It was two in the afternoon, and we were the only people on the street. There were cars parked on the driveways, but there was nobody out here in the sun. Anybody around here would be indoors, getting chilled by the air-con.
“Next street on the right,” said Tony. I glanced at it but keep on driving. “ You missed it,” he said.
“Too risky,” I said. “I’ve seen enough to know we hang around here, we’ll get spotted.”
“Don’t you want to at least see his house, make sure there’s no problems?”
“His house is gonna be exactly the same as all the rest of them around here,” I said. “They’ll have chosen it so it blends in.”
“We should at least check it out,” said Tony.
“No,” I said. “We won’t learn much just from driving past his place. We’re sticking out badly enough as it is.”
I was sick of this already. All they’d given us was an old photo of the guy, his new address and a description of his car. They hadn’t told us he was living smack in the middle of suburbia.
“So how we gonna do it?” asked Tony.
“Gonna have to take our chances,” I said.
“What? Just turn up and hope he’s there?”
“No other way,” I said. “We park here for two minutes the cops will know about it. Nothing at the back of his house but more houses so we can’t go in that way.”
“Yeah but the guy will be going out sometime,” said Tony.
“Like when?” I said. “They’ll have told him to stay inside as much as possible. He might go shopping but where? We ain’t got the time for that crap. We go there, if his car is there, we go in and hope for the best.”
“Hell,” said Tony. “This ain’t good.”
I took the next right and had us heading back to the motel.
We had ended up at some place one suburb over. Just a block of ten rooms by a major junction. We got out and I locked the car. He looked over at me. “I’m going to get something to eat at the Chinese place. You coming?”
I shook my head. “I’m gonna make a call, see if they can give us any more info on this guy, maybe give us an angle.”
“Fair enough,” he said.
I watched him walk off, and then headed back to my room. I was hungry but my gut was getting too tight for eating much. I wanted to be away from Tony for a while as well. It had been a long drive getting here. The last thing I wanted was to hear more of his voice. He was a fan of Hong Kong Triad movies, get him anywhere near a Chinese restaurant and he’d start telling me about the latest ones he’d seen. I must have heard the plot of every one of them by now. They all seem to be just gangsters stabbing each other if they weren’t given respect.
As soon as I entered my room I turned on the air-con. I slammed the door behind me and collapsed on the bed. I should have taken a shower but I had the air con up high, that would dry me out enough I reckoned. I lay there looking at the ceiling, turning the situation over in my head, looking for a way for it to work. I’d told Tony I was gonna make a call but I wasn’t going to. Anything like that would be regarded as weakness, and that would end up with the wrong people thinking the wrong things. It was going to have to be hit and run. It was sloppy, but the only way it could work. I brought my gun from under my belt and placed it beneath the bed. I threw my mobile on top of the TV, and then fell asleep still thinking what to do.
I was woken by someone knocking on the door. I just assumed it was Tony and closed my eyes again. I really didn’t want to speak to him now. I’d tell him later I was fast asleep. The knocking continued, getting louder.
“What?” I shouted, still lying down.
“Open the door,” said a deep voice. It wasn’t Tony. I sat upright, straight away looking for my gun. I was still half asleep and didn’t know if it was in the car or not. Then I remembered where I had left it.
The knocking was getting louder. I staggered to the door leaving the gun where it was. It was probably only the manager I thought.
I opened the door, adjusting my eyes to the bright light. There were two men there dressed in suits. They didn’t need to show me their badges for me to know they were cops, but they did anyway.
“Det Sgt Harwood,” said the cop in front. He was in his fifties but still had a hardness to him. I didn’t like his eyes. “This is Det Con Ivec,” he said, indicating the cop behind him. Ivec was a big pasty guy. He looked at me like he was watching a TV.
I decided to keep up the half-asleep act. “What’s the problem?” I asked, trying to sound like a normal citizen.
Harwood pushed me back into the room and Ivec closed the door behind him.
“There’s no problem,” said Harwood. “Least there won’t be if you get back in your car and leave.”
“I don’t get you,” I said.
Ivec came forward and gave me a punch straight in the gut. I landed back on the bed. I doubled over and then gradually tried to get up. The cop put out his hand held me there.
“We know why you’re here,” said Harwood. “But he isn’t at the safe house any more. We had him shifted long before you even crossed the border.” He looked at my face for a reaction. “Surprised?” he asked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.
Ivec gave me a quick slap across the face. For a big guy he moved fast.
“We don’t appreciate this sort of thing here,” he said. “If we searched this room and your car we wouldn’t find anything suspicious at all? Would we,” said Harwood. He smiled. “Of course we wouldn’t find any guns or information on a certain protected witness.” He dropped the smile. “You’re out of your league,” he said. He stared at me letting it sink in.
