Phil studied the wall clock; a little after four-thirty. The two constables under his charge—only a couple of years new to the game—would spend most of their day answering the odd non-emergency call and looking perpetually bored. He shrugged; the lack of excitement is exactly why he had moved to Kinglake.
He retucked in his shirt and flattened his uniform down; his belly hung further over his belt these days. In counterpoint, he had lost many of the worry lines around his eyes and forehead.
He adjusted his pants and his stomach rumbled. He imagined the hot oily aroma of the baked pastries over the road at the bakehouse, cheese dripping down the sides, processed meat in the middle. Terribly tempting to go over there now and see what they have left over from lunch.
He had barely filled his stomach this morning with the couple of pieces of toast and slathering of peanut butter while watching what he could of the soccer, before having to head into work. His stomach gurgled like a gunked up drain. Dinner time seemed too far away. He wandered away from his desk to stand behind Lisa and look over her shoulder. She was writing a report on a truck driver running down cattle on the highway. Phil had seen the aftermath on his way to work; blood and bits of animal everywhere like they had all suddenly exploded.
The new batch of warehouses being built up on the ridge ran a steady stream of trucks these days. He had often wondered what kind of business would run there once they were done. There would be quite an influx of work-people and more cars once the employees began as well. More money coming into town, and more work too. Probably not needed, but certainly appreciated.
Phil decided he should drop in on the council at their next meeting and see what they were thinking to do once the additional revenue came in. More money to police force and some of the nearby roads would help.
Lisa’s dainty hands flew over the keyboard and clattered away. Twenty five and still single, lived with her folks a few kilometers out of town. Quite pretty too. Wouldn’t have any trouble getting herself a guy if she was after one.
Phil ran a few of the younger men’s faces through his mind and realized that the pickings were a little thin, most of them sun-wrinkled land workers with wives and a herd of kids. The rest of the young ones who hit 18 and got a whiff of the city moved and never came back.
He looked over to Jimmy manning the radio and frowned. On his damn eBay again. He should have another talk with him. Phil’s frown softened as he thought of Jimmy’s son bringing in his dinner later. Last time it had opened up into the young boy’s backpack and dripped from the front door to his dad’s desk. Phil chuckled, they never did get that smell out of the carpet. He sipped his cold coffee and wrinkled his nose, then spat it back.
The early shift had headed out right on the dot for their hour drive to see Constable Collins at the city hospital. Maybe he would give a call later to see how his leg is doing. Probably should get the poor bugger a card and get his two constables to write something in it to lift his spirits.
Phil poured out his cold coffee into the sink. He then drained the steaming jug into his mug and glanced at the clock. 4.39pm.
He came to this town an experienced city cop. No kids and didn’t want any. He married a girl back in the city. Probably because it was the done thing. This, while working homicide and often logging up to 80 hours a week. The docs said depression made her ill, then her heart gave out. She probably died resenting him.
He was surprised when he came home from a double shift and found her up late still watching TV. She said not a word when he had called out to her. He thought he had somehow got himself in trouble again. For what though, he had no idea. Then when he kissed her head he felt how cold she was.
Kinglake then became his home. Regular afternoon shifts and no stress. Bought himself a dog too—that silly mutt could always put a smile on his face. Bobby became the station’s mascot and his best friend. Officers regularly headed out the back to see the Labrador-cross and give him a pat and throw the ball for a spell.
Relaxing for the staff—not that stress came often to the Kinglake police station.
That was, at least, until today...
At 4.45pm Jimmy looked up from his computer. Twelve officers walked through the front doors and into his cramped reception area. Phil and Sarah stood from their chairs and moved to the side of Jimmy’s desk. Sarah looked to her superior, but he was as confused as her. Jimmy scanned his schedule book, already sure no meeting had been scheduled with a dozen officers, but searching furiously for it anyway. The crowd carried satchels, boxes, and police equipment.
Before Phil could speak, a round and rough looking detective stepped out to stand in front of the crowd.
“Senior Sergeant Phillip Gordon,” the detective croaked in greeting while nodding his head. Then to the three as a group, “Good afternoon everyone. We’ve been called in to conduct interviews regarding, Constable Larry Collins” alleged involvement with criminal activities and also run the office while this goes on.” His eyes scanned the room. Everyone too stunned to hold onto any one expression.
