Authors: Leah Giarratano
SYDNEY AUCKLAND TORONTO NEW YORK LONDON
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Vodka Doesn't Freeze
ePub ISBN 9781864715392
Kindle ISBN 9781864718034
Vodka Doesn't Freeze
, though inspired by real Australian crimes, is a work of fiction. All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Original Print Edition
VODKA DOESN'T FREEZE
A BANTAM BOOK
First published in Australia and New Zealand in 2007 by Bantam
Copyright © Leah Giarratano, 2007
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without
the prior written permission of the publisher.
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication Entry
Vodka doesn't freeze
a division of Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway North Sydney NSW 2060
Typeset in 11.5/16.7 pt Sabon by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed and bound by Griffin Press, South Australia
My thanks to my patients and colleagues who taught me that vodka doesn't freeze.Thanks also to my family and to Ray Black.This book is dedicated to Joshua George. True grit.
HE RAZORBLADE JUST
felt cold and clean as always; her blood warm and soothing. Carly Kaplan had expected something more dramatic this time, the last time, but like always, she simply felt calm and still.
The bathwater darkened around her, and she sighed; everything was finally going to be all right. The blood always reassured Carly that she was real, alive. Today would be the last day she needed to check.
As usually happened at this point, Carly's perspective suddenly shifted and she now watched herself from somewhere up near the ceiling. She felt quietly sorry for the girl in the bath; her face wet with soap bubbles, tears and blood. She studied the scars and shadows that marred her once innocent skin. She watched the whites of her own heavy-lidded eyes emerge. She saw her breathing grow ragged, her mouth and nose slipping under the water.
Her essence now part of the steam near the ceiling, Carly saw her mother burst through the door and struggle with the body in the bath. It was kind of sad, but her vision was sepia now, the colours in the scene below her transparent. Her mother's hold on the body slipped once, twice. The scars on Carly's arms and legs seemed faded; maybe the blood bath had finally cleaned her.
Carly's mother lifted her face to the ceiling, her mouth open in a silent scream, her eyes beseeching. Carly gazed down at her, somewhere faintly troubled by her mother's pain, but there was nothing she could do.
It was finally time to leave.
ILL LOVED THIS BIT
. Her legs burned as she drove them mercilessly on the pedals, halfway up the hill of Arden Street, Coogee. She liked this part best because she knew how much Scotty hated it. If she could get enough of a lead on this hill, she could beat him this time.
She could only hear her own regular gasps now – she was pulling away from Scotty, and the thought of him cursing behind her drove her harder. Her blonde hair was pulled into a ponytail beneath her bike helmet and the heat of the Sydney morning burned the back of her neck. The humidity was almost complete; it felt nearly as though she was swimming. As her body undulated with the movement of the bike, the scales-of-justice tattoo on her deltoid slipped in and out of her T-shirt, which was slicked with sweat to her flat stomach.
Each breath tasted like metal now as Jill pulled air through her raw lungs. Her thighs were screaming. And then, when the pain got too bad, she stopped feeling it, just as she always had.
Thoughts about work replaced the street scene. Despite their cutthroat competitiveness when were they working out together, on the job Jill knew Scott Hutchinson had her back. She couldn't have wished for a better partner, especially at a time when half the unit wanted her out. It was like being back in high school, for God's sake: if you weren't part of the in-crowd you were nothing. And Jill was definitely not in. Being single, attractive and not-interested-thanks didn't automatically count her out, but it didn't help.
But it was Jill's last case that had simultaneously seen her promoted to sergeant and dumped to schoolyard-reject in the popularity stakes. Her bust of an amphetamine ring in Wollongong had sent five bikies to gaol, one of whom was the brother of a cop in her unit – Eddie Calabrese. He was supposed to have been all over the drug trade in the area, and had never forgiven her. When she sent his brother to gaol, Calabrese looked like a fool, and worse: suddenly he was all wrong in the eyes of the powers that be. Nicknamed Elvis, because he thought he was king, he'd sent word everywhere that Jill was a man-hating bull-dyke who couldn't be trusted.
When she flew into Maroubra Road, Jill became aware of a breeze on her neck, cooler each time she glided into the deep shadows cast by the unit blocks that lined the street. The light changes became hypnotic, shadows and brightness, the rhythmic pumping of the pedals and her heart all she could hear. Suddenly Jill was back in the basement. She smelled her flesh burning as the big one pressed the cigarette into her nipple; saw her twelve-year-old self open-mouthed and screaming.
