Changes 9

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Ian had thought long and hard about the advice he was getting from his friends. Reluctantly, he came to the conclusion that they were right, that he had to face Geoff in person and tell him how he felt, put an end to the relationship on his own terms, once and for all. He had looked up the number for the hotel Geoff had mentioned, and left his message with Tony. He guessed that somewhere as public as Flinders Street Station would make it difficult for Geoff to cause a scene when they finally had their meeting. He booked a flight to Melbourne for the Friday evening, and called Nick to let him know what was happening.

"Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?" Nick asked again.

"No," Ian assured him. "This is something I have to do by myself. I'll be okay, honestly!"

"Well, keep your phone with you anyway. And if you need anything, call me! I can be there in a couple of hours if I have to!"

"Thanks, Nick," Ian said, and meant every word.


Ian was lucky enough to score an empty row on the flight south - he had dreaded having to make small talk during the trip - but the plane was almost empty. With shuttles between Sydney and Melbourne leaving every hour, most of the business people had been cleared earlier, and the tourists would be lining up first thing next morning. He was one of the first off, and as he waited at the baggage carousel to collect his luggage, he looked up at the sign over the doorway. 'Welcome to Victoria - State of Excitement' he read. He laughed. That's the last thing I need, he thought to himself. He had booked a room at the Crowne Towers, above the casino, and the hotel supplied a shuttle bus from the airport, so he settled into his seat for the journey along the Tullamarine Freeway into the city and tried to imagine the meeting with Geoff he had arranged for the next day.

From his room, Ian could look down and to the right, across the dark expanse of the Yarra River which snaked it's way through the city, to the ordered lines of the railway tracks where they converged on the mass that was Flinders Street Station. It was an easy walk from the hotel, and he wished that his meeting with Geoff outside that edifice were already over. 'Something to worry about tomorrow' he told himself, drawing the curtains and climbing into bed. But despite his resolve, sleep did not come easily to him.

A few short kilometres to the east, Geoff too, had an uneasy night. He had no idea whether Ian was flying down in the morning, or already in the city, but he knew that he had to make Ian see how much he needed him, knew that the most important thing in his life was to convince Ian tomorrow morning that they were right for each other.


That Saturday was a typical Melbourne morning, overcast and grey. Ian rugged up against the wind - he had forgotten just how much colder it was when you journeyed almost a thousand kilometres south. As he stepped out of the hotel complex and began to wander along the banks of the river, he wondered at the sanity of the oarsmen in their tiny sculls shooting across the muddy brown surface. He chuckled to himself at the running joke that the Yarra was the only river in the world that flowed upside down - a reference to its perennial colour. But his jovial moment didn't last long as he steeled himself for the coming meeting, walking steadily east along the boardwalk, past the Entertainment Centre with its phallic spire and across the Princes Bridge toward the massive Victorian edifice of Flinders Street Station.

There they were - the 'clocks' - for decades the agreed rendezvous point for Melburnians. Above them the building arched skyward, below opened a gaping hole, looking for all the world like a mouth, which swallowed up and spat out the commuters rushing to or from the platforms. Ian took the steps up from the street slowly, until he came to a stop and looked around, standing directly below the round eyes of the time-pieces, and looked searchingly out across the crowds and over to the gothic style front of St Paul's Cathedral diagonally opposite. It was ten minutes to eleven.


Geoff had come into the city by tram, lost in thought as the ancient car clunked and rattled its way up St Kilda Road and across the Princes Bridge past the front of the Station. It was only as he stepped out into Swanston Street that he really took notice of the place where Ian had said they would meet. The clocks above the entrance to the railway sat at the top of a wide stairway, open on three sides, looking out over the intersection of Flinders Street and Swanston Street. If Ian had betrayed him, had told the police of their appointment, Geoff would be instantly visible. It was hard to imagine a more public and easily observed location.

What did he do? Would Ian have told the cops? Geoff agonised over his next move. If he didn't show up he would lose any hope of being able to be re-united with Ian, but if he did, he may be walking into a trap. Fuck! He swore to himself, Well, if this is it, then so be it. I need Ian more! He nervously crossed the busy intersection and made his way toward his destiny. He spotted Ian at exactly the same time that Ian saw him, and he noticed that Ian did not look around or seem agitated, but simply stared directly at him as the gap between them narrowed. That augured well for there being no hidden police around, he thought.

"Ian!" he said cautiously as they came together.

"Hello, Geoff," was the cool reply. No hugs, no kisses, not even a proffered handshake.

"You look good! It's so great so see you again," Geoff said enthusiastically. Ian did not return the compliment. "Let's go get a coffee and talk?"

"No," said the lawyer. "I'm here to tell you face to face that it's over. You hurt me, you used me, and I don't want to have any contact with you, ever again!"

"You came all this way to say one sentence in a crowded station? Come on, please let me tell my side of the story, somewhere more private!" Geoff pleaded, fidgeting as he looked around them.

"I don't want to go anywhere private with you," Ian said bitterly. "I don't want to go anywhere with you. You have no idea just how much damage you've done, do you?"

"Please Ian? You've come so far. Give me more than thirty seconds. Let me explain...?" his eyes constantly darted to every blank face in the crowd that milled around them.

"What's the matter?" Ian asked suspiciously. "Looking for your next victim?"

Geoff began to get annoyed. "No, Ian. I'm taking a huge risk by standing here. I'm a wanted man, remember? The longer I stay here in plain sight, the more chance I'll be spotted and arrested."

"Oh, shit," Ian said quickly. "I didn't think of that." He too began to look around, suddenly seeing imaginary detectives at every turn. Geoff's eyes begged him to move.

