On the run from the police, Derek takes a pair of friendly hostages.
There’s this green sedan speeding down a quiet suburban street, right. These two cop cars are following right behind it, sirens screaming. All of a sudden this little white hatchback comes out of a side street. The green sedan’s moving too fast to swerve around it. The hatchback’s hit hard, flips over and bursts into flames. The sedan ricochets off some parked cars and crashes into a brick fence. The driver jumps out of the car while it’s still moving, jumps over a few back fences and loses the cops. Are you with me?
Right, so now he’s had it. He’s buggered and shit scared. ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck,’ he says to himself. ‘That’s the last time I do a fucken job with that fucken Jacko. The fucken cunt left me with the fucken stolen car and took all the fucken money. If I ever get my hands on the prick, I’ll cut his fucken balls off.’
He’s breathing hard and his heart’s pumping. He’s listening but he can’t hear the cops coming. He’s safe for now but he knows they’ll catch up with him soon. He needs a place to hide, or better still a car.
He’s resting against this fence in the backyard of a weatherboard house. It must belong to some old bloke ‘cos it’s all neat and tidy and there’s even a vegetable garden. There’s one of those little garages. The doors are open but it’s empty. No help there. There’s a steel shed, but it’s got a big fat padlock. The house is easier to break into. The back room’s a sunroom and the door’s mainly glass.
He crawls up to the door and looks inside. He can only see one light on in there, the sort of light you leave on when you go out, so he’s pretty sure there’s no one home. He breaks the glass with the butt of his gun and lets himself in.
He creeps in real quiet in case he’s got it wrong. He goes through all the rooms of the house, one by one, kicking the doors open and sweeping the room with his gun, like they do in those cop shows. There’s no one there. The only light on is the one he saw from outside, a standard lamp in the lounge. He can take a breather for a few minutes now. He goes into the kitchen and sits down.
It’s getting late but he doesn’t switch on any more lights. There’s still a bit of sunlight coming in through the venetian blinds. Everything in the kitchen is old fashioned, but clean and tidy like the backyard. It’s just like his great-grandma’s kitchen. There’s one of those Kooka gas stoves in the fireplace and on the mantelpiece there are some of those pale green plastic canisters saying ‘Flour, Sugar, Tea,’ just like his old gran had. He really loved going to her place when he was a little kid. She used to make the best sausage rolls.
Anyway, he’s tired and it’s getting dark, right. And he can’t remember now whether he put his head down for a minute or not. He just knows that after a little while he’s getting up for a glass of water when he hears this voice saying, ‘Why don’t you fill the kettle while you’re there and make yourself a cup of tea?’
He spins around and there’s this old bloke in a cardigan in the doorway and he’s smiling at him and he’s saying, ‘Go on, son. Don’t stand on ceremony with us.’ He switches on the light and calls into the lounge. ‘Nelly, would you like a cup of tea?’
There’s a woman in the lounge and she says, ‘Oh, yes, Arthur. I’d love one. Send the young man in here, dear, and you make the tea yourself. What sort of host are you? Come on, love, come in here and say hello.’
The young bloke — his name’s Derek, did I tell you that? — anyway, Derek doesn’t know what to think. He must have fallen asleep in the kitchen and the owners have let themselves in through the front door. Arthur comes up to him, smiling at him like he’s a long-lost grandson. He doesn’t even see Derek’s got a gun stuck in his belt. He takes Derek’s elbow and leads him into the lounge. This old lady’s sitting at the end of the couch with a crocheted rug over her knees. Her hands are all twisted up with arthritis and her feet are bursting out of her slippers, bent right out of shape with bunions. There’s a walking-stick beside her.
She smiles at Derek, too, and holds her hand out to him and sits him down next to her on the couch. ‘Come and sit down, love, and keep us company,’ she says. She even offers him some of her chocolate. She whispers in his ear so Arthur can’t hear. ‘I know I shouldn’t myself, but a girl’s gotta have one vice in her old age, eh? Go on, take a piece. Save me from eating it.’
So Derek takes a piece of chocolate. He’s too stunned to say no.
‘So,’ Nelly says to him, ‘what’s your name? Are you from around here?’
Derek feels like he’s visiting with one of his gran’s friends and gran’s just behind him telling him to be polite and answer the nice lady’s questions. So Derek tells her his name and where he’s from and something about his gran, but there’s a lot about Derek’s life you can’t tell a nice old lady.
