Lawrence’s mouth was set in a white line when he pulled up at Angus’s apartment. Before he moved from his car he checked his mirrors, and although he saw no movement, he wasn’t reassured. It may have been paranoia, but he was certain he was being watched. Maybe Jarrod had been right to be worried, if this project of Nam’s had an underlying intent, then maybe nothing was as it seemed. Was it possible that Ahmed was not even a real refugee? Maybe Ty knew exactly what was going on and that was why he showed up at the bus stop. Lawrence’s chest felt tight and he tugged at his collar for some sort of relief.
He darted from the car to the stairwell with his head down and his cap tilted forward. His fingers drummed the wall by the intercom as he waited for Angus to answer. Lawrence spoke briefly and the door was unlocked. He didn’t wait for the lift, he bounded up the stairs two at a time.
Once inside he rushed into the small entrance way and ran to the window. He could see the western side of the car park, which had a dozen or so cars, but he had to walk through Angus’ bedroom to glimpse the eastern view. There was no sign of any new arrivals. He exhaled noisily.
‘Jesus man!’ Angus exclaimed. ‘You look really stressed. What happened?’
Lawrence flopped into a cream tub chair in the centre of the living area and shook his head. He gazed from Angus, who looked concerned, to Jarrod, who was doing his best to appear blasé but had the decency be sitting upright, and for once was not scratching his private parts.
‘I need a drink,’ Lawrence said.
‘Water?’ Angus asked.
He guzzled down the tap water and coughed to clear his throat. ‘I need to use that safe phone and call Nam.’
‘Wow, that’s not good.’
‘No Angus,’ Lawrence said, but his glare was aimed at Jarrod. ‘It is a long way from good.’
Jarrod opened his mouth to speak but Lawrence leapt to his feet and pointed a long trembling finger at him. ‘Shut up Jarrod. Not a word!’
Angus disappeared into his bedroom and soon returned with the phone. Lawrence took a long swig of water and hit Nam’s number. The room was thick with silent tension.
‘The cops are onto us.’
Lawrence had spent no time on pleasantries, and neither did Nam.
‘Finish the job and get out.’
‘Finish the job? Are you crazy?’
‘No Lawrence I’m not. I am angry, but not crazy. Get those useless idiots to finish the job as quickly as they can and then get out of there.’
‘But, because of the hold up, they still have…I don’t know.’ Lawrence glanced at Angus. ‘Four or five still to go.’
Angus held up four fingers.
‘Four, they have four left.’
‘Two tonight two tomorrow night and you will be gone by Wednesday.’
‘But I saw a cop with the Syrian. They probably know everything by now. They might be waiting for us to make a move.’
‘Calm down Lawrence. There have been no reports filed on the SAPOL intranet. His name hasn’t come up at all. He has done the right thing and kept his mouth shut. So as long as that goon of yours doesn’t intimidate him again, everything will be fine.’
‘Are you sure? It’s just that I have a bad feeling…’
‘Just get the job done. Check your other phone, you have some real work to do.’
‘But Nam you need to know…’
The line went dead.
‘What did he say? Are we getting out of here?’ Angus asked.
‘We finish the jobs first.’
‘Is he insane?’
‘Ahmed didn’t tell that cop anything. We are good to go, but we will need to do two tonight and two tomorrow night. Then it’s all over. We can leave.’
‘Two each night! That’s going to be hard.’
Lawrence tapped his foot on the floor. Nam wanted this job finished and so it would be. There was no way Lawrence would be a failure; he had to be the one that Nam could rely on. And if Nam said there was nothing to worry about he had to believe him. He just wished he felt more reassured. He turned and pointed to Angus.
‘Open those files and we’ll find the best four candidates. We can’t afford any balls-ups,’ he turned and glared at Jarrod, ‘and no deviation from our procedure. Timing will be key to this working properly.’
‘But if we have two to do tonight how am I going to have the time to scope them?’
‘You’ll have to quickly observe them today.’
‘That’s too risky.’
‘Not if we do it right. Let’s look at the files.’
While Angus checked out the best prospects Lawrence listened to the message on his business phone. He walked out onto the balcony to speak to the company manager, closing the door behind him.
