The phone rang and Carly grabbed it up. 'Martens, The Rocks.'
Control said, 'Call to a woman screaming, possible domestic, at eleven Iredale Street in Potts Point.'
Carly scribbled down the address and looked out the muster room window, past the parked ambulances, at the empty plant room doorway. 'Has Aidan called in sick?'
'It's four past,' Control said.
She knew. 'Put me down as single and him as absent.'
'O-kay,' he said.
She read a whole world in his tone. 'You know what he's like.'
'Further info on the case,' Control continued blandly. 'The cross street is Viscount Road.'
Just then Aidan sauntered in, hands in pockets and sunglasses on his stupid face though the sun had almost set. Carly broke the pencil lead on the street name. 'Cancel that absent.'
'O-kay,' Control said.
Carly hung up and yanked open the door. 'You're late. We've got a job. Get in.'
Aidan took off his sunnies. 'Gotta grab my workbag.'
'No time.' She got into the ambulance and fired up the engine then saw him go into the locker room. The blood starting to pound in her head, she whooped the siren and blew the horn but he still took almost a minute to emerge with his bag over his shoulder. She punched the button to drop his window. 'Could you take any longer?'
He climbed in and put his bag on the floor. 'What've we got?'
'Woman screaming, possible domestic.' She drove out of the station and jabbed at the remote to shut the doors, then hit the lights and siren.
'It'll turn out to be nothing,' he said. 'Woman'll say she's fine. They always do.'
The blood thundered in her veins. 'That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.'
'I've seen it before and I shall see it again.'
She looked across at him, his pretty boy face, his oh-so-cool slouch. 'You better get your shit together. We start at six, not six-oh-five.'
'It's the trains.'
'Catch an earlier one.'
'I was at a job.'
'Time to work out which job you want.'
'Like you with your auditions?'
She jerked the wheel to avoid a braking driver. 'You're full-time here and a trainee to boot. You should be using your free time to study, not prance about on catwalks.'
'That's not the kind I do.'
'Mick and I have to write reports on your progress and punctuality gets noted.'
'I've met trainees who did worse stuff and got through.'
Carly thumped the horn to change the wailing siren to yelp. 'Don't you want to be good at the job?'
'Hey, just because I don't cry doesn't mean I don't care.'
'That was a SIDS,' she said. 'And I'm not talking about crying. Anyone can see you don't give a shit.'
He turned the rearview towards himself and touched his hair. 'Feel free to think what you like.'
'What I think goes in the report.'
'I'll be fine.'
Carly wrenched the mirror back. The shift stretched out before her like the road to hell.
He said, 'You know what they say about actors?
'You already told me.'
'Those who look good, model. Those who don't, act.'
Carly flung the ambulance around the corner into Iredale Street and turned off the lights and siren. She spotted number three fifty five on her left and pulled over.
Aidan released his belt and reached for the door.
'The job's at number eleven,' she said.
He raised his eyebrows. 'I don't know for sure, because I'm just a stupid trainee, but I have a feeling that might be up the other end.'
'So why have I stopped here?'
'Probably to lecture me about something.'
She squeezed the wheel. 'What are we going to?'
'What's the first thing you consider in going to any job but especially these?'
'Safety.' Idiot. 'Look down there.'
Aidan stared out the windscreen.
'Oh,' he said. 'No.'
'Look like anyone is out and listening, or upset about hearing something?'
Aidan shook his head.
The street was quiet, the twilight shadows deepening. A man walking a fat brown dog looked curiously at them. 'Think that guy would look so relaxed if the shit was hitting the fan down the way?'
'No.' Snippy now.
Carly gritted her teeth. 'So what decision do we have to make?'
'Whether to stand off or go closer.'
'That's right,' Carly said. 'Your thoughts?'
'We'll be fine.'
All trainees took that stance. Carly had done so herself once upon a time, before a bullet whistled past her ear. Now if she felt so much as a twinge at the back of her neck she stood off.
She released the park brake and lowered the windows and dawdled the ambulance towards the address. Even doing this was too much on some jobs because people got the shits if they spotted you and you wouldn't go in. If she'd seriously felt there could be trouble she would've hidden in a side street out of sight.
