’
In the lock-up again, Wyatt helped Pedersen remove their prints from the van. From now on they would wear gloves. The van’s papers were untraceable, but both Pedersen and Hobba had served time, so their prints were on record.
They worked in silence. It didn’t seem to suit Pedersen. Wyatt could feel the sideways looks. Eventually Pedersen said, ‘Know the first thing I’m going to do with my cut?’
Wyatt felt no curiosity about Pedersen. He was interested only in how solid Pedersen was. But he said, keeping it light, knowing Pedersen wouldn’t matter after tomorrow, ‘New wardrobe?’
Pedersen scowled, brushing his hands on his japara. ‘Four-wheel-drive, something with a bit of style, like a Range Rover.’
‘Then you’ll need a different hat,’ Wyatt said. ‘Nice Akubra with a broad brim. Plus moleskins and riding boots.’
‘What am I, a fucking mountain cattleman?’ Pedersen waved his John Deere cap and might have stepped out of a film about a small town in Texas. ‘What about you?’ he said.
This was meaningless small talk and Wyatt hated it. He could never think of things to say or reasons to say them. ‘This and that,’ he said.
Pedersen’s face tightened. He stared at Wyatt. ‘You’re a close bastard, good at all this-’ he gestured at the van, the job ahead of them ‘-but a cunt to work with. Try unwinding. A bloke likes to know who he’s working with.’
Wyatt spoke quietly, the words flat and cold. ‘Let me down and I’ll kill you. You’d do the same to me. That’s all we need to know about each other.’
Pedersen watched Wyatt, nodding knowingly. It was a way of saying that Wyatt didn’t have all the answers.
Wyatt swung into the van’s driver’s seat. ‘We’ve got work to do.’
Pedersen locked the garage door behind them and got into the passenger seat, sitting close to the door. He didn’t speak. He opened the street directory and began noting alternative routes between Finn’s office and the safe house.
Wyatt said, ‘If possible, avoid major intersections, right-hand turns, pedestrian crossings, road works.’
Pedersen did not look up. ‘I done this before.’
‘Make a note of times: for each leg, duration of traffic lights, anything.’
Pedersen pulled back his sleeve, revealing a Timex on his broad, corded wrist. He wrote down the time, ten o’clock.
The traffic was medium to heavy. Wyatt drove along St Kilda Road and then into Toorak Road. He crossed Punt Road and Chapel Street, turned right into the side street connecting with Quiller Place, and parked adjacent to the T-junction.
‘We can do it two main ways,’ Pedersen said. ‘Either go back the way we came, or go via Commercial Road. Both mean lights and trams. There would be a right turn to get onto Commercial, and a right turn if we went back on St Kilda Road.’
Pedersen looked at the map. ‘They’re mainly one-way. We’ll have to choose the right ones.’
Wyatt didn’t like side streets. They meant stop signs, roundabouts, speed humps, people reversing out of driveways. He said, ‘We’ll try the main roads first.’
During the next two hours they timed the main routes twice, first at a cautious speed and then pushing it, Wyatt anticipating lights, trams, gaps in the traffic. Pedersen read the map, looked out for cops-and for Sugarfoot Younger.
They were beaten by the trams, the constant picking up and letting down of passengers. Frustrated, they watched small cars slip past while their big van idled uselessly, waiting for the trams to move on. In Toorak Road, matrons in furs manoeuvred Rolls Royces in front of them, and there were delivery vans double-parked outside the boutiques. In Chapel Street council workers were digging trenches.
‘No choice,’ Wyatt said. ‘Has to be side streets.’
Pedersen looked at the map and they tried again. By midday they had their route. It was a compromise, making use of the main streets and a system of narrow residential streets. After three runs, Wyatt had the trip down to twelve minutes. Pedersen, gloomy for so long, suddenly grinned. ‘Home and dry before they even raise the alarm.’
Wyatt pulled on the hand brake.. ‘Twelve-fifteen. Time for your shift.’
The grin faded. ‘All go, eh, Wyatt?’
On Friday they rotated the shifts again. Wyatt took the first shift, and he saw the money arrive.
Two men brought it in a briefcase, late in the morning, as Anna had said they would. From the driver’s seat of a rented Datsun, he watched them drive up in a mud-splashed white Falcon, two men in tweed jackets, yellow hard hats on the rear window shelf. They were in there for five minutes, and when they came out they looked fed-up.
Hobba watched until two o’clock. Pedersen watched until four, this time on foot. At five past four, Wyatt and Hobba pulled up in the van. Pedersen climbed into the back and changed into overalls. Finn had come back from his coffee break, he told them. And he’d seen a client go in.
They hit at four-twelve.
Anyone passing on the footpath might have seen a white commercial van pull into the driveway of 5 Quiller Place and three men get out. The men wore balaclavas-it was a cold day-and overalls. They kept to the far side of the van, which meant that they couldn’t be seen clearly, but one witness, a Lady Wright, later told police crossly that ‘three tradesmen came out, pushing one of those trolley things’. There was only one other witness, a shop manager checking to see that he had switched off his car lights. He saw the van over at number 5 and said he assumed they were getting their computers serviced.
No-one saw the three men pause at the front door and pull the balaclavas over their faces, then plunge through, fast and silent.
Wyatt went to Finn’s office, Hobba to Anna Reid’s.
Pedersen locked the front door, unplugged the telephone and held his gun to Amber’s temple. He touched his forefinger to her lips and pushed down on her shoulders until she understood and sat on the floor. He said nothing.
Hobba was there first, pushing Anna Reid ahead of him. She stumbled, restricted by a close-fitting skirt. Her hair fell forward, concealing her face. ‘Who are you?’ she said, shaking it back. ‘What are you doing?’
Hobba said nothing. He pushed her onto the floor next to Amber and pressed his.38 to the top of her head.
Wyatt came in with Finn and a client-male, young, wearing a short leather jacket and designer jeans. The client was blurry, vague, as though half asleep. Finn refused to be hurried. He entered alertly, a vigorous shape in a grey, fitted suit, and stared in fury at Hobba and Pedersen and back at Wyatt. ‘You don’t know what you’re getting into here,’ he said.
Wyatt motioned with the gun.
‘What?’ Finn demanded. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Don’t, Mr Finn,’ Amber said. Her voice was shaky. ‘He wants you down here with us.’
Finn eased his big frame onto the floor. Wyatt prodded the client, who seemed to collapse in relief.
Hobba said, ‘Face each other in a circle, and put your wrists out.’
It was the only thing said by any of the men in the four minutes they were in the building. Later none of the victims could remember his exact words or what his voice was like. They were certain no names were used. They held out their wrists and felt the handcuffs click tight and they sat there then, in a circle, linked to a leg of Amber’s heavy desk, while two of the men left the room. The third stayed behind.
This one said nothing. He stood behind Anna Reid, his gun at the back of her bowed head, staring at Finn. The meaning was clear: try anything and she gets shot. Amber was certain it was a real gun. She could see bullet tips in the cylinder, and she heard the latex glove squeak against the metal. No sign of nervousness, no yelling, no waving of guns around. The policeman who later took her statement nodded. ‘Pros,’ he told her.
In Finn’s office, Hobba and Pedersen worked fast, slipping a cardboard carton over the safe and tipping it onto the trolley.
Wyatt heard them returning, the trolley wheels grumbling on the polished floor of the hall. Then he heard them go out the front door. He did not look round. He kept his gun on Anna Reid and his eyes on Finn.
A minute later there was a rap on the door frame. It’s done.
Wyatt touched his knee very gently against Anna’s shoulder, then backed out of the room, his gun now pointed at Finn. Finn seemed to swell, to spit his words: ‘I’ll find you bastards.’
In the hallway they removed their balaclavas, then left the house and heaved the safe into the rear of the van. Hobba scrambled in after it. Pedersen slammed the door and got into the passenger seat. Wyatt had the engine running. He eased them out of Quiller Place and onto Toorak Road, No-one looked twice at them.
At Chapel Street, Wyatt turned south for three blocks, then he cut in front of a tram and entered the system of side streets mapped out for him by Pedersen. They were narrow streets, made narrower by small glossy cars. A dog ran into their path from behind a red MG and they felt and heard the wheels tumble and crush it. Dogs here were valued over children. There would be outrage on Channel 10 tonight.
Then they were on Punt Road, still going south, quite fast now, but no faster than any combative peak-hour driver. An easy right with the lights onto Commercial Road, a smooth run onto St Kilda Road, heading north for a few blocks in the service lane, then quickly left, left again, and down with a gentle bump to the underground level and into the lock-up garage.
Wyatt began stripping off the transfers and unbolting the false number plates. Hobba joined Pedersen in the back of the van. Wyatt heard them conferring. Then Pedersen got out. ‘Wyatt, I can’t drill-the casing’s mill-hard grid, take hours. I’ll have to blow it.’
‘Can you do it without hurting the money?’
‘Piece of cake.’ Pedersen demonstrated with his hands. ‘What I do is, I concentrate the blast around the lock. No flying metal, just some smoke and noise.’
Wyatt nodded. He helped them unload the safe, backed the van out, and shut the garage door on them. Then, leaving Pedersen and Hobba to set the plastic explosive, he went up to the street level with a radio. After five minutes Hobba said, ‘All clear?’
The home-time traffic was heavy on St Kilda Road to Wyatt’s left and on Queens Road to his right, but here outside the pink and grey apartment block there was no traffic. He had been thinking of Sugarfoot Younger, but there was nothing to indicate that Sugarfoot was about. ‘All clear.’
There was a dull thud, like a distant door slamming. The radio crackled, as if Hobba’s hand had tightened in reflex.
Wyatt waited. They were taking a long time. He said, ‘All right?’
‘Wait a tick,’ Hobba replied. ‘My fucking ears. There’s smoke everywhere.’
Two minutes later, the radio crackled again. It was Hobba. ‘You little beauty.’
Wyatt walked down into the underground garage again and drove the van back into the lock-up. He could smell smoke; the air was still heavy with it. Hobba and Pedersen were crouched over the safe, which was blackened from the force of the explosion. The little door stood open, scorched and buckled, revealing small stacks of fifty- and hundred-dollar notes. Hobba hadn’t waited. He was bundling the money into a Qantas bag.
Wyatt unsnapped the fasteners of his overalls. ‘I’ll dump the van tomorrow but you two won’t be coming down here again so check you’ve got everything. Max, you dump the overalls and the balaclavas.’
Pedersen didn’t respond at first. Then he uttered a short laugh and looked around at Hobba. ‘Listen to him, would you. Give us a smile, Wyatt. Look at all the lovely loot.’
Wyatt ignored him. He stuffed his overalls, gloves and balaclava into a shopping bag, then retrieved and wiped the three.38 revolvers.
‘Forget it, Max,’ Hobba said.
‘Well he gives me the shits,’ Pedersen said.
After the initial fear and upset, and with them all sitting there like that, wrist to wrist on the carpet, Finn said, to gauge their reactions, ‘This was a personal thing, you know.’
He watched them. The client was out of it, no problem there. Amber, a bit tearful, sniffed and said, ‘Personal?’ Anna Reid gave him her level look. Just lately he never knew what went on in her head.
‘There wasn’t much in the safe,’ he said. ‘Someone was just out to get at me, that’s all.’
‘Who?’ Amber said, distracted and miserable. She lifted a hand to wipe her nose, realised she couldn’t, and leaned down to where her wrist was manacled to Anna Reid’s, Anna watching her neutrally.
‘It’s something I can handle,’ Finn said, his expression telling them this was something tricky and private. He waited, watching them. ‘I’ll do the right thing by each of you, of course. There’s no need to worry on that score.’
Amber, blearily concentrating, frowned at him. ‘Pardon?’
‘He wants us to keep it quiet,’ Anna said. This with one of her glittering looks.
Amber was shocked. ‘Mr Finn, we can’t, it’s not right, you have to tell the police.’
With both hands weighed down by handcuffed wrists, Finn had to settle for placating her with raised palms. ‘I’m sorry. You’re quite right.’
‘I mean, they had guns. They could’ve hurt us. What if they do worse things to someone else next time?’
‘I hear what you’re saying,’ Finn said, ‘but I thought you wouldn’t want the police tramping through here, that’s all, upsetting everyone with their questions, etcetera, etcetera.’
No, Amber told him, recovering quickly, this was heavy duty and he must let the police know. ‘Anyhow,’ she said, ‘people would’ve seen something out in the street.’
Finn breathed out heavily. ‘You’re right,’ he said. Anna was giving him a mocking eyebrow, Amber was giving him the shits, and the client might as well have been asleep. ‘Okay, we’d better ring them,’ he said.
Their situation brought films to mind. They all had to shuffle and reposition themselves until Amber was on her side, stretching out to plug the phone lead back into the wall socket. Then she pulled the telephone off the desk. She was about to press the buttons when she froze, giggling nervously. ‘I don’t know the number,’ she said. ‘Is it 999?’
‘I think it’s 000,’ Anna Reid said. ‘Or 11444 if you want to get straight through to D24.’
Finn let them play at this. All the time, his mind was racing, anticipating the police questions, the media questions, wondering how, when everyone had gone home, he’d explain this to Bauer, wondering how Bauer could stop the damage going any further.
Sugarfoot didn’t get as far as the weather news this time. His attention was caught by one of the lead stories, about an armed hold-up in South Yarra, three men, and how the getaway van was driven so dangerously a dog was killed.
It wasn’t much, but the details fitted: the location, the three armed men. He turned off the television set and started dial hunting on the radio. By eight o’clock he had more information: the actual street, and a name, a lawyer called Finn.
You had to have a strategy. He collected his Melways street directory from the Customline, took it back to his room and began to assemble what he knew. Using scraps of paper, he marked the location of the lawyer’s office and where Hobba, Pedersen and Rossiter lived.
