The winter sun had long set by the time Friday evening’s peak hour rush was over. Traffic along the busy Princes Highway in Melbourne’s outer west once again flowed freely at speed. A steady stream of red tail lights, glowing against the darkness and spread over four lanes, now led the way.
One of the many vehicles travelling the eighty kilometres towards the regional town of Geelong, in Australia’s south-east, was a diamond white BMW X5 SUV, a daily traveller of this route.
Inside this Bimmer, the new car smell still lingered strong. With the climate control set to a comfortable twenty-two degrees and Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud blaring through the car’s sound system, the driver, Mitchell Dunne, started to unwind after another busy week.
Working in media advertising in Melbourne’s city, Mitchell made the two-hour trek daily from his home in Torquay, a coastal hamlet twenty-five kilometres south of Geelong, to his office in Melbourne’s CBD and back again each night.
To many in a similar position, the four hours of travel each day was considered taxing and a depletion of available free time. To a creative thinker like Mitch however, the isolated travel time provided an opportunity to mentally draft out the next award winning TV commercial for one of his clients.
Humorous, heart-warming, witty, clever and those with a catchy jingle, Mitch and his team have done them all. In fact, some of his company’s best TV ads were conceived during one of his daily commutes.
The traffic thinned considerably by the time he passed the turn off to Point Cook, a burgeoning suburb south-west of Melbourne. Mitch set the cruise control to 105kph and relaxed back into the comfort of his soft leather seat.
By the time the suburb of Werribee was in his rear vision mirror, the highway had reduced to three lanes. Car headlights provided the only lighting along the darkened highway.
The occasional red tail lights and intermittent white lane lines flashing by were the only contrast to the winter darkness.
The rural land that stretched to the horizon on either side of the highway was nothing but black at this time of night, under a cloudy moonless sky.
After overtaking slower moving vehicles Mitch moved into the middle lane. He was more than half way to Geelong and traffic had thinned considerably.
The digital clock glowing from his dashboard showed 7.40pm. Mitch pushed a number on the touch screen panel. The chirping of a ring tone replaced the song playing through his vehicle’s sound system. His call answered after four rings.
‘Hey Mitch. How’s the new Advertising General Manager going…?’
‘Hey Dad. Pretty good thanks. It’s only been about two weeks, but so far, it’s going quite well.’
‘And how’s that new Bimmer...?’
‘It’s a dream to drive, Dad. It just glides along the road in silence. Worth every dollar, I reckon. Best promotion present I ever bought.’
‘You deserve it, son. You work damn hard, so enjoy it.’
‘Thanks Dad. So…how’s Mum…?’
‘She’s good. She’s out for dinner tonight with the girls from the gym. Someone’s birthday or something…’
Mitch glanced to his right at a vehicle travelling in the outside passing lane. Rather than passing, the car continued to travel beside Mitch’s vehicle. Mitch frowned at the car before continuing his conversation.
‘So...on your own tonight, hey? Will you watch the footy?’ Mitch said.
‘Probably later. I think it’s already started, but I’m just getting a few things together for the weekend.’
The car to Mitch’s right, a white Audi V6 sedan, continued travelling side-by-side to Mitch’s car. Mitch glared at the driver. Why won’t you pass? He shook his head in disbelief at the morons on the road these days.
His Dad continued. ‘I’m heading up to Dave’s farm tomorrow…you remember Dave and Vicky…?’
‘Yeah. They’re the ones out near Hamilton, aren’t they…?’
’That’s them. Dave’s having trouble with roos, so I’m heading up there tomorrow morning to help him cull a few of ‘em.’
‘You there Mitch…?’
‘Yeah. Yeah. I’m here. Sorry.’
The Audi still travelling by his side distracted Mitch. The front and rear passengers were now leaning out their open window gesturing towards the side of the road.
‘I’ve got this Audi beside me…’ Mitch began. ‘Been sitting there for the last three or four Kay’s now…dickhead won’t pass. It looks like there’s about…four or five in the car. Two of the passengers are pointing at me. I think they want me to pull over or something…’
’Are they dark skinned…?′
‘Ah…’ Mitch scanned the occupants of the adjoining vehicle. ‘It’s pretty dark outside…but the two on the passenger side appear to be African in appearance. I can’t see the others in the car.’
‘You’re not on that stretch of road between Point Wilson and Lara, are you?’
‘Ah…yeah, I am actually.’
‘They’re carjackers, Mitch…Do-not-pull-over. Get the fuck out of there…’
‘I have no intentions of pulling over, Dad. I think I’ll be OK…’ Mitch said.
‘Mitch…It’s been all over the news…These African blokes... news reports them as Sudanese I think... in stolen prestige cars are targeting other prestige vehicles along that stretch of road because it’s dark and remote…They force the driver to pull over, assault them with hammers or steel bars, or whatever, then take their car…They’re mongrels.’
As his Dad informed him of the potential dangers, the white Audi suddenly swerved left and side-swiped Mitch’s new Bimmer.
Mitch startled. He instinctively swerved left into the outside lane. His face distorted. ‘What the fuck….’ His timing was fortunate. As he swerved, the front seat passenger, who had leaned his upper body out his window, swung a hammer at Mitch hitting nothing but air. The passenger flashed a toothy grin at Mitch.
‘What’s wrong?’ Dad said.
‘This prick beside me just side-swiped me…he hit my car…then the passenger swung a hammer at me.’