‘This is Lawrence. You are having some issues?’ He frowned. ‘Jeez! I think you have an internal hacker.’ He nodded; he’d seen this kind of thing before. ‘Shut off all Internet to your mainframe. Change the access to vital personnel only.’ He rubbed at his brow as he listened to her heavily accented reply. ‘I don’t care if it slows business, you have the potential to lose all of your data if this is not sorted.’ He chewed the inside of his cheek. ‘Look dear, we make the best security software but it’s only as good as it’s updates. You decided to let your subscription lapse so you haven’t got the latest security; not my fault.’ Lawrence held the phone away from his ear until the woman on the other end finished her tirade. ‘I presume you are now asking for my help.’ Lawrence smiled. ‘Let me check.’ He pulled another phone from the pocket of his linen jacket and scrolled to his flight scanner. After a moment he said, ‘there is a flight from Adelaide to Paris tonight. I’ll be there on Thursday morning.’
He let out a deep breath and looked out at the sleepy marina. Paris wasn’t his favourite city but at least he could get out of this place and back to civilisation. As he opened the door back into the apartment the sound of Angus and Jarrod arguing assaulted his ears, but he smiled. Soon he would be thousands of kilometres away and these morons would be forgotten.
Ellie was tired and she knew she wasn’t in the right frame of mind for an argument, especially when they weren’t face to face, but she couldn’t help it. Nick wasn’t being cooperative. As he explained what had happened she pulled off her boots. Her socks were wet with perspiration and the phone almost slipped from her hand.
‘Why couldn’t you get him to tell you why he was so scared?’
’Wow Ellie, I couldn’t make him speak. He didn’t want to. He said he had a panic attack.’
‘It was more than that. I’m sure it was.’
‘Maybe, but short of accusing him of lying, what else could I do?’
‘Give him some protection.’
‘I don’t know, from whatever he was so scared of.’
She heard Nick sigh. Her face felt flushed and she clenched her fists. ‘Sorry if it was too much trouble,’ she said with unabashed sarcasm.
‘Ellie, you are being unreasonable.’
‘No Nick, you’re being a jerk.’
‘Ellie.’ There was an edge to his voice she’d never heard before; it sounded threatening. ’I’ve had enough name calling to last me a lifetime, and it’s the last thing I need from you.’
‘That man needed help,’ she persevered, ‘you didn’t deliver. If anything happens to him it will be partly your fault.’
‘Get off your high horse sweetheart. If you want to protect him I’ll give you his address, but unless he asks for police protection, he won’t get it!’ Nick shouted.
‘Fine, give me his address!’ she shouted in return.
‘I’ll text it to you.’
The line went dead. Ellie tried to call him back but he wouldn’t reply. She stormed around the house, repeatedly trying to phone him, but to no avail. Both dogs watched as she passed them, yelling and cursing. Eventually her rage calmed and she took a shower. As she towelled her hair dry a message came through on her phone. It was an address, but nothing else.
Suddenly her mouth was dry. ‘Oh shit, I’ve blown it.’ She tried to call him three more times but he didn’t, or maybe wouldn’t, answer. Finally she sat on the couch between her two dogs. ‘Life as a crazy dog lady it is.’ But despite her attempt to bolster her mood with a joke she felt empty. She hugged Tyrion and Hanna, and felt her eyes sting.
When her phone rang only seconds later she gave a laugh of relief, but it was short lived.
‘Else, I’ve been expecting to hear from you. Is there a date set for Mary’s funeral?’
The silence that followed felt ominous. Else cleared her throat before speaking. ‘The funeral, and everything regarding Mary is…no longer any of my business.’
Ellie rubbed her temple while she digested this information. It didn’t make sense. ‘I don’t understand. You were like a daughter to her, and you were certainly her best friend.’
‘Yes, I know. I felt that way too, but, well, you see, Mary had a son.’
‘What? Are you kidding? I never heard her mention a son, and if she had one she would have talked about him all the time. Surely?’
‘Maybe not Ellie. She never married and women of that era, well they didn’t like to have children out of wedlock.’
‘Oh, I see. So was he adopted out?’
‘Apparently yes. He is her sole beneficiary.’
‘Oh. And you had no idea about this son?’
‘None whatsoever. Mary mentioned many times that she had left me everything in her will. I don’t know why she told me that when she left it all to him.’
‘Goodness. I’m so sorry Else.’
‘It’s okay, I mean, her son is the rightful recipient, it’s just that we were so close and she couldn’t tell me the truth. I would have understood but she obviously thought I was too…I don’t know…prudish.’
