By lunch-time of my first day on the job, I had seen more of inner city Sydney than I had done in the whole of the preceding twelve months. Helen proved to be a veritable fountain of information and useful contacts, and I soon lost count of the number of people we met and chatted with.
We made it as far as Darling Harbour, where we ate a seafood lunch on the busy boardwalk and watched the weekday crowds bustling by.
"So, do you do this every day?" I asked Helen as we enjoyed our meal.
"No, not every day, but when I can. You don't think I'd walk down here every day do you? You've seen how far it is from the bloody station! Anyway, it's good to keep your ear to the ground and keep in touch with the other side this way."
"The other side?"
"Yeah. The criminal element. The enemy, if you like. About half of the people we've spoken to this morning aren't what they seem, you know. You've been talking to pimps, prostitutes… both male and female . . . and the occasional drug baron."
I wasn't sure what my face may have shown, but I was guessing it would have been shock.
Helen shook her head and laughed. "Man, you can't be that naive?"
"You're having me on. Aren't you?"
"No, I'm not. Welcome to the big smoke Golden Boy. The inner city is a fair bit different from the shimmering beaches of Maroubra."
"Apparently!" I answered.
A seagull landed on the boardwalk not far from where we were seated, and so I threw it a hot potato chip and watched as it scoffed it down. It squawked at me, begging for another, so I threw it one more, then shortly afterwards it was joined by some of its' friends.
"Tell me something," I asked, amidst the babble of bird noises that I had created. "Just where the hell did that come from?"
"That Golden Boy crap," I replied.
"What's wrong? Don't you like it?"
"It pisses me off like you wouldn't believe, if you must know."
"Well, as a matter of fact it came from the Inspector. It seems your reputation had preceded you, then when your file arrived and we got a look at them golden locks of yours… well, I don't think the dear old Inspector could help himself."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all," she answered, but I could tell by her expression that there was more to that than it being just an off the cuff remark.
When we had finished we dumped our rubbish in the nearest garbage bin and headed back in the general direction of our station, which was quite a distance away. We climbed the steps just near Darling Harbour and crossed the road that led an almost endless stream of traffic toward the Harbour Bridge by using the pedestrian bridge, then made our way to King Street and headed back toward the city.
Shortly afterwards we had our only moment of excitement in the whole day, when a street kid, no more than thirteen or fourteen and dressed in shabby old clothes that were far too big for him, snatched a bag from a woman, just as she had come out of a shop, and had then run head first into me.
"Christ, now we'll be filling out forms all afternoon," Helen said, as I held the kid by his collar, but we were soon rescued by a uniformed constable who had seen the whole event take place. Once we had identified ourselves and given the constable some details for his report, he dragged the kid off to the nearest station to be charged.
"See, it wasn't that bad," I said to her as we watched the constable disappear into the crowd with the kid in tow.
"That's not what you would be saying if we'd have had to be the ones hauling him off to be charged. How long has it been since you've filled out a charge sheet?"
"Not long enough, I can assure you," I answered, grinning.
When we made it back to the squad room that afternoon we found the place deserted, except for the Inspector, who was apparently waiting for us.
"So, did she give you the guided tour then?" he asked me when he looked up and noticed us enter the room.
"Yes sir. I think I've seen more of the inner-city today than I have in the whole year that I've been in Sydney."
"Good. Good," said the Inspector.
"Where are all the guys?" Helen asked, looking around at the empty squad room.
"All out on assignments," the Inspector answered. "And I have one for you pair as well."
"Really?" Helen asked.
"Yes. Go and see Donohue at the Motor Pool will you. He'll fill you in."
"Right then, sir," Helen replied, as the Inspector turned on his heels and headed back toward his office.
"The Motor Pool?" I asked.
"Who knows," she answered. "But he's the boss, so we better go."
"Yeah. I suppose we'd better."
Just as we turned to head back out the door however the phone on Helen's desk started to ring. She stopped and looked at it, and for a moment I thought she was going to ignore it, but when she saw me staring at her she then strode over to the desk and picked it up.
"Wheeler," she said into the receiver in her gruff voice.
Whoever it was it was someone she knew, because she quickly stepped around to the other side of her desk and sat down, flicked open a note-pad and started scribbling.
Judging by the expression on her face it was something serious.
"Jimmy . . . Jimmy . . . slow down kid," I heard her say. "What did the bastard do? Where are you now?"
Silence as Jimmy (whoever he was) spoke.