“All investigations will be undertaken by my team and all your current duties will be suspended.” Then to Phillip Gordon. “If we could have a chat in your office, Gordon, and have your people sit in the lunchroom, we can get this over with.”
The two young constables looked to their superior. At his nod they both moved to the back room. Gordon turned and headed for his desk, his face white except for blazing red splotches on his cheeks and neck. He didn’t wait for Sunny to follow.
Bradbury walked into a busy, crowded office, dreading the paper work awaiting him. It had already been a long day. He had two witnesses now to Emerson’s story. There was still more details to sift through, and statements to be taken, but eventually the truth would be uncovered.
“I’ve collected the reports from the last few weeks and put them on your desk to start when you’re ready, sir,” a constable said as she rushed up to him with so many papers and files in her hands that she looked like a walking out-tray.
Bradbury nodded and realized he did not know her name.
“Your desk is through there, next to, Detective Sunny.” She pointed to a waist high divider separating another office area where Sunny sat in a discussion with someone—Bradbury assumed it to be Sergeant Phillip Gordon.
Both desks had been piled high with papers and looked ready to topple. An old timber leather chair filled the area behind the desk. He shuffled in that direction, then changed his mind when he saw a rear exit.
The ominous black abyss of pens, papers, and a thousand emails, could wait.
He stepped outside into a fading orange light and blinked into shadowed gum trees lining the horizon. He then closed his eyes and breathed deep.
A clunk sounded off to his left. He ignored it. Then footsteps at the side of the building like someone rushing toward him. He turned as he heard a yelp. Then it was upon him, trying to lick his face, dirty paws pressed against his chest.
An old and very moist ball rolled around in the dogs mouth. Pieces of bark and dirt, as well as a generous amount of drool dripped onto his shirt. The dog dropped to all fours and let the ball fall at Detective Bradbury’s feet.
The dog looked up, head to the side. When nothing happened he gave an excited bark. Bradbury stared at the ball, then looked to the dog and realized what his role was supposed to be. Reluctantly, but with a rare grin, Bradbury picked up the ball and threw it. Moments later, the dog returned and so Bradbury threw the ball again. And kept doing so until new lines creased his mouth.
The sun had dipped down past the hills. His break was over.
Inside, he wiped down his front to clean the black paws from his chest.
Bradbury turned to see a female constable holding out a roll of napkins.
“Thank you, Constable,” Bradbury said, and rubbed at his shirt.
The constable sat back down next to her counterpart. Neither of them spoke or moved. The other constable (Bradbury saw his name tag: Constable James Champ) fidgeted. The lunch room had just two small dinky seats, and neither were from this or the previous decade.
“So, Constables,” Bradbury said, knowing that these two were the local officers.
“Sir,” they said in unison and stood.
“No, don’t get up.” He motioned them down. “I should let you know that if you have no knowledge of, and were not involved with Constable Collins’ extra-curricular activities, you’ll have nothing to worry about. Which means you’ll be back to work again soon.” He let those words sink in allowing them to relax, which they would do if they were innocent. They did.
“I’d like you both to think long and hard about anything you may have heard going on between the officers from this station. We need as much information from you as possible, even minor details. Can you both do this for me?”
“Yes, sir,” they both replied.
“Anything we can do to help, sir,” Lisa said. James also nodded at this.
Bradbury gave them a curt nod. These two looked about as guilty as a baby sleeping.
As Bradbury reached his desk he looked over toward Sunny, who was still talking to Sergeant Gordon. Maybe he should have a chat with Gordon as well. At least that would also delay having to sit through the mountain of paperwork for a bit longer.
The dark blue dressing gown flapped around Larry’s legs as he shuffled along the hospital corridors while he looked for someway to pass the time.
Breakfast had been amazing, although he supposed anything tasted good when you were starving. The two raspberry Jam muffin slices had been so divine that he wondered how he had lived this long without ever trying them.
He licked his lips, although disappointingly found no trace of the sugary fruit remaining. He shrugged and continued his walk along the hallway looking for something to do. He stared into an empty patient room with rows of empty neatly dressed beds and a look of being recently cleaned. This, accompanied with a strong antiseptic smell. He wondered for a moment if he had told Paul about the medical beds at the warehouse and the boxes of surgical equipment. He shrugged, he would tell the detective later when he came to question him.