He sat back. Where should he start? He’d sort of come full circle in his thinking. A few days ago he wanted a piece of Wyatt’s action. Since Tuesday, all he’d wanted was to get even. Now he felt more on track, wanting a cut and wanting to get even.
Thinking about it, why not set up a deal? Go to one of them and say. fifty-fifty or I talk. Sixty-forty maybe.
Or take a cut and then drop word where the cops will hear it. Let the cops take care of the revenge angle.
Better still, take a cut now and hit them one by one-weeks, months, later, when they’re least expecting it.
He’d better hit now, though, before any of them had time to consolidate or slip away or spend the money.
But when Sugarfoot staked out Hobba’s flat and Pedersen’s house again, it was as if nothing had changed since Tuesday. Still no-one was at home. Still there were newspapers on Pedersen’s welcome mat-a total of four now.
If they didn’t show up tomorrow, he didn’t know what he’d do.
When he got home, Tina had a message for him. ‘Your brother’s trying to get hold of you. He’s rung four times already. I told him you were out, but he just keeps ringing.’
‘I’ll call him.’
‘I mean, I’m trying to do my chart,’ Tina said.
Ivan answered on the first ring. ‘Younger.’
‘It’s me,’ Sugarfoot said.
‘Thank Christ for that.’ Ivan sounded panicky. ‘Bauer called me earlier. Someone hit one of the outfit’s operations this afternoon and he wants us to start putting the word out on the street. Ten thousand bucks to anyone who can give him a lead.’
‘What was it?’
‘It’s on the news. Some lawyer got done over in South Yarra. That’s all I know. I didn’t ask questions.’
It made Sugarfoot feel good hearing Ivan fall apart like this. He said calmly, ‘You’re putting two and two together, right?’
‘Sugar, listen, I know you’ve got it in for Wyatt, but just let it rest, okay? No heroics. No getting tempted. If Bauer finds out Wyatt hit Ken Sala as well, we’re stuffed.’
‘Whatever you say,’ Sugarfoot said.
Wyatt woke early on Saturday morning, feeling sharp and well. He showered, packed his things together and stood at the kitchen bench to eat toast and drink coffee. Pedersen was sprawled on the couch, asleep, and Wyatt could hear the snores of Hobba in the second bedroom. He looked at his watch: seven-thirty. At eight o’clock Anna Reid was coming by to collect her share of the three hundred thousand dollars. Then they would drive to his place on the coast. At five minutes to eight he was waiting for her in the foyer of the safe house.
Her black Volkswagen pulled up outside just after eight o’clock. He didn’t leave the building but watched the car and the street. When he was satisfied that she was alone he went out to the car. She saw him, smiled, and slipped across to the passenger seat, saying, ‘You know the way.’ He stashed his bags on the back seat, got in behind the wheel, kissed her and started the engine.
He didn’t speak until they were through St Kilda junction. He said, ‘Any problems with the cops about going away for the weekend?’
‘I just told them I felt upset but I’d be back at work on Monday.’
Wyatt nodded. ‘You might like to look in the black bag.’
She smiled and reached around behind him. He heard her draw open the zip and then she was waggling a wad of hundred-dollar notes under his nose. ‘All mine?’
He nodded. ‘What did the cops say?’
‘A professional job.’
‘They were puzzled, wanting to know what Finn had in the safe that was so valuable.’
‘They questioned you separately?’
She nodded. ‘We were split up as soon as the doctor said it was okay.’
‘Just routine. They thought we might need attention.’
‘What about later? Did you talk about it with the others?’
Anna moved closer to him, putting her hand on his thigh. ‘We sent Amber and the client home. Finn was a bit embarrassed. He said he assumed I knew about his planning permission deals. Told me there was a large settlement in the safe that he couldn’t tell the police about.’
‘So how did he explain it to them?’
‘Said he had cheques, bonds, share certificates, odds and ends like that, some his, some his clients’. Ten thousand dollars worth, covered by insurance.’
‘Were they satisfied with that?’
‘Seemed to be. A detective asked me didn’t I think it was well planned-the robbers knew the layout, had guns, disguises, a disguised vehicle.’
‘What did you say’
‘I told him it seemed to be. He asked me about Finn’s clients. I said we worked separately, I didn’t know them.’
Wyatt said, ‘With any luck they’ll concentrate on Finn.’
They fell silent. The traffic was heavy through Frankston, Mornington and Mt Martha, and for a while Wyatt forgot about Anna. He found himself absorbed with his driving, braking often, alert for mulish families and weekend farmers who were fleeing the city in four-wheel-drives, hauling horse floats and boat trailers behind them. They scared him. The village atmosphere was long gone from this part of the bay. Mansions in the form of Californian funeral homes competed for advantage on the cleared slopes leading to the beaches. Here worth was measured by sundeck area, pool size, garage capacity. All along the coast, real estate agencies outnumbered milk-bars by four to one, and the councillors rubbed their gym-tanned hands together, knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Eventually, in frustration, he turned off and took back roads to Shoreham.
It was cold at the cottage. While Anna explored the house, the sheds and the garden, he chopped firewood, stacked the logs on the lounge-room hearth and lit a fire.
He was aware of smells-the splintery new wood, the sea, Anna Reid. His muscles ached agreeably. Soon they would make love, and then he would take her for a walk along the beach.
He thought how it might be. They would be occasional lovers and it wouldn’t go anywhere and that would suit both of them.
He wondered how dedicated she was to her job. The last few days had made her feel alive, she’d said. She could be useful to him. He had at least a dozen scams in mind that required a woman.
Meanwhile, he would hide his share of the money and next week begin the careful process of converting it. Some small deposits, some paintings, some shares and bonds.
He looked up as she entered the room. For once he wasn’t interested in taking his customary six months somewhere warm.
The word was out on the street now, so all Bauer could do was wait. He spent the morning in his workshop, tuned to the easy listening station, humming along to Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, and sometimes someone a bit racier, like Joan Armatrading.
Humming helped him to concentrate. On the bench in front of him was a packet of.38 calibre hollow-nose cartridges. Taking them five at a time, he prised the lead noses out of their brass jackets and upended them in a small vice. He filled the hollows with mercury from a dropper, sealed them with wax melted on a bunsen burner, and fitted them in the brass jackets again.
He might never use the cartridges, but he liked to have them ready. He’d seen the damage they could do to a kaffir’s back, the mercury forcing its way through the nose and spreading out, causing a massive wound and certain death from blood loss if nothing else. Bauer hummed along with Barry Manilow, his fingers deft with the little cartridges.
There was a telephone on the bench. He was patient. Someone would bite, hooked by ten thousand dollars.
He felt secure in here. There was no window. The furniture consisted of the work bench, a chair, a planet lamp, filing cabinets, shelves and a small wardrobe. His rifles and target pistols were behind glass in a cabinet on one of the walls. The environment was atmosphere controlled, and Bauer cleaned and oiled his guns regularly. Shelves on a second wall held telescopic sights, tinted shooting glasses, earmuffs, gun oil, rags, brushes and boxes of ammunition. On the wall above the work bench, beneath ordnance survey maps, was a shelf of manuals and back issues of Soldier of Fortune.
The wardrobe was next to the airtight door. In it were the jackets and trousers he wore for hunting and shooting-range practice. Some of the clothing was black, some khaki, some in camouflage shading. He kept rubber-and-canvas boots at the bottom. The drawers held belts, webbing, clips, black skivvies, T-shirts, balaclavas and holsters. Familiar gear, similar to the gear he’d worn fifteen years ago, hunting terrorists across the border into Mozambique. These days he bought his stuff from a mail-order firm which had a booth at the Soldier of Fortune convention in Las Vegas.
The phone rang at midday. A woman’s voice, drowsy with recent sleep, said, ‘Are you the one offering the reward?’
‘Reward,’ Bauer said flatly.
The voice grew flustered and uncertain. ‘You know, for information.’
‘About some robbery. A safe.’
The voice was silent. Then, ‘This reward-is it the real thing?’
‘If the information is useful.’
‘How will I know if it’s useful?’
‘I’ll know,’ Bauer said. ‘Who are you? Where are you? What do you know?’
‘I’m not stupid enough to tell you over the phone, now am I? I want to see the colour of your money first.’
‘Where and when?’ Bauer’s tone was quick and contemptuous and it rattled the woman on the other end. She gave him an address in Fitzroy, for two o’clock.
The line went dead. Bauer resumed work on the cartridges. After a while he began to hum, smiling because he knew the address. He didn’t know what it all meant yet, but he soon would.
He finished the cartridges, packed them away, and decided to get ready. He was mindful of what might be ahead. Whatever it was, it would be close and quick and it needed to be quiet.
He opened the gun cabinet and took out the.22 pistol. With this gun Bauer was capable of placing six rounds in a ten-centimetre grouping across a cardboard chest at twenty metres, but today would be close-range work and that’s what the.22 was best suited for. Also, the gun had no history and the little slugs he used would tear apart in the body and be useless as ballistics evidence. He checked the clip: full. Unfortunately, the wood grip was too oily from all his good care so he wrapped it in rubber bands so it wouldn’t shift in his hand. He slapped the gun from one palm to the other. Left or right, he was good with both.
Then a silencer, a shoulder holster and his short black quilted coat. He checked the mirror: nothing showed. Bauer believed there were too many cowboys in his game. If not selling absurd T-shirts they were lugging around Colt Python.357 magnums weighing 47 ounces. After a while they got tempted, tried a thrill killing or a hold-up, but they always got caught, always held onto their guns or failed to clean their prints off the shells they ejected at the scene.
He put on lightweight combat boots, locked the door behind him and went to the kitchen to wait. As usual, Placida was there, listening to a cassette of wailing love songs of the Philippines. It was a harsh white room, the neon strip-lighting cold and bright in the ceiling. A clock ticked on the wall. Placida looked up as he entered, saw how he was dressed, and paled.
Bauer watched her. ‘Come here,’ he said. His voice was like gravel crushing.
She approached, her eyes cast down. ‘You know what to do,’ Bauer said, pushing down on her head.
Sugarfoot was up at eight that morning, surprising Rolfe at his muesli and Tina in the bathroom, tugging closed the plastic shower curtain. ‘I won’t look,’ he said, catching a flash for the first time, and not too bad either.
‘Put the seat down after,’ she yelled. ‘Watch your aim.’
Sugarfoot took his time, playing the stream in the bowl. He lifted his head and called, ‘Hey, Teen.’
‘Can I borrow the van again?’
Sounds of angry soaping. ‘When?’
‘Now. This morning. My mate’s getting rid of his bookshelves.’
He half expected her to say, ‘Can read, can he?’ but she said, ‘All right, but I need it lunchtime.’
‘No worries.’ He shook the drops off into the bowl. She yelled, as if she’d been peeking, ‘Don’t dribble.’
So he flushed, making her water run scalding hot.
By quarter to nine he was parked behind bushes in the Housing Commission car park. The flats loomed like rock slabs on a cold plain, the window glass distorting the wintry morning sun like icicles. From where he sat, Sugarfoot could see anyone who entered or left Hobba’s block. At this hour, plenty of people were about, going miserably to work or the Vic Market in rusted cars, or walking to the tram stop. There were kids in parkas, fucking ethnic kids all brushed and combed, a sure sign they had parents working two jobs to buy a house out in the suburbs.
He took the stinking lift to the eighth floor, saw that Hobba hadn’t come home yet, and went downstairs again. The flats created a wind tunnel and he had to hunch over against the gusting air and kick away paper scraps that clung to his shins.
It was chilly in the Kombi, the vinyl seat grim and unyielding. He sat there shivering in his long coat, wondering if he could risk crossing the road to buy a vanilla slice and takeaway coffee. Not even nine-thirty and he might have a long wait ahead of him.
He got out and ran across to the cafe, holding his forearm against his waist to keep the little.25 in place. He was back in three minutes. The coffee was only lukewarm and the vanilla slice smaller than usual, stale and shrunken-looking, but they made him feel better.
Thirty minutes later the coffee and the coldness got the better of his bladder.
No public toilet anywhere. He couldn’t risk going to the pub on the corner: too far away and he might miss Hobba.
That left the flats. Piss in the lift like everyone else. He got out of the van, locked his door, looked around and started walking.
And halfway across open ground, in broad daylight, he felt something hard press against his troubled kidneys, and heard Hobba say softly, ‘It’s a gun, cowboy. Don’t stop. Just keep walking.’
Sugarfoot’s first impulse was to put up his hands. To control them he put them in his pockets, but Hobba struck at his elbows with the gun barrel. ‘Keep them where I can see them. You carrying?’
Sugarfoot cleared his throat. ‘In my belt, under my coat.’
‘Give it to me later.’
They approached the grimy, massive columns at the base of the nearest block of flats. Ten o’clock, and no one around. Sugarfoot said, ‘What are you going to do?’
‘Shut up,’ Hobba replied.
‘Ivan knows I come here this morning, if anything happens to me.’
Hobba jabbed with the gun. ‘I said shut up.’
‘Ivan’s got contacts. Anything happens to me, you’ve had it.’
‘Sugar,’ Hobba said wearily, ‘your brother thinks you’re a fuckwit.’
‘Yeah, well he was pretty riled when he saw what you did to me the other day.’
‘But he told you to stay away, right? If he knew you were here he’d say, “Go ahead, waste the little prick”.’
Sugarfoot fell silent, suspecting it was true. They were under the building now, in a cheerless region of wind gusts, crumbling damp stucco and drifts of food scraps. Suddenly, no-one was about, not even a building supervisor, not even a Turkish widow going to the shops.
‘Stop there,’ Hobba said, and Sugarfoot felt an arm go around him, find the.25 and release him again. ‘Okay, over to the lift.’
‘Where we going?’
