The blue sky shone pale with the late morning sun burning Larry’s still existing, but fading, sunburn. A cool breeze brushed over him, enough to ease his red peeling skin. He faced upwards and watched shadows play across his closed eyes.
A slopping noise from below brought out of his daze. Larry squinted downwards. A dog licked its nose and panted with a toothy smile at his feet. Larry reached down and scratched the dog’s head while it nuzzled his leg. Dirt and drool dripped down the dogs chin and onto Larry’s jeans. A ball bounced to the ground and rolled against his foot.
“Okay, boy,” Larry said to the station’s mascot.
Larry had to think for a moment to remember the dog’s owner.
“Sergeant Phillip,” Larry said aloud as he remembered.
The dog barked.
Larry had barely said more than a passing hello to the officer at the station, supposedly they had spoken at some length at Paul’s birthday. And although he couldn’t remember the night, he realized it may not have even been the fogginess in his brain caused by the hit and run, instead the alcohol he had eagerly consumed after some stressful few weeks at work.
Larry continued throwing the ball for the dog while turning his mind to his brother and wondered where Paul was now. He scratched the dog under the chin, then wiped the drool from his hands on the grass and walked back inside. The dog watched with its head cocked to the side until Larry closed the door.
Larry peered over a divider wall to Bradbury’s desk and saw an uncomfortable man in an unfamiliar environment. He looked so tightly wound that he might spring up at any moment and burst through the exit.
White knuckled fingers gripped his pen, and he grunted whenever he reached for a new sheet of paper. His shoulders curved into the desk and his legs folded into a cramped knot under his chair.
Larry let him be. He could ask about his brother later.
In a half hour the undercover cop would meet with the people from the warehouse. Then Paul would be set free and everything would be okay. At least, that’s the way he envisaged it playing out.
He wondered how good a likeness the chosen officer would be and if he had any idea of the virus work that went on at Sincorp in case they questioned him in detail. Things could easily turn for the worst if these people discovered it was not him meeting with them. He gripped his paper cup tighter and leaned on the water cooler, while drinking the last of his water.
Moments later he stood at Bradbury’s desk again.
“Sorry to interrupt, Detective, but I need to talk to you.”
Larry sat down in the chair opposite. Detective Bradbury put his pen down. The blue ink drained to half empty. He rubbed both hands over his face, then looked up and blinked at Larry as if he had just seen him for the first time.
“Mr Emerson.” he nodded to Larry while eyeing the clock on the wall. “Almost lunch. I could do with a break. Before you ask, no further word on your brother. As soon as there is I’ll let you know.”
“Thanks, but I also want to know what’s going to happen with the meet today. I need to know that this won’t get Paul hurt.”
“I understand your concern, but you can be assured that we have the best—”
“I should go,” Larry blurted out.
Bradbury blinked, then massaged his eyes.
Larry thought on what he had just said, and reconfirmed with a nod that this was what he wanted to do. Or, now realized he had to do.
Bradbury removed his hands from his face in time to see Larry nodding.
“I’m sorry, Mr Emerson, but it’s too late. We’ve already got a man setup and ready to go. If you went now, you’d be going in without a wire and without us being ready for a civilian entering a tricky situation. The special operations officer can handle it. If we’re lucky, we’ll be questioning people by late this afternoon, linking them to Tech Dynamics and getting Harry Childs back behind bars by the end of the day. I’m sure that’s what you want as well?”
“Actually, my brother is all I’m concerned about. And if I’m not there these people may not talk. I have to do this, detective. You need me to do this, you even said so.”
“We couldn’t guarantee your safety. You need to think about this. What about your son? If anything should happen to you—”
“They won’t do anything, they need me for something, and we’ll be in a public place. Money is all they’re thinking about. And thinking of my son is exactly what I’m doing. Let me do this.”
Bradbury stood from his desk and stared at Larry for a long moment before finally nodding. He grabbed his jacket, which would be excessively warm for the summer heat once they were outside, and yanked it from the chair toppling it over. “Matthews, grab the car, we’re heading to Healesville.”
He checked his gun at his side and made for the front door.
Detective Sunny blocked his exit. “Bradbury, heard you two talking as I came in, I’m coming with you. I’ll update you on the construction site and warehouses. Jones is still outside, we’ll take my car.”
Matthews arrived back at Bradbury’s desk with three coffees on a tray only to see that the detective and his jacket were gone. Out the front window he saw a car skid and zoom off down the road.
