Jason rang the number he’d written in biro on his hand.
“Hi, this is Jason Armstrong-Beaufort.” He’d decided to use his name rather than his title when dealing with the police here in Australia. He thought that using his title would provoke disbelief. And they didn’t have time to waste. “I phoned about 20 minutes ago to tell you about a message a friend had left me saying he was in danger. Yes. Well, I just want to tell you that you don’t need to come because the police are already here. Yes. My friend must’ve called you guys before he called us. Yeah, you can talk to one of them. Sergeant Kaminski.” He handed his phone over to the policeman.
When Kaminski had finished speaking he handed the phone back to Jason.
“What are you going to do now? Don’t get involved. Let us do our job.” They were obviously no longer suspects.
Jason shrugged. “Colin made me promise not to get involved. What are you going to do now?”
“We’re putting out a KALOF …” he interrupted himself when he saw their puzzlement “… a Keep a Lookout For …. Luigi’s car and the killer’s.”
“How did you know the killer’s name? And his car number?” Jason was beginning to get frustrated.
“We—well, the police—raided his house earlier this morning.” Kaminski looked very uncomfortable.
“And …?” said Jason, his voice hard.
“He got away.”
“Wonderful,” exclaimed Jason. Keith hadn’t thought anyone could put so much sarcasm into a single word.
The policeman coloured and stiffened. He didn’t say anything, though.
“So our friends’ lives are at risk because you guys screwed up?” Jason was furious. Keith had never seen him angry. It was a revelation. Jason didn’t go red in the face or start sweating. His voice was ice-cold, but his eyes blazed sapphire with rage. His wrath was even more telling because it was manifested in a quieter voice than normal.
Kaminski got angry too. “It had nothing to do with me!” He showed he was angry by raising his voice, and going scarlet.
Jason tilted his head to one side, inspecting the other man, and was silent for several heartbeats. “True,” he said at last. “But our friends are out there with a killer. He took Cody already, but Cody escaped. Only after he’d been tortured. For hours. He was nearly killed. The killer cut a piece of flesh out of him.” The sergeant looked visibly shocked at this. “ And he’s with that man now, knowing that this time he might not escape. And frankly,” raising his voice when Kaminski tried to speak, “the police haven’t given a fuck about the investigation. Because we’re just a bunch of queers. Who don’t count. If my friends die because of this, you—the Police—will be hearing about this and I will be taking steps to see that this bias and incompetence are properly punished. Good morning to you, Sergeant.” And he turned on his heels, and taking Keith and Esmé by the arm, marched off to the lift.
“You can’t just …. Dammit!” Kaminski started following them down the walkway to the lift.
The lift was still on their floor, and its doors were still open. The three of them got in, with the policeman still several metres behind. But the lift doors were as slow to close as they had been on the way up to the fourth floor. Kaminski slid his foot between them before they closed, and obedient to their safety overrides, they opened again.
“You can’t just walk off like that! After accusing me of neglect and incompetence!”
Very quietly, Jason hissed, “There are two men out there whose lives are in danger. Who might die because the police screwed up. And while they get further and further away you are wasting time having an argument with us? You are angry because I have told you some home truths. I am livid because my friends are about to get murdered. While you do nothing. ‘Uphold the right’ it says on your badge. What are you going to do, Sergeant Kaminski? Are you going to do your job, or are you going to arrest us, waste time by taking us down to the station and filling out forms?” He paused to let that sink in. “Now, if you would be so good as to move your foot, we would like to go home.”
For a long time, the sergeant glared at Jason and then sighed. “Don’t get involved,” he said. He was brave enough to meet Jason’s implacable blue gaze. “Yeah, I know we screwed up. And I’m really sorry. But we’re still better at it than you amateurs would be.”
Keith could see that Jason was still angry, but he smiled at the policeman, a trifle tightly, but a smile all the same. “I’m sorry, sergeant, for losing my temper. We’re very worried. I know it’s not because of you personally. I apologise.”
The policeman nodded. “We’ll do our best. I promise.”
Jason lifted his lips off his teeth. No one would call it a smile. “Just save our friends.”
The policeman nodded to them. Then he turned on his heel and went back along the walkway and into the flat.
“Loik to live dangerously, don’t ya?” murmured Keith when the lift doors had at last closed.
“Homophobic bunch of arseholes and wankers!” stormed Jason.
“Oi think he had a hard-on for ya, Jace,” said Keith.
Jason just tightened his lips and shook his head.
“They’re so unprofessional. So inept.”
“You were very blunt,” observed Esmé. “People hate being criticized.”