Paul and Jobe had come to visit earlier and were of course more interested in his bandaged head and hand, rather than what the police were investigating. He had felt overwhelming happy with his family during that moment. It had all felt so right, like a puzzle piece coming together perfectly. The possible nightmare of none of his memories being real had disappeared and been replaced by an immense amount of love he felt for Jobe, his brother, and his brother’s wife.
“Uncle Paul’s letting me help with ideas for his new story. He’s also going to help me write one myself.” Jobe had jumped onto the hospital bed and into his dad’s lap, so excited his smile beamed. “There’s a competition for my age.”
“That’s great. Maybe I can help you once my hand grows back. For now they just want me to wear a metal hook.”
“They do not, dad. I’m not seven anymore, I know your hand’s getting better.”
“Well let’s just unwrap this bandage and see—”
“Maybe we should leave that for the nurse.” The doctor walked in with Paul close behind.
Larry laughed. “I wasn’t going to of course.”
The doctor studied the clipboard in his hands.
This reminded Larry about his time with Sincorp. Something about an injection and a broken arm. It definitely concerned the viruses he had worked on with Sincorp.
“No signs of seepage with your bandages. Nevertheless, we’ll redress your hand before you drop off to sleep tonight.”
’“I’m not going home yet!” Larry had said, then argued for the next minute until Paul had calmed him.
He frowned now, causing his burnt cheeks to sting. He wanted to remember more—all of it. Everything.
The slippers, his brother had lent him, shuffled with a soft purr on the unremarkable grey carpet. He felt hairs stand up on his arms as the static electricity built up.
The time he had spent growing up with his brother should have been easy to remember, but all that came to him were snippets of his research at Sincorp: the tests, the vague knowledge that viruses were used on injured people. Little—
Larry heard someone say his name. Then his brother’s. He looked up to the TV in a patient’s room.
...Larry Emerson, brother to well known author, Paul Emerson, is in hospital recovering from minor wounds and exhaustion after being lost in the, Kinglake, outback over the last few days. He’s expected to make a full recovery...
“Looks like you’re as famous as your brother,” Matthews said, startling Larry.
He had forgotten the officer was following behind. Larry gave him a crooked smile and kept walking. He passed by a nurse carrying a bundle of towels and asked her if he could sit somewhere outside. Larry found the courtyard she directed him to and opened the door to the small enclosure.
“Larry, you’ll be okay out here for a couple of minutes won’t you?” Matthew’s said.
Larry jumped again and felt stupid for doing so.
“I need to hit the rest room.”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll yell out if a guy on crutches looks suspicious,” Larry replied.
The officer nodded at the joke. Larry shrugged, not much for jokes, that one.
He found a seat amongst the assorted green sun-hardy plants and thought about the warehouse again, then police charging in with guns firing. The Russians being arrested. Hopefully that was what was happening right now.
A huge gum tree swayed above, stretching out over the roof of the building. All its leaves trembled and his experience in the outback returned. A chill gripped his stomach and his breakfast didn’t sit so well anymore.
He looked down to the small fountain shooting water into a pond with a waterfall running down one side. A fish swam to the top then dipped down and disappeared leaving a bubble on the surface. He smiled, stinging his cheeks again.
A shadow floated in to block out the sun. Larry could see the reflection of the constable—he also looked down into the pond. Matthew’s kicked a pebble, flicking water up onto them both.
‘Oh crap, sorry.’
Larry didn’t flinch. He also kicked a pebble into the pond.
‘So, what kept you going when you were out there?” Matthews said. “I reckon if I lost my memory and had no idea who I was, as well as being all cut up, I would have gone insane.’
Larry rubbed his scabby forehead. Flakes of skin fell in front of his eyes. He looked up. ‘I don’t think you would have. No one wants to die.’
Matthews narrowed his gaze and seemed to be about to argue the point. Larry looked past him. A man in a bright Hawaiian shirt wandered across the courtyard, his eyes scanning every part of the enclosure. He stopped when he saw Larry.
Larry’s heart stilled. Then beat so hard he thought it would pop.