"Please, Ian...?" he repeated.

The younger man relented, wanting to get not only Geoff, but also himself quickly away from such a public place. "Okay," he said, "but only for a few minutes."

Geoff smiled broadly, and led him away from the railway, across Flinders Street and up Swanston Walk, then ushered him into a dark, quiet coffee shop, into a booth at the back of the room and away from the handful of other patrons. They quickly ordered cappuccinos, and as the waiter left them alone, Geoff looked hard into Ian's eyes.

His voice was a low murmur that only Ian could hear. "I meant what I said. I love you, and I miss you. I'm so, so sorry for everything."

"And I meant what I said!" spat back Ian in reply. "'Sorry' doesn't do it. `Sorry' doesn't make me feel any less dirty, any less used. `Sorry' doesn't make up for destroying my faith in humanity, for making it impossible for me to ever trust anyone again."

Geoff heard the bitterness in Ian's voice, saw the anger in his eyes, and he felt like a knife was thrust into his gut and turned. "You said you loved me, once ... he whispered.

"I did!" said Ian, his eyes misting, his anger subsiding. "You made me the happiest I have ever felt while we were together. I may have had sex with other men before you, but you were my first 'lover'. You were the first one I ever got to know, the first one I ever woke up next to, and shared my life with ..." his voice hardened again, "... but I didn't get to know you, did I? You lied to me! You kept everything from me! You took all I had to give, and then crushed me!" The tears began to flow as he tried vainly to wipe them away from his cheeks, and lowered his head in embarrassment.

Geoff ached deep within. His heart broke as he watched Ian, and wished he could do anything to turn back time and take away the pain he had caused. "Ian," he murmured. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I couldn't tell you about myself, about my businesses. You're a lawyer, straight as an arrow! How could I tell you about the drugs?"

"It wasn't just that," Ian hissed. "You broke my heart. You told me I was just a diversion, just something to pass the time with. I was so na�ve and you knew it, then you just dumped me at the first sign of trouble. Do you remember what you said? I do: 'what would you know of love? You don't need me to go out and play anymore ...', that was it, wasn't it?" As he spoke, Ian's heart pounded. He re-lived in a flash the times he and Geoff had shared, the wonderful moments, the sense of belonging he had known for the first time in his life. The briefest doubt flickered through his mind, and then the hurt of Geoff's leaving re-surfaced and his eyes filled with tears again.

"Shit, Ian, I was on the run from the police. I thought it was the best thing to do. I wanted to cut all ties between us, to protect you!"

"Hah," Ian grimaced. "I may have been innocent then, but I'm not falling for that crap again!"

Geoff gulped, fighting back his own tears. "But I was wrong. I know that now. I didn't realise then just how special, how important to me you are. I'll admit that in the past I treated people badly, that when I've left a relationship I've walked away and never looked back - but not this time. You made me see things differently, you let me see just how good a long term commitment could be. I really wanted to make things work for us. I've thought of you every day since I left. I've been miserable without you. I love you, and I'll do anything, anything you ask, to have you forgive me and take me back. Ian I..." he stopped suddenly as the waiter approached with their drinks. Both men looked down at the table while the cups were placed before them, and the man retreated.

Geoff looked into Ian's face, and saw sadness, tinged with something else - was that doubt? "Ian, I can't go on without you!" he whispered in desperation. "Isn't there anything, anything, I could do or say to get you to forgive me, to give me a second chance?"

The younger man wrestled with the conflicting emotions fighting for space in his heart, and slowly, almost sadly, seemed to reach a decision. With a pained expression he began to speak, trying to find his words. "Geoff, I loved you! But I don't anymore. I can't live the life you do, I can't pretend to be the upstanding citizen while the man I'm in love with deals drugs and lives the life of a criminal. I'm going back to Sydney, to try to pick up the pieces of my life and get on without you."

Geoff's heart sank. Ian had sounded so certain with his final words. "Would you ..." he began, then faltered. He tried again. "Would you ever consider coming away with me? I mean, moving to another country - maybe to Europe somewhere. I could support us both, I could make sure we lived well..."

The look in Ian's eyes was more than enough to tell Geoff the answer. "You have to be joking!" Ian burst out. "Live as a criminal, always watching over my shoulder? Forget it! I told you, Geoff, it's over! I came here to get it out of my system, to face you in person, and that's what I've done. And you should know that once I get home, I'll be going to the police, to tell them about this meeting. It's up to you whether you want to stay in Melbourne or go somewhere else!"

Geoff was crushed. He sat there and stirred his coffee absently, lost for words. Ian started to gather up his coat, making ready to leave.

"When are you going home?" Geoff asked quickly.

"I'm flying back this afternoon. My 'business' here is finished!" Ian said coldly.

"What if I were to come back with you, give myself up?" Geoff asked in desperation. "Would you wait for me, could you forgive me?"

Ian stopped his fidgeting and looked again at Geoff, a flicker of doubt on his face. "I--I just don't know." The turmoil he was in plainly visible. "It would certainly be a start. Maybe, just maybe, if you turned yourself in, if you faced your past and what you've done, I could begin to believe that you really are the man I once thought you were. But I just don't know if I could ever forgive you for the hurt you caused, if I could ever love you again, the way I did once."

He looked again at the man before him, the man to whom he had given his heart only to have it thrown back at him. "Geoff, I can't make any promises for the future, but you need to give yourself up, for your own sake, not for me," he said softly.

Geoff grimaced. "What for? To spend years in gaol without any hope? To be paraded around by the cops as a drug baron? To lose everything? I could do it if I had hope, but if you're not waiting for me, then there's no hope, so there's no point!"

