Highways to Hell
It's not the nicest neighbourhood of Darwin. Out of sight from the slick tower-blocks on the water-front and the commuter suburbs sprawling along the highways towards Palmerston or Katherine. The white bungalows may have been pretty once, the sparse, wilting lawns clean and lush, if only in the minds of the developers. Now the cracked, dusty street winds its way between rows of crumbling houses, with boarded-up windows and broken bottles on the lawn. Noises come from the houses unexpectedly, a dog barking, children shouting, the radio blaring. Most of them look the same, dark and silent, day and night, so it's impossible to tell if they're lived in or not.
The one David lived in with his mother is at the end of the street, on the corner. It has a bigger garden than most, and in the evening, when the sun set over the houses and patches of scrub-land in the west, David sat in the garden and watched distant neon signs glitter against the stars. That Friday evening was a good evening. He had bought a new knife and a packet of Allen's. Mother's money had come from the state today, so they could afford to spend. Towards the end of the month, waiting got very painful. A bat fluttered over his head, off towards the huge moon hanging over the horizon. He watched it go, wondering if he could learn to fly if he really wanted to. He'd like to fly to the moon, see if they really had chocolate growing on the trees there, like mother said, and if toffee apples really came already covered in toffee. Maybe there were aliens. Like in E.T, and he could find aliens and travel with them, and… he yawned.
"David!" called mother. "David, come in! It's bed-time."
Perhaps she was right, thought David. He always thought he would stay up all night, but he never could. He always got tired, somehow.
He stood up and opened the back door. Bobby came twisting round his legs, purring.
"Do you want to go out, boy?"
Bobby did not want to go out. Bobby was quite happy as a house cat and they both knew it. Attempting to force Bobby out would only get him scratched, for all mother said her mother had always said cats needed plenty of exercise.
David picked Bobby up and rummaged around for his food. There was always plenty of cat food in the house. Mother had been known to shop-lift cat-food. Some of the multi-packs only had a bar-code on the outside of the multi-pack wrapper.
Not that anyone could take her for a shop-lifter, now. The middle-aged grocery shop worker, sitting on the sofa, sewing up a pair of David's jeans.
As soon as Bobby had abandoned David's company and affection for some food and settled down on the rug, David sat down on the sofa.
"I don't know how you get these holes in your jeans, David, I really don't. What do you do to them?"
"Mother! I only wear them, same as everybody else does!"
"Well, you must wear them in a quite different way from anyone else I've ever known."
"Want a coffee?"
"Oh, thank you, love."
David put the kettle on and watched it boil, listening to her chatter about people in the shop, Sarah next door's new blouse, the Warrens' new cat.
"We're almost out of coffee," said David. "And potatoes. And bread."
"I'll go shopping tomorrow." She took her coffee and sipped it slowly. "Now, off you go to bed, love."
David's little room had the best view in the whole house, towards the glowing tower blocks in the harbour. When he had cleaned his teeth, he sat down by the window and looked out. He wouldn't go to sleep tonight. He would stay up and watch the colour of the sky change and the lights turn on and off in Darwin. How big the moon looked! Almost as if he could reach out and touch it. The soft rush of traffic on the highway soothed him, like the sigh of the sea, and he fell asleep. Bobby sat on his lap and shoved his tail in his ear.
The next morning David woke early. He always woke early. The fresh, clear morning sun-light was warm on his hand and a little bird had sat on the window ledge and was singing its little heart out. He stood up, wincing because Bobby had exercised his claws on his shin, and went into the other room.
Mother had put the flaky radio on and a maniacally cheerful breakfast presenter was finishing the first news bulletin and announcing the arrival of some vacuous boy-band as she emptied some oats and milk into two dishes.
David put the kettle on for coffee. He did it every morning, it was his job. He had to help mother a lot, it was just the two of them and Bobby, and Bobby wasn't much help. Didn't do much except eat. He probably wanted feeding now, great greedy lump, twisting round his legs like that.
"You're a cat, you stupid animal," he muttered, taking the food out of the cupboard. "Why can't you catch a mouse or something?" Bobby looked at him with such horror at the thought of this indignity, his hairy white eyebrows nearly vanishing into his ears, that he had to laugh.
"I'll go shopping after work, love," mother was saying. "But you'll have to get some bread for your lunch."
"What'll you have?"
"I'll have to take the last of the boiled spuds we had at last night. The shops won't open before I get to work."
"And this afternoon, do the ironing, but don't burn the house down, OK?"
She kissed him and he winced—so embarrassing! He was too old for kissing! Then she gulped down the last mouthful of her porridge and hurried out of the door.
David bit his lip. He wouldn't ever tell mother this, because he knew she would be embarrassed, but he worried about her when she was at work. He knew from gossip that the people at work bullied her, but she never said anything.
He washed up and got down to cleaning Julie. Julie was a girl whom some distant Hanly ancestor had fallen in love with, long long ago, and since then every rifle in the Hanly family had been called Julie. This rifle had been bought by grandfather, who had died before David was born and left her to mother, before mother had met father. He wouldn't have left her to her otherwise. Mother said he always used to tell her "you take care of her, she'll take care of you". Julie didn't have much chance to prove him right or wrong these days. Occasionally the police dared come to even this neighbourhood, and when they did they were very strict about unlicensed fire-arms. A rifle was difficult to hide. When David went out, he took his little pistol and his blade. He had bought them himself, from Jim, and they didn't have names, because David didn't have an unrequited love. But he still cleaned and oiled Julie every day, because grandfather would have wanted it done—just probably not by him.
Cleaning Julie was therapeutic. He slid the oily rag over the barrels, over the trigger and back again, over and over again, until he could see his face in the gleaming metal.
Then, when he was quite satisfied that not a speck of dust remained inside or outside Julie, he cleaned his own gun and did the ironing. The ironing was another thing he enjoyed. Sliding the hot iron back and forth over the clothes and watching the wrinkles disappear.
Then he was hungry so he left Bobby sunning himself on the comfiest bit of sofa to go to the petrol station for some bread.
The cracked, dusty road was hot through his sandals, the gaze of some of the locals was even hotter on his back and neck. Young mothers with gold bands on their fingers, clutching babies that looked like little bundles of blankets. Young men in gangs, going to work or to find somewhere else to sit. Older people, pinching their lips in disapproval as he passed and drawing away as if they might catch something. Children kicking a ball around who stopped and watched him. David kept his eyes fixed on the pavement and walked quickly. As soon as he passed, the whispering started. It always did, but it never got any easier. The petrol station was only at the other end of the road, a small, shabby-looking building, with the sign outside so battered that it said "P tr l sta n".
Inside the shop, where the customers paid for their petrol and a few groceries and it was cool from the air conditioning, he realised it was only ten in the morning, and a bit early for lunch really, but he was hungry, as all growing boys are most of the time, and he didn't care.
He bought a packet of bread and sat on the wall at the back of the petrol station to eat a couple of slices, throwing a couple of crusts to the stray cats with torn ears who came and rubbed their heads against him.
