Nick had reported sighting Jarrod O’Dowd to his superior officer. He told her he knew the man from years past and he was a likely felon. But a thorough examination of the state and federal police databases came up empty. Jarrod had been a drug seller and all round thug in Nick’s uncle’s employ back in the day, so it didn’t make sense that he had not run foul of the law. It didn’t seem possible he could have been so lucky, but there were no records of any wrongdoing.
And Jarrod didn’t go by an alias. Nick wondered if that was because he’d given up his miscreant ways, or was too thick to think of one. Although Nick was a couple of years his junior, he remembered Jarrod from school. The bloke had been held back and was only one year above Nick. Even much younger kids laughed at Jarrod behind his back. His stupidity was a bit of a legend.
After a comprehensive background search, including his taxation records, it seemed that Jarrod had spent the years in gainful employment. But the sight of “Chan Trading” as a frequent employer was like a punch to the guts. Nick knew little about his brother’s company, but he knew enough about his brother to be sure its dealings would be dodgy.
Nick’s superior had soon lost interest in his theory. The station was swollen to capacity with both the Arson Squad and Major Crimes personnel. The house fire and discovery of a deceased person at the scene had drawn extra staff from Adelaide stations. A member of the public had come forward. She had witnessed the incident, which had at first appeared accidental. She saw a man flee from her neighbour’s house shortly before the flames appeared, licking at the windows and setting off the screeching fire alarm.
Nick had considered Jarrod capable of perpetrating such a horrid deed, but his suggestion was stymied; it seemed the witness was positive the man was dark skinned. A line-up of local Aboriginal men was almost underway.
He swivelled in the office chair and tried to clear his mind of Jarrod and his unexplained presence in town. Nick had completed collating all the evidence for the hit and run incident. The chief investigator had gone to Adelaide to interview the victim, but now Ahmed was gone. There was nothing more they could do now until Ahmed, or the perpetrator’s vehicle showed up.
Until then Nick was at a loose end, so he began deleting unwanted emails from his Intranet address. Soon his brain was a mass of swirling inattention. He thumped the desk so hard that the person sitting behind him let out a shriek.
‘Sorry,’ he muttered.
If that man he saw had really been Jarrod then he was long gone by now. Was it possible that he had been sent here by Nam? And if so why? Does Nam know where I live? Something almost connected when Ellie popped into his head. He rubbed his temple and silently cursed his inability to concentrate. He took deep breaths and walked to the window, staring out at the busy street. A blonde girl dashed across the road between cars and again he thought about Ellie again.
Two cups of instant coffee later he finished updating his work diary. His in-tray was loosely filled with various duties. The very top one needed attention. A local gun owner had failed to renew his compulsory license. Nick vaguely recognised the man’s name, and remembered being introduced to him at the town’s rifle range. The renewal had probably been overlooked but someone had to bring it to the man’s attention or a fine would be issued. Nick stood and stretched; he needed a break from the office.
The business district of Kadina was small, but the police station was in the very heart of it, and Nick had to wait for a steady flow of traffic to pass before he could safely pull out. The property he was going to was south of town, but he went north to begin with, knowing that the perpetual road works and pesky roadblocks further up the street would hamper him.
The sun shone brightly in the huge blue sky as he skirted the town. Spring was heating up, and apart from the odd cold morning the days were close to perfect. Habit had taught him to always check both ways twice before crossing an intersection, and if not for that ingrained custom, he may have missed seeing the gun-metal-grey Colorado that inched forward a block away. It was heading in the same direction he needed to go, so he decided to follow it. They were pretty common vehicles around here, and he had no gut instinct about the ute, but he had never been one to miss an opportunity either. It was the same make as the vehicle he’d seen Jarrod in.
After tailing the car for a few blocks his mouth went dry. The bloke in the passenger seat kept turning around and after a few minutes the driver sped up.
‘What the hell?’
Nick looked at his speedo and saw the car was now travelling at almost eighty kilometres in a fifty zone. He flicked his flashing lights and siren on, reaching for the radio. In that split second the Colorado accelerated and swung down a rutted dirt road, which headed to an old abattoir and abandoned farm.
The cruiser bounced over the ruts, while his view was obscured by dust. He called for backup and gave his location. The ute was disappearing into the distance, obviously not affected by the bone jarring road. On his GPS there was only one entrance road for this property but the device didn’t take into account fire tracks that circled and sometime intersected farms. He accelerated despite the bumps. He didn’t want to lose them.