Ian thought hard, remembering what Michael had told him when they issued the warrant for Geoff's arrest. "It may not be that bad," he said cautiously.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know if I'm supposed to tell you this ... but the police found your computer, and all your stuff. They told me that although they had more than enough to convict you, that they were hoping you would co-operate with them, because they're after your suppliers. I'm not saying this as a lawyer, especially not as your lawyer, but it sounds to me like you may be able to do some kind of deal with them if you want."

Geoff thought long and hard about what Ian had said. The two of them sat together in silence in the coffee shop while the world rolled on outside. Finally, Geoff spoke again.

"If I did give myself up, would you help me? Would you tell them that I contacted you, and that I want to go 'straight'?"

Ian looked doubtful. He was still wary of Geoff and his motives. "I don't know if that will help much, but I suppose I could try. If you mean it, then go to the authorities now - I'll come with you."

"No!" Geoff said with vehemence. "Not here! The Victoria Police won't care about any of that, they'll just want to throw me in a cell and complain about the paperwork involved in getting me back to Sydney. If I'm going to do it, I want to go straight to the right person - the one who told you about wanting to do a deal - in Sydney. Would you come with me? Would you get me in to see the right cop?"

Ian mulled it over. He knew damn well that Geoff could be kept in Melbourne for weeks while the NSW Police went through extradition proceedings in order to get him transported north. "I guess I could do that," he conceded at last. "Come back with me this afternoon, and we'll go straight to the police."

"No," said Geoff again, thinking quickly. He still wanted as much time as possible to try to convince Ian that he had changed, that they had some chance together. "I can't fly - they'll pick me up at the airport. My name will come up on the airline computers and they'll be waiting! Stay here tonight, and I'll hire a car. We can drive up together tomorrow." He knew quite well that he could easily get a ticket in one of the false names he used, but Ian didn't know that. The road trip would give him at least ten hours in the car with Ian to do some serious talking.

"Drive?" Ian said incredulously. "Do you know how long a trip it is?"

"Yeah, I know, but it's the only chance I have ..." He didn't add that it was the only chance he had to bring Ian around.

Ian shook his head. "I can't ..." he began.

"Please, Ian. If you don't love me, then that's my problem, but at least do this one last thing for me," Geoff pleaded.

Ian sat for a long while, trying to read Geoff's face, trying to understand his motives. Against his better judgment, Ian nodded slowly. "Okay," he said, "but we go straight to the police when we get back to Sydney?"

"Yes, yes," said Geoff with a shrug. "So, what do we do for the rest of the day?"

Ian looked at him, and his voice hardened again. "You organise a car!" he said. "I'm going to go off and see some of the sights."

"But can't we have a drink tonight, catch up a bit more?" Geoff asked eagerly.

"No." Ian was quite determined. "If we're driving all the way to Sydney tomorrow then we both need as much sleep as possible."

"But ..." Geoff began to protest.

"Take it or leave it!" Ian said. "Pick me up outside the Crowne Casino main entrance tomorrow morning at 6.00 am sharp. I'll be waiting for you, but I won't wait long. If you don't show, I'll get a taxi to the airport and fly home straight away, and go to the cops myself as soon as I get back." With that he stood to walk out.

Geoff wanted to call him back, wanted to beg him to stay, but Ian was gone. He sat, morose and alone for a few more minutes, then got up himself. At least I've got the drive back to talk to him, he told himself.


Once he regained the safety of his hotel room, Ian got busy. He still didn't completely trust Geoff, although the man had seemed to be serious and honest as they spoke. He arranged to extend his stay for another night, and changed his booking for a noon flight on the Sunday, just in case. He thought again, for a long time, about what he was doing, still unconvinced as to Geoff's motives.

Needing some kind of confirmation, he phoned Nick at home. His friend picked up and immediately sounded concerned when he heard Ian's voice.

"Are you okay? What happened, how did it go? Nick asked.

Ian spelled out what had happened, including the plan to drive back to Sydney and for Geoff to give himself up. Nick repeated everything to Tina who was standing next to her husband.

"Do you think you can trust him?" Tina called out.

"I don't know," Ian said honestly. "But he did seem to be serious."

"Just be careful Ian," Nick warned. "Remember that if you get stopped by the police, and he's recognised, it's going to look like you're helping him!"

"I know, I thought of that," said Ian. "I'm going to try to cover myself by calling that detective. I don't know if it will help, but it can't hurt."

"Okay, mate," said Nick. "Take care, and call us when you get in."

Ian promised he would, and hung up. He fished through his wallet, and found the business card with Detective Sciutta's number on it, and picked up the phone again.

"Detective Sciutta, it's Ian Sterling," he said into the mouthpiece.

"Mr Sterling, what can I do for you?" Michael said, surprised and pleased to hear from Ian.

"I just wanted to let you know that I have been in contact with Geoff Carruthers," Ian said calmly.

"What? Do you know where he is?" the cop asked quickly.

"Not exactly, not right now."

"I don't understand."

Ian drew a breath. "I met with him a couple of hours ago, and I think I've convinced him to turn himself in to you ..."

"How? Where? I'll get over there immediately!" Michael shot out eagerly.

"No, I'm not in Sydney," Ian interrupted him. "But I will be back tomorrow, either with or without him. If he's with me, we'll come straight to your office. If he's not, I'll call you and give you as much detail as I can."

"Mr Sterling," Michael spoke, urgently now. "Don't do this! Leave it to the experts; let us bring him in. Just tell me where you are, and how to find Carruthers and I'll do the rest."

