After breakfast the following morning, Mitch leaned a shoulder on a wall watching a competitive game of tennis out on the courts. The talent was low but the warming sun and fresh air encouraged him to persevere.
The continuous alarm that precedes an announcement sounded. Mitch predicted the announcement was for a random head count. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
His mouth fell open when the announcement summoned him to report to the central Guard’s station in the unit ground floor. He scanned all those in his immediate vicinity. No-one even flinched.
With hands thrust deep into his pockets, Mitch casually strolled back towards the unit. His mind ran through all the likely reasons why they would call him over the PA.
He considered he was about to face disciplinary action over yesterday’s arm breaking incident. Maybe the Supervisor’s investigation found that Mitch over stepped the boundaries of self-defence. Wouldn’t be the first time I have been accused of that.
Mitch approached the male Guard at the Guard Station. ‘Mitchell Dunne. My name was just called over the PA.’
‘Oh, right…’ The Guard checked some paperwork on his desk. He lifted a page from the desk and read from it. ‘Mitchell Dunne…Ah, right. OK. You need to come with me…’ the guard said. His face was expressionless.
‘Why? What’s the problem…?’
‘Not really sure…ya just have to come with me’
‘No idea at all…?’
‘Am I in the shit for something?’
‘All I know is, I have to take you to Admin.’
The guard escorted Mitch out of their unit, along the outside path and into an office in the administration building located at the front of the prison. The guard knocked on an office door. A voice from inside bellowed, ‘Come in.’
The guard opened the door and directed Mitch inside. The guard followed.
A man dressed in a dark grey suit with a red tie, stood from his desk and moved around to greet Mitch. Standing off to the side of the room were two uniform Victoria police officers.
Mitch curiously regarded the cops as he entered the office.
‘This is Mitchell Dunne,’ the guard said to the man in the suit.
‘OK. Thank you,’ the man said. The guard moved over and stood off to the side of the room.
Mitch started to worry what was going on. Thoughts of concern ran through his head. Surely this isn’t because of some pissy fight in the lunch room. Surely the idiot didn’t die on me…
‘What’s going on?’ Mitch asked.
The man gestured to a chair at his desk. Mitch took a seat. ‘My name is Jonathon de Vries. I am the Manager here at Port Philip Prison.’
Good for you, Mitch said to himself. But what Mitch actually said was, ‘OK…’ His gaze shifted to the cops.
‘These two officers are from the Werribee Police Station. They are here to talk to you…’ de Vries extended his hand to the cops. ‘Gentlemen…’
‘Is this about yesterday’s fight…?’ Mitch asked.
‘Fight…?’ de Vries’ puzzled expression flicked to the cops. ‘No this isn’t about any fight…’ he said. De Vries stepped back and the two cops approached Mitch.
The serious expressions on their faces concerned Mitch. ‘What’s going on?’ He asked the cops.
The cop with two stripes on his shoulder spoke. ‘Mr Dunne…my name is Leading Senior Constable Danny Luis. As Mr de Vries indicated, I’m from the Werribee police station. We received some news this morning that there has been a fire at a house in Highton…’
Mitch’s eyes flared. His jaw dropped. ‘A fire…?’ It wasn’t the word “fire” that worried Mitch. It was the fact the fire was in Highton and the cops were here talking to him.
‘Do you know a Jenny Dunne…?’ The cop said.
Mitch glared at the cop. ‘Yes. She’s my mother. What’s happened?’
The cop took a breath. Mitch adjusted himself in his seat waiting for some answers.
‘I very sorry to have to tell you this, Mr Dunne, but your mother passed away overnight…’
Mitch’s mouth fell open. His shoulders slumped as he held a stunned expression on the cop, as he continued.
‘The Fire Brigade found your mother in the bedroom of her house after they extinguished the fire.’
Mitch firmly shook his head. ‘No…No…It can’t be…Not mum as well… Are you sure it’s my mother…?’ Mitch said.
‘That is my advice. There was only one occupant found in the house…As I understand it, your mother resides there on her own…?’ The cop said as a question.
Mitch’s head fell forward. His shoulders slumped. He struggled to get any meaningful breaths. Mitch cupped his forehead. ‘How did this happen…? What caused the fire?’
The cop briefly glanced towards his colleague. ‘Police suspect the fire may have been deliberately lit. Investigators detected an accelerant which had been used to start the fire…’
Mitch’s head shot up. ‘Deliberately lit…? You mean…Arson…’ Mitch said. ‘You’re saying arson, right?’