He had nowhere to go and no friends to go to, so he stayed sitting on the wall. He got hungry again when it really was lunch time, but he knew he mustn't eat another piece of bread, because the packet had to last about a week.
The petrol station attendant hung a notice on the door saying "Out for lunch" and left. He was just watching a mother stray cat play with her three stumpy-tailed kittens by the pumps when a van drew up. And he recognised the van. His heart sank. Edward Simmon's van. He lived on the edge of town, had a couple of fields where he grazed cows. He owned the east side of the neighbourhood. Not literally owned, but he might as well. He knew everything and everybody, and nobody did anything without his permission. But this wasn't his area. David couldn't think what he was doing here. No, he could, he must have been visiting his daughter who was married to a rancher.
He looked at the floor, firmly, constantly, until his eyes watered, but he could still see Edward Simmon's feet emerging from the van, and hear Edward Simmon swear as he read the sign on the door.
Just go away, thought David. Just drive away…
Edward Simmon didn't drive away. David felt heat spreading from the back of his neck and knew that Edward Simmon's eagle eyes had landed on him.
Maybe he hasn't recognised me. But he knew that was a lie. He could feel the constancy of the hot patch on his neck, the burning intensity of the gaze.
He dragged his eyes up from the ground to meet Edward Simmon's. Pride made him do it, but he knew it was a mistake.
"Don't know what you think you're looking at."
"Well, just look somewhere else." Edward Simmon's insults were seldom subtle but they still stung. "And keep your bastard mouth shut when you're talking to respectable folks."
"You're hardly a respectable folk. You're a…" He searched for a really good insult, couldn't find one and settled for "thug!".
Edward Simmon's face turned scarlet. "I'm not a thug. I'm a respectable hard-working man trying to provide for his family. And you're a whoreson bringing this neighbourhood into disrepute."
Oh, Lord. Bringing this neighbourhood into disrepute. That was where all the trouble had started. There were some things one simply didn't do here. One was neglect to the go to the correct church (the correct church was the Anglican one, examples of incorrect churches included the RC church, the Nonconformist church and the Baptist church). One was to be seen speaking to the aborigines, the East Asians or the Southern Europeans.
One was to run away from home with a biker who was knifed in a bar brawl before he could put the ring on your finger but not before leaving you with a permanent souvenir of the relationship. You really, really didn't do that one.
David slid down off the wall. "Why don't you shut up?" As comebacks went, it wasn't the best, but it did the job.
"I'll shut up when you learn your place, whoreson."
He couldn't answer that one. He was choked up, he tried to force some answer out but his mouth was too dry and he could only choke. It wasn't fair. He couldn't help who his father was. It wasn't fair…
Edward Simmon nodded. David could see the satisfaction in his eyes. He was teaching the impertinent little whoreson his lesson. Seeing that satisfaction made David's blood boil. He had always thought that was a metaphor, but now he wasn't so sure. He could feel his face getting hotter and hotter, a hot lump was rising in his throat, the way it did when he was about to cry. But he wasn't going to cry. He wasn't sure what he was going to do, but his eyes were quite dry, and his jaw was firmer and steadier every minute.
Edward Simmon had decided on his closing remarks.
"You're a bastard, kid. Because your father was an idiot, and your mother was a whore."
The word rang in David's ears. Your mother was a whore… your mother was a whore… whore… whore… whore… He realised that he wasn't afraid of Edward Simmon. The whole neighbourhood was afraid of Edward Simmon. If he didn't bottle you in an alley he'd stand up and real off your sins in church. But David wasn't. All he could think of was mother. Mother playing football with him because no one in the neighbourhood wanted to. Mother pleading with him not to steal or get into fights, because it was wrong. Mother scrimping and saving and sitting over the accounts until her head hurt, to get him something for Christmas. Mother thrown out of job after job—because of him. She was bullied, victimised, driven to break-down when he was five, all because of him. And she had never complained. She had always looked after him. This man knew nothing about his mother, nothing about how proudly and lovingly she still talked about his father, and her whole face lit up and looked younger and prettier.
"She's a filthy whore and we don't want either of you."
The words hit him like broken bottles. The red mist rose before his eyes, but through it he saw clearly, coldly. He wanted Edward Simmon dead. He needed his blood. Desperately, with all that was in him. He wanted him dead… cold… bleeding. His mother had always looked after him. Now it was his turn to look after her.
The knife was in his hand. Thin, sharp, gleaming. Hand-held death. He lunged.
Edward Simmon's eyes widened with shock, horror, and for a moment David smiled. Then Edward Simmon grabbed his arm and wrenched it, throwing him back against the wall so hard he felt his knuckles crack and the knife went spinning into a puddle of oil.
"You touch me, Devil's brat, and I'll end you."
Then the gun was in David's hand. Kill him. End him. End this. Sweet, sweet revenge. He pulled the trigger. It was so easy. A little click, the first bullet crashed into his chest, and that was the end of Edward Simmon. The second went into his head.
The sound of the shot echoed around the empty petrol station and set all the dogs in the neighbourhood barking.
Automatically, David re-loaded the gun, locked it and put it in his belt. Then he stared down at the man he killed. He was definitely dead, with a permanently surprised expression. In the bleeding lump lying on the floor, nothing remained of Edward Simmon.
There was another hot rush in David's throat, but this one was good.
He would go home now, before anyone saw him with the dead body. He didn't want to get caught.
Then he froze. Above him, winking above the door-way into the petrol station, was a security camera.
They had seen him! They had seen everything! Sweat broke out on his hands and face. His stomach heaved as ghastly images flickered through his mind. The police… the iron bars of prison… caught, captured, locked up like an animal. Maybe they were coming for him now.
He had to go! He had to escape before the police arrived.
He stuffed the packet of bread into his belt and ran. Down the street. Turn left, out towards the highway. He couldn't go home. It would be the first place where they looked. The bread kept falling out of his belt.
Where would he go? Where the Hell could he go? How would he live? How would he eat? How long would he have to stay away for before he could go home?
He slowed down because his chest was aching from walking and felt in his pocket. A dollar and ten cents. Not much. He would have to get money somehow. He had no idea how but he would find a way. He had to. If he went home, he was doomed. He had to go… elsewhere.
He started running again, gasping for breath. He staggered across the bridge over the highway, the bread slipped out of his belt and over the rail into the multi-lane traffic below. A lorry ran over it. He shrugged. No good crying over spilt milk.
He reached the grass verge at the edge of the highway and stood looking at the thousands of cars rushing out of Darwin, to anywhere other than here.
He stuck his thumb out. He had no idea what correct hitch-hiking etiquette was, but he was sure that standing on the verge by the edge of the highway out of Darwin until someone came to find him was the wrong thing to do.
A red car pulled over and the window rolled down. A middle-aged, cheerful-looking man, about as unlike a cop as anyone David could imagine, stuck his head out. David gasped with relief.
"You OK, kid?"
"I want a lift." He remembered to add "please".
The man frowned. "Are you sure you're old enough to be hitching lifts by yourself, kid?"
The man shrugged. Other people's children were not his responsibility. "Where you going?"