The cloud of dust had changed direction, and then once again. The ute had doubled back and was heading straight towards him. With unfenced cropped paddocks either side of the track, there was no point trying to block the egress with his car; they would just drive around him. Nick coughed and tried to clear his throat; the thought that they could try something desperate crossed his mind. He eased on the brake pedal and let them draw nearer. He turned off the siren. They came to a stop in a haze of dirt just twenty meters away.
Nick was the first to open his door. He held his left hand in a halting motion whilst his right was resting on his Smith & Wesson M&P; he swallowed hard, hoping he wouldn’t have to use it.
‘Okay fellas, step away from the car.’
There was a tremor in his voice he could not disguise. He beckoned the driver and his passenger, who by now he had identified as Jarrod O’Dowd, towards him. Jarrod had something in his hands, but he tossed it back through the opened car door. It landed inside with a thud.
‘Do you want to tell me what’s going on? Is there some reason you blokes were going so fast in the town area?’
The driver wasn’t particularly tall, but there was no mistaking his physique. This guy worked out. And he walked with attitude, flanking rather than coming towards Nick in a straight line. He glanced at Jarrod who was taking a similar course.
‘Come on you guys, are you looking for trouble?’ But despite Nick’s words and incredulous tone, they kept coming. ‘Okay! That’s it, you both halt right now!’
A siren could be heard in the distance and Nick let out a small breath.
The buff fellow stood still and held up his hands. ‘I didn’t do anything,’ he said.
‘Then why the hell were you driving so fast?’
The bloke pointed to Jarrod. ‘It’s him you have to watch!’
Nick pivoted right to keep a closer eye on Jarrod.
‘I didn’t do anything!’
‘Just stand still both of you.’
‘Watch him!’ the buff bloke screamed, ‘he’s a killer.’
‘Shut up Angus, you bastard!’ With that Jarrod ran towards his partner.
Two police cruisers were bumping their way up the road but they were still five hundred meters away. Nick wished they would come faster.
‘Hold it right there Jarrod!’
But Jarrod didn’t listen. He threw a punch and a long droplet of blood flew from his mate’s lip.
‘Leave him alone!’ Nick shrieked, but Jarrod kept on punching.
With his gun trained on Jarrod’s back, Nick moved in closer. ‘Back off, back off now!’
The man on the ground was curled into a ball, trying desperately to deflect the heavy punches and kicks.
‘Stop it now Jarrod or I’ll shoot.’ Nick had his feet apart as he aimed.
From behind car doors were slamming and the sound of footfalls drew close.
The man on the ground stopped screaming and yelled, ‘he’s got a knife, help, he’s going to kill me!’
Nick took the shot and it hit its mark. Unused to firing a gun without his ear protection, he stood doubled over as the reverberations rocked him. A second later his Sergeant shook him by the shoulders and yelled words that Nick couldn’t make out. He gazed back to Jarrod, who was now laying face down in the dirt. Two officers were dragging the other man to his feet.
‘Oh Jesus,’ Nick muttered.
‘I thought you said they would be here by now,’ Felicia said with a moue, and eyes that were threatening to spill with tears.
Nam moved to hug her, but at the last second he held back. Today was her third day home, and the first day that she had left her bed. The impending visitors had made her rally and Nam knew that indulging her would only make her dwell on her illness.
‘The guest rooms are so boring. The beds need new covers and the pictures on the walls are drab,’ she complained.
‘Okay, I can take you shopping if you like, but wouldn’t you rather go with Yalda when she gets here? That way you could choose things together.’
She cocked her head as though giving his idea consideration, but after only a second she shook her head. ‘No, I want it to be bright and happy looking when they get here.’
‘Well they are due either tonight or tomorrow morning so if you want to shop it will have to be today. I have some work to finish off but I could take you just after lunch if you like.’
Felicia swiped across her I Pad. ‘Do you like this pattern,’ she held up the screen, which showed a bed with a floral cover, ‘or this one?’
He didn’t bother to look. ‘I really don’t mind, they are both nice.’
‘What about this one?’
‘Baby please! I am not that interested. They all look pretty. You are the one with decorative flair. If it was up to me everything in those rooms would be black or white, because I just don’t care that much.’
She pouted once more, but this time it seemed to be with frustration rather than unhappiness. Nam spoke quickly to try to buoy her mood. ‘We could go and look in that little arcade you like so much. You know? The one where you bought the baby’s suite from.’
