Larry jumped when a song began blaring from the vehicle’s dash. Not from the stereo, instead a phone LCD screen in a mounted plastic holder next to the steering wheel. It flashed the words UNKNOWN, ANSWER and DECLINE.
The chorus continued while Larry stared. He breathed deep through clenched teeth and out again. The question of whether he should answer it hung in the air like the eighties song that screamed at full volume, Yes or No, by the Go-Go’s.
Larry’s finger stopped an inch from the answer button and hovered. He then flinched as the phone stopped its song.
He rubbed his neck and groaned. The screen flashed the words, missed call. He actually had had no intention of ever answering it. It could have been the police station wondering where he was, or maybe even the people from the warehouse. He turned his attention back to the twisting road that disappeared under the dust covered hood of the car, and where he should go from here.
His family. Who else did he have? Would they even believe him?
A scene played out in his mind, everyone staring at him like he had gone mad. Gee, Larry, you hit your head harder than you thought. You shot a cop? What the hell were you thinking! You better be ready for a long haul in prison.
He blinked sweat out of his eyes and wiped a hand across, realizing he hadn’t really been taking much notice of where he was headed. The unsealed road had become hard asphalt at some time, but he was unsure when.
He searched the glove box then under the seat for maps of any kind or something to show how far from town he actually was. He grabbed hold of a Melbourne map book with candy wrappers stuck to the back and flipped it open. It had detailed maps of metropolitan areas, but nothing this far out of town.
Larry’s eyes flicked back to the phone. He touched the screen and scrolled through until he found a maps icon and pushed it. A display of roads in and around Kinglake as well as his current location, appeared. A little blue dot indicated his position on the map and the route east along Skyline Road bordering a ridge. He changed the display to show more of the outlying area. The spaghetti of roads untangled and become recognizable highways streets and landmarks. He knew where he was going. Also, he could see his brother’s home with its long winding driveway leading to the property.
Larry searched his mind for his brother’s number to call ahead, just in case the police had come to visit and were waiting for him. Then, against his will, he thought of an even worse scenario involving his family being taken away or killed by the people who had wanted him dead.
“No,” Larry said. “It’ll be okay. I’ll work it out when I get there and it’ll be fine.”
Larry drummed his fingers on the grubby steering wheel then tapped his forehead to get his memory going. Numbers flashed in his mind. A name appeared but not Paul’s, instead, Jobe’s.
Larry whooped, remembering why his son’s number had come to mind first, he felt a warm rush as he thought about his boy. He had bought the phone for his son’s ninth birthday to keep track of him, considering he had been getting out more and was continually needing to be picked up from soccer practice as well as from friends places.
He had handed the phone to his son while they had been eating ice cream after practice. “You should have called with your phone when you knew you were getting out early,” Larry had said.
“I don’t have—”
As Jobe had replied, Larry had placed the phone in front of him with a small card stuck to the back.
“You could have just used this one,” Larry had interrupted.
They had both laughed, Jobe spitting ice cream onto the table and making them laugh even more.
Larry’s finger shook as he typed in the numbers. After a nervous pause over the connect button, which seemed to go on for longer than the three seconds it had actually taken, he pushed down. It connected and he heard a quizzical hello.
His breath caught for a moment, then, “Hello, err, Jobe, is that you?” Please let my fucked memories be real. Please. “It’s me, Dad.”
“Dad! I knew it was you, where are you, where did you go?” Jobe said, rushing over each word.
Larry cleared his throat, then said, “I went out for my morning jog. I’m okay. I just had some trouble getting back.” He could almost see his son’s distressed expression in his mind. Tears filled Larry’s eyes and the road blurred. “I wanted to call and make sure you were okay.”
He did, he really did. His concussion had screwed with his memories so much since waking that he had begun to wonder if everything he remembered was even true, but these memories about his son were more than just images, they were the strongest feelings he could ever remember having about someone.
“I’m good, but where were you?” Jobe said, then with some hesitation, “When are you coming home.” His voice became a whisper. “I mean... to Uncle Paul and Auntie Sarah’s?”
“I’m getting close now, I’ll be there soon. I’m just glad you’re alright. Is everyone else okay? Where’s, Uncle Paul?”
His son choked a half word.
“Everything’s fine, really. I’m not that far away. Don’t be scared, son. I really do need to speak to your uncle. I have to find out what’s been happening. Can you do that for me?”
“I couldn’t find you when I woke up in the tent on my own. I tried to stay awake the next nights after while I waited for you on the couch and watched TV.” Then, a long pause, as if he expected his dad to say more.
Larry opened his mouth but nothing came out.
Jobe finally broke the silence. “Dad?”
“I’ll get, Uncle Paul.”
Larry heard running on stones then a door open, then the excited words, “It’s dad!”
A second later Paul spoke on the phone asking similar questions to those his son had already asked. Larry cut in and told his brother everything, right from the moment he woke.
Larry finished his tale and waited for Paul to say something, but no reply came. He said his brother’s name. Still nothing. He checked the hands free connection. It was still connected.
