Peter Jones tensed when he first noticed the car slowly making its way up the road, but when the camera allowed him a clear view of the vehicle he visibly relaxed. It was Sam. He leaned back in the comfortable chair and tapped his fingers on the armrest. He had hoped that sending Alice and the others to The Reef would have lightened his partner's burden, but Trishia's restlessness had only become worse. It was clear that the police woman was very much on edge.
Ever since Lucy had left, she had not stopped pacing the office and in spite of the fact that she had to be exhausted, her eyes were still sharp and she remained extremely focused. So much that it made Peter nervous. Trishia's eyes were almost glued to the images the hidden cameras flawlessly transported to the four different monitors. Every motion was detected by the tall police woman and a few times she had already scared the wits out of Peter, by jumping up because she thought she saw something out of the ordinary.
"Try to relax, Trish," Peter grunted, shooting her an annoyed look. "You are wearing yourself out. It might be a good idea for you to lie down for a while and try to sleep."
"No," was the curt answer. "I am here to do a job, not to sleep the day away."
"There is not much day left," Peter remarked, having noticed the sun had already started its descend. "I hope those infrared cameras work. We didn't exactly have the opportunity to try them out."
"They'd better work," Trishia mumbled. "Or we could have a problem."
"Yeah, that would not be a pleasant thing," Peter agreed, staring at the screen in front of him with a pensive expression. "Trish, how come you are so sure that Martin will come up here? I mean, for all we know he could be in Darwin already."
"Cause he is not the type to take defeat well. He killed at least three girls, and everything indicates that he tried to track down Alice for a long time already. He won't give up now. That doll he put in your drawer was not just a little insight of his depraved brain, it was also a message. He thinks that, again, he can escape being caught. He probably believes he is infallible."
"What makes you think he would come to Murrook Farm? Wouldn't that just be a wild guess on his part?"
"Now he asks, after installing that expensive equipment!" Trishia joked, slapping Peter on his back.
"Martin Coles is not just a psychopath, Peter. He is a smart one, like all of them usually are. But he is also a policeman, with a lot of experience. He knows Alice is with me. That is a fact. He knows I would do anything to protect that girl. He knows where I live and I believe he realizes I would not bring Alice there. And although I have not been back to the station he also knows that I am working on the murder case, so I could not have shipped off Alice to a place far from here."
"Why Murrook Farm?" Peter persisted when Trishia fell silent and stared at the monitor with unseeing eyes.
"Last years' case, with Michael Jenkins and Steven Hayes, Sam and Jody became well known among our fellow officers. Heck, everybody was involved somehow. They all knew who Sam was and when I got involved with Sam's sister-in-law, well, the grapevine worked overtime, so my guess is everybody at the station knows of my relationship with Sam and the McDonnells. There has been an article about Murrook Farm in the local paper and I know it circulated through the office, I have seen it. Martin is smart enough to figure out that this would be an excellent place for Alice to be."
"Aren't you giving him too much credit?" Peter curiously asked.
"I hope I do, but my instincts tell me I am not," Trishia simply answered and Peter could hear the confidence in her voice. "He will make his way up here, Pete. It's just a matter of time."
"Which he is running out of," Peter yawned.
"And that makes him ever so much more dangerous."
The huge bed was occupied with three quiet teenagers, in various positions of comfort, who were staring intently at the big, flat screen TV that was strategically placed so watching from any position on the bed would be comfortable.
Fiona was lying flat on her stomach, a pillow propped up underneath her arms and her chin resting on her hands. She was dressed in a pair of shorts and t-shirt, while her long, dark hair flowed freely around her shoulders.
Yarra was sitting next to her, supporting her head on her hands and her elbows on her knees. Her dark eyes hardly blinked while she stared at the scene on the big screen.
On the other side of her, Alice was very much in the same position as Fiona and one look at her face showed that she was completely engrossed in the movie they were watching. It was one of the DVD's Fiona had snatched away from Jody's collection, reassuring her friends her sister would not mind. The bowl of popcorn they had all been looking forward to was hardly touched, it stood forgotten on the floor beside the bed.
