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AND THEN CAME THE RAIN

Life is a gamble. We may delude ourselves into thinking we are in control, but more often than not it is fate that is in charge. 

Detective Senior Constable Sarah Phillips has devoted her life to working against crime. She loves her life and job. Yet when she is taken hostage during an important drug raid and injected with heroin, all of this changes. Once rescued she endures painful months of waiting to see if she is HIV positive. Finally, with the ‘all clear’ from the doctors, she accepts a temporary transfer to the small prawning town of Karumba, situated on the Gulf of Carpentaria in Australia’s northwest Queensland.

However, travelling north, Sarah has forgotten about the whimsies of fate. She is heading towards an inconceivable coincidence, a coincidence that will bring danger, terror and distress. Thinking himself safe and out of sight in the uninhibited and easy bustle of Karumba is the man who injected Sarah with heroin, the man who held her hostage during the raid. 


And Then Came the Rain
is a story of courage, compassion and long-lasting friendships. It will take you on an extraordinary journey of suspense. Will it also, one wonders, take Detective Senior Constable Sarah Phillips to love and fulfilment?

In Store Price: $AU31.95 
Online Price:   $AU30.95

ISBN: 978-1-921406-28-7   
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 358
Genre: Fiction

Cover - Clive Dalkins

By the same author
 
The Fourteenth Day

 

 

Author: Joyce Berendes
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2008
Language: English

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Acknowledgements   

Thank you first and foremost to Zeus Publications, who have once again welcomed me into their publishing family. With a special thank you to Chief Editor Marilyn Higgins for her constant support and friendly guidance and Clive Dalkins for his artistic expertise and willingness to comply with my every wish.

Although you are no longer with us, thank you, my editor ‘extraordinaire’, Joan Dods – how will I survive without you?

Thank you too, Sue McArthur and Belinda O’Reilly, my grammar gurus, and Zeus Publications’ Julie Winzar for providing those final polishing touches.

I owe a debt to Senior Sergeant Michael Jones, formerly of the Karumba Police Station (who is nothing like the sergeant in the story) for all his help and the time spent giving me detailed information about police procedures in Karumba.

A special thank you too, to the knowledgeable Ian ‘Stretch’ Boyd – I ask you, what doesn’t that man know about horses? As well as Annie Fitzpatrick and Georgia Bruce for their expert advice about dressage.

I deeply appreciated the help of Gavin Rablin, Morris Mitchell and particularly Tony Virzi of the North Queensland Ambulance Service, Mareeba, who were always there to explain and show me all about the procedure and treatment of hypothermia patients.

I am grateful to Yvonne Wallace, who gave me ideas and kept me informed about the operation of trawlers and boats in Karumba, and I thank Sharon Ciranni who sent me the interesting history of the Weipa region. Thanks also to Linda Holt, formerly of the Karumba Ferryman Cruises, who gave me detailed information regarding the birds indigenous to the Karumba area as well as all I needed to know about the Karumba wetlands.

Thank you, Shona Ballantyne, Judy Colley, Kay Pierre and Beverley Adamson for your critical but always positive and constructive feedback.

Lastly and most importantly, love and thanks to my friend and fellow film extra Jenny Lott, on whose life I based one of the more interesting characters in the story. May she still talk to me after the publication of this book!

Chapter One   

Her heart pumping fast, every nerve end in her body tight with tension and the feeling that she would self-combust if there was another single minute of waiting, Detective Senior Constable Sarah Phillips stood listening for the command to ‘Go! Go! Go!’

In the near-complete darkness of the night, the site was now surrounded by thirty to forty policemen. The area drugs squad, plain clothes, uniform, and the Special Emergency Task Force, guns drawn, were all at the ready, as were the men on the roofs of the nearby buildings. The air was charged with the energy of the waiting force ready to pounce. The occasional call of a night bird and the constant muted roar of the distant freeway were the only sounds to be heard.

Too excited to stand still, Sarah wished they would get a move on. This was the biggest raid she’d been on since joining the drugs squad; she could hardly contain herself. There was a momentary flash of light as the inspector in charge of the operation stepped out of his car and, preparing herself for the order to go, Sarah hoped this was it. Then, with a sigh of frustration, she noticed him still talking on his mobile.