“Are you okay?” Larry clicked the air conditioner off. A sudden coldness grew in his chest. The people after him—were they there telling his brother what to say?
No, he’d be able to tell, surely. “Are you there?”
“I’m here, yeah, Loz. I just can’t believe it.”
Larry let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. “I thought something had happened to you just then. It’s what they said—”
“Hey, I believe you. I just... It’s crazy. And Phil, he’s the senior cop I think you spoke to at my birthday, I can’t believe he’d be involved.”
“I don’t know, I don’t remember much about that night or the morning. My memories are a bit mixed. I—”
“Hey, don’t worry about it, just get here as soon as you can and we’ll work out what we’re going to do. Just get here safe, but soon, okay!”
Jobe laughed as he ran with his uncle’s dog, yelping and jumping alongside him. He threw the ball to the dog, which rose over its head as he snapped for it, much too high to catch. The dog’s tongue flopped wet out the side of his mouth as he chased the ball then skidded to a stop. He pounced, his long tail wagging fast as a bee’s wings, and chomped on the ball with a squishing sucking noise.
Willy raced back and dropped the ball at Jobe’s feet and barked then sprung into the air barely able to wait for the ball to be thrown again. The two then ran along the driveway to the front yard.
Jobe slowed while turning to the front of the driveway just as a damaged police off-road vehicle came into view and stopped on the crushed Bluestone; halfway between the open gate leading onto his uncle’s property and the front steps.
The police car shook then went silent. Paint and metal had been torn away from panels. Green, black and brown streaks marked both sides where it had smashed into something. The driver’s door had been ripped from its hinges as if from a giant’s rage.
The person sitting inside the patrol vehicle wore a dusty and stained police shirt, blue pants and white runners. He slouched against the steering wheel, his eyes almost closed. The scrapes to the side of his face glistened red against swollen flaky skin. His hair looked so matted and scraggly that it could have been a cheap wig.
Jobe ran and jumped up to the side of the vehicle and hugged his dad. No words were exchanged as they held each other. Jobe then untangled himself and hopped down. Larry followed after, wincing as he slipped out of his seat and straightened to stand.
“Does it hurt?” Jobe asked.
Larry smiled, his sunburned face stretched tight. He nodded.
Jobe walked along the side of the car and stopped at the hinges where the door should have been. He turned back to his dad, looked up with on eye closed and said, “What happened to it?”
“Just a little accident, nothing to worry about. And I feel better than I look.”
Jobe turned back to his dad. “How come you’re in police clothes?”
Larry laughed, the smile never leaving his lips. He loved this little version of himself more than anything, how could he have ever thought he might forget him? He would forever stay by his son’s side from now on, never letting anything happen to him, ever.
“I have a few stories to tell, but I think I need to get inside and sleep for about a month.” He ruffled his son’s hair and hugged him again, then turned and they walked up to his brother’s back steps and went inside.
“Russians?” Paul said. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Larry ran a hand over the scorched timber table top, marked by hot saucepans and casserole dishes. Then settled himself back into the kitchen chair.
Paul shook his head and stood up and began pacing. “Not like the cold war kind of Russians, right? They’ve just got Russian accents, yeah?”
Larry shook his head, realizing how strange his story sounded now that Paul had retold it back.
“I guess. I don’t know.” Larry shrugged. “I thought you might be able to tell me.”
Paul stopped pacing and pointed at Larry then clicked his fingers. “What about when you worked with the army? You said some things about being in other countries... err, Eastern Europe. So maybe something to do with that?”
Larry thought around his disjointed memories and throbbing head: the viruses, his work, Tom, his long time friend from university and then in the army, the tests. He remembered the Sincorp board of directors rubbing their hands together when his team finally got the viruses right. A few of his starter ideas had come from elsewhere around the world, but—
Paul broke through Larry’s memory searching, as he said, “You said something about Czechoslovakia, or Czech Republic it’s called now, and how you and some US soldiers got in there and took what you wanted, then leveled it, yeah?”
Larry shook himself from his fatigued state, and wondered how Paul would know so much information.
“What do you mean? Who told you?”
“Hey, Loz, when you drink, you talk. And you’ve drank since... well, you know, her. You said the viruses you were testing would change the world and soon.”
Larry cringed. What else had he said, and to whom? He was just as bad as Tom, no, worse.
A week ago Tom had overheard a US colonel talking to soldiers in the mess. He hadn’t recognized any of them, but had listened in because Larry’s name had been mentioned. They had talked about a new virus that had been developed that could heal. And that it also had further potential for improving health and physical fitness. He had then joked about it with Larry until he saw how serious the situation was. Larry had explained to Tom that no one should have that information, and certainly not a lowly colonel in a foreign military. Not yet anyway.
“Alright, what else? My mind’s still messed up,” Larry said, hoping his brother didn’t know any more, yet still wanting to discover anything else he knew to help clear his own head.
“I know. The way you were putting those beers away at my birthday I’m surprised you even got up the next day, let alone went out for a jog. I thought you said you were cutting back anyway?”