“Yeah. But how unprofessional is it to raid his house and let him escape! And then to argue with us when we point that out!”
They’d reached the ground floor.
“What’re we going to do now?” asked Esmé.
“I don’t know. I feel we have to do something.”
His phone rang.
It was Luigi.
As soon as Luigi and Cody were dressed, the killer gestured to them with the gun to go outside onto the walkway.
“Downstairs!” he ordered quietly. Luigi had half hoped they would use the lift. Somebody might get in and then the killer might be distracted and Luigi could grab his gun … or maybe in the close confines of the lift, he might get close enough to do it anyway. He turned round to see what was happening.
“Just keep walking!” the killer growled. His quietness and confidence were terrifying.
At ground level, the killer asked, “Where’s your car?” Luigi thought of lying, and saying he didn’t have one. “I know you have one,” said the killer. “I’ve watched you. I’ve seen it.”
Luigi almost lost hope then. How were they going to escape? He also felt especially stupid. He’d automatically put his key ring into his pocket when they’d left the flat. Habit. A couple of years before, he’d locked himself out of the flat and had had to go and beg to be let in by the building supervisor, who lived in a flat on the ground floor. Mr Albanese had made his dislike of Luigi’s effeminacy quite clear, and Luigi had resolved never to let it happen again. He’d made a habit of putting his keys, his wallet and his phone in his pockets whenever he left his flat. Stupid! he thought to himself. The police might know the killer’s car make and registration number and might be able to track them if his car was used. But obviously the killer thought so too.
When they got to the car, the killer made Cody get in the back and gestured him to move over to the other side. He pointed his gun at Luigi.
“You drive,” he said. “Don’t try anything or your little friend will get it.” He got into the car at the same time as Luigi, his gun once again directed at Cody.
Just for a second, Luigi was tempted to run, leaving Cody behind. He tried to justify this to himself by rationalizing that he would be better able to save Cody by getting hold of the police. And that there would only be one person to save instead of two. And that two hostages gave the killer more power than one. But he hesitated too long, and the killer pressed his gun against Cody’s head, and said softly with utter conviction.
“Get in or I’ll do him. And I’ll get you straight afterwards.”
Luigi got into the car, feeling ashamed and angry and very frightened.
They drove in silence for 20 minutes out of the inner city on to the freeway and then along the almost empty freeway.
They were just a couple of K’s before the Calder Raceway when the dashboard beeped. A notice came up warning that the fuel tank was nearly empty. Luigi exulted. Yes! Yes! They weren’t going to go anywhere now. There was no way the killer would do anything out in the open, next to the freeway.
“Pull into the BP service station up ahead,” came the quiet order from the back.
Luigi’s heart sank. The service station was about a K further on. Over and over again, in his head, he went through the options he had. He could get out and run. As soon as he was safe he could phone the police and tell them what was going on. And they would save Cody. But he knew—profoundly, deep in his heart—that the Killer would use Cody as a hostage, and Cody would in the end be killed.
He flicked the indicator on and turned his car onto the exit ramp leading to the service station.
He still hadn’t made up his mind by the time he’d pulled up next to a petrol pump.
“Fill her up, using the credit card facility on the bowser” said the Killer, quietly. “If you try anything, I’ll shoot your boyfriend first, then you, then as many others as I can get.”
Luigi had no idea how many bullets the Killer’s gun held. He remembered vaguely that some guns had 6—or was it 7?—bullets in the revolving thingy at the base of the barrel. But there were others who which held the bullets in a cartridge in the hand-grip. How many did they hold?
Well, it didn’t matter. The Killer would kill Cody and maybe others. Recalling his earlier cowardice, Luigi resolved to do something else.
He got out of the car, and turned round and looked at Cody. He gave him a deliberate smile. He walked round the car to the bowser, and turned his back so the Killer couldn’t see what he was doing. Taking his time, he unlocked the petrol cap and inserted the nozzle into the petrol tank inlet. He slipped his card into the slot on the credit card payment screen next to the bowser and selected full. Then he took the watering can and filled it at the tap. He opened the bonnet, but he didn’t unscrew the radiator tap. He was sure the Killer would be angry, but it was the only chance they had. He reached into his undies and pulled his phone out. He swiped Jason’s number, and waited. Pick up! Pick up! he urged, silently, listening to the click click click as the petrol bowser filled the tank.
The phone squawked. “Lou! Where are you? What’s happened?”
“Shh!” Luigi said, instantly.
