Man In The Shadows ch-11, page 1part #11 of Cliff Hardy Series
Man In The Shadows
( Cliff Hardy - 11 )
Man In The Shadows
Man in the Shadows
A long shadow fell across the corridor outside my office. The shadow obscured the scuffed lino tiles on the floor and almost touched the card thumb-tacked to the door. The card reads ‘Cliff Hardy- Investigations’. It’s not the original card, not the one I pinned up almost fifteen years ago, but it’s very like it. I’ve always felt that a nameplate or stencilled letters might bring bad luck, so I’ve stuck with the card.
I walked towards the door and a man stepped from the shadow. He was tall and thin and I instantly felt that there was something wrong with him. Not something to make me reach for a gun, if I’d been wearing one, but something to be sorry for. It was there in the way he moved-slowly and tentatively-and in the way he stood as I came closer. He looked as if he might suddenly flinch away, retreat and dive down the fire stairs.
‘Mr Cliff Hardy?’ he said. He swung the small zippered bag he was carrying awkwardly.
‘You… investigate things?’
I pointed to the card. ‘That’s what it says. You want to come inside?’
The question seemed to cause a struggle within him. He wasn’t a bad looking man-under thirty, full head of dark hair, good teeth, regular features, but there was something missing. His face was immobile and was like a painting which the artist hadn’t quite finished off. But he nodded and moved closer as I unlocked the door.
‘Thank you,’ he said.
I got him settled in the client’s chair. He put his bag on the floor beside him. For some reason that I couldn’t account for, I pulled my chair out from behind my desk and sat more or less across from him with nothing in between. He wore a grey suit, white shirt, no tie. I smiled at him. ‘I usually start by asking my client for a name. I don’t always get the real one.’
‘Gareth Greenway,’ he blurted.
‘Okay, Mr Greenway, how can I help you?’
He looked slowly around the room. There wasn’t much to see-filing cabinet, desk, calendar on one wall, a bookcase of paperbacks and a poster from a Frida Kahlo exhibition. ‘You haven’t got any recording devices or anything like that, have you, Mr Hardy?’
‘No, nothing like that.’
‘Good. Have you ever heard of psychosurgery?’
‘Psychosurgery was performed on me nine months ago against my will.’
I let out a slow breath as I studied him more closely. There were no physical signs; he didn’t twitch or dribble, but he had the air of an alien, of someone for whom everything around him was strange and new. ‘How did that happen, Mr Greenway?’
‘I don’t know. That’s the problem. I can’t remember. I know I was in the hospital for some time.’
‘Southwood Private Hospital. It’s what you’d call a loony bin.’
That was the first flicker of aggression I’d seen; he opened his eyes wider as he spoke and seemed to be flinching back, although in reality he didn’t move a muscle. I didn’t react; I’d seen enough psychoanalytical movies to know how to behave. ‘Go on,’ I said.
“They did this to me, made me like this, and I don’t know why. All I know is that they’re going to do it to Guy and they’ve got to be stopped.’
‘He was my friend, my only friend, in there.’
‘I see. Why do you think he’ll be… treated the way you were?’
‘This is the hard part,’ he said. ‘I don’t know why. I just have these impressions. They won’t come together properly. That’s what things are like since they cut into me. That’s the idea. You don’t make connections between all the things that’re wrong in your life so they don’t bother you as much. You see?’
‘Well, it didn’t quite work with me. I’m still bothered. They tell me I was violent. I don’t feel violent anymore. I was an actor. I couldn’t act now, I wouldn’t know how. That’s what it does to you. How would you like it, Mr Hardy? Would you trade in all your anxieties for the sort of peace of mind that stopped you from doing what you do now? Even if that’s what causes the anxieties? I assume you have some?’
‘Sure,’ I said. ‘No, I wouldn’t. What do you mean about it being the hard part?’
He leaned forward. ‘I’ve been to see the police, doctors, the health authorities, everyone. They won’t listen. I know, from something I saw or heard that I can’t… reassemble now, that Guy is in danger and that that place is hell on earth. But no one will listen because I’ve been certified insane and psychosurgeried. I’m a vegetable, I’ve got no rights, I… ‘
‘Easy. Why did you come to me, Mr Greenway?’
‘Annie Parker told me to.’
‘Annie Parker!’ That made me sit back and set memories running. Annie was a heroin addict I’d had some dealings with a few years back. The daughter of an old friend, she’d been in big trouble which I’d extricated her from. She’d gone to England. ‘Is Annie at this hospital?’
‘She was. She died of an overdose a while back. We used to talk. Annie was pretty wrecked; some money she’d inherited from her mother was keeping her going.’
‘You probably don’t. I’ve got a few thousand dollars. I can pay you.’
‘To do what?’
‘To help me get Guy out of there. To stop him ending up like me. To save his life.’
He put his back against the chair rest and held himself straight. He looked tired suddenly, almost exhausted by the effort he’d made. I felt confused. I was sympathetic towards him; he seemed like a serious, responsible person who’d taken a terrible knock. He had a friend he cared about. I’d cared about Annie and her mother. It should have been straightforward, but mental illness and the medical profession set up strong feelings.