"Goodness, Fiona. Will you please pick a happier movie next time?" Yarra sniffed, wiping her eyes while the credits of" The Color Purple" scrolled down the screen.
"You have seen this movie at least twice, Yar," Fiona sighed, rubbing her eyes. "You knew what was coming."
"I know," Yarra grunted, letting herself fall backwards on the bed. She stretched her long frame and cast a look at Alice, who was silently staring at the screen.
"Did you like it?" she gently asked her friend.
Alice slowly nodded and pulled her body into a sitting position, so she could look at Yarra.
"It's a beautiful movie," she agreed. "It has some funny bits, but it is pretty sad as well."
"Yeah, life was no picnic back then and it still isn't," Fiona remarked, turning on her side and supporting her head with her hand.
"You sound like my grandmother," Yarra snorted.
"I bet I don't look like her," Fiona quipped with a smirk.
"Not really, no," Yarra dryly replied. "My granny is a lot prettier than you are."
Fiona laughed and grabbed the pillow she had been resting on to throw it at her friend. It landed on Yarra's face and she snickered when she heard the muffled cry of surprise. She had expected Yarra to start a pillow fight, but the older teenager just threw the pillow behind her and stared up at the ceiling, apparently lost in thought.
"What are you thinking about?" Fiona asked, hoisting herself upright.
"Life, death, love…the future," Yarra answered.
"Oh, my, the heavy stuff," Fiona joked, but the expression on her face quickly became serious again and she gently nudged her friend in the ribs.
"What about it?" she softly asked.
"Oh, I was just wondering where I will be, say, ten years from now," Yarra mused. "Where will I live? Will I have made it as a veterinarian? Will I be happy?"
"Whom will you be with," Fiona helpfully added.
"That too," Yarra admitted with a smile directed at her friend.
"Well, I bet you will be a great vet, with a flourishing practice. You will live right here at the coast, in a nice house, much like Jody's and Sam's, with a zillion animals, a loving partner and a bunch of blue eyed, blond haired kids."
Yarra laughed a full belly laugh, making Fiona and Alice smile and her dark eyes danced when she looked at the youngest McDonnell child.
"Blue eyes and blond hair, huh?" she asked. "That might be a little hard."
"Nah, ten years from now we happily manipulate all the genes and we can just order what we want," Fiona grinned.
"I hope not," Yarra mumbled. She turned her head and looked at Alice who had quietly followed the conversation. Her eyes were pensive.
"What about you, Alice?" she asked, startling the blond teenager. "What do you want from the future?"
Alice cast down her eyes and fidgeted with the hem of a t-shirt that was at least two sizes too big for her. Her initial response to Yarra's question was to clam up, but she knew that if she wanted to have friends, she needed to learn to share her feelings.
"I…never gave much thought about the future," she confessed. "These last few years I just lived from day to day and all that mattered to me was trying to survive. But…before that, when mom and Dean were still…here… and I went to school, I always wanted…I wasn't sure what exactly it was I wanted to do, but I thought I wanted to become an architect." Alice shrugged her shoulders and smiled ruefully. "I haven't been to school in a long time, so I guess I can forget about that, huh?"
"No, I don't agree," Yarra gently objected. "When all this is over, I don't see why you shouldn't be able to go back to school, Alice. True, you missed a lot, but you are smart and I am sure you could catch up and follow your dreams."
"Sam and Jody could help you," Fiona added. "They are both pretty smart, but don't tell them I said that."
"You make it sound like I could stay there," Alice whispered, not realizing how wistful she sounded.
"You can," Fiona stated full of confidence. "They asked you to."
"I know, and…it's very nice of them, but they have not been together that long. How can they want me to be there?"
"Because they are Jody and Sam," Yarra simply answered.
"But they are obviously still so much in love. I'd feel like I would be intruding in their privacy," Alice objected, feeling her heart clench at the idea of leaving Murrook Farm.
"They will always be like that, believe me," Fiona snorted. "They are soul mates and meant to be together," she casually added, as if that was as normal as sliced bread. "You will learn to ignore them when they are all lovey-dovey."
