Monday, 5th May. 2.21 pm.
‘Seventy-four to Control.’ The paramedic’s voice was tight.
Sophie Phillips leaned forward and turned up the volume of the ambulance radio.
‘Seventy-four, go ahead,’ Control said.
‘We’ve got two children code 2, post house fire. Request urgent back-up.’
Sophie grimaced. Two kids in cardiac arrest. Jesus.
Seventy-four was a Randwick ambulance and unless they were out of their area and somewhere in the CBD it was unlikely Sophie and Mick would be called on to go, thank God. Serious kid jobs were never good. Since she’d had Lachlan ten months ago they were even worse.
Though most people didn’t know it, every moment of every day catastrophe slammed its heavy boot into the face of some poor Sydney-sider. On a day like this it seemed particularly unfair. The sky was the crisp and endless blue of early autumn. The wind snapped in the flags along Circular Quay and the smell of salt water and fried foods filled the ambulance. They were parked in a bus stop on Alfred Street. Mick was across the road in a Quay take-away fetching kebabs for a late lunch, listening in on the portable radio in case they got a call. Sophie watched for his return and thought about the parents of the code 2 children, and the small, still, smoke-stained faces.
‘Thirty-one, what’s your location?’
Sophie grabbed the microphone. Not the fire, please. ‘Thirty-one’s at the Quay, picking up twenty.’
‘Thanks, thirty-one. I have a person shot at the Civic Bank on George Street. Police are on scene and CPR’s in progress.’
Adrenaline jolted her. ‘Thirty-one’s on the case.’ She rehooked the mike and yanked a pair of latex gloves from the box stuffed between the seats. Mick ran back empty-handed from the kebab stand and threw the portable radio into the cabin, then leapt into the driver’s seat and cranked the engine. He turned off the hazard lights and hit the beacons and siren as he pulled out of the bus stop. There was a squeal of brakes and the blast of a horn behind them. Mick didn’t so much as glance back.
‘I bet this is another robbery,’ he said.
They hit the red at Bond and Sophie checked the traffic on her side. ‘Clear.’ Mick floored it and punched the horn to change the siren from yelp to wail.
‘I mean by that same gang of four,’ he said.
Another red. ‘Clear.’ Every time the gang struck, the newspapers went nuts over the continued failure of the police to catch them, and Sophie’s husband Chris took the insult personally. He’d been a police officer in the city for nine years. His shell should have grown harder than a turtle’s, but things like this always struck home.
‘Chris working today?’ Mick said. ‘He might be on scene.’
Sophie hoped not. If he was there, his partner Angus Arendson would be too. It was only five weeks since Sophie had made The Biggest Mistake Of Her Life, and every time she saw Angus since, she felt like she’d forgotten how to arrange her face in a normal expression, how to speak casually like an ordinary person. It was worse when Chris was around. If Chris wasn’t so caught up in his PTSD or whatever it was, Sophie felt sure he’d have realised long ago what she’d done. He’d have known that very night.
The closer they got to the bank the more the traffic clogged up. Sophie tried to focus on the case, not the people who might be there. Shootings were more frequent in the city in the last couple of years but still couldn’t be called commonplace events. They translated into scenes of high emotion where you could really do your stuff and make a difference to a person—if the bullet missed vitals and you got there quickly enough, that is. Eight years ago as a trainee she’d been to a shooting where the bullet had lacerated the victim’s aorta. The guy was dead inside a minute. She always remembered her senior officer’s words: ‘If he’d been shot on the operating table, he might just have made it.’
Mick swung onto the wrong side of the road. The siren was on yelp and the headlights on high beam. He leaned on the horn. Cars coming from a side street swerved out of their way. Mick charged down the clear path toward a marked police car parked sideways across the street. He veered around it and to the front of the bank. Police were everywhere. Sophie’s hands were sweaty inside her gloves.
‘Thirty-one’s on location,’ Sophie said into the radio microphone. Before Mick had stopped the engine she was out on the roadway. She yanked open the side door into the rear of the ambulance to grab the Oxy-Viva and drug box, and Mick came around from the driver’s side to pull out the cardiac monitor and first aid kit. They hurried across the footpath towards the wide glass doors. A police officer held them open, his face pale, his eyes fixed straight ahead onto the street. ‘It’s bad.’
