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A Word If You Please – Chapter 8

At first, Luka’s Ford Ranger had kept up easily with Buddy’s BMW. Traffic was heavy as they made their way northwards through the inner western suburbs, and the going was slow. Luka stayed close behind Buddy, keeping just one or two vehicles between them. Grey BMWs were common, and he didn’t want to lose Buddy. Luka’s ute was a little more distinctive, but he wasn’t too concerned that Buddy would notice his tail. The man had been angry and hurried. He didn’t look the type to be aware of his surrounds.

Luka’s phone rang. Bonnie’s name came up on the ute’s dashboard display.

“Yo, Bonnie,” greeted Luka.

“Luka. Got some news. Nothing definitive, but that places makes my skin crawl.” Bonnie wasn’t prone to metaphor. Something must be rotten at Amity Loans, for her to resort to even remotely fanciful language.

After Luka followed Buddy out of the car park, Bonnie had put on her best truckie veneer and walked into the Amity Loans offices to ask about a home loan. She’d taken a couple of minutes to think about the customers who’d be attracted to the flashy mortgage broker. Rough, capable, taking no nonsense, but naive in financial matters. That’d be the target market of Amity Loans. Bonnie was dressed in tight-fitting denims, a cheeky pink half-jacket, and a low-cut T-shirt that made no attempt to hide her full figure. She rustled around in the Lotus’s glove compartment and grabbed her emergency bling: a silver chain sporting two glittering, glass-encrusted dice that dangled enticingly on her bosom, a couple of earrings to match, and a gold skull ring that didn’t match at all. She figured she looked the part just fine.

She walked straight into the mortgage broker’s office, glanced at the receptionist, and moved on. The receptionist was a smooth-looking character, pumped to the max, wearing butt-flattering trousers and tailored shirt. A card on his desk proclaimed, I’M ELLIOTT AND I’M HERE TO HELP. Elliott half rose to intercept Bonnie, but she already had her prey in sight. The guy at the big desk. The one with his arm in a sling and a broken nose. He’d had a bad day. Trilby could well be behind it.

Bonnie relayed her impressions to Luka, who listened as he drove. “James Amity is grumpy. Not having a good day. Says he hasn’t seen or heard from Trilby since yesterday.”

“Trilby emailed him last night, before she went to bed.”

“I mentioned that. Amity says he didn’t get any email from her. But he looked worried when I brought it up. I don’t think he was worried on Trilby’s behalf, either.”

“Did you have a chance to ask about his broken arm?”

“I said I was sorry to see he’d had an accident. But he wasn’t talking. He just wanted me out of there.

“One more thing. They were packing up. Amity had a box of files and papers on his desk. So did the receptionist. Cabinet drawers were open, everything in a mess. I think they’re going to fly the coop. Soon.”

“Thanks, Bonnie. Is Hamish still there with you?”

“Nope. Took a ride back to the city. Said he’d do some research on Amity Loans. If this James Amity has anything to hide, Hamish will find it.”

Luka knew he would. Hamish was resourceful and relentless.

“I’ll hang on here a while,” said Bonnie. “To keep watch. Call me if you hear anything about Trilby, yeah?”

Bonnie disconnected. Luka drove on, keeping the grey BMW in sight. They were well out of the city now, winding northwards through the hills of Sydney’s northern suburbs. It was late afternoon. The light was tricky, with the sun glaring directly into his eyes at one moment, then disappearing suddenly behind a ridge and leaving him in a deceptive gloom. With fewer vehicles on the road, he couldn’t stay as close behind the BMW as he wished. If only he had some idea where they were going. He didn’t even know for sure if they were heading towards Trilby. This was his only lead, in a situation that was looking grimmer by the minute.

The road wound steeply down a hill, trees pressing in from all sides, the curves getting narrower and narrower. Luka was forced to slow right down, unfamiliar as he was with this road. The driver of the BMW had no such qualms. When Luka reached the bottom of the hill and a straight road at last, he knew he had lost his quarry. The BMW was nowhere to be seen. It may have sped on ahead, or it may have turned off somewhere.

Luka made a mental note of his location. His sense of direction was the envy of his mates. Put Luka down at any spot in the world, blindfold him, spin him round and round, and he could still point north or south, still know where everything was in relation to himself. So his friends said. Just to be sure, he also marked his location on the map on his phone. Then he drove for an hour, keeping that location as much at the centre of his wanderings as he could. Looking for the BMW, looking for Trilby, looking for anything unusual. Not finding it.

After an hour, Luka pulled over and stopped. He’d made his way back to the place where he’d realised he’d lost the BMW. No point in going further without direction. He could be moving further away from Trilby.

Next step, phone Hamish.

“Hamish, mate, it’s Luka. What’ve you managed to dig up about Amity Loans?”

“Not much about them on the web.” Hamish spoke softly. Almost a whisper. “Just a small business, flashy marketing, a few complaints on review sites about inflated loan amounts. Nothing significant.

“So, I decided to take my investigations a step further. I’m in James Amity’s apartment right now. Got an address here that could be useful. Geographical coordinates. Must be out in the countryside somewhere, maybe off road. I’ll text it to you.”

Luka’s phone pinged as the text message came through. “Got it. What makes you think it’s relevant?”

“It’s written on a scrappy piece of paper. Signed Buddy. Note says it’s the location of a mate’s hunting shed. Good place to hide something, it says. With a weird kind of smiley, winking face.”

“Buddy being clever. And the address is close to where I am right now.” Luka had keyed the coordinates into his map app and correlated them with his current location. “That’s gotta be it. Thanks Hamish! I’m on my way.”

It was full dark now. Luka started the ute, swung back onto the road, and roared off in the direction indicated on the map. After just a few kilometres, the route directed him off the main road into the entrance of a property. He’d turned in here before. Even in the dark, he recognised the long driveway leading up to a large resort. He’d turned round, not finding the BMW in the car park at the end of the driveway. But now, the route indicated another turn, leading off the driveway onto a dirt track that he hadn’t noticed before.

The track was not too bad. Dusty, but passable even for a standard road vehicle. The four-wheel drive Ford Ranger had no trouble with it at all. The powerful headlights lit up the night. In ten minutes, Luka had reached the end of the seven-kilometre track.

At the end of the track was a shed. The shed door stood open. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling, illuminating the room. There was no-one inside. A lumpy mattress on an old bed frame may have had a recent occupant, or it may not. The bucket next to the bed showed incontrovertible signs of use. No telling how recent. You’d need a forensic specialist for that.

A chain hung from an iron ring on the wall above the bed. An open padlock lay alongside. On the opposite wall of the room, a length of rope hung from another hoop. The ends of the rope were cut clean.

Luka stepped back outside and examined the door. Freshly broken wood showed where a metal plate had recently been fastened to the door. The plate now hung off the door jamb, still attached to the hasp by a locked padlock.

Someone had escaped from this shed. Maybe two people. Probably recently, at least in the last few days, given that the lightbulb was still glowing.

It was getting late, getting cold. Trilby was out there in the dark, with person unknown. Luka had to find her.

END OF CHAPTER 8