"Ooh, Fiona McDonnell," Yarra grunted. "I can't wait for the day I see you fall in love."
"Get in line," Fiona grinned. "Sam will sell tickets."
Yarra chuckled and rolled her dark eyes at her friend.
"It must be wonderful to be in love like that," Alice mused. "And to be loved like that as well. Sam and Jody seem so…complete."
"Trishia and Lucy are as well," Fiona sighed. "We are surrounded by love sick people," she added dramatically, but her eyes were twinkling.
"I wonder what that would be like," Yarra mused.
"To be surrounded by love sick people? It's not my idea of a….."
"No, not that, you goof ball," Yarra interrupted her friend, playfully slapping her arm. "No, to be in love like that, I wonder what that would be like."
"Safe," Alice answered, staring at the blanket and drawing patterns on the soft fabric.
Fiona and Yarra exchanged a look and smiled. Their new friend was slowly feeling more comfortable around them and they welcomed the change in the introvert teenager. She gradually started to open up a little and hopefully they would be able to make Alice truly feel at home.
"I wonder how they knew?" Alice continued.
"Have you ever been in love, Alice?" Yarra asked, eager to learn more about the cute blonde, but afraid to scare her away at the same time.
Alice shook her head avoiding the inquiring looks of her friends, by staring at her clasped hands. She knew her childhood had been so much different than theirs and she felt a pang of loss, when she realized that there were so many things she did not know anything about. Like having a crush on somebody, or falling in love.
"Have you?" Alice hesitantly returned the question, suddenly feeling very insecure.
Fiona cast a teasing look at her dark friend and was about to make a comment, but the pensive expression in those soulful brown eyes made her change her mind. She stretched her legs in front of her and leaned back on her hands, intently watching the interaction between Alice and Yarra.
"I had a few crushes," Yarra honestly admitted after a long silence. "But I don't think those would be classified as being in love."
For a moment Alice pondered over Yarra's answer and she slowly raised her head, casting a shy look at her new friend.
"How do you know the difference?" she asked.
"Good question," Yarra commended, pushing herself back into a sitting position again. "In my opinion a crush is a superficial type of affection. Like when I was twelve and I had a crush on my teacher, because she had the most beautiful blue eyes." Yarra chuckled softly. "That lasted a week, until she sent me out of the classroom because I was talking too much. That efficiently ended my undying love for her. See Alice, I think a crush has something to do with initial attraction. Those feelings can end as fast as they started, or they develop into something deeper."
"Like falling in love?" Fiona asked.
"I think so, yes."
"Have you ever kissed anyone?" Fiona curiously asked and by the serious expression on her face Yarra knew her friend was not trying to make fun of her.
"A couple of times," Yarra admitted with a grin.
"Who?" Fiona smirked.
"Like I will tell you," Yarra snorted. "It was pathetic and one of the biggest disappointments in all my sixteen years back then. I had expected it to be romantic and something that would change my world, but instead it was unemotional, I didn't feel a feel a thing. All I wanted to do was wipe my mouth and run off. And I did," she added with a laugh, showing her even, white teeth.
"No feelings, huh?" Fiona smiled, appreciating Yarra's honesty.
"Nope, no positive ones anyway."
"Jody and Sam kiss without even touching," Alice mused with something close to awe in her voice. "The way they look at each other is so…loving. I have never seen two people radiate so much love. I…it's nice to watch them sometimes. And it's cool they don't seem to be bothered when other people are around."
"And why should they?" Yarra asked. "Their attitude is the right one: if people have a problem with it, they shouldn't watch."
Both Yarra and Fiona saw Alice tense and the blond teenager nervously plucked the bedding they were sitting on. When she started talking her voice was soft and filled with sadness.
"Martin used to make fun of people like Sam and Jody. He…," she swallowed hard and felt a blush creep up her cheeks. "He called them 'sicko's and said they should throw them in the ocean with the sharks, so nobody would have to be bothered with a funeral. When…when mom once told him not to say things like that in front of Dean and me, he just laughed. But his eyes were cold." Alice shivered by the memory. "The next day mom had split lip and a black eye. She told us she had bumped her head against the door, but I knew Martin had hit her."
