“I’M dreamin’ my life away,” sang the Everly Brothers on 2NURFM. Typical: the radio works but the car won’t start. Lucky I can pass time easily. There’s plenty to think about.
Hot in the car and only two gums for shade. In the paddock some sheep and rising heat waves combine to form shapes of crouched, running people. Heading my way. This really is the end of the road. I won’t see them coming for me. There’s that bend in the road and the high bank. On the other hand, they’ll have their own problems tracking me. That should give me another hour or so to find a way out of this mess.
Jake’s accusation proved what I was thinking. I went too far, too quickly. Forensic accountants will find plenty of evidence. Ironic, though. If I hadn’t spent the money, Jake wouldn’t be any the wiser. But what’s the point of stealing money if you don’t spend it? Regardless, I knew I was gone. The media will get hold of the story, interviewing clients who had lost their investments. The inevitable chase by a Channel 3 cameraman. Front page of the Newcastle Herald.
Once a golfing buddy, my solicitor advised with frosty detachment. Hand myself in. A police bulletin was out. What was the euphemism? “To help with inquiries.”
My beat-up Datsun made it just out of Cooranbong. I tried everything short of mouth-to-mouth to restart it. Baden-Powell himself would have been hard pressed to find anything useful in the glove box or boot. However, I did find the source of the William Tell Overture. I pressed the green phone button. The familiar voice said only “Won’t be long”. He knew exactly where I was. I should have taken the battery out of the phone, or bought a burner.
They’d have found the body at Sugarloaf by now. Pity I couldn’t use a meat mincer, pig farm, car crusher, cement pour, acid bath, staged car accident with fire, gas explosion, or dismemberment, ad-bloody-nauseum. It’s cliched, but I’d never foreseen the need to kill Jake.
We shared an interest in craft beers. What started as a tasting of Murray’s Dark Knight led generally into my single malts and specifically the Laphroaig. We were both tanked.
There was lots of laughter, maudlin reminiscing, and munching blue-vein cheese on crackers. Then we quietened and surveyed each other. It was beyond the pregnant pause. The water had broken.
“I know,” was all Jake said.
“The local account. Your fiddling.”
I was ready to try the blank denial, the angry bluster, or even the bribe.
Our speech may have been slurred but the implications were stark.
“How much, Charlie? Two … three million?” he asked.
(Jake’s question was only remotely like that, but I’ve translated for your convenience. The original was something like “Orright, mongrel … I know ’bout the dough. You’re buggered!”)
“No buts. We’re ... were … mates. You’ve got ’til Monday. Not more.”
“Yes. All money back in the account.” (I’m still translating).
No way. It was no longer there to replace. I stalled. “Hold on. Give me a sec.” (Just assume I’m translating from now on).
I swayed as I went up the stairs to my study. That’s where I kept the old containers of Sandoz, Temazepam and Halcion tablets for my chronic insomnia. I tipped them all into a whisky tumbler and ground them into a powder with the handle of my paper knife. The bannister got me back downstairs.
“You’re right, mate. I’ve made a silly mistake and I’ll fix it.” (I’m translating what I said, too). Jake rose and looked at me with sad, bloodshot eyes. “I knew you were a daydreamer, Charlie, but not a criminal.” I went to the bar and poured a smoky Laphroaig over ice for us both.
“One for the road.”
I passed him the glass and downed mine a gulp. As I’d hoped, he followed suit. I took our glasses to the wet bar and washed them. Jake passed out just as I returned, more folding than falling.
Sugarloaf Lookout, with its steep drop and concealing scrub, was just a short drive at that time of night. I was home in time for breakfast.
Fortunately, standard operating procedures flowed automatically. I thought back over my phone and computer communications in the past few days. The NSA, CISA and ASIO would be all over them. Too late for that now.
It was just a matter of retrieving my ready bag with its forged passport, credit card, air ticket to Hong Kong and lots of cash. I’d walk away from everything else, family included. I had time on the way to Mascot to use my message drop at Lambton for the last time. Well, I had time until the Datsun broke down.
I knew, though, that the two blasts of horn I heard were intended for me. Sure enough, there was a plume of dust back along the road and a familiar vehicle with flashing yellow lights closing. I recognised it and the driver. His dusty van approached slowly until it almost touched. He alighted wearily. “G’day, Charlie. This is really the end of the road, isn’t it?”
“Had to happen. No way I can patch things up any more. There comes a time when you have to, ah, bite the bullet.”
“Just do it. Get it over.”
“Fair enough. No need to check your ID but I do need that bonnet up.”
He was all business now. “Stop daydreaming, Charlie. Get on with it.” As I leaned in to release the bonnet catch I glanced at the nearby fence. No loose wire for a garotte or shiv. No way out.
Where did that come from? Only one person calls me “Charles”.
“Charles,” repeated my wife. “Stop your daydreaming and help the NRMA man with new battery.”
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