Lawrence felt a degree of satisfaction when he saw the look of shock on Nam’s face. His friend stammered for a second, took a furtive look up and down the street, his eyes lingering on the house next door, and then grasped Lawrence’s arm and dragged him inside.
’I said we would meet somewhere, not at my house. Have you lost your mind?
‘Funny,’ Lawrence said. ‘I had come here to ask you that same question.’
Nam used a walking stick to shuffle down the wide passage way. ‘Come on,’ he muttered as he headed to the kitchen.
He rested the stick against the breakfast bar and eased himself onto one of the leather stools.
Lawrence inclined his gaze to Nam’s foot. ‘Having a bad day?’
But Nam shrugged the question away, ‘everyone has bad days.’ His face hardened. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I need to know why I’ve been doing this job?’
‘To settle needy refuges.’
‘Please!’ Lawrence clutched his hair and paced the kitchen floor. ‘Just be honest. What was the reason for choosing that town? You told me it was random but I don’t think it was.’
‘I saw merit in the project.’ His voice lacked sincerity. ‘The location,’ he waved his hand as though swatting away a pesky fly, ‘meant nothing. It was selected for the elderly demographic.’
’You’ve been there. I saw the photo of the old pump house.’
’I’ve been to half the cities around the world,’ Nam shrugged, ‘so what?’
Lawrence clenched his fists so tight that his fingernails bit into the skin of his palms. ‘I saw your brother!’
Nam pursed his lips, shaking his head.
‘What do you want me to say?’
’Are you telling me that it was a coincidence that your brother is one of the police officers directly responsible for law and order in the town that you chose to bump off ten old people? Are you trying to tell me you didn’t know that?’
Lawrence scratched his head. Nam’s logic made no sense. It was unimaginable that someone so brilliant could have masterminded such a balls-up. He lowered his voice. ‘Things got way out of hand. How could you have trusted that idiot Jarrod?’
‘Keeping control of Jarrod was why I wanted Angus around. I can’t help it if he stuffed up.’
The anger that Lawrence had been keeping at bay suddenly flared; ignited by Nam’s complacency. ’No, you shouldn’t have picked Jarrod for the job in the first place.’ Lawrence stabbed the air directly in front of Nam’s face. It was a gesture he would never have dreamt of ever doing before, but right now he was overwhelmed with fury. Nam ignored him and hobbled to sit in the nearest armchair. A moment later he was massaging his slipper-clad foot.
‘Did you hear me?’ he repeated. ’Jarrod was the wrong person and you hired him!’
‘What? You’re admitting you’re wrong?’
‘No, not at all. I expected Jarrod to stuff up. I knew it would probably end with Angus finishing him off, but I didn’t expect Ty to be involved.’
‘But…I thought you were looking out for Jarrod, like your uncle used to, because of his crap upbringing. I thought it was a sympathy thing.’
Nam gave a humourless laugh. ‘Sympathy? No. I never told you who helped to cut my toes off did I?’
Lawrence’s mouth went dry. He closed his eyes and the horrible image of that day caused a shudder. His teeth clacked and he shook his head. ‘Don’t,’ he whispered.
‘You saw what they did to me.’
Lawrence’s stomach lurched as he remembered the bloodied toes scattered on the concrete floor. Nam sobbing, pale and shocked on the cold garbage littered ground, while Lawrence tried futilely to staunch the bleeding from the stubs that were all that was left of his toes. It was an image that had haunted him through the years since.
‘Jarrod was one of them. They all wore balaclavas but I knew his eyes.’ Nam said in little more than a whisper. ‘He looked scared that day, he was just a kid, like me, like us, but he helped hold me down. He was just as responsible as my uncle.’
‘But your uncle loved you. He wouldn’t have done that to you, even if he thought you’d been dealing drugs.’
Nam laughed again, bitter this time. ‘I forgot how sheltered I kept you. You always had some strange hero worship for me. I never could understand it, so I tried to live up to that image.’
Lawrence saw a flash of softness in his friend’s eyes, but it vanished in just a second.
‘My Uncle didn’t punish me for dealing drugs. Why would he? I was selling them for him.’
‘Nam! What are you saying? You said you were never involved with drugs. I thought your Uncle was a role model? You always said he was the patriarch of the family with a legitimate business. Surely your Mum would have suspected if he dealt drugs?’