"I can't," said Ian. "I've given my word. He wants to surrender, and to co-operate with you. That's what you said you wanted, isn't it?"

"Yes, but not with you in the middle. If this goes wrong, you could be seriously hurt or worse, and you could be charged with obstructing police investigations."

"That's a chance I'll have to take. I owe him that much at least."

"Owe him? You don't owe him a thing, Ian!" Michael almost yelled into the phone, surprising Ian with the use of his first name, and the real concern in his voice. "Think what he did to you. You are in real danger here!"

"Maybe, but I don't think so," replied Ian. "I'll speak to you tomorrow, one way or the other." He cut the connection before Michael could argue further.


Geoff had a long and uneasy afternoon and evening. He hired a car easily enough, and made his way back to his rented flat, but his mind was no clearer than it had been before his meeting with Ian. He just couldn't accept that Ian didn't feel the same way about him that he felt for Ian. He faced the possibility that he would be imprisoned for some time, although he also held tightly to Ian's comment about the police wanting his co-operation to get at those further up the ladder. That made sense, although it would also make him very 'expendable', but how was that any worse than being without the man he loved for the rest of his life? And surely Ian would change his mind when he saw how serious Geoff was, when he knew Geoff was locked away, just waiting for Ian?

Geoff had never been the one hurt by a relationship gone wrong before. He had always been the one in control, the one who did the hurting and the ending, so he simply could not comprehend that he could lose this time. He convinced himself that Ian would come around eventually.

He slept that night, but not well. He had already packed what little he wanted to take with him. There was no point in taking many clothes or much else. He suspected that within 24 hours, all his worldly needs would be taken care of by the State.


Neale Simpson had been in a bad way for months. Everything had been going so well for him up until recently. He had established himself as the supplier of choice for many of the drug users in and around Green Valley, since he was always able to get them whatever they wanted, and at a lower price than the Vietnamese gangs were charging in the neighbouring hub of Cabramatta, or 'Vietnamatta' as it had come to be called by most people in the south western region of Sydney. All he had to do was get the orders, and phone through the details to Geoff Carruthers, his old school mate, who would then ring back with a pick up point. Neale collected the money from his customers, travelled into a pre-arranged meeting place and handed over the dollars, then back to Green Valley to finish the deal. He could add a healthy margin to the price for his trouble, and still undercut the Viets. He didn't question how Geoff got the stuff; he just happily went along with the arrangements.

In truth, most of his profits went on the stuff he used himself, but he was not too greedy, and so quite satisfied with his lot. And then he started to grow concerned. He couldn't be sure, but he had the distinct impression that someone had been following him, watching him. He passed on his suspicions to his mate, Geoff, who had personally come out from the city to see him and assure him all was okay. Neale had no idea whereabouts in the city Geoff lived, but simply assumed it was somewhere expensive - he had that 'rich' look about him.

And then had come that awful Friday when everything had gone wrong. One of his contacts had asked him for a large stash of `Ecstasy' in a hurry, for a party the following night. He had rung Geoff as usual, but the phone had cut out while he was speaking. He had panicked until Geoff rang back and explained his battery was dead, and he would ring him back later. Neale had waited and waited, growing slowly concerned. He'd had one quick call when someone asked for him, and then the phone went dead again. He'd assumed it was Geoff and that his 'mate' was still having phone problems. The customer had approached him again later that evening in the local pub to confirm that the requested supply would be available for the next day.

"No worries mate!" Neale had declared, slurring his words slightly after having had a few drinks. "My mate will have the stuff for you. Geoff Carruthers, that's him - him and me are best mates. He won't let me down!"

When he got Geoff's call the following morning, he began to panic.

"Don't say anything, don't do anything, and above all, don't mention my name. You never heard of me, okay? The cops are onto me somehow, and I'm guessing they may be onto you, too. Lie low and watch yourself!" Geoff had warned quickly before hanging up. Neale had spent most of that weekend hiding in his room, expecting the door to come crashing in at any second. He had no idea what had become of the buyer who wanted the E's, and didn't care. When he finally surfaced, he went about his day warily. Any requests for drugs were turned away with a hissed warning that he didn't do that anymore; that his supply had been cut and that he was being watched. More than one of his regulars threatened and begged before finally being convinced and walking away mumbling.

Slowly the weeks went by, and the number of people approaching him for supplies dwindled as word got around that he was no longer able to help. He began to relax with each passing day as no police van screamed to a stop outside his door, no heavy handed cops showed up to shake him down. Whatever Geoff had done, he must have fixed the problem pretty quickly. Neale admired him again.

Neale's own habit was starting to take its toll on his body, and he needed dope for himself. In desperation, he began to make the short trip over to Cabramatta, purchasing his stuff on the streets from the Viet boys the way he used to. It was expensive, bloody expensive, but he had to have it.

About three months after Geoff had cut off his supply, Neale was kicking back at home one night. He'd just finished his second beer when the noise he had been dreading all these weeks came crashing through the room - a pounding on his door, followed quickly by a crunching sound as the door flew open and several large bodies let themselves in. Before Neale could react he was surrounded by four men. But there was something wrong here.

"You're not the police!" he said, unsure of himself in the extreme. The guys in his room were all Asian.

"Right first time!" said the one directly in front of him. "You Neeele?" he drew out the vowel sounds of Neale's name in an elongated accusation.


"My boss, Tan, want talk to you!"

"Tan? Who the fuck is Tan?" asked Neale quickly, panic rising in his throat. His head spun around with the force of the slap across his cheek.

