Dangers of the past
Loneliness is one of those things you seem to get used to, especially when everyone you love is dead and the rest treat you like a leper.
So it’s easy to disregard risks and rules when you only have to think of yourself―when all you live for is bringing their murderers to justice.
Every ride was taking your life into your own hands. Employees in the building knew to take the stairs if they valued theirs, yet Claire pressed the elevator button with a quick jab before reaching into her coat pocket at the chime of her mobile phone.
A small amount of irritation drove heat to her cheeks, suspecting the caller to be her boss with a hot new story to follow up on and as per usual, unable to wait for Claire to get to her office. Patience was never Jerry’s strong suit—with the nose for a story like a blood hound, once Jerry was set on a scent there was no deterring the woman’s persistence.
Glancing at the screen of her newly acquired iPhone, her chest tightened and her knees became unsteady. Any heat she felt in her cheeks moments ago was now lost to a deep set chill.
It was not her boss.
The chime of her ringtone continued as she stood stunned in the foyer while the sickening ding of the elevator echoed across the tiles forewarning its passenger-to-be the doors were open and ready for her to embark. Yet the elevator remained empty as the doors slid closed with a near silent thud.
Claire’s feet remained frozen to the spot causing the blue, overall clad cleaner to hesitate from polishing the stainless-steel plaque which bore the names of the two companies within the building. With her trembling thumb over the screen she debated whether she was going to answer it, although ultimately knew she didn’t have a choice because A- this particular person hadn’t held back how much he disliked her, thus it had to be something serious for him to call. And, B- this individual would hound her to the ends of the earth until he got what he wanted because he always got what he wanted.
Her thumb dragged across the bottom of the screen as prompted and she brought the mobile to her ear. Painting a smile across her face she said in a sickly sweet tone “Talon Baker. And all this time I thought you didn’t like me.”
“And all this time I thought you were selfish and nothing but trouble, oh wait...” It was so very Talon.
Claire’s smile faltered momentarily, although was quick to recover. She’d heard worse from him and many others who believed she was a troublemaker. God, anyone would think she was irrational trying to figure out who killed her family. “Hmm, it’s like we’ve never been apart. So nostalgic.”
“I should know better than to call you. You’re still a—”
Claire sighed heavily before he finished his crude quip, they wouldn’t get anywhere at this rate. “Okay, pookie. What can I do for you?”
“For a start’, I am not your pookie—“ There was a pregnant silence before he continued, “—I need your help.”
Claire was so tempted to say something witty like, ‘pardon me, pookie. You need my help?’ only the desperation in his voice and the fact he was asking for her help, made her reign in her bitchiness. “What do you need?”
“Not on the phone. Meet me so we can talk.”
Now his desperation and apparent paranoia was beginning to scare her. “What’s wrong, Talon?”
“Our cafe in fifteen minutes?”
“You’re in Lakes End?” Oh my God, what’s going on? Only before she could ask him that very question, she heard the distinctive double tone of disconnection. Pulling her mobile from her ear and studying the screen confirmed it with a little message ‘Talon disconnected’ scrawled across the top.
Another Talon trait, he never said goodbye when he was upset and it irritated her. He irritated her causing her to mutter and curse like a cranky sailor before she noticed it was starting to make the poor cleaner more than a little nervous as he anxiously studied her out of the corner of his eye.
“I’m sorry.” Claire attempted a smile trying to reassure him she wasn’t some crazy girl with a foul tongue before spinning around and rushing back out the door. She messaged Jerry she had gotten wind of a story and would contact her as soon as she had something which should hold her back until Claire knew what Talon was up to. Sure it was a little lie. However Jerry owed her more than a couple of favours.
Claire had been working her ass off for the woman since her brother was killed seven months ago. In that short time Claire had made quite an impression and was given more responsibility than the employees who had been there for years despite her age.
In her last year of high school, her father’s life insurance had paid the rest of the mortgage off with a small amount left to allow her brother Jim to continue working as a probationary officer with the NSW Police Force. His salary met their needs to a point while Claire finished her senior year, but when Jim was murdered short of her graduation, Claire had barely passed her HSC, let alone enrolled in University. Jim’s insurance sat in the bank earning interest for Claire to live off, but wouldn’t last if she didn’t go find herself a reputable job that would still allow her either time or freedom to find out who was behind her family’s murders.
