Ahmed was exhausted by the time he reached the top of the hill. He was about a kilometre from the highway now, following a dirt road that bisected a shabby forest of casuarinas and black pines. Up ahead to his right was a sprawling house that would once have been quite grand, but now seemed in disrepair. It overlooked the pony club grounds and the surrounding scrub. With luck it would be empty and a temporary haven.
As he circled the building he saw that one half of the building was indeed cared for; new roofing and woodwork were just some of the renovations. Someone lived there. He cursed his luck. What he needed was an empty house to hole up in while he thought of a solution to his dilemma.
He dropped his gaze and walked down the other side of the hill. He passed a small miner’s cottage and glanced at the sign out the front. Another twenty meters down the road he stopped and turned around. The little house was part of the local tourism trail. It was on display so that tourists could see how the miners once lived. That meant workers only inhabited it at certain hours. It wasn’t resided in. He used the cover of a small group of melaleucas that lined the informal car park to read the sign in detail without being seen.
He’d lost track of time during his imprisonment at the hands of the crazy bully, but whilst he fled from town he heard the school siren sound. He looked at the position of the sun. It was later than the lunchtime period, which meant the siren was indicating home-time for the students. That occurred around three o’clock, fifteen minutes ago, so the cottage was probably about to close up for the day. He went to the back of the property and sat below the line of the stick fence and waited.
The sound of a car engine starting had woken him. He stretched and yawned, then stood just in time to see a small red car drive away. The car park was empty. Ahmed waited until he could no longer hear the vehicle before he broke cover. The old wrought iron gate squealed as he opened it but there was no one around to hear it. He ducked beneath the trellised rose bush and followed the path to the front door. It was locked. All of the entrances and windows were locked but the back door gave way with only one well-placed kick.
He hardly glanced around as he passed through the small rooms, stooping under low doorways. The bed was covered in a handmade quilt, and he fell on it, savouring its softness. In only minutes he slept again.
It was almost dark when he woke. He choked off a scream as he floundered from the bed; disorientated and terrified. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could make out the layout of the room. When he hit the light switch at the doorway it illuminated his refuge. His heart continued to beat like a caged wild bird, but little by little he relaxed. For now he was safe.
He rummaged through kitchen cupboards but all the jars and canisters were just part of the display; there was no food. In a cupboard under the sink he found an electric kettle, tea, coffee and a tin of biscuits; he guessed for the volunteer workers. The sweet crackers were stale and soft but he wolfed them down anyway, and the kettle had not quite boiled as he poured strong coffee.
He sat at the wooden table and concentrated on what had happened. He had become a bit obsessed with Morris and his life. Knowing parts of the old man’s history had created a bond that Ahmed couldn’t explain. He guessed living in the house was part of it too. It had been foolish to get so close to the killer. And while the timing had seemed perfect, in hindsight it was a dumb move to do something so dangerous when Yalda was not around. And where was Yalda?
He’d lost track of days but if the school siren was sounded then it had to be a weekday. The Italian Festa would be over, but he couldn’t remember how many days she was going for. She had left on Thursday, the weekend was now over, so she should have been home by now. She would be worried sick about him. Would she be so concerned that she would call the police? He shuddered.
He needed to contact her but his phone was probably still at the crazy man’s house. He thought about his current location. Once he’d brought the children to the mines, just after they’d arrived from Sydney and he remembered seeing a telephone booth. They had become a rarity, which was why he recalled it. He racked his brain and finally pictured it. There was a lolly shop on the highway, and the phone booth was right beside it, sheltered by a huge tree.
The night air was chilly so Ahmed took a raggedy old coat, which was part of the display, and wrapped it around his shoulders. It was far too small to wear but it cut out the breeze, and it was brown, rendering him inconspicuous in the darkness of the unlit streets. He took the road back up the hill that led to the highway.
There was no light in the phone booth but one of the few streetlights was positioned above to illuminate the area. He had to speak to an operator to get a collect call, and if she noticed his voice was shrill with panic, she didn’t mention it. Yalda answered on the second ring. The operator said her piece and Yalda hysterically accepted the call.
‘It’s okay. I’m fine. Please don’t worry.’
‘Where are you? I have been trying to reach you for days.’
His eyes stung. They brimmed, then ran with tears he couldn’t stem.
‘Ahmed? Are you crying?’
He cleared his throat and gazed out at the starlit sky. ‘I’m okay but I wasn’t.’ He waited while she rambled on in Syrian; telling him that she had prayed to God and all the saints, and that Felicia had prayed with her and she had even made the children pray.