The bank was big and marble-floored. Their steps echoed. Four metres inside the door a police officer stood guard over a blood spatter on the floor. Sophie looked around for the patient. ‘This one got away,’ the officer said. ‘That’s your man there.’
He lay on the floor at the far end of the roped-off queue area. Three police officers and two bank staff stood around him in a huddle while two more police did CPR.
Sophie’s stomach lurched.
Chris leaned over the guard with his elbows locked and counted loudly with each compression. ‘One and two and three and four and breathe.’ Angus was kneeling at the guard’s head. He bent to blow into the one-way valve on a plastic resuscitation mask he held on the man’s face.
Sophie made herself breathe deeply before putting down the equipment and looking over Chris’s shoulder.
The guard was dead, that much was clear. The bullet had hit him in the throat and a pool of blood lay like a halo around him. A bloodsoaked dressing was taped roughly to his neck. Every time Angus blew into the mask, air bubbled out of the wound.
Mick knelt and attached electrodes to the cardiac monitor’s three leads. He reached around Chris’s hands and opened the guard’s grey uniform shirt. He stuck two electrodes to his upper chest then pulled the shirt out of the guard’s black trousers, placing the third electrode over his lower left ribs.
‘Keep going?’ Angus said, business-like. His bloody hands gripped the dead man’s jaw and his knees were in the halo.
‘Stop for a second,’ Sophie said. Chris froze. His hands still touched the dead man’s chest. Sophie put her hand on his shoulder. ‘Raise up a little.’ He leaned back so his hands were clear of the guard’s shirt-front but still maintained their position. Through her gloves and his shirt Sophie felt the warmth of her husband’s skin, and she squeezed his shoulder gently. He didn’t move, didn’t glance around. She guessed he was still angry about that morning’s argument.
She exhaled and let him go, then crouched by the body and eased back the guard’s eyelids. This was always hard. Not for the dead man—he was long gone—but for the people who’d tried to save him. Sophie knew Chris had struggled with things like this before. The bank staff would take it even harder. She glanced over and saw the blood on their hands was dry. They’d obviously started the resuscitation effort, maybe when the man was still alive and gasping.
The guard’s pupils were fixed and dilated. Sophie released his eyelids and took the six second ECG strip Mick printed out. It showed the flat line of asystole, as she’d expected. You checked these things not so much to confirm what you already knew but to make the people involved feel they’d given the man a chance. You couldn’t walk in, take one look and just say ‘Stuffed’. You might think it but you couldn’t say it.
Maybe if he’d been shot on the operating table . . .
She got to her feet. ‘I’m very sorry but he’s gone.’
The bank staff turned to one another in helpless fright. The three police standing by murmured words of comfort and gently herded them away. One officer carried the guard’s gun in an evidence bag. They left behind a little first aid kit, the top open, and various small dressings scattered about the polished marble floor. A roll of medical tape lay on its side three metres away, covered in bloody fingerprints.
Angus put down the plastic mask. His knees came free of the pool of clotted blood on the floor with a small wet sound, and his bloodstained hands hung by his sides as he looked down at the guard. Chris still knelt at Sophie’s feet, his hands over the guard’s chest.
‘You gave him the best chance he could have had,’ she said.
Angus blew out a breath of air, and went to put his hands on his hips then stopped himself. Mick pulled the monitor leads off the electrodes, leaving the electrodes themselves in place and the guard’s shirt open. For any non-suspicious death Sophie’s next move would be to get a sheet from the ambulance and drape it over the body, but this was a crime scene. Nothing more could be touched.
Chris still knelt motionless at her feet. She picked up the Oxy-Viva and touched the back of his neck. ‘Come outside and we’ll clean you up.’
George Street was in chaos. The police had sectioned two lanes off and queues of cars, trucks, and buses were stuck behind the blue and white tape strung between police cars. Horns blared and people shouted. Flashing red and blue beacons glinted off the windows of shops and banks across the street. Curious workers watched the scene, talking with their arms folded.
