Changes 10

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It didn't take Geoff and Ian long to locate the motel Neale had said he was in. Ian knew Canberra quite well, Geoff reasonably so, and with Ian's directions they could find their way around easily. Just over forty minutes after they had left Yass, Geoff pulled the car into a parking space behind a long low building of two levels, and looked up. Room 208 was almost directly above them, the door closed and the curtains drawn.

"You stay here," Geoff said. "I'll go and talk to him, see if I can get him to come with us."

"Okay, Ian nodded readily. "It's my turn to drive anyway, and I know my way around here better than you, so I'll be waiting." He slid over into the drivers' seat, leaving the keys in the ignition as Geoff casually walked across to the outdoor stairs and along the balcony to Neale's room.

Ian watched, idly flicking at the car keys, as Geoff knocked firmly on the door above him. He could just hear Geoff's voice as he called out, "Neale, it's me. Open up!"

The door cracked, and Geoff pushed it open, stepping inside. Then that same door was slammed closed behind him with force. Ian's brow creased with confusion. Something didn't look right here. He sat up and opened the door of the car, sliding out uncertainly. Keeping his eyes on the room above, he noticed the curtains in the window flutter quickly, billowing against the glass, then become still again, as if something had been thrown against them. Without thinking, he quickly ran to the stairs and along the balcony, leaving the car wide open as he did. At the door he knocked hard. "Geoff? Geoff? Is everything alright?"

The door to the room was wrenched open with force and Ian stood face to face with a tall, thin Asian man, who looked as surprised as Ian felt at the sudden appearance of another person. Time seemed to stand still as Ian saw with perfect clarity the form of another man, presumably Neale, lying on the floor, fresh blood running freely from a wound in his chest; a second Asian man, larger and heavier than the one before him, leaning down to extract a knife from that same wound. Geoff was standing there as well, clutching his left arm, blood seeping already between his fingers.

"What the fuck ...?" screamed Ian as his voice returned. The man in front of him said nothing, his eyes boring into Ian's face, as his hand reached into the coat he wore.

"RUN, IAN, RUN!" Geoff yelled out at the top of his voice, the sound momentarily distracting the thin Vietnamese. Then Ian saw the glint of steel as a long bladed knife appeared in the hand only a metre from him. Frozen in place, he watched uncomprehendingly as the shining weapon was lifted up high and pointed at his chest.

"Ian!!!!" Geoff's voice cut through his fear. With his eyes still fixed on the face before him, he somehow sensed a flurry of movement in the room behind, as the other Viet was shoved aside and Geoff crashed into the back of the thin man. That forced both of them forward and through the door, as Ian recovered enough at the last second to step to one side. Geoff's momentum threw both himself and the other across the balcony and into the iron railings. The knife, which had been directed at Ian's heart, slashed across instead, gouging a deep gash in his left shoulder and down into his upper arm.

As the two combatants flailed at each other on the floor, Geoff looked up into Ian's eyes again. "For fuck's sake, GO!" he commanded. "Get some help, NOW!!"

This time, Ian's feet obeyed his brain, and the young lawyer turned away and raced down the stairs, only vaguely aware of the pain in his left side as he jumped into the car and turned the ignition. The motor roared into life instantly, but he still sat there looking up, in time to see the other Asian exit the room, and bring a heavy brass lamp down onto Geoff's head with a sickening thump.

As Geoff's body went limp, Ian gasped in horror, his first impulse to jump from the car and race back to help his mate. But then a loud crack sounded out and Ian felt the zing of air as a bullet passed mere centimetres from his head and sent an explosion of dirt into the air from the gravel beside him. He reacted on pure instinct. The two Viets were already charging toward the steps when he threw the car into reverse and floored the accelerator. The Porsche spun around in a narrow arc, and then stopped. Finding first gear, Ian let the engine have full throttle again, and the vehicle fish-tailed its way through the parking area and out onto the roadway. He was facing toward Capital Hill, the giant flag a beacon as it waved lazily in the breeze, and he headed towards it. Behind him, a black sedan screeched out of the motel and headed in the same direction. Ian shot up Jerrabomberra Avenue to the intersection with Hindmarsh Drive, the other car in pursuit. He turned hard right at the last moment, across the oncoming traffic, then raced up to the left, taking the on-ramp for the Monaro Highway