" . . . . . yeah, how is he? . . . Shit! . . . . . O.K. then, did someone call an ambulance? . . . . . Good! . . . . . Now I want you to get out of there, boy. And now! . . . . . Listen to me, Jimmy. You've got to get out. And before the prick gets back! Do you understand me? Do you want the same thing to happen to you?"
She looked up at me and just shook her head.
"Alright then. Now listen to me. I'll come and pick you up and take you some place safe, O.K.? . . . . . Don't argue with me you little shit! I'm trying to save your ass here! . . . . . Alright then! Meet me there in fifteen minutes . . . . . Great! Just make sure you're there!"
She put the phone down and looked up at me, still slowly shaking her head.
"What's up?" I asked her.
"That was a kid that we've had some dealing with," she said. "I guess he sort of looks up to me."
"Uh, huh," I said. I had been tempted to ask if she was like a father figure to the kid, but thought better of it
Helen started for the door and so I followed, listening to her as we headed down the corridor toward the elevators.
"We picked him up for soliciting a while back," she said, "and I've been trying to get him off the streets, but he won't be in it."
"So, what's happened now?"
"There's this prick called Jarvis. He's the pimp for about a dozen kids that we know of, but none of them will roll over on him, if you'll pardon the pun."
"Every now and then one turns up bashed, or worse, and we've never been able to pin it on the bastard, usually because there are no witnesses, or the victims are too bloody scared to say anything about it."
"Well, another one just got beat-up, only this time Jarvis didn't know that Jimmy was there in the house and saw it. The kid will be O.K., Jimmy called an Ambulance, but that's not the point. There'll be another one . . . and another one after that . . . and maybe another one will even show up floating in the harbour again . . ."
"Will Jimmy testify then?"
"Finally . . . yeah. He will. So before we go off on any Motor Pool visits, we need to go pick him up and hide him, before Jarvis gets back."
We rode down to the basement and headed for her car, then minutes later we were out on the streets and heading for Darlinghurst, pulling up near the toilet block of a leafy park, which was the arranged meeting place.
"Can you see him?" I asked her.
"Not so far," she answered. "We better check inside then."
Helen opened her door and stepped out of the car and just as she did a nervous looking kid came out of the toilets and started toward us, all the while looking around, as if he were expecting someone to jump out and grab him.
He looked to be about sixteen at best, with bright red hair, and was wearing some pretty trendy looking clothes, the latest in brand-name sports wear. The general impression that I got was that the kid was fairly athletic, and quite cute . . . which would no doubt make him a hot property out on the streets.
I opened my door and stepped out of the car also, but at the sight of me the kid just froze in his tracks, looking from Helen to me, and back again.
"It's alright Jimmy. He's my new partner," she said to him.
The kid said nothing, but took a step backward, still looking from one of us to the other. Then he took another step backward.
"Jimmy, don't . . ." Helen said, but the moment she opened her mouth he was gone, running as fast as he could away from us, through the park.
I jumped the low fence around the parking area and went straight after him, hearing Helen say behind me, "Oh, fuck!"
I had to give the little bastard credit, he was fast, but thankfully I managed to stop him on the far side of the park, by grabbing him around the collar, just before he would have run out across a busy road. I pulled him backward, and then pushed him up against a large tree, holding him there with the palm of one hand pushing against his chest, while I tried gulping in great lung-fulls of air.
"Get your fucking hands off me, pig," he spat.
"Take it easy Jimmy. We're here to help you! You called us, remember?"
"Yeah, well I don't need your fuckin' help."
"You want to finish up like the rest of them then?" I said, still trying to catch my breath.
"What the fuck would you know?"
"Probably a fair bit more than you'd think, kid."
A car suddenly pulled up right beside us and I was relieved to look across and see Helen get out of it and come toward us.
"For Christ sake Jimmy. What the hell did you go and do that for?" Helen said.
"I . . . I, dunno," he replied.
"Well, thank Christ Golden Boy here can still keep up with you kids, otherwise you'd have probably ended up back with Jarvis."
"No way, I'm through with that asshole. Even if you hadn't have caught me!"
"And what makes you think you can turn your back on someone like him and get away with it, huh?" Helen growled. "If you'd have got away from Cooper here, you would have been back at Jarvis' place within twenty four hours, and ended up just like the rest of them."
Jimmy just shook his head, looked at his feet and muttered, "Would not have."
"Listen kid, you're the only chance we have of getting that bastard off the streets now. I want to take you some place safe for a while, O.K.? Once we bring Jarvis in and can then talk to some of the other boys I hope we'll be able to get them to roll over on him too, and if that happens then you'll never see the bastard again."
"You promise?" Jimmy asked.
