Excerpts

 

Header Image

 

Prologue
Adelaide, Late 1980

 

“The eyes, wait till you see the eyes.” Greg Denton rushed into the editor’s office at the Adelaide Inquirer, brandishing his evidence. “The Frenchman calls himself Patrick Albert Claude Ledoux.”

The two journalists studied the photograph of a bearded, fair- haired man flashing a confident smile for the camera. Denton placed another photo alongside the first. “Last one I took of him before he disappeared. Check out the nose and hair. A few years younger of course, but it’s him. I’d put money on it.”

“Not sure,” Davies, the editor, said. “So long since I’ve seen him.”

Denton shaped a viewfinder with his hands, moving it between the two pictures.

“I’d recognize those blue eyes anywhere.”

Davies nodded slowly. The eyes convinced him as well. “Okay, run with it.” He picked up his phone, “Mary, get Denton on the next flight to Colombo.”

“You won’t regret it boss.” Denton hurried out, delighted. “Got the headline: ‘Top Javelin Thrower Hurled onto Death Row!’”

* * * *

 

Denton had planned to sleep during the long flight to Sri Lanka, but he had too much on his mind. Every so often a story came along that made his job worthwhile. If his hunch proved right, this was one of them. After the dinner trays were cleared, he ordered another beer and settled down under his reading light to review his notes, to collate every bit of information he had on the suspect, and to establish a timeline.

When Denton was a rookie journalist with the Express, the editor had sent him to interview the athlete several times. “Think yourself lucky you’re getting such an easy lead,” his old boss told him. “You won’t have to ask questions; this bloke does all the talking.”

Every journalist in town loved interviewing the high-spirited javelin thrower. Denton recalled that sweltering day he visited him at the track to photograph him training, stripped down to the essentials: underpants and spikes. “But he couldn’t half make that javelin fly,” thought Denton.

The last record he had of him competing was in the national championships shortly before he skipped bail. Since then, there’d been a few reported sightings but nothing concrete, and he’d been on the run from the feds for years. “Until now,” Denton hoped.

* * * *

 

Colombo was sweltering when Denton arrived the following day. He took a cab straight to Mahara Prison. The entrance was barred by a heavy iron gate, attached to a rectangular concrete hut, both topped by a tangle of barbed wire that ran the length of the towering perimeter walls.

“I’m here to see Monsieur Ledoux,” he told the gatekeeper through a small window of the hut.

The guard waved him on, and the gate was opened from the inside. Denton strode confidently through the entrance of the compound but was quickly stopped by two officers in khaki uni-forms. Denton noticed the guns in their holsters. They ushered him into a small, prefabricated shed and signaled for him to open his briefcase. One guard rifled through the contents while his colleague gave Denton a frisking. Denton removed his spectacles and kept his mouth shut. When they released him, he walked in the direction of the arrow for visitors, down a terraced walkway clinging to an imposing, old stone building. He passed inmates tending vegetable plots who seemed more interested in the tall Westerner with an expensive briefcase than in their gardens. He was nervous, excited at being on the verge of the biggest story of his career—or his biggest mistake.

The path ended at a second checkpoint a dingy office crammed with people and flies; the whirling blades of a rusty ceiling fan sliced the hot stale air. Denton loosened his tie and waited in line to speak to the guard who was issuing orders to two other men in uniform. When it was his turn at the counter, Denton lowered his voice, telling the head guard that he would be grateful if he could spend some time with the French prisoner. The room turned quiet when he said, “Patrick Ledoux.” Then the head guard turned to his colleague with a smirk, and Denton thought they might share his suspicion that Ledoux was an impostor.

“I’m the superintendent.” The stocky head guard lifted his hat to wipe greasy straggles of black hair from his forehead. “He’s a popular man, your Mr. Ledoux. This way please.” He came around the side of the counter, taking the keys from his belt and unlocking a heavy, wrought-iron gate. Denton’s pulse raced as he followed him into the inner compound. He heard the clank of the gate shutting behind them and felt like a detective closing in on a suspect, albeit one who was already in jail.

He hurried to keep up with the brisk march of the superin- tendent, down a labyrinth of ancient, musty corridors layered with crumbling plaster. The occasional bare bulb hung from the ceiling, barely lighting the perpetual night that inhabited the warren of windowless passageways. As they passed a distant hum of movement and shouting, the superintendent pointed out a door and told him it led to the largest cellblock in the prison. Denton wondered if Ledoux had ever been held there. A man’s cry echoed after them. It was a penetrating holler that made Denton shudder.