At the ambulance Sophie put the Oxy-Viva back into the equipment shelves and took out a bottle of alcohol handwash. ‘Hold out your hands,’ she told Chris. She squirted it onto his palms. He held them clear of his body as he rubbed. The bloodstained liquid dripped to the roadway.
Mick leaned into the ambulance to radio Control and say the victim was code four.
Sophie turned to Angus and squeezed the bottle over his hands. The legs of his blue uniform trousers were dark with blood and the right one was hitched up from sticking to his knee. ‘So the guard got one, did he?’ Sophie said, trying to sound normal.
‘That’s what they reckon.’ Angus met her eye. ‘Shot the guy in the bum. The tellers said he let out a hell of a yelp.’
‘More,’ Chris said.
Sophie coated his hands again. The alcohol smell was strong. Chris scraped at the edges of his fingernails where the blood had gone deep. Sophie could see his short nails weren’t up to the task. ‘Here.’ She reached for his hands but he pulled back.
‘I can do it.’
He still didn’t meet her gaze. She lowered her voice. ‘What’s the matter?’
He shook his head.
She shook hers in return, annoyed but unsurprised at his reticence. Since he’d been assaulted two months ago he’d turned silent and moody. It was sometimes hard to shake the thought that it was actually because he knew what she’d more recently done, that Angus must’ve slipped and said something, but oft-checked logic told her he was moody first. Shit, it was the reason she’d gone and done it. No, that wasn’t fair. It was only partly the reason. A small part. A very small part.
Guilt bubbled in her stomach like gas in a stagnant swamp.
She eyed him. ‘Where were your gloves?’
‘There was no time,’ he said.
‘There’s always time.’
He didn’t answer.
‘Make sure you go to the hospital and get tests done. So should the bank staff.’ She’d had to do that once, when a psychotic patient bit her on the arm. Chris’s chances of contracting a disease through the unbroken skin of his hands were tiny, but still the security guard was going to be a small and silent ghost in their house for the next three months. More tension. Great. ‘You should’ve worn your gloves.’
More police arrived. They walked past with camera cases and equipment boxes. Behind the police tape a growing crowd of people watched. Some held up mobile phones and took pictures of the gathered police vehicles. Overhead, against the bright blue sky, two news helicopters hovered. The chopping of their blades was a familiar background to much of Sophie’s work.
A lanky female detective in a black pantsuit came over. ‘Phillips, you were first on scene?’
Chris nodded. ‘We were on Broadway when the call came in.’
‘The gang was gone before we arrived,’ Angus said. ‘All we saw was the guard.’
‘Okay,’ the detective said. ‘Come and find me when you’re done here.’
There was a commotion and raised voices in the crowd, then a woman in a grey skirt and white shirt, and with red hair tied back in a bun, ducked the police tape at a run. Her face was bloodless. ‘My husband,’ she gasped. She wrenched open the ambulance’s rear door. Chris went to her and she grabbed his arm. ‘Where’s my husband?’
‘Who is your husband?’
‘He works security in the bank. They said on the TV he was hurt.’ The woman’s eyes brimmed with tears. ‘Please tell me he’s already gone to hospital.’
Chris put his hands on her shoulders. ‘I’m sorry.’
'We did everything we could.’
‘No, no.’ She wept into his shirt, half-collapsing against him. Mick hurried to help and between them, their arms around the sobbing woman, they walked her away from the mesmerised crowd.
Sophie was aware of Angus coming up close behind her. ‘Your husband’s a good guy,’ he said. His breath was warm against her neck.
She turned to face him. He smiled at her. His blond hair shone in the sun. His blue eyes flicked down to her mouth for a second, then up again. ‘Don’t you reckon?’
‘You haven’t said anything, have you?’ she said.
He made a zipping motion across his lips. ‘Never.’
‘He’s so angry.’
‘Depressed,’ he said. ‘I think it’s post-traumatic stress.’
‘So do I. I tell him to go see someone, but he won’t listen.’