They stood and waited for the lift to come down. Sugarfoot looked sidelong at Hobba, taking in the plump left arm protectively clasping a soft black weekender bag. Hobba’s right hand was in his coat pocket and Sugarfoot saw the clear outline of a gun there. Hobba’s large head was set determinedly. Sugarfoot remembered the earring and the ponytail. He felt his heart begin to pound.
Get him talking, take his mind off it. ‘The news said ten thousand bucks, but it was more, right? Wyatt only goes for big jobs.’
Hobba ignored him. He had pushed the button to call the lift and was standing where he could shoot if Sugarfoot turned on him or tried to run. Sugarfoot said, ‘Look, be reasonable, let’s work something out. What say you and me hit Pedersen and Wyatt?’
‘You’d be better off praying,’ Hobba said. Then he seemed irritated with himself for responding and his face closed up.
‘I only wanted to be part of the original deal,’ Sugarfoot said. ‘That’s all.’
Hobba went up on his toes, back on his heels, waiting for the lift to come down.
‘People on the top floor will hear the shot,’ Sugarfoot said, wondering if there would be anyone at home on the top floor, then realising Hobba had something else in mind, like his outline in chalk on the ground.
The lift was coming down now, non-stop, no passengers.
‘Look, please,’ Sugarfoot pleaded.
He heard it at the same time as Hobba did, teenage kids in stretch jeans and moccasins shouting in the stairwell, pouring out of the building. They resembled apes in the zoo but just now Sugarfoot was pleased to see them. He charged, yelling, arms windmilling, flinging them onto and around Hobba.
Five seconds later he was around the corner and crossing the car park. Behind him, curses, cries of ‘Out of my fucking way’ and ‘Gis a look in the bag, mate.’
Sugarfoot fumbled open the door of Tina’s Kombi, got in, and floored it, rocking back and forth in his seat as if urging greater speed, wishing he were in the Customline, leaving snakes of rubber at every stop light between here and Bargain City.
No way was he going home.
The woman had said two o’clock but Bauer got to the Caribbean Apartments at one o’clock. He drove slowly past the entrance, parked in a nearby street and walked back.
He stood for five minutes on the footpath at the fenceline, where he could not be seen, and watched and listened. Sala had not drawn his curtains. Bauer saw him pass from room to room, singing, occasionally standing as if in doubt about something.
The fence was a low one and Bauer stepped over it and crossed the lawn to the side of the apartments, to a shaded area under an ornamental tree. He took out the.22, checked that the clip was full, and fastened the silencer to the barrel. He felt sharp and alert. He hadn’t eaten, and knew that his blood was pumping fast on his empty stomach.
He crouched and circled the building, straightening only to make a rapid inspection at each window. In Cher and Simone’s apartment the curtains were closed, but he could hear voices. They’ll be getting ready for their afternoon clients, he thought, and knocked on their door.
Cher opened it. She wore a close-fitting black dress and light make-up. Her feet were bare. She recognised the thin lips, the gaunt, tense frame. The colour drained from her face. ‘I didn’t know it was you,’ she said. ‘All I had was a number.’
Bauer entered and locked the door behind him. As Cher turned away to precede him into the flat, his arm went around her neck and he pressed the pistol against the base of her spine. He began to probe with the barrel, as if seeking her anus, then spun her around and pushed her against the wall.
‘Tell me what you know,’ he said. He watched her closely. Then he began to twist her breasts with his free hand. It was a studied act of loathing.
She swallowed audibly and grimaced in pain. She whispered, ‘Someone robbed Ken on Tuesday, and he thinks the same ones did that job in South Yarra.’
‘Where is Simone?’
Cher jerked her head. ‘In there.’
‘We will join her’
Cher led him into the lounge-room. Simone was standing on the rug in the centre of the room, staring at the burning logs in the fireplace. Without turning around to face them she said, ‘If that was Ken I hope he had something good lined up for a change.’
‘Not exactly,’ Cher said.
Something in the voice made Simone turn around. She saw Bauer with the gun pressed under Cher’s jaw, paled, and stepped back. ‘What’s going on?’
Bauer pushed Cher forward, saying, ‘Over there by your whore friend.’
When they were standing together on the rug he said, ‘Now, tell me everything. Everything.’
Simone, less frightened than Cher, laughed briefly. ‘I suppose this means we dip out on the reward, huh?’
Bauer stepped forward, taking a knife from his pocket. He touched the point to her earlobe. At first she didn’t realise that he’d nicked her with it; but then she felt blood pool in a hollow at the base of her neck and run down onto her breast. She stood stock still. ‘You dirty bastard,’ she said, in a low, passionate voice. ‘You didn’t need to do that.’
‘Talk,’ Bauer said.
‘Someone robbed Ken. The Youngers came over and roughed him up as if it was all his fault. They tied him up so he nearly choked. He’s been good to us. They didn’t have to do that to him.’
Bauer frowned. ‘What has this to do with anything? Are you lying? I was paid as usual. Nothing was said about a robbery.’
‘Maybe, but the Youngers are covering up. Someone hit Ken, the Youngers know who it was, and Ken thinks it’s got something to do with that other job, the reward one.’
Bauer began to feel his control slipping. Confined spaces made him nervous, and Simone’s blood made him think of AIDS. He had the sensation of a creeping corruption in his bloodstream. He pushed her away. ‘You will say nothing. You will behave as if nothing has happened,’ he said, backing out of there, his face twisted with disgust.
Once outside again, he breathed in and out deeply and walked around to Ken Sala’s door and pressed the doorbell.
Inside he heard Sala call, ‘Who is it?’
Bauer said nothing. He pressed the bell again.
This time Sala stood close to the door. ‘Who is it?’
‘Open the door,’ Bauer said.
He didn’t wait for the door to open fully before pushing through. Sala fell back against the wall. ‘You,’ he said. He was puffy-faced and he’d been drinking.
Bauer took out the.22 and pushed Sala into the bedroom, grinding the end of the silencer under his jaw.
‘Tell me what happened.’
Sala focused slowly. ‘Did the girls tell you? We were ordered to keep it quiet.’
‘You may tell me,’ Bauer said coldly.
‘On Tuesday I’d just collected the take when these two guys came bursting in and roughed me up and took the lot.’
‘Who were they?’
‘Never seen them before.’
‘Perhaps you’re dissatisfied. Perhaps you decided to take a bigger slice.’
Sala was frustrated. ‘That’s what Sugarfoot said. You got to believe me-I was robbed. I got a good thing going here. I wouldn’t fuck that up. I mean, Jesus.’
He had his hands flat on the bed next to his thighs. He rocked back and forth. He was terrified and more than likely telling the truth.
More than likely: it was qualification enough for Bauer to fire the pistol. There was a small spurt of blue flame and two almost co-existent sounds: the huff of the silenced shot and the punch of the bullet through Ken Sala’s left hand.
Sala looked down. There was little to see at first, but then blood began to seep from the small puncture wound on the back of his hand. He slowly raised the hand and examined it, both sides. Then he tucked it in his armpit. He said, disbelievingly, ‘You shot me.’ He looked down at the bed cover, at another puncture mark, stained red at the edges. ‘You bloody well shot me.’
He began to wail terribly. The rocking grew more agitated and he slid off the bed and onto the floor.
Bauer straddled him. ‘Tell me about the two men.’
‘I don’t know,’ Sala said. ‘I don’t know.’
He tried to get up, but felt Bauer’s foot on his face.
‘Answer me,’ Bauer said.
Sala twisted and twitched beneath the foot like some baffled animal shot in the spine. Again he tried to raise himself and again Bauer held him down.
‘Are you ready to answer me?’
Sala went still. His chest was heaving. ‘Two of them,’ he said. He jerked as if to rid himself of the heavy foot.
‘Two men. That is not specific,’ Bauer said. ‘Describe them to me.’
Sala burped and coughed suddenly, enveloping Bauer in a fug of stale alcohol and panic. He said, ‘Let me up, please. I can’t think down here.’
Bauer removed his foot and stepped back. He watched as Sala climbed to his feet and sat on the edge of the bed. ‘Begin,’ he said.
‘They wore balaclavas. But the Youngers seemed to know who they were.’
‘Wyatt was one. Hobba. I never heard of them.’
‘Ivan thinks it was personal, Sugar thinks they’re funding a bigger job.’
‘What do you think?’
Sala was rocking to and fro on the bed. ‘I don’t think anything. I was told to shut up about it. What happens now? What do I say to Ivan?’
Bauer regarded him with distaste. ‘Don’t say anything. I will be in touch.’
‘I need a doctor.’
‘The girls will take you,’ Bauer said.
He left the bedroom, closing the door and telling Sala to stay there. In the kitchen he found a wall-mounted telephone. He dialled a Sydney number. When he spoke it was to give a report and a recommendation. He spoke clearly and concisely for two minutes without repeating himself. The reply was what he expected it to be. He broke the connection again, pocketed the.22 and left the house.
The Kombi was gutless but Sugarfoot made the distance from Hobba’s to Bargain City in eight minutes. He parked in the alley, came in the back way, and stood in the showroom, catching his breath. Leanne was there, this time with a whole family of ethnics looking at kitchen chairs.
He forced himself to be casual. ‘Ivan in?’
She looked up. ‘He went home to meet someone. Are you all right?’
‘I’ll be in the storeroom,’ Sugarfoot said.
She shrugged, turning away to play peekaboo with one of the ethnic kids.
Sugarfoot shut himself in the storeroom and began to walk among the junk, feeling on edge, wondering when Ivan would get back. It was probably stupid, coming here. He’d be safer at Ivan’s house, that high wall and all that hi-tech security stuff.
Then it struck him-don’t run, go on the offensive. Hobba is alerted now, so go for Pedersen. He picked up the storeroom phone and dialled.
Pedersen, flat and wary.
‘Home at last, eh?’ Sugarfoot said. ‘Got your pockets full?’
No answer. Sugarfoot said, ‘You listening? You know who this is?’
‘Hobba called me,’ Pedersen said.
There was no inflexion in his voice. He sounded more preoccupied than surprised. Sugarfoot felt sour about that. ‘Thought you might like to do a deal,’ he said.
He heard rustling in the background, and then a complaining zipper. ‘Sounds like you might be counting your take. Am I right?’
‘I’m busy,’ Pedersen said. ‘What do you want?’
‘Mate. Think about it. I can ruin your day.’
Pedersen said, ‘I seem to remember we ruined yours. We can do it again. Fuck off.’
Sugarfoot had the upper hand. He wasn’t fazed. ‘Suit yourself. I’ll just go and have a word with the jacks, what do you reckon? Or maybe that bloke you hit, that lawyer. I mean, if you won’t cough up for me, I bet he’ll be happy to.’
A pause. Then, ‘Get to the point.’
‘That is the point. You give me a percentage, or I dob you in.’
Another pause. ‘How much?’
‘That’s better,’ Sugarfoot said. ‘They reckoned on TV ten thousand, but the take was bigger, am I right?’
Pedersen replied warily, ‘Maybe.’
‘Well, what are we looking at?’
After a while, Pedersen said, ‘Around fifty thousand.’
‘Your cut’s what, sixteen, seventeen?’
‘So if I got, say, ten thousand off each of you, you still wouldn’t be out of pocket,’ Sugarfoot said. ‘I mean, I wouldn’t want all of it.’
There was a pause, then Pedersen said clearly, ‘And we come after you and blow your miserable brains out.’
Sugarfoot was enjoying this. ‘Not if there’s this envelope, it gets opened if anything happens to me.’
‘You been watching too many films,’ Pedersen said.
Sugarfoot straightened, his feet firm and set apart on the cement floor. ‘You’re in no position to fuck with me, pal. You collect the other two and meet me now, with the money.’
‘What do you mean, you can’t? Do you want me to put the cops onto you?’
‘I mean we physically can’t make it. It will take a while to track Wyatt down.’
Sugarfoot considered. ‘All right, two this afternoon.’
‘I could need more time.’
‘Jesus. Four o’clock, no later.’
‘Where?’ Pedersen said.
‘I don’t trust you bastards. Somewhere nice and open. There’s a footbridge over the Yarra at Abbotsford, at the end of Gipps Street. Be on the middle of the bridge at four.’
‘On the bridge.’
‘Right in the middle,’ Sugarfoot said, ‘where I can see all three of you.’
See your faces, that look when you realise I’m picking you off from high ground somewhere.
He hung up. He was going to need something a bit gutsier than the Kombi.
Like Ivan’s Statesman.
They dressed again and had coffee and set out for the beach on foot. Wyatt could feel his heart and lungs working. The black soil was carpeted with winter grasses, scored here and there by plough lines and the mud eruptions of bogged farm vehicles. They skirted a chain of crisp puddles. The roadside grasses, starred and bearded with frost, reflected light from the mid-morning sun. By the time they reached the beach they could hear water dripping.
It was a windless day, grey with low clouds. But the sea must have heaved in the night, dumping seaweed and kelp along the shoreline. There were prints in the sand: a horse, a man with a crazy dog. They exchanged waves with a fisherman on the rocks.
Mostly they walked in companionable silence. Wyatt wondered if it was living alone, always in the present, that had made him unlucky. Love for him had become a brief release with women who would never know or understand what he did. The rest of the time he waited for treachery from people he was obliged to trust, and never could he relax his guard against the death dealer he’d never see, never meet. He felt that he’d almost lost the swift cleanness of his life, but things had changed now, he was in a position to see that it didn’t happen again.
They were watching a coastal freighter, their arms around each other, when Anna said, ‘What will you do now?’
Wyatt stirred. ‘Stay here. Keep a low profile.’
‘You said you usually travelled after a job.’
‘If it’s a big enough earner.’
‘Seventy-five thousand isn’t exactly peanuts.’
‘Until recently,’ Wyatt said, ‘I’d pull two or three jobs a year. One job alone netted me enough for the farm and six months in France. Things have changed.’