‘Oh yes! They have some beautiful things in there.’ She gazed at her tablet once more and said, ‘I’m not sure I want to give Yalda’s family such grand things, after all they are just guests. Why should they have better things than we have?’
Nam hobbled to the kitchen stool and sat. His missing toes were tingling now, but without massaging the stumps, he knew they would begin to ache. He bit down a hurtful comment to his challenging wife and instead said, ‘why don’t you just buy whatever you really like, and when we get home, if you like that stuff better, you can give them our old things instead, and keep the new ones.’
Felicia grinned, an expression he had missed in the past few days. ‘So really, I would be shopping for me, or us.’
‘Sweetheart you know you can shop whenever you want.’
‘I know, I know, but this time I have a good excuse.’
‘You don’t need an excuse.’
‘My mum and Nonna say I buy too much.’
‘They are probably just jealous.’
‘No, no, no, they say that excess isn’t good, that God wouldn’t approve.’
Nam gave a groan, which he managed to disguise with a cough before he fell victim to Felicia’s disapproving glare. She did not tolerate him mocking her beliefs. He quickly changed the subject.
‘I have an upgrade to finish writing. If I get it finished sooner we can go out for lunch. Why don’t you get the baby organised. She could wear that new dress your Nonna sent.’
‘The pink satin one? I thought you didn’t like it. I thought you said it was gaudy and reeked of her European ethnicity?’
Nam blustered, but also felt his cheeks redden; like they’d recently been slapped. He remembered making the rude comment, but had no idea Felicia had actually been listening to him at the time; he had thought she was dying. She never ceased to amaze him.
Ellie had just returned from taking Tyrion and Hannah to the beach. She was savouring her day off; she’d slept late, lounged around in her pyjamas and slippers until almost ten, and ate Nutella covered crepes before putting the dogs in the car.
Her mobile phone squawked at her from the kitchen bench while the dogs rushed through the house. It was quite common for her to forget to take her phone with her when she wasn’t on call. The mobile indicated a missed call from another Ambulance Officer from her depot. The man answered on the third ring.
‘Hi Seth, what’s up?’
‘There was a shooting. I thought you should know.’
‘Oh God! Is it someone I know?’
‘I have no idea. But it was your boyfriend who did the shooting.’
‘Nick? What happened?’
‘Not sure. We just took the bloke to the local hospital. He’d lost a lot of blood and he wasn’t conscious. Between you and me I don’t think he’ll make it. The bullet went close to his spine, and a good surgeon who could save him is too far away; in both distance and time. He may have a chance if the chopper comes for him fast, but I doubt it.’
Ellie tried to shake away the dizzy sensation that was overwhelming her, but finally slumped until she was sitting on the kitchen floor. Hannah stopped and licked her face on the way out to the yard. Ellie’s vision was swimming, but it was due to vertigo rather than tears. How could this have happened? In her wildest imagination she could not envision Nick hurting a person, let alone almost killing one.
‘Thanks for the heads-up Seth.’ She cut him off halfway through his “goodbye” and sat staring at the phone. It was a full ten minutes before she got to her feet, but when she did move, it was fast. She grabbed her car keys and ran.
As she drove closer to Kadina, Ellie spotted the Medstar chopper overhead. No doubt it was on the way to pick up the gunshot victim. Ellie bit her lip and turned her car sharply towards the police station. The place was bedlam and it took almost ten minutes before Nick appeared; there were bags under his eyes and his uniform was covered in red dust. She ran to him and they hugged each other tightly.
‘I can’t talk about the case, you do understand don’t you?’
‘Of course I do Nick. I’m just here, for you.’
‘Thankyou honey, it’s so good to see you. I feel like I’m in some living nightmare.’
‘Are you…in trouble?’
Nick shrugged and wiped his fringe from his eyes. ‘Who knows. The investigation will probably drag on for months. My SAPOL appointed lawyer says I have a good case but I’m not sure. He was talking about an outcome where the felon lived.’
Ellie matched his solemn gaze. He didn’t ask, but he must have known things were dire for the man he shot. They sat holding hands in silence until a woman, quietly spoken but still demanding, ushered him back to an interview room. Ellie stood and choked back tears.
‘See you for dinner,’ she said in a quavering voice.
Nick gave her a sad smile, but nodded.
In only a minute he was whisked away.