He waited for me and I floundered.
Do you want to be on the side of the patients or the doctors? I thought. Neither. Don’t touch it. Walk away. Say you’re sorry and go out and have a drink in memory of Annie and all the other damaged people you’ve helped but not enough to make any difference.
‘Tell me more,’ I said.
Greenway gave me five hundred dollars in cash which was unusual but not something for me to tear my hair out over. Then he surprised me by standing up, grabbing his bag and jerking his head at the door. ‘You’ve got a car, haven’t you?’
‘I don’t like small rooms very much. Let me show you the place we’re talking about.’
We went down to the lane at the back of the building where I keep my 1984 Falcon on a slab of concrete Primo Tomasetti the tattooist rents to me. Primo was standing in the lane having a smoke. He recently declared his tattoo parlour a No Smoking zone on a trial basis. He looked at the car which has replaced a 1965 model, same colour, fewer miles, less rust.
‘Looks great, Cliff,’ he said. ‘Just like you’d be with a facelift.’
‘Are you thinking of going into that business?’ I asked him. ‘It’s only a sort of sideways move.’
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘The first’d be the toughest. You volunteering?’
Greenway was standing by, not paying any attention. I unlocked the passenger door and opened it for him. He got in slowly and gracefully. Primo stared. ‘Who is he?’ he whispered. ‘A doctor?’
I winked at him. ‘The Pope’s grandson. Keep it under your hat.’
It was the last week in March. Daylight saving was a recent memory and the sun was still high in the late afternoon and
‘You should have better ones than these,’ he said. ‘These are shit.’
‘I lose ‘em; leave ‘em places. Makes no sense to buy good ones. Aren’t you hot? Take your jacket off.’
I was in shirt sleeves, light cotton trousers and Chinese kung fu shoes; behind the windscreen it was like a greenhouse as we drove into the sun. I was sweating freely.
‘I don’t feel the heat or the cold. Not since the treatment.’ I glanced at him; sweat was running down the side of his face and wilting his shirt collar.
‘Tell me about this place. I thought they were under strict supervision. Aren’t there… visitors, or something? Official inspections?’
He snorted. ‘The visitors are senile hacks. They should be in there, not… the patients… us. You’ll see. The place? It’s like a concentration camp. Fences, out of bounds areas. Cells… ‘
‘Cells? Come on.’
‘How? If it’s a registered private hospital we can’t just walk in and make a private inspection.’
‘I know a way in. Don’t worry.’
I was worried, very worried. For the rest of the drive I watched Greenway closely. He appeared to take no interest in the surroundings, spoke briefly to give me directions, and otherwise seemed to be asleep with his eyes open. We were forced to a crawl by the road works at Tom Uglys bridge where they’re putting in another span. I followed the signs to Sutherland.
‘You know Burraneer Bay?’ Greenway said abruptly.
‘Heard of it.’
‘That’s where we’re going. Left here.’
I followed the road through Gymea into the heart of the peninsula. The houses tended to be big on large blocks with expensively maintained lawns and carefully placed trees; a few were smaller and struggling to keep up appearances. Greenway directed me past the bowling club towards the water where the houses seemed to be craning up for a good view. We stopped in a short cul-de-sac occupied by a few Spanish-style houses; one had added a mock Tudor effect for insurance. The street ended in thick bush.
‘Turn the car around,’ he said.
Five hundred dollars made him the boss for three days. I turned the car so it was facing back up the street. Greenway got out carrying his bag. For the first time I wondered what was in it.
‘Have you got a gun?’ he said.
‘Good. The hospital’s down here.’ He pointed to the trees. ‘We can take a look from the high ground and I know where we can get through the fence.’
He looked at his watch. ‘It’s exercise time. I want to see that Guy’s all right. That’s all. We can talk about what to do next afterwards.’
He was suddenly much more decisive and alert. I was still worried; I wanted time to think about it but he plunged into the bush ahead of me and I followed him, feeling confused but protective. The trees shut out the light and made it seem later in the day than it was. I squinted ahead as Greenway forged on, pushing branches aside and crunching dried leaves underfoot. Then we were through and light flooded over a large open space ringed around by a high cyclone fence. There were buildings inside the area, concrete paths, garden beds. I saw a swimming pool and a tennis court half buried in shadow.
The blue water of Port Hacking hemmed in all the land. The sun still lit up the western edge but the advancing shadows were turning the water darker by the second.
Greenway tugged at my arm. ‘Down here.’
We scrambled along the perimeter until he located a section of fence where the metal post was standing slightly askew. He hooked his bag over one shoulder, gripped the post and heaved. It came out of the ground; the fence sagged close to the ground for five metres on either side. Greenway trampled over it. ‘Come on!’ he shouted.
He raced down the slope towards the centre of the compound. I could see light shapes moving slowly around behind a hedge. What could I do? Stand there and watch? I ran after him, more with the idea of hauling him back than going with him, but he was covering the ground like Darren Clarke.
