Published in Perilous Adventures – link above
I’ve been outta the clink two whole days without being hassled by the wallopers when I hear sirens. I hold my breath; they’re getting louder, closer, and suddenly I’m four years old again lying in this same bed. I’ve just heard my older brother, Nev, crash through the back door. Man he was panting loud.
‘In there!’ ordered Mum, and Nev stumbled into our bedroom, something clutched under his jumper. He threw himself under my bed and I lay there feeling his hard breathing vibrate through the mattress.
Sirens blared from outside. There was clumping footsteps. A hammering at the door.
From where I lay, I could see Mum’s back. She opened the front door a crack, and peered out. ‘Can I help yers?’
A male voice answered. ‘Where is he, Nell?’
‘Dunno what yers talking about, officer.’
‘Come on Nell, don’t play dumb. You know Nev’s been at it again. We’ve got positive CCTV identification of him stealing from LiquorLand. We just want to talk to the lad.’
‘You got a warrant?’ Mum asked. The only useful thing Dad learnt in the clink is that the wallopers can’t come into ya house without a warrant.
The copper sighed. ‘He’s nine, Nell. Once he’s ten we can actually do something to stop the thieving little bastard. Just try and sort him out before we do, okay?’
Mum grunted and shut the door in his face, then stormed into our room, ready to yell. But Dad pushed past her.
‘You get it, boy?’
Nev slid out from under the bed. His breathing was normal now, but his hands shook as he lifted his jumper. He handed Dad two bottles of Jack Daniels.
‘That’s me boy,’ Dad smiled.
I knew that in an hour or so he’d be joking and dancing Mum around the room. Then he’d get narky. Soon after that, he’d be snoring on the couch. He’d be right tomorrow, so long as he didn’t drink it all in one hit. If he did, Nev would have to go get some more.
Back then, I wondered when my turn would come.
Now, the sirens outside reach a high pitched wail. Through my half open door, I watch Mum kick some empty cans under the couch and get ready to do her thing. I ain’t done nothing wrong since getting outta the clink, but my palms begin to sweat anyway. And the detention band around my ankle suddenly weighs a tonne.
‘Evening, Nell,’ says a voice I recognise. It’s Copper O’Reilly. ‘I hear Anthony’s home.’ Mum doesn’t say anything. ‘Come on, Nell, we contacted the courts and they told us he was bailed Friday. There’ve been a series of crimes over the weekend that match his MO. Funny how they don’t happen when he’s locked up.’
‘He’s at his auntie’s,’ says Mum.
‘I’m sure he is, but I think I’ll take a look around all the same. And before you ask, yes, I do have a warrant.’
I stare at the ceiling and kick at my ankle band with my free foot. Nev had one once. He joked about it being jewellery money couldn’t buy. ‘Copper bling,’ he called it.
‘’Ere, watch this,’ he’d say as he twisted a screwdriver and bit of bent wire in the lock making it spring open. ‘Be back before those dumb-arse coppers are even half way through their Macca’s run.’
When we was little, I worried about Nev going on his grog and cigarette runs. At first he only stole them for Dad and then, after me sister Carly was born and Dad left, for himself and his mates. They’d sit around drinking in our lounge room with Mum. Before Dad left Mum didn’t drink much, but after he was gone it was like she picked up where he left off.
My door flies open and Copper O’Reilly walks into my room without knocking. I sit up and glare at him.
‘What have you been up to this weekend, Anthony? Seen Nev and the boys?’
What does he reckon I’m gunna say? I want to stick it up him, tell him to get fucked, but Carly appears at my door, her eyes wide as she clutches her Dorothy Dinosaur to her chest. Mum and Dad fought real bad the day Carly came home from the hospital.
‘You think I don’t know?’ Dad yelled at her. ‘I see what you do, Nell. Flauntin’ your shit for any bastard who wants it.’ Then he pushed her hard and she stumbled, nearly dropped the baby. I ran out from behind the couch and snatched Carly away. I hid in my room and held her tight, rocked her and sang ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’, but I could still hear Dad yelling.
‘I’m not fucking raising some other bloke’s kid, Nell!’
There was a crash, and Mum crying, then the door slammed. My bedroom door opened, and I gripped Carly tighter, but it was only Nev. He looked at us, cowering on the floor, scowled like I’d done something wrong, then turned his back.
I felt like I’d been holding onto her that way ever since.
‘I ain’t seen him,’ I say to Copper O’Reilly.
‘Really? I thought you must have? The Pacific, Frank’s and Mile’s Way Bottle shop all got done over. They’re your regulars, aren’t they? What’s more, Mile’s Way was ram-raided; the whole shop front taken out. That’s about 80k damage, at a guess. Whoever did it will get serious lock up time.’
I don’t reply. I was eight when Nev started taking me on grog runs. Nev, or one of his mates, would drive. They’d argue or pick a fight to distract the workers in the bottle shop while I stashed grog under me baggy jumper.
‘And,’ O’Reilly continues, ‘we found a wrecked ’92 Commodore dumped a block from the Mile’s Way. Guess whose finger prints were on it?’
‘Dunno,’ I mutter, but I’m startin’ to panic. Nev had been in hiding since I got locked up. I’d taken the full rap for our last job, but if he’d done this and got caught, he’d get chucked in the adult lock up.
I look up at Copper O’Reilly. ‘Been here since Friday.’
‘Well, perhaps you can tell me where your brother is, then? Things will go much easier for you if you help us out.’
‘You can’t do nothin’ to me! I been here the whole time and I can prove it.’ I point at my ankle band.