He pushed the car hard, ducking and weaving through the traffic as he sped north through the industrial wasteland of Fyshwick, and muttered as the road petered out into a narrow winding route and he found himself stuck behind slow moving vehicles through the wetlands at the eastern end of the Lake and past the Royal Military College at Duntroon. Ahead of him he could see the opposing spikes of the Carillon on its tiny island in the lake and the Eagle Monument facing down Kings Avenue. The brilliant white of the British gifted bell tower contrasted with the dark marble of the Australian-American Memorial, its grey obelisk crowned with a giant sculpted eagle, and the two formed a gateway as he careered around the roundabout at the foot of Kings Avenue and shot out onto the double lanes of Parkes Way, the dark sedan of the Viets still uncomfortably close.

Ian tried to lose them along the edge of the Lake, but was foiled by the other road users as he cursed the gawking, slow moving tourists who blocked his path, casually exploring the architectural delights of the completely planned capital. His pursuers were almost upon him now, but Ian guessed that most of the dawdlers would leave the expressway at the bottom of Anzac Parade as they made the almost compulsory pilgrimage up the impossibly wide, red granite boulevarde to the National War Memorial, so he stuck to the left and shot out of the circle at speed. The driver of the black sedan almost missed the exit, and clipped another vehicle as it crossed two lanes to follow him, but the chaos was left behind as both cars raced away toward the city centre. So intent on watching for those chasing him was Ian, that he missed the exit that would have seen him skirt downtown and head north toward Sydney. He swore loudly to himself, and stayed in the right lane as he passed several more cars while shooting through the Commonwealth Avenue underpass. But he knew where he was now, and the Viets were close behind in the same lane. Another shot was fired but went wide as the following driver tried to steady his vehicle. At the last possible second, Ian stood on the brakes, wrenched the wheel hard, and cut left across three lanes to make the exit that took him up and around the university and back into Civic.

In the quiet streets, he breathed a sigh of relief. He slowed as the pursuing vehicle did not appear, and cautiously headed toward busy Northbourne Avenue. Should he try to get to the police now? Could he find someone in authority who would listen to his story? As he stopped, waiting at a red light, the decision was made for him - that same dark car that he had dodged appeared in his rear-view mirror as it swung around a corner two blocks back. `Shit'! he said loudly, the adrenaline once again pumping through his body. Yet another high pitched 'zing' and his rear indicator exploded in a shower of glass and metal. He pulled out fast and went around the car in front, running the light and swinging left into the stream of traffic heading north, just missing several other cars in the process. Now he was racing away from the downtown area, and still he was followed, the goons in the other car seemingly unshakeable. All Ian could think was that he had to keep moving, and he sped along the wide, straight way which led out of Canberra. Through three or four sets of lights he ducked cross traffic, ignoring the red signals. "Never a bloody cop around when you need one!" he mused grimly as the buildings on either side thinned out into the northern suburbs.

Ahead, the overhead signs warned of the upcoming major intersection - to the left began the Barton Highway to Yass and eventually Melbourne, to the right the Federal Highway pointed traffic to Goulburn and Sydney. 'Home!' Ian's brain screamed, as he held his position until just before the diverging routes, and spun hard to the right to go north and east. The road widened again and as the local traffic thinned, Ian finally was able to really give the motor full throttle. The black shape of the chasing car was still in clear view as he hurtled up the freeway and across the state line back into New South Wales, but falling behind with every kilometre.

Even so, it wasn't until Ian had swung down over the top of the mountain range, and was travelling north along the edge of the dry bed of Lake George, that his adrenaline flow eased sufficiently for his body to start making its protests felt. There was no sign of the pursuing vehicle behind him now, and he felt a little confident that the Porsche had allowed him to leave them behind, although he also had no doubt that any stop would see them catch him up remarkably quickly. His mind turned to Geoff, to the sight of his friend slumping to the floor under the weight of the lamp. 'My god, he's dead!' Ian told himself, 'and I just ran off like some frightened schoolboy!' Recrimination flowed through him as he tried to clarify in his mind what had happened. He thought of the long empty road ahead of him. The nearest town of any decent size was Goulburn, still a good 30 minutes away, and his left arm was beginning to really pound. He risked a look at himself, only to find thick red stains where his own blood seeped into the sleeve of the jacket he wore, and the pain in his chest and shoulder increased rapidly.