The man turned and sprinted at them.
Larry pointed and tried to say something, but didn’t get the chance to form any recognizable words in time.
The mountain of a man, his muscles bulging through his Hawaiian shirt like a scene from Hawaii Five O, collided with Matthews just as he began to turn.
Matthews’ fell sideways, his foot plonking into the pond. Larry caught him and kept him upright. Larry looked into the eyes off their attacker. The man smiled. He leaned back and brought both fists down to Matthews’ head.
Matthews twisted away, the fists clipping his ear. He came around in a full circle and back to face the attacker. Fists ready like a boxer. Matthews then faked with his right shoulder. Jabbed with his left, hitting the man’s jaw with a sound like a stone cracking a windshield.
Matthews punched with his left again, right, left. Hitting his opponent in the nose, mid-section and raised arm—last punch blocked.
Larry moved his arms involuntarily at each punch. The large man turned away from Matthews and screamed something in another language. Larry held his breath. The man turned back toward them and charged. He grabbed Matthews in a bear hug and lifted him off the ground.
Matthews eyes widened. Bones creaked.
Matthews rammed his head down into the man’s already bleeding nose. Squashing ruined cartilage and splattering both their faces with blood. Matthews landed back on his feet. He then pummeled the man’s exposed mid-section with a round of punches. Both grunted as fists connected.
A final uppercut. And an explosion of air from the man in the Hawaiian shirt.
Matthews punched down at the doubled over form, aiming for his exposed right cheek.
He missed. His opponent swung around in a circle, mimicking Matthews’ earlier move. His gun in his hand.
Matthews stopped in mid-movement. The gun muzzle pressed against his neck. He didn’t try to knock it away. Matthews’ hands shook. He seemed desperate to do something, anything at all, but stayed still.
The man took the cuffs from Matthews’ belt and clicked them around his wrists in a single movement.
Larry thought of Constable Collins in that moment, again feeling silly for not using the handcuffs first. He shook that thought off as the man punched Matthews in the ribs face and ribs again. Matthews didn’t go down. Blood mixed with saliva and dripped and bubbled from his mouth. The man stepped back and kicked Matthews across the back of his legs and pushed forwards. Larry flinched. Matthews crumpled forward and flattened the shrubs, then rolled onto his back, stopping halfway into the small pond.
Even without the black military clothing he recognized this man in the Hawaiian shirt, tan shorts and loafers, as one of the men from the warehouse. One of the bodyguards. His hair still brushed sharply to one side in a rude side part.
The man turned his head to look around the courtyard, then settled his eyes on Larry, who now stood.
The door leading back to the hallway of the hospital seemed a million kilometers away. He took a step in that direction, knowing he wouldn’t be fast enough, only to hit his shin on a wooden table and fall back onto his seat. Larry looked up at the man and tried to look defiant.
The monster of a man cracked his thick neck and adjusted his wide shoulders. His forehead creased as he leaned down toward Larry, as if he couldn’t believe this small man was of any significance. He pushed back the few hairs which had moved out of place on his greasy scalp and then flexed his hands.
‘I’ve been sent to give you a message, it’s not one you should ignore.’ He looked over the courtyard again. Veins stretched taught down his neck to his shoulders. ‘My boss wants to meet, only you, just to talk. If you don’t come, your son and your brother and his wife will have their tongues cut out and their hands amputated. Be at the Grand Hotel in Healesville at this time tomorrow. Don’t be late. No cops.’
He turned and walked through the exit to the hospital hallway, and then was gone. Larry stood. He looked at his hands and was surprised they were not shaking.
Matthews called out, bringing Larry out of his daze. He unlocked the cuffs using the key that had been dropped in the pond and helped the constable up. Matthews checked himself over, then leapt for the exit.
“Matthews!” Larry said. He saw the overwhelming anger building in the Constable, he desperately wanted to take chase, but he stopped, turned and listened.
“Don’t go after him.’”
The constable frowned.
“You heard what they said they would do to my family.”
For a long moment Matthews stared at the man he had been ordered to protect and said nothing. He looked back to the hallway, then gripped the microphone on his shoulder and said, “I’ll get the detective.”