He saw my mobile on the TV, and walked over and picked it up. He checked the last number I’d dialled, and then he pressed a few more buttons reading off the phone’s number. Then he placed the phone back on top of the TV and looked at me.
“Things aren’t quite working out the way you had planned are they?” he said.
“Okay,” I said. “You’ve made your point. I don’t understand half of what you’ve said, but if you want me to leave then I’ll leave.”
Then his mobile beeped. He looked down at it and read the message. “Time to go,” he said. He started walking towards the door. Ivec pulled me up and walked me to the door behind Harwood.
Just outside the door Harwood turned and looked at me. Then he did something strange-he held out his hand for me to shake. I looked down at it in disgust, I’d never shaken a cop’s hand in my life and I wasn’t gonna start now. Ivec grabbed my arm and pinched a nerve behind my elbow, forcing my hand up for Harwood to shake.
“Well,” he said, smiling at me. “Nice to have sorted everything out so quickly and so painlessly. Hopefully we’ll never see each other again.”
“Yeah,” I said, trying to talk through the pain. He kept holding onto my hand and shaking it. I was wondering when he was going to stop when around the corner came Tony. We all turned to look at him. I saw from Tony’s expression he knew straight away what they were. No I wanted to shout, it isn’t what it looks like.
Tony froze for a second, then made it look like he was lost and turned and walked the other way.
Harwood finally released my hand. “Lets go back inside and talk some more,” he said.
I shook my numb arm, trying to get some feeling back into it. “You’ve set me up,” I said. “You did it on purpose to look like I’m working for you.”
“Well, obviously,” he said, as though I was some sort of retard. He pushed me back into the room, and I went back to my old place on the bed.
“What do you reckon your mate is thinking now?” he said. “Nobody but you two and your boss are supposed to know you were coming up here. First time he leaves you alone, he finds you shaking hands with a couple of cops. Not good. Probably on the phone right now.”
I said nothing, but glared at him.
“What do you reckon your boss will say? Reckon he’ll give you the benefit of the doubt?” He formed a smile and stared at me. “Well?” he pressed.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “You haven’t got a hope in hell. He’ll tell your mate to waste you and come on home. That’s what I reckon. What do you think?” he said to Ivec.
“You’ve got no chance,” he said to me. “Seems we’re looking at a dead man about now.”
“Yeah,” said Harwood. “You really haven’t got much of a chance. I think there’s really only one way out for you now.”
I looked up at him.
“He thinks you’re helping us,” he said. “The only way out is to actually do that.”
“What, become a grass?” I said. “No way.”
“Think about it,” he said. “All we want are Tony and your boss, Brent. Just testify against them and then you walk. I’d hardly say they’re big enough to cause you trouble once they’re inside.”
I said nothing but looked down, shaking my head.
“I think maybe he has a problem with it,” said Ivec.
“Life is never easy,” said Harwood. “But if you want to stay alive, it’s the only way.” They stood there in silence letting me think it over. “You ready to do it now,” he asked finally.
“Never,” I said.
He sighed. “Don’t do it the hard way.” He reached into his suit pocket and drew out his card. He placed it on top of the TV. “We’ll leave you alone for a few hours to think about it, and make a few phone calls. Won’t do you any good, though. When you’ve had enough give me a call.” They walked out and closed the door behind them.
I gave it a minute then opened the door, just to make sure they’d gone. They weren’t around, and I went straight back inside and reached for my mobile. I rang Tony’s number but it was engaged. He didn’t have a message bank, but I wouldn’t have left a message anyway. I tried phoning Mr Brent, and that was engaged as well. The obvious thought came straight into my mind- Tony was phoning him. I’d been with Brent for five years. Would he believe me over what looked like obvious evidence?
I kept the door open and kept looking outside. I rang Brent’s number over and over until finally it connected.
“Boss,” I said. “We’ve got big trouble.”
“Yeah, Tony has just been telling me. What’s going on?” he said. His voice was too calm for what was happening. He was playing a game, trying to draw me in.
“It’s the cops,” I said. “They’ve set me up. They knew when Tony was walking past and they forced me into a handshake.”
“Looks bad,” he said. “I hear they do this thing all the time.”I didn’t believe him.
“Look,” I said. “If I had sold out to the cops, would they have come round here and risked us being seen together. I’d have called them from a payphone.”
There was a pause.
“You don’t believe me do you?” I said.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I probably won’t know until I’ve looked into your eyes.”
That was a set up and I knew it straight away, trying to get me back home.
“What about Tony?” I asked.
“He’s excitable,” said Brent. “He’ll start calming down in a while. Maybe then he’ll start thinking things through.”
“But he reckons I’ve become a grass.”