Anna was silent. Then she said, ‘I wondered if I’d feel guilt or remorse or fear or have second thoughts, but I feel neutral.’
Wyatt nodded absently, and said, as if thinking aloud, ‘That’s a good sign, the sign of a pro. Next time you won’t even examine your feelings.’
Anna positioned herself in front of him so that he was forced to look at her. ‘What do you mean, next time?’
Her tone was more demanding than mystified. Her expression was quizzical, as if she knew the answer, but he also saw a brief, puzzling, hunted look on her face. He touched her breasts, so briefly he might never have done it, and said, ‘It’s the pattern.’
‘What are you saying? That I’ll want to do it again?’
He watched her. He had her attention and he knew she wouldn’t run or laugh or play dumb.
‘Does it suit you,’ he said, ‘doing what you do?’
‘It’s not boring. You meet an interesting class of person, if you know what I mean.’
‘It’s not boring yet,’ Wyatt said flatly.
‘You think I’ve got a taste for crime now. Work won’t satisfy me any more, is that it?’
Wyatt said, ‘Often a good job comes along but I have to cancel it because the key role belongs to a woman, and I don’t know any who are good enough.’
She rested her stomach against his and looked at him sleepily. ‘And all I have to do is cross the line.’
‘You’ve already crossed it,’ Wyatt said. She tensed, very briefly.
Rainclouds were blowing in so they walked back to the house. The telephone rang soon after they got there. Rossiter, reading out a Melbourne number and saying it was urgent.
It was Pedersen. ‘Sugarfoot’s been sniffing around again,’ he said. ‘He tried to jump Hobba, and when that didn’t work he contacted me.’
‘What does he want?’
‘A meeting. This afternoon at four.’
Wyatt said nothing. Pedersen went on, ‘He says either we cut him in or he goes to Finn or the cops.’
‘He knows about the job?’
‘Yes. Don’t ask me how.’
‘What else does he know? Does he know about Anna Reid?’
‘I don’t know. He only mentioned you, me and Hobba. Jesus Christ, Wyatt. You know what he’s like. What if he decides to play us and Finn. You should’ve wasted him when you had the chance.’
That’s when Wyatt told him to sit tight, he would deal with it. ‘Get hold of Hobba,’ he said. ‘Go to the safe house-you’ve still got the key?’
‘I’ll meet you both there when it’s over. Do you know where Sugarfoot lives?’
‘Rossiter will know. Now, details: where and when does he want to meet?’
Pedersen told him, then said, ‘You want to watch him. He’ll try something.’
Wyatt broke the connection. Anna Reid was watching him, one expression following another in her green eyes: pleasure, alertness, calculation. She said, ‘Trouble?’
He told her about Sugarfoot Younger. ‘I let it go too long,’ he said.
She was angry suddenly. ‘Why didn’t you tell me all this before? This affects me just as much as it does you. He could be talking to Finn this very minute-or the police. Jesus, I thought you were a professional.’
‘Shut up,’ Wyatt said, so hard and sharp she stepped back.
‘What does he want?’ she said.
‘You’ll kill him, I suppose. So much for my simple safecracking job.’
‘Listen to me! His brains are fried. He’d just as soon kill you as me.’
She breathed in and out. ‘Does he know about me? Has he been following me?’
‘No. But if I miss him and he comes here, you’ve had it. I want you to stay in the safe house with the others.’
She rubbed her upper arms as if she felt cold. ‘Suddenly it’s all escalated.’
‘I’ll deal with it. Go and pack your things.’
She flushed with annoyance and left the room. Wyatt made the fireplace secure and opened the front door. He took out one of Flood’s.38s and waited, listening and watching, until Anna appeared, stuffing clothes into her leather bag.
He said, ‘I didn’t mean to be abrupt.’
‘Here’s the key to the safe house. You’d better go now.’
‘Aren’t you coming with me?’
‘It’s best if we go separately. We can’t afford to be linked in any way if something goes wrong.’
She held her arms around herself against the chilly wind. ‘When will I see you again?’
‘When it’s done. I’ll keep in touch by phone.’
‘What if something happens to you?’
‘Think about yourself, not about me. Here’s a gun, just in case. Do you know how to use it?’
Anna weighed the gun in her hand. She seemed to be speculating. It was an odd look, as though she were repelled by the gun, but fascinated and keen to use it. ‘I just point and pull the trigger, right?’
‘That’s the general idea,’ Wyatt said.
After she had gone, Wyatt rang Hertz in Frankston and reserved a Falcon using the name on his fake ID. Then he bundled old clothes into a shopping bag, pocketed a spare clip and a silencer for the Browning, and ate a sandwich. Before leaving he rang Rossiter and got Sugarfoot Younger’s address. Finally he drew on gloves: he didn’t want his prints on the rental car.
On the way to Frankston he thought about Sugarfoot. Like all amateurs, the punk seemed to be working to a pattern, repeating himself, comfortable with moves he’d made before. He’d set his mind on a big score and was taking it personally that Wyatt had excluded him. He would not let up until he got payment or got even-and he probably wanted both. He’s emotional, Wyatt thought. He’s incapable of waiting or watching or breaking new ground or trying a new pattern. He lacks control. He’s announced his hand, made himself the target.
An hour after picking up the Hertz Falcon Wyatt was in Kew, parking at the nine-hole golf course on Studley Park Road near the river. He got out, carrying the shopping bag, and cut across the golf course to a vantage point on Yarra Boulevard, trying to anticipate how Sugarfoot would do this. He had no doubt that Sugarfoot intended an ambush-and from the Kew, not the Abbotsford, side. Too many houses, cars, potential witnesses on the Abbotsford side, but here in the park Sugarfoot would have the advantage of high ground, trees and a dozen exits.
Wyatt was early by almost two hours. He didn’t expect Sugarfoot to be that early. He walked down into the park, skirting a dense belt of trees, and entered a muddy track which meandered through weeping willows, mossy logs and clumps of onion weed. No respectable person ever ventured here. Shadowy, overcoated figures coupled, softly moaning, in the gloomy light. A pale-faced man stepped onto the track, saw Wyatt’s prohibitive face, and slipped away again. Here and there a solitary shape was hunched in miserable, tense-wristed pleasure.
Wyatt passed through the trees to open ground on the far side. Avoiding two Harley-Davidsons being tested on the Boulevard’s curves, he made his way back to the footbridge where Sugarfoot had suggested they meet. It occurred to him that the noisy bikes might provide Sugarfoot with sound cover.
He stood on the top end of the path leading to the footbridge. To the left were the trees, to the right grassy open ground with seats and swings.
No-one was around. Taking temporary shelter behind a peeling gum, he emptied the shopping bag and pulled his shabby gardening coat and trousers on above his normal clothes. He put a torn, stretched woollen cap on his head. The Browning was behind his right hip. It was a flat gun, resting comfortably above his right kidney in a forward-canted holster. Finally he took out a sherry bottle bagged in brown paper, and crossed to the swings.
One of the seats faced the slippery dip and the river. He slumped in it in an attitude of dejection and prepared to wait. Three o’clock, one hour early. Now and then he raised the sherry bottle to his lips but was otherwise perfectly still, his chin on his chest, the frayed cap concealing his face. He kept one hand under his coat, holding his Browning. He had a clear view of the footbridge. When Sugarfoot arrived to make his inspection, Wyatt would spot him immediately.
During the next hour, five people entered the park from the footbridge. The first two were a businessman and a teenager with wisps of orange and blue hair who disappeared into the trees a minute apart. Two joggers thumped across the bridge soon after that. They were followed by a wino, who homed in on Wyatt’s bottle. The wino shuffled past the seat twice before hovering nearby in a test of Wyatt’s sense of brotherhood.
About to tell him to scram, Wyatt thought better of it and inched along the seat to give the man room. ‘Sit down,’ he said. He raised the bottle. ‘This’ll warm your guts.’ The wino said Ta’ delicately and drank deeply from the bottle. ‘Ah,’ he said. He wiped the rim with his sleeve.
‘Have another,’ Wyatt said.
The man was ideal cover: so obviously derelict that he coloured Wyatt and the entire playground area. Sugarfoot would discount them immediately.
When it reached four-fifteen and Sugarfoot had not showed himself, Wyatt turned side-on in the seat. To an observer he appeared to be in animated conversation with his drinking mate, but he was looking beyond the bleary, whiskered face to the golf course, the bridge and the dense trees. Shadows were lengthening in the bad light of late afternoon, making objects difficult to assess. A misty rain began to fall and he hunched deeper into his coat. He stayed like this until four-thirty, but saw nothing. At quarter to five, he knew that it was a no-show.
‘Keep the bottle,’ he said, cutting the derelict off in mid-ramble about a shearing shed and a shearing record in 1954.
Hawking and spitting, Wyatt shuffled back across the golf course. He felt tense, wondering if Sugarfoot was smart after all, had support, had the cross-hairs of a telescopic sight on him all this time, waiting for a clear shot.
He kept his head down. Golfers swore at him. A golf ball bumped past him, someone yelled ‘Fore!’, another laughed.
Behind the clubhouse he stood at drunken attention and surveyed the parked cars. Some he remembered, others had arrived more recently. There was no two-tone Customline, but nor did he expect there to be. He was watching for warning signs: a man taking too long to find his car; a car circling the rows instead of leaving; a silhouette showing suddenly in a car window.
After a few minutes he wandered among the cars, looking for the one that didn’t belong. It was an empty gesture at best, since every car looked exactly like a family car used to cart golf clubs around.
He returned to the Hertz Falcon. Just before reaching it he dropped a handful of coins. They rang out, clear and metallic, on the hard asphalt. He knelt to recover them. He also swung round on the soles of his shoes, scouting for figures crouching behind nearby cars.
He checked the back seat and got behind the wheel. It was unlikely that the car had been wired, but still, he felt a prickle of fear as he turned the key in the ignition.
He drove to a secluded street and removed his coat, trousers and cap. They were damp, and had made his clothes underneath feel damp, but there was no time to do anything about that. Sugarfoot had not shown. He might have changed plans, had a fight with Ivan, sought help, decided on a different surprise.
Wyatt started the car again and drove to the Collingwood address Rossiter had given him. Time to go after Sugarfoot, not wait for him.
The big Customline was parked in the street. The road surface under it was bone-dry, indicating that it had been there for some time. The house itself looked to be vacant, an impression encouraged by the peeling window frames and verandah posts and the expensive renovation of the houses on either side of it.
Wyatt rapped the front door knocker. When there was no answer, he walked around to the back of the house. Out of habit he looked in the two sheds built against the back fence. One contained newspapers stacked for recycling, the other a workbench and a number of bicycle spare parts.
The back door key was under a bluestone block that supported a terracotta pot of herbs. Wyatt turned the key softly and let himself into the house. He stood, listening, for two minutes, then began a rapid search of the rooms on both floors.
He rejected the common living areas and two of the bedrooms-one because it clearly belonged to a womaer because he doubted that Surgarfoot subscribed to bush-walking magazines.
That left a elarge front room on the first floor. It was dimly lit, the air heavy with an atmosphere of cloaked obsessions. Among the pulp novels in the bookcase were sets of American handgun magazines and several large folios on weaponry from remainder bookshops. One shelf was crammed with war and western videos, heroes posed like gods on the covers. There was a small desk under the window. The drawers were locked. Against one wall was a large, gloomy wardrobe. It, too, was locked. Wyatt looked under the bed. He saw a padlocked chest but didn’t bother to drag it out or force the lock. He had a good idea what he’d find.
He went downstairs again. He locked the back door behind him, put the key under the bluestone block, and walked around to the front of the house.
A voice demanded, ‘Who are you?’
The woman had just come home. She had a sharp, unhappy face and stiff, chopped white hair. A badge on her overalls said, ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.’ She glared at Wyatt. ‘What do you want?’
‘I’m after Sugarfoot. I did knock,’ Wyatt said, ‘then I went to see if he was around the back.’
‘Are you a friend of his?’
Wyatt watched her. She was hostile, but not towards him, so he said, ‘Not exactly. He owes me some money.’
Her lip curled. ‘That would be right. You could try his brother’s place. He said he was going there to pick up a bookshelf. But that was this morning.’ She fished in her pocket for the front door key. ‘If you see him,’ she said, ‘tell him to bring back my Kombi now, or I’m reporting it stolen.’ She slammed the door.
Wyatt left. In Carlton, and again in Footscray, he encountered heavy football traffic. The victors’ cars seemed to ride high in the fast lane and flow with the green lights, streaming ribbons and scarves. The losers were miserably bunched in family sedans. They progressed in frustrating short surges. Glowering fathers slapped at legs in the back seat. Then it began to rain and a car clipped a bus and Wyatt was stalled in banked-up traffic. The city was moving uselessly, resentfully, into Saturday evening.
By six o’clock he was parked in the alley behind Bargain City. The rear door was locked. He walked around to the street entrance. Metal screens secured the door and windows. There were no lights on. All life seemed to be centred on the video shop and the takeaway cafй. Wyatt returned to his car, pursued by gusts of music, film images, vinegar sharp on fish and chips.
He was covering bases. He drove the two kilometres to Ivan Younger’s house. Ivan liked to say, ‘Footscray is where I was born, it’s where I operate from, it’s where I belong,’ as if he saw himself as a godfather living among his people. His sprawling 1950s brick and tile house was set on a large block of land in a street of workers’ cottages. A high bluestone wall, topped with broken glass, surrounded the house and grounds. Above the steel entrance gate was a security camera. Wyatt stayed clear of the gate, guessing that it would be locked. He stood where he could see through to the house. It appeared to be in darkness.
Just then a child appeared on the footpath. She wore a parka and was clumping home from the corner shop on rollerskates. Her movements were clumsy. She needed her arms for balance, but held them tight against her body, supporting milk cartons and a breadstick. Where the footpath dipped to allow car access to Younger’s gate, she began to lose her balance. She stumbled, clown-like, against the gate.
