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By Felicity Young
Fremantle PressCopyright © 2008 Felicity Young
All rights reserved.
EXCERPT FROM CHAT ROOM TRANSCRIPT 080207
TIMTAM: thnx for the pic. Ur 1 hot chick
ANGEL12: wt about u?
TIMTAM: a bit like the drummer in the SMs ;)
TIMTAM: ive got the stuff u wanted — wanna meet F2F?
Detective Sergeant Stephanie 'Stevie' Hooper wiped her sweaty palms against the legs of her jeans before checking her oversized watch. 'Not long now,' she said softly into her collar mike.
'These creeps are never late,' came Tash's response through her earpiece.
Stevie looked across the grass to a ragged patch of bush similar to the one where she hid.
'See anything?' Stevie kept her voice low.
Stevie scanned the adventure playground, deserted cafe area and car parking bays beyond. On the lawn nearby a young couple organised a picnic breakfast, spreading out the blanket and unpacking their basket. She noted with appreciation how the mother's gaze never strayed for more than a few seconds from the two small boys tussling in the sand beneath the slide. It was still early morning, there were few others about.
'Hey,' Tash whispered. 'A white panel van's just pulled into one of the parking bays across the road. A guy's getting out.'
Stevie peered towards the car park. 'Description?'
'Trilby hat, grey boardies, white T-shirt — he's coming down the path near the lake, heading towards you. It's Mason, it has to be.'
The man entered Stevie's line of vision, keeping to the shadows of the path and looking about this way and that.
'Yup, got him now,' she said, watching the man as he sat down on a bench beside a park signpost, looked at his watch.
'Tash,' Stevie smiled, 'I was born ready.'
She took a breath and stepped from the shelter of the scrub and casually approached the man on the park bench, hands in the back pockets of her jeans, bubble soled trainers springing across the spongy grass. She adjusted the collar of her shirt so that the microphone was well hidden.
The man tensed when she sat next to him, and wriggled as far to the end of the bench as he could go. A fly floated through the sunshine and settled on his nose. He gave it an angry swipe and stood as if to leave.
Now or never, Stevie thought, taking a breath. 'Hey,' she called out. The man turned and she said, 'Cool hat.'
'Yeah.' He was younger than she'd expected, late twenties at the most. He had the name of a local rock band printed on his T-shirt.
'It's like the hat the drummer of the Stoned Mullets wears, isn't it? I love that band, one of my faves.'
The man grunted and turned away. She got to her feet and stopped him with a tap on the shoulder.
'Where did you get it? The hat I mean, I'd really like a hat like that.'
'Piss off, lady.'
His irritation proved irresistible to Stevie. She followed him to the lake, sticking as close as an annoying puppy.
Jeez, I love my job.
The water level of the lake had dropped and the air was tainted with the dank earthy smell of mud.
Stevie prattled on. 'If you're a fan of the band, you should check out their website, they have a chat room and ...' she broke off when he stopped mid stride and turned to face her. Feigning deep thought, she slid her fingers through her blond ponytail and looked him up and down. 'Come to think of it, you wouldn't happen to be Robert ...'
The guy reacted faster than she'd anticipated. Stevie swerved in time to miss the impact of the punch, but not enough to prevent the man's ring from catching her cheek and splitting the skin. She swore and called out to Tash for assistance.
He must have guessed they would try to cut him off from his car because he changed direction with a sharp swerve, taking off at a run towards the grassy Broadwalk. He hurdled the family's picnic basket, the trilby flying off his head and landing in their fruit salad. The adults sprang to their feet and watched the chase unfold with mouths agape. The little boys panicked and ran from the sandpit towards their parents, forcing Stevie to dodge left then right to avoid bowling them over.
Mason was already sprinting up the steep gradient of the Broadwalk towards the DNA tower — 1.3k, the sign said. Stevie wondered how she was ever going to catch him. Her chest already burned. Give up the smokes, give up the smokes, gotta give up the smokes, she chanted in her head to the rhythm of her pounding feet. Her legs screamed, must get back, must get back, must get back to the gym. But she kept running, despite the widening gap between them. She'd rather suffer a heart attack than let the creep escape.
He came to where the road cut across the grassy sward, confident enough now to slow to a fast walk. Stevie gained a little ground. If I were him I'd head down one of the bush tracks, she thought. Or make a sharp turn at the road and highjack one of the cars meandering through the park at funereal speed. I can't continue this chase on foot — Tash, where the hell are you?
Her silent curses were answered by the scream of Tash's trail bike from somewhere in the scrub at the side.
Mason had reached the double helix of the DNA tower and was leaning against a metal strut to catch his breath when Tash emerged from the bush on foot. 'Hold it right there!' she shouted, knees bent, arms and weapon extended. The man seemed even more stunned at the sight of the gun than Stevie, and stared back bug-eyed at the small, dark-haired woman in the tight black jeans and T-shirt. Tash approached to within a few metres of him, her Glock never wavering from his head.
Stevie caught up with them, bent at the waist, gulping air like a fire-eater.
