The 30th Instalment in the Series detailing the investigations and exploits of Murder Squad Detective Grade 4 Joseph Lind and his young partner, Detective Grade 2 Shelley Shields.
We all crave freedom in some sense of the word. Freedom from boredom. From the daily grind of Work. From a caustic relationship. From bullets and bombs being rained down on innocent people.
Is it so wrong that many will even chance death to escape such a daily occurrence?
Is it so wrong that there are some who will aid those seeking a better life else-where?
All you wish for is a helping hand to escape....anywhere....with the future offering but this hovel of a place! And you will grasp that chance of freedom in both hands regardless of the danger....the chances of success......wouldn't you?
The Price of Freedom is very high but there will always be those willing to risk death to achieve that goal.
The driver didn't see the figure as it lurched suddenly out onto the roadway in front of him. He tried to swerve and slammed on the brakes at the same time, causing the vehicle to continue on its original route, skidding on the wet bitumen surface. In a straight line, though the back of the vehicle started to slew around.
The figure was lifted up and flung up onto the bonnet, then onto the windscreen then forwards onto the roadway. The car bumping violently over the inert body as it careened further down the wet, slippery macadam.
A front wheel and then a rear wheel bumping over the body!
The vehicle eventually stopped as it smashed into a parked vehicle some twenty-metres from the now limp figure. The driver opened the door nervously and walked back to the mangled remains lying unmoving in the middle of the road. Blood seeping, diluting into the black watery sheen of the suburban street.
"I didn't see the guy..." He stated to no-one. "I'm so sorry. I didn't see you. You came out from behind that truck and I didn't have time to stop."
As though the guy would jump to his feet, smile, tip his forehead with his index finger and reply that 'no worries, she'll be right' before he continued on his way, completely unharmed by the incident!
It didn't matter.
It made no difference.
The prone figure lying on the wet tarmac wouldn't hear the degree of angst and contrition that the driver felt as the guy was dead after the first impact with the car.
The body was a mess of blood, bone and gore.
Like that of a Roo caught in the middle of the road by a large Road-train unable to stop. Instead rumbling over the carcass. At least four wheels bouncing over the Roo as it tumbled along the tarmac, eventually coming to rest in a mangled, bloody heap as the giant behemoth continued on its way. Completely oblivious to the carnage left behind in its wake.
"You okay?" Some-one asked the driver, who was now sitting on the kerb with his head between his legs. Shaking uncontrollably. He had bought up the expensive meal and wine that he had consumed only hours before.
"I didn't see him...he ran out from behind that truck...straight out in front of me...I couldn't stop in time...I tried to swerve away but the car just seemed to skid straight into him...the road's slippery from the rain that we've had..."
Repeating this several times to everyone and no-one in particular.
The sounds of sirens were getting closer.
More people were milling about.
The driver was in shock.
Now drenched to the bone.
Some-one placed a blanket around his shoulders.
A Paramedic led him to an Ambulance, guiding him onto a stretcher within the bright interior.
A Cop poked his head in.
"Have you drunk any alcohol tonight, sir?" He asked, as he thrust a Breathalyser Reader towards the driver.
"Yes...some...only a little bit...a couple, I guess." The driver replied uncertainly. "Not a lot...only a couple over the space of the night. I'm not drunk. He ran out in front of me...from behind that truck...I couldn't stop in time. No way. I couldn't avoid him...it happened so fast. He just ran out in front of me...the car skidded...I tried to turn the wheel but the car just kept on going in a straight line...I couldn't stop..."
Mumbling repetitively as he was laid on a stretcher.
The Paramedic trying vainly to place an oxygen mask over the man's face.
He kept on pushing it aside until the sedative dose started to take hold.
- - - - -
"Looks to be a nice place..." I commented as I gazed at the ample grounds.
Trees seemed to block out the tall brick boundary fence from view on this side of the establishment though it was rather foreboding as you drove along its length as you approached the Rest Home from the direction of Orange.
My late wife and Brendan 'Knackers' Waszackinack had been an undercover team in the early days. She had been killed while being Knackers' 'catcher, ' working as a Barmaid in some far-flung outback Pub while Knackers had successfully infiltrated a Bikie gang suspected of shipping drugs across the breadth of Australia.
My wife was fingered as a cop and shot and buried in a shallow grave.