‘It’s the culture,’ Angus said. She could smell toothpaste and the same cologne she’d inhaled that night.
He took the handwash from her and she watched his broad hands squeeze the plastic bottle.
‘It’ll take time,’ he was saying.
Sophie raised her gaze. She’d promised herself she would stop thinking about it. Wasn’t each thought another betrayal?
She felt guilty. She always felt guilty.
Mick came back and said to Angus, ‘That detective wants you.’
Angus handed the bottle back to Sophie. It was warm. ‘You guys going to the Jungle tonight?’
‘Betcha,’ Mick said.
‘Good,’ Angus said. ‘I’ll see you there.’ He walked away.
Sophie had forgotten about the night’s fundraiser at the Southern Jungle Bar. She pictured herself sitting at a table, Chris on one side, Angus on the other. Oh Jesus.
‘You’re still okay to give Jo and me a lift home after, right?’ Mick said.
Sophie’d turned abstinent since That Night. It was the only sensible thing. It came in so handy for others they relied on it. ‘I guess.’
She tossed her gloves in the ambulance bin. She rinsed her hands then put the almost empty bottle back. Mick climbed into the driver’s seat. ‘What’s that, the fourth robbery?’
‘If it is the gang,’ Sophie said, ‘it’s their fifth.’
‘And the third person they shot dead.’
‘Only the second. The other one’s still comatose.’
‘Good as.’ Mick started the engine.
Sophie picked up the mike. ‘Thirty-one is clear the scene.’
‘Copy that, thirty-one,’ came the crackling reply. ‘You can return for your twenty.’
‘Hallelujah.’ Mick aimed the ambulance back towards the Quay.
In Alfred Street he parked in the same bus stop, took the portable radio and got out of the ambulance. Alone, Sophie stared at the casesheet and considered what she’d write.
She wanted to make it clear that the police had done everything possible. It was ridiculous, but a defence barrister might suggest that the guard’s death resulted from their ineptitude rather than from the actions of whichever scumbag was paying his bill. Sophie had seen it done before; hell, she’d been accused of similar incompetence herself. No matter how solid she made the casesheet, there was still a chance that accusations would fly, especially with one of the police officers being her husband. She could just imagine it:“Isn’t it true that you are covering for your husband? Isn’t that why you pronounced the man deceased right there and then? Because you knew he had no chance, because these officers weren’t doing their jobs? Because their mistakes would be picked up if a doctor was able to examine the victim at hospital?”
God forbid they found out about Angus too.
She shook herself and focused on her wording. She scribbled some notes on a scrap of paper, and was just starting to write when Mick came back with the food.
He drove them around to their station in The Rocks. The old brick building stood on the corner of George and Gloucester Streets, right under the southern end of the Harbour Bridge. Mick hit the remote to raise the roller door and backed into the narrow plant room. Traffic rumbled overhead on the Bridge as it did twenty-four hours a day, and closing the roller door made no difference to the noise. Taped to the muster room’s noticeboard were packets of ear plugs. It was a running joke; on nightshift at The Rocks you were never on station long enough to lie down, let alone fall asleep.
Sophie left the unfinished casesheet on the bench in the muster room and they sat in the lounge to eat.
‘That ranks in the top ten worst ways to go.’ She spoke through a mouthful of kebab. ‘It’s got it all. You’re in pain, you’re going slowly, you can’t breathe, and you’re totally aware.’
‘Did you see his hands were all bloody?’
It was too easy to picture the dying man grabbing at his own throat. ‘Number three, I reckon.’
‘No, it’s worse than the steamroller one,’ Mick said. ‘This guy knew.’
‘Didn’t we decide the steamroller guy knew too? You get caught legs first, you’ve got a second or two to figure things out.’
‘But here we have definitive proof,’ Mick said. ‘You’re giving weight to the sheer awfulness of the steamroller case. It’s got to be about the death alone, not how they look afterwards.’
‘Okay. This goes in at two. The steamroller goes to three.’ Number one was kept vacant for the awful death even they couldn’t imagine.
Lettuce fell out of Mick’s kebab. He collected it in a pile on the coffee table. ‘Mind me asking, you and Chris okay?’