There was plenty of ambient noise—the freeway, jets taking off every couple of minutes, the noise of the bowser pumps, cars and lorries starting their engines, and there was also a speaker at each pump relaying some pop radio station. All the same, he didn’t want the Killer to hear, because then he would kill them straightaway and there’d be no chance for the police to save them.
Speaking over Jason’s frantic questions, Luigi said, “Just listen, Jace! We’re at the BP service station on the Calder Highway. I think he’s taking us to the Mount. Tell the police!” And he ended the call. He slipped the phone back into his undies, poured some of the water from the watering can around the engine onto the tarmac, closed the bonnet, and put the can back in its place. The bowser had stopped. He got back into the car.
The Killer was staring at him, suspicious. And angry.
“What were you doing?”
“Nothing. Just checking the water. She leaks a bit, so if I drive a long way she can get overheated and I can’t afford to buy a new car.” Luigi tried to present an unfazed demeanour.
The Killer stared at him and then giggled. It was remarkably unpleasant. He stuck his head forward and hissed at Luigi, “It won’t be your problem!” And then he cackled again.
“It won’t be your problem,” he repeated with another high-pitched giggle. His eyes were no longer cold, but looking into them, Luigi knew with absolute certainty that the Killer was demented.
Of course, thought Luigi. Anybody who kills for pleasure …. But it hadn’t seemed real before. You might say, “he must be mad!” But it was only when he looked into the Killer’s eyes that he truly understood deep in his heart and soul what that meant.
Oddly enough, this realisation gave him renewed courage. And it replaced his anger and fear with resolution. He had been wondering whether he could talk the man down from his intentions. Now he knew that the only way to make the world safe was to kill him, to stop him doing it again and again. And he was ready to do it. Like a rabid dog, the world would be a better and safer place without this inhuman and utterly mad person in it.
“That was Luigi!” said Jason. “He said he’s at the BP service station on the Calder highway. Where is that?”
“It’s on the way to Mt Macedon. About halfway there,” answered Keith.
Jason stared at him for a moment. “Right!” he said. “I’ll go and tell that fool of a policeman upstairs. You ring the policeman in Mt Macedon. Better make sure we tell as many as possible. I don’t trust them to get this right.” He turned and marched off.
Keith selected his previous call to Colin from the phone log and redialled. The phone rang briefly then diverted from the landline to the police station to another number. Colin picked up at the other end.
“Hi, Colin, it’s mey again. Lou has just phoned us to say they’re at the BP service station on the Calder. I think we were roight. He is goin’ to Mt Macedon.”
“I’m here at the turnoff from the main road, watching the cars coming up the mount from Melbourne. What make and colour is his car?”
“Dunno. Can’t the police pull that from VicRoads’ files?”
“Yeah, but it would take too long.”
“I’ll ask Jace and get back to you.”
“Right. If he’s at the BP station now, he’s about 30 minutes away. If he is in fact coming here.”
“What else can we do? Where else can we go?” Keith asked in despair.
“I think I might call one of the police choppers out. There’s a risk. But we’d be able to follow them from the air. To do that, I need the car’s details.”
Jason was so irritated with the languid pace of the lift he almost ran up the stairs instead. At last the lift reached Luigi’s floor and the door opened. He ran along the access balcony to Luigi’s flat. The door was still open. A little breathless, he said, “Hey, Lou’s just phoned!”
“Who is Lou?” asked the same policemen that he’d quarrelled with.
“The guy the Mt Macedon killer abducted. He said he’s at the BP service station on the Calder Freeway, and that’s on the way to Mt Macedon.”
“How did he manage to make the call?” asked the policeman, sarcastically.
“How the fuck do I know? But it was him and he rang my mobile. So now you know where to look!” And he turned on his heel and walked off. This time he did use the stairs, racing down them to where the others were waiting.
“What did they say? asked Esmé, when he reached them on the ground floor outside the flats.
“Nothing useful. What did the Mt Macedon policeman say, Key?”
“They’re going to call out the police chopper. But they need to know the details of Lou’s car to follow it.”
“We don’t have that. But I s’pose they can get it from the computer records. I’m sure they have access.”
“What shall we do?” asked Esmé.
“I want to drive up to Mt Macedon. I know we’ll get there too late, but I can’t, I can’t, hang around here helplessly.” Jason was anguished. “I know we can’t save them, but I feel ….”
“… that we should be close,” answered Esmé. “Yes. I feel that too.”
“Have you got a lecture or anything on this morning?”
“Nah. Nothing important. This is more important. And anyway, how could I pay attention during the lecture when all this is going on?”