‘Yalda, stop it please, don’t speak.’
She stopped speaking and began crying.
‘That’s enough!’ he said more harshly than he intended. ‘You need to stay calm and listen to me. Now, when are you coming home?’
‘I have a flight in the morning. Felicia is flying out too. We will go to the airport together. The bus from Adelaide will get to Moonta around two in the afternoon.’
‘Good, do you have the spare set of car keys?’
‘Car keys? Yes they are on my key ring. Why?’
‘I’ve… misplaced mine. I will meet you at the garage where the bus stops tomorrow, okay?’
‘Oh Ahmed! I was so worried. I thought you were dead. Jackie said he would find you but he didn’t. He told me you would be okay but I wasn’t sure. Felicia said you may have found another woman!’ The tears started again.
Ahmed laughed. He couldn’t help it. ‘Another woman? Really? Why would any man want another woman when they had you? You are my love Yalda.’
But the words did little to stop the crying, in fact she wailed louder.
‘Yalda, be quiet now. You said Jackie was aware of my situation, is that right?’
‘Yes, Felicia called him. She had lied to me about the Festa! He didn’t know I was going. He was a bit angry I think, but not at me.’
Ahmed massaged his brow and tried to concentrate. He could ill afford to be on the wrong side of Jackie. The man had been their saviour, but he was powerful too, and had a reputation; he was not a man to cross. Ahmed needed to speak to him. To explain himself and reassure Jackie that he would not cause any more problems. Hindsight made him realise what a fool he’d been. He had almost lost his life.
‘Yalda, you must do something for me. Ask Felicia to call Jackie and you speak to him. Tell him I made a mistake but it won’t happen again. Tell him I am no threat and he will never hear a peep from me. Tell him I am eternally grateful for all he has done. Have you got that?’
‘See you tomorrow.’
He hung up the phone and momentarily ducked as a car passed him on the highway. He felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel but he still had to stay clear of that mad man. He prayed that Jackie would forgive him.
Yalda stared at the black screen of her phone. She allowed herself a small smile and mumbled thanks to God that her husband was safe and still loved her. It was cool on the patio; she rubbed at the gooseflesh on her arms. Through the window she saw that Felicia was in the spare room, opposite hers, packing for tomorrow’s flight, but where was her phone?
Yalda didn’t want to ask for Jackie’s number. She and Felicia were hardly speaking following the horrible innuendo about Ahmed, and what he had been getting up too while she was away. Felicia had almost convinced Yalda that there was an affair taking place. How could she have been so stupid? She should never have listened to Felicia, and not ever doubted Ahmed.
Old Nonna was in the kitchen pouring herself a glass of wine. It was truly amazing that a woman of her age could pack away so much booze. If Yalda tried to match her drink for drink she would be staggering and babbling in no time at all. Nonna glanced at her as she sat down at the kitchen table. For a moment it seemed the old lady would sit with her, but she merely nodded and left the room.
A quick scan of the bench-tops located a phone charger plugged in next to the knife rack. Beside it was a stack of magazines. Yalda darted across the kitchen and pulled the charger cord. The phone was still attached, but as she moved to unplug it she heard Felicia clear her throat.
‘Are you alright there?’ There was an accusation in her tone.
‘Yes, sure. I thought I left my phone charger here, but this one is yours.’
Felicia pushed in beside her and picked up her phone. She levelled her eyes at Yalda. There was something mean in her glare.
‘You are more than welcome to borrow my charger. My phone is fully charged.’ She didn’t take her eyes off Yalda as she dropped her phone into her jacket pocket. ‘I can share.’
There was an accusation or some kind of hidden meaning in the comment. Yalda tried not to appear deflated. Perhaps there would be another chance. Maybe Felicia would take a shower later that evening, but the opportunity didn’t arise, and Yalda could not bring herself to ask for Jackie’s number. She didn’t think that after they said their “goodbyes” at the airport, that they would cross paths again.
Felicia had been cruel in her taunting, and since then she had treated Yalda like a worthless peasant. But that was okay, Yalda thought, I don’t care what the spoilt bitch thinks. I’ve had enough. The desire to be home with Ahmed was overpowering. She felt like a kid on Christmas Eve and she doubted she would sleep that night. Family and home were everything, and yes that little town had become home.
It had been a long night with no word about Ahmed. Lawrence was out of bed before dawn and paced the floor. The apartment had a view of the bay but in the early light it appeared grey and solemn. He swallowed down a cup of evil tasting coffee and grabbed his car keys. The streets were empty and he fought down his anxiety. He turned in at a small cove and parked.