He heard a couple of men laughing as he focused on the shiny black heels of the superintendent’s shoes as they clicked smartly on the flagstone floor ahead, and then he heard a door slam twice. Somewhere between laughter and clicking and slamming, Denton recognized the faint strains of a voice, the kind of voice he’d heard every day of his life. A voice with a familiar Australian twang.

As they turned the corner, the prisoner Denton had come to see stopped laughing and stood motionless in the corridor, looking him square in the face. In that moment, the eyes of the man known as Patrick Ledoux betrayed him. “Mr. Patrick, you have a visitor,” the superintendent announced.

Ledoux composed himself. “Great to see you again, good of you to come.”

As they shook hands, Denton looked into the face he’d spent so much time thinking about. It was older and more relaxed than the one he remembered, framed by a beard and shaggy, fair hair that made his sparkling eyes seem even bluer. Denton thought he detected a look of relief at finally being found.

The other guards were disappointed that they had to go; one took a packet of cigarettes from his pocket and gave it to Ledoux. “See you tonight Sudda. You sing your Bruce Springsteen again tonight, yes?”

“Yeah, sure,” the prisoner answered. He turned to the bemused journalist. “Come.”

Denton followed the imposing figure in his flowing white kaftan down the passageway, aware that the superintendent was behind them. They came to the entrance of a dismal little space containing a solitary table and a couple of chairs.

“I’ll be outside. How long do you want?” the superintendent asked.

“Would two hours be all right?” Denton lowered his voice, wondering if the guard expected an incentive.

“No longer,” the superintendent shook his head.

He straightened the lapels of his well-worn jacket and plonked his round frame onto a spindly wooden seat by the door. He seemed disappointed when the prisoner escorted his visitor into the room and closed the door behind them.

When they were alone, Ledoux shot Denton a knowing smile. “You got me,” he said with a peaceful kind of resignation.

“So, Greg,” he continued, “will you be here for my big day in court?”

“Sure will. Last place I saw you was the Adelaide Athletics Club. Sounds like you’ve been bloody busy since then.”

“Too much to tell, buddy. Way too much to tell.”

“I’ve got all afternoon, and you don’t look like you’re going anywhere. How the hell did you end up in this godforsaken place?” The prisoner leaned back and sighed, shaking his head as if asking himself the same question.

CHAPTER 1
Adelaide, 1980

 

“That plane that went down at Sydney Airport last month,” Annie peered at the newspaper on the kitchen table, “had only just taken off.”

“Don’t talk about it,” Cheryl shook her head and collected two mugs from the draining board.

Reg sat at the head of the table with his beer and notebook. This was going to be an important meeting, and he didn’t want plane crash stories putting a damper on his proposal. He swept his fair hair out of his eyes and scribbled a couple of dates onto a clean page. This evening he needed a final confirmation of who was in, and if anybody was out. “Christ,” he thought, “please don’t let anyone be out.” Looking for a replacement at this late stage would be a nightmare.

“Lara phoned, she’ll be a bit late,” said Annie as she dried her newly washed hair.

Annie was glad everyone would be at the meeting. She’d talked to Cheryl the previous night, and they’d both agreed the itinerary sounded easy, although Reg still had to explain the procedure in more detail. Cheryl had pointed out that Reg had a tendency to be optimistic about most things, so Annie was interested to hear what Ted and Niko had to say about his game plan. She was sure of one thing: she and Reg needed more income if they were going to be able to keep paying their rent.

Cheryl poured two coffees and handed one to Annie, then rifled through a cupboard for a package of chocolate biscuits. She soon found a packet of her favorite indulgence: Tim Tams. Annie watched her ceremoniously empty them into a bowl and wondered how dear, sweet-toothed Cheryl had managed to keep her figure.

Cheryl devoured half a biscuit with one bite and placed the crumbling remainder on the table. She took a clasp from the pocket of her skirt and secured her unruly blonde mane at the side of her forehead. Her eyes darted, full of intrigue. Reg’s scheme sounded really hopeful. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Since she and Ted had left Nottingham, she had stuck with teaching, but this new idea sounded like a much easier way to earn money.

Niko tucked his baggy, grey T-shirt into the waistband of his jeans and joined the other three at the table. His dark eyes greeted Annie’s as he swigged his beer. She watched him as he joked with Reg and thought how relaxed he looked.