Sophie looked down at her food. Where was this going? Had he guessed something? If he asked her straight out was there something going on between her and Angus, could she look him in the eye and lie? Well, hang on, she thought. There wasn’t anything going on. There had been one incident. One.
‘Chris just seems really down,’ Mick said. ‘He had tears in his eyes when we were helping that woman.’
Sophie relaxed, just a fraction. ‘It’s since that assault. I think it’s PTSD.’
‘He should get some help.’
‘We argue about that every day.’ Sophie felt tears come into her own eyes. She was grateful when Mick looked away, intent on an OH&S poster on the wall.
After a moment he looked back. ‘It’ll be okay, Soppers.’
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
* * *
Chris was in the kitchen of their Gladesville home when Sophie got in. She dumped her workbag on the floor and looked into the living room. Lachlan pulled himself up on the side of his playcot when he saw her, and she went to him and picked him up. ‘Hey, my boy, who’s my lovely boy?’ The sight of him, the feel of him in her arms, took away every bad thing the day had thrown at her.
She carried him into the kitchen. Chris was bent over a dish on the bench. She held Lachlan on her hip and smiled at the child. My wonderful son.
‘There was a load of washing still in the machine.’ Chris’s tone brought her back to earth.
‘Dammit, I forgot to hang it out this morning before work,’ she said. ‘Will we put it out now?’ She nudged Lachlan’s forehead with her nose. ‘Will we, huh, will we?’ He grinned at her.
‘It’s done,’ Chris said.
‘Oh. Thanks.’ She raised her eyebows at Lachlan. ‘At least we’re speaking.’
Chris didn’t look at her. ‘When were we not?’
‘What would you call it?’
‘We were at a job. I had work to do. Things to think about.’
‘You’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.’
‘I told you how busy I am.’
‘Yes, I know, and the robberies bother you, and the media pressure, and everything else.’ He didn’t answer. She wondered at her own behaviour, the way that without even planning to she poked at him with her words, trying to make him talk. Part of her swore it was for his benefit, that if he could talk about what was on his mind, even through provocation, he’d feel better. At the same time another part of her was terrified he’d turn to her one day and say, ‘You want to know the truth? The truth is I know what you did!’. A small cynical voice suggested maybe she wanted this to happen. She couldn’t stand the pressure, the secrecy, the guilt, and needed it in the open in the same way that she wanted his problems out there.
She noticed he was making lasagna. ‘Aren’t we eating at the Jungle?’
‘I don’t feel like going,’ he said. ‘I spent most of the afternoon doing a statement about the bank job and my head’s killing me.’
‘But it’s for your friend Dean.’
‘I rang him. He said he didn’t mind that we weren’t there. Anyway, mum’s coming over too.’
‘I promised Mick and Jo a lift home.’
‘You can still go.’ He spooned sauce into a baking dish. ‘If you want.’
She didn’t know what she wanted. Going meant getting out of the house, away from the uncomfortable silences and the awkwardness that now filled the space between them. Being around Angus would feel less weird now that Chris wasn’t going, and though every time she saw Angus she felt her cheating behaviour rise up and slap her in the face like a cold wet fish, there was something secret and deep inside her that wanted to see him again. Wanted to remember what they’d done.
No. She hugged Lachlan gently to her. I am not going down that road. It’s dangerous. And wrong.
Chris continued to layer the pasta sheets and the meat. Sophie studied his face. He didn’t even glance at her to see if she’d made up her mind.
He doesn’t know what I did. Or he wouldn’t be quite so blasé about letting me go out without him, to a place he knows Angus will be.
'Maybe I will go,’ she said.
Chris shrugged. ‘Whatever.’
She took Lachlan into the lounge room and sat down. Marriage was a minefield sometimes, and for the past five weeks she’d been stumbling through it blindfolded.
She sighed. At least she had Lachlan. He lay against her chest, still for a rare moment, his head against her neck. She inhaled his sweet baby scent. She’d been living her life flat out, running frantically from one thing to the next, with no time to sit and breathe. Lachlan must feel the same, passed continually between the three of them depending who was working and when. She should try to go part-time, if the mortgage would allow it—no, even if it wouldn’t—and make more time for him.