Vaguely, a warning bell sounded in his head. "Shit," he told himself, "I think I'm in trouble!" What to do? Did he make for Goulburn and try to get some country cop to believe his story, or did he stay on the freeway and drive right through to Sydney? He began to honestly doubt that he would be able to manage such a trip, the tedious gradual descent into the city an impossible task with his body beginning to seize up on him. Suddenly, a sound disturbed his thoughts. His phone chirped into life. He had forgotten all about it, lying on the passenger seat beside him. He reached across for it, wincing with the pain. Somehow, he flipped open the cover and barked into the mouthpiece.


"Ian! Thank god! Where are you? Are you okay?" came a rushed and not overly familiar voice.

"I'm in trouble!" he declared quickly, knowing he needed help. "Who is this?"

"Michael! Michael Sciutta. I just had a call from a homicide detective in the Federal Police. They've just found Geoff Carruthers' body at what looks like a gang-style double killing in Canberra, and there was an unidentified man with him. I thought it was you!" Michael almost yelled into the phone. "What happened?"

"Fuck! I was there!" he screamed. "I got away, but they're still chasing me, I think. I'm in a car on the Federal Highway, about 25 minutes south of Goulburn! I'm hurt - they cut me with a knife, lot of blood. I had to run." He began to babble, now he finally had someone he could tell the story to.

"Ian, listen!" Michael cut him off. "How bad are you?"

"I don't know ..." the fear in his voice was clear.

Michael tried to think clearly, putting his personal feelings to the back of his mind. "What kind of car are you in?"

"A dark green Porsche convertible. The ones who killed Geoff, they're behind me - not sure how far - in a black sedan, I think it's a Lexus but I'm not sure - two Asian men, one tall and thin, the other tall and fat. The thin one's the leader!"

"Okay," spoke Michael reassuringly, sounding calmer than he felt. "Head for Goulburn. I'll get the local boys there to set up a road block as fast as I can, but if you don't hit it yourself, drive straight to the police station there, okay?"

"Unh, yeah, okay ..." Ian said slowly.

"Ian, Ian? Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Come on, mate, you can do this. Just hold on. It's not that far!" Michael silently prayed Ian could get himself either to the town, or to the road block, without collapsing. He had no idea how bad Ian was, but the man didn't sound good on the phone.

"Okay," the lawyer said through gritted teeth. "I can do it!"

"Good!" Michael quickly cut the line, then dialled instantly to the supervisor of the local area in Goulburn, giving him the briefest explanation that two suspected murderers were chasing a witness out of Canberra, that he needed a road block like NOW on the freeway. He told them the witness was injured and driving a green Porsche, and that he could identify the pursuing car which had the wanted men, and that he personally would be there as soon as possible. He slammed the phone down and looked around desperately. The time it would take him to requisition a plane and get to the airport, or even a chopper to pick him up, and then get to the southern highlands town, was almost as long as he would take to drive, if not more. He raced into the Police Centre's garage.

"Is this car fully fuelled?" he yelled at the supervising officer, flashing his identity badge.

"Yes, sir!"

"Okay!" he stated as he jumped in, turning the motor over before he'd even pulled the door closed.


Ian dropped the phone onto the seat beside him and lifted his arm painfully back to the wheel. He wasn't sure exactly how far away he was from help, but at least he knew it was there, he had something to aim for, something to make him hold on.

The police in Goulburn acted remarkable quickly. With one of the state's largest prisons on their doorstep, and the Police Academy just down the road, they were well equipped to react at speed to crises. Within minutes four patrol cars were lining the road where the Federal Highway rejoined the Hume just outside of town, another vehicle stationed as a lookout on the side of the freeway from Canberra; and a helicopter in the air, making its way backward over the motorway leading out of the capital.