‘Have you met her son yet?’
‘No, his lawyer contacted me. He told me about the will. It was really strange because Mary had her will made a few years ago. I went with her to the solicitor’s office. This other will is more recent and overrides the previous one.’
‘But she said nothing to you. That is weird.’
‘It was bad enough losing her, now I don’t even have a say in her funeral and I know exactly what she wanted; right down to the music she wanted played.’
‘Is the son organising it?’
Else began to cry, each sob wracked with pain. She took a minute to compose herself. ‘Mary’s gone to Adelaide for cremation. He is keeping the ashes.’
‘Oh Else, you poor love.’
‘He’s moving into her house soon, along with his family. I have so many memories there.’
‘I think you should hold a memorial service. I can help organise it if you like. I’m sure all of Mary’s friends in the garden club would help out. You need to say goodbye properly, for your own sake and for Mary’s memory.’
‘I’ve been locked out of the house. All her photos and favourite music are there but they won’t let me in.’
‘I can try talking to the lawyer if you like. Maybe he’ll see reason.’
‘He’s not approachable. He was quite abrupt on the phone. He told me Mary’s estate was none of my business and I was to leave her son alone.’
‘That’s so sad. How will he ever know what his mum was like? Who else will tell him all the things she did in her lifetime?’
‘I feel so lost.’
’Listen, I have plenty of photos of Mary. I still have all of dad’s photo albums. And you know the songs she loved, I can download them. We will make it a lovely memorial. We can have bunches of her favourite flowers. Let’s set a date and put a notice in the paper. How about we hold it at the secret garden by the beach? She loved that place.’
‘Oh Ellie, that would be beautiful. I feel so much better. I almost didn’t call you. I know how busy you are, but I’m glad I did.’
‘I have a day off tomorrow. I’ll meet you at the café by the bay at ten, and we can make all the plans. How does that sound?’
‘Great. Thank you so much Ellie. See you tomorrow.’
Ellie slumped back on the couch and Hannah placed her head on her lap. She patted the dog and tried to imagine what Mary’s son might look like, but the only image that came to mind was the strange Syrian man, Morris’ son. She wished she could talk to Nick about this latest odd occurrence, but the sick feeling in the pit of her gut told her she had probably lost her man. She cursed her stupid anger.
Felicia’s waters broke just before midnight. Nam called their babysitter while his wife paced the floor; puffing and panting, trying hard not to wail.
‘She’ll be here in ten minutes. I’ll put your bags in the car. Can you make it down the steps?’
‘I’m just in labour Nam, I’m not paralysed.’
But as soon as she had spoken she clutched at her stomach and moaned.
‘Let’s get you into the car. I’ll come back for the bags.’
Felicia grasped his arm and took the steps gingerly down to the driveway.
‘We’ll take the BMW, you’ll never make it into the four wheel drive.’
Once she was seated in the passenger seat, Nam staggered back up the front steps and then took the stairs to the bedrooms. The kids were both asleep; Franco lying across the bed with his covers heaped on the floor, and Rosa with her head buried against her Teddy’s soft belly. He kissed them both and then collected Felicia’s bags.
He had just made it to the front door as the squeal of brakes alerted him to the babysitter’s arrival. He could hear the sitter asking Felicia questions. When his wife replied he heard the anguish in her voice. It was getting close.
‘I’ll phone you from the hospital. Make yourself at home, and the children don’t have to go to school tomorrow if they don’t want to.’
The babysitter replied but Nam was already reversing out of the driveway.
The hospital was quiet and they were ushered immediately into a private birthing suite. The doctor was calm and cheerful until he examined Felicia.
‘Oh dear,’ he said. ‘We have a problem with presentation. Your wife is going to need a caesarean section.’
The doctor held up his hand and spoke sharply into his phone. Nam didn’t understand the terms the man used, but he did comprehend the worry on his face. Felicia’s eyes were closed, her face so pale, and uncharacteristically silent. Nam felt like someone was clutching at his heart, and he began to tremble.
‘We need to prep for surgery. You can follow as far as the waiting room. I will keep you updated.’
Nam shuffled behind the barouche as it sped down the corridor. He was oblivious to the pain in his foot. When he became lightheaded he realised he’d been holding his breath. His last glimpse of Felicia was her black hair spread over the pillow, it framed her white face. She looked like an angel.