Keith nodded. “I’ll ring Tom and tell him what’s happened. Let’s go.”
They got into Keith’s car, and Keith drove towards the freeway.
They didn’t speak. Traffic was still light, but already much more than when they made their mad dash though the darkened streets towards Luigi’s flat. Within 25 minutes, they were passing the BP service station on the Calder Highway.
“That’s where Lou phoned from,” Keith observed as they sped past.
“So we’re half an hour behind them.”
“Yes. But I’m not going to speed. If we get stopped by a police car we’ll be delayed.” He looked at the speedo. They’d just passed a speed sign which raised the limit to 110 kilometres per hour. He pressed down the accelerator, and the car’s heater sped up as it did randomly and a gush of hot plastic-smelling air poured into the car. Nobody complained. They stared intently through the windscreen as if somehow they could by sheer will make the journey time shorten.
A few minutes later, the freeways started to climb up into the highlands. A police car with its siren going and lights flashing passed them doing at least 130 kilometres per hour.
“Stupid fucks!” Keith was angry. “They’ll frighten the killer and then he’ll kill Lou and Cody.”
“Calm down, Key. Maybe it’s just for now,” said Esmé. “We’re half an hour behind them. Maybe they’ll use the siren until they get closer and then turn it off.”
Keith didn’t answer. A minute or two after that, they heard the sound of a chopper going by fast. It flew overhead, a few hundred metres up, and its noise for a moment was so loud that even if they’d spoken they wouldn’t have heard each other.
As the sound diminished, Keith said, “Well, at least they’ve taken it seriously.”
“They’ll be too late!” Jason answered, agonised. “Lou and them must be there by now!”
“If they’re still alive!” replied Keith grimly.
“He always killed his victims on Mt Macedon, didn’t he? The newspaper article I read said that. But obviously he lived in the city. So maybe the Mt Macedon thing is necessary to him in some way. He has to do his killing there.” Esmé’s voice was reasonable, calm. But when Jason looked at her he could see the strain in her face and posture.
“Perhaps he’ll change his routine,” growled Keith.
“No. They don’t. I know. I know it very well. Maybe they change incrementally. A slightly different modus operandi each time. But I think he’ll want to be where he was before. Even though the situation is different this time. Where he does it means something to him. Mt Macedon is important, for some reason.”
Keith flicked her a quick glance, then turned his eyes back to the road. “Okay.”
Luigi and Cody and the Killer were halfway up Mt Macedon road. As they passed the phone box where he had called Luigi from, Cody felt something inside him shrivel. He’d thought, then, that he’d escaped, that he’d been given back his life. He thought he’d had a new chance and new beginning. But it wasn’t going to be. He was going to die. Into his heart came a determination that he would save Luigi. He didn’t know how, but somehow he would. Perhaps he could distract the killer so that Luigi could escape. Now that he had given up hope, his mind began to work furiously. What if he turned and grabbed the killer’s arm and shouted to Luigi to stop the car and run away? Would that work? With his eyelids lowered he considered the killer on the seat beside him. The man held his gun in his hand with the assurance of someone who knew what he was about. The gun was pointing towards Cody’s stomach, out of sight of passers-by. So Cody considered, careful not to show his thoughts on his face. If he grabbed the gun and the killer fired, could he turn it far enough away from himself to not die immediately so that Luigi would have enough time to get away? No. The time to act would come when they got out of the car. The killer would make Luigi get out first. Cody would be next. But the killer would have to get out of his side of the car. But that wouldn’t work either. How could he grasp the killer’s hand when he was on the other side of the car? He had to do it while the killer was still in the car. Shout at Luigi to run and grab the killer’s gun arm as Luigi ran away.
They were getting close. It would be soon. Cody closed his eyes and sent up a prayer to a deity he only half believed in. It was time for God, who had made him bisexual, and had given him so much pain, to help him, to redress the balance. Please, he thought, I don’t care about me, but let Luigi escape.
Colin parked his police car just off the road on the gravel track leading to Sanitarium Lake. This was 50 metres beyond the turnoff from Mt Macedon road towards the camping site where Cody had escaped from the Killer. He didn’t know where the Killer was headed but that seemed as good a place as any. He had parked behind a thick native bush so that he would not be seen from the road. The car had a radio which connected him to the search and rescue operation now going on. There were 4 police cars as well as the police helicopter converging on Mt Macedon. He thumbed the radio on and spoke to the driver of the police car from the Woodend police station. He was on its way up the northern slopes of the mountain to its peak. He would be with him in 5 minutes. Colin could hear the car’s siren going.