No more than 5 minutes after the cars were in place, Ian rounded a long bend and saw the signpost for the interchange between the two highways. He rode up across the long, angled overpass and down onto the Hume Highway, and as he did he saw the flashing blue lights and waving orange pointers of the cops. With an incredible sense of relief, he hit the brakes and brought the sports car to an idling stop beside one of the cops.

"Thank Christ!" he said with feeling. "Am I glad to see you!"

"Stay there, Sir, don't move!" said the officer quickly. Into his radio he barked an order. "Get an ambulance out here, fast!" Ian heard, before the sergeant turned back to him again. "You'll be okay now, Sir. We'll take care of you!"

Very soon after that, Ian heard a crackle of static on the radios around him, and sensed a flurry of urgent activity among the milling police. The lookout car had just reported a black sedan with two Asian occupants had passed him at speed, heading their way. The motorway on the other side of the interchange was closed completely, and the cops moved into position across the road, while a line of wheel spikes was laid over all three lanes.

As the Viets sailed around the curve and found their way blocked, the car screeched to a stop in a cloud of smoke. More flashing lights and a siren quickly appeared behind them, as the lookout vehicle had given chase. With a remarkable lack of fight, the two men in the vehicle surrendered, their hands in the air as they were dragged from the car and pushed onto the roadway, legs spread. They had only been carrying one hand gun between them, still in the car, and fortunately had made no attempt to use it.

"That's them!" Ian confirmed as they were paraded before him, silent but baleful. The two were placed in a police van quickly, and driven away as the siren of an ambulance could be heard approaching from the town.


"Is this car fully fuelled?" Michael had yelled at the supervising officer in the Police Centre back at Surry Hills, flashing his identity badge.

"Yes, sir!"

"Okay!" he stated as he jumped in, turning the motor over before he'd even pulled the door closed. Ignoring the protests of the duty sergeant, he slammed the car into gear and raced up and out of the underground garage, pushed the car ahead and out into the Sunday afternoon traffic on Oxford Street. He shot up the hill with sirens wailing and lights flashing, and around through Taylor Square, then down onto the M5 Motorway on-ramp at South Dowling Street. From there he knew he had a clear run, and with the police car screaming, traffic parted before him, all the way to Goulburn.

Down and around the airport he sped, then through the Wolli Creek tunnel and out across the spreading south-western suburbs. He barely slowed at the toll booths near Liverpool, his police vehicle given easy access through the barriers, and he pushed the car to its limit as he skirted around the satellite city of Campbelltown, and up into the tablelands, past Mittagong. As he drove, he kept telling himself that this was justified and necessary to his investigation, despite the fact that the killings were a Federal matter, and that Ian Sterling would be safe enough in the hands of the Goulburn Police. This wasn't personal, he repeated to himself again and again, this was purely business. In just over 90 minutes he had covered the usually two hour plus journey, and screeched to a stop outside the main Goulburn Police Headquarters.

Superintendent Wilson, who had taken charge of this whole matter, greeted him at the door.

"Your man appears to be okay," he said to Michael. "He's at the hospital now, and there's a guard with him for his own safety. Apparently he needed some minor surgery, and he's lost a lot of blood, but he'll pull through, the doctor has just told me."

"Thanks," replied Michael, "I want to see him as soon as I can."

"Sure," nodded Wilson. "Seems a bit strange for you to come all the way down in person, though," he commented. "This is a murder case - and not even in our jurisdiction."

Michael grimaced. He suspected he might have some more explaining to do for his own superiors later. "Yeah, but it's all tied up with a major drug operation we've been investigating for months," he said, sounding official. "I need the information this Mr Sterling has, and I need it fast!"

"Okay," his colleague nodded, accepting the explanation. "I'll get one of the boys to take you over there straight away."


Detective Sciutta was waiting for Ian when he came around from the emergency surgery carried out on his chest and arm, sitting in recovery and looking more like a nervous relative than a disinterested policeman. His was the first recognisable face Ian saw, and for a moment the lawyer groggily looked up at him with a grin.

"Hello there," Ian said happily. "Nice of you to come and see me!"

Michael permitted himself a grin. "Ian, I think we should get someone here for you. What is your friend's number - Nick?" he asked.

"Wha ...?" said Ian uncomprehendingly.