"Erm…" He could hardly say "I don't know". He played "as far away as possible" over in his head to see how it sounded, and it didn't sound good. His map of Australia wasn't too good, but he had an idea that Darwin was at the top.
Then an idea struck him with such genius that he expected a light-bulb to materialise over his head. "I'm a bit lost," he said, trying to sound casual. "Do you have a map?"
The man looked more confused than ever, but he rummaged around in the compartments on the dash-board and pulled out a map of Australia and one of the Northern Territory.
David took a deep, calming breath and began to read. Darwin was, indeed, near the top, and down at the bottom were Adelaide and Melbourne. He guessed Melbourne was about as far away as he could get.
"Melbourne," he said, with all the confidence he could muster. "Sorry, never been down south before." Well, that was true. He had never been outside Darwin before.
"I'm going to Rockhampton. Daughter's wedding. I can take you as far as the junction near Tennant Creek."
"Hop in." The man opened the door. "Stephen Grant, by the way." He held out his hand. He was obviously expecting an introduction.
"I'm…" The name which popped into his head was "Julie". "Jul…ian." Steven seemed happy with that. He nodded and gestured David in.
His head was spinning. He noticed everything. The warm, comfortable seat. The blue and red buttons on the dash-board, the little green numbers on the petrol gauge, the large orange button for adjusting the air conditioning. But none of it meant anything at all. All he could think about was Edward Simmon's corpse. His nerves screamed, escape… escape… He fumbled with the seat-belt, his fingers slipping. He had never ridden in a car before.
Then Steven pulled away from the verge and David's stomach lightened as they accelerated, leaving the corpse, the police, and the fear of capture further behind them with every street-light they passed. The rocking of the car, and the faint, soothing buzz of wheels on tarmacadam steadied his nerve. He began to breathe easier, he felt the pain in his chest and legs from running, and his heart slowed.
He gazed out of the window, watching the country-side whizz by. A dusty orange plain stretched from the side of the road to the distant orange hills which blurred into the shimmering blue haze. Here and there were scrub bushes, but mostly just rocks and dust. A big, bare, empty landscape. It would be easy to hide here.
His stomach settled and he began to think logically. What was the first thing the police would do? What on Earth was standard procedure when a ten-year-old kills someone? Probably the first thing they would do was go to his home, talk to his mother. Well, she couldn't complain about him. He had always been a good son. And when he wasn't at home, they'd hunt for him, wouldn't they? Because if you kill someone, you're dangerous. He shuddered. He didn't feel dangerous. He felt very small and there was a dull ache in his chest. And when they found him…. prison? Reformatory? Perhaps they would put him in a "suitable home". That happened sometimes with kids who got into trouble with the law. Because they wouldn't think his mother was "suitable". The thought of what they'd say about his mother made his throat sting. They'd insult her, this single mother from a "problem" area. That was what they called it, a "problem" area. But it was Edward Simmon that was the problem, he thought. People shouldn't be mean to his mother about it.
He swallowed his impulse to cry, before Steven could notice it. Steven mustn't get suspicious, or he'd call the cops, and David would be screwed.
No one must suspect he was a murderer. Ouch! He realised what he'd just thought. I'm a murderer… I'm a murderer… His heart was running away with itself again. He gulped and steadied it. Where should a murderer go? He knew there were charities who took in homeless children and gave them somewhere to stay, and eventually they went into care or something. But soon, in a few hours, now perhaps, his name and details and photograph would be broadcast to the whole nation. He couldn't live on charity—too many questions, too much paperwork. He would have to hitch lifts for the rest of his life, hope they would feed him. Maybe he could run away to sea in Melbourne. But he had a feeling the cargo ships in Melbourne might be more reluctant to take children than the ships in the movies, and the ones that did might not be ships he wanted to go on.
"You on holiday?" said Steven.
"Yes, sir," said David.
"Nice place, Melbourne."
David said nothing. He couldn't think of anything to say. Steven chattered on about the Botanic Gardens and the National Gallery, and David nodded along. After a minute or two, he got quite drawn into it. He could almost believe himself that he was going on a nice holiday in the south. Perhaps, he thought, he was going on a nice holiday in the south. Maybe… maybe he's dreamt…? No. The image of Edward Simmon's bleeding corpse punched him in the gut. That was no dream.
Steven got onto his daughter in Rockhampton, and the husband-to-be—"not as bad as some"—and the dress, "a great white fluffy thing like a meringue".
At around half past three, they pulled into a road-side petrol station. David felt the side of his face grow hot as they stayed at the pump. The other cars were shuffling slowly past, and could have sworn that big silver one was looking at him… Or was it that red one? Or the purple farm truck? He couldn't look round, it was the last thing one should do when people were looking at one, he had watched enough TV to know that.
He was relieved when they pulled out of the petrol station and were once again burning up the tarmac between them and Darwin.
"Mind the radio on?" Steven fiddled with the tuner.
"No, course not."
Country music came on and Steven found a packet of wine gums in the glove compared and shared them. David, weak with hunger, could have cried with relief. He knew his mother didn't like him to take food from strangers, but his mother had never expected him to become a fugitive from justice. Anyway, it was a sealed packet. He tried not to eat wine gums too fast, it was rude, and would make Steven wonder how long it had been since he had lunch.
The more wine gums he ate, the more he felt almost happy. The music was the sort of thing his mother liked to listen to, it was soothing, even the one about a sheep-farmer who accidently knifes a country maiden. He thought less about trying to breathe and more about the beauty of the scenery, the wide blue sky. A family of kangaroos was rummaging through the grass verge in the twilight, their noses twitching. A little roo nearly tumbled into a patch of scrub when his mother bent down, and sneezed. David giggled.
The road signs were the most cheering thing. Every one they passed it was further and further back to Darwin.
At seven 'o' clock, in the growing darkness, they pulled in at a service station.
"We're gonna stop here for a couple of hours. I need food."
The service station was quite busy still, with a few parents soothing cranky children and exhausted long-distance truck drivers huddled over cups of coffee.
Steven bought a coffee and sat down by the window. "You all right, kid? You got something to eat?"
"I'm… I'm not hungry." It was a lie. His stomach ached with hunger, but he wanted to save his dollar and ten cents. Steven frowned. "Are you sure? I'd hate for you to go hungry."
"I'm not going hungry."
"You will eat between here and Melbourne, won't you."
"Oh, yes," said David, hoping it was true.
"And you've got relatives waiting for you in Melbourne, haven't you?"
"Have you got anything to drink?"
"I'm… not thirsty." That was a lie, too, he had a raging thirst from travelling all day in the sun.
"I'll get you a drink. Coke OK?" Steven didn't wait for an answer, he got up and fed coins into a vending machine.
David felt torn. He didn't want to sponge, but his dollar and ten cents was all he had. But hadn't his mother told him never to borrow? Somehow accepting something Steven had bought felt worse than just sharing some wine gums.
"It's fine," said Steven, as if he had been reading his mind. "To be quite honest, I think your folks must be a bit crazy to send you off like this, but don't worry about it."
"Thanks," said David. He downed the coke in three gulps.
They sat and stared into space for a bit, the way everyone else in the service station was doing, then went on.
