He turned as he heard a scrabbling sound from behind him. Fuck! The little cunt! The twink was escaping. He could see the nude body gleaming in the starlight running—staggering—away into the eucalyptus forest. Gripping the knife, he set off in pursuit. The twink couldn’t run very fast. He was obviously still drugged. The killer speeded up. He was fit. He ran every day. He went to the gym at St Joseph’s. He was a match for any drugged-up twink. They were only a few strides apart now. He could hear the panting, sobbing breath of his victim. Good! Let him feel the righteous terror of The Lord!
He was catching up! Impatient, he reached out, and at that moment his foot caught on a thin branch across his path, and he fell. His face came down hard on a stump of a tree, and though most of the stump was rotten, there was a point at one end, and his forehead impacted it with force enough to dizzy and stun him.
By the time he could see again, the forest was silent. He listened carefully for the sound of someone crashing through the undergrowth. There was no sound. Just the distant hum of the freeway in the pass, kilometres away. The clunk-kachunk of a goods train on the railway line towards Woodend.
His victim had escaped.
Cody didn’t stop running till he’d almost collapsed with exhaustion. Sobbing with terror, he slowed to a walk, trying to do so as quietly as possible. Through the trees he could see the lights of Woodend and other hamlets far below, twinkling in the dark of the Ozzie bush. His hands were tied with a nylon cord. All the stories he’d read as a boy had the hero cutting his bonds with a convenient sharp edge. Now that he was tied himself, it didn’t seem so plausible. There was no sharp edge. He slowed a bit more. His feet hurt. He wasn’t used to going barefoot. Eucalyptus twigs stuck into his soft feet. Pebbles and stones hurt them. Still he walked through the forest. Unable to see properly under the canopy of the massive mountain ash trees, he stumbled into a bramble patch. The vines scraped and cut him, across his thighs and his groin. Bitterly he contemplated how it was his cock which had brought him to this. For a moment, he wished he were a eunuch. His head was clearing all the time. His terror was lessening, but now he was starting to wonder how he was going to explain this to Phillippa. There was nothing he could say. Every lie he’d ever told her came back to haunt him. He wanted to sit down and weep. But he ploughed on through the forest, heading down the side of the mountain towards the little hamlet of Mt Macedon, where he hoped there was a public phone.
It took him an hour to walk down the side of the mountain. He wanted so much to walk on the road but he knew the killer would be looking for him. There were faint paths through the forest made by wombats, and every so often he would hear a startled grunt as one of the creatures smelled him and scurried away. At last he came to a road running along the side of the mountain. He trudged along it, his feet raw, his mind numb. A couple of times he heard a car coming and slipped out of sight behind a gateway or hedge because he was so afraid it was the killer coming back. And anyway, he was naked, with his hands tied up. How could he explain that? He wondered if someone had left out some washing and he could steal some pants. He wondered if there was a gardening shed he could break in to, where there’d be a pair of garden shears which he could use to cut through the cord binding his wrists.
All he had to do, he knew, was dial triple zero and ask for the police and he would be safe. But the thought of explaining how he’d got into this predicament to some arsehole straight policeman was so daunting he kept on rejecting that option.
When he reached the public call box at the shop-cum-café, for a moment he was filled with hope. He could press the buttons on the phone even if his hands were tied. His hope gave him new energy. He would phone Luigi. Luigi would help him, even if he was still angry with him. He seemed to remember Luigi smiling at him before the nightmare began. Somewhere … where was it? He’d been getting into a car, and Luigi and … Luigi had smiled at him. A sudden mighty surge of happiness filled him. He wasn’t alone.
But when he tried to phone he realised that even though he could press the number buttons on the phone he couldn’t simultaneously hold the receiver. You needed two hands for that. The bitter irony was too much, and he fell to the floor of the phone both and began to sob. Somewhere down the road he heard the distinctive engine sound of the Volkswagen van. He leaned his head against the perspex side of the phone booth and wept in despair.
“You OK, mate?”
Cody looked up. His interlocutor was a young bloke, perhaps 21 or 2 , his brow furrowed in concern. In response, Cody held up up his wrists, still tied with the nylon cord.