“Yeah he does,” said Brent. “I’ll have a word with him later and try to calm him down. Get him thinking straight.” It was no use. “Okay,” I said. “You gotta believe me though, this is all a set up to actually make me become a grass, but I’m not doing that.”
“I’m starting to believe you,” he said. “I’ll speak to you later.” He hung up the call. His voice had the same emotionless tone all the way through. Even if he weren’t sure, would he care anyway and just waste me to be on the safe side?
I dialled Tony’s number. Once again it was engaged. I kept on trying until it rang. It rang twice and was then disconnected. I tried it again and the same thing happened.
“Time to move,” I said to myself. I hastily grabbed my bag and gun from under the bed. He wasn’t even taking my call. I had to get out of here before he came back.
I left the key on the bed. I kept my hand on my gun hidden beneath my shirt and walked towards the car. I took another look around for Tony, then got in and started it. I came towards the exit. Would he be there ready for an ambush? I drove fast cutting into traffic, causing some guy to brake heavily and hit his horn. I just started driving, staying there would be death. Now I had to start thinking. I realised I had kept the cop’s card in my pocket. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that.
I didn’t know where to go. There was no point in heading out of the city. I knew I’d have to stay here and try and sort things out. I crossed the river to the north side and drove until I found a motel which had a car park you couldn’t see from the road.
As soon as the door closed behind me I collapsed on the bed. I couldn’t fall asleep, and I kept my hand on my gun the whole time. I needed a shower pretty bad by now, but I couldn’t force myself to it. I knew I needed to do something but didn’t know what. The mobile rang. Straight away I answered it.
“Hows it going?” said Harwood.
I closed my eyes and said nothing. I was getting closer to doing what he wanted, and that scared me.
“You there?” he said.
“Yeah I’m here,” I said. “I’m not going to do it so why don’t you just leave me alone?”
“No, that’s not in the plan,” he said. “I’m getting tired of waiting.”
I was about to reply when he broke in. “If you delay any longer I could always phone your boss and tell him you’re at the Starlight Motel.”
My gut constricted when he said this. I felt cold all over despite the heat.
“You can’t get away,” he said. “You’re either gonna be killed by them or you’re gonna help us.”
“I need more time,” I said. almost stammering.
“You haven’t got much time left,” he said. He could tell I was getting ready to crack. “You’ve got two hours,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. He didn’t reply but cut the call. I lay back on the bed, then sat straight upright again and tried to stop shaking.
I stared at the wall and tried to come to accept that I was going to be a grass. Everything I’d been taught to hate. Something every one of my friends hated- friends that would hate me now. I looked at the gun lying on the bed and thought of shooting myself. There were only two options now, I wondered which I would have the guts to take.
The phone rang again, going right through me. It couldn’t have been two hours. I looked at the screen-it was from Mr Brent. I answered it.
“It’s been a busy day,” he said.
“Yeah,” I replied. I was just hoping for the truth now, was I in or out?
“This whole thing has been a mess from the start. I’ve told Tony to come home,” he said. “Of course with you we got bigger problems. I believe you, but he doesn’t and he’ll be putting the word around.”
“What then?” I asked.
“I’ve just heard something,” he said. “They’re taking the guy out of the city. They’ll be stopping at a rest area on the Bruce Highway about 50 k’s out of the city. If you can be there and get to him, then everything will be square, even Tony will have to believe you’re cool after that.”
“How many cops with him?” I asked.
“No idea,” he said. “It ain’t gonna be easy, might have to take them out as well. Ordinarily I wouldn’t chance it, but I figured you need a chance badly enough.”
“I’ll do it,” I said. “I don’t care what I have to do, I’ll get it done.”
“Good man,” he said, and ended the call.
I looked down at the gun. Now I had a way out of this, I might not make it, but at least I had a chance. I brought my stuff out to the car. I was then hit by a thought. They’d known I was here. Had they put a tracker on the car? I didn’t even know if the cops used these things. Well whatever, even if they had, I wasn’t going to look for it here.
I pulled out of the motel and started heading towards the highway. I kept checking my mirrors all the time. I headed off the main route and into suburbia. I soon spotted them. We were the only two cars on the road. I floored it and began snaking through all the side streets. As soon as I came to a main road I started heading for the freeway again. If they’d been following that close they’d didn’t have a tracker on me. I was hoping now it was just two rogue cops trying something. If they had a network of cars strung out I’d never spot them all. I shrugged it off. I’d done enough worrying and I was probably going to die in the next few hours anyway.
My mobile rang again.
“You made a decision yet,” said the cop. His voice wasn’t so cocky now, but seemed angrier.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve decided to tell you to shove it. I’m getting out of here.”
“Not a wise move,” he said. “They’ll find you sooner or later.”
“I’ll take my chances,” I said.