'If-' Aidan began.
'Shut up.' She heard no fighting or screaming. Her neck was good. She parked close to the address and turned off the engine. 'Okay.'
Aidan grabbed the Oxy-Viva and first aid kit and headed for the low gate. Carly followed with the drug box and monitor, still listening. No sound other than the sigh of tyres on the street behind her and a newsreader being all serious on a television somewhere nearby.
Two steps led up from the footpath to the townhouse's small porch. The black front door was closed. A window beside it was protected by black bars, and a heavy curtain stopped them seeing in. Aidan glanced at Carly.
'You happy?' she said.
Aidan nodded and reached for the brass knocker. The sound was dull and flat. Carly listened closely. Sometimes this was when the screaming started.
The woman who opened the door after a minute was red-eyed but held her chin high. Drops of blood marked the left shoulder of her grey T shirt and the leg of her jeans, and she pressed a folded wad of tissues to her ear lobe. A twist of silver hung from the piercing in her right ear. 'Oh. Hello.'
'Are you okay?' Aidan said.
'It's nothing,' she said. 'Certainly not an emergency.'
'How about we come in and make sure?'
'Really, it's fine,' she said with a smile.
'Who else is here?' Carly said.
'My husband,' she said. 'He's also fine.'
'Mind if we speak to him as well?'
'Of course you can,' a male voice said from down the hall. The man who walked towards them wore jeans and a green jumper. When he reached the doorway Carly could see he was smiling. 'Sorry that you guys got called out. I don't know who rang but it wasn't us.'
'Neighbours sometimes worry,' Carly said.
'Understandable,' the man said. 'Would you like to come in?'
'Thanks,' Carly said. 'We're pretty much required to check you out once we're here.'
The man nodded and the woman stepped back and held the door for them. Aidan and Carly followed the man down the hallway to a dimly-lit lounge room. Carly looked for signs of the fight but there were none. 'So what happened?'
'Just a silly disagreement,' the woman said.
'That resulted in you tearing out her earring?' Carly said to the man.
'It got caught.' He fingered a loose loop of wool on the wrist of his jumper sleeve.
'And it didn't tear right out, just pulled it a bit,' the woman put in.
'How about I have a look?' Aidan said. 'Is there anywhere with better lighting?'
'The bathroom,' the woman said. Aidan took the first aid kit and followed her out of the room.
'Caught on your jumper,' Carly said to the man.
He smiled sheepishly. 'Sometimes she gets in this hyped-up state and the only way I can get her to calm down and listen and talk sensibly is to hold her.'
Carly raised her eyebrows.
'You hear that type of story a lot, I suppose.'
'The police hear it even more,' she said.
'The police are coming?'
'You don't want them here?' Surprise, surprise.
'It's just unnecessary. I feel like all you people have more important things to do. I mean, you can see it was nothing much.'
'It's procedure,' Carly said. 'So are you hurt?'
'Is that a yes or a no?'
The man pulled up his sleeve to reveal a scratch along the inside of his forearm. 'Like I said, it's nothing.'
'How'd you get scratched like that if your sleeve was down to catch her earring?'
'I don't know.'
'I know you don't believe me-'
'It doesn't matter what I believe,' Carly said. 'Are you injured anywhere else?'
'Okay then.' Carly took her notebook from her shirt pocket. 'I'll need your name and date of birth.'
'We have to document all this, which means I have to write down who I spoke to.' She was getting fed up, and Aidan and the woman still weren't back though all he'd had to do was check the wound and clean it. Carly hated working with trainees at times like this when they were out of sight and hearing. Aidan had rocks in his head and she never knew what odd thing he might do or say.
'Connor Crawford. Eighth of November, 1970.'
She wrote it down. 'This is your home address?'
'Health problems? On any medication?'
'No and no.'
'Want to go to hospital?'
'Procedure,' Carly said.
'Have you had the ambulance or police here before for this sort of thing?'
'Never.' Crawford looked past her to the hallway, in the direction Aidan and the woman had gone.
'She's your wife?'
Crawford nodded. 'Her name's Suzanne.'