“What the fuck! Who did this? What happened?”
Cody couldn’t speak. He just shook his head. The other man reached out both hands and lifted him up. “C’mon. First things first. We’ll get those nylon bangles off you. There’re some secateurs in the car. My mother … she takes them everywhere. She’s a fanatical gardener, and is always taking cuttings. Just as well, hey?” He was talking to Cody as if he were a child in need of comfort. Cody didn’t resent it. He was intensely grateful. He noticed for the first time that there was a car parked next to road, its engine still running.
The guy went over to the car and took something out of the glove box. He came back holding some secateurs. The sight of sharp cutting edges brought back Cody’s dark and dreadful imaginings as he lay drugged in the dark of the chest underneath the mini-bus seat.
His eyes must have shown something of what he felt, for the young man said, “Jesus! What the fuck’s happened to you?”
“I … the Mount Macedon murderer …”
“Fuck me sideways with a wet banana! C’mon let’s get you out of here! Here …” And completely unselfconsciously he took hold of Cody’s hands and started to saw at the cord with the secateurs. The cord parted suddenly and Cody felt a wave of emotions fill him: gratitude, relief, and quickly following, a sudden intense determination to get his life right. Whatever happened now with him and Phillippa, with him and Luigi, he’d been given his life back. And he was going to make the best of it.
“Thank you!” he whispered. He could have kissed the other man. But he didn’t.
“No worries, mate! Glad to help. Now … you need some gear. Some pants at least!” and he grinned. There’s prolly a pair of boardies in the boot. Hang on.” He went round to the other side of the car and pressed the boot release. He frootled round in the boot before exclaiming, “Hah! I knew there were some here.” He chucked a pair of striped Billabong boardies to Cody. They were dusty and worn, but fitted fine. Cody was glad his gayness or bisexuality or whatever the fuck it was had made him keep on trying to have a slim body.
“Thank you!” he said again, wondering how you could ever thank enough someone who saved your life.
“No worries! Now, I’ll just call the police, and ….”
The other man stared at him. “Why not?”
Cody just shook his head, unable to meet the other man’s eyes.
“Look, this bastard needs to be caught. If you tell the police, they’ll catch him.”
“They don’t give a fuck about us!”
“They’re not like they used to be.”
Cody just shook his head. Then after a long silence he mumbled, “It’s so … they’ll despise me. I can just see them smirking and mocking among themselves. And … oh God!” He put his head in his hands.
“I’ll come with you, if you want.”
Startled, Cody looked straight at him. Their eyes met and Cody saw that he was sincere. “They’ll think you’re gay too.”
The other bloke shrugged. “Whatever.”
“You don’t know what it’s like. To know they despise you, to know that they think you’re not a proper human being never mind a proper man, because you like sex with men.” Cody was staring out the car window at the faint light appearing over the eastern edge of the mountains.
“No, I don’t. I’m sorry. All the same, he’s not going to stop. Someone else will die. You owe it to yourself to do this.”
Cody tried to speak but he lost control of his voice. He shook his head.
“Is there someone you can call to fetch you?”
An on mobile phone appeared under his nose.
Cody could hear Luigi’s phone ringing and ringing and he was afraid it would divert to voicemail, when Luigi answered.
“Hello?” He never said hello when he knew who was calling.
“Lou, it’s Cody. Please ….” Cody choked. “… please don’t put the phone down. I’m sorry to call you so late … but … Lou, I need help. Please.”
“Go on,” said Luigi, but his tone offered no encouragement.
“I was …. I was taken by the Mount Macedon murderer … and I ….”
“I saw you! I saw you Cody, getting into that little VW van. I knew I should have done something.”
“Yes. I remember. He drugged me, Lou, and kept me in the dark, and … and he raped me … oh God, Lou, what’m I to do?”
“Where are you?”
“At Mount Macedon.”
“Whose phone is this?”
“My rescuer.” Cody turned to look at the other man, who looked embarrassed.
“Can I talk to him?”
“G’day, mate. Thank you for …”
“… no worries, mate.”