She rubbed her cheek against the top of his silken head. He clutched at her throat and she stood him up, facing her, his feet stamping in her lap and his tiny starfish hands reaching for her face. She brought him closer. His fingers groped along her chin and came to rest on her lips. His deep brown eyes stared into hers, unblinking. ‘I love you more than anything, and I always will,’ she said around his fingers, and his face crumpled up with joy.
Fifteen minutes later, in the shower upstairs, she squeezed the shampoo bottle hard. Nine weeks ago their house was a happy place. Coming home was a delight. She and Chris willingly shared household tasks and looking after Lachlan. They had small disagreements—who didn’t?—but they always made up before the day was out. Then two months ago he was bashed. Sophie remembered his bruised ribs and throat, his torn uniform shirt, and the story of how he and his mate Dean Rigby had fought with a suspect in a back lane in Surry Hills. Dean came out worse and was permanently off the road now, hence tonight’s fundraiser.
Chris had changed that day. He’d become preoccupied. Much less communicative. As for their sex life, well. He was quicker to anger, and they fought! Did they ever fight.
The night she’d done The Stupid Thing they’d had a big one. She’d tried again to get him to agree to see a counsellor. He’d said some things couldn’t be helped by talking. She challenged him to explain himself but he wouldn’t, and she took that to mean that he couldn’t. It was a bad move, she knew that now, because next thing he was accusing her of needing to control everything in their life, not just him but Lachlan too, and that their son would grow up under the thumb and hate her for it. She walked out the door and went to the Southern Jungle, started drinking, and then Angus introduced himself. She’d thought about it a lot since, and sometimes she decided that what she’d done was due partly to alcohol, partly to anger, and partly to her wish to prove that she was not obsessed with control, that she could go with the flow as much as the next person. See, Chris? she’d thought, squashed into the backseat of Angus’s car, her head bumping the roof. See how uncontrolled I can be?
Sometimes she decided even that could not explain it.
It was the worst mistake of her life. But it was also--No.
She stepped from the shower and dried herself like she could wipe the memory from her skin, and mentally turned back to her husband. The problem was that the combination of the robberies plus the assault on top of all the things Chris had seen and done in his years of service were piling up around him like a wall he could find no way around. He needed someone on the outside waving a big flag, calling in a loud voice, helping him discover the way through. He was so lost he couldn’t see that, and wasn’t it her job as his wife to help him do so?
She dressed in jeans and a red shirt then dried her long brown hair and tied it up again. Being on the road was no good for Chris, the way he was. The sooner he got a transfer off the road and into the Academy, the better for all of them.
The smell of baking pasta greeted her as she returned downstairs. Chris was perched on the lounge in front of the news. Lachlan was on the floor nearby, looking at a cardboard book. Sophie stood in the living room doorway and watched the Police Commissioner speaking on the TV about the robbery.
‘Secondly, I want to ask every person with medical experience to be aware they may be approached for assistance by this man. Do not accuse him or attempt to apprehend him yourself. He is armed and very dangerous. Call police immediately.’ With all the microphones in his face, Commissioner Stephen Dudley-Pearson looked like a man being held up himself. ‘Finally, I want to assure the city that its police service is working extremely hard to catch the perpetrators of these robberies. And no, I will not be resigning.’ His bulldog jowls wobbled as he spoke. ‘Now more than ever, the service needs strong leadership.’
The newsreader spoke about the victim. The screen displayed a photo of the security guard in happier times. The red-haired woman smiled into the camera over his shoulder. They had twin boys, three years old.
‘Cute,’ Sophie said.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.’
‘You didn’t.’ Chris stood up abruptly. ‘You’d better go before Mum parks you in.’
‘Yeah.’ Sophie crouched to kiss Lachlan’s forehead. ‘You have a good night too.’