Carly put away her notebook. 'Wait here.' She went into the hall and found the bathroom door open a few centimetres, golden light streaming out into the gloomy corridor. She tapped twice and pushed the door fully open.
The woman was perched on the edge of the bath with her head tilted up to the light. Aidan was standing close - too close - and jerked away when Carly came in. She frowned. How many times have I told you?
The woman slid her eyes Carly's way, nonchalant.
'Uh, as I was saying, Mrs Crawford, I don't think you need to go to hospital.'
Carly stepped near to see. The woman’s earlobe was pink and cleaned of blood. The piercing hole was intact. Carly stared at Aidan, who lowered his gaze. The woman fingered her ear and watched them.
Carly said, 'Any other injuries?'
'No,' Aidan said.
'Got all the details?'
Carly pointed to her watch.
Back in the living room Carly said to Crawford, 'Her ear looks fine.'
'I knew that already.'
There was a knock at the front door and Crawford went to answer then came back with two baby-faced crew-cut police officers. 'You transporting anyone?' one asked Carly.
She shook her head. 'Minor injuries only.'
'It's really nothing,' Crawford said.
'It's true,' the wife said, coming back in with Aidan. 'Hardly a scratch.'
Carly was over it. The cops would sort them out, and so long as they didn't start up again later and frighten more neighbours, she and Aidan wouldn't be back.
Outside in the ambulance she stowed the gear and got behind the wheel. Aidan clipped in his seatbelt and pulled the case sheet folder onto his knee. 'So how should I write that up?'
Carly restrained her voice. 'How do you think?'
'I'd write down the injuries and what we did, and then write that transport wasn't required.'
'Good.' Carly started the engine, then folded her arms.
'You waiting to see if the cops come out?'
'Nope.' She nodded at the microphone. 'I'm waiting for you to call Control.'
'It'd be nice to write this up fully first.'
'Make notes and finish it later. We already spent longer there than we should.'
Aidan kept his head bent over the casesheet. 'She was upset, we were talking.'
'What's that supposed to mean?'
She handed him the mike. 'You model-types are too sensitive.'
Aidan muttered something and raised the microphone. 'Thirty-seven is clear, transport not required.'
'Thanks, Thirty-seven,' Control said. 'Head for Ultimo. I'll get back to you shortly.'
'Copy.' Aidan hooked up the mike and went back to the case sheet. The cops came out of the house. They waved and smiled and got into their car. Carly waved back, checked for traffic, then drove off into the deepening twilight.
The night was busy, as all city nightshifts were. In a brief stint on station at 3 a.m., while Aidan slumped onto the lounge, Carly went to sigh at herself in the bathroom mirror. Her eyes were bloodshot and baggy and she dreaded what she'd look like by the audition at 10, but it couldn’t be helped, she’d already had one warning about her sick leave and nobody would swap a shift. It was all Aidan's fault. Everyone else on the station was not-so-secretly pleased he’d been assigned to her and Mick. At least you only have to work with him two shifts a week, being part-time, they’d told her. But even that was frustrating beyond belief because he just didn’t get the job. Look at tonight. She couldn't count the number of times she'd said how important it was to consider your safety before you neared a scene, or how you had to be mindful of people's personal space, even how you don't turn up to work late, for God's sake! She and Mick and their boss Ken Butterworth had had meetings upon meetings about various ways to teach him, about how he perhaps learned by reading, or maybe by doing, or watching or listening, but they’d tried it all and he still fucked up. Add to that his cracks about acting, his constant attention to his hair, and his coffee breath in the close confines of the ambulance cabin in the small hours, and she was sick to death of him.
She came out of the locker room and saw the passenger door of the ambulance door wide open and the cabin light on. She glanced into the lounge room at the empty lounge. She stood for a moment then crossed the muster room and eased through the door.
Aidan sat sideways in the passenger seat with his back to her. She peered past him and bristled.
'What the fuck are you doing in my bag?'
He didn't even jump, the ice cold bastard. He pushed her bag away and slid down from the truck. 'I thought you might've brought your anat. and phys. textbook.'
'Bullshit.' Carly's anger slithered along her bones and down her arms to curl her fists. 'Have a bit of decency and tell the truth.'