The sun beamed out from behind a cloud and whitened the sand. With the windows down he sucked in the salty breeze and forced himself to relax. The bracing wind helped him to refocus. Dog walkers and fishermen dotted the beach, assuring him he was not alone; not isolated or in the middle of nowhere. After a few moments he was able to concentrate again.
He mentally ticked off the facts he knew: Ahmed was not at home but his car was. This meant that his wife and kids had gone to the Adelaide airport by other means. Lawrence checked the Internet on his phone. He searched public transportation in the area, and found that there were only local taxis or a bus to Adelaide. A round trip to the city was over three hundred kilometres, so a cab was out of the question. He looked up the bus timetable; there were only two runs to Moonta on a weekday, one got in at around two in the afternoon and the other was ten thirty at night. Lawrence would be there for both arrivals. In the meantime he had hours to kill.
These were details he could be fairly confident about, but there were other factors he couldn’t know. From what he’d heard Ahmed was very fond of his wife so he felt it safe to assume the two would reunite. Also Ahmed had not returned home and taken his car. It was possible that the set of keys Jarrod had in his possession, along with the man’s wallet, were the only ones available to Ahmed. Perhaps that was why he’d taken off on foot. He’d headed to the east from the bay, which meant he could be anywhere, but if he was looking for a place to hide, the suburbs of Moonta weren’t the ideal choice; too many retirees, too many people not out at work, so more likely to notice him.
He could have hitchhiked to another town but Lawrence felt that to be unlikely. If he were Ahmed he would try to find a deserted farmhouse. The only problem with that theory was that farms were spread many kilometres apart and Ahmed was walking.
Lawrence slammed his fist against the dashboard and let out a string of obscenities. But suddenly he sat up straight in the seat. ‘Jeez,’ he muttered. He had an image in his head of the old pump house ruin with its towering chimney. The heritage area was a perfect place to hide out! People who lived there were so used to tourists wandering about that strangers were probably largely ignored. The place was dotted with holiday cottages, which were likely only inhabited during the summer. It seemed a textbook place to hide, but would Ahmed have had the wherewithal to come to that conclusion?
‘Only one way to find out.’ Lawrence started the car and put it into reverse. He drove slowly to the mines area, scanning the footpaths and parks on the way. But like the roads, these places were almost deserted. He pulled in off the highway and saw one other vehicle in the car park. There was a couple and their dog standing by the large chimney but no one else was in sight.
Lawrence flicked through a booklet advertising local accommodation, which he’d picked up at the tourist information centre. There were two cottages on the same side of the highway and one a bit further out of town. With a quick look at the map on his phone he planned out a route to take. But as he prepared to leave the pump house car park, a police car pulled up beside him.
Lawrence took a deep breath and nonchalantly nodded to the cop.
‘Good morning sir,’ the policeman said. ‘I wonder if you have seen a man wandering around the area? He has a…Mediterranean complexion and is almost six feet tall. He was last seen wearing jeans and a blue hoodie.’
Lawrence was aware that his mouth had dropped open but it took less than a second to compose himself. ‘No um…I mean…no, I haven’t seen anyone like that around but I just got here myself. There are some people over there,’ he pointed to the couple, ‘they may have seen something. I only stopped to look at this.’ Lawrence held up the booklet with hands that shook.
The cop stared for a few seconds and then said, ‘thanks anyway. Have a nice day.’
While the cop drove over to the couple who were in the process of loading their Labrador into the back of their four-wheel-drive, Lawrence held his heaving stomach. Angus had been right. This cop was a dead ringer for Nam. As the police car drove away Lawrence sent an email to one of his contacts, requesting urgent information about SAPOL staff in the area.
While he waited for a reply he walked over to the pump house, which was now deserted. He took deep breaths, standing doubled over with his hands resting on his knees. The nausea had passed but now he felt lightheaded.
‘What the hell is going on Nam?’ he hissed.
His phone signalled that he’d received an email but in this bright light it was too difficult to read the small screen. He took a final glance at the pump house but as he moved to walk away he stopped in his tracks. There was something so familiar about this place but it wouldn’t come to him. He shook his head with futility and trudged back to the car. The place was now deserted, not a person in sight, and Lawrence was beginning to breath faster as panic wormed into his psyche. The feeling of isolation was taking hold. He bit his lip as he started the car.