"Yeah mate. I promise," she replied, as she pulled out her mobile phone and started dialing numbers, then started walking away from the two of us so we couldn't hear what was being said.
* * * * *
"So, where are we going then?" I asked Helen as we headed back into the city, with Jimmy laying across the back seat, covered by a blanket.
"To see some friends of mine," Helen answered. "I want to keep him out of sight, so I've arranged for him to stay with them for a few days. At least until we can organise to pick up Jarvis and then start talking to the other kids.
"Fair enough," I answered. "Do you think you'll be able to keep Jimmy under cover for long enough? And do you think that the other kids will respond?"
"Yeah, Jimmy will be O.K.," she replied. "And as for the others, yeah, they'll give him up I reckon, but only if they know that Jimmy has given evidence against him."
"And if they don't?"
She looked straight at me, with her mouth drawn tight and a frown etched into her forehead, but said nothing.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," I said to her.
"This kid, Tony, the one that he beat up. He should at least tell us what happened. That'll be enough for us to get him locked up. Anything else over and above that will just mean he'll be away for longer."
"I bloody hope so!"
We pulled into a narrow lane-way a few minutes later, then stopped outside a metal roller door, that was painted with graffiti. Helen gave the car horn a couple of blasts and almost instantly the door started to open.
"Looks like they were expecting us, or something," I commented.
"Yeah, they were."
When the door was open far enough, Helen drove forward and the roller door started to close, with the car soon being enveloped in darkness. I reached up to the ceiling and switched on the interior light.
"Alright Jimmy, you can sit up now," Helen said to our passenger and I turned in my seat to see Jimmy sit up and look around.
"What is the place? The Bat Cave or something?" I asked.
"Close enough, mate. Real close in fact!" she answered, as she opened her door, letting light spill out into the dark garage.
A door opened in front of us and a young woman appeared, switching on the light as she came into the space and flooding the garage with light.
Helen stepped out of the car and stood upright and the woman, an attractive girl with a good figure and blonde hair, came over to her. They hugged and kissed, and then both looked back toward Jimmy and I, both still sitting in the car.
"Welcome to Dykesville!" I heard Jimmy say from the back seat.
"Hey, watch it punk," I said to him. "Between Helen and them, that's all that stands between you and Jarvis at the moment. You should be at least a little grateful."
He looked at me for a while in a curious sort of way, as if he were trying to size me up, or work me out or something, before eventually saying, "Yeah. Sorry."
We noticed Helen wave to us, beckoning us to get out of the car and so we both did as we were asked.
"Well, ain't he a little cutie," the blonde woman said as Jimmy presented himself to the pair of them, while I tried to stay in the background, perching myself on the mudguard of Helen's car.
"Yeah," Helen answered. "And he's a real little wise-ass to, so don't take any crap from him, O.K.?"
"Hey, who are you calling a wise-ass, dyke?" Jimmy spat.
I couldn't resist myself, I simply leant forward and gave him a clip up the back of the head.
"Hey! Did you see that? That's Police brutality! I'm gonna report you! I've got witnesses!" Jimmy yelled.
"Witnesses?" Helen calmly asked. "I didn't see a thing! Did you see anything Cathy?"
The blonde woman shook her head and said, "No. Not me!"
"It's a conspiracy. That's what it is!"
"Yeah," I said to him. "We're conspiring to keep you alive you ungrateful little shit! Keep it up and we'll hand you over to Jarvis ourselves!"
That earned me a reproachful look from our guest, and smiles from the two women. At least Jimmy remained silent however.
"So, who's this handsome specimen then?" Cathy asked Helen, jerking her head in my direction.
"Just call him Golden Boy!" Helen replied. "He always seems to respond to it."
"The name's Cooper," I said to her, reaching forward and offering her a hand to shake. "Rick Cooper."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Cathy Harris. I'm a friend of old 'Hell on Wheels' here. And occasional mother to hopeless cases like this one," she replied, while pointing to Jimmy.
"I ain't a hopeless case," Jimmy pouted.
"Nah, not if you stay here and keep your nose clean you won't be," Helen answered.
"I'll keep an eye on him," Cathy said. "If he gives us any trouble I'll call Bertha and get her to baby-sit him."
"Not a bad idea," Helen replied with a grin, which only earned her a wicked glare from Jimmy.
Cathy chuckled softly, and I had a feeling that young Jimmy had well and truly met his match here.
"Alright then, we better head off," Helen said. "The Inspector has found something else for us to do before we head off, so I suppose we'd better do it."
"Alright then. And don't worry about the boy. I'll call you if anything happens," Cathy replied.