'I am,' he said. 'I was thinking about the-'
'Be honest for one second of your measly life,' she said. 'Thieving little shit.'
He laughed. 'You think I'm after your wallet? Haven't I told you how much I make from modelling?'
'I was looking for your textbook.'
'Get out of my sight.'
He slammed the ambulance door and stamped back into the muster room.
Carly wrenched the door back open and yanked her bag towards her. The zip was open all the way and her raincoat was half pulled out. She took that out and refolded it, then took out her trauma pouch, hard hat, protocol book, a few spare gloves, a half-empty box of mint Tic Tacs and a squashed travel packet of tissues. Nothing was missing. She repacked it then rezipped the bag and jammed it in behind her seat. Her wallet was safe in her left shirt pocket, and in her right was her notebook and . . . her progress report on Aidan's performance.
She shoved the door shut and stormed inside. Aidan lay in the recliner with his eyes closed.
'You think if you find my report you can alter it? Burn it? Throw it away?'
'I have no idea what you're talking about.' He didn't open his eyes.
'The facts are stored in my head too, you know,' she said.
He turned his face away and settled deeper into the chair.
'You'll get away with nothing.'
'Audition today?' Aidan said as they headed out of the station into the bright eight a.m. sunlight at the end of the shift.
He smiled. 'How'd the ones go last week?'
She walked away without replying. She hated that he'd guess her lack of response meant she hadn't landed any of the jobs, that he did endless photo shoots modelling watches and hats and fucking men's moisturiser while she couldn't get a spot in a picnicking crowd in a Red Rooster commercial.
'Enjoy,' he called out.
On the bus she got out her phone then put it away. Mick would be sleeping in before his nightshift tonight. She would tell him about Aidan's shitty prying later. She struggled to stay awake through the bus's gentle swaying then once home she opened a can of Coke, stripped off her uniform, washed her face, strapped on her ice eye-mask and got into the shower. With her head back against the glass and the Coke held clear of the stream she imagined the sugar and hot water replacing her fatigue with energy. With zip. Verve. Pizzazz. The audition was for roles in a tampon commercial, and no way they’d want somebody looking stuffed. Hehe.
Once out and dry she studied her face in the mirror. Lots of green-based make-up and cross your fingers. That was all anybody could do.
* * *
Mick walked into the station at ten to six that night and went straight for his pigeonhole. One inter-office envelope, all the previous scribbled-out addresses at HQ in Rozelle. This had to be it. He tore it open.
Dear Officer Schultz, thank you for your letter. Unfortunately-
He screwed it up and hurled it in the bin.
‘Mick,’ Aidan said from the lounge room over the TV’s blare. ‘Come and see. They just showed you walking out of the court again.’
Mick stared out the window at the falling darkness and wondered how on earth he would tell Jo.
‘Now they’re showing Sophie. She’s just walking along like nothing’s wrong. Not trying to run away or hide her face or anything,' Aidan said.
Maybe he would tell her he'd had no reply. Just hold off until the miscarriage was further behind them.
'You’d think she’d feel bad.' Aidan was behind him now.
'You'd think Sophie would feel bad about what she did.'
Mick pulled himself together. ‘You think she doesn’t?’
‘It’s the way she walks along, like she’s not ashamed at all. If I was that guy’s family I’d be pissed.’
Mick cut him off. 'Checked the truck?'
'I thought we could do it together. I came in early specially.'
'Just go and do it,' Mick said. 'I have to make a call.'
Aidan grabbed the ambulance keys and went into the plant room. Mick got out his mobile and sat at the desk. Jo wanted to know the second he knew, but as he held the phone in his hands he thought about her pottering around the house, still hopeful, and couldn't make himself dial.
The phone buzzed in his hands and Carly's name popped up on the screen.
'Hey you,' he said.
'I saw the envelope from Rozelle,' she said. 'They grown a brain?'
'Bastards,' she said. 'How's Jo?'
'You haven't told her.'
'I just got here,' he said.
'Man up,' Carly said, a smile in her voice.
'What reason did they give?'
He got the letter from the bin and uncrumpled it. 'It would affect staffing arrangements; I'm contracted to part-time for the entire year and I signed the paper knowing that; if they change the system for me they have to do it for everybody.'