Perhaps she had become a little lazy as she had not worked undercover since our son, Bill, was born.
The many years that Knackers had worked undercover both here and overseas had eventually caught up with him.
He suffered what we would term a 'melt-down.'
A 'Mental Breakdown', for want of a better description.
The Medical Profession had several other names for it.
Regardless, he was now a patient in this little-known Institution run as a joint Commonwealth/State facility that housed many Public Servants of various professions who had seen far too much during their working life. Soldiers, Paramedics and cops were in the majority. It was a good thing that they were now not housed with the general populace of mental patients in some Mental Institution as they once had been.
PTSD Patients sharing a General Ward with Schizoid patients and others of more devastating symptoms. Not a good environment for eventual recovery.
Most of the patients housed in this establishment were basically PTSD effected with a favourable prognosis of full recovery over time.
I was confident that my friend was within that criteria. A full recovery over a period of time.
Knackers nodded his head cautiously.
"You met many of the other patients, mate?"
"Mmm...yeah. A few. At meal times, especially...nice people just trying to cope...to place their minds back in within that coping mode."
His speech a monotone.
I guess he was on some really heavy drugs, I thought to myself.
There was no way Knackers was going to keep up his side of any conversation.
His thousand yards stare unsettled me.
This was not the mate who I'd known for nigh on twenty years. Who had been my missus's undercover partner and who still blamed himself for her death. Who had walked on the 'dark side' for more years then I could comprehend, both here and overseas on International Terrorist and Drug Distribution Cases. It was all those things and more that had finally proven too much for him.
His mind just gave up.
Wanted a rest.
Complete freedom from the pressures of his working life.
The AFP seemed to be uninterested over the length of time of his covert operations and how that may have affected him, so it seemed to me. If the truth be known, Knackers had refused on several occasions to step down. Or step aside. Like me, he was out to save the World and bugger the consequences to his own health.
A bloody silly attitude.
Supermen we were not!
Though at times both of us felt that we were the only silly buggers on the side of good. Martyrs both of us. I had to smile at that thought. Gave a cut-off chuckle. Knackers oblivious to my merriment.
He was a burnt-out husk.
We sat out in the sun skimming over subjects that bought the same response until a Nurse came for him for his afternoon nap.
He said his good-byes with no emotion, as though our time together had meant little.
I watched him being guided towards the historical three storey colonial red brick building. Stone arches and slim columns and capitals on each of the three floors providing a wide veranda and access-way to the lengths of the U-shaped building. A former Cloister, Seminary and private Catholic College that was steeped in whispers of child molestation and paedophilia.
I watched sadly until Knackers was out of sight.
A child being led to bed.
I returned on the following morning. Sunday, and again like a child, he quietly assented to being led around the grounds. It wouldn't have mattered if it was me or Santa Claus, so it seemed.
I hardly remembered the drive back to Sydney though it was a good four-hour trip.
I feared for Knackers' future when I saw him like this, though the Nurse and the Doctor that I had spoken to about my friend were confident that he would eventually return to his old self. Possibly quite quickly though it was up to him. With the possible help of a medicinal regime he could live a wholesome and rewarding life once again, though any form of pressure or confrontation could push him back over the edge.
Their final comment was that regardless, he would be pensioned out of the AFP on their summation and medical prognosis.
I wasn't too sure whether Knackers would go along with that...then again, perhaps the decision would never be his to make. A freedom that he was never looking forward to or had ever wanted at this point in time. A high price to pay for countless loyal years of service. A freedom none-the-less that he would have to endured without his wife as she was on a five-year contract with some Anti-Terrorist Organisation. In Geneva Switzerland. I guess, under the circumstances, if push came to shove, she could always obtain a severance due to the personal situation. To spend their leisure time together in that 'Gated Community' somewhere north of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
It seemed so wrong to me. The AFP should not have left him out in the cold for so long... but then, his service and clearance rate were second to none, so I was told.
My friend had paid a huge price for his freedom.
I wondered over my fate as that retirement age crept for-ever closer.
Wondering whether my mental and physical prowess would hold steady until well after that date. Then I sank into melancholia realising that at my age, the statute age of retirement was now seventy years...and I had a hell of a way to go before that date arrived!
I let out an audible groan at that realisation.