“Did anyone hear where Detective Bradbury was going,” he asked the room of officers. Most kept their heads deeply buried in their work. Only one person looked up—from the two-way radio.
“He went out with Sunny.”
Matthews nodded. “Anyone want a black coffee no sugar?”
Tires spun, seat belts snapped together and the car zipped along the main road. The warm rubber melded into the dry road creating a perfect communion of attraction. Intermittently disrupted when the car screeched around a tight bend.
“The site is rented to a company currently involved in monetary dealings with Tech Dynamics.” Sunny began, reading from his notes as best he could while being thrown to either side of the car. “Tech Dynamics owns the site but runs tests through another company. I guess to protect themselves against liability. There’s nothing illegal about it—just a little harder to trace.
“They are, however, illegally creating landslides with controlled explosions in order to cut off access, even by foot. Although of course keeping the original access road for vehicles.”
“So that’s what that was.” Larry said more to himself than anyone else.
“Mr Emerson?” Bradbury said.
“The explosions.” Larry barked a laugh. “I didn’t know what it was at the time, but now it makes since. I seriously thought I was going mad out there hearing that booming noise.”
The car leapt around another corner hurling everyone to the left side. Tires skidded then regained traction a foot before the side of the road sloped down to a tree filled valley. Sunny continued relaying the information from his notes.
“Anyway, it’s a minor matter, but it should give us cause to investigate and delay them using search warrants and safety inspections. I’ve already started the process on getting the warrant. I hear the judge is a real stickler for rules in these parts.
“We also finished searching through the paperwork and found that Constable Collins visited the site many times, signing in at the desk on each occasion. He was paid by the company that still does not seem to exist, which is the same one that sold Sincorp’s data to Tech Dynamics.
“Now, if you remember, Bob, from the office,” Sunny said, then continued after Detective Bradbury nodded, ’he didn’t seem to have any knowledge of the illegal activity. I believe this to be true. However, his brother-in-law, the security guard for the complex, does not appear to be so innocent.
“Looks as though he was helping with delivery of suspect equipment. On the paperwork it was marked only as, military. He isn’t a terribly bright soul, so I’m sure we can get him to turn on his superiors soon enough. He’ll be picked up by SOG from the site today before he can go conveniently missing.”
The car pulled up to a curb near the outskirts of town out front of a carpark, which the police had reserved for their equipment and surveillance vans. Larry and everyone else got out of the car. Larry then jumped into the driver’s seat.
Bradbury said, “We’ve informed our guy that you’ll go in yourself. We haven’t got time to wire you, but there’s microphones and cameras throughout the inside of the hotel, which we installed last night, so you needn’t worry. If you can get him to give up any information, most of all regarding Tech Dynamics, then we’ll nail them in a flash. Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Larry said, and sped off toward the hotel.
Two blocks later Larry slowed as he closed in on the Grand Hotel, then screeched sideways into a spot out front. He slammed the car door and quick-walked through the aged wooden entrance and into the main bar.
The hotel looked as ancient as the town. Yet still with new carpet and fresh paint, so appeared not as dishevelled as he would have thought. Modern appliances and conveniences also had been added recently.
Larry turned his attention to the people in the bar and searched for his contact. He knew they would not use the wide shouldered soldier again from the hospital. More likely someone less conspicuous. Which could really be anyone.
He checked his watch. A few minutes past the meet up time. All the bar’s customers looked like regulars; old, tired, worn. All here to drink themselves into oblivion in the middle of a work day. Larry studied each one as they sat on their stools drinking and mumbling about the game on TV. None turned, and none looked particularly sober enough to be his contact. He made his way across the room to the end of the bar. He could have done with a drink right now himself, although had not thought to bring his wallet.
The bartender’s eyes followed Larry as he wandered past. Larry hoped he looked like an inquisitive other tourist walking aimlessly though the old buildings around town. The bartender went back to watching ESPN.
A well dressed man in a suit, although without a tie, walked past Larry and made eye contact, but kept moving. Larry hesitated a moment, then followed. He stayed a few feet behind, while keeping his mind focused on his task, rather than what they might do to him and his family if they worked out the police were ready to burst through the front doors.
Being the bait for the police operation now seemed like a foolish one.
At the rear of the hotel, away from the other patrons, his contact stopped, turned and waited for Larry to catch up. He appeared young, although his face bore worry lines deeply etched into long scars. Bags drooped under his red raw eyes.
A banging from the bar behind Larry made them both jump. Larry turned to see the bartender slapping the side of the old box TV. He also heard grumbling from the patrons and an unintelligible curse. Where there had once been a game of soccer, now only a green screen illuminated the tanned face of the bar tender.