It swung inwards. The girl, clinging to the vertical bars, swung with it, her skates scooting out from under her, milk and bread tumbling out of her grasp. Wyatt watched her fall onto her stomach.
It was awkward, unexpected, painful. She began to cry. Wyatt saw her turn onto her back, sit up, and test her skates and brush at her knees and elbows. Then she got up, gathered the milk and the bread, and continued shakily along the footpath. He watched her go. There was no-one else in the street.
When she was out of sight he watched the security camera for several minutes. It was the sweep-movement kind, but wasn’t moving. He crossed the road, stepped through the gate, and made his way to the house, avoiding the gravel driveway.
He circled the house once, keeping to the shrubs and trees, and then circled it again, testing doors and windows. The window bars and fancy internal wooden shutters made it difficult for him to see in. All the doors were closed. He didn’t touch them. He assumed they were locked. It was frustrating. Ivan Younger lived alone and he might well be in there, shut away peacefully in an inner room.
Wyatt turned his attention to the garage. The door was open, revealing a shabby Kombi van gleaming dully in the light from the distant street. There was no other vehicle. Wyatt put his palm against the Kombi’s engine panel. It was cold. The doors were locked. He tried the door leading from the garage to the house. It, too, was locked.
He stood for a moment, moodily contemplating the fuse box. It was on the wall of the house, next to the garage door. He opened the grey metal cover, revealing the electricity meter. There was just enough light from the street for Wyatt to see that the power disc was not spinning. Ivan Younger was paranoid about security. He had a camera on the gate and there would be alarms and beams inside the house. These used tiny amounts of power, barely more than a trickle, but enough to register on the meter. The alarm system had been turned off.
Suddenly the disc began to spin. Wyatt froze, and ducked into an area of darkness, expecting lights, alarms, shouting voices.
But nothing happened. He crouched, thinking about it, then realised: the lights and alarms had been turned off but the refrigerator would continue to cut in and out.
Certain now, Wyatt returned to the garage. He found masking tape on a shelf next to twine and tins of glue. Then he walked around to the back of the house. Bathroom windows were always the easiest. He taped over the glass, cracked it with a stone, and removed a broken section near the latch. He reached in, turned the latch, and tugged upwards on the bottom half of the window. Nothing. The window had been locked where the two sections met at the middle. All he could do now was remove the rest of the glass and climb through. He hated doing that. It wasted time, and meant a narrow aperture possibly lined with shards of glass.
Inside the bathroom, Wyatt stood and listened. An old-fashioned clock ticked loudly in the hall. From where he stood in the doorway, he heard nothing else and saw no telltale gleam of light in other parts of the house. It all felt wrong.
This was confirmed in the sitting room. He smelt cordite first, very faint, then saw a human shape in the darkness, in an old armchair facing the television set. Hearing nothing, knowing now that no-one was in the house, Wyatt flicked his torch on and off, long enough to see Ivan Younger’s head slumped on his chest.
He crossed the room and felt for a pulse. There was none. He used the torch again. There was no apparent wound either. He began to feel around the hairline, concentrating on the area where the skull is at its thinnest. That’s where he found it, a small patch of crusted blood. Small calibre, Wyatt thought. Someone who knew what he was doing.
It could’ve been anybody.
If someone had money to spend, skills to offer, Ivan did business with them. He would have made enemies over the years. But Ivan worked from the shop, not his house. Whenever Wyatt had bought goods and information from him in the past, it had always been negotiated at the shop. They’d planned the Frome insurance job at the shop.
The body slumped in the comfortable armchair, the unactivated alarm system, spoke of a visitor, someone known or expected.
Here was one twist following hard on the heels of another, and the link was Sugarfoot. Wyatt speculated, testing explanations. Sugarfoot is unnerved by his footbridge plan and asks Ivan to help him. But Ivan is angry with him, says the wrong thing, and Sugarfoot puts a bullet in him. Wyatt could sense Sugarfoot out there somewhere, too afraid to go to the footbridge, too afraid to go home, but still stewing with skewed logic on all the chances denied him, all the debts he was owed.
Wyatt slipped out of the house and drove to a public telephone and called the safe house. Pedersen answered on the first ring.
‘He didn’t show,’ Wyatt said.
Pedersen was silent. Then he said slowly, ‘Hobba didn’t show here. Anna did, but not Hobba.’
Wyatt tensed. ‘But you told him.’
Pedersen’s voice rose. ‘Couldn’t get hold of him. Been ringing all afternoon. Jesus Christ.’
‘You there?’ he said, when Wyatt didn’t respond.
‘I’ve just been to Ivan Younger’s,’ Wyatt replied.
‘He’s dead. Been shot.’
There was a pause. Wyatt continued, ‘I’d say Sugar has finally flipped.’
‘He had a grudge against Hobba,’ Pedersen said.
‘I’ll get back to you,’ Wyatt said. ‘You and Anna stay put. Don’t let anyone in.’
He got back in the rental car. It was seven o’clock and the football fans, refreshed by hot showers, were now pouring into the city. Music called from car to car, as if a nation were mustering. Young teeth gleamed at Wyatt from the dim interiors of customised Holdens, and stereos throbbed like eager hearts. All he could do was hunt for gaps, brake, crawl along.
The traffic jerked onto Racecourse Road. At the entrance to the Housing Commission flats he turned in and parked the car, angling it for a clear run to the street.
He looked up at the looming towers. Human shapes dreamed in many of the windows, backlit by the blue light of television screens. Curtains were open. It was understandable: no-one to see in, and a perfect view across parkland to the fingering skyscrapers of the city.
As he stood there looking up, two girls went by, watching him covertly, liking his hooked face and his air of controlled energy. One, more daring than the other, said, ‘It’s not for sale.’
He flashed a grin at her, but couldn’t afford to have them remember his face, so he turned and walked away. ‘I don’t bite,’ called the girl to his departing back. He raised his hand.
Once inside the lift, he pulled on latex gloves and put his hands in his pockets. He got off at the eighth floor. When the doors closed behind him, he waited and listened. The heavy air carried the chill of winter, laced with food odours-curry, fried onion, soggy vegetables-and it trembled with cop show sirens and shrill advertisements. He noticed the scratched wood and scuffed walls. Then a door creaked in a breeze and he saw by the number that it was Hobba’s. Light spilled out, onto the grimy corridor floor.
That was bad. He turned to get away from there. A voice said, ‘Excuse me, sir.’
A young policeman had appeared at the bend in the corridor. He stood well clear of Wyatt, his right hand at his revolver butt. He had wary eyes above a smudge of adolescent moustache.
‘Do you live here, sir?’
Wyatt nodded at Hobba’s door, keeping his gloved hands in his pockets. ‘Just calling on a friend,’ he said. ‘Is something wrong?’
‘I think you’d better speak to Sergeant Hickey, sir,’ the policeman responded.
‘What happened? Is Rob all right?’
‘Knock on the door, please, sir.’
Wyatt tapped on Hobba’s half-open door, positioning his body to obscure the latex glove. The door swung further open. All Hobba’s lights seemed to be on. The air smelt stale. A print had been pulled off the wall, the telephone stand was overturned, and through the doorway at the end he saw heaped clothing, scraps of paper and empty, dumped drawers. Then a uniformed figure loomed in the hallway, blocking the light, and an irritable voice said, ‘Who the hell are you?’
Behind Wyatt the young policeman said, ‘I found him in the corridor, Sergeant. He says he’s acquainted with the occupant.’
‘Well I never. Acquainted with the occupant.’
Hickey looked searchingly at Wyatt. He was slight, quick-looking, with a face and manner inclined to sarcasm. ‘That’s nice,’ he said. ‘Just popped around, did you?’
Wyatt shrugged. ‘Well…’
‘What’s your name, sunshine?’
‘Lake,’ Wyatt said. ‘Look, sorry if I barged in on something. I’ll just-’
‘Lake. You got form, Lake?’
‘Me? No way’
‘Didn’t get acquainted with the old Hobba in Pentridge, by any chance?’
‘Not me,’ Wyatt said. ‘What’s going on?’
‘You tell me,’ Hickey said. He stood back and motioned for Wyatt to enter the flat. ‘In the kitchen,’ he said. ‘Don’t touch anything. I mean anything.’
Wyatt was prepared to see Hobba sprawled on the floor, but the kitchen was empty. Every surface had been dusted for fingerprints. Doors and drawers hung open and dirty plates were heaped in the sink. The contents of the refrigerator were scattered over the floor. Wyatt stopped just inside the door, consciously positioning himself so that both cops would have to stand beyond the table, but Hickey prodded his shoulder and said, ‘No, sunshine, other side.’
Wyatt walked around the table. ‘What’s going on?’ he said. ‘I just came around to say hello.’ He was playing the indignant, seedy pal, but the situation threatened to turn bad so he stood loose and alert by the table, gauging distances and angles.
‘Was he expecting you?’ Hickey said.
Wyatt shrugged. ‘Talked to him during the week. Said I might come over tonight.’
‘You didn’t see him earlier today?’
‘No. You looking for him?’
‘I’m asking the questions. Were you around the place earlier, maybe giving it a spring-clean?’
‘No. I told you, I just dropped by now to have a few beers.’
‘Have you got the key to this flat?’
Wyatt looked from one man to the other. The young policeman was guarding the doorway. Hickey stood opposite Wyatt, his hands loose at his sides.
‘A key? No, why?’
‘Watch my lips,’ Hickey said. ‘I’m asking the questions.’
Wyatt made a cowed, sulky face, playing along with this. Hickey watched him for a moment. ‘You don’t look right to me, sunshine,’ he said suddenly. He turned. ‘Does he look right to you, Constable?’
The young policeman straightened. ‘No, Sergeant.’
Hickey swung back to Wyatt. ‘There you have it. Two votes against you. Got any ID, Mr Lake?’
Wyatt said, ‘Not on me, no.’
‘Not on you,’ Hickey said heavily. ‘No driver’s licence, no credit cards, no video library card?’
Wyatt frowned, concentrating, then shook his head. ‘Sorry, no.’
‘How do you get by?’ Hickey said, throwing up his hands. ‘This day and age you can’t go anywhere without ID.’
The young cop was grinning at the performance. It was a mistake: it made him too relaxed. His arms were folded and he was rocking back and forth. His reaction time would be slow. Wyatt concentrated on Hickey. Hickey was enjoying himself but Wyatt knew he would move in an instant if he had to.
Then Hickey changed tack. ‘What kind of car does your fat mate drive?’
Wyatt tensed. He said, trying to stay ahead of Hickey, ‘Last time I heard, he was between cars.’
Hickey scowled. ‘Did you know he’d hired one?’
‘No,’ Wyatt said. ‘I didn’t.’
From the doorway came the young constable’s voice: ‘A Corolla from one of them cheap places.’
Hickey turned, regarded the constable for a moment, then faced Wyatt again. ‘Hired yesterday, in fact.’
‘Fake ID,’ the young cop said. ‘The details don’t check out.’
Hickey said, ‘I’m really grateful to you for filling us in, Cuntstable. Now perhaps you’d like to continue your doorknocking?’
The constable blushed deeply and left the room. A few seconds later, Wyatt heard the front door squeak. He shifted position slightly. ‘Can I go? I can’t help you, don’t really know the bloke.’
‘Sit down,’ Hickey said. ‘I’m not finished with you yet.’ He waited while Wyatt, his gloved hands in his pockets, hooked out a chair with his foot and sat in it.
‘What I wonder is, why hire a cheap car when you’ve got enough to buy three new ones.’
‘Wouldn’t you? Would you know where old Rob got that kind of money?’
Wyatt said, ‘Like I told you, I didn’t know him that well. Just to have a quiet beer with now and then, type of thing.’
Hickey nodded. ‘So you wouldn’t know what he did for a crust?’
‘He’s been inside for armed robbery, did you know that?’
‘Don’t know much, do you, sunshine? What were you inside for?’
Wyatt said truthfully, ‘Never been in. Got a clean record.’
Hickey took out his notebook. ‘Maybe you could just give me your full name and address and occupation and phone number.’ He curled his lip. ‘Unless, of course, you’re between jobs and places at the moment?’
‘Nothing like that,’ Wyatt said. He gave his name as Tom Lake and recited a false address and phone number. ‘Storeman,’ he said.
‘Storeman. Used to shifting things around, are you?’
Wyatt wished that Hickey would get to the point, about Hobba, or Finn’s safe, or both. ‘What’s going on?’ he said. ‘Is Rob all right?’
‘Rob’s doing badly,’ Hickey said. ‘You could say he got too close to some nylon rope.’
‘What do you mean? Did he hang himself?’
‘Hang himself?’ Hickey said. He laced his fingers together and looked up at the ceiling. ‘I read somewhere once what the human body is worth. Any idea?’
Wyatt said nothing.
‘Bugger all, in fact,’ Hickey said. ‘We’re mostly water and a handful of cheap chemicals. In old Rob’s case, very cheap.’
Wyatt kept silent, watching Hickey.
‘This afternoon we got a report about your mate pulling a gun on some kids outside the lifts,’ Hickey said. ‘We found him with a rope around his neck and ankles like he was a Christmas turkey. If he struggles, he strangles himself.’ Hickey smiled. ‘He struggled.’
Wyatt looked at Hickey neutrally, thinking that Sugarfoot Younger had been learning some nasty habits and was cleverer than he thought. ‘Christ,’ he said.
‘Oh, I don’t think so,’ Hickey said. ‘I think it was someone else.’ He leaned forward across the table. ‘What interests me is, why go to that sort of trouble if not to extract information? You wouldn’t know anything, I suppose? Didn’t give his place the once-over?’