Sure, Jerry had taken a risk in hiring her straight out of high school and in the midst of family tragedy and turmoil and let’s not forget a troubling reputation, but she had shown her worth by her adept skills for an investigation, her connections within the Police force and her quick responses. Besides, right now she could care less what Jerry wanted because her curiosity and her thoughts were lit up like a Christmas tree in the centre of the town plaza.
Claire paced down the concrete path shaded by the twin, grey three-storey buildings on either side leading to the main street, giving a small reprieve to Australia’s illustrious December heat. Half way down the store lined street was the café her brother Jim, Talon and herself had shared milkshakes and Cokes in almost daily after school.
Why there of all places? Why is he in Lakes End? And what on freakish earth does he think I can do to help? So many questions were ping-ponging around her mind and none of them she had tangible answers for. After all, she was the last person Talon Baker would want to talk to or see and most definitely ask help from. Whatever it is that’s brought him to such desperation must be significant, if not perilous because last time she checked, hell had not yet frozen over despite his vow of their next reunion.
Trotting up the timber steps of the café she found Talon already sitting in the dim, warm lighting at a little table in the packed café which had seen a recent and much needed remodel from the décor they had eaten in. A lump formed in her throat as she held back the abrupt urge to run the other way.
Talon’s head was bowed in his hands, to Claire he appeared worn and a small crack formed in her resentment for him. The Police force had certainly taken its toll.
She didn’t always harbour bitterness toward Talon. Once upon a time, when she was young and naive and all was right in the world of Claire Moore, Talon was like a permanent fixture in their house, joined at the hip with her brother and she had one major crush on him.
She was certain now he knew it and for the most part he’d ignored the adolescent pang and tried to treat her as his best mates little sister and a friend. However as she got older she noticed the way he looked at her was a little different, she’d catch him looking at her when she glance his way especially when she was able to go out with them.
It was a fun time―fun, until the morning after their high school formal.
Returning home from being out all night―one of the best night of her entire life― with Talon and the gang to find police cars in their driveway was like a slap to the face. She’d been blessed with a perfect life to that point that fate thought it was about time she was dealt with a reality check of pain.
The sun was bright and blazing as was her heart before she noticed the three police cruisers in her driveway. Every amazing moment that happened before that second vanished and quickly replaced with worst sense of loss and fear you could ever imagine. Leaning against the trunk of one of the white police cruisers was her father’s best friend and co-worker, crying like a baby.
That was the morning the world of Claire had changed and it didn’t just change for her, but for everyone around her.
Talon leapt from his chair in the café upon seeing her, the scraping sound of the metal caps across the false timber floor melted with the clanking of cutlery, the cappuccino machine and chatter in the small and busy complex. The sight of his full form caused her to flinch. She didn’t think it would be this hard to see him after all this time, after their last discussion. Yet despite her internal conflict she covered it up nicely with one of her big, sweet smiles she had perfected over the years and took the couple of metres between them, weaving her way through the patrons and tables.
“You know how to intrigue a girl.” A small smile crept across his face. She used to love his smile, except today it held only a glimmer of the Talon she had grown up with.
He pulled the chair out for her, “Oh, how I miss your pixie joy”
She didn’t miss how his voice was thickly laced with mockery and weariness as sat warily, toying with her bracelet and watched as he hastily made his way around the small table and took his seat across from her. It was almost peculiar to see him out of his work uniform now, a black t-shirt, blue jeans and white joggers turned him back into a boy. “So what’s this about, Talon? I haven’t seen you in months.” Seven months and three days to be exact. You left me crying at Jim’s funeral alone.
“I need to see your files.”
“Files?” Claire’s brows rose, she was pretty sure what files he was referring to as she poised her index finger against her bottom lip and looked upward as though she would find the answer floating above. But considering he was one of the many people who told her to stop her meaningless and destructive investigation, she was willing to have him crawl just a little bit.
“This isn’t a game, Bear,” he sighed, slumping his shoulders.
A small tremor ran through her as her nick name fell from his lips with apparent ease. “No. It’s not a game and never was. From the time I started my own inquiry into Dad’s murder I’m pretty sure you thought I was playing then and when Jimmy was killed you thought I was being irrational and a troublemaker. So tell me again Talon if you think I believe this is all a freaking game.”
He reached out to touch her hand, eyeing the fine bracelet with the delicate silver bear hanging from it that she still wore, but Claire pulled away and laid it in her lap and the deep sadness of their private loss seeped back into her soul that months ago she thought she had rid herself of.
Deluding herself? Maybe. Nevertheless the act allowed her to function and the hunger for justice had room to take over. “Don’t go getting all sentimental now. You’re a little late for the consoling train, so just tell me what it is that you want with my files.”