Obviously a real man, thought Luigi. No wasted chatter.
“What’s your address, mate?” he asked, matching tone and diction. “I’ll come and pick Cody up.”
The other man gave his address while Luigi looked around Keith’s sitting-room for paper and a pencil. “Hang on a tick! Just looking for a pencil … Right, what was it again? And what’s your name mate? Michael? Good, Michael. I’m Luigi. Mate, thanks again for helping Cody.”
At the other end of the line, Michael clearly had several questions he wanted to ask but couldn’t work out how.
“We’ll talk when I get there, Michael. See you in 45 minutes.”
When Michael asked whether he wanted to talk to Cody again, Luigi shook his head, forgetting that Michael couldn’t see that. So Michael asked again.
“Yes,” said Luigi.
“Lou?” Cody was tentative. Luigi could hear the strain in his voice, and he felt his heart wrench. Once he’d loved this man more than anyone he’d ever loved, in all his life. And that someone’d proved to be … flawed. Did he still love him? Yes, blast his eyes, he did.
“Coad … I’ll see you in three quarters of an hour. Take care …” and then, hesitating, instead of “love”, he ended with “mate”.
“Yeah,” Cody replied, his voice full of doubt and hurt.
As he snapped his phone closed, he heard the alarm go off in the bedroom. Jeez, was it already that time? They had to pick up Jason’s grandmother at the airport. He put the kettle on. If he didn’t have tea before he left to fetch Cody, he would feel like death warmed up later on. He went through to the bedroom and switched on the light.
“Wake up you two. Cody’s in trouble.”
“What?” Jason shook the sleep out of his head, like a dog.
Keith pulled the pillow over his head. “Go ‘way!” came the muffled instruction.
Luigi heartlessly grabbed the pillow and threw it to the other side of the room. “Didja hear what I said, Mrs Numpty? Cody’s in trouble. And we have to fetch Jace’s nanna from the airport.”
“What?” Keith’s eyes were bleary and unfocussed.
“Up! Up! Up! Now!”
“Such a fuckin’ butch cock-sucker!” grumped Keith. “It’s always the way,” he said to Jason. “Ya fuck someone and nex’ mornin’ they’re full a’ macho swagger.” To Luigi, he said, “Sure ya weren’t a P.T. teacher in a previous life, ya bleedin’ drongo?”
“Yeah, and I’ll make you do twenty push-ups if you don’t get up now!”
“The good-looking are always the worst,” said Keith to Jason, as if they were alone in the room. “Strut, swagger, show-off, macho butch posturing. Jeez, worse than the fuckin’ army! You’d think he was a fuckin’ baby-maker the way he’s going’ on!”
Jason was grinning. “C’mon, slowcoach. We’ve got to fetch my gran.”
“Are you two deaf? Cody’s in trouble! The Mount Macedon murderer took him. We’ve got to … I’ve got to go and fetch him.”
The effect of what he said on the other two was every bit as satisfying as he might have hoped.
Keith sat bolt upright and said, “Fuck me!”
Jason who was already up and walking through to the kitchen, stopped. “Come again?”
Avoiding the obvious jokes, Luigi said, “Cody was taken by the Mt Macedon murderer. Remember I said I’d seen him getting into a car—a van—and, anyway, he was captured but he escaped. He’s been …”
He was interrupted by “…is he OK?” from Keith to “Fucking bastard!” from Jason.
“I dunno what state he’s in. I’m going to fetch him. So what I need you to do is drive me home quicksticks so I can get my car.”
“Roight!” Keith leapt out of bed and hurried through to the kitchen. “Tea!” he said. “And brekker. An army fights on its stomach!”
“We’re no army.” Jason was amused at Keith’s energy.
“We are, mate, we are. This mouth-breather has tried to get one of us. And we’re goin’ to find him and tear him ta paices, the measly waidy cunt!”
“Just get a jizz on, Key. I want to start now. Look, forget your tea and stuff for 5 minutes. Just drive me over to my car, and come back and have brekker and tea while I’m on the road to Mount Macedon.”
“Yeah. OK. Lemme put on some togs.”