‘You know, Anthony, you’re not such a bad kid. You’ve had it rough. If you hadn’t been around the likes of Nev and your father, you could have really made something of your life.’ Carly coughs from her hiding spot in the corner and he turns to her. ‘Hello, sweetheart,’ he says. Carly runs to me, buries her face between my knees. ‘We keep tabs on you, you know. You’ve done a good job looking after this little one.’ He strokes her head and she shies away.
I lift her into my lap.
‘If you were to get locked up again, what would happen to her?’
She puts her chubby arms around my neck and squeezes me tight. She might be little, but she knows something ain’t right. The whole time I was in the clink I worried about her. When I got out, she slept in my bed the first night, crying and telling me off for leavin’. I promised I wouldn’t go away again; she’s too young to understand anything else.
I glare at Copper O’Reilly and wait for him to finish whatever he’s gettin’ at.
‘I’m guessing welfare would step in, make sure she was looked after properly.’
‘What d’ya want?’ No fuckin’ way I’ll let welfare take her.
O’Reilly dumps a blue folder on my bed. I eyeball him, then the folder. ‘Go on, take a look,’ he says. I flip it open and a stack of photos slide out. Most are black and white and a bit fuzzy, but some I can see are of Nev and the boys doin’ breaks and shit. ‘Take a closer look at this.’ O’Reilly slips one out from the back. It’s slightly out of focus, but shows a bloke in a balaclava, cricket bat aimed at a small window and me standing behind, watching. It was a break we’d done a few weeks before I got locked up. Nev had smashed the back window of a grog shop while I’d kept watch.
I let the photo slip from my hand.
‘Just tell me where Nev is.’
My heart hammers. Carly squirms in my lap and starts to grizzle. I hug her tight. O’Reilly scoops his photos back into the folder and stands up.
‘You’ve got a bit to think about, Anthony,’ he says. ‘I’ll leave you to it and come back for another chat soon.’ He chucks a business card on me bed. ‘I hope by then you’ll have had some luck remembering where your brother is.’ He starts to leave, pauses, turns back and puts his hand on Carly’s head. ‘Goodbye, little one.’
I wake with a start. Carly’s gone and, my bedroom is dark and silent.
I creep into Carly’s room. She isn’t there. Mum’s bed is empty too. My brain can’t take it in; Mum never takes Carly anywhere at night. She only ever goes to the casino or “Uncle Simon’s” place, and Carly always gets left with me. My breath catches in me throat – what if she’s been leaving Carly home by herself the whole time I’ve been in the clink?
I head to the lounge and sit down. Carly’s purple dinosaur is next to me, grinning. It makes me angry, smiling like that, so I smack the stupid thing over and a bit of paper flutters to the floor.
Next time Copper O’Reilly comes round, you deal with him. I’ve taken off with me girl – don’t want her turning out like me boys.
I read it again, screw it up and chuck it across the room. I get hotter ‘n hotter and me throat closes up. Carly will be cryin’ for me.
I think of the day Dad left, of the fight and the slamming door.
‘I’ll go after him, Mum,’ Nev said, as he helped Mum off the lounge room floor into a chair. He didn’t come home that night and neither did Dad. Three days later, Nev turned up.
‘I found him, little bro,’ he said to me. ‘The fucker has moved in with some slut he’s been fuckin’ for months. Blamin’ mum and the baby was just a fuckin’ excuse to leave.’ He shoved a wad of cash into my hand. ‘Here,’ he said. ‘Hide it in case the coppers show up.’
Not long after, they did. In court they showed the footage of Nev doin’ over a pokie machine. He got locked up for three months and came out with the ankle band. After that, Nev was harder.
‘Fuckin’ copper cunts,’ he’d say. ‘We’re trash to them. They gonna lock us up no matter what, so we might as well do what we fuckin’ want. I’m a breaker, that’s me job, and those fuckin’ copper cunts just gonna learn to live with it.’
He hassled me to do breaks with him, called me a fuckin’ sissy girl when I didn’t wanna go. Reckoned it looked bad for him to have a soft cunt for a brother. If I’d stood up to him more, if I hadn’t actually been a soft cunt, maybe I wouldna gotten locked up. Then I remember the black eyes I’d copped when I did tell him no. At least I never let him near Carly.
The house is dead quiet apart from the hum of the flouro light. My head feels like it’s gunna explode. ‘Fuck yers. Fuck yers all!’ I yell, and I hit the wall, leaving a great fibre-filled hole behind. After washing the blood off my knuckles, I try to think. I have to find Carly, and for that, I need some damned help removing this fuckin’ copper bling. There’s only one person I know for sure can do that.
I grab the phone and dial a number I have stored in me head.
‘’Ello,’ a familiar voice answers.
‘Hey Nev,’ I say. ‘I’m back home and the clink’s made me real thirsty. Want some help with tonight’s grog run?’
‘Good to hear it, little bro,’ Nev says, and I can hear the smile in his voice. ‘I’ll be over in twenty.’
I swallow hard, then sit listening to the roar of the fluoro. I bash the damned ankle brace against the floor and just about break my foot. This is fucked up. I reach for the phone, decide to call it off – I’m a goddam fucking snitch. But then I think of Carly, alone in this house while I was in the clink, and my hand hovers mid air, begins to shake. Where the fuck is she now?
Reaching into my pocket, I take out the card Copper O’Reilly left and dial his number.
‘If you want Nev, be here in twenty minutes,’ I tell him, then hang up.