'Blah blah,' Carly said.
'More or less.' Mick saw Aidan looking in the window at him. 'Hang on,' he said to Carly. 'Got a problem?'
Aidan said, 'Kind of.'
Mick held back a sigh. 'I'll be there in a minute.'
Aidan went back to the ambulance and Mick raised the phone to hear Carly giggling. 'It's not funny,' he said.
'I know. Listen, last night I caught him going through my bag.'
'Possibly after my report,' she said. 'That or my wallet.'
'The bloody little shit.'
'You keep yours in your shirt too, right?'
'Both of them,' he said.
The job phone rang.
'Aw crap,' Mick said.
Mick picked up the station phone. 'The Rocks, Mick Schultz speaking.'
'Sorry mate,' Control said. 'It's a woman with a wart on her foot.'
Mick went out to the ambulance and handed the scrap of paper to Aidan.
'No way,' Aidan said.
Mick looked in the brightly-lit back of the ambulance. The Oxy-Viva was open, masks spilling out. Aidan made no move to close it and Mick said, 'Well?'
'Can't turn the cylinder on.'
For fuck's sake. 'Righty tighty, lefty loosey.'
'I know. It won't turn.'
Aidan scuffled with the thing. Mick watched in a melancholy mood, thinking about the struggle of working with someone like him, about the refusal of the service to put him back on fulltime, about how much of his life he'd spent in the back of vehicles just like this one. About all the people he'd seen die in there and the smaller number who'd been born. He remembered hearing a story about how souls stayed attached to the place they'd died and he imagined them stacked up high inside the ambulance, the ones who couldn't fit trailing along behind as he drove through the streets. He thought about his and Jo's miscarried babies, of the latest one who'd made it to sixteen weeks, the longest of them all, and how Jo had said through her tears that it was promising, promising Micko, can't you see, we just have to keep going, and how the hell he was going to tell her now that with the service's knockback they couldn't afford another round.
Oxygen whooshed as Aidan managed to turn the cylinder on.
Mick counted to ten while Aidan fumbled to turn it off again but the cylinder continued to hiss. 'Seal's not seated properly.'
The hissing stopped. Aidan piled the gear back into the Viva and zipped it up. 'This is crap.'
Mick ignored him and got behind the wheel.
Aidan stowed the Viva and slammed the door. 'Last night Carly and I did a man with a cold, a boy who vomited once and was frightened because he doesn't usually vomit, and an idiot with an ingrown hair.'
Mick started the engine.
Aidan flung himself into the passenger seat. 'People are so stupid.'
Mick said, 'Some are so stupid they even snoop in other people's bags.'
Aidan turned the mirror and checked his hair. Mick turned it back without a word.
They did small cases until close to midnight and Mick was glad. He didn't have to think too much, didn't need to watch Aidan too closely as he examined the patient on scene, didn't need to drive with one eye on the rearview when he was in the back of the ambulance with them. With some trainees you could relax. With Aidan he just couldn't, but at least on these cases the fool wouldn't kill anyone.
The drawback of not being on high alert was having time to think about telling Jo.
They got into the ambulance at St Vincent's after delivering an elderly man with a blocked catheter and Mick waited for Aidan to pick up the microphone and tell Control they were clear.
Instead Aidan tossed the folder on the dash and stretched, pressing his hands against the cabin roof. 'Didn't sleep much today.'
Mick pointed at the mike.
'Did something much more fun.' Aidan linked his fingers behind his head.
'If he doesn't have a case for us I want to get an Icy Pole.'
Aidan picked up the mike but didn't press the transmit button. 'Got myself laid.'
Mick rolled his eyes. 'Just call him.'
'Thirty-seven's clear St Vincent's,' Aidan said into the mike.
'Stand by,' Control replied.
'It was hot stuff,' Aidan said to Mick.
'Why are you here?' Mick said.
Aidan glanced around as if not sure what he was referring to.
'In this job,' Mick said.
'To look after people.'
It rang as true as when a user on the nod swore he'd taken nothin, man, nothin. 'No, really: why?'