Larry thought about her again. Her death, the anger he felt at everyone including himself. He shook his head and looked down at his hand where Sarah had almost finished unwrapping the brown blood encrusted bandage.
Paul said, “You were being pretty sly about your new discovery, though, you barely gave anything away. There was also something else you wanted to tell me but you caught yourself before you said more. Then you just asked if my heart had given me any grief recently.”
Larry felt in his pocket for the pills he had found in his pocket the morning he woke and now remembered the reason for carrying them around. They were from his work. The virus within these clear bubbles of plastic accelerated the healing in the body by directing cells to damaged areas and creating new skin, muscle, bone and anything else that needed to speed up the healing process within the body. Sometimes even repairing minor birth defects. Which Paul had lived with his whole life.
Sarah breathed in and held her hand over her mouth when she saw a chunk missing from just below Larry’s little finger. She shook her head and stared at him, looking for any sign of pain.
“Larry, this is going to need stitches and some sort of reconstructive surgery. The wound is horrendous. I’m surprised you’re conscious.” Sarah began wrapping his hand in a new bandage. “We have to get this seen to. Paul, tell him.”
“Loz, she’s right.” Paul looked from his wife to the wound.
“Okay, but I just want to sleep right now. I could put some antiseptic or something on it for now?”
Sarah stared at him, Larry squirmed under her gaze.
“I’ll just have a nap for a few hours, then go to the hospital?” Larry watched for their response past semi-closed eye lids.
Sarah shook her head, however, Paul nodded.
“I have some pills here left over from when I had knee surgery, it should do as an antibiotic. I also have some pain killers too.”
The cushioned mattress melted into his back. Muscles untangled. The warm bed enveloped him. Blackness hit as soon as his head nestled into the pillow.
Dreams came filled with endless trees, a deep black night and a beam of light shining the way. Strange noises, men with guns, the smell of smoke from a camp fire, police uniforms, a happy dog and Jobe.
A loud cracking noise broke through his sleep. Larry sat up and put his hands out to search the shadowed room and work out where he had woken this time. He rubbed his still tired eyes and blinked, finally seeing the bedroom walls, doors, curtains and tables around him. But the noise hadn’t come from his dream.
He touched a lump on his head and it smarted, but it had at least gone down.
“Paul, Jobe, Sarah. You there?” Larry left the bedroom in boxer shorts. His feet cooling on the polished boards as he walked the long hallway toward a flashing light and strange sounds ahead. He reached the next room and stared down at three motionless people sitting in the dark on the couch staring at the television.
Larry jumped as his brother spoke. “Hey, Loz, you up! It’s only been a couple of hours. Did you sleep okay?”
His brother’s voice. It felt magical to hear him talk. To hear anyone say his name or say any words at all. Finally he felt as if he might be safe.
Paul walked into the recovery room, happy the doctor had reported the surgery as a complete success. His wife sat on the bed next to Larry, who seemed to be concentrating as hard as he could on what Sarah said, and nodding when appropriate. Then his eyes rolled backward for a moment before he refocused again.
“...and do some exercises to get everything moving again to build up the muscles” Sarah brushed Larry’s hair back.
“Okay,” Larry said, slurring.
Paul said, “I think Loz may fall asleep any second, maybe you guys could head out and check on Willy and I’ll say good bye?”
Sarah followed Jobe back to the hallway and then on to the exit. Paul sat on the bed next to Larry with a hand resting on his brother’s arm.
“I want to let you know that we’ve got things under control until you’re feeling better. Our solicitor said a detective will want to speak to you as soon as you’re well enough, he’s from the city, not around here. I’ll have a chat with the detective when he arrives, which shouldn’t be long.
“Don’t worry about Jobe, he’ll stay with us for as long as is needed, probably best he didn’t head to school just yet. I don’t think he wants to be far from his dad right now anyway.”
“Okay,” Larry said. He licked his lips.
Paul patted Larry’s arm and wondered if he would remember any of the conversation.
“They’ll keep you here until Wednesday at this stage. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Loz.”
Paul stood and left his brother’s room.
Three men looked toward Paul as he entered the hallway. The tallest of them wore a dark suit and a deep scowl, of which seemed to intensify as they came closer to each other, finally shaking hands as the other man thrust his out in front. He stood at least a half a head taller than everyone, including the large uniformed officers standing next to him.
“Paul Emerson,” the man said.
Paul nodded, the man continued on.
“My name’s Detective Bradbury. I’ll be running the investigation. These officers are from Melbourne, as am I. Matthews, here, will stay near your brother’s room due to the nature of the situation, Constable Jones and I will look into the alleged crimes. We’ll talk to Gerald McKlay about your brother and the officer, the staff at the facility your brother said he was being taken to, and we’ll also need access to your property to inspect the police vehicle.”
Paul nodded. He turned to see that Constable Matthews had already moved to Larry’s room and parked himself at the side of the door. They certainly picked the right guy for it. Huge and powerful.
By the time Paul turned back to the detective and the other officer, they had already started walking down the hallway to the exit. He just hoped they knew what they were doing, and that his brother was now going to be safe.