Alice took a deep breath and raised her head. Her face was pale and she had a faraway look in her eyes.
"He hates gay people. He always said that if Dean or I would end up gay, he would beat the crap out of us and then skin us alive. I had a friend in school whose sister was a lesbian and when he found out he just went…crazy! He told me never to see her again, because he didn't want her to corrupt me." Alice let out a short, humorless laugh and shrugged her shoulders. "He threatened to take me downtown in the middle of the night and leave me with some drunken skinheads, so they could…you know, teach me some lessons. I was only eleven then. My mom didn't know about his threats and I was afraid to tell her, because I knew if she said anything to him, he would beat her up again. But one day he had me cornered in the kitchen, using me as a punching bag because I had told him he was not my father and I didn't have to listen to him."
Alice was not aware of the tears that were rolling down her face, she was completely absorbed by the painful memories that slowly started to dawn in the back of her mind. Yarra had put a comforting hand on her arm and without thinking she grabbed it and held it tight, somehow finding strength in the presence of her friend.
"Mom came home from work early that day and she caught him beating me. She jumped in between him and me and pushed him away. He was so angry I was afraid he would kill her, but he turned around and walked away. That night we left the house and we stayed with some friends. From there we moved to Perth. It was nice living there, far away from him. Until he found us again and killed mom and Dean. He tried to choke me as well," she ended in a whisper. "It scared me to death when I saw him on that tape from the police station. He scares me."
Alice was visibly shaking now and after exchanging a worried look with Fiona, Yarra did the only thing she could think of to comfort her friend. She scooted closer to Alice and wrapped her free arm around a pair of slender shoulders. Even through the fabric of her t-shirt she could feel how cold Alice was and she pulled her a little closer.
Fiona, clearly remembering the state Alice had been in that morning, jumped off the bed to pull a blanket out of a closet and quickly walked back and draped it around Alice's body.
"Thanks, Fi," Yarra smiled at her friend, who had taken a seat on the other side of Alice, gently rubbing the blonde's back.
"We won't let him near you again, Alice," Fiona promised in a soothing tone. "Sam and Trishia will make sure of that."
The combined warmth of the blanket, Fiona's hand on her back and Yarra's close presence gradually helped Alice relax and after taking a few deep breaths she felt her self control slip back into place. But the cocoon of warmth she was enveloped in was too comforting to let go off and with a sigh she slowly raised her head, noticing a pair of concerned brown eyes observing her closely.
"Are you okay?" Yarra asked.
Alice nodded and squeezed the hand that was still holding hers.
"Yes, I feel better now, thanks. I…it's all those memories coming back, I…it's hard. I almost lost it again. Sorry," she apologized.
"No need for that," Yarra gently rebuked her. "We understand. Don't we Fi?"
"Yup, we sure do. Besides, we are your friends, Alice. You don't have to feel embarrassed or apologize." Fiona gently shook Alice and winked at Yarra. "If you do, that means I will have to do that too and that would be a full day's work for me."
Alice smiled through her tears, grateful for Fiona's silly comments. She already knew she could always count on the youngest McDonnell sister to lighten the mood when things became too intense.
"I think the day I met your mom has been one of the luckiest days in my life," Alice confessed, using the back of her hand to wipe away the moist tracks on her cheeks.
"Of course," Fiona answered with audible pride. "She is my mom, she's the best."
"Excuse me, I think that would be mine," Yarra teased, happy to see the spark return in Alice's eyes.
"Sorry, C.J., but Alice has not met your mom yet, so she can't compare. However, I have to admit that your mom is a great lady as well, she has to be, seeing she puts up with you, so I guess we should call it a tie."
"Very generous of you, Fiona," Yarra chuckled. "Thank you."
"You are most welcome. I aim to please," Fiona answered, making Yarra and Alice laugh. "Alright, lovely ladies, what shall we do next? We have a few hours to kill before we can stuff ourselves with the delicious creations the Reef's kitchen is famous for, so…we could watch another movie, or play some games, or just sit and talk or drive Lucy nuts. Or something else. I am open to suggestions."