David was exhausted, but not sleepy. His brain was wide awake. Unless, of course, he had fallen asleep and was just dreaming of this road trip. He squeezed the seat, no, definitely real. The street-lights and car head-lights whizzed past in the dark, a reflective road sign shone in the distance.
He realised it was past his bed-time now. His mother was back from work, hadn't found him at home… He pictured her face, stunned, then worried, frowning in that way he hated and made him want to pat her on the back and tell her everything was OK, wishing he were grown up and could look after her properly. What would she do then, he thought? What would come after worried? He didn't know. Maybe she'd ring the police, thinking she was helping him instead of dooming him. Maybe she'd send out a search party.
He wished he could have at least said good-bye. Said that he would be OK. That he didn't want to leave, he hadn't abandoned her. Abandoned her. That thought made his chest ache, and he suddenly felt very cold. Steven heard him gasp. "You OK?"
"Yes thanks, I just… nearly sneezed."
What if his mother thought he had left because she wasn't good enough? That was the opposite of the truth. His mother was the best mother he could have hoped for. He had only meant to protect her.
Then he gasped so loudly he actually pretended to sneeze, because anything else looked too suspicious. There was a news slot between songs on the country music channel.
"Police are searching for the suspected murderer of Edward Simmon, of Darwin. David Hanly, son of Alice Hanly, who changed her name, according to neighbours—" his heart sank like a stone. They had already started talking to the neighbours, Lord help him—"to disguise the illegitimacy of her child, was caught on CCTV this afternoon. His current location is unknown. He is believed to be carrying an illegal fire-arm. Anyone with information should call—".
The words merged into a ringing in David's ears. He leaned back against the cool seat and tried to breathe. In… out… in… out… He was going to be sick. He mustn't, mustn't be sick. His hands were sweating. In… out… He fought back the darkness choking in his throat. He couldn't see. In his mind the police sirens screamed, a hail of bullets, blood…
"You all right?"
He choked, inhaled and exhaled. "Yes," he whispered.
"Tragic, isn't it?" Steven nodded at the radio.
Fortunately, the radio was now yakking about the perpetually disintegrating economy, and didn't return to crime, but it was a long time before David's heart slowed and he stopped sweating.
When they pulled in at a service station on a round-about north of Tennant Creek, David realised it was after mid-night.
"Bye. Have fun in Melbourne."
"Bye. Thanks for the lift."
"Congratulations on your daughter's wedding."
"Thanks. Take care of yourself." And he was gone, leaving David shivering in the cold night outside the service station.
Inside it was lighter and warmer, but eerily empty. Only the very long-distance lorry drivers were still up and about, drinking coffee and talking quietly.
David used the toilet, wished he had a toothbrush and curled up in a kind of lounge, with comfy chairs. He wanted Bobby to cuddle. Instead he wrapped his arms around himself, tried not to think about mother and wished that he could wake up to-morrow in his own bed.
He woke up early the next morning, as the grey dawn light pushed through the grimy windows of the service station. He struggled free of a dream of killing Steven Grant. The gun heavy in his hand, the click of the trigger—such a little noise—then the gush of blood and the echoing bang. And the lingering satisfaction, pride and peace that not even a national man-hunt could wholly destroy.
He remembered the national man-hunt and jolted upright.
No cops. No guns pointing at his head.
Only a few long-distance lorry-drivers, different ones this time. David looked at his watch. Five in the morning. Too early for most travellers. They would be at home or in their motel rooms.
He was hungry. He pulled his dollar and ten cents out of his pocket and contemplated them. He knew he should save his money. But he needed to eat. He wouldn't make it to lunch-time. He hesitated, then snapped.
He bought a fifty-cent tooth-brush, a sausage roll and a bottle of pop. He ate, cleaned his teeth and set off across the grass to the exit onto the highway, looking for a ride.
A lorry pulled up.
"Are you OK?"
"Yes, sir." There was no good denying it. The driver could see for himself that he was alone.
"Sorry and all that, but I don't want to be arrested for child abduction."
And the lorry pulled away.
The next lorry-driver said much the same thing, but the one after that told him to hop in.
He hopped in. The cab was high above the road, spacious with squishy seats. The lorry driver was less sociable than Steven had been. He didn't introduce himself or ask where David was going, but that was fine by him. The more questions he had to answer, the more likely he was to give something away.
The lorry driver let him out around lunch-time, but with only nine cents left in his pocket, David couldn't afford lunch, even though he was hungry. He didn't stay in the service station, he got another ride, further south, with another lorry driver. This driver introduced himself as Paul. There was rock music on the radio, and, though Paul didn't seem inclined to chat, he fed him chocolate. David was too tired and hungry to make a fuss about taking food from strangers. Chocolate was his lunch.
David looked out the window and tried to think about the scenery. He didn't want to think about the future. About where he would be tonight, about where he would go next, about how he would find some tea tonight. And thinking about home only made his stomach ache for his mother.
There was another news announcement about David killing Edward Simmon. David managed to control himself though this one. It didn't come as quite such a shock to hear the news-reader describe the details of the murder, explain that he was "armed and dangerous", plead for the public not to attempt to apprehend him but to call the police at once. But he smouldered with rage when the news-reader explained that "David is the child of a single mother in one of Darwin's problem areas". Why was everyone blaming his mother? He had committed the crime, surely it was his fault?
Paul didn't notice him shaking with surpressed anger. "Dangerous," he was saying. "How dangerous can a ten-year-old be?" David didn't answer. All he could think of was killing Edward Simmon. So quickly. So easily. You have no idea.
When Paul let him out at a service station, David was hungry again. He had nine cents. Nothing, not even in a budget service station, cost nine cents.
Clearly, he was just going to have to go without food that night.
He found a chair in the cold and empty lounge area and settled down. Tinny, decades-old pop music played from behind the counter at the empty coffee bar, so he hadn't noticed the silent TV until he was sitting down with it on the far wall. The subtitled news was running.
"The hunt for suspected murderer David Hanly continues. David has no family apart from his mother and is assumed to be living rough. The police encourage anyone with any information which might lead to the capture of Hanly to come forward. The motives for the murder are unclear. Hanly's mother Alice says that Hanly never showed problematic behaviour before."
Then David sobbed out loud, before he could turn it into a sneeze, because there on the screen was his mother.
She looked tired and ill, her eyes were red-rimmed and glistening from when she had been crying. It hurt to realise that. David had never seen mother cry, never imagined her crying. She started to speak, a moment later her words appeared in big yellow letters at the bottom of the screen.
"He was a good kid. I know it's hard for you people to believe, you just know him as a killer, but he was a good kid. Helpful, he used to look after me. And…" She began to cry. David swallowed his tears. He mustn't cry, he mustn't, no one could suspect he had anything to do with Alice Hanly. "And he's the only family I've got." For a long time she sobbed, then she looked up, twisting her hands together in her lap, that frightened, helpless look she sometimes had when she saw bills arrive—but only when she didn't know David was in the room.
"I want to see him again. I want to see my son, alive and well. But… I know I can't… Because if I do, it'll be in gaol." She peered out of the screen, as if she could somehow see him if she looked hard enough. "David, I'm sorry."