She and seven others were standing at the side door of a large factory, supposedly belonging to an importer of ethnic foods: Indian spices and Chinese dried fish, that sort of thing. The building had two big roller doors at the front, the door at the side where Sarah and her mates were waiting, and a two-door back entrance. The windows, long and narrow, showed only a faint light glowing from within.

The information had come through from the undercover mob Intel that a delivery of a large quantity of heroin had been made that afternoon at this particular depot of a major drug smuggling network. The Brisbane branch of an organisation that called themselves ‘The Cell’ had been under investigation for some time, but had been too well organised and clever to get caught and had literally got away with murder as far she knew. The Cell was first thought to be a national group. But it had been established beyond doubt that for now it existed only in the bigger cities of Queensland, although it was known that the rank and file of the organisation had lately been checking out opportunities in the smaller townships as well. That was why everyone was so intent on making Operation Korma a success. This raid could be their first real break-through; they must not fail.

Four months earlier, Sarah had been seconded from the CIB to the drug squad to assist in a lengthy operation that had taken many months to solve. Her transfer came soon after the disastrous failure of the Gwenmar case, in which she and her senior, Jack Newley, had been responsible for chasing an innocent suspect. In Jack’s opinion that had caused the death of the Gwenmar girl, an opinion Sarah had not shared. She had liked working with the drug squad; it was a totally different challenge. So she had applied and had been accepted to stay on until a permanent position became available.

There was of course also, Sarah admitted to herself with an inner grin, Senior Sergeant Ben Thompson, from the NSW Central Criminal Investigation Branch, to make things somewhat more interesting. He was in Brisbane to observe the movements of The Cell for a couple of months, and was now standing right beside her, his body straining and ready for action like hers.

She couldn’t help giving Ben a quick sideways glance, which he caught. Lifting his eyebrows his lips formed a soundless, ‘What?’

‘Nothing,’ Sarah whispered. ‘I wish they’d get a move on.’

Then suddenly the Inspector moved forward and all thought of Ben’s attractions was instantly forgotten.

Go! Go! Go!’

They were on.

‘Police! Stay where you are!’

As she ran into the building with the squad Sarah saw four lamps illuminating a long centre bench, one corner of which was covered with what looked to be plastic bags filled, she presumed, with heroin, as well as three large unopened cartons piled on top of each other. In the centre, a group of seven or eight men were working at the scales, filling small packages and handing them through to others at the far end. They then stowed them neatly into brightly coloured containers carrying the importer’s name.

The men reacted immediately: all of them reached for their guns.

Sarah ran in with the others, her eyes quickly adjusting to the gloomy light, both hands around her gun, arms held stiffly in front of her. Her nostrils registered a mingling of sweet and spicy odours. They suggested comfort and cheer, but she knew better: to most people the substance being so neatly packed on that bench represented evil and sorrow and to many, death.

Amidst the ensuing chaos and noise, she caught a glimpse of two vague forms disappearing between some high, free-standing shelves at the far end of the shed. ‘Stop! Police! Stop!’ she shouted. Chasing after them, thinking Ben was behind her, she ran full pelt behind the shelves, straight into a thick heavy-set man who stood waiting for her. With one powerful swing of his arm he knocked the gun out of her hands. It fell clattering onto the floor and slid smoothly under one of the bottom shelves. Then, without a moment’s pause, almost before she could think what was happening to her, another pair of hands pulled her left arm high up her back. Sure that her shoulder was going to pop out of its socket, Sarah started to scream. The pain was excruciating.

The person holding her arm pushed her forcefully after the thick-set guy, who was hastening towards a small square office at the back of the shed. Once inside the office, he locked the door and switched on the light.

‘Fuck! How the hell did they get to know about tonight?’

It was the fat man talking. In the bright glare of the office’s light, Sarah could now have a good look at him: shortish, with a powerful chest encased in a tight yellow shirt with the buttons ready to pop off. He was almost bald, with hard grey pebbles for eyes and meaty, podgy hands. The man still holding her arm in an agonising grip didn’t answer. As he was standing behind her, she couldn’t see him, but she thought he must be quite tall, and maybe very thin, from the feel of his bony fingers. The sweat was breaking out on her forehead from the pain in her shoulder. Once more she started to scream, this time for help. The fat man immediately smacked her across the face and she realised yelling was futile anyway. There was too much noise going on outside in the shed for anyone to be able to hear her.