After a while, Arthur comes in with tea and biscuits. He pours them all a cuppa and sits down in his armchair and turns on the telly. Derek almost jumps out of his skin. It’s one of those American cop shows and there’s a car chase going on and the sirens are blaring. Derek’s scared he won’t be able to hear the real cops when they come, and anyway he can’t stay there all night, drinking tea and watching telly.
Derek gets up and says, ‘Look, Nelly, Arthur, thanks for the tea and everything, but I’ve got to get going now.’
Nelly says, ‘There you are Arthur, how many times have I told you? It’s the telly, love, isn’t it? I keep telling him, you don’t switch on the telly when you’ve got visitors. How can you have a nice chat with that thing screaming in your ear? Turn it off, love.’
Arthur says, ‘Sorry, son,’ and turns off the telly and suddenly it’s real quiet.
Nelly says, ‘It’s getting late, Derek. Why don’t you stay for tea? I’ve got some lovely lamb chops.’
‘No, really, Nelly,’ Derek says. ‘I can’t stay.’
‘Course you can,’ she says. ‘Where have you got to rush off to, eh? You and Arthur can play a game of cards or something and have a nice chinwag while I get the dinner on.’ She holds her twisted up hands out to Derek. ‘Here, help me up.’
Derek takes one hand and Arthur the other and they haul her off the couch. Arthur gives her her walking-stick and she hobbles into the kitchen and Derek sees his old gran again. She had to use a walking-stick in the end.
‘Cards, cards, now where did I put those cards?’ Arthur says and he starts rifling through all the drawers in the sideboard.
Derek’s listening and he still can’t hear anything and he’s starting to think maybe Nelly’s right, maybe he is better off staying put, when all of a sudden there’s this banging on the front door.
Arthur turns around and he’s saying, ‘Will I get that?’ when he sees Derek pointing his gun at him. The old bloke’s not smiling now. Derek’s got his finger on his lips and he points to Arthur’s armchair with the gun. Arthur gets the idea and sits down without a peep.
Derek goes to the kitchen door. There’s another loud knock and Nelly starts saying, ‘Arthur, are you…?’ but then she sees Derek’s gun, too.
He goes up close to her and he says real low, ‘Get back into the lounge, and sit down and don’t make a fucken sound. You hear me?’
Nelly nods and points to her walking-stick. Derek gives it to her and grabs her other arm and helps her back to the couch.
There’s another knock. ‘Police. Open up.’
Derek waves his gun at the old couple. ‘Now, don’t move,’ he says. ‘Don’t talk unless you’re spoken to, right?’
They both look at him, like a couple of statues. They don’t bat an eyelid. They don’t even nod.
Through the venetian blinds Derek can see the glare of headlamps and the red and blue flashing lights. He figures they can’t see in. He just has to sit tight and they’ll go away. But he can’t resist having a peek. He goes up to the window and goes to part the blinds when suddenly the whole contraption falls on his head. His hand jerks and the gun goes off.
The coppers outside are yelling at each other and running towards the car. There’s no hiding from them now. Derek shoots a hole through the window and shouts at them, ‘Back off. Come any closer and I’ll fucken shoot the old couple I’ve got in here. Do you hear me? Now turn off those fucken lights. I wanna be able to see yous.’
The headlamps are dimmed and Derek can see the two coppers taking cover behind the open doors of the car. One’s on the radio. The other one’s aiming a gun at the house. Derek turns off the standard lamp and stands in the dark, watching them through the window. Two more carloads of coppers pull up. They get out and talk to the other two. The new ones are all wearing bullet-proof vests.
One of them’s got a mobile phone to his ear. Even then Derek jumps when the phone in the house rings. It’s one of those big black ones that sounds like it’s got real bells inside it. Derek lets it ring a few times before picking it up, but he doesn’t say anything.
The voice on the other end is nice and calm, almost friendly. ‘This is Senior Sergeant Grant. I’m just outside. Is everything all right in there?’
‘It will be as soon as you lot piss off,’ Derek says.
‘You know we can’t do that,’ the copper says. ‘We’ve got to make sure the old couple are all right. Put one of them on so we can see how they are.’
But Derek’s up to their tricks. ‘No way,’ he says. ‘You’re not bloody talking to them. You’ll give them some fucken secret message or something.’