You don't have to be sorry, mum. He tried to tell her, in his mind, that she had done nothing wrong.
"I'm sorry if I was a bad parent. The opportunities you couldn't have. Whatever it was… whatever I did, or didn't do. I'm sorry. Just… I won't say come home because prison's no place to spend your childhood… just… I love you. And I tried."
David couldn't control himself any more. He buried his face in the arm of the chair and sobbed. He tried to stifle it, but the only other people in the service station were right next to the pop music speakers.
I'm sorry, mum. He closed his eyes, as if somehow he could talk to her with his mind, even though he knew that was ridiculous. I'm sorry I had to go. I'm sorry I made you cry. I didn't mean to. I tried to do the right thing. I tried… And it wasn't your fault. Really, really, not your fault.
His mother's face had gone, now the TV was showing horse racing. He watched the horses running round and round, and, like sheep jumping over a gate, it lulled him to sleep. But the dull ache in his chest of knowing he had made mother cry remained for the rest of his life.
He woke up early, hungry, thirsty, surprised at the woman standing over him peering down at his face.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, thanks." He smiled, trying to be polite and friendly.
"You've been asleep in that chair for half an hour."
He smiled uncertainly and stood up, not sure how best to answer that question.
"I just thought it was a long time for your family to leave you alone."
You busybodying hag. Then he decided he was being unfair. She meant well, she didn't know he was a fugitive from justice.
"They're shopping." He smiled what he hoped was an innocent little boy smile. "I hate shopping." He looked at his watch and saw a way of escape. "I have to meet them at the car now."
He hurried away, heart thumping. He didn't dare look back. Was she calling the police now? He almost turned towards the exit, but he was so thirsty, he had travelled all yesterday and had nothing to drink since the bottle of pop. The tap water in the toilet was marked "suitable for drinking", so he had a good, long drink and, when he felt human again, used the toilet and washed as best he good.
He went out to the grass verge and began thumbing for a lift, cursing the drivers who ignored him, but sick with dread when a car window finally rolled down, in case it was someone who had seen his picture in the paper and wanted to hand him in to the cops.
It wasn't. It was a long-distance lorry driver, going south. He smiled at David. "Hop in."
David hopped in. He liked the high truck cabs, being able to look down onto the roofs of the cars, and if it hadn't been for the circumstances, he might have enjoyed this trip. The driver, who quickly introduced himself as Harold, was chatty. He asked David's name, and where he was from and where he was going. David said he was going to stay with relatives, for a holiday. His name was Julian and he… Desperate not to admit that he lived in Darwin, he said that he lived on a ranch. He regretted it as soon as he had said it. He knew nothing about ranching, what would he do if this driver were to ask him questions? But the driver seemed satisfied. He talked about football and cricket, about his passion for photographing quokkas and showed David some photos of his pet kookaburra. The kookaburra was a handsome fellow, perching cockily on the back of the sofa with his head on one side. "He's cool."
"He is, and he knows his name. You say "Jimmy, Jimmy," to him and he'll come. Mind you," he frowned. "You say pretty much anything to him and he'll come."
David smiled. A friendly kookaburra. A man who loved his kookaburra. It was so nice, so ordinary, it felt like a weird dream. There are still people out here whose main concern in life is nothing to do with murder, or the police, or being hungry and tired.
"He's dead clever," said Harold. "He can open tin cans and use the telly remote."
David laughed at the idea of a kookaburra holding a remote control in between his wings, sitting on the sofa with his little legs sticking out in front, like a human.
"Look!" Harold gave him a picture of Jimmy sitting on the arm of the sofa, poking the remote with his foot, with such a human frown on his little face that David laughed again.
"Your kookaburra's cool. I wish I could meet him."
"I'm sure he'd like to meet you. He always likes meeting new people. Everyone he meets is a new best friend. I'll send him your regards. Got any pets of your own?"
Thinking about Bobby hurt. Was Bobby sad, was he lonely, did he miss him? He had hurt about cats pining, wasting away on the sofa waiting for their human to return. A lump came in David's throat. He couldn't tell Harold about Bobby. He'd cry. He wanted to tell him, wanted desperately to tell someone who might understand, and he felt that as Harold so clearly loved Jimmy, he'd understand. I have a little cat. But I left him without saying goodbye, and I don't know if he's well, or if he'll ever forgive me. But then he'd have to tell Harold about the murder, and he couldn't do that. Now, he controlled himself. He swallowed the lump in his throat.
"No," he said, in what, to his surprise, he forced to sound like his normal voice. "I don't have any pets. I'd like a… fish." He would quite like a fish as well, he liked fish.
It had been a good thing to say. Harold chatted merrily about fish for about half an hour, by which time they were nearly in Alice Springs.
"I'm going to stop for lunch in Alice Springs. You want to stop for lunch?"
"Well…" David would very much like to stop for lunch and look round Alice Springs, which he had never seen, but he had no money to buy lunch, and couldn't admit this to Harold. The most difficult and dangerous thing to explain to these kindly strangers was why he was going on a long road trip with no money. "I'll… I'll keep going."
"You sure? I like having the company, I ain't trying to get rid of you."
"If you're sure." He sounded suspicious.
David held his breath, did his best to meet Harold's eye with the most blandly innocent expression possible and wondered how easy it is to jump out of a lorry on a motorway.
But Harold was frowning at him. "Have I seen you before?"
"No, sir," said David, trying to sound firm, but not too vehement, or it would look as if he had something to hide.
Harold shrugged. The truck went on eating up the miles towards Alice Springs. "You gonna take over the ranch yourself?" he said conversationally. He clearly wasn't the suspicious type. David's real life's ambition had been a stunt pilot. He had seen a documentary about them, once. That was another thing he now realised would probably never be. He'd never get to be an astronaut either, or a famous actor, or a marine biologist and uncover lost civilisations under the sea… He didn't feel he could talk about his real life ambition innocently and tearlessly either, so, even though he knew nothing about ranching, he bravely chose to take over the ranch.
"Nice creatures, cows."
"They are," said David, honestly.
Harold was quite happy to listen to David talking about his imaginary cows, while David tried desperately not to say anything that might give him away as a completely bogus rancher.
Fortunately, they soon reached the service station on the edge of the motorway outside Alice.
"Bye Julian, have a nice holiday."
"Bye, sir. Thanks for the lift."
David used the toilet, but the tap water was labelled "NOT SUITABLE FOR DRINKING" and the cheapest packet of sweets in the shop was ten cents. Damn! Just one cent more and he could have had a packet of sugar candy. As it was, he had nothing to do but go out and wait for a lift.
It was now afternoon, the sun was at its height. It beat down in hot, dry waves.
Nobody gave him lifts. He stood at the side of the highway, his thumb getting heavier and heavier. He was facing away from the sun, but the heat haze glowed so bright it hurt his eyes. His arm ached. He could have sworn he had only been standing there for a few minutes, but it felt like hours and hours. He was so tired, so tired. His thumb ached, his arm ached. He was too… too hot… The roar of traffic felt very distant, coming to his ears muffled and fuzzy. His head felt fuzzy. He tried to look up, but he couldn't raise his head. It was awfully dark for mid-afternoon. He felt sick…
He was lying on the ground, blinking in the sudden, glaring light. A young woman was kneeling over him. "Kid? Are you all right, kid?" She helped him up.