‘Bottom drawer over there against the wall, there should be rope and some plastic tape.’

Sarah’s other arm was roughly pulled behind her and both hands held together in a firm painful grip. The fat guy moved quickly to a filing cabinet and took out some thin rope and a roll of masking tape.

‘Come here, tie her hands together, and stick that tape on her mouth.’

‘Look, be sensible,’ Sarah protested, although she already knew trying to talk to them would be a waste of time. ‘It won’t get you anywhere, there are about forty police out there …’ It was as far as she got before the podgy hands slapped the masking tape across her mouth and firmly tied her hands together. Then the tall guy pushed her onto a swivel desk chair and held her down in a grip of iron.

‘You want me to tie her feet together?’

‘Maybe not, we might need her to be able to walk.’ His voice was chesty, Sarah noticed; she still hadn’t had a look at him. ‘You’ve got your gun on you?’

‘No, I left it on the bench outside.’

‘Fuck, I thought so, you dickhead. In that case, we do need her to be able to walk to get us out of here.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Have a look around you, mate, no windows. We’ll need this bitch to bargain with. Use her as a hostage …’

‘What, pretend we have guns you mean?’

‘No, stupid, they will have found your gun by now. They’ll soon find out there aren’t any in this office. No, we’ll need this female to shield us somehow.’

Sarah’s mind was racing; while the two men stood staring at each other for a moment, she had to try and figure out what she could possibly do to attract some attention from outside. It seemed hopeless. Her mind just didn’t want to work. Perhaps it was better to wait and see what these thugs were going to do. She should try and keep her mind alert to any opportunity that came along.

‘I know!’

Sarah could hear the grin in the tall mystery man’s wheezy voice, and felt suddenly terrified, with good reason.

‘Here, grab hold of her and keep her down.’

She could finally see him as he came from behind the chair. He had swung the chair sideways so that Fatso could take hold of her. She had been wrong; he wasn’t tall at all, but he was extremely thin, which had given her the impression of height. He was standing with his back to her, and for some reason she noticed his thick, unruly dark hair growing into a peculiar sharp point at the very nape of his scrawny neck. She could clearly see his skinny shoulder blades sticking out under his black and white striped T-shirt.

His hands were also thin and bony. The long fingers looked like claws but were somehow very elegant, with well-kept manicured nails, and on the ring finger of his left hand a wide and solid gold wedding ring. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from those hands. They became imprinted on her brain; they seemed so unreal.

She watched one hand reach into the desk’s top drawer, from which it withdrew a small phial filled with some clear whitish fluid, and a hypodermic syringe and tourniquet. Then both hands carefully filled the syringe and just as carefully, rested it back on top of the desk.

Recognising the deadly implements for what they were and unable to look at them any longer, Sarah turned her face aside. Her body felt suddenly burning hot, the sweat breaking out of every pore, yet she was shivering. There was no need for him to tell her what was in the syringe. Or what he intended to do.

‘Scared, baby?’

Sarah kept her eyes away from him.

‘Don’t want to look? What better weapon is there, hey?’

She could imagine the wolfish grin.

Desperate to try and talk to him, Sarah kept moving her lips up and down in the hope that the adhesive tape would come unstuck.

‘You’ll be alright, as long as you and your gun-happy mates out there behave. Untie her hands.’

With the intention of throwing herself against the door, and making as much noise as possible, Sarah jumped off the chair. She was immediately pushed back down as Fatso started to untie her wrists. She tried to struggle as she sensed the skinny one coming forward, but was once more held in an iron grip while he calmly rolled up her sleeve. He then expertly tightened the strap halfway above the elbow of her right arm to bring up the vein. Her heart was beating so fast she could feel the artery in her neck pulsing as if threatening to burst. Why hadn’t anyone come to rescue her? Where were they?

At that very moment, there was an ear-shattering crash against the door, which burst wide open. The barrels of two handguns stuck out on either side of the doorframe, the Special Emergency Taskforce officers only metres away. Men in dark caps and tactical vests, their Remington shotguns at the ready, some of them were kneeling, some of them rested their guns on the free-standing shelves.

