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A Word If You Please – Chapter 6

Luka was concerned. Not worried, yet, but his concern had reached the level where it prevented him from tackling the quotation for an upcoming construction job. It was late Wednesday afternoon, and he had not heard from Trilby all day. He’d woken in her apartment reasonably late this morning, and found her gone. That was no surprise. Trilby was an early bird.

He’d tried phoning and texting her during the day, but she hadn’t answered. That in itself wasn’t too much of a worry. She’d become engrossed in her writing, and it wasn’t unusual for hours to go by before she noticed a message on her mobile. What did give Luka pause was the memory of their conversation last night. First of all, being attacked by some thug in your office wasn’t pretty. Then Trilby had mentioned those files she’d found. Odd test data about some customers’ loan applications, or perhaps evidence of criminal activity. Last night, she and Luka had decided the latter was too much of a stretch.

Now, Luke as not so sure. Trilby’s instincts were usually dead on.

Luka piled up all his papers for the quotation, tucked them into his bag in case he found time to work on them later in the evening, and picked up the phone. Half an hour later, he was in a hole-in-the-wall pub in the city. Corner of Kent and Erskine. Packed with office workers in rolled up shirtsleeves doing their best to drown the boredom of the past day. It was a good place to meet if you didn’t want to be noticed. With Luka were two friends, Bonnie and Hamish. Good people to have around in a time of crisis.

“We need to find Trilby. I think she may have got herself into a bit of trouble,” said Luka, when the three were huddled together over a small round table with a collection of beers and cider.

“Again?” said Hamish with a wry grin. “Sometimes I think Trilby forgets she’s a technical writer and not superwoman.”

Bonnie grunted. “I’m in. Anything for Trilby. She’s helped me out often enough in the past.”

Hamish Barnes was a plumber and a jack of all trades. He’d had to fight for his education, fight to establish his own business, and fight more than once to keep it. He was resourceful and tenacious. Put him on a trail, and he’d follow it to the end. He’d leave no stone unturned, even if it meant bending the law a little to topple a particular boulder.

Bonnie Plum had been Trilby’s friend since childhood. Luke had acquired her friendship by proxy, and felt privileged to have it. Bonnie owned a big, beautiful Kenworth truck, which she used to move freight by contract, crisscrossing the roads of Australia on short-term and long-term jobs. Her other car was a purple Lotus Elise. Better in the traffic, she said.

“I’m concerned, but not overly worried,” continued Luka. “Trilby’s tough. She looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but…”

“Hah,” interrupted Bonnie, “It wouldn’t melt. It’d sizzle.”

The three clinked their glasses together. Then, putting aside the moment of levity, Luka gave the other two a potted version of what had happened so far.

“Now I’m beginning to wonder if Trilby was right after all. She could have uncovered something fishy. Maybe the intruder saw what was on her screen, and decided to take her out.”

“What kind of fishy?” asked Hamish.

“Fraudulent loan applications. To skim money off the commissions,” suggested Bonnie.

“That’s what I’m thinking,” agreed Luka. “It’s a fairly common scam amongst unscrupulous loan brokers. They fill in a loan application on behalf of a client, and inflate the client’s salary by a huge amount. The client gets a very good loan. The broker walks away with a large commission.”

“If you do that often enough,” mused Hamish, “you could make a lot of money.”

“The clients would have to pay a heap of interest,” Bonnie muttered. “They’d get into financial trouble soon enough.”

“But that’s not the broker’s problem.”

“Right. Luka, where’s this place? Let’s go check it out.” Bonnie already had her car keys in her hand.

Luka drove his ute, following his GPS’s directions out to Sefton in the inner west of the city. Bonnie and Hamish followed in Bonnie’s Lotus.

They started their investigations in the car park behind the Amity Loans office. A sleek grey BMW occupied a corner spot, and there were a couple of other vehicles dotted around the small lot. Trilby’s blue Holden was nowhere to be seen. Luka parked in the emptiest area of the lot, and Bonnie pulled up alongside. Time to discuss tactics. Luka opened his door, and started to climb out of the ute. A glint from the ground caught his eye. The late afternoon sun was reflecting off a small object. He jumped down and picked it up.

“It’s Trilby’s USB stick. See, it’s branded with the name of a technical communication conference she attended a few months ago.”

“Think she dropped it on purpose?” asked Bonnie.

“Could be,” agreed Luka. “So we’d know she was here. She’s not one to drop things by mistake.”

“Her car’s not here,” commented Hamish. “So, if someone grabbed her here, then they took her car too.”

The words dropped into the hot, dead air of a Sydney autumn day.

“We still don’t know anything for sure,” said Luka. “Let’s take a look at the office. Amity Loans. There’s a signboard for the place, pointing through that alleyway towards Waldron Road.”

As the three mates emerged onto Waldron Road, a taxi pulled up a few metres away, outside an entrance signposted Amity Loans. Two men got out of the car. One had his arm in a sling, white tape across his nose, gauze in his nostrils, and a neck brace. Pretty banged up, was Bonnie’s silent assessment. Aside from the medical accessories, he was dressed in a dark business suit that had seen some action recently. Not the type of action you’d see in a boardroom, either. The second man out of the taxi wore denim pants and a faded polo shirt. Both he and his clothing looked as if they took action in their stride. He fussed around the first man, attempting to help him open the door to Amity Loans, only to be waved off impatiently.

“Wait up,” murmured Luka. “My neck hairs are prickling. This could be something related to whatever’s happened to Trilby.”

“More likely Trilby happened to them,” commented Bonnie.

“Let’s say Luka’s right,” said Hamish. “We gotta get strategic here. Luka, mate, how’s about you go back to that car park. In case there’s a back entrance. Bonnie and I will cover the front.”

“Good thought, except I’ll go to the back entrance with Luka,” said Bonnie. She turned and strode off down the alleyway.

The two men watched her go. “She’s right,” conceded Hamish. “The vehicles are all back there. If one of you needs to head off fast, the other can come and let me know what’s happening.” He leaned against the wall of the building next to Amity Loans, pulled out his mobile and started flipping through his messages. “All good. I’ll keep watch here for a while.”

“Thanks, mate.” Luka followed Bonnie back to the car park. She was waiting next to his ute.

“I’ll slum it with you for a bit,” was her explanation. “Less conspicuous than my wheels.”

Luka’s ute was a 2016 Ford Ranger XLT double-cab pickup, sea grey on the outside, custom leather seats on the inside. Deep crimson, faded to comfortable cherry where the sun reached most often. Not exactly slumming it, but less of an eyeful than a purple Lotus, for sure.

They didn’t have long to wait. The less well-dressed of the two men slammed out of the rear door of the Amity Loans building and stomped his way across the park to the sleek grey BMW.

“We’re on!” grunted Bonnie. “You want to tail him? Hamish and I will check things out here. Keep in touch, yeah?” With that, she was gone, back towards the main road where Hamish waited.

The BMW was already on its way out of the car park. Luka started the ute and followed it into the busy afternoon traffic.