'Thirty-seven,' Control said. 'Call to woman collapsed, query stabbed, Eleven Iredale Road, Potts Point. Police are on the way.'
Mick started the engine and accelerated away from the hospital.
'Thirty-seven, you copy?'
Mick flipped on the lights and siren then glanced over to see Aidan wide-eyed in the glare of the oncoming headlights with the mike still in his hand. 'You going to answer him?'
But Aidan was frozen. Mick grabbed the mike and pressed the transmit button. 'Thirty-seven's on the case.' He rehooked the mike. 'You've done a stabbing before. You'll be fine.'
Aidan didn't answer and Mick focused on the road ahead. The night was moonless and the orange streetlights made everything look cold and tired. He swung the ambulance around slowing cars then saw police cars tear across the intersection ahead. He followed them to the address and pulled up at the front. Cops waited by the small porch at the front of the townhouse and a group of neighbours stood bunched together in the street.
Aidan stumbled out of the truck without calling Control then towards the house without getting any gear. Mick swore then radioed on scene. He grabbed the Oxy-Viva, first aid kit, and drug box himself, and lugged it across the footpath to where Aidan had stopped at the steps leading up to a small porch.
Mick dropped the Viva on Aidan's foot. 'Forget something?'
Aidan looked like he was in a daze, but he picked it up.
The copper at the door pointed out dry blood smears on the doorstep and a couple dotted up the hall. 'Make sure you step over those.'
Aidan didn't move. Mick pushed past him. The lights were on in the hallway and he followed the cop past the bloodstains to the kitchen at the end. The back door stood wide open.
'If you could just confirm it,' the cop said.
A woman wearing only a pair of blue silk boxers was slumped against a stainless steel fridge. There were three stab wounds in her left breast and blood had run from each to lie in a dark pool around her. Her light brown hair hung over her face, her hands lay limp and bloodied in the pool by her sides, and Mick averted his eyes from her blood-stained feet and the kick marks at the pool's dark edge.
Aidan edged into the room. He was the treating officer for the shift therefore it was his job to check the body, but he simply stood and stared, not moving even when Mick nudged him.
Mick crouched in a token feel for a carotid pulse. He touched the back of his wrist to her cool shoulder. The blood on her skin was dry and the pool had clotted. Looking up under her wall of hair he saw that the surface of her brown half-open eyes was dull.
He shook his head at the cop.
The cop nodded. 'I'll get you to go back outside.'
Mick picked up his gear and bumped Aidan in the leg with the first aid kit. 'Come on.'
They went back out to the small porch. More neighbours had gathered and were kept back behind a police tape. Mick looked at Aidan and even in the poor light could see he was pale.
'First murder's always the worst.' It wasn't true. They were all bad. You had to not think about the person's last moments.
Aidan still held the Oxy-Viva and drug box. Mick tugged them free from his grip and put them down. 'You can take your gloves off.' It was almost touching to see him so shaken up. Maybe he wasn't completely heartless and stupid after all. 'You okay?'
Aidan said weakly, 'Carly and I were here last night for a domestic.'
Ah. Mick stripped off his gloves and put his hand on Aidan's shoulder. 'It's easier when you've haven't met them.'
'I can't believe it,' Aidan said.
It wasn't a particularly gruesome scene compared with some Mick had faced. Yet Aidan was hot and sweaty to touch, even through his shirt. 'You feel faint?'
Aidan shook his head but he looked dazed. Mick pushed him into a cane chair in the corner of the porch and made him put his head on his knees. 'If that doesn't help you'd better lie down.'
Aidan folded his arms around his legs. Mick felt a little sorry for him. A cop walked up the steps and glanced over. Mick shrugged at her and she smiled.
He crouched beside Aidan. 'Everyone feels faint at some time. Did you eat dinner tonight?'
Aidan sat up. There were tears in his eyes. 'I think it's my fault.'
'Remember I said I got laid today.'
'Well . . .'
Mick stared at him. 'No.'
Aidan put his head in his hands.
'You're serious? You slept with her?'
'I didn't mean to.'
'What, she just fell into your lap when you were naked? Jesus, Aidan.' Mick stood up.
'What if her husband found out?' Aidan hugged his knees. 'What if he killed her because of me?'