They were outside Luigi’s flat in 5 minutes. The roads weren’t quite empty at that time of the early morning, but there was hardly any traffic. Luigi kissed Keith, long enough for both to get a fattie, then got out of the car. “I’ll keep you posted.”
“Do that. We want hourly briefin’s.”
Luigi gave him the finger as he walked towards the flat entrance and the parking area behind it.
“Hey, Lou!” Keith shouted just as Luigi was about to open the door to the block.
“Dya think he noids some claothes?”
Luigi nodded. “Good idea!” he shouted back. Mrs Jovanovic from 6a who was walking her pug followed this exchange with interest. Luigi waved at her, and fled upstairs to get some clothes. He took a t-shirt and a pair of shorts and a jumper—all far too elegant and GQ for Cody, but Cody would have to lump it. He charged downstairs and climbed into his car a scant 15 minutes after he got the phone call, but still without tea or breakfast.
When Keith got back to the flat, Jason had already showered. “Borrowed some of your boxers, Key, and a T-shirt. I think maybe I should start keeping some gear here.”
Keith smiled. He was happy at this sign of permanence. “Yeah. ‘Course, I could start coming to your place.”
“No. Not that I wouldn’t like that. But I don’t want to wake Eleanor. She’s an old lady and if I bring you over, Bolt will go demented with excitement. But you know, she invited me to bring my friends over any time. I mean during the day or evening. And if I know gran she’ll be very interested to meet you. And both of them are totally cool about gayness.”
Taking me home to meet the family, thought Keith, and then had to stamp firmly on his optimism. Give it time, he thought to himself. Que sara, sara. But nothing would extinguish the flame of hope in his heart.
“I made you tea and toast, but maybe it’s a bit cold by now.”
“Nah. Nao worries. Lemme eat it and then I’ll do my famous 5 minute shower and then we’ll head off.”
“It’s only five minutes if you don’t wank, you know.”
“Then you’ll have to make it up to me afterwards.”
“Key! Get a jizz on, mate!”
“Talking of jizz …” said Keith, leering suggestively at Jason.
“This calls for the treatment,” said Jason in a stern voice. “Let me go and get the cane!”
Keith squeaked and dived into the shower. Jason threw the cold tea out and put on the kettle to make some more.
As they drove towards the Tullamarine freeway, Keith asked, “When the flight due, Jace?”
“In about half an hour. But she’s still got to go through customs and immigration after that and I dunno how long that’ll take. With me it took forever. But she’s travelling first class. Maybe they get swept through with a smile on a magic red carpet.” And maybe, thought Jason with a sudden frisson of horror, the computer will have alerted the immigration people to exactly who she is and they really will do that. He gave an involuntary groan.
“What?” asked Keith.
Keith shot him a quick glance.
They parked in the cavernous garage next to the airport just as the British Airways flight from Kuala Lumpur was supposed to be landing. Locking the car, they ran through to International Arrivals. There were passengers pouring through from the exits from customs and immigration, and Jason scanned the faces in vain for his grandmother.
“She won’t be through yet, Jace. Look, that board there shows that the flights are few minutes late. It’s only just landed.”
“Good. I just want to phone Lou and see if he’s OK. He should be nearly there by now. He said it would take him about 40 minutes.”
“I’m not supposed to answer the phone when I’m driving! But I will anyway ‘cos you’re such a star. So what are you wearing, Straightboy …?”
“Lou! I’m about to pick up my gran. And I’m wearing Key’s boxers, so if I get a fatty … Where are you?”
“I’m just about to arrive at the house.”
“You think he’s OK, this guy? I mean, he wasn’t forcing Cody to say stuff just to get you there, was he?”
“No. He sounded totally genuine. And Cody did too. I’ll ring you as soon as we’re ready to go, OK?”
“OK. And Lou, you know we’re both right behind you, don’t you? If you need help or a shoulder to cry on, you know where to come, huh?”
Jason could tell that how moved Luigi was by the offer because he’d struggled to keep his voice even.
“Till later, then, Lou.”