* * *
Sophie drove to Annandale through the autumn night, trying to excuse Chris this latest episode of irritability. Everything else aside, he’d been covered in the guard’s blood and couldn’t save him. While paramedics were used to fighting in vain for people’s lives she sometimes forgot that for others it wasn’t a routine occurrence. She felt bad that she’d been abrupt, too, but you could blame guilt for that, along with the cumulative effect of eight weeks of domestic disharmony.
She found a place to park some distance up Johnston Street and walked back to Parramatta Road. She waited at the lights then crossed to the brick-fronted building with the neon toucan in the window.
The Southern Jungle was a cop bar. Six police injured in the line of duty had pooled their payouts and bought it a few years before. They served the beers; they learned commercial cookery and ran the small kitchen. Police and their friends drank there, and this meant it was a haven. Any time an officer was injured on the job, a fundraiser was held. If the worst happened and an officer was killed, the wake was held here too.
She pushed the door open and was accosted by a police officer she recognised from the southern suburbs. ‘Door tax,’ he said with a smile. He held out a firefighter’s helmet half-full of cash. She dropped in a ten dollar note and he gave her three raffle tickets. ‘Lucky door prize. It’ll be drawn at nine.’
The place was packed. She shouldered her way to the bar through the crowd of laughing, cheering people. On the wall behind the bar was a blown-up photo of the man of the hour, Senior Constable Dean Rigby.
‘Buy you a drink?’
Sophie turned to see Angus beside her. ‘Just mineral water,’ she said quickly.
He smiled. ‘Of course.’
When he had their drinks they moved to a space near the front window.
‘I had my blood tests.’ He showed her the Band-aid on his arm. ‘And my butt’s sore from those boosters.’
‘It only lasts a week,’ she said. ‘Kidding. Couple of days.’
The light from the neon toucan turned Angus’s blond hair green. Sophie glanced around for Mick, and her gaze fell on the table in the corner where she and Angus had sat and talked for so long on that night. She could smell his cologne again, and the laundry powder he used, the scent rising from his clothes with the heat of his body.
Angus looked at the table too, then back at her.
She said, ‘I want us to be clear about something.’
‘You don’t have to say it.’
‘I need to.’ She felt a wave of guilt and regret. What a thing she’d done. She blinked back sudden tears. ‘It was wrong and I can never do it again.’
‘I know,’ Angus said. ‘I feel the same way.’
‘If Chris ever found out—’
‘I know,’ Angus said again. ‘He won’t find out from me.’ He touched Sophie’s arm lightly, reassuringly. She felt a thrill at the touch, and looked down at his hand, remembering.
She started when there was a loud cheer by the door. Dean Rigby walked in. He wore a soft foam collar round his neck and she could imagine the shiny pink of the recent surgical scars it covered. He was immediately surrounded by well-wishers.
‘Where is Chris?’ Angus said, his tone casual.
‘Felt like a night in,’ Sophie said. ‘He’s babysitting and entertaining his mum.’
‘Ah, the lovely Gloria.’
‘You know her?’
‘Chris and I knew each other when we were kids,’ Angus said. ‘He didn’t tell you?’
Sophie thought back to when Chris came home from work a few days after the assault and mentioned he had a new partner. Sophie had said, ‘Good bloke?’ and Chris had shrugged. ‘Seems okay.’ That had been it. ‘Must have slipped his mind.’
‘He dated my sister Belinda when they were sixteen,’ Angus said. ‘It was kind of funny when we met again. He didn’t recognise me at first. Only natural, I suppose. I guess I was just a pesky fourteen-year-old brother when he and Bee wanted time alone.’ He smiled. ‘How well do you get on with Gloria?’
Sophie rolled her eyes.
He started to laugh. ‘I see.’
Sophie mashed the lemon in her mineral water with the straw. ‘We have different ideas.’
‘She still nursing?’
‘She retired for the new career of telling us how to run our lives. And so,’ Sophie said with a shrug, ‘she and I butt heads.’
‘I remember Bee used to tell me how Gloria bossed Chris around.’
‘He’s good with her. He just goes with the flow and does what he wants later,’ she said. ‘I should be grateful, because she looks after Lachlan when we’re at work. And she adores him. But I can’t get over her attitude.’