"Can you tell me Nick's phone number?" Michael repeated, more slowly and carefully.

"Yes," said Ian, and closed his eyes.

Michael shrugged. He wasn't going to get much from Ian in this condition. He called his assistant back in Sydney, and had him go through the old 'Carruthers' file, looking for the number for one Nick Leonidis who had been briefly checked just after the search on Carruthers' flat. With that information, Michael checked with the doctors. They told him Ian would be moved as soon as he was able to travel, probably the next day, to a specialist ward in a hospital in the city. Apparently he was going to need at least one more operation in a few days, as well as possible plastic surgery.

The Detective called the number for Ian's friend. When Nick answered, Michael quickly assured him Ian was alive and well.

"But he's been involved in an incident," Michael continued. "His arm and chest have been injured and he's in Goulburn Base Hospital at the moment, although he will be moved tomorrow."

"When and where?" Nick demanded.

"I'm sorry, I don't know yet. I'll call you again when I have more information."

"Is this to do with Geoff Carruthers?" Nick asked without thinking. Michael was taken by surprise.

"Yes, it is," he said guardedly. "What do you know of it?"

"Only that Ian had gone to see Carruthers in Melbourne to get some closure on their, uh, relationship," Nick said slowly. "He phoned me earlier to let me know they were on their way back to Sydney by road. Apparently Geoff was going to turn himself in. Have they been in a car accident?"

"No, not quite," Michael said. "I can't give you any more details at the moment, but I'm sure Mr Sterling will fill you in later. I'll call you again when I know more about his condition, I promise!"

"Thanks!" Nick answered.

When Ian came around again properly, Michael was able to tell him that Nick and Tina had been informed of his condition, and that he was to be moved to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital at Camperdown, only a few kilometres from his home, the next day. "I've told your friends as well, and Nick is on his way here at the moment," Michael concluded.

Ian's eyes clouded over as he digested the information, and memories of the day came flooding back.

"Geoff ... Mr Carruthers," Ian hesitated. "Is he really dead?"

"I'm afraid so," Michael confirmed. "Killed instantly when he was struck on the head, they believe, although that's just a preliminary opinion."

Ian's face creased in a flood of emotion which emphasised the confusion he felt. "And the guys who did it?"

Michael looked again at Ian, sympathy for the young man welling up. "They are in custody here in Goulburn at the moment. They'll face an extradition hearing tomorrow morning, but that's just a formality, and then they'll be taken back to Canberra to be charged under Australian Capital Territory laws. I'm afraid you're going to be the star witness against them!"

Ian winced. Then he looked up, a thought occurring to him. "The investigation you were running, into Geoff's 'associates' ..." he began.

"I'm afraid that has probably died with Mr Carruthers," Michael said wistfully.

"What if he had confessed everything to me," Ian said. "Names, details, arrangements?"

Michael raised one eyebrow. "Did he?"

Ian nodded slowly. "On the drive into Canberra," he said.

"Would you be prepared to testify?"

"Yes." There was no hesitation. "I owe him that much. He was going to surrender. And he saved my life ..." At that, the tears welled up and Ian sobbed with the enormity of what had happened, while Michael simply looked on, trying to imagine the turmoil he had been through in the last two days.

"We'll talk later, when you're feeling stronger," Michael assured him. Inwardly, his mind was ticking over - would it be enough? He'd have to speak to Prosecutions first thing in the morning.

Michael stayed until Ian was asleep, sitting by his bedside and watching carefully. The lawyer dozed uncomfortably, his face contorting with re-lived horrors while the cop vainly wished away the nightmares for the handsome young man in front of him. Almost involuntarily, Michael reached out, placing his hand gently on Ian's forearm; it seemed to help somehow, and the sleeping Ian calmed, his breathing becoming more regular as Michael felt the warmth of Ian's skin at his fingers. Michael smiled to himself as he enjoyed the contact, and sat there trying to imagine what Ian had been through.


Nick had raced around quickly, gathering a handful of clothes and shoving them into a bag, after he'd received the second call from Detective Sciutta to let him know that Ian was being kept in Goulburn Hospital overnight. Following a brief discussion, he and Tina had agreed that he would go alone while she stayed in Sydney in case she was needed to get anything done in the city. With a promise that he would call with any news, Nick was gone, driving hard and arriving at the southern town in just under two hours.