Jason wanted to say “I love you”. He’d loved Brent. But did he love Luigi and Keith? They were friends, trusted and trustworthy, intimate, fun to be with, supportive and likable. And very sexy. But were they lovers? Well, they were in the typical use of the term, meaning people you fuck, but did he love them? He wasn’t sure.
A familiar grey-haired old lady appeared through the sliding doors.
“Grandam! Over here!” Jason moved as fast as he could through the crowds towards his grandmother and when he reached her threw his arms around her.
“Oh, gran!” he said, quite overcome with love and affection.
“Jason, darling, so lovely to see you!” His grandmother was as emotional as he.
“Grandam, this is my friend Keith. Keith, this is my gran …” and then he stopped because he wasn’t quite sure what to call her.
“Lucasta Ellesmere, my dear,” she said casting a quick sharp glance at Jason. “Such a pleasure. Meeting you I mean. One of dear Jason’s friends. Such a bore the customs wallahs! Wanting to know whether I was an immigrant. As if I would leave Parker and Mr Minim like that. Miles and miles of desert my dear, wrinkled brown holes everywhere.” Keith’s eyes sparkled with amusement. “So big. All those sheep stations and red dust. Quite wearing. Not as young as I was, you know,” she said casting a roguish grin at Keith.
Keith was delighted with her. He bowed. “Welcome to Oz, Mrs Ellesmere!”
“Oz. So yellow brick road. Or was that another film? With Judy Gladiolus. Some flower name. Used to be all the rage when I was a gal. Flowers and gems. I could have been Ruby. Or Violet really to do that to your child but my father was a classics buff. Ancient Greeks. So much we learnt from them I mean our civilisation except of course the gay thing I had a discussion with Canon Green about it not quite an argument.”
“Wouldn’t have thought that timid old stick would argue with formidob you, grandam!”
“Not timid. Reserved, perhaps. The best kind of Christian, Jason. Don’t judge him as anything like those vulgar American fundamentalists. Anyway he said in the end that whatever the Bible said about homosexuality we were given brains by God to think and too many people didn’t think and we were given hearts by Him to love and too many people didn’t love and then he started making copious notes for a sermon and got quite distracted so I knew he’d forgotten the Sunday lunch invitation I’d made him so I got Parker to phone such a dear man.”
Lucasta Ellesmere was so obviously “class” that Keith was a little ashamed of his worn old Holden and wished he’d cleaned it properly, but she was quite unfazed and unfussed.
“Such a nice car,” she said, “so sturdy and safe and it reminds me of an old flame’s car years ago when we were students such a happy time when you have no responsibilities then you get married and you have to worry about everything children and husband and grandchildren though why one does I don’t know,” casting her eyes vaguely in Jason’s direction, clearly worried, “since in the end it all turns out all right like that Bible saying.”
Keith bowed. “If I may hand you in to my chariot, milady,” he said, trying hard to keep his vowels English not Ocker. It was odd: with Jason he felt that though Jason clearly came from a privileged background, he was an equal. Perhaps having fucked him and been fucked by him made him one, he thought. Or their joking and repartee together. But it was more than that. A sort of easy-going egalitarian acceptance made Jason seem OK, whatever he was. Lucasta Ellesmere on the other hand was … queenly. Formidob, indeed.
The door opened as Luigi drove up the driveway of a charming wooden cottage, surrounded by a beautiful garden full of deciduous trees and itself festooned with creepers and flower boxes. Cody and another man—what was his name again? ah yes, Michael—came out onto the veranda. The air was light and clear, though the sun wasn’t yet over the mountains’ edges. It was going to be a beautiful day. Luigi didn’t think about any of that but felt only his heart turn upside down as he saw Cody’s familiar face. He wanted to take Cody into his arms, to kiss him and comfort him, to make him smile again. But he stood stiffly, all at once discomposed by all that had passed between them in the last few weeks. Cody stared at him, his face so sad, so lost and lonely that Luigi forgave him all he’d done. I’m not starting up with him again, he thought, no way. I forgive him. We can be friends. I’ll help him. But things can never be what they were. And then he thought, fuck it, and put his arms round Cody and pulled him into a tight hug.
Cody burst into tears.