The cop responded with a straight mouth and a single nod.
‘Who the fuck would deliberately burn down my mother’s home…?’
The cop shrugged. ‘At this stage, not a lot is known,’ the Cop said. His tone was flat and sombre. ‘We are not involved in the investigation. We are only passing on a message for the Geelong Police.’ The Cop glanced at de Vries. ‘Is there anything we can do to assist...? Other family that needs to be contacted..?’
Mitch’s glazed eyes were in a fixed stare. ‘No.’ He rested his head on his hands. His eyes welled up. He remembered the last time he saw his mother at his remand hearing. His last memory of her was seeing her with that distressed look on her face as they led him away to prison.
Mitch wiped an escaping tear. He couldn’t believe it. Not mum as well.
‘Would you like to talk to someone…about this terrible tragedy…?’ De Vries said. ‘We have excellent professional people here you can talk to, if you would like.’
Mitch shook his bowed head.
‘I’m sorry to bring this up so close to receiving this terrible news…’ de Vries began, ‘I’m not sure if you are aware of this or not…but you can apply for special leave so you can attend your Mother’s funeral, if that is what you would like to do…’
Mitch’s head shot up. He glared at de Vries. Why was he hearing about this now? He missed his father’s funeral because he assumed being in jail prevented him from attending. Did this mean he could’ve attended his Dad’s funeral?
‘So, what you are telling me is, even though I am in jail, I can apply to get special leave so I can leave jail and attend my mother’s funeral…?’
‘That is correct. You will be under escort, of course, but, yes that is correct. I would suggest, given the circumstances, you shouldn’t have any problems getting the special leave approved,’ de Vries said.
‘Does this mean I could’ve attended my father’s funeral as well…?’
De Vries shot a puzzled glance at the two cops. ‘I wasn’t aware your father had passed away. Did he pass away while you have been here in Port Philip Prison?’
‘A couple of days before. But his funeral was while I have been in here…’
‘I wasn’t aware. I’m terribly sorry. But to answer your question…yes, you certainly could’ve applied for special leave to attend your father’s funeral.’
Mitch shook a disappointed head. ‘It would’ve been handy to have known that before now…It was hard enough knowing I had to miss my Dad’s funeral because I’m in this joint…and now you’re telling me I could’ve been there.’ He again shook his head.
De Vries held Mitch’s gaze, but he didn’t respond.
‘I’d like to go back to my cell, if that is alright with you.’
De Vries lifted his eyes to the escorting guard. The sides of his mouth inverted. ‘OK. If that is what you want. I’ll have the guard here escort you back to your cell.’
‘Thank you.’ Mitch stood from his seat. He nodded once at the cops before making his way to the door.
‘If there is anything else I can do to help you get through this Mr Dunne, please let me know. I can be contacted through any of the guards here,’ de Vries said.
‘Thank you,’ Mitch said. His voice was flat as he moved towards the office door.
Even if de Vries was genuine with his sympathy, Mitch was in no mood to talk to him, or anyone else for that matter. It distressed him to hear about the death of his beautiful mother, but now to also learn he missed his Dad’s funeral when he could’ve attended it, was a double hit of tragic news.
From the office Mitch returned to his cell where he slumped down onto his bed. It wasn’t long before his emotions took over. While lying face down on his bed Mitch broke down. He grieved for his lost mother.
He hated that he hadn’t seen his mother for over two months because they had kept him in prison and now he would never see her again. He hated how he told Alison he didn’t want his mum visiting him in this place because he didn’t want to upset her by seeing him in here. He now regretted that decision.
He hadn’t seen her since before his father was killed. He wasn’t there to support her in her time of need because they put him in here. He never got the chance to say goodbye to her. And now, she too was gone. It was all so sudden.
He would never see her smiling face again. He would never be able to tell her how much he loved her. He would never be able to thank her everything she had done for him. And he hated how she would never get to meet his children -- her grandchildren-- when he and Alison start their family in the very near future.
And to make matters worse, he hated how no one told him he could attend his Father’s funeral; his last chance to say goodbye to his dad.
The energy had drained from Mitch. He could not believe he continued to live this nightmare that started when those Africans followed him on the highway that night.
Mitch’s head shot up. His face tightened. The Africans. He swung his legs onto the floor and leaned his elbows on his legs. ‘The Africans…’ he said to himself.