Just up the road he found a shaded area in the car park outside of the Mining Museum. The place was crowded with families and couples. He felt he had reconnected with the world again; even managed a weak smile at his baseless fears.
His associate, known to him only as “Magellan,” kept tabs on both the State and Federal Police websites. Nam did too of course, but it was best not to involve him any more than necessary. Lawrence didn’t want to be the one to give his partner another migraine.
Magellan had forwarded photographs of all the local SAPOL employees working in the Copper Triangle. Lawrence scrolled slowly down the list. There was only one Asian cop and he certainly wasn’t Nam. Lawrence began to chuckle at the absurdity of even contemplating such an idea.
‘Angus is a bit stupid,’ he muttered. ’But maybe they do all look the same.’
He thumbed a little further down the page to read the cop’s name.
‘Jesus!’ he said loudly enough to elicit a look of disgust from an elderly lady parked beside him. He coughed and wound up the window.
According to the data on the website the cop’s name was Nick Pham, but when he was a child, Lawrence knew him as Pham Van Ty. Ty was Nam’s kid brother. He had lots of memories of the little boy who was always sneaking up on them and spying; dobbing them in for any wrongdoings. They both hated the little bastard.
And suddenly Lawrence knew why the old pump house had looked familiar; he’d seen photos of it after Nam and the rest of the family came home from a caravanning holiday. It was shortly before Nam’s dad died. Mr Pham had been so ill on the trip, that they had taken him to an emergency department somewhere to get him drugs for the pain. The holiday was the last thing they did together as a family. It had been a tough ordeal for Nam. He had broken down when he told Lawrence about it all those years ago. Before that Lawrence didn’t think Nam was capable of such emotion, but losing his dad had broken his heart.
Lawrence put his head in his hands and rubbed his brow. This job had to be personal for Nam. There were too many coincidences, starting with this place. Did Nam choose Moonta because of the memories, or because of his brother’s proximity? It didn’t seem like a random act any more.
Lawrence started the car and put the air-conditioner on high. He could feel the sweat running down his back and when he wiped his neck the perspiration dripped from his hand. This job was only safe while it was indiscriminate, but now there was something that linked it to Nam, and by proxy, to Lawrence. It meant everyone working here was in danger.
‘What are you doing Nam?’ he hissed.
Lawrence tried to put himself in Nam’s shoes, to recall what had happened all those years ago. A lot of things changed after Nam’s father passed away. Nam became secretive and there was talk of him working for his uncle. Lawrence was the only friend he bothered with, and that was mainly because their spare time spent together was messing with computers. They were both unapologetic geeks.
After the gang trouble, when Nam was maimed, things changed once more. He and Lawrence were inseparable after that, but even to Lawrence, Nam kept his cards close to his chest. He became unreadable. He threw himself into his studies and excelled. He topped his class at university and was headhunted by the best software companies.
Sure they still hung out together, they surfed, drank beer, watched movies, but as the years passed some part of Nam was no longer shared. Lawrence wanted to be the one who saved Nam from the pain, both physical and mental, but he couldn’t.
It seemed only Felicia could reach him. She made him whole again. Lawrence hated her for that. He always would.
Ellie dreamt she stood looking down on the body of the frightened man. His face had been mashed to pulp and only his hand, which clutched tightly, even in death, to his motionless daughter gave any hint to his identity. The ambulance lights, strobing blue and red, gave a ghastly ambience, and although Erica prodded her to move, she couldn’t. There was an insistent sound, a constant droning noise that she fought to ignore, but eventually the alarm woke her. She clutched the sheet to her mouth as the layers of sleep fell away, and for a second she thought she was about to cry.
The day was sunny and outside the birds were noisier than usual, no doubt inspired by spring hormones and instinctive rituals. But none of their liveliness inspired Ellie, her nightmare had left her feeling flat and despondent. She had tried to call Nick several times last night but got no answer. Her texts had received no response either. He was either busy or had forgotten his phone again.
There was some relief when her pager finally went off, and although it was a mundane transfer, of a patient to the local airfield to meet the medical plane to Adelaide, she’d hoped for some distraction. Instead she found herself gazing out the ambulance window, and trying to dislodge the man’s blood soaked image from her mind. Erica must have sensed her distress and remained uncharacteristically silent.
When they returned to the depot to park and restock the ambulance, Nick’s cruiser pulled up out the front. Ellie rushed to greet him.
‘Did you find him?’ she asked before he had reached the front door.