A man even taller than Matthew’s stopped in the hallway outside Larry’s hospital room and spoke in quiet tones to the constable with his back to the doorway. He wore a freshly pressed blue shirt and navy pants. Around his waist hung a utility belt equipped with a gun and three or four closed leather pouches. He turned to Larry, just his head at first, then his body following a moment later and entered the room.
“Thank you, Mr Emerson.”
“What? What for?”
“You were right to have Matthews not charge off. If the threat against your family is to be taken seriously we need play along, or at least look like we are.”
Larry nodded and sat up straighter in bed. Detective Bradbury introduced himself and they shook hands.
“This leaves us with no idea of who these people are, however.” The detective said and looked Larry up and down. “We can wire you and take all precautions while staying out of sight until we get an idea of what they want.”
“What? Hang on, I can’t...” Larry shrugged his shoulders and looked around the room as if someone might be able to back up his protest and see how ridiculous the idea sounded.
“Well, you can, it’s just a matter of choosing to do so. It would be perfectly safe. We can lock down the hotel and have cameras on you the whole time.”
“No, these guys are into something pretty nasty if they’ve managed to hire guys from the military, or maybe ex-military. I don’t know. I want nothing to do with it.”
The detective’s expression changed into one of irritation—or possibly disappointment. Larry couldn’t decide; the man’s expressions had about as much difference and movement as a glacial shift.
Bradbury took some time to reply.
“I read what I could of you, Mr Emerson. The military’s budget was used to get you through university. You then headed a division with such high levels of security that the commissioner couldn’t get access to it. I spoke to your CO at the Hopkins Barracks too. He sounded upset when he heard what happened to you. Although, seemingly more so when you decided to leave after your wife passed away. Said what happened to her was a real tragedy, still not worth leaving the military, but... Then your CO stopped himself there, probably before he said anything he wasn’t supposed to. Anyway, he said you were quite the asset.”
Larry felt a knot tighten inside. He blinked away his wife’s memory then rubbed his still tender face. He looked back at the detective.
“I saw a lot more than just the inside of labs, Detective. A substantial part of the knowledge we... obtained within my time at the military was from other nations and it helped lead me to the discoveries that I’m working on at Sincorp. What we developed is a real breakthrough.”
“I’m sure it is, Mr Emerson—
“No, I don’t think you do understand. We already had an information leak once, the US somehow got involved and there are a lot of people who would happily kill for what we’re developing. The amount of money to be made from this could dwarf a country’s GDP. You must realize that a few police officers won’t persuade these people to go away. They’ll go straight through you and the town if they have to.”
“Hmm,” the detective said and stared at Larry. “And you remembered all this just now?”
“What?” Larry watched as the detective’s eyes crinkled in doubt. “No, it comes back to me in bits and pieces. I’ve been trying to sort it all out and make sure what I remember is actually real. Also, I wasn’t sure how much I should tell the police.”
“Well you ought to tell me everything, damnit! I’m chasing my tail with half the facts, I can’t be asking you questions whenever something goes wrong.”
“Alright.” Larry sighed. “I can’t promise anything. I’ll get in contact with work and talk to them, also I want to get my family somewhere they’ll be sa—”
“Oh?” Bradbury interrupted, “You haven’t tried to contact, Sincorp already?”
Larry raised his eyebrows, then breathed deep. He rubbed his temples and felt a sting under the bandage around his hand. His life had been sullied with so many ridiculous complications recently that his mind could not get reorganized again. He hoped to get back to Sincorp with a regular routine; calculating tests and running computer simulations, flawless mathematics. There, everything added up and his work made sense. He wanted a feeling of continuity again.
“I’m still not myself, I thought I remembered everything about my work and myself, but even the doc said it would take time for everything to make sense in my head after such a hard knock to the head. I didn’t want to sound like a absolute idiot when I spoke to my bosses. They hired me for what’s up here, detective.” Larry tapped the side of his head, “I want to sound right minded when I talk to them.”
“That’s not the problem, Mr Emerson, I didn’t realize you didn’t know.” The detective stared down at him in a way that reminded Larry of how he had felt when a sincere looking female officer knelt down in front of him and his brother and told them that their mother and father had died.
“Sincorp closed it’s doors over the weekend. Every employee has vanished and so has the board of the directors. You’re the only one left.”