"What were you shaking me for?" His tongue felt thick, heavy. He knew he needed to eat, desperately.
"You fainted. Just keeled over. Are you all right?"
No. "Yes. Thank you very much."
"No problem. Is there anything I can do?" She looked around. "Are your parents here?"
"I'm hitching lifts."
"Are you ill?"
"Should I get a doctor?"
A doctor! That meant questions, maybe police…! "No!" he said. "I'm fine, honest, just…" Haven't eaten in more than twelve hours. "Hot."
"It is very hot. Are you sure you're not ill?"
"Absolutely not." He remembered to say "thank you".
"Do you want to hitch a lift with me? I have air conditioning."
"Are you going south?"
"Thank you very much. That would be wonderful." He let her pick him up and lead him shakily to her lorry. It was tiring getting up the steps and his fingers fumbled on the seat-belt.
"Do you want some pop?"
"Thank you, yes." After the pop, he felt a little better. His raging thirst died down. He still felt horribly ill and hungry and he was afraid is stomach would rumble and prompt intrusive questions.
He relaxed against the seat and tried to focus on his breathing. He mustn't faint again, or she really would call a doctor.
This lorry driver wasn't as talkative as Harold. She didn't introduce herself and she didn't ask his name, which was fine by him. He was getting better at lying but was still far from perfect. They drove in silence. The driver listened to the radio and David tried not to let his thoughts wander back to Darwin. She gave him a couple of mints, but he needed a meal, really, and when she dropped him off at the next service station in the dusk, he knew he was going to have to get some money somehow. He couldn't starve.
He couldn't beg in a service station car park either. Begging was for city centres. It looked too conspicuous here.
Maybe the next driver would feed him. He looked at his watch, eight 'o' clock. Not too late for a late tea. Share some sand-witches. He stood under the flood-lights by the side of the exit with his thumb out. First few cars were no good. People had been driving all day, wanted to get home quickly. A few long-distance lorry-drivers, they were a better bet, they kept driving all night.
But it seemed he was in no luck tonight. They drove straight past as if they couldn't see him.
He couldn't fall asleep here by the side of the road, he could be pick-pocketed—not that he had much—or murdered, or attacked by snakes and dingoes. Wearily, he turned into the service-station. Nothing for sale for ten cents.
He considered sleeping locked in a toilet cubicle to escape being caught vulnerable, but decided that was too unhygienic. He cleaned his teeth, washed and curled up in the corner of the lounge and slept, the deep, mercifully dreamless sleep of the truly exhausted.
When he woke he was hungrier than he'd ever been. The mints the last evening felt like a life-time ago.
He dragged himself upright, his lips were parched. His head pounded. He felt himself tremble and fought to control it. He mustn't attract attention to himself.
He needed food. He had nine cents. The only ways to make more money were to beg for it, earn it, inherit it or steal it. A ten-year-old child begging alone in a rural service station was too conspicuous, earning and inheriting were out of the question for a ten-year-old fugitive. He knew people could get money by robbing bank machines. He didn't want to rob one before dark, though, and he didn't want to hang around the service station on his own all day. Wandering round in the bush was a death sentence. Very well, he would get a lift to the next town and wait there until dusk. If he could survive another day without food. His legs wobbled as he strolled as casually as possible into the shop by the entrance that sold maps. He hadn't any money to buy a map, but he picked "A Map of Northern Territory" off the shelf and frowned at it. He had passed through Alice Springs. The first town of any size south of Alice was Kulgera. Very well, he would ask the next driver for a lift to Kulgera.
The next driver was a young man travelling to see family in Port Augusta. "Where are you heading?" he asked.
"Thank you, sir."
"Want a few sweets?"
"Yes, please." David pounced on the sweets, trying not to look as if he hadn't had any breakfast, but horribly aware that these sweets might have to see him through until tomorrow.
The young man just laughed at his guzzling. "Help yourself."
"Thank you," he said though a mouthful of wine gums. He meant it. He wondered where he'd be without strangers willing to pick him up without asking him too many questions, feed him and drop him off. It was possible, of course, that any one of them could be a plain-clothes cop, but as there was nothing he could about that possibility, there was no good worrying about it. He had realised that there was no good worrying about anything, it was only exhausting, and that the more he could shut down his brain into a kind of hypnotic trance, the more likely he was to stay sane.
The young man dropped him off in Kulgera, David grabbed as many sweets as he could before he left without seeming rude and thanked him over and over again.
Kulgera was hot and dry, and David had had nothing to drink. There was no shade anywhere and it was much smaller than he had expected. Remaining inconspicuous here might be harder than he had thought.
There was, fortunately, a bank machine. He dreaded to think what he would have had to do if not.
With hours to kill until sun-set and desperate to escape the sun, he wanted into a shop. He pretended to look at the food, batteries, chicken wire and other bush essentials that every rural shop sold, until he became sure he looked suspicious. Then he left. He couldn't stay inside, the heat would kill him. He would look too conspicuous in the only bar without ordering a drink. A drink… He'd kill for a drink. Would he? He shuddered.
He wandered into the only other shop, a tourist shop selling statues of emus and crystals people had found in the bush. There were racks of leaflets offering tours off the bush and other things he couldn't read, because his eyes blurred over when he tried to focus on the page. He curled up in the corner and tried to ignore the visions of lemonade floating through his head. He thought he looked less conspicuous in the corner reading. A child left by his parents for a few hours so they could shop quietly. And sitting right at the back of the shop, probably no one would see him anyway.
The images of drinks were becoming over-whelming. Coca-Cola, orange juice, Solo. He was so hot, so hot… The sweat ran down his back. His stomach heaved, but there was nothing to sick up. He slumped back against the shelf. His eyes blurred. He felt himself dropping off. No! He couldn't sleep! He had to stay awake, stay sane, get up and rob a bank machine as soon as it got dark.
Then he froze. The little silent television high on the wall above the counter was showing his own face.
The subtitles were on. "The hunt for suspected murderer David Hanly continues. Hanly has not been seen since leaving his single-parent home in Darwin, Northern Territory."
David looked around. There was nobody in the aisle. It was a narrow cranny against the back wall of the shop, and there was no reason for anyone to crane over the shelf. He was safe.
But the television hypnotised him. "Hanly is assumed to be armed and dangerous. Do not approach him. Report his location to the police immediately. The Department of Social Services has issued strong warnings about allowing children to run wild, and about the development of feral children in marginalised districts of big cities, and has suggested that young, low-income single parents must be more closely supervised by the authorities to prevent further juvenile violent crime."