'Shit, Tash, I didn't know you were going to be armed,' she gasped.
'Yeah, well, it pays to be a step ahead. There's no one around, no witnesses, so what?'
'W-what are you talking about?' Mason stammered, edging as far back into the tower as he could go.
'What I'm saying, shit head,' Tash answered through clenched teeth, 'is that we don't have to go by the rules with creeps like you.'
Stevie's spine tingled uneasily. What the hell was Tash playing at? This was not in the script, but she couldn't say anything in front of Mason. If he realised how out of order this was, the case would never stand up in court. She moved over to where the man stood, the sweat already turning cold upon her body. But she knew it was neither the cold sweat nor the exhaustion that made her fumble with the cuffs on her belt, dropping them once before managing to pin the man's hands behind his back. When I turn back around, she told herself, Tash will have put away the gun and I can pretend I've never seen it.
Tash stepped closer to their prisoner, waving the gun in his face. 'Robert Mason, you have been soliciting children over the Internet, pretending you're something you're not in order to have sex and do God knows what else to them.' She pressed her face within inches of the quaking man's. 'That's true isn't it?'
Mason shook his head violently, sweat flying from his short spiky hair. Tash took a step back and wiped her face.
Stevie pinched her partner's elbow and indicated for her to drop the gun. 'Tash ...' she warned.
'You can have it when this guy admits what he was doing,' Tash muttered. She drew the slide and Stevie held her breath.
Mason gasped. 'Oh fuck, okay, okay. Yes, I thought I was meeting a kid, yes, I was after sex, but it would've be consensual ...'
'Angel12 thought she was meeting a boy a similar age to herself. You knew she was a fan of the Stoned Mullets and you conned her, promising to give her posters and CDs if she met up with you,' Tash said.
'I didn't —'
'And if you hadn't started talking dirty, you might have got away with it — you just couldn't help yourself could you?'
Stevie intervened, 'Robert Mason, I'm arresting you ...'
Aghast, Stevie watched as Tash pulled the trigger and Robert Mason staggered back as a stream of water hit him between the eyes. He fell, cracking his head against one of the metal struts of the DNA tower before crumpling in a heap.
'Tash, get away from him — right now!' Stevie pushed the words through the side of her mouth, hoping Mason wouldn't hear.
Tash was laughing so much she seemed incapable of action. Stevie snatched the gun from her and rolled the man over.
'Who the hell are you?' he stammered, blinking up at her.
Stevie clenched her jaw and snapped the plastic barrel across her knee before tossing the pieces into a nearby bin. 'You can call me Angel12 if you like.'
They handed Mason over to the custody sergeant. Tash suggested a cuppa in the canteen but Stevie guided her towards the nearest interview room and kicked the door shut behind them.
Her anger was at last free to boil over. 'What the hell do you think you were you playing at there in the park — Dirty Harry?'
'Jesus, you don't have to blow a gasket. This acting officer in charge crap has really gone to your head, hasn't it? It's totally wiped away your sense of humour.' Tash folded her arms and set her mouth in a tight line.
Stevie pointed to a chair. 'Sit down.'
Tash remained standing, one leg tucked back against the wall. 'Welcome to the real world,' she said coldly.
'You're new to Sex Crimes, this is how we work.'
'Yeah, well, just wait — it won't take long before it starts getting you down too. Day in day out, dealing with the scum of the earth — Mason got off lucky.'
'Oh c'mon, there's more to it than that,' Stevie said. 'What about the bust we did where that rock-spider dressed himself in drag to try and catch the kid? You didn't lose it with him. Something's wrong, I know you, remember? You're going to have to give me some kind of explanation for all this if you don't want me taking this further.'
Tash looked away. 'It's the job, I told you that; these animals who use and abuse for their own sick pleasure, never caring about the consequences to the kid, the physical trauma, the lifetime of emotional pain — '
'If it's getting to you that much, maybe you shouldn't be doing it any more, maybe you should apply to a different unit.'
Tash screwed her eyes tight for a moment. 'You going to tell Dolly, have me put in for a transfer?'
'I won't if you give can me a more credible explanation for your behaviour. And if you can't talk to me then I think you need to speak to one of the counsellors about this.'
Tash pushed away from the wall and dragged the chair from the table with a nerve-grating scrape. Taking her change in position as a begrudging sign of truce, Stevie pulled up a chair and sat down too.
Tash inspected her chewed nails. 'Robert Mason reminded me of someone I used to know, that's all,' she mumbled.
'Who?' Stevie and Tash had been friends since they were squad mates at the police academy and knew a lot of the same people.
'No one you know. Someone from a long time ago, one of Terry's teachers, young, cocky and good looking in a creepy kind of way. I was only a kid, but I remember thinking when I first met him that he had gravy eyes.' She finally looked up. 'Robert Mason has gravy eyes.'
Stevie sighed. Terry was Tash's brother — her disabled brother — who had been in her care since their parents had been killed several years ago in a car accident. Gravy eyes — what the hell was that supposed to mean? Was that really the trigger that had set her off?