“Turn your siren off, Jeff!” he said sharply.
“Done,” came the laconic response and Colin who just been able to catch the sound of the siren over the soft noises of the forest stopped hearing it. The radio was silent too.
“Approach with care. This guy’s killed five already and he probably has a gun. That’s five that we know about.”
Colin decided that it would take too long to get Luigi’s car model, colour and number. But what he could do was use the police car’s computer linkup to check the number of any likely car that came up the road from the south, and if it was Luigi’s to act. Yet he wasn’t sure whether the Killer was bringing them here to the peak of Mt Macedon. Perhaps he might stray from his previous pattern? He must know that the police knew about him, that they would be on his track, and that he probably had very little time. Yet he had driven out here. Was his need to cut his victims so strong? Colin remembered with a shudder the cube of flesh cut out from Cody’s buttocks. Did he need this special place? Was there something in his past which made it specific for him?
Keith’s Holden was old, but its engine was big-hearted. It didn’t falter as the road ascended from the lowlands to the highlands. With hardly any change in the growl of the motor it maintained its speed up the slopes. A casual observer might have thought, looking at the three people in the car, that they were on a road trip somewhere, until he saw the strain on their faces and the worry in their eyes.
“Where is it that they’re going to?” asked Jason.
“Sey that long mountain there,” said Keith, pointing through the windscreen at a range of mountains on the horizon. “Mt Macedon is the one at the far end. That’s where Cody was taken last toime.”
“We won’t get there quick enough, will we?” was Jason’s quiet reply.
“Nao,” answered Keith grimly. “But we can be there to help Cody and Lou afterwards. If we can. If they’re still aloive.”
There was another strained silence in the car while they digested this.
“They’ll need some loving care,” observed Esmé.
“That’s for fuckin’ sure.”
“And we can do that for them.”
Jason smiled a little grimly, not taking his eyes off the road. She knew he was smiling by the way the side of his face moved. “Yep,” he said. “Yep. Wey can.”
Esmé was thinking of the night before. How can I do that, she asked herself, when Cody and Lou are in such danger? But somehow her thoughts kept on drifting back to the three of them in bed, to two male bodies arched in orgasm over her, to the pleasure she had felt as they brought her to climax. More than that—she thought of how she was loved and protected by them, of how the pain and humiliation of her rape by her oh-so-macho father had faded, and how for the first time she felt safe. She looked at the scars on her wrists, where for years she had cut herself again and again, the sharp pain of the incisions better than the pain in her heart. I won’t need to do that again, she thought, a wash of contentment filling her. And then she was reminded that somewhere on the road ahead of them, Luigi and Cody were in terror and would perhaps die, and she felt a vast sorrow fill her, replacing her contentment. So much suffering! And just because hers might be over, it didn’t mean that it would stop in the world. It would go on.
And for the first time, she wondered what hell had turned the Killer into the psychopath he was. Had he been born with his kink? Or had he, like her, been tortured by some older man until the only way to alleviate his pain was to kill others? Well, she only cut herself. But he had killed others, again and again. And she wondered, as the countryside flashed past, whether if she had a gun she would be able to pull the trigger to kill him, and whether if she thought of him as her father it would make it easier or harder.
Jason was remembering how Luigi had picked him up. It was the second or third day after he’d arrived in Australia. He remembered making love with Luigi, and how vulnerable and fragile Luigi had seemed afterwards, as they lay in bed. It had been the first time since Brent had died that he’d made love, and he’d forgotten how good it felt to bring pleasure and comfort to another and also to receive pleasure and comfort from another. He remembered how Luigi had wept after sex and how he’d persuaded the other man to tell him about how he feared that straight macho-acting men like Jason would win his heart and then desert him. Luigi hadn’t told Jason then, but he’d been thinking of Cody when he talked about how straight or bisexual men weren’t to be trusted. The whole disaster of Luigi’s relationship with Cody had only emerged later. Jason remembered how their fragile friendship had strengthened and deepened, until Luigi had become one of the people in his life who were truly important to him. Two of the most important people in my life are in this car, he thought. And another is on the mountain up ahead terrified for his life. He was so afraid that Luigi would be killed. He’d been angry with the ineptitude and homophobia of the police, but now that was gone. Instead, his anger and rage had hardened into ice, a determination that he would do whatever he could to save Luigi, without letting his anger make him do stupid, ineffective, impulsive actions. He would save Luigi and Cody and he would deal with the Killer. Even if right now he had no idea how he was going to do this.
Chapter 29 (Episodes 561 to 580) Chapter 31 (Episodes 601 to 620)