‘The entire place is surrounded by armed men …’ It was the voice of the Inspector in charge. ‘We have found your personal guns and have established there are none in the office. We presume you are holding a hostage. For your own safety, and that of your hostage, put your hands on your heads and come outside.’

Undeterred by the threat from the police standing right outside, the thin man picked up the syringe, searched with his thumb for the now exposed vein in Sarah’s arm, and gently pierced the skin.

‘I wouldn’t be too hasty if I were you, whoever you are,’ he sneered. ‘Stick your head around the corner if you dare, and see what we’ve got in store for this lady. You kill us, I kill her. It will take less than a second, you better believe me.’

There was a moment’s silence, then some mumbling going on outside. Then, very cautiously, both arms stiffly in front of them, guns leading, first one man appeared, then the Inspector, and close behind him, ironically, her lover of not quite six weeks.

‘Jesus …’ She saw Ben take an involuntary step forward, then freeze as he watched the needle move the tiniest fraction down into her vein.

‘I wouldn’t do that again if I were you,’ this was said with a cold grin, ‘this is one hundred percent pure, there’s enough to kill her, I can assure you.’ The man actually chuckled. ‘Right, put your guns on the floor and kick them under the desk. Do it!’ He didn’t raise his voice, but had he in fact shouted there couldn’t have been more force behind it. ‘Tell everyone, and I mean everyone, to get out at the front of the building. My car is at the back, we will take her with us. Anyone tries to kill either of us or follow us and she’s dead.’

Ben’s nostrils flared with frustration as he kicked his gun away from him. Sarah begged him with her eyes to control himself; she hadn’t dared look at her captor but was convinced that he meant every word. Already, she could feel the very small quantity of heroin injected into her vein only minutes ago having its effect. There was a slow wave of well being, a sense of glowing, she liked it, liked it very much.

Yet still the other two police hesitated.

‘Go on, what are you waiting for? You don’t believe I will do it, do you? Well then, I’ll just have to show you, won’t I?’

The bony left hand holding her arm took a firmer hold. As the thumb of his right hand controlling the plunger descended a little further, Sarah could actually feel the stuff entering her vein. ‘It’s a matter of choice, either you put down your gun …’ she was aware of the man still talking, but only vaguely conscious of what he was saying, ’or she dies. It’s as simple as that.’

The inspector, hurriedly shouting instructions into his mobile, and the three policemen backed slowly out of the room. In the shed men started to move, their guns still at the ready. Inside the office, the room momentarily moved sideways for Sarah. Then it rolled backwards and slowly forwards and then straightened up sufficiently to make her aware of a smooth warm feeling in her stomach with all of her limbs feeling lovely and relaxed. She felt so at peace that she tried to look up to smile at the man holding the syringe, but her head was promptly knocked forward.

She felt herself lifted carefully out of the chair. Supported by the skinny one’s left hand, her right arm, hand hanging down limply, stuck out stiffly from her side, while the syringe still sticking into her vein was held there with his bony claw. The two men arranged themselves behind Sarah. Fatso’s podgy left hand took hold of her left wrist which he pulled hard behind her back. She could feel his lumpy stomach pressing against her arm. In fact she could feel his crotch against her hand and wondered what he would do if she suddenly tickled his thingy. She nearly giggled, but was still aware enough to realise that maybe that was not a sensible thing to do. The men pushed her cautiously forward. The three of them moved as one. Though her lips were well and truly stuck together with the tape, Sarah couldn’t help a silly grimace – what must they look like? Slowly and carefully, they moved outside the office.

The place appeared to be deserted, as the three of them shuffled along the outside wall of the office, then along the back wall of the shed, until finally they came to the two back doors, where Sarah could see that the bright outside lights lit only one open door.

All was deathly quiet, the silence ominous.

Each bare globe hanging from the ceiling seemed over-bright, hurting her eyes. Could they really all have abandoned her? She felt at once bereft. The slight feeling of sedated euphoria dispersed and was replaced with a shock of such terror that she suddenly stopped unable to move her legs. Her sudden stop made the two men bump into her. The hand controlling the syringe changed position; the needle moved a fraction deeper into the vein.