‘No trace of him last night, and I’ve looked around the area again this morning, still nothing. I’ve put out an APB and contacted the hospital and medical clinics. The local doctor’s surgery gave me the address of the man you mentioned with the little girl. From the sound of it this fella fits the description but there was nobody home. There is a “For Sale” sign at the front of the property. I left a message with the realtor in charge of the sale, but they haven’t got back to me yet.’
‘I hope he’s okay.’ She chewed her thumbnail. ‘Maybe they were moving house,’ she murmured.
‘There were no medical records for him, only for his daughter, so if he is a mental health patient, then it’s likely he’s being treated somewhere else.’
‘He can’t go far on foot.’
‘No, and there aren’t many ways to get out of town if you don’t drive. I could look at the bus manifest. The driver may remember the bloke, I can talk to him when the bus arrives.’
‘Sure, it may help.’ Her tone was lacklustre. ‘Sometimes it is handy being a cop.’
He smiled and asked, ‘how about a drink tonight?’
Ellie licked her lips and shook her head. ‘I don’t think I’ll be very good company. I won’t feel right until we find the poor guy.’
‘He isn’t your responsibility Ellie. You’ve done more than most people would have bothered to do.’
He reached for her hand but she stiffened and ignored it. ‘I’ll text you once I’m home. And thanks for trying.’ She knew her tone was not grateful.
‘Anything for you Ellie.’ His tone was genuine.
Something about that comment irked her though. And as the day went on she thought about it more. She didn’t want Nick to feel obliged to look for the man just for her. Nick should have been concerned enough to do it for himself. And try as she might to ignore it, the annoyance stayed with her, and it festered.
Nick parked the cruiser in the supermarket car park and walked around to the garage where the bus would pull in. He didn’t want the sight of his police car to spook anyone. He smiled at the console operator as he entered the shop.
‘Do you mind if I hang out in here. I need to check something with the bus driver.’
‘Of course,’ the young girl replied. ‘There’s a chair over there. You can sit by the window. The bus is due in about ten minutes.’
The girl was more than helpful; she was also annoying. The fuel station was quiet, with only the occasional customer filling up at this time of day, so the girl took the opportunity to tell Nick all about her favourite police shows and movies. He let her drivel on, but her talk distracted him from seeing the bus when it eventually pulled up. The door had opened and passengers were alighting before he got to the shop doorway. People were departing in different directions but Nick spotted a dark haired lady with two children; the little girl was around the age of the missing man’s daughter. He rushed to the exit.
The family had only walked a dozen or so meters when a man rushed from the side of the building to greet them.
‘Bingo!’ Nick said as he jogged towards them. The man turned to flee but Nick sprinted and grabbed him by the back of his jeans. ‘Not so fast mate. Calm down, calm down. I just need to talk to you.’
The man’s eyes darted all around. He trembled and cried.
‘You’re safe. I need you to come with me and we can have a little chat.’
As Nick began to lead them away, the man stopped dead and stared at a stationary car across the street. Nick looked over and saw it was the bloke he’d spoken to at the pump house in the rented BMW. The car’s engine started and it drove away.
‘Are you scared of that guy?’ he asked.
But the man and his wife held each other in a tight embrace, both of them speaking a language he didn’t understand. Nick gave them a moment and then said, ‘come with me. We’ll have a talk.’
The man sat in the front seat of the cruiser while his wife and children sat in the rear. The boy grinned and asked Nick lots of questions about being a cop, but the rest of the family were silent during the drive.
Nick parked at the rear of the Kadina Police Station and ushered them into an interview room. The children were escorted to a secure reception area where the new Star Wars movie was playing.
The couple seemed more relaxed, but despite Nick asking questions for over an hour, the man would not explain why he had been so fearful. His wife was unhelpful and when she did speak it was not in English.
‘Okay mate,’ Nick ran his fingers through his hair with frustration. ‘If you won’t talk to me I can’t help you. You have a nasty head injury that needs attention so I’m going to take you into Care and Control under section 57 of the Mental Health Act.’ He thumbed through the flip book in his pocket and read out a legal statement, then paused a minute to let his words be absorbed, but the man still said nothing. ‘I am going to escort you to the nearest hospital where you will be handed over for a physical and psychological assessment.’ Nick stood with his hands on his hips. ‘Your family are free to go home.’
‘But I have no car here,’ Yalda said.
’Oh, so you do understand what’s going on. Perhaps you want to enlighten me?’
‘No,’ her eyes flicked to her husband. She was scared too.
‘Well seeing as how you have refused to cooperate you can find your own way back to Moonta. There are plenty of taxis.’