"That'd be good. Thanks."
"Nice to meet you, Rick. I hope you won't put up with too much of the crap that Helby can dish out," Cathy said to me.
"I'll be O.K.," I answered. "I can give as good as I get."
"You better hope so," she said, giving me a wink.
* * * * *
It was fairly late when we arrived at the Motor Pool, which took up the entire basement of one of the inner city Police buildings. This one was more of a parking lot and light maintenance yard than anything else. I was pretty sure that all of the heavy work and repairs were carried out somewhere else, but I'm not sure where exactly that place was.
Helen pointed the nose of her car into an empty parking spot that said 'Reserved' and we got out and headed toward an office that was located near the front entrance, while people filed past us steadily, on their way home, or to the nearest bar.
"G'day Harry," Helen said as we walked into the office. "I thought you would have been gone already."
"Nah, I couldn't do that, Helen," he replied. "I just had to wait for your smiling face to show up first."
"You're full of shit, Harry! You know that?"
"Yeah, I get told that every damn day dahlin!" he cackled. "And by better men than you too!"
Even I had to have a chuckle at that little jibe.
"Like I said Harry. You're full of shit!"
"So, who's the pretty boy then?" Harry asked, while giving me the old up and down look.
"The names Cooper," I said, while stretching my hand out to him. "Rick Cooper. I'm the new partner . . . apparently."
"Harry Donohue," he replied. "I'm the poor sucker that has to fix all the damage that you young hot-shots cause."
"So I see," I replied, while casting an eye around the office, which was pretty much the same as any other mechanics office I had ever been inside . . . bits and pieces of cars sitting on top of filing cabinets and a girlie calendar on one wall.
"So, the Inspector tells me you wanted to see me," Helen asked, interrupting our little get-to-know-you session.
"Yeah," he said, grinning.
"I don't think I like the sound of this," Helen commented, while giving me a sober look.
"Well, it's too bad you weren't here a little earlier, I could have taken you over to see what he wanted you take a look at."
"Yeah, well, we had another case come up," she replied. "And what do you mean by you could have taken us over to see it. Isn't it even here?"
"Nope. It's over at the Redfern yard."
"How about you and young hot-shot here meet me here first thing in the morning and we'll head over there," Harry suggested.
"Yeah, alright," Helen answered, with a sigh. "We'll be here at nine."
"Great. Now if you'll excuse me, there's a bottle of scotch with my name on it waiting at for me at O'Malleys."
"Yeah, whatever you reckon," Helen said as she turned on her heels and started for the door. "We'll see you in the morning."
I fell into step beside her and we walked to the car in silence.
"Well, that was a waste of time then," I said to her after we had got into the car and shut the doors.
"What's at Redfern then?"
"The main motor vehicle workshop. This place here is just a minor one really. It's from where everything is co-ordinated. Some of the general servicing is done here, but all the big jobs are done out at Redfern. They have a really huge workshop area. More like a factory or warehouse really."
"I see. And what do you think we would we need to go out there for then?"
"Christ only knows!" she answered as she turned the key in the ignition. "But knowing the Inspector, it'll be something pretty damn good. Anyhow, it's time we were heading home. You feel like joining me and some of the boys down at the local for a drink?"
I glanced quickly at my watch. It read ten minutes past six.
Adam would be at the office until at least half past six and would most likely head home to his unit in Bondi straight after that, unless I called him and met him somewhere for dinner.
"Let me make a call," I said to her, to which she just flashed a knowing smile.
* * * * *
Besides Helen and myself, Jim Harris and Joe Benevetti were the only ones from our unit to show up at the pub on the corner, which most of the Police officers usually frequented.
It was an old pub on a busy street, with bitumen paved sidewalks beneath a second floor verandah and red brick walls adorned with fading posters for beers that were no longer available. Inside it was dark, though welcoming, with lots of rich timbers, including a bar rubbed smooth with time, behind which were mirrors and lights, and a stocky barman that looked as if he had been there since the place had first opened, and called everyone by their first name.
The pub was something more like what you would find in a small country town, rather than the inner city, but I suppose in it's day it would have been the latest and greatest.
I was introduced to a few of the others who worked in the same building as I now did, and received more than one, "So this is the Golden Boy?" in reply.
Helen couldn't help herself and cackled every time. I wasn't sure if she might not have even set it all up herself, making sure that each of them greeted me in that way, but eventually I started to get used to it though, and before long I was laughing along with the rest of them.
"So, where did you pair get to this afternoon?" Jim asked. "Old Richo came out looking for you after he found out you hadn't arrived at the Motor Pool."