Wyatt said nothing. This was taking too long. Hickey was watching him sharply, registering his face. ‘I only know him to have a beer with,’ Wyatt said, shifting back in his chair.
‘Keep still,’ Hickey said. ‘Hands cold, are they?’
‘I want to see your hands. Then I want you to open your coat. Then I want you to empty out your pockets.’
‘Why?’ Wyatt said.
‘Don’t fucking prevaricate. Just do it.’
Wyatt pushed back in his chair as if to make it easier. Hickey was standing a metre back from the table. He snapped his fingers. ‘Get a move on.’
Wyatt kicked out. The table slammed into Hickey’s thighs. He cried out and fell forward, and Wyatt seized his collar, pulled back, and pounded his face down on the table top. A bone cracked. Hickey groaned and slid onto the floor.
Wyatt waited, listening, expecting the young cop to come running. When nothing happened, he pocketed Hickey’s police radio, cut the telephone lead and walked quietly to the open front door. The young cop was questioning an elderly woman farther down the corridor. She had seen nothing, knew little about Mr Hobba except that he kept to himself and was never noisy, not like some she could mention.
Wyatt was judging how he’d disarm the young cop when he heard heavy shoes clopping along the corridor and into the stairwell. He heard them climb to the floor above. He stood at the door. The corridor was clear. He crossed to the stairwell, listened at the entrance, then plunged into the fetid air. He ran down the eight flights. At one point he shouldered through a knot of children apparently buying amphetamines from a teenage supplier. He heard a faint, alarmed in-drawing of breath behind him.
He slowed at the bottom, emerged casually onto the forecourt, and dumped the police radio in a rubbish bin. He paused. No one was paying attention to him. His car was where he had left it. But there was a police car all right, an unmarked Commodore parked beyond a builder’s skip. It was not the kind of detail he could afford to miss again.
But the thing now was, had Hobba tried to trade his way out of danger, given up Anna Reid’s name in exchange for his life?
Wyatt drove the Hertz Falcon hard along Royal Parade, working it out.
Hobba had been tortured for information, but what did he know that Sugarfoot could use? It wouldn’t occur to Hobba to mention the safe house-as far as he knew, it was finished with. He’d give Pedersen’s address and explain about Rossiter, but Sugarfoot would already know all that.
That left Anna Reid’s involvement. Sugarfoot would know about her by now.
Wyatt spurted through gaps in the traffic. There was a chance that Sugarfoot would be staking out Pedersen’s, but he’d lose patience eventually, or fade away when the cops arrived-as they would, they would check on all Hobba’s associates. Either way, Sugarfoot would go after Anna Reid.
Wyatt turned off near the University and entered a maze of side streets. Anna lived in a small Victorian house on a street of similar houses. He drove by slowly. Her house was in darkness. He drove the Falcon four blocks down, parked, and got out. The misty rain continued to fall. Water drops beaded on his clothes and soon he felt damp and cold for the second time that day. He remembered that he hadn’t eaten. He stopped at a milk-bar, bought a meat pie, coffee and a bar of Swiss chocolate, and gulped them down as he walked back to Anna’s street. The hot food and drink revived him. He told himself the chocolate would give him energy.
He crossed the first intersection bordering the block that Anna’s house was on, then circled around to walk across the intersection at the other end of the block. He looked down Anna’s street each time. He didn’t see any unusual activity.
He fastened the silencer to the Browning and entered the street, holding the gun inside his coat.
He did what he always did in these situations-checked every garden and the back seat of every car, and touch-tested for engine warmth. Three cars were warm, a small Mazda and two Holdens, but that didn’t mean much because there was a rowdy party at a house five doors from Anna’s. A stereo throbbed and several lights were on. Otherwise the street was quiet, almost deadened. The night air seemed to sit, sluggish and heavy, just above the rooftops. It smelt of the city’s toxins. The only movement Wyatt saw in any of the gardens was a cat flattening itself along a fence rail as he passed it.
He didn’t know how good Sugarfoot was at this kind of thing. Sugarfoot might have got lucky with Ivan and Hobba. But he was in none of the cars, and Wyatt couldn’t imagine him waiting outside in the cold, so if he had come he would be inside Anna’s house.
Wyatt had no wish to tackle him in a confined space. He decided to work on his nerves. He began pacing up and down on the footpath outside the house, pausing to gaze up at the front door and the windows on either side of it. He hoped Sugarfoot would notice him. He hoped to rattle him and force his hand. If he could entice him out of the house, even better.
After a few minutes of this he opened the gate in the picket fence and entered the little garden path, slamming the gate behind him. There might have been a twitch at a curtain, he wasn’t sure. He stepped onto the verandah and prowled heavily over its creaking boards, regularly knocking on the front door and both windows.
There was no response but the certainty grew in him that someone was inside the house. He stepped off the verandah and into the garden. He could see another reason why Anna wanted money. Where her neighbours had graduated to bark chips and Japanese maples, she had neglected, weed-clogged garden beds and lumpy gravel paths that went from the front yard to the back. Wyatt circled the house twice, gravel complaining under his shoes.
The next stage called for absolute silence. He wanted the contrast to shake Sugarfoot enough to make a move. He waited for ten minutes, crouched in darkness by the trunk of the fig tree at the back of the house. Anna’s cat came by at one point, purring, flexing his body back and forth against Wyatt’s legs. Wyatt said psst softly and Masher flicked his tail and stalked away.
Wyatt pictured the layout of the house, calculating where Sugarfoot might hide himself. The dark interior, the mocking noises outside, then the silence-would these be enough to drive him into a small, enclosed space, such as a corner in a small room? Would he stay out of the bigger rooms, their large empty spaces filling with imagined shapes and sounds?
Anna hadn’t taken Wyatt to the rear of the house on Tuesday night. He crept up to look. He found further signs of neglect, a sealed porch with bulging, water-stained masonite walls and a narrow, louvred window. Two cement steps led to a screen door, behind which was an ordinary door, the kind with an old-fashioned black lock on the inside. Wyatt opened the screen door a millimetre at a time, avoiding noise from the rusty hinges, then propped it open with a bucket that was next to the gully trap. He crouched to look at the lock on the inner door. The first house he’d ever broken into had had a lock like this. It had been a simple matter to slip newspaper under the gap at the bottom of the door, poke the key with a piece of wire until it fell onto the newspaper on the other side, and slide it out.
But there was no key in Anna’s lock. Wyatt straightened, stood to one side, and turned the heavy black knob. The door was unlocked. He started to open it, pushing gently inwards. A hand-width later he encountered resistance. He released the door knob, lay on his side on the steps, and wound his hand through the gap.
Beer bottles. Sugarfoot had set up a crude alarm.
There seemed to be six bottles, in two rows of three. Wyatt took them one at a time and moved them away from the door. He felt tense, imagining cowboy boots crushing down on his blind fingers.
He got up and again pushed on the door. He felt cold to the bone now, from the long wait and the chilly steps. When there was a sufficient gap he slipped through and immediately to one side.
He was in unrelieved darkness. The gloomy overhang of garden trees, the evening mist, the single frosted louvre window meant that no light penetrated to the back of the house.
He felt his way across the porch by touch, a step at a time, until he came to an inner door. He paused, reconstructing what lay beyond it. He remembered a passage, running the length of the house to the front door, rooms opening onto it on either side.
He stepped to one side to consider his next move, brushed against something soft, and instantly froze. A moment later he let himself breathe out again. It was a rack of coats.
He opened the passage door. He couldn’t avoid a faint scrape and click. Once in the corridor, he kept to the wall where there was less chance of floorboards creaking, and moved to the first door that opened off it. There was more light apparent in the house now. The top half of the front door consisted of two stained-glass panes. Two red, white and gold cockerels glowed faintly at each other in the light from the street. At the bottom was Masher’s cat-flap.
The first door along the corridor was ajar. Anna hadn’t shown him this room, but Wyatt could tell from the smell and a rattling hum that it was the kitchen. He checked it quickly but knew Sugarfoot wouldn’t spend his time in such a distracting room. He moved to the next door. It, too, was open. He expected to find every door open. Sugarfoot would have gone from room to room after he’d got inside the house, opening doors so that he could move about unimpeded.
Wyatt stood at the very edge of the door. It led to a small bedroom-the spare bedroom, judging by the unused feel about it. The air was stale. A solitary single bed and bulky wardrobe occupied most of the space, but what interested Wyatt was that the room had been searched. The mattress lay at an angle on the metal bed frame and drawers had been emptied onto it. He waited, willing his senses to pick up Sugarfoot crouching there in a corner. He was conscious that he had the light behind him, that all Sugarfoot had to do was aim and fire. But he couldn’t afford to ignore this room before going on to the others. He had to check them all.
He lowered himself to the floor and began to pull himself into the room. His body scraped faintly on the dusty carpet. When he was well inside he edged first to the left and then to the right of the bed. By now he was in shadowy regions and his eyes had adjusted to the light.
Sugarfoot was not in the room.
Wyatt got up and moved silently back to the door. He stood where he could see along the corridor. The next doorway was not quite opposite this one.
He crossed quickly and entered in a rolling dive that took him across the room to the shelter of an armchair. Nothing. He was in Anna’s sitting room, next to the rug where they had made love. He could smell her perfume, but her three-seater couch was on its back and the armchairs had been slashed. The VCR/television unit had been tampered with. The digital clock was flashing, frozen at 19.43. He searched quickly. No-one.
That left the two front rooms, her bedroom and the dining room. Wyatt moved along to the end of the corridor, his back flattened to the wall. He stepped away from the wall, turned to face the front of the house, and heard the sound that saved his life: Masher butting through the cat-flap. Wyatt jerked back against the wall in fright, heard shots behind him, and felt a burning pain.
There were three shots, silenced, sounding like muffled coughs. He tumbled through the bedroom door and rolled across the carpet at the foot of the low-slung, queen-size bed.
He’d been grazed at waist level. The bullet had punched through his jacket and shirt and scored a furrow in the flesh under his rib cage. He lay winded on the floor. Blood was oozing into his shirt.
He’d been set up beautifully. Sugarfoot must have been hiding in the dark porch, waiting for him to pass through to the main part of the house where he would be framed, a perfect target, against the light filtering through the glass in the front door. And Sugarfoot had gone for the torso, grouping his shots at trunk level where he could be more certain of a hit.
Wyatt rolled over and onto his feet. He stood close to the edge of the door frame, giving himself a view of part of the corridor. Sugarfoot would no longer be there, but Wyatt fired five rapid shots with the silenced Browning. He heard the 9 mm slugs strike the wall at a shallow angle and deflect to the back reaches of the house. He kept his eyes closed, avoiding the muzzle flashes that cause temporary blindness.
It was no better than a delaying tactic, but it would keep Sugarfoot away and give himself time to think. He wouldn’t play a waiting game this time. He moved to the window. Light cotton curtains were drawn over it. He parted them, turned the window latch, pushed up the bottom pane, and climbed out.
He left the window wide open and crouched on the verandah, looking back into the room. The party down the street was very noisy now, an insistent pounding of bass notes and rowdy shouts. Sugarfoot would notice the increase in sound, assume that Wyatt had escaped through the window, and come to investigate.
Wyatt waited and listened, the long barrel of the Browning resting on the window sill, trained at the bedroom doorway. Several minutes went by. Suddenly something, a shoe, flew into the bedroom. Wyatt ignored it; Sugarfoot was trying to draw his fire, place him by the muzzle flash of his gun. Then, almost immediately, a shape stepped into the doorway.
Wyatt closed his eyes again and snapped off three shots. It was not blind firing: he had fixed the image of Sugarfoot, crouched in a shooter’s stance, gun held straight out in a two-handed grip. Wyatt trusted snap-shooting, knowing that instinct made him point straight, knowing too that he would lose his sense of field and perception if he looked too long at the target.
He heard his shots thud home. He saw the arms fly out, the gun drop, the body spin and fall.
He also saw that it wasn’t Sugarfoot Younger.
Wyatt slipped back into the house. He stood for a minute, watching the slumped shape on the floor. The man’s gun lay nearby, a silenced.22, a professional’s weapon. That explained the hit on Ivan Younger, the torture of Hobbs-these had been bothering Wyatt, they were too professional to be Sugarfoot’s. So who was this guy?
Satisfied that the gunman wasn’t faking it, Wyatt approached and crouched next to him.
‘I need a doctor,’ the man said.
Wyatt propped him against the door frame and loosened his belt and collar. He searched the man’s pockets. There was no identification. He looked at the face. It was tight, gaunt, the hair cropped close to the skull. The body was slight, wiry, suggesting fitness. The accent was unusual. South African, Wyatt thought.
The man coughed. His mouth filled with blood. He’d taken a bullet in the lungs, giving his voice and his breathing a frothy, whistling, watery quality. ‘My arm,’ he said.
The left elbow was shattered. Wyatt wrapped the fingers of the gunman’s right hand around a handkerchief over the welling blood.
The man seemed to doze, then collect himself. ‘You are Wyatt? Hobba described you. I am Bauer,’ he said. He seemed to be asking for recognition.
‘Never heard of you,’ Wyatt said. ‘Who hired you? The Youngers? Did you turn on them?’
Bauer frowned with effort, spat blood from his mouth and said, ‘The Youngers are nothing.’
‘Finn is nothing. He’s dead.’
Wyatt watched the face twisted in pain. ‘Because he lost the money? Were you brought in to get it back?’
Bauer didn’t reply but drooped and slid to one side. Wyatt forced him upright. ‘Listen to me. If you want a doctor, answer some questions.’
Bauer coughed. ‘You robbed the wrong safe, my friend. You’ve made powerful enemies. Give it back.’ He closed his eyes then. He’d gone grey; traces of blood flecked his slack mouth.
Wyatt said, ‘Finn was connected, is that what you’re trying to tell me?’