’My Mum is many things; a hard worker, a devoted mother, a kind person, but what she is not, is analytical. She knew my Uncle was wealthy but she never thought to add it up, producing and packaging noodles for our Vietnamese clientele was never going to make him rich. And running a couple of laundrettes earned nothing. She couldn’t figure it out. And besides Uncle was my dad’s brother, he was a man she respected without question.’
Lawrence had accepted Nam’s version of events back on that horrible day. It had been a racist motivated hate-crime by a gang of Aussie youths. That story had been bad enough, but this tale was even uglier. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear any more but he asked, ‘so why did they mutilate you like that? You were one of them?’
Nam sat taller in the chair, and although his mouth was a grim line, tears glistened in the corners of his eyes. ‘Because on that day I was a fool. I looked enough like Ty for people to mistake one brother for the other.’
Lawrence screwed up his face. This conversation wasn’t making any sense. ‘I don’t understand?’
Nam paused to gaze at the ceiling, all the while rubbing his foot against the chair leg. ‘There are certain things that weren’t tolerated in our society when I was a kid. Squealing on someone was bad enough, but to do it to your own family was unforgivable. The punishment was meant to fit the crime; both were severe.’
‘I think maiming a child was a little more than severe. It was barbaric.’
Nam shrugged as though he’d made peace with his lot a long time ago.
’And besides, you didn’t squeal on anyone, did you?’
‘No, but Ty did. He went to the police. He picked the wrong cop though. He chose one who was in my uncle’s pocket. The bloke had been taking kick backs for years, to keep a blind eye, to ignore the deals that were going down.’
’Then why wasn’t he the one who was punished?’ Lawrence kneaded his brow with his long fingers, trying to make sense of this account of events. It wasn’t the past he remembered; had Nam intentionally kept him in the dark all these years? No dammit, he hadn’t just kept stuff from him, he’d lied about stuff. Lawrence tugged at his shirt collar, which felt suddenly restrictive.
Nam gazed at him and said, ’I was the recipient of discipline because my brother was smarter than I thought, that’s why I got punished. I got his punishment.’ Nam gave a sad smile. ‘Ty had an Everlast windcheater, a big aqua and white one; they were all the rage in the 90’s. I was always trying to borrow it. He never let me. It was his signature piece of clothing and I always coveted it. It never crossed my mind when he handed it to me that morning that he knew what was going on. It fit me like a glove. He was smarter than me.’
‘It was Ty they were punishing.’ Lawrence blinked and then shook his head at the realisation. ’They thought you were Ty?’
‘Yeah. The guys who picked me up didn’t listen to me. I told them they’d made a mistake so they gaffer taped my mouth shut. They drove me to the dump, all the while thinking I was Ty.’
‘Are you sure? Do you really think Ty knew the implications?’
’When it was over, after you found me and I was in hospital, I just sat there thinking; I wished I had been clever enough to do what Ty had done. Because I would have done the same thing in his shoes, but I wasn’t smart enough to have thought of it.’
‘But Jarrod knew? He knew you weren’t Ty, didn’t he?’
‘I was pleading, I couldn’t be heard but I kept looking at him. I saw it in his eyes. He knew. My uncle was furious when he found out what had happened. He came to see me, Jarrod too. Uncle explained but I already knew. Jarrod was the one person who could have stopped it from happening.’
‘You should have told your uncle, and let him deal with Jarrod.’
‘I wasn’t in a hurry for revenge against them. Ty and Jarrod could wait.’
‘So what now? Are you going to keep trying to make him pay?’
‘I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. I took Felicia from him, and now he’s found someone else. I put ten murders in front of him to make him look inept as a cop, and he catches the killer.’
‘But he set you up all those years ago.’
’Sure, but I knew what was in store for him that day, and I was going to let it happen to him. The only thing he really is guilty of, is outsmarting me. It’s time I let it go. I have bigger things to worry about. I can’t help thinking that Karma is catching up with me.’ He shook his head angrily. ‘If anything happens to Felicia it will be up to me to raise the children. I want to bring them up the right way.’
‘I get that. But Ty, he’s not the squeaky clean bloke he pretends to be. What he let you go through…it’s unimaginable.’
Nam slowly nodded his head. ’He is evil. And I can say that with complete confidence. I know he is, because we both are, I’d like to say were but I’ve done too many bad things to expect any kind of redemption, even if I was a saint from now until the end of my days, it’s too late. Now I have to let it all go. Jarrod’s as good as gone, and that’s where this whole business ends. Maybe Ty deserves to be happy, or maybe Karma will get him somewhere down the track.’ Nam gave a sad smile. ‘I no longer care.’