Mitch hit a button to lower his window. Cold winter wind gushed into the car. He lifted his mobile phone and took a series of photos of the Audi passengers. The aggressive gesticulations by the occupants of the car suggested they were annoyed at being photographed.
The Audi again swerved violently towards Mitch. This time Mitch was ready. He swerved left onto the shoulder, then stamped on the accelerator.
Although he travelled this road twice a day, Mitch never had the desire to open his car up on the highway. Now was as good a time as any. His fight or flight instincts screamed at him to flee.
His new Bimmer surged forward. The white Audi followed, maintaining a lateral position in the middle lane. The front and rear passengers in the Audi continued to signal at Mitch, jabbing a finger towards the side of the road.
Mitch climbed his vehicle to 140kph. The Audi followed. The men kept waving and pointing. He had to stay alert. If the Audi swerved at him again, any sudden evasive action at this speed could be dangerous.
‘Everything OK Mitch…?’
‘I’m doing 150 and they’re staying with me…Shit, the guy in the front is now waving a hammer at me…Do you believe this?’
‘Hang up and call the cops…’ Dad said.
‘Ok. Good idea. I’ll call ya later.’
Mitch ended the call. He was more focussed on concentrating on driving at high speed, rather than dialling the cops.
His heart raced as he pushed the speed to 175 kph. Squirts of adrenalin pulsed through his body. These German cars were built to travel safely at high speed, but this Melbourne-Geelong highway was not the Autobahn. This well-worn road surface was tricky enough to manage at 100 kph.
The speedo continued to climb. The Audi stayed with him. Mitch’s stomach churned. He was concerned at what these idiots might do at this speed.
‘Where are the cops when you need them…?’ Mitch blurted to himself. His eyes darted between his mirrors and the open road ahead.
His speedo ticked passed 180 kph. The other road users were but a blur as Mitch flew by at almost double their speed.
He glanced into his rear view mirror. The tension in his shoulders eased slightly when he noticed the Audi’s headlights had fallen well back. Mitch held his speed. These guys spooked him, so he wasn’t about to slow down in case they re-appeared.
By the time Mitch’s heart rate calmed down he found himself travelling along the Geelong Ring Road, a thirty kilometre stretch of highway to the west of Geelong that by-passed the town on the way through to the region’s picturesque coastlines.
The southern end of the Ring Road bypassed his parent’s suburb of Highton, a quiet upper-middle, to upper class suburb south of Geelong’s CBD.
When Mitch noticed the fast approaching exit sign to Highton, he took a detour to visit his father, to let his Dad know everything was OK. If he was being true to himself, he also wanted to talk through what just happened.
Mitch checked his mirrors and took the next exit to Highton.
The headlights from Mitch’s Bimmer flashed across the front of his parent’s home like a search light, as he swung into their driveway. He let his car idle while he took a moment to compose himself.
While still holding the steering wheel, his head fell onto his hands. After a few moments Mitch fell back in his seat. He ran his hands through his hair as he exhaled heavily, then pushed a button to kill the vehicle’s engine.
After lifting his keys, phone and wallet, Mitch climbed out. He used his mobile phone torch to inspect the damage to the driver’s side of his new pride and joy. He shook a disapproving head as he ran a hand over the deep gouges in the car’s paint work, some of which exposed bare metal.
He stepped back and rubbed a hand across his mouth as he surveyed the full extent of the damage. Horizontal lines of scratches and dents extended from the driver’s door, through to the rear wheel arch. He shook a frustrated and disappointed head as he moved to the front door.
Mitch rang the front door bell, as a courtesy, then used his key to unlock the front door. As he stepped inside his father, Max emerged from one of the front bedrooms on the left, deep into the spacious entry hall. His Dad smiled when he saw Mitch.
‘Mitch…’ Max said as he moved to greet his son. ‘This is unexpected. You OK? How did everything go with those idiots on the highway…?’ Max said while he regarded his son.
‘Yeah I’m good, Dad,’ although his tone said otherwise. He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. ‘But you should see what he did to my new car when he side-swiped me.’ Mitch beckoned to his Dad. ‘Come and have a look.’
Mitch returned to the driveway with his Dad. His torch light illuminated the damage.
Like Mitch, Max ran a curious hand along the deep gouges in the paint work. He shook his head. ‘It’s gunna need re-spraying along this whole side…’ Max gestured the length of the vehicle. Mitch was well aware of the extent of damage.
Max briefly regarded his son. He placed a hand on Mitch’s shoulder. ‘I know you don’t want to hear this… but it’s only a car, mate…’
Mitch’s eyebrows arched as he met his father’s gaze.
Dad continued. ’Yeah, I know it’s a new car…’ Max flicked a finger at the BMW. ‘But cars can be replaced…you can’t, OK?’ He punctuated his comment with a gentle shake of Mitch’s shoulder.
Mitch nodded slowly. His Dad’s logic was sound, but it didn’t make it any easier to look at the damage those thugs caused to his new car and got away with it.
Max watched Mitch during the extended silence, while Mitch continued to survey his damaged car.
‘I don’t know about you, but I’m bloody freezing out here…’ Max said. ‘Come on in and have a beer…Calm you down a little.’
As Mitch and Max moved inside, Dad continued. ‘Do you want to call Alison to let her know you’re here…?’
‘Nah, It’s all good…I sent her a text just before I came in.’