"You no say bad words on Tan! Nhi Tan, him boss man for round here dope. You in deep shit, boy!" said the leader as his pudgy finger punched into the bridge of Neale's nose. "We take you see Tan now!"

Neale started to struggle, but there was no escape from the four of them. As one placed his hand over Neale's mouth, the others quickly picked him up bodily and carried him outside, where they unceremoniously tossed him into the back of a waiting van. In a cloud of blue smoke, the vehicle screamed off into the night. No one saw a thing, but then around this area, no one ever saw a thing.


As Ian tossed and turned in his hotel room a thousand kilometres south in Melbourne, and Geoff lay wide awake on his bed, thinking hard about the next day's drive back to Sydney with Ian, in a smoky room filled with a thousand unidentified odours, above a seedy illegal gambling den reached only by traversing a dark, dank alleyway between two fabric shops in the back streets of Cabramatta, Nhi Tan was holding court. The surprisingly well-spoken Tan was flanked by large, heavyset men who threatened anyone who came near him simply by looking at them. At his signal, a heavy door was pulled open in one side of the room, and Neale Simpson was half carried, half dragged into the chamber, his mouth gagged and his eyes wide with terror.

As the door thudded closed again, Tan nodded almost imperceptibly, and the gag was removed from Neale's face.

"Call out if you want, Mr Simpson," he said genially, as if he were offering a drink. "The room is sound-proofed. No one will hear you."

Neale collapsed instead, in a sobbing, trembling heap on the floor. "What do you want with me?" he stuttered.

"It would appear that you have been 'trespassing' on my property," Tan said evenly. "I am led to believe that for some time now you have been providing a service to certain people who should rightfully have been my customers."

"Huh?" Neale mumbled, his blank look indicating he had no idea what Tan was talking about.

"Stupid to boot!" stated Tan dismissively, as he looked down at Neale like some form of garbage. His voice took on a menacing tone, and he gave up the pretense of politeness. "Nobody steals my turf, shit-head! You've been dealing around Green Valley - that falls under my area, and I don't like competition."

Neale began to stammer out a string of denials, but Tan cut him off with a kick at his head. As he rolled around on the floor in pain, Tan addressed him once more.

"You're too stupid to be running anything serious, yet you've been doing a roaring trade up until a few months ago. Who is supplying you? Who is in control?" he demanded.

"I don't know what you mean ..." whispered Neale, until his voice was silenced by another kick, this time to the stomach and ribs, delivered by one of Tan's henchmen.

"I want a name!" threatened Tan, "Or you won't walk out of here alive!"

"Geoff. Geoff Carruthers," Neale almost squealed out, grovelling on the floor and begging for mercy.

Tan looked at his associates with raised eyebrows. All of them shook their heads, the name wasn't known to them. "And where do I find this Carruthers?"

"I don't know ... WAIT!" he screamed out, ducking another kick. "Honestly, I don't know. He doesn't come here, and I don't know where he is. I ring him and leave a message, and then meet someone at Homebush. I always go on the train. If anyone is with me, there's no meeting," Neale blabbered. "That's the truth! I swear it!"

Tan calmly picked up a phone and handed it to Neale. "Make a call!" he said evenly.

The frightened man punched at the familiar numbers nervously. As the call diverted to voice mail he groaned, and when the message was finished, he said in a small voice. "Geoff, it's Neale Simpson. I need you to meet me at the light towers outside the Olympic Stadium tomorrow. Nine o'clock, okay? I'll be waiting. It's really urgent, really important!" he said as he ended the call.

"Good," said Tan approvingly.

"He won't show if I'm not alone!" Neale warned, wondering if Geoff would show anyway.

"That is not a problem. You will be alone after you leave the train! My men will be with you on the train, and waiting around the stadium. I wish to have a long talk with Mr Carruthers! Now, I suggest you get some rest," he smiled, nodding his head. Neale was dragged through a different door and thrown onto the floor of an empty storage room, the door closing and locking behind him. He spent the next hours shivering, although not from the cold, and got no sleep at all.

He jumped at the sound of the door being unlocked, and hardly had time to get to his feet when two huge men picked him up and brushed him off, almost carrying him out and through yet another exit to a rickety flight of stairs. He was surprised to see it was daylight, but had no chance to think about it for long as he was shoved into a van, which lurched into motion as he rolled around in the back. When the van finally came to a stop, he was pulled out roughly, and stood between the same two men who had manhandled him earlier. He looked around and discovered they were standing outside Granville Railway Station.

"You no do funny business," threatened the larger of the men. "We get on train, you get off Olympic Park. Others waiting there for you."

Neale nodded his understanding, and mutely followed them onto the platform, boarding the first suburban service to come along that went around the Olympic loop. He sat in the vestibule of the car, each of the Vietnamese men beside him, and stared straight ahead. As the train rolled into Olympic Park Station, he stood, and the two stood with him, sandwiching him until the doors slid open. They stepped out with him.

"I have to be alone!" Neale whined.

"Yes," agreed the spokesman. "But remember, we watching you, and we all look same!" He laughed at his own joke, and he and his companion stepped back onto the train again. As it pulled away, Neale looked around. There were plenty of Asian features, but none seemed to be following him. He had no idea who his pursuers might be.

Nervously, he made his way up the escalators and along the concourse of the huge station, designed to accommodate thousands of spectators for the various football games and other events often held in the area, but now almost deserted. Through the barriers he passed, and out onto the paved walkways, which led to the different venues. Ahead of him and slightly to his right loomed the 100,000 seat stadium, around its borders the distinctive light towers where he had said he would meet Geoff, each bearing the name and year of one of the host cities for the Olympic Games.

