Voodoo Doll jj-2, page 1part #2 of Jill Jackson Series
( Jill Jackson - 2 )
FACE MASHED INTO the carpet, Joss concentrated on breathing. If he kept his chin tucked into his neck, it reduced some of the pressure from the boot pressing down onto his cheek. Swallowing was out – his bottom lip was crushed flat against the rug, preventing him from closing his mouth. He let some more saliva trickle out; a wet patch had already formed under his cheek.
He angled his eyes to the left. He'd seen only three of them, all in balaclavas – the gorilla now standing on his head, the small, wiry one guarding the front entrance, and the fuckwit terrorising the women in the loungeroom. But he knew there were four: he could hear the screams of his host, Andy Wu, coming from the back of the house. Each scream was preceded by a dull thwack, a sound Joss already knew he would never forget.
He searched for an option; knew he had none. Not yet anyway. He tried to ignore the point of the machete, inches from his forehead, and focused again on his breathing.
Andy's wails were fading. From the room next door, Joss heard his wife, Isobel, her voice trying for calm, reasoning. Andy's wife, Lucy, was moaning, a low, animal keening. He'd heard nothing from the children upstairs. They had to still be asleep. God, he thought, please let them stay asleep.
All sounds suddenly stopped.
A pair of black combat boots appeared in the doorway and walked towards Joss. Each step upon the polished floorboards left a red imprint. Horrified, mesmerised, Joss watched the boots draw closer. They stopped in front of his face. The blood on the boots filled all of his senses. He could taste it.
'Watches, wallets, phones, jewellery. Get them all.' Boots spoke to the man above Joss.
The gorilla removed his foot from Joss's face. 'Did he open the safe?'
'Now what do you think?' Boots answered. 'We're ready to go. Go and make sure everything's okay in there.'
Joss felt the attention of the man in the boots shift downwards. His head free, Joss was able to incline his face upwards a little. When his eyes reached the dripping machete above him, he dropped them back to the carpet.
A boot nudged his shoulder.
'That your wife in there? Isobel? Is that her name?'
Joss considered the weave in the rug beneath his face.
The boot cracked into his head. Joss felt his left cheekbone snap.
'Nah,' Joss managed, pain gyrating through his head. 'Met her here tonight.'
'Smartarse, aren't you?'
Shit, Joss thought. 'Look. I just want this over.' He rode a wave of pain with each word he spoke. 'We just want to be safe. You came here for money.' He kept his eyes down; this guy was just waiting for a reason.
'Hmm. So give me your wallet, phone and watch.'
Sixteen minutes earlier, Joss had been helping Andy Wu, his wife's boss, clear away the remains of the barbecued dinner Andy had served them in his courtyard. The Wus' two children and his own little angel had been carried upstairs, leaden weights, sound asleep.
When Andy, on his way back into the kitchen, had dropped a ceramic platter onto the concrete, the crack was like a gunshot, and Joss had automatically hit the ground, rolling off the path. Reactions like that usually embarrassed the fuck out of him. Tonight, it had given him ten seconds to take in the sight of Lucy Wu with a fifty-centimetre blade held to her throat, a black mask behind her emerging like a piece of the night. Joss had scrabbled through his pockets. With an awkward twist of his arm, he had managed to throw his wallet into the bush behind him.
Lucy's eyes had bulged, silently screaming. While the intruder had motioned Andy to his knees, Joss had carefully taken his mobile phone from his shirt pocket and palmed it. He had been about to throw it to join his wallet when another pair of eyes and a glint of steel materialised in the night. Joss had dropped the phone onto the lawn. When he'd stood, signalled to rise by the machete, he had stepped on the mobile, and pressed it lightly with his toe into the night-wet grass.
Now, face down on the floor, he carefully lifted his wrist to show his watch to the man above him. Moving slowly, he unclipped the heavy silver band and lay the watch next to him on the floor.
'I don't carry a wallet,' Joss said.
'Sure you do.'
'I don't need one. I've got a company card. I didn't bring a wallet tonight.'
'Your phone then.' The voice was flinty.
Joss felt the man above him tensing. From the corner of his eye, he saw the blade leaving his line of vision. This guy was not going to accept that Joss had nothing at all on him; he was going to use this as an excuse for more blood. Joss inwardly tightened, preparing himself to roll.
Joss knew the Vietnamese words from his childhood – police, danger! It came from the skinny one at the front door.
He heard the man above him exhale. He sounded disappointed. His voice flat, Boots directed the other men. 'Out the back.'
To Joss, he said, 'None of you will move from this house for thirty minutes. I may not have your ID, smartarse, but I can find you through these people. If you go to the cops we will be back.' He paused. 'Hell, maybe I'll come find you anyway.'
Anger overriding his training, Joss could not stop himself from raising his face to meet the man's eyes.
All the air left the room when their eyes locked. A millisecond later, Joss prayed he had been able to mask his shock of instant recognition, but he knew the intruder would have heard his gasp, seen his pupils dilate.
The man above him laughed when Joss dropped his eyes back to the ground.