Yarra cast a look at the sparkling green eyes of her friend and rolled her eyes at her.
"You do behave like tonight's entertainment," she snorted. "I don't care what we will do, as long as I don't have to paint your nails or dye your hair."
"No chance of that," Fiona grinned. "I bite my nails and I like my hair the way it is, thank you very much. What about you, Alice?"
"I could use a haircut," Alice mumbled. "And maybe even a different color."
Yarra saw Fiona's eyes lit up and she let out a groan. She could tell by the expression on her friend's face that she had come up with something to do.
"Did you two girls know that this respected establishment has a beauty salon?"
Yarra looked up at Fiona and frowned.
"We are not supposed to leave this floor, Fi, in case you have forgotten that insignificant piece of information."
"I know," Fiona cheerfully answered. "But it's just a matter of Mohammed and the mountain. Right? I am sure Jody wouldn't have a problem to convince Jane to bring her stuff up here and give Alice a make over."
"I don't need a make over," Alice quickly answered, jerking upright.
"No, but you do need a haircut," Fiona relentlessly replied, walking towards the door. "And I think that's an excellent activity to work up an appetite. I will ask Jody."
Before opening the door she cast a look over her shoulder and noticed that Yarra and Alice were still sitting close together, obviously not aware they were still holding hands. With a huge grin and a little wave she stepped out of the room, leaving an amused Yarra and worried looking Alice behind.
"Well, that was interesting," Trishia sighed, putting down the phone and turning to face Sam and Peter, who were both keeping an eye on the monitors on the desk. She leaned her hip against the desk and rubbed her tired eyes. She felt like she could easily sleep for a week, but she knew she could not give into the rest her body was craving. She needed to be alert. Thankfully the conversation she just had with Carol Wong had her adrenaline pumping again, but Trishia knew that once its effect wears off, she would feel even more drained.
"They took Martin's stuff to the station and Phil had a look at his computer. Phil Kanides is one of our police officers and he has a degree in computer forensics," she explained to Sam. "It appears that our dear ex- coworker, soon to be inmate, was a frequent visitor of a lot of our country's beach cams. Especially the ones with a close look at the beach itself and its visitors. He recorded the images on his VCR, no doubt to be able to carefully study them after he came home from work. I bet that was his sneaky way of trying to find Alice. Carol and Phil came across a tape with images of a girl who closely resembles one of the victims. They studied it closely and guess what? Martin forgot to erase the part where he himself visits that same beach and he can be seen chatting to the girl. It wouldn't surprise me if they would find even more compromising evidence of his involvement."
"Damn, Trish! You don't think he would have been holding on to those tapes like they were trophies?" Peter asked with evident disgust.
"That is what serial killers often do, Pete," Trishia sighed. "Although I have never heard of anything like this before."
Sam shook her head and tried to ignore the feeling of nausea that Trishia's words had evoked. It was hard to imagine that there were people like Martin Coles around.
"It's hard to understand that this bastard worked as a police officer," she said. "It amazes me that he was able to do his job and nobody noticed what a nutcase he is."
"I have been telling myself that a thousand times already, Sam," Trishia somberly answered. "I can't believe he got away with what he did and we didn't know."
"Don't beat yourself up, Trish," Peter remarked. "You said yourself that he is very smart. He knows how things work and obviously he knew exactly how to cover his tracks. He had all of us fooled."
"I guess you are right. But that only makes me want to nail his ass even more," Trishia almost spat, inwardly furious about the fact that a person who was supposed to uphold the law and help people feel safe, would abuse his position in such a horrible way.
"Make sure we catch him alive, Trish," Peter growled. "I want to see him suffer."
"Amen to that," Sam agreed, suddenly jerking upright when, from the corner of her eye she noticed a movement on one of the monitors. "There is someone coming up the road," she announced in a tense voice.
Immediately Trishia and Peter were standing behind her, their eyes glued to the screen in front of them, where they could see a car slowly make its way up the hill.
"Anyone you know, Sam?" Trishia calmly asked.
Sam squinted her eyes and focused on the approaching vehicle. Slowly she shook her head, feeling the adrenaline surge through her body.