When Larry’s contact spoke it was with less warmth than dry ice.
“Take off all your clothes. Put these on.” He held a backpack out to Larry.
“Here?” Larry said. “Why?”
“No questions. Just do it. You have less than a minute.”
A gun appeared. The muzzle pointed at Larry. The trigger and handle stayed concealed in his jacket. Larry took a step back. Maybe he knew about the police?
His first thought was to risk running away. Surely this person would not contemplate shooting him in front of all these people. Even if most were drunks and probably could not give any serious account of what might happen.
Then what would happen to his brother? Then afterward, possibly Jobe and Sarah?
Larry took a deep breath. If this is what he had to go through to get his brother back, then so be it.
The gun, seemed completely unnecessary, although it did make him move more quickly.
Larry stripped off inside a booth starting with his T-shirt, then pants, socks, and shoes, replacing all his clothing with the contents from the bag. Larry struggled with the pants while sitting down, and had barely raised them past his knees when the man said, “Take off the underwear as well and leave them in the bag.”
Larry sighed and took the supplied pants back off so he could lose the underwear. He noticed that no underwear had been supplied to replace his with.
“Time’s almost up. They won’t wait. If you’re not ready soon there’ll be... problems for us both.” Sweat ran down the man’s face. He looked at his watch. His whole body began to shake.
Larry did as he was told and finished changing, but not bothering to sit at the booth, instead standing semi naked and changing in the open. The old men at the bar drank and watched the green screen, their eyes wide and expectant, but not caring what else went on behind them.
“Now leave through the back door and get into the red car directly outside,” the man said. “Hurry. Please!” Tears rolled down his cheeks. He pushed Larry in the back with the gun.
He followed Larry to the rear door and watched as Larry got in.
As soon as he sat in the car, the phone on the passenger seat rang. Larry picked it up and put the phone to his ear. “Hel—”
“Listen carefully, Mr Emerson, the car has explosives underneath. A timer was reset when you opened the door, it is counting down again. Your considerable concentration on what I am about to say is crucial. Any attempt to leave the car, or deviate from the course I set for you will result in an explosion and consequently your death. Do you understand?” The voice on the phone said.
“No questions yet, Mr Emerson. Not until we are free of your police friends. When our man approached you in the hotel, we sent out a signal to disable all cameras, TVs and microphones. The police will be well aware that they can not protect you if they can not see or hear you on their equipment. They will of course storm the hotel at any moment to mount a rescue and will therefore be killed in the resulting explosion along with you, unless you drive, now!”
Larry hesitated a second before starting the car and driving away from the rear of the hotel in the direction he was told to go. Larry zigzagged along streets taking a series of turns as instructed by the nameless person on the phone. He zoomed along the main road and then side streets until he reached an unsealed road heading up into the mountains.
Larry thought of Detective Bradbury and what he might be doing right now. No doubt yelling at the technicians who had gone to the effort of setting up the surveillance system. He could not guess how the cameras and microphones had been so easily disrupted, but somehow they had beaten the police. What else were they capable of?
As Larry drove along Old Kinglake Road the person on the phone spoke again and told him to pull over after a hairpin turn. Larry did so and parked next to a black van. Upon his arrival two men got out. The same from the warehouse and one from the hospital.
They pulled him from the car and directed him to an open sliding door of the black van. Before he got in, one of the soldiers slipped a black fabric bag over his head.
Larry panicked and gasped for breath. He thought of what happened when terrorists put black bags over people’s heads. Ending with a separation at their shoulders. But his panic soon dissipated. They had of course covered his face so he couldn’t identify the person behind all this. The boss. Which meant they intended on eventually letting him go.
He sat down guided by hands stronger than steal and waited. The sliding door slid across and closed. The car’s sound absorbing material muffled the singing birds and rustling of the trees.
The van reversed away from the shoulder of the road skidding on loose stones. They then made contact with the asphalt and skidded to a stop. There came a soft clunking of automatic gears and the car drove forwards then sped further up the hill.
“So you are, Larry Emerson,” a deep and accented voice said from directly opposite. ‘Well, Mr Emerson, if you had been unfortunate enough to die the other day, we would never have met and possibly then had years of setbacks. Lucky for us, due to an incompetent officer of the law, you are quite alive and hopefully willing to help us with our current problem.’
“Poezdka v peshcheru,*” the man said, talking to someone else in the van.