‘Give it back,’ Bauer said.
Wyatt leaned back to consider the problem, but the movement twisted his wound. He breathed in sharply, alerting Bauer, who said, ‘I hit you.’
Wyatt ignored him. ‘Three hundred thousand dollars isn’t exactly a fortune. Not enough to send someone like you after us. Whose toes did we tread on?’
Bauer coughed again, exhausting himself. His breathing was shallow. ‘I am dying.’
‘Answer,’ Wyatt said.
Bauer gathered himself. ‘The money was not important,’ he said finally.
‘Then what are you talking about. The insult?’
Bauer uttered a rattling laugh and subsided again. Wyatt tapped the Browning against the shattered elbow. Bauer screamed. ‘No mysteries,’ Wyatt said. ‘Explain.’
Bauer’s breathing was a series of wet gasps. He was close to the end. ‘Cocaine. Heroin. That rubbish. Give it back.’
Wyatt rocked back on his heels, going cold.
He’d been lookout on the street when Hobba and Pedersen blew the safe. There’d been that long delay before they gave him the all-clear to join them.
Plenty of time.
But the drugs. Hobba apparently didn’t have them, because Bauer wouldn’t still be looking for them. That meant Pedersen had them. Given his habit, his contacts, that made sense.
Wyatt said, ‘Who are you working for?’
No answer. He tapped his Browning against the shattered elbow again. But the rattling breathing had stopped and there was no response.
Wyatt got to his feet. Hobba and Pedersen must have made a snap decision, he thought, in those seconds when they realised they also had drugs in the safe. Pedersen had the know-how and the connections; both of them knew Wyatt wouldn’t be in on it.
They might have got away with it if Sugarfoot Younger hadn’t blundered in. Wyatt followed this train: perhaps the Youngers tried to sell information to Finn, not knowing what they were getting into. If Ivan was dead, Sugarfoot was too.
Not that any of that mattered. He had to get Anna away from the safe house.
He left Bauer and made his way back to the Falcon. The wound in his side was beginning to ache dully. He tried to imagine Pedersen’s state-popping pills, getting agitated as he wondered what Wyatt was doing and what he might find out. He’d be dangerous tackled in the safe house. Anna could get hurt or killed-assuming he hadn’t killed her already. The answer was to lure him out.
It took Wyatt fifteen minutes to cross the city. The traffic was heavy and bad-tempered, and cars on the prowl choked the nightclub end of King Street.
On Queens Road he stopped outside a public telephone. He dialled, and when Anna answered, relief flooded him, surprising him with its intensity. He said, ‘I want you to be neutral when you reply to what I say now. Do you understand?’
A wary ‘Yes.’
‘Is Pedersen still there?’
‘Has he been taking anything? Is he hyped-up?’
‘He might try something. If he does, shoot him.’
‘I’ll explain later. Meanwhile I want to speak to him.’
The phone clattered onto a hard surface and he heard Anna say, ‘Wyatt wants to talk to you.’
Pedersen came on a moment later. ‘Is Hobba okay?’
Wyatt wasn’t surprised to hear Pedersen lead with this question. He said, ‘He’s dead.’
Pedersen seemed to explode. ‘What about Sugarfoot? Haven’t you got the bastard yet?’
‘It’s all taken care of.’
The relief was palpable. ‘Thank Christ for that. So it’s over.’
‘We can all go home,’ Wyatt agreed. ‘Except Anna. Tell her to wait there for me. There’s a body in her house.’
He cut the connection, drove to a shadowy area between street lights a hundred metres from the safe house, and waited for Pedersen to come out.
All the doors and windows of Finn’s law offices in Quiller Place were locked but light showed faintly in an office at the side of the old house. Wyatt decided to wait. If he forced his way in now, he’d lose the advantage. And alert the old people of the street, blinking in the darkness as they waited through the long night for sleep or death to claim them.
The black Volkswagen was angled carelessly in the driveway. The driver’s door hadn’t been locked. Wyatt climbed into the space behind the front seat to wait. He moved stiffly. His clothes were a sodden wad at his waist.
It didn’t take long. He heard the expensive lock click home on the front door of the building, heard approaching footsteps, saw a shape materialise next to the car. The door opened and a bag was flung onto the passenger seat. Then the car shifted gently on its springs as Anna Reid got in and Wyatt sat up behind her and pressed his Browning to her ear.
She stiffened. A moment later she said his name. She didn’t turn around.
‘Both hands on the wheel,’ Wyatt said. ‘Where’s the gun I gave you?’
‘In my coat.’
‘Reach across with your left hand. Take it out by the barrel and drop it in the bag.’
He watched her closely. For the few seconds her hand was out of sight he ground the Browning against the hinge of her jaw.
She dropped the gun. ‘How did you know?’
Wyatt was silent. Then he said, ‘Let’s start with the safe. You removed the drugs when Finn went out for coffee on Friday afternoon?’
She laughed harshly. ‘Is this a grilling?’ She took one hand from the wheel and gestured with it. ‘Come with me, Wyatt. The stuff in that bag is worth a fortune.’
Wyatt beat the gun barrel against her cheek. ‘Both hands on the wheel. Answer the question.’
She sighed elaborately. ‘When he went for coffee, yes. Just before you hit the place.’
‘You knew the combination of his safe?’
‘I’ve always known it. When I first came here, before he started dealing, I found it written down on the side of his desk drawer one day’
It was plausible. Pedersen himself liked to say that most ‘unexplained’ safecracking could be traced to people leaving the combination lying around.
She turned her head slightly. ‘It wasn’t play-acting, you know, me with you.’
‘Forget that,’ Wyatt said. ‘You left the cash in the safe and hid,’ pointing his gun at the bag on the seat beside her, ‘that crap in your office?’
‘Can’t we do this somewhere more comfortable?’
‘I bet you were anal retentive. Under the tiles in the fireplace. What does it matter where?’
‘You had to leave it there in case the police searched your place.’
‘How did you know when to do the job?’
She breathed in and out heavily. ‘Is this all necessary? Let’s get it over and done with, whatever it is.’
Wyatt ground the barrel against her jaw again. ‘Just answer.’
‘You’re hurting me.’ When the pressure didn’t relax she went on. ‘When I realised Finn was distributing, I started watching until I’d worked out the pattern. The stuff would arrive late in the week and all the yuppie dealers in South Yarra would buy from him on the weekends. So I waited until there was a big planning kickback there at the same time.’
A taxi entered Quiller Place and drove slowly down it, the driver shining a spotlight at house numbers. Wyatt pressed the gun warningly against Anna Reid’s temple and waited while the taxi stopped and bipped its horn and collected a home-care nurse from one of the houses.
When it was gone, he said, ‘You didn’t want to risk stealing from him directly. Robbing the safe was a smokescreen.’
‘Why didn’t you just run with the stuff that night?’
‘I never intended to run with it. I’ve got a long-term plan. I’m going to sell it all slowly, on the quiet.’
Wyatt said nothing. The pieces kept falling into different patterns. ‘Tell me about Pedersen,’ he said.
‘What about him?’
‘Was he going to do the selling?’
She shook her head. ‘He’s not involved. I just needed his talents.’
Wyatt went cold. This had never been his job, his plan. It had always been hers. ‘You were taking a risk,’ he said. ‘You caused heat for all of us. The sort of people Finn distributes for don’t rest when something like this happens.’
Neither spoke for some time. Then Anna said, ‘You told Max there was a dead man at my place.’
‘There is, but I said it to flush out Pedersen. I thought he was behind it.’
‘And I came out instead,’ Anna said, nodding her head, her glossy hair sliding apart on either side of the pistol barrel. ‘Who is it?’ she asked.
‘It’s a professional called Bauer. A hit-man, somebody who worked for whoever runs Finn.’
She shivered. ‘So your friend Sugarfoot is still out there?’
‘I doubt it. I think both Youngers are dead. They gave Bauer some names, Bauer tortured Hobba, got your name, and came looking.’
She turned her head a fraction. ‘Tortured?’
Wyatt said, ‘This isn’t Playschool.’
He saw Anna stiffen. ‘Finn will know about me by now.’
Wyatt said bleakly, ‘I wouldn’t worry your pretty head about it. Bauer killed him too. These people get rid of their liabilities.’
She breathed in sharply. ‘I know you’re angry. All I can say is, I wasn’t faking it with you.’
Wyatt pressed warningly with the gun. She changed tack immediately. ‘Oh dear, he’s in a sulk.’
The mocking voice was a tactic. She would try to get a rise out of him, then, bit by bit, try to turn him. Wyatt ignored it.
They were silent, then Anna said, ‘Why did he kill Finn?’
‘He would’ve learned from Hobba that there were no drugs in the safe, so he thought Finn was trying to pull something. Finn was already bad news for carrying on his kickback scam on the sly.’
She shivered again. ‘He tortured Finn too?’
Wyatt didn’t answer. He wasn’t interested in Finn.
‘I’m glad you got him, Wyatt,’ Anna said. She lifted a hand from the steering wheel. ‘Can I put my hands down now? My arms are aching.’
‘No. Did you kill Pedersen?’
‘God, Wyatt. What do you take me for? He’s waiting there for you. I told him I was going out for a while.’
‘Last Monday night,’ Wyatt said, ‘you came on to me so I’d forget my suspicions, right?’
‘No! That part was genuine.’
She took her hands off the steering wheel and turned in her seat and looked at him over the top of it. He leaned back, still keeping the gun on her. The wound in his side seemed to tear open and before he could control it, he breathed in sharply and groaned.
‘Oh, you’re hurt,’ she said. She reached a hand across the seat. He stared at it. She drew back again.
Then her voice took on its low growl and her face moved expressively. He remembered how desire had animated it. ‘All those things you said about working together?’ she said. ‘We still can.’ She picked up the bag on the passenger seat. ‘This would set us up.’
‘You’ve been doing fine by yourself.’
She put the bag down. ‘We can, Wyatt. It’ll be good. We’ll have a holiday first. No-one knows anything about us.’
‘There’s a dead man in your house,’ Wyatt said. ‘You’re the partner of a man who was tortured to death. The cops will find the connection. I’d say you’re fucked.’
‘If I go down, you’ll go too. Think about it. Come away with me, or help me get the body out of my house.’
Wyatt watched her for a while. He felt trapped, and he hated it. ‘One condition,’ he said. ‘You give up the drugs. If we plant them at Finn’s, the cops and whoever Finn worked for won’t look any further.’
She frowned at that. He waited. He heard the safety catch, very faint, as she apparently shifted position to get more comfortable.
When her face emptied of expression, he fired through the seat. Anna jerked back in shock and there was a crack as the windscreen frosted near her head.
‘I won’t give you a second chance,’ Wyatt said.
He reached over and dealt her wrist a numbing blow with the barrel of the Browning. Her.38 fell back in the bag again. All in all, he thought, he’d been a step ahead of her this time. It was like getting his sight back after a period of blindness. He watched her shake and moan. ‘Shut up,’ he said. ‘You’ve still got your share of the money.’
‘What now?’ she asked flatly.
‘We mop up,’ he said.
He punched a hole in her shattered windscreen, gave her the keys to the Hertz Falcon, and told her to follow him back across the city.
At her house they worked in wary, hostile silence. She kept tools, ladders, paint, rollers and drop-sheets in her garden shed. Wyatt wrapped Bauer’s body in a drop-sheet and she helped him carry it out to the Falcon. Then she righted her furniture and replaced her drawers and he mopped up blood, his own and Bauer’s. Then he mixed plaster from a packet and plugged bullet holes and gouges in the hallway. Finally he dragged in a tin of white paint and a stepladder. He felt dangerously light-headed, and bone tired.
‘What are you doing?’ she said.
‘Not me,’ Wyatt said. ‘You. You’re going to paint the hall. Not tomorrow, now.’
‘You might have visitors in the morning. If they seem curious, tell them the hold-up upset you, you’ve been painting to relax.’
Anna Reid’s face took on a shut-down, sullen expression. It was still there when Wyatt nodded goodbye and let himself out the front door.
He drove the Hertz Falcon to Finn’s house in Hawthorn. It was a Federation-style house set behind a thick hedge. Finn was there, a swollen-tongued, leering, trussed-up shape on a king-size bed. Wyatt unwrapped Bauer and dumped him on the floor next to the bed. He also dumped the guns. Let the cops work it out. He distributed the coke and heroin packets behind heating vents, in shoeboxes, and among suitcases in a closet.
Then he left the city, driving the Hertz Falcon one-handed, his other arm wrapped across his body, his fingers cupping the wound in his side. Once or twice when he dozed, panicky horns and headlights warned him back into his lane. Sometimes he found himself driving very slowly, and in Frankston an angry motorist rapped on his window at a traffic light. With relief he dumped the Falcon and collected his car and headed for the back roads.
The sky was black. When moonlight struggled briefly through the heaped clouds he saw fog wisps like people in the road ahead. Fog hung over dams and creeks. Otherwise he felt that only he was abroad, only he awake.
He opened his window and filled his lungs with cold air. He dare not stop or he would sleep and risk being wakened by a tap on the glass and voices wanting to know if he was all right, had he been drinking, had he been in a fight, your licence, please, sir.
When Wyatt reached the coast road he followed it to Shoreham. He turned inland again, and on the hill slopes he felt that he was climbing to uninhabited reaches of the world. Then the headlights picked out his white gate, and narrow muddy drive and the image disappeared and he knew that in the morning there’d be cars going to church, and neighbours’ houses in the distance, and everything would be all right.
He reversed into the barn and shut the heavy doors. It was almost midnight. He was forcing himself now.
Inside the house he burned his bloodstained clothes and filled the bath with hot water. He washed the wound in the bath, then soaked for a while, letting the heat ease his knotted muscles. He got out, dried himself, dressed the wound. He felt mildly feverish. He dosed himself with brandy and aspirin and leftover antibiotic tablets.