"No," she answered. "It's an unfamiliar car."
Three heads simultaneously moved to the next monitor when the car had turned a corner and would be caught by the next camera. The images were remarkably clear, but no matter how hard they tried, the face of its driver was not recognizable, due to the reflection of the clear sky on the windshield.
Trishia grabbed her cell phone and speed dialed a number. She brought the phone to her ear, never once taking her eyes off the monitor.
"Trishia Waters," she made herself known to the person who answered her call. "I need an ID on a car. It's a New South Wales plate, LNT 264… Yes, I'll hold."
Trishia unconsciously fingered the gun that was resting against her hip, while the unwelcome memories of a banana plantation on a hot summer's day forced their way into her conscious mind. She winced when she could almost hear the loud bang of her gun again and remembered how the body of Steven Hayes had lifelessly crashed onto the ground, where his blood had seeped into the earth.
Trishia swallowed hard and tried to focus on the car that was slowly, but surely making its way towards the house. When the person on the other side of the connection suddenly started talking, she quickly jotted down some information on a piece of paper.
"Okay, got it. Thanks Allen."
She broke the connection and clipped the cell phone back on her waistband. With a steady hand she pulled her gun out of its leather confinement and released the safety hatch. When he heard the familiar click Peter looked up and one glance at his partner's grim face told him everything he needed to know. He copied her actions and drew his weapon.
"That car belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, an elderly couple. This morning a police officer confiscated the car with the promise to return it as soon as possible. But he never did. It is reported stolen now and the description of the police officer who took their car fits Martin Coles. They said his hair was blond, but the rest of it fits. He must have dyed it."
Trishia glanced aside and noticed Sam's tense features.
"You might want to call Kurt inside the house, Sam," she warned. "I hope to do this without bloodshed and I wouldn't want to see him hurt."
Without saying a word Sam got to her feet and quickly walked towards the kitchen, where she knew her dog would be lying outside the door, on the veranda. She opened the door and softly whistled, making the German Shepard immediately jump up and walk towards her.
"Come here, boy," she said, hearing the slight tremble in her own voice. "Good boy, come inside, Kurt."
The dog obediently followed her into the kitchen and Sam took him to the living room where she directed him to the most far away corner.
"Stay, Kurt," she commanded, pleased to see the dog obey.
She knelt in front of him and lovingly scratched him behind his ears, feeling a mixture of fear and relief. Alice, Jody and the rest of her family were safely at The Reef. Martin Coles was on his way up to the house, but very soon he would no longer be a threat to anyone ever again.
"Please, God, let no one be hurt," Sam softly whispered, before rising up to her full height again and purposefully striding back to her office, where Trishia and Peter were standing close to the door, still looking at the images on the monitor.
"I called the station," Trishia announced, without taking her eyes off the screen. "There are three units on their way now."
Sam nodded and nervously moistened her dry lips. The sight of the two police officers with their guns drawn reminded her of her close call with death, when Steven Hayes was about to end her life with a bullet. Trishia had saved her life with a single, well aimed shot and she knew the tall police woman, who had become one of her best friends, would not hesitate to do anything she was capable of, to keep Sam safe.
"Be careful, Trish," she softly spoke. "I want to dance at your wedding."
A small smile relaxed Trishia's face and she cast a quick glance at her equally tall friend, who looked at her with a mixture of worry and trust.
"And you shall," she answered with confidence. "There have been some delightful developments in that department and I will tell you all about that later," she promised.
"I will hold you to that, my friend," Sam smiled.
Trishia winked and smiled back before focusing on the monitor again. The car had stopped in front of the house and was not entirely visible on the monitor. But they could see a door being opened and somebody stepping outside. It was a man, wearing glasses and a dark cap that concealed his face.
He walked towards the veranda and they could hear heavy footsteps on the floorboards. For a moment it was dead silent. The tension in the room was so thick, it was almost palpable.
A loud knock on the door suddenly shattered the silence and both Trishia and Peter tightened their grip on their guns.
"Okay, Peter," Trishia whispered. "Showtime."
To be continued in part 17
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