Michael stood quietly behind Cody, neither bothered nor intrusive as two men hugged and wept on his front doorstep.
Eventually, Luigi let go and turned towards Michael. “Thank you!” he said very quietly, and Michael knew he meant it with every part of his being.
“Anybody would’ve done what I did,” demurred Michael.
“Maybe, but you were there and you did it. Thank you.”
“It was nothing.” Michael was much more troubled by Luigi’s gratitude than he’d been by them kissing, and Luigi was touched. A straight man who was OK with gays. That was new. For a moment he inspected Michael for signs of errant sexuality and found none, and then was forced to chuckle inwardly at his own bad habits.
“I brought you some clothes,” he said to Cody, giving him the plastic bag with the shorts, T-shirt and sweater.
“Thanks! Michael lent me these boardies …”
“… oh please keep them! They’re my old ones and I hardly ever go to the beach these days.”
“I shall frame them,” said Cody in perfect seriousness. Then he realised that he would have to explain to Phillippa, that he hadn’t yet made his excuses, and he felt sick with worry and despair.
“You should go to the police, Cody.” Michael was looking at him intently while he said it.
Cody just shook his head.
“Would you recognise him if you saw him again?”
“Oh yes. I fucking would. He … jeez …. he tied me down and raped me, all the time cutting me with the knife. Look!” he pointed towards cuts several centimetres long on his legs and his stomach. “He would mutter Biblical verses while he did it, and when he came, he would shout hallelujah! He wanted me to watch him while he did it. He would tie my legs back and told me if I closed my eyes he’d cut a piece out of me.” Cody looked away. “I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t bear to watch him. His eyes were so demented. So I closed my eyes.” He paused, unable to go on. The other two waited. “He … cut …. he cut a chunk out of my bum. I fainted from the pain. When I came round he said ‘next time I’ll cut more’.” Cody stopped and swallowed, then added, “No I will never forget him. His face … I will never forget his face. His eyes. Never.”
“So that means you can identify him, right?”
Cody nodded then understood what Michael was implying. “Oh fuck! Oh fucking Jesus!”
“The police may be dickheads when it comes to dealing properly with gays but at least if you tell them you reduce the risk to yourself.”
“I’m fucked, amn’t I? If I tell, that’s the end of my marriage. If I don’t then I’m never going to be safe.” Cody scrubbed his face vigorously.
“I’ll come with you to the police,” offered Michael. Luigi wondered why he was doing so much for Cody. He’d done his Good Samaritan impression when he’d picked up Cody and brought him home. What was he bothering for? “It’s just that I know the local policeman. He plays with me in the Mt Macedon cricket team and with the Macedon Cats. He’s a good bloke. He’ll take the report. I’ll stay with you. But if you want, I can ask my dad for help.”
“How can he help?”
“He’s a lawyer. Company law, but he’ll have people in his firm who’ll be able to defend you from police … fucked-upness.”
“I can’t afford that.” Cody shook his head. “It’s my own fault. If I didn’t go … whoring … I’d not be in trouble now.” His self-contempt burnt.
“Stop that!” snapped Luigi, his black-olive eyes flashing angrily. “Stop it!” He waited for a minute then added, more quietly, “There’s no harm in being a slut for a while. To get it out of your system. And if … if you need love … if you need sex … with a man … well, sometimes you can’t find Mr Right so you have to accept Mr Right Now.”
Cody shook his head. “If I hadn’t been out hunting he wouldn’t have found me.”
“He’s the bad one here, Cody. Not you. He’s the evil one. You did no wrong.”
“Yes I did. I lied to Phillippa. I lied to you. I went from man to man, just for the fuck.”
All three of them knew that Cody would never have talked like this if he hadn’t been so shocked by what had happened to him over the last few days.
“Coads … please … whatever you’ve done—and I know you’ve done wrong and that was why I was so angry with you—you are not to blame for a psychopathic pervert picking you up and drugging you and raping you and torturing you. There’s noting wrong with meeting a bloke at a pub and going back with him. Nothing.”
“I feel so hollow, Lou. After you … I was empty. I went out that night to find someone to … someone to love. And I got him instead.”