'Can't say I noticed his eyes,' she said. 'And neither had you when you decided to pull that stupid toy gun on him. But go on.'
Tash took a deep breath. 'Terry had finally been accepted into our local high. It was a huge achievement, he'd spent most of his life at a special school and we were all so excited for him. I was still at primary school, but I remember how proud he was. And he settled in well, most of the kids were really nice to him. Then the maths teacher said he was showing potential, and offered to give Terry tuition without charge, said with some extra coaching, he might even be able to reach TEE standard.'
Stevie knew exactly where this was going.
'Every week Mum dropped him off for his tutoring and every week his behaviour got worse. He started getting into trouble at school, knocked a kid's tooth out in the playground, started wetting his bed, having tantrums. In the end we had to send him back to the special school. The sexual abuse from the maths teacher was revealed during a counselling session.'
'Was he prosecuted?'
'Oh yeah, he got five years. But Terry still gets violent mood swings, terrible nightmares — Mum blamed herself. He was a gorgeous placid kid.'
'And you blamed yourself too I bet.'
'As a kid I did, yeah, even though I was younger than him, I always saw myself as his protector.'
Stevie shook her head. And you still do blame yourself don't you? You've picked up your mother's mantle.
'Look,' Tash said. 'Don't tell anyone about this, will you? If anyone else in the unit got to hear about this I'd be under a microscope. It would colour everything I did.'
Maybe it already has, Stevie thought as she searched her friend's face. If this story had been revealed during the interviews and psychological screening that went with the job application, she would never have been accepted into Sex Crimes, Cyber Predator Unit. Christ, it was a serious breach just to withold that sort of information.
Just then the door swung open and a uniformed officer entered. He did a double take when he saw them sitting in what he'd assumed to be a vacant interview room.
With a slight curl of his lip he said, 'Oh, sorry ladies, didn't mean to disturb the mothers' meeting.'
Stevie rolled her eyes at him then said to Tash, 'Yeah, all this gossip's made me thirsty, how about a cuppa, Tash?'
As they slipped past the officer Tash nudged Stevie in the ribs. 'You swear?' she mouthed.CHAPTER 2
EXCERPT FROM CHAT ROOM TRANSCRIPT 110207
HARUM SCARUM: U goin 2 park 2 meet boy?
BETTYBO: yup. 2morow
HARUM SCARUM: omg plz dont
HARUM SCARUM: sme
In another park not too far away, Bianca Webster ran. She felt light and fluttery, as if her heart wanted to fly from her mouth, as if her thongs had turned into giant, bouncy springs.
'Yay!' she screamed at the top of her lungs as she raced across the grass, barely feeling the weight of the laptop bag as it thumped upon her back. I'm Katy Enigma; my computer bag has become my jet-propelled backpack. Any minute now I will press the button and bounce from my springs into the air and stay there, swooping high and low over the park like a hawk, hunting out mystery and adventure, saving lives and righting wrongs.
But as she rounded the grassy corner she was forced to skid to a sudden halt. The springs buckled and crumbled to rust; the breath flew from her body.
She wasn't alone.
Ahead of her, two boys played on a seesaw. Bianca dropped to her knees and crept behind a bush to watch them. Her nose began to run but she didn't dare sniff. She turned her head and wiped it on her bare arm.
For a moment the boys seemed perfectly balanced, but then the heavier boy bounced on his end, making it sink. He was about nine, Bianca guessed, and he was really quite fat. The other one scowled, swearing, because he'd been stranded in the air. She saw it coming: all of a sudden the fat kid rolled off the seat and his mate came crashing down, landing hard on his bum. The fat kid laughed and the skinny kid began to blub, then took off with the fat kid chasing after him yelling, 'Slow down, slow down, arsehole!
Bianca didn't mind being invisible to the boys; most boys were dickheads, anyway, except for Daniel of course. But even though she didn't care about the boys, she found she'd lost that light airy feeling from before. Maybe it was a sign; maybe she shouldn't be doing this. Maybe she should turn around and go home. It felt as if she was the one sitting on the seesaw now.
Daniel said it was good to take risks because taking risks makes us feel alive, like she felt when she was running down the hill playing at being Katy Enigma. Katy might be pretend, but Daniel was real and cool and mega smart. More than anything else, Bianca wanted to be cool and smart like Daniel. She also wanted to show that snobby Zoë Carmichael that she could get a boyfriend who was clever and popular too, that she didn't need any of those teasing dickheads from school.
There wasn't anyone on the swings. The heat shimmered from the ground and made the chains wiggle like spaghetti. She should have worn shorts. Her heavy jeans rubbed as she walked, making her legs feel hot and sore.
There wasn't anyone else in the park at all now. She was early. She looked around and identified the meeting spot, a closed up ice cream kiosk. Too bad it was closed, she thought, it would've been good to have an ice cream while she waited.
Excerpted from Harum Scarum by Felicity Young. Copyright © 2008 Felicity Young. Excerpted by permission of Fremantle Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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