‘What are you trying to do, you silly bitch, kill yourself?’ the man hissed. ’Keep moving!’

Sarah started to tremble, unable to move. Her legs were like liquefied jelly. If her feet did receive any instructions from her brain, they couldn’t obey. In fact it was her brain which seemed incapable of sensible thought. Unable to scream, she clamped her teeth together, whimpering through her nostrils.

‘What are they up to?’ the skinny one wheezed. ’I don’t trust this. Have a quick look, see what’s going on.’

‘Stuff that for a joke, there’s probably a dozen guns aimed this way. You do it, I …’

‘How can I, you arsehole, you’re nearest the gap. Keep your back to the wall. Go on, be quick about it. They won’t dare do anything while I’m keeping the needle into her vein.’

Seeing no alternative, Fatso did as he was told. It took a fraction of a second but she heard him puffing as if he’d been running around the block.

‘Nothing, except the whole area is floodlit. Your car is still there facing the road.’

‘Right, I know how it can be done, but we’ll have to be fast. The car doors should be unlocked,’ the man paused for a moment, ‘unless the bastards locked them.’ He hesitated again. ‘No problem, I’ll zap them the minute we move out. Now listen carefully, lady. You’d better work with us, right, try any funny stuff and you’re dead, you understand?’

Was he talking to her? Her body floating, Sarah strove to wobble her head in agreement. She still hadn’t seen the man’s face. She didn’t want to see him.

‘Okay, let’s move a bit closer to the gap, I’ll tell you what to do.’

She wanted to move. Moaning her fear, Sarah shook her head, trying to tell him her feet wouldn’t budge.

‘You think I don’t mean it?’ he hissed in a loud whisper. ‘I’ll show you, you stupid bitch.’

The plunger came down a little further. Why couldn’t she move? She wished she could move. God, this was all so very, very funny … Why funny? Her life depended on it … didn’t it?

In the end, it was Fatso’s life that depended on it. He was strained and tense, with every jangling nerve telling him to get going and get away from this intolerable situation. Frustrated by the tart’s apparent unwillingness to move, he was aware that although the place appeared empty of bodies, nevertheless there were guns aimed at them right here. While knowing all of that, the urge to escape was so great Fatso made a small but crucial mistake. He took a step sideways, pulling Sarah along by the arm, giving it all of his strength, almost lifting her off her feet. He died instantly.

The sound of the shot reverberated through the shed like an exploding missile. The impact of the bullet hitting his head carried Fatso’s body still further to the side; his shattered brain spraying soft bloody gore all over Sarah’s arm. The second shot missed its target. The force of the sideways move dislodged the syringe out of the skinny man’s fingers for a second, giving the gunman his chance, the weight of Fatso’s body jerking him along saved his life.

An arm instantly encircled Sarah’s throat. She was pulled tightly against the bony chest, the syringe back in his hand, now resting against the vein in her neck. If only she could have opened her mouth, she would have laughed, laughed out loud. It was all so absolutely hilarious! Except she was starting to feel quite nauseous, bile rising in her throat: was she going to die choking on her vomit? A terrible pain in her head hit the sides of her skull, which wasn’t very nice either, why was it doing that?

‘Are you listening, all of you?’ The man did not raise his voice; he knew they would all of them be holding their breath. ‘I’ve got the needle stuck into her neck. My thumb is still on the plunger.’ Dragging Sarah with him he was careful to avoid the dead man on the floor as he moved closer to the doors. ‘I want you to turn out the lights. Now! Don’t try any funny business and turn them back on. I will kill her the minute you do. I promise you …’

She stumbled with him; he was now right next to one of the open doors. Waiting, ready, his body tensed up against hers. Although his hand seemed to be steady, she could smell his fear. Felt the extreme tension in his body as he fought to control it. It convinced her bemused mind that she was going to die. She didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to die!

Mouth desperately trying to open to let the scream out, abruptly all was in darkness. In the pitch black she was dragged towards the car. It all happened so quickly. Sarah was flung to the ground as the engine revved into life and tyres spun as the car accelerated away. The floodlights came on a fraction of a second too late – against all the odds, the man managed to make his escape.