‘Did you ever care about me? You’ve lied to me for years, does that mean you never trusted me with the truth?’
‘Lawrence you have been the best friend a person could wish for. I guess at the time I didn’t tell you what really happened to protect you. There were many times when I wanted you to know, but I suppose I was still trying to come to terms with it myself. I always planned to tell you one day, just not when I was trying so hard to forget it.’
‘You should have told me what this project was really all about before it started.’
‘I guess, but you would have sensibly told me I was out of my mind, and I didn’t want to hear that.’
‘So what now? Assuming we stay out of jail?’
‘I need you to sort out Madame Lasombe’s dilemma.’
‘Paris,’ Lawrence muttered. ‘Just business as usual.’
‘Mmm…listen Lawrence, you’d better go. It’s almost two and the family will be back just after three. The family has doubled in size.’
Lawrence sighed and said, ‘I know.’ He got to his feet and turned to face Nam. ‘I wish you had told me the truth.’
‘I wish I had too. I wish I’d asked your advice on a lot of things, but its too late now.’
‘Take care Nam.’
Lawrence didn’t bother closing the door behind him. He felt no guilt that Nam would have to haul himself to his feet and make the painful walk to close it. Lawrence found it hard to care.
Ellie and Sylvia were taking their lunch break when Nick’s text came through. Ellie glanced at the phone screen and then at her friend.
‘Nick?’ Sylvia asked.
‘Yep. He will be back tonight.’
‘Do you think he’s sorted things?’
Ellie drank down the last of her orange juice. ‘I have no idea. I don’t even know what the problem is.’
‘Perhaps he wants it that way. Maybe he’s protecting you.’
‘I don’t like the idea of secrets between us.’
‘You have to believe in him Ellie. He’s a cop so there are always going to be things he can’t talk about. It’s the same with your patients.’
‘I know, I know.’
Sylvia looked at her watch. ‘We can skip the appointment scheduler training until tomorrow. Go to the airport. Go and be with him.’
‘Sylv, do you think I’m making a big mistake?’
Sylvia laughed and said, ‘how should I know? My life isn’t a shining example of perfect.’
‘But what’s your gut feeling?’
‘I love him.’
‘Good. I think you should.’
‘You think he’s right for me?’
‘He is right now, and he may be forever. Go for it.’
Ellie stood and picked up her drink container and lunch box. ‘Are you sure you don’t mind if I go?’
‘It was my idea.’ Sylvia stood and embraced Ellie. ‘Good luck. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
The plane had been delayed by almost thirty minutes. The long drive to Adelaide had been filled with moments of doubt and daydreams of an idyllic future. When Ellie finally pulled into the car park, a spark of panic began. During the wait for his plane to disembark, her mind filled with scenarios of tragedy and elation. She’d never experienced such feelings of ambiguity.
She chewed her nails as she watched the line of bedraggled passengers trudge up the walkway to the carpeted lounge. It was hard to read Nick’s mood, and his slumped shoulders may just have been an indication of fatigue. But there was no denying the smile when he saw her. His eyes glistened with emotion, with love, and that was enough for her.
She rushed to his arms.
Dora groaned when the door to the room wouldn’t open. Something was jammed up against it. She glanced down the corridor but there were no nurses in sight. It was almost eight am and this was her last job for the day. Fatigue was feeding her irritation. She used her shoulder to heave against the door. It gave a few inches so she shoved at it again.
The light was off but there was enough murky dawn through the open window to see. She frowned at the empty bed. This patient was always in bed. He was in a bad way, and had been for a long time. A gasp escaped her lips. Perhaps he had collapsed by the door? This time she used her hip and shoulder, ramming with all the force she could muster. The door gave another six inches. She squeezed through the gap and looked down.
‘Oh my God!’ she cried as she stepped over the flaccid arm of the unmoving man. She hit the bell by the side of the bed and prayed that the nursing staff would hurry. Her stomach heaved and she regretted turning down those opportunities to partake in first aid courses. Maybe she should start pushing on his chest, but what if she did it wrong?
There was a backpack on the floor; some note papers spilled from the opening. Something was not right. She glanced at the prone man again and realised he was not the patient. It was Lou, the physiotherapist. She moved closer to him and pushed his hair away to expose his face. One dead eye stared back at her. A sob tore from her throat and she returned to ring the bell again. But before she could press it she heard a sound from the bathroom.
As the door handle moved she stepped back.
‘Mister Jarrod?’ she whispered.
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