David buried his head in his hands, swallowed the sobs and was too dehydrated for tears. He needed to punch something. Preferably a news reporter. He'd killed Simmon to stop him talking dirt about his mother. Now, it seemed everybody was talking dirt about her. Impotent rage and frustration seethed in his stomach and choked in his throat. I'm sorry, mum. It hurt, as it always did, to think about his mother. To see her smiling face as she lay in the garden on the long summer evenings. It hurt even more remembering her crying on the television. I didn't mean to do this to you. I had to fix that bastard, but I didn't mean to make things hard for you. If they knew her like he did, he thought. If they knew her like he did, they'd love her.
He ignored an earnest, bespectacled child psychologist discussing youth art projects and an indignant psychologist with extravagant hand gestures advocating a "tougher line for the blood-thirsty delinquents who terrorize our streets". Provided they kept their insults to him, he didn't care what they said.
The shop-owner left, locking the door. They didn't seem to have burglar alarms out in the bush. The sun went down. David picked himself up off the floor and shuffled over to the back window. He smashed it in with the barrel of his gun and ducked out into the cool night air.
The cash machine was in the main square. There was a little light above it, and nobody else in the street. They were either in the pub or at home.
He wandered over the cash machine and studied it. It would be the easiest thing in the world to shoot through the front, where the housing connected with the wall and the joints were weakest, snatch the money and run. Cars still slid by on the highway and could take him south.
He hesitated. Stealing was a crime. Stealing was for thugs and delinquents, the kids who swiped sweets from the corner shop, whom his mother looked down on. His mother wouldn't like him to steal, and his mother was getting enough stick already. "Your father was a gentleman", she'd said. "I'm raising you to be a gentleman." So he had never stolen, vandalised or got into fights. To make her proud.
But he was broke, he was hungry. He couldn't turn himself in, not just for his sake, but for hers. If he got away, if he hid successfully, maybe in five or six or seven years, when he wasn't recognisable any more, he could come back and look after her as she had looked after him. As he had always wanted to do. In gaol, he couldn't.
I'm sorry, mum. I'm sorry everyone's so hard on you, and that I couldn't be the son you always deserved. I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't mean to make you cry. I made the mistake of being caught on CCTV, and now everything's gone wrong.
He drew his gun and held it as level as possible despite his hands shaking, dead against the housing. He fired three rounds in succession into the same spot. The noise echoed in the empty street. Now he had to work quickly, blasting and hacking at the remaining casing, until he could see a cash cartridge. He cut his hand on the casing, ignored it, grabbed the cartridge and tugged. It didn't come. He shoved his gun against the base and gave it both barrels. Another tug and it came. He shoved it in his shirt and ran. He had forgotten his hunger and weakness, all he could think of was getting away with the money.
When he reached the highway, he shoved the money into his pockets to make it less conspicuous and threw himself at the nearest car. It screeched to a halt.
A young woman opened the window. "Hey, kid, what the Hell do you think you're doing? You nearly threw yourself under my wheels!"
"Sorry. I'm…" He gasped for breath. "Hitch-hiking…"
"Are you all right? Have you been running?"
"I'm fine, thanks."
"Do your parents know you're hitching?"
"Yes." Inspiration hit. "I need to catch a boat."
"A boat to where?"
Ah. He had no idea. "Cape Horn," he said warily.
"All right, hop in."
He nodded, chest still heaving, and scrambled into the car, slamming the door.
The woman gunned away from the kerb without even waiting for him to shut the door.
David sank back in the seat and caught his breath.
The dark night-time highway slid by in a blur past the windows. The woman introduced herself as Gloria, and he introduced himself as Julian. She drove fast, whether to get herself home or to get him to his boat was unclear.
She tried to make small talk, but, though he tried to be polite, it was obvious he could barely concentrate on what she was saying, so she put the radio on, and he soon fell into a doze. Just as his eyes were shutting, however, Gloria pulled over.
"Hope you catch your boat, Julian."
"Thank you." He scrambled out, struggling tom remember how to speak he was so hungry, and held out his thumb again, shivering.
A long-distance lorry pulled over. Julian was starting to thank his long-distance lorries for his survival.
He asked to be let out at the next services, telling the driver he was meeting relatives there, and the driver seemed happy not to ask any questions.
Food. The smell of it was heaven. His stomach felt like a black hole.
He bought a sausage roll, a packet of crisps, a bottle of pop and a doughnut, and he had never tasted anything so wonderful.
He licked every crumb off his fingers. Then he washed, cleaned his teeth, and for the first time since leaving home with something to think about other than where the next meal was coming from, examined his reflection in the mirror. He couldn't imagine anything which looked more like a young fugitive. His eyes were sunken, rimmed with shadows. His face was pinched and wan. His clothes were crumpled and felt grubby and sweaty. He suddenly longed for a shower and a change of clothes. Unfortunately, service stations provide neither. Someone walking in might think it was a bit strange if he stripped off to wash in the sink. At least he could buy a flannel and some travel soap and wash his face properly. In the shop selling maps there were lists of motels—showers!—but he doubted they would take room bookings from unaccompanied ten-year-olds. He'd only draw attention to himself.
He bought a ruck-sack and put some of the money and his soap, toothbrush and flannel in there. He bought some sun-cream and a map of Australia and a big bag of sweets for the journey.
He wanted to lie down and sleep, but he knew he mustn't. He had committed another crime, he had to get as far away as possible, as fast as possible.
Within minutes, he was in the cab of a long-distance lorry, heading south. He wondered about the wisdom of nodding off with a stranger, but what else could he do? He had to sleep at some point.
The radio, burbling in the back-ground, jerked him out of his doze. "David Hanly." He sat bolt upright and the driver frowned. He swallowed. He must not, whatever happened, allow the driver to think that the radio announcement was in any way connected with him.
"Armed fugitive from justice David Hanly is believed to have committed an ATM robbery in Kulgera, Northern Territory, and to currently be in the vicinity of Marla, South Australia. Citizens of South Australia are advised to be cautious and to report any sighting of Hanly to the police immediately. The Department of Social Services is asking how an unaccompanied minor travelled so far from home, in a troubled neighbourhood of Darwin, and advices the public against picking up hitch-hikers."
Damn the Department of Social Services! Why couldn't it mind its own business?
David risked a side-long glance at the driver, but he looked completely unconcerned. Music came on the radio and David relaxed, as much as he could ever relax now that he was a fugitive.
In the small hours of the morning, the driver dropped David off at a service station. He ate some sweets, bought another sausage roll—do fugitives live on sausage rolls?—and some more Coke, and longed for his mother's porridge. He was on the television again, he noticed. He felt no panic now, only the dull ache of resignation. He hurried out of the service station as quickly as possible. Then another lift, from Bookaloo down to Adelaide.
He was staring out of the lorry window at the countryside—greener and lusher now than the outback—when he heard his own name on the radio. His heart sank, but he forced himself to listen to the announcement without trembling. He was getting good at his deadpan expression now.
"Hanly, suspected murderer and ATM robber, is still at large. The police have received a tip-off from a service-station assistant, and believe Hanly is travelling alone, presumably hitching."
The driver frowned. "Awful young to be hitching alone. You'd think someone would notice him, wouldn't you?"