Jill's foot slipped off the pedal. She almost veered into an alarmed postie and caught her balance just in time to see Scotty's bulk, hunched over his handlebars, streaking past her right shoulder.
'Oh shit,' she breathed, pushing her foot back through the pedal. She saw Scotty's familiar smirk over his shoulder as he accelerated ahead, and she realised she was safe and alive in the present.
It was David Carter's favourite spot: warm, safe and up high, out of harm's way. He unrolled his colourful beach towel and unpacked his backpack, placed his lunch, hand moisturiser and can of Coke on the rock to his right, and put his new digital camera in his lap. He liked the computerised whirring sound the camera made as he scrolled through the images he'd already taken. He always left his favourites on the camera after he'd downloaded all the pictures to his laptop.
He settled down expectantly, hoping that Red Girl and Stumpy would be here today. He was a little early, as usual, but he liked the wait.
Cross-legged and comfortable on his towel, he peered through the overhanging branches of the shrub that partially surrounded him; he noted that there were only two older teenage girls swimming laps of the 50-metre pool. No-one at the wading pool yet. He opened his fly and used the waiting time to caress himself as he studied the pictures. It was going to be a hot one today; there'd be plenty of kids.
He wondered about the meeting The Owner had called tonight. Usually they met just once a month for the game, swapping photos, police statements, movies; hell, sometimes someone even brought a kid to trade for an hour or so. Calling a meeting mid-month had never happened as far as he could remember. He felt a lick of anxiety: what if someone knew about the meetings? What if his wife found out? He knew she already suspected, but not even she would put up with hard evidence of his favourite games.
Worrying was killing the moment, he decided. The meeting was probably just about some new delights on offer, maybe an organised tour to Malaysia. Just the thought of it chased the fear away, and he concentrated on his erection.
A noise alerted him to someone making their way through the undergrowth behind him. Probably surfies or dole-bludgers, up here to smoke pot or fuck in the bushes. Animals. He wasn't concerned. He'd never been discovered here before. Plenty of bushes to go around.
When the first blow struck the base of David Carter's neck, he was temporarily paralysed. There was no sound and no pain for a moment, and he watched, troubled, as his camera tumbled from his lap, disconcertingly leaving his penis completely exposed against his white thighs. The pain smashed in with the second blow; he felt his left eye socket shatter, shards of bone ripping through his eyeball, and he saw one of his teeth fly from his mouth, landing near his sandwich. He didn't feel the third blow, which cracked his skull open and spattered globs of brain matter into the bushes and onto his towel.
'Is your arse getting fat?' Scotty asked, as Jill towelled off after their swim in the waves at Maroubra. 'It was all I could see when I was letting you lead up Arden hill. I hung back for a while so it could shade my eyes from the sun.'
Jill hid her smile with her wet hair. Casually, she swung her towel into a rope, then spun fast in the sand and cracked the towel across Scotty's tanned ribs.
'Ow! Truth hurts, huh, Jackson?'
Scotty caught the towel when she whipped him a second time. He used her momentum to wind it back around her wrist and swing her arm up behind her back. Jill tucked her head and rolled forward across the sand, easily getting out of his hold. As she tumbled, she kicked the side of her foot into the back of his knee and rolled out of the way, leaping to her feet before his two-metre-tall body crashed down into the sand.
'Poor Scotty,' she said, as he squinted up at her, grinning. 'Can't get any, so you have to get off checking out your partner's arse. Bet you did the same when you were working with Elvis.'
Jill left Scotty to the bikini girls beginning to arrive at the beach and wheeled her bike in the direction of home. When they'd first met, and were trying to work together, ten bikini babes trying to sit in his lap wouldn't have distracted Scotty from Jill. Unexpectedly, she'd felt the attraction too. Typically around men she had to fight her first urges to run or attack. Their smell, voice, maleness, usually triggered a threat alarm.
Scotty was different. For some frustrating reason, her body would draw closer to his any time he was near. Standing next to him and trying to think during a work meeting had been maddening. Jill noticed the baleful glances of a couple of her female colleagues and the knowing smirks of the men in the squad room. She hated it. She'd promised herself while still in the academy that there'd be no romance with her peers and she'd never found herself tempted. On her rise through the ranks, she'd watched others trying to work with people they'd slept with and now hated. And conquests were always fair game for lunchroom conversation. Dumped, broken-hearted, ashamed or disgusted, if you slept with another cop, for the rest of your career you could expect to be periodically reminded of it over your ham sandwich.