The copper stays calm. ‘Then how are we supposed to know you’ve really got them? How about you tell us their full names and ages, OK?’
Derek puts the phone against his chest and asks Arthur and then repeats his answer into the phone. ‘Mark Arthur and Mary Ellen Harper. He’s 78 and she’s 75. OK. Satisfied? Now fucken leave me alone.’ He slams down the phone.
‘What are you going to do now?’ Arthur asks in a quiet voice.
Derek spins around and points his gun at him. ‘I told you to shut up, old man.’
‘He has a point,’ Nelly says. ‘What are you going to do? The police will get you in the end. Even if it takes all night.’
Derek aims at Nelly. ‘You, too, woman. Shut up, or I’ll shoot the both of yous.’
But Nelly just says, ‘Are you so sure you can do that?’
Derek’s had it. He lifts his gun to hit her, but she just looks at him. He lowers his gun and turns away to the window and watches the coppers.
About a quarter of an hour later the phone rings again. It’s Grant. ‘I’m still here. How are things?’
‘Hunky dory,’ says Derek.
The copper asks after the Harpers.
‘They’re still here,’ Derek says.
‘And what about you?’ Grant asks. As if he gives a shit.
‘What do you think?’ Derek says.
‘Now, Derek,’ the copper says, ‘you’ve been around the traps long enough to know how this’s got to end.’
‘Fuck,’ Derek says. ‘How do you know my name?’
The copper’s real smug. ‘You left your prints all over the car. And we’ve got Jacko. He’s squealing like a pig.’
Derek can imagine why. ‘Give him a few for me, the prick,’ he says.
Grant’s real serious now. ‘We’re still not sure who pulled the trigger, Derek. Jacko says it was you. You come out of there with your hands up and we can hear your side of the story. You hurt those people in there and no jury will believe you.’
Derek knows full well who the jury will believe. ‘Get stuffed,’ he yells and slams down the phone.
After a couple of minutes it rings again. Derek pulls the cord out of the wall, picks up the phone and throws it through the window. They all start squawking outside and shine a spotlight on the lawn. After a few moments, they calm down and put out the light.
Derek laughs. ‘That got ’em going.’
‘Well,’ says Arthur. ‘How are you going to talk to the police now? That was the only telephone in the house.’
Derek tells him to shut up. ‘I don’t wanna talk to the fucken cops,’ he says. ‘They only talk bullshit. Tell you whatever it takes to get you out, then you’re face down in the dirt in cuffs and a few boots to the ribs for keeping them up late.’
‘But you haven’t left yourself any way out, have you?’ Nelly says.
Derek’s not finished yet. ‘Out the back way.’
‘Don’t be daft,’ Arthur says. ‘They’ll have sharpshooters on every roof. You wouldn’t get out of the back yard. See those lights out there. They’re not ours.’
‘All right then,’ Derek says. ‘I’ll take one of you as a human shield. Force them to let me through. What about you?’ He points the gun at Nelly.
Nelly shows him her walking-stick. ‘You wouldn’t get far with me, love.’
He points at Arthur. ‘What about him, then?’
Nelly shakes her head. ‘He’s got a balance problem. Ask him to walk a few yards and he could fall down on you.’
‘We’ll go in your car. Where is it? Out the front?’
‘Our car’s gone,’ Arthur says. ‘Some young idiot wrote it off.’
‘Face it, love,’ Nelly says. ‘There’s no way out, even if you do shoot us. You’ve got to give yourself up.’
Derek waves his gun at them. ‘That’s enough, all right! Now fucken shut up and let me think.’
Derek takes a chair and puts it by the window and watches what’s going on outside. It’s quiet, too quiet, as though they’re waiting for something. The neighbours are all out there and there are even some trucks from the television stations. He laughs. ‘Look at them all, out there having a stickybeak. I’ll be fucken famous.’
The police have only let one person through their lines. She’s a woman in her forties, maybe. She’s crying and a policewoman has her arm around her. Even Grant looks sympathetic.
Derek calls Arthur over. ‘Here, who’s she?’
‘She’s our daughter,’ Arthur says. He watches her for a minute and then goes and sits down. He reaches out his hand and takes Nelly’s. Nelly’s crying.
Grant calls over one of the men in bullet-proof vests and gives him some orders.