Over the roar of blood in his ears, he barely heard the men leave the house. He hoped that the man in the boots would take his reaction for fear; that he hadn't noticed the nonverbal cues that indicated recall, identification.
The problem was, Joss could recognise those cues, and his hammering heart told him he'd seen them mirrored in the other man's face.
'GODDAMN IT!' JILL Jackson's toe caught the edge of a metal filing cabinet. She hurled the half-packed archive box across the room, coloured manila folders and white sheets of paper trailing an arc through the air behind it. 'Ow. Shit. Ow!' Clutching her bare foot, she hopped through the room, her face a warning.
Scotty knew better than to say anything, but his eyes danced.
Jill dropped into a chair, cradling her foot. 'I think I broke my fucking toe.' She rocked backwards and forwards in her seat, biting her bottom lip and grimacing.
Scotty waited a few moments then approached cautiously. 'Give us a look.'
'Don't touch it! It's broken!' Jill waved her hand in front of her, motioning him away.
'Oh, you'll be right, Jackson,' he said doubtfully, watching darkness already suffusing the white skin on the top of Jill's foot.
She looked up at the man towering above her, and to her horror, her eyes filled with tears.
'Oh come on, Jill, it's going to be okay.' Scotty reached out to touch her, then stopped. He moved his hand up to run it through his hair, then finally shoved it in his pocket.
'Are we still talking about your toe?'
'I don't want to go.' She swiped viciously at a tear before it spilled from her lashes.
'It's a big promotion, Jackson. Think of the pay rise. Shit, I wish it was me going.'
'No you don't. And I don't care about the money. I was just starting to feel… ' She wanted to say 'safe', but Jill didn't disclose that sort of thing so easily, even to her partner, who was closer to her than her own brother.
'Yeah, I know,' said Scotty. 'But what else can you do? Anyway, it's only a s
They both knew that was unlikely. Job rotations within the New South Wales Police Force were not often reversed, and Jill's new seniority meant there would be little scope for her to easily rejoin the Maroubra detectives.
They stared at one another for a moment. Then silently they resumed packing.
It was a Sunday in late September, and the first day in five months that the temperature had climbed above thirty degrees. Jill and Scotty both wore thongs, crusty with sand from the beach down the road. The morning sun glowing through the dirty windows managed to paint even the dung-coloured walls of the detectives' office in an optimistic light; dust motes danced in the sunbeams. It was gorgeous out there. No way would anyone be in here unless they had to be. Jill needed to pack up, but Scotty didn't have to be there.
Jill swallowed the sob in her throat. She had never cried so much as over the past few months, which surprised her, given that she hadn't felt this secure for twenty years. The previous April, she'd ended the life of the man who had abducted and raped her at the age of twelve, and since then the dread that had nested in her gut had diminished significantly.
The past months had not all been tear-filled, though. Jill had also found herself laughing more than before, and on waking, some days, she had experienced sensations that had taken her a full morning to identify: spontaneity, joy, hope.
And then she'd been promoted. Again. Her rapid rise through the force had never previously thrilled or dismayed her. She'd accepted accolades with the same numbness with which she ignored the jibes of those she passed over. Twelve years ago, coinciding with her graduation from the academy, the force had implemented a merit-over-seniority promotion system. Many rising through the ranks had found the harassment and abuse of the dinosaurs being left behind too much to bear, but Jill thought little of it. She had not been wounded by the rumours – that she gave the best head in Sydney; that she had a cousin sleeping with the commissioner; that she was the token female, advanced only for political reasons. The lies never breached the Teflon cocoon she had spun around herself in adolescence.
But it felt different now. Since the death of the man who had abducted her, she was beginning to feel again. She'd even been on a holiday. For most people, a trip away signalled nothing of major importance, but it had been Jill's first trip away. It was a vacation from her fear and rigidity.
But a new job meant a new partner, and a new partner would mean new risks. The next team would want her to socialise, drink with them. Of course, her reputation for avoiding such activities would have preceded her, but cops always liked to find out these things for themselves. Her armour felt rusty: she wasn't sure she could fit into it anymore.
'So where are they basing the taskforce?' Scotty asked her.
'No shit.' It was hardly the eastern suburbs. 'So you're going to bust the home invasion gang too now? You going to leave some of these crews for the rest of us?'
Jill had once busted an outlaw motorcycle group cooking meth down the coast. It was how she'd made sergeant. With the recent clean-out of a local paedophile ring, her superiors had acknowledged her gang experience with this secondment.
'Yeah, well if you blokes would get off your arses, I wouldn't have to do it all for you,' she said, smiling as Scotty feigned being shot through the heart. They'd closed the paedophile case together.
She sighed and put the lid on the last archive box.
'Looks like we're pretty much done here.' Scotty's voice sounded tight. He'd caught her change in mood. It was time to leave.
Jill tested her sore foot on the floor; it took her weight. It seemed her toe was just bruised. She glanced sideways at Scotty, feeling suddenly awkward.
'Thanks for helping, Scott.'
'Yeah, no worries.' He brushed his sandy fringe from his eyes and shifted from one foot to the other, staring at her. It seemed like he had something else to say.