Jill's rule had always been easy for her to stick to. Until she was assigned to Maroubra. Until Scotty. Within a week of working together, she'd been more conscious of the sound of his breath than his voice. Her breathing had seemed to slip into the same rhythm. Passing him a pen caused a pulse to thrum in her ears. She'd never been much good at making small talk, but there'd been no uncomfortable silences with him. When she'd caught herself swapping outfits three times before work one morning, she knew she had to do something.
It wasn't until her third week as his partner, however, that things came to a head. They'd just interviewed the victim of an armed robbery. The Coogee fish and chip shop owner wouldn't leave his café to come in, so they'd gone to him to take his statement. Scotty had taken him up – of course – on his offer of battered calamari, fish cocktails and chips. Jill denied herself the pleasure – of course – and smirked at him over her Pepsi Max as he hoovered them down.
Their footsteps were in sync as they walked back to their car. He smelled delicious.
'Good thing you're not worried about that double chin,' she smiled up at him as they waited at the lights. The bright Sydney day faded around her as he stroked a strong finger slowly from her forehead down her nose. It stopped under her chin.
'And that you're not worried about your scrawny . . .' He trailed off, speaking to her lips, raising her face with his finger. She broke away just before his mouth touched her own. Her heart scudded in her chest as she realised how close they'd come to ruining their partnership.
By the time they reached the car, her walls were back up. The numbness had taken over.
'Just to let you know,' she told him, her hand on the door before she got in, 'nothing will happen between us. I just want to work with you. That's all.' Even to her ears, her voice sounded dead.
Scotty had seemed hurt and confused for a couple of weeks, but, to her relief, had allowed their relationship to become comfortably platonic. Except when they were working out together, in which case each tried like hell to thrash the other.
Right now, Jill was looking forward to her day off, and on the way home she picked up the newspaper, a mango, and half a litre of skim milk from the corner shop near her apartment. She locked her bike in the garage under the units and jogged up the stairs, grimacing as her thighs protested. Her two-bedroom flat would be cool and quiet. She planned to use the day to work on a couple of reports.
She swung her shopping up onto the granite of her kitchen benchtop and surveyed the room critically; nothing caught her eye to cause concern. All the surfaces were clear and clean. Regardless, with a small sigh she walked through her flat to check.
I have to stop these rituals, she thought, entering each room, pushing the doors flat against the walls when she opened them, leaving nowhere anyone could hide. Logic told her that there could be no-one else in here – her building was a high-security block and the wall facing the ocean was unscaleable. Her front door and the doorframe were steel reinforced, with three two-inch steel rods simultaneously interlocking when the handle was activated with the key. She'd caught the men who'd installed the $3000 door laughing when they thought she was out of earshot. They were used to putting in doors like this for jewellery shops and mansions on the North Shore. What was in this two-bedroom flat in Maroubra that was so special, one had asked. His mate, with a lewd laugh, had obviously made some crass comment she was glad she didn't hear.
A single petal, fallen from a bunch of roses her mum had brought over yesterday, marred the blonde beech of the dresser in her bedroom. She absently picked it up and palmed it, continuing her reconnaissance. Her moves were perfunctory, the path familiar. She let her thoughts roam as she padded through her flat. Scotty's advice regarding Elvis was uppermost in her mind.
'Jill, the more you react, the worse he gets. He sets you up, and you bite every time,' Scotty had told her. 'He's a splitter – he's gathering his crew around him, telling them how you're going to respond, and when you overreact, exactly as he predicted, he looks good and you look like a dickhead.'
Jill knew he was right, but there was something about the macho posturing of Elvis that she couldn't fail to respond to. It wasn't just his set-ups and put-downs; she felt he was too close to the Wollongong bikies they had taken down. Her investigations had led to his little brother, Luca Calabrese, at almost every turn. Calabrese Junior was a made member of One Percent, the outlaw motorcycle group that ran amok on the South Coast. Witnesses had told her they'd made police statements about assaults, rapes, drug deals, all related to the gang, but nothing had ever eventuated; for the most part, police had not contacted them again. Elvis and his brother had grown up in the area and still knew everyone in town. A couple of their local mates had also joined the service. They knew her bust had made them look bad, and she felt their knives poised at her back.