After a while, Nelly says, ‘If you won’t do it for yourself, Derek, do it for the people who love you.’
Derek scoffs. ‘Yeah, sure. Like who?’
‘She died years ago.’
‘You must have someone? Mother? Kids?’
Derek snorts. ‘Mother?’
‘Kids, then?’ Nelly says. ‘Have you got any kids?’
‘Yeah. One. Shit, what is this?’ Derek gets up and walks around the room.
‘For him, then.’ Nelly’s pleading, now. ‘You don’t want him to end up like you, do you?’
Derek sneers. ‘He could do worse.’
He’s got Nelly’s goat. ‘Worse than spending half your life in prison?’ she says.
Derek laughs. ‘Not half.’
Nelly’s getting angry now, just like his gran when he got into trouble at school. ‘So, how long have you spent in prison?’ she asks.
Derek doesn’t want to think about it. He yells at Nelly to shut up.
‘Now, now, son,’ Arthur says. ‘That’s no way to talk to a lady.’
But Nelly hasn’t been put off. She keeps at him. ‘How long, Derek?’
Derek won’t answer her. He’s pacing the room.
‘All right,’ she says, ‘let me guess. You’ve been in prison three times for, let’s say, about eight years altogether.’
Derek swings round to her. ‘How do you know that?’ he yells, but she just keeps on talking.
‘No time off for good behaviour either because you’ve got a bad temper and you’re always in trouble. And if things go on the way they are you’ll be going back there for a very long stretch indeed.’
Derek’s freaking out. He goes up to her and shows her his gun.
She doesn’t even see it. ‘Your old mates will be glad to see you, I bet,’ she says.
Derek starts shouting. ‘What the hell would you know, you old cow? You don’t know what it’s like. When the cops’ve got it in for you, you don’t stand a chance.’
Nelly looks him in the eye. ‘Did the cops tell you to do this job today?’
‘That’s nunna your business.’ He waves the gun in her face. ‘Now, shut your fucken mouth before I shut it for you!’
But she won’t shut up. ‘When are you going to learn, ha? Just out for armed robbery and then you go and do another one today. And with Jacko, too. You knew already you couldn’t trust him and you let him talk you into another job. You even let him hold onto the money.’
Derek’s hands are shaking, his eyes are wild. He raises his gun over her head…then…
‘Derek, can you hear me?’ It’s the cops on the loud hailer outside. ‘This is Senior Sergeant Grant.’
Derek steps back from the old woman, back to the window. The sergeant’s out there. The neighbours and the TV crews have been pushed back down the street. He can’t see any of the men in their bullet-proof vests.
‘We’ve run out of patience, Derek.’ Grant’s saying. ‘Come out now with your hands up and we can get this over and done with.’
‘What about the old couple? What if I kill them?’ Derek shouts through the broken window.
‘That’s entirely up to you, Derek,’ the sergeant throws back.
‘Go on, son, go out there,’ Arthur says. ‘This is your last chance to do the sensible thing. Think about what you’re doing.’
Derek turns to them. He points the gun at them. His hand’s shaking.
‘Do it for your son, love,’ Nelly says. ‘Do you want him to grow up fatherless like you, being bashed around by all his mother’s boyfriends?’
Derek can’t take it anymore. He lowers his gun to the floor. Then suddenly all hell breaks loose. They’re breaking down the front and back doors at once.
Derek’s gun jerks up. ‘I told ’em. I fucken told ‘em…’ he wails, and two shots ring out.
Both doors give way and the house is being overrun with coppers, guns at the ready, shouting. Two of the coppers grab Derek from behind and throw him to the floor. One puts his knee in his back and his gun to his head while the other one puts handcuffs on his wrists. Derek’s crying. When they manhandle him to his feet, he sees Arthur’s armchair and Nelly’s corner of the couch are empty except for two gunshot burns.
‘Where are they?’ he says. ‘Arthur and Nelly?’
‘They’re not here, Derek,’ Grant says.
‘But I shot them. I told you I would.’
‘They were never here, Derek. You had us going there for a while. Until we found out that Arthur and Nelly Harper were already dead.’
Derek’s dumbstruck. ‘Dead?’
‘Yeah, dead.’ Grant says. ‘And you should know. You killed them. They were in that white hatchback you hit this afternoon.’
© Pauline Montagna 2013