Lets see what they are going to do now I thought. I found the freeway and started heading north. The rest area was less than fifty k’s but it was the only one I’d seen so far. Just to be sure I went ahead for another twenty then circled back.
I parked near the entrance, but a couple of rows back. This way I could see everybody who came in. My plan was to wait until they parked and got out. Then I’d do a drive by, and then be straight on to the freeway. From there I’d take the first turn off and head onto the country roads where they wouldn’t find me.
It wasn’t a great plan. I knew I was expecting a lot- like he’d actually get out of the car, like I’d have a clear shot. I might not even recognise them and they’d go straight by. They’d be in unmarked cars and would be trying to blend in.
I just hoped that when they did turn up, I’d suddenly get a better idea and improvise something. It sure wasn’t looking good. I checked my watch. Forty minutes until they were due to show. Which could mean realistically they could be here any time in the next four hours.
A car pulled in and parked on the opposite side of the car park. I’d had a glimpse of the driver and was hoping it wasn’t who I thought it was. I slipped a bit lower in the seat and tried to look across at the car, waiting for the driver to get out. I saw him get out with his back to me as he locked the car. Even from here I could tell it was Tony. It all fell into place then. They’d never believed me, or even thought of giving me a chance. I was lured here and Tony was gonna take me out, simple as that. I always thought I was smarter than them, that I wouldn’t fall for something so obvious if I ever did get set up.
I watched him as he walked over to the rest area block. It was just a restaurant, toilet and two shops. He was probably going to get a drink and go the toilet. Then he would be back in the car waiting for me.
My first thought was to peel out of there, get going somewhere. I would have a short amount of time before Tony realised I wasn’t showing. Forget it, I told myself. I’d had enough of this. I could never go back to my old life, but I was gonna leave them with the knowledge that I was a stand-up guy.
I got out and walked over to Tony’s car, and then sat down a car behind. I was hoping he wouldn’t be too long heading back. If I sat out there for too long somebody would report it.
I kept looking around the edge of the car. I was suddenly hit with the fear that he’d be waiting for me inside. I sat back against the car. I couldn’t try something in there next to the restaurant. It was too much I thought sitting back. This was the only way and if he took too long, and I got security coming round that was too bad.
Then I saw him walking back. I kept hidden as he came up to the car. I heard the beep as he turned the central locking off. This was gonna work. I held my gun low and edged around to the passenger side.
I had the door open and my gun aimed straight at him before he knew what was happening. I sat down and slammed the door shut. I held the gun low but where he could see it. Tony was in shock for a second, he didn’t know what to say.
“Drive,” I said. “I don’t want to hear anything you’ve got to stay.” I jabbed him in the ribs. “Move it,” I said.
He started the engine and pulled out onto the highway. I could see him thinking, trying to find a way out of this. He looked over finally.
“So Brent told you they’re stopping somewhere else? He said you might turn up.”
I shook my head slightly. “Is that the best you can do Tony? Brent got me out here so you could kill me, isn’t that it?”
He opened his mouth. “Shut it,” I said. “I don’t want to hear it.” I should have told him then what I had planned, but I figured he deserved to sweat a bit. After a while I told him.
“I’m not gonna kill you Tony,” I said.
He looked over at me doubtfully.
“For real,” I said. “I’ve never liked you, but I can see why you tried to kill me.”
“Guess they don’t want you to, hey?” he said.
“They?” I said incredulously. “You still think I’m with the cops. I’ve come out here, and we’re driving alone, and you still think I’m with the cops.”
“Brent said they’d let you come out here, looking like you were gonna do the hit for us, but there’d be no danger because they knew the guy wasn’t coming here. Then you’d say you tried and that you were still with us.”
“So what am I doing this for then?” I said. “If I’m with the cops, why aren’t you in ‘cuffs already?”
“Well..” he said, and I could see him start thinking things through. I couldn’t be bothered waiting till he’d sorted it all out for himself.
“Slowly get out your gun, and stick it on the floor,” I said.
I watched him while he did it, still keeping his eyes on the road.
“Now your mobile,” I said.
After he’d dropped the mobile I told him to pull over. He drove onto the grass and stopped. “Now get walking,” I said. Trying not to rush, he opened the door and got out. I watched as he walked away. When he was far enough away I slid over to the driver’s seat. I grabbed his mobile and called Brent.
“You’ve done him,” he said, expecting Tony.
“No he hasn’t,” I said. “But don’t worry, he’s still alive. I’m getting far away now,” I said.
“We’ll find you,” he said.
“Don’t bother,” I said. “If I was with the cops I’d be in protective custody now. If you find me it proves I was never with the cops. So there’s no point looking. Think about it,” I said and ended the call. That was the first time I’d ever hung up on him. It felt good. I threw the mobile through the window and pulled back onto the freeway.