Niko was relaxed. Reg had done more traveling than the rest of them put together, so he had to know what he was talking about. They went back a long way, he and Reg, and there was nobody he trusted more. This new ploy could be highly lucrative. It might be the only chance he and Lara would ever get to make some decent cash. They sure as hell weren’t going to do it on what their dad paid them for waiting tables.

“Hurry up, Ted,” Cheryl called.

Ted sauntered into the kitchen, mildly irritated that he’d had to turn off Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It was the second time he’d listened to their latest album that day and he thought the bass guitar was absolutely brilliant. His tall angular frame stooped over the sink as he hummed and rinsed his mug. He gave Cheryl’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze, grinning through the long hair that covered his eyes as he slid onto the chair beside her. She had been more like her old self since Reg had run his idea past them a few days ago.

The scheme sounded feasible, but Ted wanted to see if the others had any reservations. Cheryl deserved some time off; she worked damn hard at that school. He hadn’t mentioned it, but he was seriously thinking about going back to university to finish his degree. With the sort of income Reg was talking about, he might have the funds to do it. His old man was going to be thrilled.

Annie had left the front door ajar for Lara. When Reg heard it close, he checked his notes. “We all need to concentrate tonight,” he looked around the table. “So we’re really clear on what’s involved and how this thing will work.”

“Sorry I’m late,” Lara interrupted him as she bustled into the kitchen. She could have passed for a schoolgirl in her baggy checked shirt and jeans. She flopped onto the only empty chair. “Did I miss anything important?” She smiled at the circle of serious faces, breathless as she tightened her ponytail, her black wavy hair identical to her brother’s.

“Just confirming everything for next month,” Reg put his bottle of beer on the table. “My contact reckons it’s better to travel in mixed pairs, and I can see why. Looks like a couple on a nice romantic trip. So the routine is, number one couple board in Bombay.”

“That would have to be you.” Niko attempted to lighten the mood. “You know Bombay better than the rest of us . . . seen it from a different perspective and all that.”

Reg smirked. “God, Niko,” he said when the others laughed. “You’ve done that one to death, mate!”

Lara wasn’t laughing. She stood and helped herself to lemonade from the fridge.

“I’m still uneasy about this, Reggie,” she blurted as she sat down. “I just don’t know how I’m going to keep Geoff in the dark. I told him I was seeing a girlfriend tonight.” She plonked her glass on the table. “If he knew where I was, he’d go bloody bananas.”

“For God sake, sis, you’re letting him control you. Why d’you do that?” Niko groaned.

“You sure you want to do this?” Annie asked when she saw Lara’s worried face. “Reg could find someone else, couldn’t you Reggie?”

“Yeah, I could.” Reg was praying he wouldn’t have to. “But nobody I’d trust as much.”

“And it’s only going to be for a few months, Lara,” said Cheryl. “We’re going to save enough for a deposit on a house and then go traveling, aren’t we Ted? Like Reg was saying the other day, in and out, make some serious cash, then quit while we’re ahead.”

“That’s the plan,” agreed Ted, not looking convinced.

Annie said, “I think we’re all a bit nervous,” and gave Lara a reassuring little smile. “I never thought I’d consider doing anything like this.”

The room fell silent.

Niko cleared his throat and turned to Reg. “Perhaps you should get someone else,” he said. He’d always looked out for his sister. Not just because she was younger. Because she’d always seemed so fragile, easily upset. “I don’t want to be left out,” Lara insisted. “We’ve always done everything together.”

Reg looked relieved. “If you’re sure, Lara, but just give me some warning if you want to bail.”

He felt like a weight had been lifted. The enterprise was going to depend on controlling who knew what. Although they’d become distant lately, they were still a tightly knit group. He had other mates, but not like these; he’d trust this lot with his life.

“Great stuff,” he said. “The first time will probably be a bit hairy, but we’ll soon have it down pat. The riskiest bit is the last lap into Oz, so first trip it’ll be me and Annie doing the home stretch.”

Annie’s and Cheryl’s eyes connected. Annie twirled a strand of hair above her ear, as she did when she felt uneasy. Cheryl thought that perhaps Annie felt the same way she did—in too deep to pull out now.

“There’ll be three legs between Bombay and Australia,” Reg continued. “Bombay Australia, Australia New Zealand, and then New Zealand back into Australia.”