'What?' said Jill.
'What?' he replied.
'Why're you acting like that?'
Instead of answering, he reached into his pocket and withdrew a package.
'I don't want it,' Jill said, backing away, shaking her head.
'I got you something.'
'I said I don't want it.'
He stood there, self-conscious, his hand stretched out. Jill knew she was being childish and cruel, but she felt unable to be gracious. She hated surprises. She hated endings. The rock in her chest pushed its way up towards her throat. Why couldn't things stay the same for just a while in her life?
The tissue-paper wrapping of the parcel rustled as Scotty's hand shook a little. Jill hugged her arms around her waist to stop herself moving towards him. She wanted to hold him, or punch him.
'You look like a wanker,' she said.
'This wasn't how I saw this going, Jackson. Shouldn't you be squealing and hugging me right now?'
'Oh give it here then,' she muttered. 'I don't squeal.'
Jill knew that when she moved from Maroubra police station she and Scotty would remain friends, but it wouldn't be the same when they were no longer working together every day. This gift symbolised something ending. She kept her eyes on his hand and took the package.
'What is it?' she asked.
Scotty just waited.
Jill picked carefully at the ribbon holding the package together, hoping to delay this. Her fingers became more forceful when the bow knotted, and finally she scrabbled at the tissue.
'Careful,' he said.
The soft paper fell away, and in her hand sat a heavy pendant on a chain. It looked old: a butterfly, studded with yellow and amber stones, its wings licks of green glass. It perched atop a small clear circle, studded around with the same glowing stones. Jill drew in a breath and stared at Scotty.
'It's a, um, magnifying glass,' he said. 'And a butterfly. It's meant to mean that you're beautiful and smart.' He said the last part in a rush, his eyes on the floor.
'You did not make that up.' Jill was incredulous.
'Nah,' he agreed, grinning, 'My sister did. It's nice though, eh?'
'Yeah. Ta. Now let's get the rest of this crap into the car so we've still got some weekend left.' Her cheeks hot, she shoved the necklace into the pocket of her boardshorts, grabbed a box and left the room.
Favouring her foot, a box under each arm, Jill stood in the hallway outside her unit, leaning her head against the door.
'Need a hand there, Jill?'
Mrs Williamson from next door. Jill had lived here for two years and had learned her neighbour's name only in the past three months. Another change.
'Thanks, no. I'm right, Margaret,' said Jill, putting the boxes down and fishing in her bag for her keys.
This was the final trip. Scotty had hauled the majority of her belongings up in one load. It would have taken her at least three trips. He'd left her reluctantly, but she'd known he'd bail when she told him she wasn't interested in lunch. It took a lot of food to keep Scotty going.
She pushed the boxes inside with her good foot, and dumped her bag next to the others inside the front door. She scowled at their intrusion in her otherwise uncluttered apartment. Grabbing a remote from the dining table, she buzzed open the motorised blinds, and walked straight onto the balcony, slipping through before the blinds were fully open. She tasted the smell of the sea.
Her niece, Lily, last time she'd visited, had said the white-capped waves looked like cream on blue jelly.
Maroubra beach was a carnival today. Spring rendered Sydneysiders a little manic, the warm breezes blowing in some kind of magic – promises of holidays, Christmas, pool parties, heat. It seemed there were babies everywhere, and in every park, pairs of ducks hovered around ducklings struggling through the grass.
However, with the rise in the temperature came a corresponding increase in violence. The new season's energy triggered hysteria in some. Sunshine on the weekend was as good an excu
At least they've given me a couple of days before starting the new job, Jill thought, moving back into the unit, her eyes blinking, adjusting from the sun on the balcony. Time to try to get used to everything. She didn't think she'd ever even been to Liverpool, although she'd seen the signs off the motorway when travelling out to her parents' home in Camden. Liverpool was fifty minutes' drive southwest from Maroubra, Scotty reckoned. For the first time, a departmental vehicle was parked in the small garage under her unit block. She'd had to sell her old gym-set to get it in.
Jill squatted down with the boxes on the floor. Where did all this stuff come from? Newspaper cuttings, personal files, downloaded articles related to past cases: these could all go, she decided. None of this information had been important enough to leave with the departmental files. She sat cross-legged with the paperwork, creating a pile she could take back down to the garage, to drop off later at her parents' home to be burned. She stopped when she came across a framed photograph. Jerome Sanders and his family smiled up at her. Jerome's mum had sent this, with two dozen roses, last May after Jill had rescued him from the same man who'd abducted her two decades earlier. She moved the photo over to a small pile of things she would keep. With a sigh, she flipped onto the same pile the clippings related to the current Sydney home invasion spree. In its clear, sealed folder, this morning's newspaper article landed face up. Police Establish Home Invasion Taskforce Doctors at Liverpool Hospital advise that the latest victim of the crime gang terrorising residents of the western suburbs remains in a serious, but stable, condition. The 52-year-old Green Valley man suffered massive injuries to both his legs during the vicious knife attack yesterday evening. His family remains at his bedside.
LEAH GIARRATANO SERIES:
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