The four of us were all sitting around one of the square, red-topped tables, with a schooner of our own choosing sitting in front of each of us.
"Something came up," Helen answered, after tasting a mouth-full of beer.
"Yeah?" Joe enquired.
"Uh, huh. Remember that kid Jimmy from a while back? One of Jarvis' boys!"
"Oh yeah. Cheeky little punk he was."
"Yeah. That's him. Well, he rang me this afternoon. Apparently Jarvis beat the crap out of one of the other boys and Jimmy saw it all. Jarvis didn't even know that Jimmy was there. When the kid called me he said he'd help finger Jarvis, so we went and picked him up and put him some place safe. Just until we can get everything sorted."
"Good idea," said Joe. "I'll be glad when that asshole goes down."
"Not long now I don't reckon," Helen replied.
"Pleased to hear it," added Jim.
There was a clock on the wall behind the bar, and every so often I found myself glancing up at it as casually as I could, counting down the minutes until I would meet Adam. As I sat there, drinking and talking like one of the boys, listening to tall tales and answering questions about my first day on the job and all that, I came to the realization that it had been a long time since I could remember feeling like this about anyone.
Just the thought that someone would be waiting for me was enough to bring a smile to my face. The only thing was that I didn't realize that I was smiling.
"And just what the hell are you grinning at there Golden Boy?" Benevetti asked me. "You looked like you were a million miles away!"
"Maybe I am," I replied, as dead-pan as I possibly could.
"Come on then, give!"
I just shook my head and smiled.
"Leave him alone Benny," Helen said to him. "Our Golden Boy has a hot date tonight."
"Yeah? Who's the lucky fag?" he asked.
I don't know what I must have looked like, but I was guessing that I must have turned about as white as the shirt that the old barman was wearing.
"Joe!" scolded Helen. "I said leave him alone!"
"Hey. If you can't stand the heat . . ."
The three of them were all staring at me. I just stared back.
Joe's eyes were cold and calculating. The triumph obvious in them. Helen's eyes were filled with compassion. As if she were trying to say sorry. Jim's eyes were the hardest to read. I couldn't quite figure out what was going on in there.
Inside my own head there were a million racing thoughts, all hell bent on doing as much damage to each other as was possible. From somewhere amongst that jumble however, Helens words from earlier that morning came floating back to the surface.
"Just don't show them any fear, alright?"
So that was what I did.
* * * * *
"So, how was your first day on the job?" Adam said to me as soon as I had joined him in the restaurant at Darling Harbour. It was one of his choosing and seeing as he was paying I wasn't saying no, especially considering that my own tastes (and budget) were more suited to a Hungry Jacks!
When I sat down opposite him I had wanted so much to lean over and kiss him, right then and there, but we both knew that we couldn't do that in public. At least not here anyway.
Instead we both had to settle for a smile, and sharing with our eyes what we couldn't share with our lips.
"Let's just say it was interesting," I replied, still feeling a little shaky from what had happened earlier in the pub.
"No trouble I hope?"
"No. Not really," I replied. "And how was your day?"
"Oh, nothing spectacular. Picked up a new client on the north shore, that could be worth a bit to us, but that's about all."
"All we picked up was a street kid and took him to a house full of dykes," I countered, with a chuckle.
"Just so long as you didn't pick up anything from the street kid," Adam said.
"No chance of that happening!" I scoffed.
"Just as well then," he replied, with a wink and a smile.
I don't know how long it was that we just sat there for, gazing into each others eyes, but it was long enough.
Long enough for me to memorize yet again every detail of him, from the sparkling emerald green eyes that were staring back at me, to the long and slender fingers that were stretched out across the table toward me, tantalizingly close to where my own hands were resting, and his full lips. I also loved the way he had his short brown hair with blonde streaks through it standing up in haphazard spikes, and the small silver figure on a black leather lace that he always wore around his neck.
As far as boyfriends went, he was the first one in a long time that I had thought about getting serious with. Serious enough that he was now occupying my thoughts for a considerable part of each day, which hasn't happened with anyone since . . . well, since Martin I suppose. And that was five years ago.
And while there isn't a day that goes by when I don't think of Martin, it's all a little easier to cope with now. The nights are usually the worst, like last night. But last night there was someone there to hold me, and that made all the difference.
Adam and I may have come from different backgrounds, and to some people we may have even been an odd couple, but as I looked across the table at him now, all I could think of was how lucky I was feeling. Lucky that he was a part of my life. And lucky that I had found someone else that I could love.
I'm not sure if it was love just yet. But I knew that I could love him. And for now, that was enough.