'Hey, Soph!’ Mick grabbed her from behind. ‘Did you hear, the youngest kid from that fire in Randwick’s still hanging in there?’
His wife Jo carried glasses of red wine. The contrast between them was stark: Mick’s white blond hair and easily-sunburned skin looked all the more pale beside Jo’s black hair and fine features. The only thing that matched were their blue eyes. Mick introduced Jo and Angus, then swigged half his wine and looked about. ‘Deano!’ he called and pushed through the crowd to talk to the man of the moment.
At eight-thirty, they shared a jumbo plate of nachos. At nine, Angus’s number was drawn out as the lucky door prize winner. The prize, a bottle of Glenfiddich, he immediately donated to the fundraising auction. By closing time Sophie was yawning, Mick was wearing the NSW Blues rugby league jersey he’d successfully outbid six other people for, and Jo was dancing with Angus to the Bee Gee’s Night Fever.
‘Signed by the current team,’ Mick said to Sophie. ‘Look.’
‘You showed me before,’ she said.
‘All of them.’ Mick stared down at the front of the jersey and ran his finger over the names.
Angus and Jo came back laughing. The barman shouted for last drinks. The four of them stood up to go.
Angus walked them to Sophie’s car. ‘See you on the streets tomorrow?’ Mick said to him.
‘Not likely,’ Angus said with a smile. ‘Days off for me.’
Angus bent to look in Sophie’s window. ‘Say hi to Gloria.’
‘Ha,’ Sophie said.
It was only a five minute drive to Mick and Jo’s place in Chippendale but Mick was asleep before they got there. Sophie double-parked and leaned into the back-seat to punch him in the leg. He opened his eyes. Jo climbed out of the car and pulled on his arm, and he struggled grumbling out onto the footpath.
‘Don’t you dare ring in sick tomorrow,’ Sophie called.
Fifteen minutes later she parked in her own garage and let herself into the house. Lachlan was asleep on his stomach in his cot. She gently rolled him onto his side. He snuffled and made a face then relaxed again. She stroked his head and kissed him.
Chris lay in their bed in the dark. ‘Hi.’
‘I didn’t mean to wake you.’
To Sophie’s relief he sounded friendly. When she climbed into bed Chris moved close to her and they hugged. ‘Sorry about before,’ he said.
‘You smell of cigarette smoke,’ he said. ‘How was it?’
‘Good.’ She tried to sound casual. ‘Angus was there. He told me about your disreputable past with his sister.’
She felt him smile against her cheek and her spirits rose. He said, ‘It was totally innocent.’
‘Yeah, right. I remember being sixteen,’ she said, smiling herself. ‘How was dinner?’
‘Same as ever.’
He was quiet. She propped herself on her elbow and ruffled his short dark hair. ‘Still thinking about that guard?’
‘And his wife. And his kids.’ He pressed his head into her hand. His eyes were open and he looked at the ceiling. ‘That gang needs stopping.’
‘So far they’ve just been lucky,’ she said. ‘They’re never spotted stealing or torching their getaway cars, they don’t leave their prints, and nobody’s come forward to identify the CCTV pictures. But that guard might have done the trick. Your guys will test that blood left behind, and, who knows, the DNA might match up. The name will pop out and that huge Strike Force will absolutely swamp him and his mates.’ She ran her hand across his bare stomach then snapped the elastic of his pyjama trousers against his skin, but he kept staring at the ceiling.
‘The DNA database isn’t that big,’ he said. ‘Chances are it won’t match anyone.’
‘But having been shot, he’ll have to get some help, right? He’ll turn up at a hospital or doctor’s surgery sometime soon. All you guys have to do is wait.’
‘Maybe it’s not a bad wound though. Maybe the gang will treat it themselves.’
Sophie rolled onto her back. ‘Or maybe it’s really bad and he dies and you find his body with the bullet still in it, but at least then you’ll know who he was and you can start checking out his mates.’
‘I just worry.’
His tone made her soften. ‘I know you do.’She pressed against him, absorbing his warmth. ‘You will catch them.’
‘I know.’ But there was doubt in his voice and tension in his body, and Sophie wondered what he really thought.