“Hang on, I’m still not getting this,” Cheryl said, scratching her head. “Did I miss something?”

“No, that’s what we were talking about last night,” Ted reminded her. “That’s the bit that makes it foolproof. Go on Reg.”

“Nothing’s foolproof mate, get complacent and we’re fucked.” Reg’s tone turned sober. “It’s about no deviations, acting normal, enjoying everything, young Aussies doing a bit of traveling.” He reeled it off as though reading a list.

Ted shifted uncomfortably.

“So where were we?” Reg continued. “Oh yeah, when number one couple disembark in Melbourne or Sydney, they leave the cassette player in the overhead locker of the plane. No risk there; nothing for customs to find. Then number two couple board the same plane, now bound for New Zealand. They have the same seat numbers as the first couple. When they land they take the hand luggage from the locker. They have to go through security, but here’s the thing . . .” R eg drained his beer, savoring the best bit of his plan. “As far as the bloody Kiwis are concerned, it’s a flight from Oz. Number two hand over to the third couple at the airport and they do the last leg home. And the Aussie customs blokes won’t be looking for anything, because it’s a flight from New Zealand.”

He looked pleased with himself as he waited for a reaction. “Penny’s dropped now,” said Cheryl. “The New Zealand people won’t be suspicious because that flight’s come from Oz.” he smiled triumphantly at the sisterhood. “Gotta admit, it’s pretty clever!” “Like pass the parcel,” Niko mused as he leaned back on his chair.

“Sure is,” said Reg. “And by the way it has to be British Airways, they go via Melbourne to Auckland.”

“So what’s this cassette thingy going to weigh? D’you mean something like Ted’s ghetto blaster?” asked Cheryl.

“Bigger than mine, hey Reg?” said Ted.

“Has to be,” Reg agreed. “We’re talking resin here, not grass, so it’s compressed. It’ll be bloody heavy, but we need a good bit, at least seven kilos. Plus the weight of the machine once the guts are taken out.”

Cheryl turned to Ted with accusing eyes. “You knew about this all the time!”

“Yeah, obviously, secret men’s business,” Annie agreed, peeved that Reg had already discussed the details with Ted and Niko.

“We don’t have to buy one of those blasters every time we do a run, do we?” Lara asked, worried that here was something else she’d have to lie to Geoff about.

“Won’t be a problem,” Reg reassured her. “Number one couple in Bombay will have the machine at the hotel and we’ll recycle it every run. By the way, I’ll be the only one dealing with our contact here, none of you need get involved with any of that. It’s cleaner that way. I’ll be getting the loot, organizing shifts, everything. So think of yourselves as shift workers.”

“Always wanted well-paid, part-time work,” joked Cheryl, warming to the whole idea.

“Me too,” said Reg, relieved his proposition was going down so well. “Now, for every run, each couple will have a different shift number: Number one will already be in place in Bombay; number two will get on in Oz; number three will be ready for the home run from New Zealand.” His eyes floated around the group. “Any questions?” Heads shook; the modus operandi didn’t appear to have any flaws. “Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?” Lara broke the silence, looking Niko’s way for approval. “I agree with Cheryl, though,” said Annie, “that we should see this as a short-term thing to make some readies. I think it could work, but let’s just make what we can and get out.”

“We’re all agreed on that one,” said Niko. “I don’t want to be doing this for long. I like the thought of being able to get ahead, though.”

“Yeah, but we’d better make stacks of money.” Cheryl’s schoolteacher eyes narrowed. “Because Ted and I are the only ones quitting jobs here, so it’s gotta be worth it.”

“Lara and I will keep up appearances at the restaurant, but if it all gets too much, we might pack up as well,” said Niko.

“You’re kidding!” Lara’s voice rose. “Mum and Dad would cotton onto something in no time if we left.”

“She’s right,” Reg added, “I’d already thought of that. Anyway, let’s make a pact.” His intense blue eyes flitted around the table. “A sort of all for one and one for all.” He drew his hands up, collecting Annie’s on his left and Cheryl’s on his right.

Mouths widened into warm smiles as Niko held Annie’s other hand, then Lara’s; Lara took Ted’s, and Ted finally took Cheryl’s. And they were looking at six pairs of clasped hands on the tabletop.

“We’re family,” said Reg, “we stick together like we’ve always done. Keep our mouths shut and our ears to the ground, and we’ll be in clover before we know it.”

“Now, who’s rolling that joint?”