He slept for ten hours. In the morning it was apparent that he’d tossed and perspired during the night. His pillow was damp, his sheets damp and twisted. He felt scarcely rested, but his thoughts and perceptions no longer seemed so freakish and he had an appetite. Before doing anything, he phoned the Drug Squad. He said they’d find something interesting at the house of David Finn, in Hawthorn. No, he wouldn’t give his name, and he broke the connection before they could trace the call.
Later he showered, dressed in slippers and an old tracksuit, and left by the kitchen door to fetch firewood from the pile at the back of the house. The sky was low, a succession of misty rainclouds sweeping across the hills. He went back inside and ate scrambled eggs, toast and coffee in front of an open fire.
There was a trace of Anna Reid in the air, a faint, troubling perfume. He had an unfinished feeling about her. She knew about him, where he lived, his involvement in the hit on Finn. Even if she went straight and he never heard from her again, he’d feel a pinch at the edges of his memory. It would be more distracting than desire. Desire is something that doesn’t last. She was like him, but he wondered if she’d ride out the investigation, and he wondered if he should have killed her.
He loaded more logs on the fire. By now the scent of heated sap and resin were spreading through the room and soon he couldn’t smell anything else.
The first shot came when he went outside to collect more firewood. The sound was hollow and deep, as if muted by the misty rain, but there was no mistaking the heavy calibre or the fury of the bullet smashing through the logs in his arms. The force of it spun him against the back wall of the house. The logs tumbled out of his arms. For a moment he felt helpless, pinned like an insect.
A second shot smacked into the wall next to his neck. He thought automatically, He’s pulling high and to the left. He’s shooting uphill and failing to compensate.
Wyatt threw himself onto the ground as a third shot slammed into the wall. There was the same powerful sound, the same double echo in the nearby hills.
Rifle shots were not uncommon here but it was usually Craig or his father, taking random pot shots at rabbits and foxes with their small-bore rifles. Soon Craig’s father or one of the other neighbours was going to notice the sound of a heavy calibre weapon and wonder who was making war at ten-thirty on a Sunday morning.
Not the cops-they wouldn’t come in like that. Not Finn’s Sydney connections-even if they knew where to find him they wouldn’t come so soon, so rashly. Sugarfoot Younger? In his pain and tiredness Wyatt had thought that Sugarfoot was dead or gone. He’d forgotten the dumb instinct and obsession that drove the useless hoon.
Dragging himself along by his elbows, Wyatt made for the side of the house. Multiple shots are easier to pinpoint than a solitary shot, so he knew where Sugarfoot was. Wyatt had one advantage: his house and sheds were on a slight rise. With no high ground to fire from, and wary of crossing open ground to the house and sheds, Sugarfoot would have positioned himself in the pine tree plantation.
But he would take some finding. He had plenty of cover. Wyatt’s property was almost completely surrounded by trees: the pine plantation, an uncleared tangle of scrub and blackberry bushes, and the neighbour’s apple orchard. The drive-way at the front of the house ran down an avenue of golden cypresses to the small Shoreham road, hidden by hedges and earthen banks. If Sugarfoot circled the house while closing in on it, Wyatt would have trouble keeping track of him. If he circled at a distance, he’d effectively keep Wyatt boxed in.
There was a flurry of wind and rain. Wyatt shivered. The tracksuit and slippers gave him no protection. The wound was bleeding again. He considered his options. If he made a run for it in the car, he risked a bullet. If he stayed in the house he’d have no flexibility. Better to go after the punk.
But his.38 was under the bed, in a holster strapped to the springs of the bed base. There was a little.22 rifle, but it was in the barn. Not that he intended going after Sugarfoot through undergrowth with a rifle he’d not fired for two years and then only at pigeons with birdshot.
He manoeuvred along the wall until he was behind a clump of bamboo. Beyond the bamboo was an old, unused dairy. If Sugarfoot had moved to the south-west edge of the pine plantation he would have a clear shot at the open ground between the house and the dairy, but Wyatt was guessing that Sugarfoot would station himself where he could get Wyatt if Wyatt tried to enter the house through the kitchen door.
Wyatt knelt, waited a beat, and ran at a crouch toward the old dairy. There was no point in zig-zagging, not if Sugarfoot was firing from the side. He heard a thudding, and realised it was his body straining-not shots, not his footsteps on the soft ground. He passed the bamboo, and splashed through the sodden area around a leaking garden tap. He felt the wound tearing. His slippers and tracksuit were splashed and soaked with water and mud. He wiped raindrops from his eyes.
He got to the dairy, his heart pounding, just as the shot came late. It hit somewhere on the other side of the dairy. It told him that Sugarfoot had him pinned down.
The only escape was to strike out in a straight line away from Sugarfoot, using the dairy as a screen. Then he could circle around the house and go in through the front. Sugarfoot would be expecting him to advance, not move away. Sugarfoot also had farther to travel if he anticipated Wyatt and circled around to meet him, and by that time Wyatt would be in and out of the house again, armed this time.
He set off at a lope, twenty steps running, twenty walking, remembering his old army training. His main obstacle was a high, tightly sprung stock fence topped with barbed wire. There was little give in the wires. They pulled cruelly at him as he pushed through to the other side.
Again he walked and ran, conscious of pain and the blood spreading over his hip. He circled left, dodging tussocks of grass and treacherous hollows where cows and horses had left deep imprints in the muddy soil. Once he slipped, his left leg sliding away beneath him on a fresh cow pat. He recovered, clutching at his side, and ran on.
His run took him across the top corner of the paddock. On the other side was another fence, and then he was in the shelter of his golden cypresses.
He stopped. Ivan Younger’s white Statesman was parked at the side of the sunken road, fifty metres down from the entrance to his driveway.
He waited for two minutes, isolating sounds: a sheepdog alerted by the rifle fire, its owner shouting at it to shut up, a motor starting up somewhere. Almost eleven o’clock. Wyatt knew that some of the neighbours went to eleven o’clock church but it could also be someone deciding to investigate. Suddenly Wyatt knew how he would do this. He would kill Sugarfoot, dump him in Ivan’s Statesman in Frankston, then come back and commiserate with one or two of the neighbours about these bloody weekend shooters tramping all over the place.
The pain had eased a little now that he’d rested. He approached the house at a walking pace, keeping close to the cypress trees.
He paused at the final tree and surveyed the open ground that sloped down to the apple orchard. That’s when he saw him. Sugarfoot, wearing cowboy boots, stetson hat and long coat, was slipping from the edge of the pine trees and into the orchard about three hundred metres away.
Wyatt ran crouched over to the broad front verandah of his house. He had about a minute before Sugarfoot was stationed where he could see the verandah and the front door and windows. Tension gave him an acute sense of things. He saw, as if for the first time, the warped boards and nail heads on his verandah, the dusty cobwebs on the old lathe-turned posts.
The front door and the window to the left of it were always locked, but his bedroom window was partly open. He removed the insect screen and tugged on the bottom pane, tensing himself for shots from the orchard. The window resisted him, gripped by the old moisture thickened frame. Suddenly it protested like a shrieking bird and moved freely. Wyatt tumbled over the sill and into the room. The window exploded, coating him in shards and chips of glass. He rolled across to the bed and reached under it for his.38.
And blacked out.
When he opened his eyes he had a sense of weightlessness. He didn’t know if he’d been out for seconds or for minutes. The world tipped left and right.
When he felt steady, he reached under the bed again and found the.38. It felt reassuring in his hand. It was chambered for five rounds only, unlike his large capacity Browning automatic-but double-action automatics tend to jam, or the clip may crimp if it’s slammed home. He’d fitted a fat, natural-rubber grip to the.38. The metal surface and moving parts were finely coated with a protective layer of oil, and the front sight was rounded so that it wouldn’t drag in the holster or catch on his clothing. The gun seemed to slide into his hand.
He switched off the safety catch and ran through to the laundry at the back of the house. Here there was a narrow broom cupboard where he stored old hats, coats, boots and shoes. He selected a green, quilted, waterproof jacket with a hood. He removed the sodden slippers and put on light, sturdy boots. Under a false panel in the bottom of the cupboard were several boxes of cartridges. He opened a box and poured a dozen loose cartridges into his pocket.
Now to get Sugarfoot. Once he was down in that belt of cover he would have the advantage. Sugarfoot’s rifle was unbeatable for long-distance pinning down and accuracy, but useless for snap shooting and close work among trees and undergrowth. Unless Sugarfoot also carried a pistol. Wyatt had to assume he did.
Another shot slammed into the bedroom. Sugarfoot was still in the orchard, still letting Wyatt know he was there. He had a clear view of the entire northern side of the house and would notice if Wyatt left by either the back or the front door.
Wyatt walked through to the bathroom. It faced south. He opened the window above the bath, knocked out the insect screen, and squeezed out. He moved slowly, conserving energy.
The land on the southern side sloped down to an area of scrub fronted by blackberry bushes. In the distance was Shoreham, then the sea, where black and grey clouds seemed to bunch up before scudding in over the coastline. Wyatt had been calmed by his rest in the house. Now he realised how cold and damp the day was.
A choked path wound through the blackberry thicket.
Wyatt made slow time, thorns catching at his clothing and tearing his skin. He emerged where the blackberries met the scrub and picked his way through it, dodging branches and whipping twigs and leaves.
At the bottom corner of the scrub he broke cover and ran doubled-over to the edge of the pine plantation. Sugarfoot might be back in the pine trees, so he paused before he advanced too far in. The trees were tall, planted close together in neat rows, their upper branches woven together, screening out the meagre light of winter. There was no undergrowth, and few inhibiting lower branches. Pine needles carpeted the ground. One could move through here almost unseen and unheard.
Wyatt stood against the flank of one of the larger trees, the.38 cocked in his hand. He stood for five minutes, listening, adjusting to the dim, resinous atmosphere.
It was midday now. People would be coming home from church soon. If they’d had a chance to compare notes about hearing heavy-bore rifle shots earlier this morning, they might now decide to do something about it.
Wyatt was in the corner of the pine trees that faced the back of his house. That put him at a disadvantage if Sugarfoot advanced along that flank from the other end and drove him back into the inadequate shelter of the scrub and the black-berries. He headed away from the house for a hundred metres and then turned north, making a long, slow circle around to where the pine trees ended and the apple trees began. He wanted to come in behind Sugarfoot.
Then he saw him. Sugarfoot had not wasted time doubling back from the orchard. Sugarfoot saw Wyatt, too. He stopped, swung the big rifle around, and fired. The sound was flat in that enclosed space. A wedge of bark flew off the trunk of a tree next to Wyatt. But it was blind firing. Sugarfoot didn’t have the time or manoeuvrability for a clear shot.
Wyatt turned, ran crashingly towards the orchard for several seconds, stopped, and slipped quietly to his left. He waited. If Sugarfoot circled around, expecting to intercept him, he would follow.
Suddenly Sugarfoot shouted, ‘You’re finished, Wyatt.’
The mug was actually giving away his location. Wyatt stood still, tracking the voice. As he’d expected, Sugarfoot had turned and was cutting through the pine trees toward the orchard. He set off after him.
‘You hear me, Wyatt? You hear me?’
Sugarfoot was now making no effort to be quiet. The cowboy boots drummed on the pine needles, the skirt of the long coat caught on the tree trunks. He was alternately shouting and muttering.
‘Cunt! Didn’t have to kill him. Ivan never hurt you. He fucking put work your way’
The voice dropped again, muttering and complaining.
Wyatt listened and watched. He had Sugarfoot pinpointed now, and began to stalk him. Sugarfoot had dumped the rifle. He was carrying a long-barrelled pistol. From this distance it looked like a Colt Woodsman; not a bad choice, light and accurate. But its slender modern lines and sculptured grip looked incongruous, for Sugarfoot was prowling like a Clint Eastwood caricature, the broad hat low on his brow, the long coat giving him the look of an avenger.
Suddenly he yelled, ‘You’re gutless, Wyatt,’ and swirled around, snapping off random shots.
It didn’t seem to be panic shooting. He’s asking me to face him, Wyatt thought. It’s his moment of glory, the poor thug.
Wyatt waited. Sugarfoot turned and again moved off through the trees, heading toward the border with the orchard. Wyatt followed. He was about twenty paces behind Sugarfoot now. The challenges were becoming more frequent. ‘What are you, Wyatt? Scared? Too piss-weak to show yourself?’
Wyatt began to close the distance. The pines were beginning to thin out and he could see Sugarfoot more clearly. He was facing away from him. Wyatt saw him put his hand to his mouth and cry, ‘You’re gutless, Wyatt. Show yourself like a man.’
Wyatt stepped out, steadied the.38 with his left hand, and shot Sugarfoot Younger in the back of the head.
He cocked the gun again, and waited. But Sugarfoot had pitched forward and dropped and hadn’t moved.
He released the hammer and lowered the gun. His energy seemed to drain into the ground.
When the voice called to him from the path running along the fence, he jerked as if awoken from sleep. He thumbed back the hammer, raised the gun, almost fired.
It was Craig. He came closer. He hadn’t seen the body yet.
‘Mr Warner? What’s going on? Are you all right?’
He looked concerned. He’d been running. Then he noticed the body spread face down in the grass, frowned, trying to make sense of it, and turned a shocked face to Wyatt.
Wyatt lowered his.38 again. Craig saw the movement, saw the gun. He started to back away, mouthing something, and Wyatt realised it was ‘No, please, no.’ With a last wrenching look, Craig turned and began to run.
It was a bursting, fearful run, as if he expected the punch of bullets in his back. But Wyatt had begun to stumble back through the trees to his own house. He was galvanised by Craig’s expression of natural horror. It told him he’d lost everything here. All he had in the world was a short head start and seventy-five thousand dollars and far to run.