As Neale walked slowly toward the arena and the towers, his eyes searching for any sign of Geoff Carruthers, he saw instead a flatbed utility vehicle, its door open and motor running. The driver had just alighted, and was walking toward a large rubbish bin in the adjoining park, carrying a new bin liner. Seeing his chance, Neale ran to the car, jumped inside and slammed the door, throwing it into gear and stepping on the accelerator. The vehicle jumped forward, startling the tourists as they meandered around the pedestrian precinct, and out onto the roadway with a squeal of tyres. The surprised worker simply looked open mouthed as his car was driven away, but three Vietnamese men sprang to life from different directions, one quickly relaying a description of the car into a phone.

Nhi Tan yelled with anger, and issued his orders. The vehicle would be easy to spot, since it bore the distinctive logo of the Olympic Precinct Management Authority emblazoned down both sides. With a network of spies so efficient and widespread that it would have been the envy of any enforcement agency, Tan confidently expected that Neale would be found quickly. "Finish him!" were the instructions his men received.


As Neale sped out of the Park and up onto Homebush Bay Drive, he was almost mesmerised with panic. He swung right and headed south on MetRoad 3, having no idea where he was going, checking his mirrors constantly for anyone in pursuit. For 15 minutes, he dodged and weaved through the Sunday morning traffic, following his nose. A little voice inside his head kept nagging at him, until finally he took some notice. 'I have to get out of the city' he thought. But where? Ahead of him a large green and white sign loomed up. 'M5 Motorway, Canberra exit 500m' it proclaimed. Neale swerved to the right, and through the intersection, racing down the on-ramp to the motorway. The national capital was two and a half hours away, but he couldn't think of anywhere else to head for, so he put his foot down and made his way west and south as fast as the vehicle would take him.

By just after mid-day, he found himself crossing Lake Burley Griffin on the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, the towering stainless-steel legs of the National Flagpole atop Parliament House directly in front of him. Neale didn't know his way around Canberra, and had simply followed the road all the way in from Sydney. As he swung around the base of Parliament and through the road tunnels, which carried the traffic into the southern half of the city, he knew he had to find somewhere to stop. Taking one blind turn and then another, he eventually spotted a motel in the suburb of Narrabundah. Relieved, he pulled into the parking lot and took a room, collapsing on the bed and falling asleep.

He was so tired from the night before and the race out of Sydney that he didn't hear a thing until half an hour later when he was prodded awake by a knife being pressed against his windpipe. He looked up into the Asian features of a tall, thin Vietnamese man, who said politely, "Good affanoon, Missa Neele Simmson!"

Just at that moment, his phone began to ring.


At precisely six o'clock that morning, Geoff had swung his rented Porsche around into the main entrance of the Crowne Casino. Ian whistled as he saw the car.

"Well, if we're gonna drive a thousand kilometres, we might as well do it in style!" Geoff said with a grin. "It's a little cool now, but once the sun comes up and we get further north, we can drop the top!"

Ian shook his head. Geoff was still a kid at heart, he decided. He threw his bag into the tiny rear seat and hopped in. As Geoff raced away from the hotel and through the nearly deserted streets on that Sunday morning, Ian winced a little at the way he drove. They sped up onto the Westgate Freeway and arched out high over the docklands before taking the exit north and then following the motorway around to the right and through the suburbs to the Ring-road, then right again onto that as Geoff ducked and weaved through the sparse traffic until they made a left onto the Hume Highway and quickly left the outer reaches of the metropolitan area in their wake.

Ian sat in the passenger seat, staring vacantly out of the window as they made their way across the gentle plains of central Victoria, skirting the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, which loomed up to the east. Occasionally Geoff tried to make small talk and Ian would answer as and when he needed to, but always an uncomfortable silence resumed before too long, broken only by the muted roar of the engine and the soft hum of the wind. Their road took them through the towns of Seymour, Benalla and Wangaratta, each of them slowly waking to the crisp morning as Ian and Geoff passed through on their journey north. By around 9.00 a.m. they had covered more than 250 kilometres from Melbourne, and were approaching the state border, straddled by the twin towns of Wodonga on the Victorian side, and Albury in New South Wales.

"We're making good time," Geoff observed as they rolled over the Murray River, which also marked the state line, and into the streets of Albury. "Do you want to stop for a quick breakfast?"

"Yeah, I think so," agreed Ian. "A coffee and roll would be good about now."

"A roll in the hay?" Geoff asked quickly, and Ian looked across at him in alarm. "Just kidding, just kidding!" Geoff declared with a mischievous grin.

They stopped at one of the diners on the outskirts of town to re-fuel the car and themselves, sitting outside in the sun, which was becoming warmer by the minute. After 15 or 20 minutes, Geoff stood and stretched. "Time to go!" he stated. "Your turn to drive, how about we put the top down?" he asked as he tossed Ian the keys. Ian nodded, and Geoff quickly folded back the soft roof, opening the convertible to the sky.

As they pulled back out onto the highway and Ian picked up speed, Geoff threw his head back and sighed. "This is the life!" he said, almost to himself. "The wind in your hair, the sun on your face, an open road ..."

Ian looked at him in disbelief. "Geoff, you do remember that you're going back to Sydney to give yourself up to the police, don't you? Even if they do a deal with you, there's a pretty high likelihood that you'll do time in prison!"

"Yeah, I know," replied his ex-lover, a little more seriously, but with his eyes still closed and face upward. "But I figure you live for the day as you have it. And right now I have a beautiful day, and nice car and open skies, and you beside me. It doesn't get much better!"