No doubt it was one of the Russians from the warehouse. Larry already knew what they looked like. He was just glad they had no idea he knew.
Then to Larry again, “Down to the matter now, I would like to discuss the viruses developed by you and your people at Sincorp. As you would know it is worth more money than either of us could ever earn in a lifetime combined, not just millions, but oh-so-many billions. Also, this technology would help many people. Not just the west, but instead everyone in the world, yes?
The Russian continued without waiting for confirmation. “When I heard about this wondrous discovery I knew I wanted to be involved. My company is well suited to sell this product. We have many contacts throughout industries and governments of the world. Some of which would surprise you.
“To do this product justice, I need access to the viruses that were hidden before Sincorp came under the control of Tech Dynamics.”
The man mumbled something in Russian again.
Then,”Hmm, shame. A shame that not one virus specimen could be found when takeover was completed. We also could not find any data on the research. Some of my lab people believe there are many kinds of viruses, possibly hundreds of different strains for hundreds of different purposes.
“It is quite a find for you. I have been in this business for decades, so you understand I am very, very impressed with what you have done. But let’s not worry about that yet. We arrive at our destination soon.”
Larry stayed quiet. It seemed the Russian was only interested in hearing his own voice at this stage anyway. The van took several more turns before they came to a stop, then parked and the engine turned off. The Russian cleared his throat of a glob of phlegm and spat it out.
Larry imagined it was the fatter Russian, not the lean one. Probably with splotchy red marks on his face and a deep set confused of veins painting his nose. Which meant it was the calmer one with black hair.
“Ostanovite zdes, my budem hodit,*” the Russian said to his men.
Larry wondered if this Russian knew he had forgotten much of his virus work. It sounded right what this Russian had said, maybe there were many viruses.
This would be a good opportunity to learn things about the viruses, rather than them learning from him. He just needed to keep the Russian baited long enough to get all the information possible. Although, before they realize they will learn nothing from him.
The van door slid open and the two men on either side guided Larry using their clamp-like grips to hold him upright. Larry stood at around six foot, yet shorter than the large men by a few inches, his feet rarely touched the ground.
“Not far now, Mr Emerson,” the voice said after a few minutes.
Larry tripped on a branch as they began up a slope but was immediately righted by his captures. He stumbled three more times before giving a sigh of relief as the ground finally levelled out.
The underbrush was then replaced by shifting loose stones, causing Larry to trip and curse as they continued on.
The light and sound changed. Larry got the impression they were heading into an enclosure of some kind. It smelt of stale earth and damp rocks. The sound of his breathing echoed the further they went in.
They stopped. Two hands grabbed his shoulders and pushed him down into a chair. No sooner had he straightened himself up, than a punch landed in the centre of his face. This was followed by another and another and yet another, until he lost count of the times they pummeled him again and again.
The punching stopped.
Larry gasped for air through the cotton bag and breathed in blood as he did so. He spluttered and hacked and brought up coppery flavoured blood from his lungs.
Hidden shapes moved about in the light just enough so he could see that there were people around him, just not what they were doing. He flinched when a form moved closer to him, but no further punches were delivered. His head swirled. He felt around the inside of his mouth with his tongue. Teeth were broken or missing entirely. His gums had blown up to twice their normal size. Bloody and still-bleeding cuts were all through his mouth where fists had met with cheek and exploded against teeth.
He wanted to ask why, but his lips moved like a fish starving for water.
His capturer spoke after a few minutes just as Larry’s dizziness began to subside.
“Sorry, Mr Emerson,” the voice said as sympathetically as an axe to a turkey, “but before we ask questions I had to make sure you knew we really do need the truth from you without any games. The bag over your head; I’m sorry about that too. It is to heighten fear. This way you will not see what we will do to you when you lie.
“I have been able to obtain much more information this way and with greater speed. You may be thinking you can withstand any pain we put you through. This is not true. You will see that we have a very effective strategy and inventive ways to make you become cooperative.
“So, first, know that you are going to die once you tell us everything, I am sorry, but it is necessary to make sure this informations stays confidential. I am quite aware that this means that you have no reason to tell us anything. So rather than threatening your life, I will threaten your son’s life and your brother’s and his wife’s. This is appropriate, yes?
“Tell us what we want to know and your pain will end and no one else will have to die. Sound good, yes, Mr Emerson?”
Larry spat blood against the inside of his hood. His nose felt broken and his cheeks stung. “I’ll tell you anything you need to know,” Larry said through his bruised and cut mouth. His voice sounding strange as he slurred using ‘S’ and ‘TH’ sounds.