Claire abruptly hushed him shaking her head before he was able to mutter another word and then bowed her head. She peered at his confused expression through her lashes before she explained in a hushed tone. “There’s a guy ordering at the counter at the moment and I’ve seen him before.”
“What’s so odd about that?” he whispered back, hunched over the table closer to her. “I feel ridiculous.”
Another chance at a witty response yet now was still not the time. “No. I mean, I saw him moments ago only he didn’t look like that...” through the shade of her lashes she studied the man by the counter who was only minutes before wearing a full pair of overalls, “he wasn’t wearing designer sunglasses and suit that cost more than a month of my wages. He was a cleaner in my office foyer when you phoned me”
Talons muscles tightened as he slowly sat up straight, no longer concerned by his awkwardness as he whispered “Pull your sunglasses down from the top off your head. He probably can’t hear us standing over near the coffee machine and over the noise of all these people, but there might be others in earshot. I don’t want to risk it.”
Claire knew there were times when she could argue with Talon although by the tone of his hushed voice and his stiff form, she knew there was no room for argument now.
“Move your head to the left a little,” Talon whispered, squinting.
She complied, swiftly understanding what he was doing. He was surveying the man by the counter via the reflection of her sunglasses. “Huh, clever. You did learn something in the academy then.” She tried to keep her head as still as she could so he could get a better look.
“Son of a… I think he’s calling someone and I can’t make out any of his features through the reflection.” He began to twist around in his chair wanting to get a better look at the guy. The chance of being made was one they would have to deal with after. But before he could take the risk Claire stopped him.
“Wait, I have an idea.” She rummaged in her pocket and retrieved her mobile. “Here it is,” she said aloud now, giving reason to her rummaging to anyone who was listening in on their conversation. “I just have to find that number for you. I can’t believe you lost his digits already, pookie.” She watched him wince, it was only a small tick that the normal person may miss, but she knew him too well and saw it plain as day and the smile she was forging became genuine despite the small fear that clenched her gut as she held the phone up to eye level and took a photo of the man at the counter. “Say cheese.”
Claire handed a now smiling Talon her mobile as he shook his head in astonishment before studying the picture displayed.
“No, you’re the clever one and I didn’t learn it in the academy. I learnt it from your Dad,” he said with sadness seeping from every word.
And all of a sudden, for just a moment Claire remembered what it was like between them and her family before the worst morning of her life.
Yet true to her life’s history the moment was short lived as Talon’s whole body became rigid. “I think that’s a great idea. I’ll give you a lift.”
Claire was a little confused and was pretty sure she looked it too because Talon was now frowning at her and gave her a swift nod before taking her arm in his hard grip. Oh! “Thanks,” she said trying to keep the anxiety from her tone as they rose and to further surprise her, Talon put his arm around her drawing her close to him causing her heart to race erratically. Sweetbabyjesus. I don’t want to feel this. I don’t want to feel him and for God’s sake I don’t want to let myself like it. Never. Again. The heat from his tall, firm body was more comforting than she remembered and the dense scent of his cologne mixing with his own scent invaded her senses; a sea breeze cross chocolate cake. A bizarre combination but it worked on Talon, it was his own and she loved it. She missed it— she missed him. It had gotten so bad over the months since Jimmy’s murder and Talon’s desertion that she stopped making chocolate cake for that very reason.
“He’s carrying a gun and last time I checked we aren’t in the U.S where one has a right to bear arms.”
The word gun shook her from her thoughts of cake and back to their situation. “Can’t you arrest him?” She asked astounded that he hadn’t yet or at the very least called in for back-up from their local station.
“I quit the force,” he said flatly.
Claire’s step faltered and she almost lost her footing but Talon had her steady and continued to usher her on through the large crowd walking the side street.
“Why did you quit? When?” Claire couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Talons dream from the moment he was asked about his future had always involved the force. It was a dream her father, brother and he shared and for him not follow it after everything that’s happened to them, was almost too much.
“You can let go of me now, we’d move a lot faster if you did.” And I would feel a whole lot better if you kept your distance. There was something desperate in Talon that scared everything instinctive within her and when those alarm bells went off she knew from experience to pay attention or it would cost more than she could afford to lose.
For more you can buy Hunger for justice here- HUNGER FOR JUSTICE
Coming December 22nd is book #2 HEART FOR JUSTICE
Jan 2013 book #3 Blood For Justice
Happy Reading and writing