David bit back a smile. As the driver dropped him at a roundabout outside Adelaide, he felt the closest he'd ever been to cheerful. He was disturbing himself with how quickly he was adjusting to his new reality. He still missed his mother, she was a hole in his heart that would never heal, but his house, his bedroom, his school, were like a dream, or places that someone else had known. It felt as if he had been living in cars and lorries and service stations forever, looking over his shoulder forever, hunted forever.
He bought some tea, but didn't eat it in the service station. He wanted to move on. On, always on, before anyone could notice him or ask questions. He put his tea in his rucksack and thumbed down the next lorry.
This driver had the radio on too, country music, soothing, the type of music his mother had always liked.
He had finished the sausage roll and was munching on the sweets when the news came on. It was exactly the same bulletin as before. "Hanly, suspected murderer and ATM robber, is still at large. The police have received a tip-off from a service-station assistant, and believe Hanly is travelling alone, presumably hitching."
The driver frowned. "Bit young to be hitching alone."
David said nothing. He hoped the driver would shrug it off like the one before, like every driver so far, but he was frowning into the distance in a way that chilled David's heart. He began to inconspicuously put what remained of his tea into his bag.
"Where did they say he'd robbed that cash machine? Kulgera?"
David said nothing. He hoped the driver would forget his existence. They were still going at full speed. Would he die if he were to jump out? Probably.
The driver turned and looked full at him. "You're him. You're him, aren't you?"
"No. My name's Julian." David tried to sound indignant. What was it he had read once about how innocent people always sound innocent. "I'm going to visit relatives in Melbourne."
"In that case," said the driver in a voice like a stone battle-axe, "you won't mind if I call the police. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, after all".
The innocent sound indignant… How would an innocent person behave?
"Don't be ridiculous. If I were a fugitive, why would I be travelling down a public highway?" Because I've got nowhere else to go.
"How else are you supposed to travel?" answered the driver, as if he had read his mind. He was pulling over onto the hard shoulder, pulling his mobile out of his pocket. The lorry began to slow, the driver was concentrating more on his mobile than on David. He clearly didn't think that a ten-year-old, even a ten-year-old murderer, could be a real danger. The sensible thing to do, thought David, what he would have done in his place, would be to wait until he had dropped him off, then call the police. But this driver clearly wasn't willing to leave the catching to the professionals. David waited for the psychological moment, then drew his gun.
The driver reflexively stamped on the accelerator and the lorry hurtled towards the barrier at the side of the hard shoulder. David aimed at the driver's leg, fired twice and grabbed the brake.
The lorry lurched, David grabbed his rucksack and flung himself out of the lorry, catching his knee on the barrier and slamming face-first into the asphalt.
He ran. He couldn't see, he couldn't think, he had no idea whether the driver was alive or dead. He heard a scream of breaks and headlights dazzled him. He just had time to think this is how I die, before he whacked his head on the metal hub-caps and collapsed gasping and retching against the cab.
The driver opened the door, and he was dimly aware of being dragged up off the asphalt and deposited in the passenger seat.
"You all right mate?" Another long-distance lorry driver, nervous and puzzled.
"Yes thank you sir." Never volunteer information. His voice was a croak.
"What on earth were you doing?"
He couldn't think. Hr collapsed against the seat and groaned, allowing the driver to think he was fainting. He almost was.
He forced himself to explain, invent, anything… He couldn't think of anything clever or plausible to say. "I'm hitching, sir. South. If you could take me south, that would be great, sir."
"Why were you charging down the highway like a mad bull and nearly throwing yourself under my lorry?"
He remembered—oh, blessed relief!—the excuse he had used on Gloria. "I need to catch a boat."
"Well, you've got a funny way of going about it!" But the driver didn't seem suspicious. "Shall I call a doctor?"
"No! No… thank you. I'm fine." Doctors meant police.
"Are you sure? That's a nasty bruise, I'd hate for you to get concussion."
"I'm not concussed."
"Can you remember your name?"
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Are you sure you're all right?"
He thought he might throw up, he was horribly dizzy, a lump on his forehead was throbbing, his hands, knees, nose and face were all bleeding. "Oh yes, I'm fine, thank you, sir."
With what felt like painful slowness, but was in fact about sixty miles an hour, the driver revved up and set off south, away from the crash and the swarms of police which were no doubt gathering somewhere behind them. David was pretty sure any doctor would be scandalised by the driver's lax checks for concussion, but he wasn't complaining.
This driver didn't have the radio on, mercifully, but he noticed with the calmness of despair that his face was on the television screen in the service station in Mount Gambier.
He bought some breakfast—another sausage roll—and another bottle of pop, and hit the road again. Was a man in the service station car-park looking at him suspiciously? He ducked into the car quickly.
They had passed Warrnambool and the mid-day sun was beating down, when David saw the police car in the rear window. Probably nothing, probably coincidence.
A few minutes later, the car was joined by another. David inhaled, gripping his rucksack and measuring the distance between the car door and the asphalt. He probably stood a better chance of survival jumping out of a car than out of a lorry, but that was still basically nil.
He glanced at the driver. If he had noticed the cars following them, it didn't show. He was leaning back in his seat and whistling a country ballad.
The car turned a corner, and David nearly fainted. He could no longer keep calm. A police road-block.
But that meant the car had to slow down. And in the moment it slowed down, he jumped, swung his rucksack onto his back and ran.
Why wait for accusations, interrogations and hand-cuffs? It wasn't worth it. Run. Always run.
Behind him, he heard the police yelling at him to stop, but he ignored them. No one ever stops.
He didn't know where he was going. He was running south-east, into the bush, with the highway behind him, but he realised that he had no map, that he would die of thirst, even in the relatively mild climate of the South Coast, before reaching civilisation. He realised the insanity of what he was doing. He also realised that dying of thirst was an entirely hypothetical possibility, because he was running and the cops had jeeps and motor-cycles.
He heard them roaring behind him as his chest began to burn. He pushed himself to run faster, every breath tearing him, even though he knew it was no good. He wanted to escape. He wanted to live.
He couldn't see out of his eyes, he couldn't hear the sirens over the blood rushing in his head.
Then his legs gave out. He collapsed on the rocky ground, head pounding.
The cars screeched as they slammed on the breaks, and he blinked the sweat out of his eyes and realised he was surrounded.
He jumped up. His muscles burned, but he was only half aware of it. He found his gun instinctively. And the minute he felt it in his hand, he was calm. He was fucked. This was it. This was how he died.
He raised the gun. If he had to go down, he would definitely go down fighting. Not prison. Not another beaten-up, broken-down loser being dragged through the courts.
They were shouting at him. "Kid, put the gun down. Put the gun down."
No. He could see perfectly. He could aim straight.
"We are authorised to use lethal force if you don't drop the weapon immediately-"
Another voice. "He's just a kid-"
"He's killed two people-"
Two people. So that driver was dead. It was strange how clearly his mind was working, in a blur of dust and blazing sirens.
"If he moves, shoot."
Oh, fuck it. He squeezed the trigger. What difference would three men make? Nice round number.
He was satisfied to watch the cop's head explode before he fell. Not as good as killing Simmon, but pretty good.
Then the guns blazed, everything hurt, and the world went black.