I lost breath yelling something but I couldn’t have caught him anyway. He made it to the hedge as I was still skeetering down the slope. He opened his bag, pulled out a camera and started taking flash pictures. The sudden, flaring lights panicked the people behind the hedge. I heard screams and curses. Greenway raced along, stopping and shooting. I pounded after him. Three men came from behind the hedge; Greenway ducked back and they reached me first.
‘It’s all right,’ I gasped. ‘Don’t… ‘
Two of them came at me; I balked and made them collide. One recovered and threw a punch which I side-stepped. I pushed him back.
‘Hardy!’ Greenway’s yell was desperate, panicked. The third man was rushing him, reaching for the camera. Instinctively, I lunged forward and tripped him. Greenway dodged and headed back up the hill, feet digging in, well-balanced and surging.
‘Hey!’ I yelled. I lost balance on the uneven ground.
The man I’d pushed loomed over me; he chopped down on my neck in a perfect rabbit punch. I felt it all along my spine and down to my legs. I flopped flat, as breath and vision and everything else left me.
The sun was shining in my eyes and it was only a couple of metres away. I twisted my head and that hurt more than the burning sun. I tried to lift my arm to block out the light; my shoulder was stiff and painful but I got my hand across my face.
‘He’s all right,’ a voice said.
‘Who’s all right?’ I said.
‘You are.’ This was another voice. ‘Do you know where you are?’
‘You’re inside the hospital. You’ve been unconscious.’
I tried to lift the upper part of my body from what I discovered was a narrow bed. It hurt and someone tried to hold me down but I got there. Everything swum around-room, faces, my legs stretched out in front of me for all of two metres. I closed my eyes. That was better. My neck hurt probably worse than my shoulder. Nothing else hurt very much. My mouth was dry.
‘Some water, please.’
I opened my eyes when I felt the glass held to my mouth, took a sip and swallowed. Much better.
‘A possible concussion?’ one of the voices said. A shadow fell across me. ‘I’m Dr Grey. Just lie back and let me examine you.’
I did it. Why not? As awakenings from physical attacks go it was much better than most. I felt strong hands on my temples; the light shone again but this time the sun had gone back up where it belonged.
‘Look left, look right, look up. Possible concussion, but I think not.’
I could feel sympathy and concern waning so I stayed lying down. The next voice was milder. ‘I’m Dr Smith. I want your explanation for what happened.’
I looked at them through half-opened eyes. Grey was a bulky man with heavy spectacles. He wore a white skull cap like a surgeon which was an alarming thing to see from my position. ‘I was trying to be non-violent, Doctor. I pushed one man and tripped another. Then someone clobbered me.’
‘That is not funny.’ Grey said. ‘You trespassed in the company of another man who behaved in a way calculated to disturb some already very disturbed people. You… ‘
‘Where is he? Did he get away?’
‘Listen to me! You are in serious trouble.’
I sat up again and took the water from the man I took to be Dr Smith. He was an older, gentler-looking type wearing similar clothes to Grey-white coat over shirt and tie. Another man stood by the door in the white-painted, almost chilly room. He was the rabbit puncher. ‘I’m a little confused, Doctor,’ I said. ‘I may owe you an apology. Things sort of got out of control.’
‘That’s not good enough,’ Grey spluttered. ‘I want… ‘
‘Now, Bruce,’ Smith said, ‘I think we have a reasonable man here. I’m the administrator of the hospital, Mr Hardy
Grey didn’t like that. ‘I’ve got a half dozen people down there who’re going to need special treatment for days over this, maybe longer. This bloody hooligan… ‘
Even though I wasn’t at my most acute I could tell that Grey was under more pressure than was good for him. He was red in the face and a purple vein was throbbing under the flushed skin near his right eye. ‘Have you called the police?’ I asked.
‘No.’ Grey bit down hard on the word.
I drank some water and handed the glass back to Smith. ‘Perhaps you should.’
‘I don’t think that’s necessary,’ Smith said. ‘Just tell us what you and the other man were doing.’
‘You have to see it from my point of view, Doctor. I’m here in some part of a building I’m not familiar with in the company of three men who could be axe murderers for all I know.’ I pointed to the man at the door. ‘I know he delivers a good hit. You know my name so I assume you’ve taken my wallet. I just don’t feel safe.’
‘This is absurd,’ Grey snorted.
‘So, call the police. What’s stopping you?’ I swung my legs off the bed and put my feet gingerly on the floor. I wondered if I could support my weight. A pratfall wouldn’t have created the right impression just then.
‘What circumstances would make you feel more comfortable, Mr Hardy?’ Smith said.
Any public place, I thought. Preferably where they serve drinks. ‘What about your office? With a view of the gate, a few people around, a telephone on the desk and my wallet in my hand.’ I pointed again. ‘I can do without him and I wouldn’t mind a drink.’
Smith smiled. ‘Happily, my office has a view of the gate and of the water and I’ve got a good single malt. How does that sound?’
We sat in Smith’s pleasant office, admired the view and I rubbed the back of my neck. I examined my wallet and put it in my pocket.
‘Now,’ Smith said, ‘try this.’ He poured the whisky; I sipped it and nodded. Smith took a sip and favoured me with one of his benign smiles. ‘What were you up to?’
PETER CORRIS SERIES:
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