He stood from his bed and paced the floor of his cell. He rubbed a hand across his mouth. It slowly came back to him. Mitch remembered the one who lay dying out the front of his dad’s home that night, threatened how his cousins would come back and burn the house down and kill everyone in it.
Mitch’s jaw tightened. ‘It had to be them…’ Mitch mumbled to himself through gritted teeth. His fists clenched. ‘Those fucken bastards killed my mum…what did she have to do in any of this…?’
Mitch found this incredibly frustrating being trapped in jail, when what he really wanted was to be able find these mongrels and make this right.
His mind ran wild. His thoughts turned evil. Fuck the cops. Fuck the law. Fuck doing what’s right. These pricks have no right to breathe air for what they did to my mother. They’ve gotta go.
Mitch’s pacing stopped suddenly. He had a thought. He ran downstairs to the telephone. There was one inmate already on the phone. Mitch wanted to grab hold of him and drag him off the phone. However sanity prevailed. Instead he paced the floor anxiously waiting for the inmate to finish his call.
A short time later the inmate hung up. Mitch pounced on the phone and rang Alison. He wanted to ring Fitzy, but he considered that would be too obvious.
Alison broke down as she told Mitch the horrible news. Like Mitch, she too was devastated.
‘I can’t believe she’s gone, Al…’ Mitch said. ‘I just can’t believe it. How can this happen? She wouldn’t hurt a fly. She didn’t deserve this…’
‘The police believe it was deliberately lit, Mitch. They think someone deliberately burned down Jen’s home. Who would be so horrible to do that to her…? Your mum was such a lovely person.’
Mitch knew exactly who did it and why. But he didn’t want to involve Alison, so he said, ‘I have no idea. She had no enemies…’
‘The police said the CCTV footage from the neighbours across the road showed three men of African appearance running from Jen’s house in the moments before her house burst into flames…Do you think these were the same people who attacked your dad?’
This was news to Mitch. However it only served to confirm his suspicions. Now he was positive it was the same people. He did not let on to Alison.
‘Who knows Al. Could be…What hurts the most is I never got the chance to see mum before she…’ Mitch’s voice trailed off as he fought back tears.
‘I know. I know, Hun. I feel so sorry for you. It must be so hard...’
After many tears and unanswered questions asked by each of them, Alison said, ‘Fitzy is here. He wants to have a word. Is that OK?’
‘Of course. Put him on.’
‘Hey mate,’ Fitzy began. ‘I’m so sorry buddy. I didn’t know your mum but I’m still shattered. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it is for you stuck in there…’
‘I’m hurting, Fitzy. There’s no other way to explain it. I’m hurting. My guts is eating me up from the inside.’
Mitch waited for the usual sympathies to be expressed before he subtly changed the subject to the reason he called. He gave this code talking thing a try.
‘Al’s going to need your help down there, mate. There’s a lot of rubbish around that needs to be taken out. Some of it requires heavy lifting. Can you do that for her? I don’t want her being exposed to any of that shit.’
‘I’ve already been working on that since I’ve been here,’ Fitzy said.
Mitch was a little confused. Did Fitzy catch on to his code talk, or was Fitzy actually talking about rubbish at his house that needed taking out? Just to be sure, he tried a different tack.
‘Thanks mate. I appreciate it. I tell you what though. I might have to ask about being moved to a ground floor cell. I’ve got some ankles that are giving me no end of misery. They are killing me. I need to see someone who can fix them up for me…’
‘And the stairs aggravate them…?’ Fitzy said as a question.
‘You have no idea…’
‘I’ve heard about a few ways to get rid of annoying ankles. There are things you can do…exercises that will make the bad ankles go away. Let me look into it. I should have something more by the next time you ring.’
Mitch was satisfied they were both on the same page. ‘Thanks mate. That will be great. I appreciate it. They are killing me at the moment. I just want rid of the pain.’
‘I understand how hard it must be for you. Just stay off them and take it easy. OK. I’ll give you back to Alison. Your time must be close to running out.’
Mitch finished the time remaining on his call chatting to Alison and seeking comfort in hearing her voice. He did his best to reassure her he was coping OK. Of course, he lied. In reality, his feelings and emotions were a palpable melting pot of grief, anger, hatred and frustration.
When the time clunked out, Mitch stared blankly at the phone. Several seconds passed before he slowly hung up the receiver. He blocked out the abuse and comments to ‘hurry up’ from those waiting in line. Everything seemed so surreal. He was living a nightmare that continued to get worse and impossible to wake from.