An ambulance was waiting. Someone tore the tape from Sarah’s mouth as she lay hunched up in a heap amongst the pebbles on the ground. Retching … retching … before she passed out.  

Sarah heard what the doctor asked but tried to ignore him. Instead, she closed her eyes again. She had at long last succeeded in sleeping for a number of hours and was, on the surface, quite relaxed and at ease. But his question was tightening her insides into a knot of dismay. Her limbs were beginning to shake. She didn’t want to know.

‘I’m sorry but I do need to ask,’ the doctor said again, ‘did you?’

‘What?’ Sarah opened her eyes a little to look at him. He looked very young. Nondescript, but friendly and concerned. She still didn’t want to know.

‘You heard me, Sarah, when he filled the syringe can you recall if he used a fresh needle? We have to consider HIV.’

God! She was stunned, the shock of hearing it said surging through her body. The memory was there, instantly: the claw-like hands, taking out the syringe ready to be filled. Obviously the needle wasn’t fresh and had been used before; those skeleton shoulder blades sticking out from his shirt? It hadn’t entered her mind. HIV…? She couldn’t stop her legs from trembling.

‘Hey …’ The doctor was about to say ‘no big deal’, but stopped himself in time. This woman was not a fool. There would be few deals in one’s life bigger to cope with than the one she was going to have to face.   

It changed her life.

Her parents gave her the strength to see it all through: the blood tests; the dreadful months waiting for the results; the fact that they couldn’t catch the guy who did this to her; the fear in the back of her mind that he was maybe looking for her. The nightmares, people’s reaction to her predicament, friends, colleagues – most of them had accepted, had commiserated, but by some of them she was shunned. It didn’t help, telling herself they weren’t worth the time spent thinking about them. It hurt. Ben being one of them had hurt the most.

He came to see her only once in hospital and twice in her first few weeks at home. They were unable to talk privately, because he made sure there was always someone with him. After that, flitting in and out at work, he somehow arranged to avoid her. It was left to one of her colleagues to tell Sarah he had asked to be recalled. He had pleaded family problems, she was told. Within a couple of days, someone else took over his job.

Right from the beginning, his letter said when she finally received one, we have been honest with each other. I couldn’t take the chance I might catch something. I have a wife and kids. It is not as if we love each other …

Sarah had to admit that was true. Their occasionally wild and wonderful, uninhibited nights of pleasure, had little to do with love. Right from the beginning Ben had told her he was married. Happily, he’d said with a sly smirk. Claiming their unbridled goings-ons were just to keep the important parts well oiled and in perfect and faultless condition while away from home. Ben, if she was honest with herself, had opened up avenues for her she had not known existed. Even so, she felt betrayed. She would have expected different from an intelligent man like Ben.

The relief was overwhelming when the second test came out clear as well. Yet, no matter how hard she tried, she was no longer the good old feet-on-the-ground Sarah Phillips of before. It would take a long time to find that inner peace again, she was told. Learn to live with it; it was best not to push it away. As if she didn’t know, she had learned that much. She tried to analyse her doubts, which was not at all easy, because it was all so bloody terrifying.  

It was Senior Sergeant Jack Newley who made the suggestion. Sarah liked her former boss. A man in his middle forties with a face that was a map of late nights and having to cope with too much violence and tragedy. They had always worked well together.

‘I will more than likely be sorry for suggesting this,’ he said, ‘and we don’t really want to lose you, but have you thought about a transfer?’

Sarah at once saw the sense in it; it would focus her mind. She’d find new horizons, new fields, and new challenges. Yet she hesitated.

‘If only for a while,’ Jack said. ‘Leave it all behind, go somewhere peaceful, up north for instance.’

‘I don’t know, Sarge, I like my work here.’

‘Of course you do and you are good at it. But right now you aren’t happy here, are you? Why not give yourself a chance to work the whole business out of your system? It won’t have to be forever.’

Yes, Sarah thought, he could be right. She would meet other people who didn’t know, didn’t feel sorry for her. Didn’t still wonder about HIV or were afraid of possible contamination. God, if all of it weren’t so sad it would be funny.

‘Well …’ Still she wavered.

And then Beth’s letter arrived out of nowhere. Karumba was offered. And her life fell back into place.

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