She began to sob and then stood, about to speak, when her husband held up his hand. ‘I have panic attacks,’ the man said. ‘That’s all. I’m calm now. It’s over. Can we please go home?’
Nick slumped back in his chair. ‘You were acting as though you were in fear for your life. Now you mean to tell me you’re fine?’
‘That’s what happens when I have these attacks. I get scared.’ He touched the back of his injured head. ‘I fell down, in a panic. Sometimes that happens too.’
‘Okay so now that you’re rational again I need your details. Name, address and contact number.’
Nick jotted down the man’s particulars and gave a heavy sigh. ‘Mr Harrop, we are here to help people in trouble. If you decide you need to tell me something I want you to call my number. Do you understand?’
The man and his wife both nodded, but Nick doubted he would hear from them again.
‘I’ll call you a cab,’ Nick said as he stood. ‘You can wait out in reception with the kids.’
The family hustled out the door, their desperation evident.
‘Far out,’ Nick muttered. He felt like hitting his head against the wall.
The taxi-bus was stuck behind an elderly driver who wouldn’t, or couldn’t drive above seventy kilometres an hour. A constant stream of oncoming traffic made it impossible to overtake. The taxi driver tapped on the steering wheel, often glancing at the family in the back.
‘Yalda! Speak English or don’t speak at all!’ Ahmed said. It was hard to keep his voice controlled.
‘I thought that policeman was Jackie!’
Ahmed bit his lip. He could have sworn he was Jackie too. ‘Don’t be silly, how could he be. That man was young and fit. He had no limp.’
‘Bally, what is that stupid game you are playing? Can you turn the sound off? That noise is driving me insane!’
Baltasar glanced up from his tablet. ‘I’ve got the sound turned off. That noise is Lilith’s.’
Ahmed watched his daughter. She pulled her Peppa Pig bag closer to her chest. He heard the noise again and without warning he began sneezing.
’What the hell is that!’ he hissed after he’d wiped his dripping nose.
‘Please daddy, don’t take my kitten.’
‘What? A kitten? Yalda, did you know about this?’
‘No! Of course not.’
Baltasar put an arm around his sister. ‘I was going to tell you but you were both upset. Someone brought a box of dumped kittens into the police station. The lady at the desk let us play with them. She was trying to contact a shelter to take them. Lilith asked if she could keep one and I said she could.’
‘Not without our permission!’
Baltasar drooped his head.
‘I told her that you gave your permission. I couldn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t have one.’
‘I will tell you why you can’t!’ Ahmed saw the taxi driver watching him through the rear view mirror. Ahmed lowered his voice and said, ‘we don’t need this right now. We will have to go away from here for a few days until I get assurances from Jackie that we are safe.’ He glared at Yalda. ‘As soon as your mother gets his number from Aunty Felicia.’
Yalda pursed her lips and stared out the window.
Ahmed swore under his breath and said to Lilith, ‘we can’t take a kitten with us.’
‘Why not daddy? I will look after him.’
‘No Lilith. Motels don’t take pets and we can’t afford to make trouble.’
The taxi bus pulled up out the front of their home and Ahmed paid the driver.
‘What are we going to do now?’ Yalda asked.
Ahmed glanced up and down the street, fighting off the urge to run inside. He couldn’t be sure that crazy guy wasn’t watching them. ‘We pack some clothes and drive. We’ll take the coast road south and find a motel. We need to hide until things are sorted.’
Lilith was sobbing and the kitten meowed loudly. Ahmed shook his head with frustration; he’d never coped well with his children’s tears. ‘Okay, okay. You can keep the kitten for now. Yalda, you make a sandbox for it and Bally, find it some food. We will have to leave it in the laundry until we return.’
‘No daddy, he’ll die if we leave him here.’
‘He’ll die if I have to put up with him in the car,’ Ahmed warned.
‘But darling,’ Yalda said, ‘he’s just a baby. We can’t leave him for too long. He will die.’
‘Okay Yalda. Leave him enough food for two days and then I’ll come back, maybe at night when no one is around. I’ll give him more food to last until we return. Okay?’
‘Thank you daddy.’ Lilith hugged her father, and the kitten, sandwiched between them, squawked. Ahmed sneezed.
‘What am I going to feed him dad?’ Baltasar asked.
Ahmed ran his fingers through his hair. ‘I don’t know…tuna? Something like that. And milk I guess.’ This was the last thing he needed. He clapped his hands loudly. ‘Hurry, everyone hurry. Yalda, get my antihistamines. We leave in ten minutes.’