“Good, good. But in case you don’t, we have a hammer here to smash every one of your fingers if you lie or decide to hesitate. Most believe that cutting off fingers is better. But since you are going to be dead soon you’ll not fear losing your fingers. If the fingers are pounded by a hammer, well, we can hit them again and again. Move them around to further your agony. We can not do that if the finger is not there, can we?
“So, you know what the question is, Mr Emerson. Please answer.”
“I’ve hidden the viruses away,” Larry said.
Slam! The hammer came down on Larry’s finger. Slam! And another finger. Hit so hard that blood burst from his fingernail.
Larry clenched his teeth and his eyes rolled up. His breathing came in ragged swallows and his heart thumped and actually began to hurt. Stomach acid inched up his throat. Spit and blood bubbled over his lips and down his chin.
“You told us something we already know, Mr Emerson. It sounds like you need some encouragement to answer properly, yes?” He came closer to Larry’s covered face. “I thought you would cry like a newborn. You can you know. No one will hear. Many just scream and scream.”
Larry continued to hold his cries for help in check, not wanting to give them any satisfaction.
“Hmm, since you are still quiet, we will hammer some more fingers to make sure we have your attention.”
“I’ll tell you what you want to know. I will, but my memory... I need time to think,” Larry said.
The Russian man shifted, becoming a different shadow through Larry’s hood, and cleared his throat as if disapproving of the answer.
“Sorry, Mr Emerson, time is what we do not have. Just bare in mind, if you don’t tell us what we need to know after we have put you through all this, we will have to go and put your son through the same, then kill him after. So whatever you experience now, he will experience as well.”
“I...” Larry never got out the next word. The hammer came down six more times on his fingers. It hit joints, it hit fingernails, it hit knuckles. Larry screamed and cried out.
“Good, Mr Emerson, your mind is focussed, let’s hear where your viruses are, and so forth, yes?”
“In Brisbane,” Larry said through gasps.
“Good. See you can talk when you want to. The problem is that you didn’t continue. Brisbane is a big city. This next one will hurt a lot, Mr Emerson. I hope you answer correctly, I really don’t want to do this to your son.”
Larry’s mouth opened and closed. He wanted to tell them but had no idea what the answers were. All he could do was wait for the next torture. He clenched his teeth even though everything in his mouth hurt. Another ten, then twenty seconds passed, nothing happened. As he wondered why, his mouth opened of its own accord and he blurted out information he didn’t know he knew.
“It’s in the Reserve Vault on Adelaide Street,” Larry said stringing each word together, wanting all the information out in one breath.
“Oh, so you decided to speak. Well done, Mr Emerson. I am sorry for the delay to begin your next torture, but we are... well, we were just getting it ready. You still have a few seconds if you want to give us the rest?”
“It’s in box 302, 1203 and 72. Paper files, digital files and viruses. But to get it you need me to sign in for it, as well as give a hand scan,” Larry said.
As he said the last words he wondered where in his mind the information had come from. Then also if there really even was a second torture.
“Well done, Mr Emerson. Although this does produce a problem. We now need to cut off your hand.”
“No, no. Please no,” Larry said.
There came a burst of laughter from the men around him. A shadow bent over while holding his stomach.
“It’s a joke, Larry, may I call you Larry? We could not go into a secure building with a dead person’s hand. No, we will make a cast and create a synthetic duplicate latex glove that will fit over another hand. We will also need your signature so we can copy it.”
One of the men raised Larry’s hood but left it on his head like a large chefs hat. A note pad fell to the earth in front of him along with a pen, so he could write his signature.
“Sign please. Notice how we left your right hand free of any damage. That was forward thinking on my part. Not as dumb as I look,” the Russian said, and laughed.
The others laughed as well. Larry saw that it certainly was the one with the black hair from the warehouse.
Larry eyed a portable gas burner nearby while writing his signature. A hot iron poker glowed orange in the flame.
“Oh, yes, we would put that iron in your ear. Creates incredible pain from what I have seen. Then we put it in your mouth. The pain lasts for hours. I am very glad I did not have to do it to you or your son. Now, Larry, you don’t need to be alive for the cast of your hand, so good bye. It was a pleasure.”
Larry heard the sharp crack of a bullet being fired, then a sting in his neck. The lights went out. He fell to the ground.
“Aerrk,” the Russian said. “Not in his neck. You are both idiots. I have blood all over my suit now. Get the cast of his hand, set the charges and let us leave here.”