Ian shook his head, smiling just a little in spite of himself. "I hate to burst your bubble," he said, "but at the risk of repeating myself, I can't offer you any real hope. I don't know what will happen in the future, but I do know that I have a lot of hurt and a lot of anger to work through; you caused me more pain than you can imagine, and I have to think of myself now. I'm not innocent, naive Ian Sterling anymore, thanks to you, and it's going to take a lot more than a few 'sorries' to let me forget what you've done."

"I realise that Ian," Geoff said, sitting up straighter and turning to his companion. "But I guess I'm finally taking some responsibility as well. You might not be around, but I'll know you're in the same city and if I know you're happy, then maybe I can be too."

Ian looked sideways quickly, then back to the road. His thoughts were in turmoil yet again. Was this the same man who had dumped him so cruelly a few months ago? Was this the real Geoff, or more pretense as Geoff looked out for number one? He stole another furtive glance at the reclining figure beside him, the handsome, powerful man who had shown him that being 'out' could be so wonderful, yet the man who had also broken his heart. He sighed sadly and tried to concentrate on the road ahead.

Through the dry lands of the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range they drove, climbing slowly, imperceptibly. They skipped through towns and villages on their way, some no more than a whistle stop. From time to time they chatted amiably enough, and once or twice Geoff made off-hand remarks about how good it was to be with Ian again, and how he intended to change his life. Ian did his best to appear non-committal and to respond with a joke or an easy comment, but each time he found himself re-living the confusion and the uncertainty Geoff engendered within him.

They stopped again for a brief refreshment break and to top up the fuel at Gundagai, sipping cokes beside the statue of the 'Dog on the Tuckerbox', made famous by legend and poem, then Geoff reclaimed the driver's seat and on they went, turning slowly northeast to climb over the ranges. As the speed crept up, Ian chuckled. "Maybe you want to take it easy," he warned. "The last thing we want today is to be pulled over for speeding!"

Geoff grinned at the irony, and slowed to the limit again as they followed the highway toward Sydney. Just after 1.00 o'clock they reached Yass, and Ian decided that it was time for a more substantial break, and a meal.

"Let's see if we can find a restaurant in the town," he said to Geoff. As an afterthought, he added, "I wonder if I shouldn't ring Nick and let him know our progress?"

"Nick?" asked Geoff.

"Uh huh! I phoned him yesterday and told him what I was doing. It would probably ease his mind if he knew we were on track."

Not for the first time, Geoff felt envious of the relationship that Ian shared with his best friend. As Ian started to fish around in his pockets for his phone, Geoff picked his own telephone up from between the seats. "Use mine," he offered, looking at the screen. "Oh bugger - I've forgotten to turn the bloody thing on!"

With a press of his thumb the handset came to life, and he passed it to Ian, but before the other man could dial out, the phone beeped with a message that Geoff had voice mail waiting. Ian handed the phone back to its owner, and Geoff punched in the number for his service. He listened in silence, his face frowning in confusion at the words.

"Geoff, it's Neale Simpson. I need you to meet me at the light towers outside the Olympic Stadium tomorrow. Nine o'clock, okay? I'll be waiting. It's really urgent, really important!"

The electronic message was time stamped for the previous night.

"That's strange!" he commented as he ended the call. Ian looked at him questioningly. "That was the guy who I used to sell the drugs to," Geoff explained. "He wanted to meet me at 9 this morning, said it was really important."

"Another 'deal'?" Ian said angrily, his face flushing.

"No, not at all. I haven't had any contact with him since the day I left Sydney! Honestly! And he never set up meetings with me. It was all done through runners. I wonder if the cops have finally caught up with him?"

"Then let it go!" said Ian quickly.

"Not yet. I'll just call him and see what's going on!"

Before Ian could object further, Geoff was dialling the number for the phone he had given Neale so long ago. He pulled the car over and they sat by the roadside as the call clicked through and the tones began to ring at the other end.


When the shrill electronic tones sounded out in the quiet motel room, Neale twitched, and the goons standing around him suddenly looked to the offending instrument where it sat on the bedside table. The tall thin one, who pressed a knife to Neale's throat, hesitated for a second as his accomplice, standing near the door and keeping guard, reached inside his jacket.

"Forget it!" said the leader, returning his attention to Neale, who was suddenly wide-awake again.

"WAIT!" screamed the shaking figure on the bed desperately. "That's him - the one your boss wants. He's the only one who has this number!"

The Viets stopped again, uncertain now, as the phone continued to demand attention. After several more rings, it went silent. Nguyen, the leader, motioned quickly to his assistant who took his place with a knife pointed at Neale, and reached for his own telephone in his pocket. He dialled a number, and spoke quickly into the phone, several sentences in Vietnamese, of which Neale did not understand a word. He listened, obviously being given instructions, then said a few words back again, and hung up.

"You call back!" he stated in an order. "Get him come here! No tell him we waiting!" he said threateningly, sliding the cold steel of the blade from one of Neale's ears to the other in an unmistakable message.

Neale nodded, so scared he could hardly speak. He took the phone as it was handed to him, and nervously pushed the numbers, taking several long breaths.


Geoff had listened to the ringing for a while, then cut the connection and casually tossed the phone onto the seat. "No answer!" he explained. They were parked in the main street of Yass, and he looked around hoping to spot somewhere for he and Ian to eat while his friend called Nick and assured him they were only a few hours away, and that he would call again after they had been to the police.

Suddenly, Geoff's phone rang again and he snatched it up, pressing the accept button for the incoming call.

"Geoff, it's Neale. Sorry, I, uhh, missed your call. I ... was in the, erm, bathroom," came the strangely nervous voice down the line.

"Yeah, whatever," Geoff replied off-handedly. "I only just got your message from last night. What's so important that you called me? I told you I was cutting all contact!"

"I've got major problems, mate," Neale's voice still sounded strange, almost forced. "I need your help bad! I had to get out of town myself. I think the Viets are on to me. They think I was trying to steal their turf, and I'm really worried that they'll try to hurt me, or worse!"

'Odd,' thought Geoff. He had never heard Neale use anything other than derogatory names for the Vietnamese before, yet now he sounded almost respectful of them. He must be serious about his fears!

"I don't think I can help, Neale," he said firmly. "If you're out of town, then I think all you can do is lie low!"

Neale sounded panicky now as he answered quickly. "You have to! I stole a car and drove to Canberra, but I'm sure they'll catch up with me! I need you to do something, anything! I need you to get me out of here, somewhere safe!"

"Canberra? Well, maybe you're in luck after all. I'm not that far away." Geoff stopped to think for a moment, glancing at Ian who was listening curiously to one half of the conversation, a frown beginning on his face. "Sit tight!" Geoff said. "I can be there in about an hour. Where are you?"

Neale scrabbled around, ever cautious as the malevolent eyes of his captors remained fixed on his movements. He found a pad with the name and address of the motel and read them out to Geoff. "Room 208!" he said. "Come quickly!"

"Okay," replied Geoff, as he cut the line again.


Ian burst out at him, his face almost purple with anger. "You're not suggesting what I think you are?" he yelled.

"Why not? It's practically on our way!"

"Rubbish! It's an hour into Canberra and an hour back out. You can't be serious. And what are you going to do when we get there? Ring him back, tell him to go to the police!" Ian started to become animated.

"He wouldn't! He doesn't trust anyone except me, and he's in real trouble!" Geoff snapped back. "And he could be murdered! I owe it to him." He slammed the car into gear and spun the wheels as he shot out of the town and back onto the highway again.

"Owe it to him?" Ian hissed. "And what about me? I thought you owed me something too, like your word! You swore to me that you were going to give up, that you were going to face the music and go straight. So much for that. Was it all just an act to try to make me change my mind? Did you think I'd swoon over you again, the poor little innocent Ian Sterling who comes running when you snap?"

Geoff grimaced, but drove on. "I'm not breaking my promise," he said icily. "I'll try to convince Neale to come back to Sydney with us, give himself up as well. If he agrees we keep going. If not, we leave him there and head back ourselves."

"Sure!" countered Ian. "And when we get to the city he's just going to calmly walk into the police station?"

"Maybe, maybe not," Geoff said, "but I have to try, for his sake."

"So all of a sudden you're the saintly one?" Ian spat. "I should have known better than to even try!"

"Look! I'll stop the car and you can get out right now if you want," Geoff said. "But I give you my word, I'm going back to Sydney and the cops, with or without Neale."

Ian said nothing, turning away from the baleful stare of Geoff's eyes. They rolled on down the highway, still heading for Sydney, until Ian spotted the indicator sign - 'Barton Highway: Canberra - next exit'. As Geoff slowed down to make the turn, Ian summoned up his strength, playing his final card.

"Geoff, if there was ever any possibility that we might get back together, you'll wipe it out if you do this!" he said.

Geoff looked at him, bringing the car to a skidding stop in the gravel on the side of the road. He turned to face Ian directly, his eyes boring into Ian's face.

"Do you really mean that? Would you want me to leave another human being to die, maybe because of me?" he asked in a whisper.

There was silence for a good five minutes as Ian tried to control his anger, to get his thoughts into perspective, and Geoff waited patiently for an answer. Ian wrestled with his emotions, and with the possibility of lying, but he couldn't do it. With a long heavy sigh he looked at Geoff with sad resignation in his eyes.

"No," he said softly. "I don't want you to do that! I'm just so afraid ... of everything. I don't know how I feel about you, I don't know what I should be doing, and this is one more connection to the side of you that scares me, that hurt me."

Geoff looked suddenly very sad and small as realisation hit him. "I can't make that go away, Ian, but I can try to show you that I want to change. This guy, Neale, might be part of my past, but I can't just abandon him now, when he needs my help."

"The drugs, Geoff," Ian began. "I, uh, heard a name ... El Habibi ... is that who I think it is? Are you really involved with people like that?"

Geoff winced, then sighed. "Yeah, it's who you think. If you come with me to get Neale, I'll tell you the whole story, give you names and places and details. Maybe you can put in a good word for me? Now, do you want out?"

"No," said Ian, shivering a little although he wasn't cold. "I'll come with you," he said in a small voice, "although I don't know that I'll be able to help much!"

Geoff put his foot down again and the car leapt forward and onto the bitumen, and Geoff pushed it as fast as he dared as they raced along the narrow Barton Highway into the capital, only slowing when they joined the traffic of the Federal Highway from Sydney where the two roads merged in the northern suburbs of the city.


"He's coming!" squeaked Neale as he put the phone back down. His captor picked it up and listened carefully, ensuring the line was definitely closed. Then he grinned evilly.

"Good! We have two gifts for Missa Tan, now!" he said with a laugh.

Read next part

This story is a fantasy, it is not real and only happened in my imagination. YOU MUST REMEMBER that in the real world, you can DIE from having unsafe sex. It is your right and your duty to make sure that condoms are always used, whether you are giving or receiving. It doesn't matter how good looking or how ugly he is, and it doesn't matter whether you are top or bottom, USE A CONDOM!