He hurried into the hospital, asking the night receptionist for Ian Sterling.

"Are you a family member?" she asked suspiciously.

Unwilling to argue with her, Nick lied quickly. "Yes, I'm his brother!" he declared.

With a disinterested shrug, the woman gave Nick directions, and he dashed around to the ward where Ian was, ignoring the deserted nurses station and pushed open the door of Ian's room. He was surprised to find another person there, in the darkened bedroom, sitting beside his friend. He couldn't be sure, but in the gloom it appeared as though the other man was holding Ian's hand!

"What's going on?" Nick demanded, quietly but firmly.

With an embarrassed cough, Michael sat back quickly. He looked up at Nick with startled eyes, which were speedily veiled. Nick recognised the cop now, and a question began in his mind at what he thought he had seen.

"Detective Sciutta?" he said at last.

"Mr Leonidis!" Michael replied. "He's sleeping now, so I wouldn't disturb him, but he's had a rough time," Michael said. "He's going to need all the support he can get in the next few days."

"I know," said Nick gratefully. "Thanks for waiting with him."

"That's okay," Michael said, thankful Nick couldn't see him blush in the near darkness. "Well, I'll be going now. They're moving him to Sydney tomorrow, and I'll have to ask him some questions, but not until tomorrow or the day after," Michael said, trying to sound professional.

"Okay," Nick agreed. He sensed the policeman wanted to say more but he wasn't certain. "Let me have your phone number, I promise I'll let you know if anything happens with him," Nick said on an impulse.

"Thanks," Michael replied, scribbling the number on a pad and handing it to Nick. Taking another long look at the sleeping form of Ian, Michael shook Nick's hand firmly. "Thanks," he said again. "Look after him!"

Nick nodded, uncertain how to respond, and Michael turned and walked from the room. In the corridor, he berated himself for his foolishness. `What had he been thinking?' He was getting far too personally interested in this case, Michael told himself as he made arrangements for a guard to be stationed at Ian's room, specifying that Nick was a relative and was to be allowed full access, then left the hospital, insisting he be informed immediately if there was any change in Ian's condition.

Nick stared at the door after Michael had gone. `What was that all about?', he wondered. It seemed to him that this cop was taking much more interest than was warranted, and he tried to fathom the possible reasons for it. But then Ian moaned and twisted in his sleep, and Nick hurriedly reached for his friend, speaking reassuringly as Ian calmed again, and all thoughts of Detective Sciutta were temporarily forgotten.

Michael considered staying in Goulburn overnight, but realised he couldn't justify that either professionally or personally. He telephoned his superior and let him know he was on his way home, then made a brief report to his opposite number at Goulburn Police Station, before driving much more carefully and sedately back to Sydney again.


The next morning, Ian woke to find Nick smiling at him, after his best friend had spent the night sitting and sleeping in a chair by his bed.

"G'day, mate!" Nick said with a tired smile.

"Hi," Ian replied.

"How are you feeling?"

"Sore, confused," Ian said slowly. The memories of the previous day came gurgling up from hidden depths, and his face clouded over. "He's dead, Nick!" Ian muttered.

"I know, mate, but you're not. You're alive, and you're going to be okay," Nick assured him.

"But he was killed saving me! I'd be dead now too, if it wasn't for Geoff. He saved my life!"

"Shh, Ian, not now. Try not to think about it yet. There'll be plenty of time later. Right now you just need to get better," said Nick soothingly. "You can tell me all about it when you're feeling stronger! For the moment, we'll just look after the little things, okay?"


"Now, I'll ring your office and let them know you'll be away for a while. How about I simply tell them you've been in an accident, save all the explanations for later?"

"That sounds good," Ian said, trying not to think about having to tell his story at work.

"Is there anything you want from home?" Nick went on. "Tina can use our set of keys and get into your house to collect anything you need."

"Maybe a toothbrush, some loose T-shirts to wear, something to read?" Ian thought out loud.

"Done!" Nick declared, watching with concern as the pain obviously returned to his friend's shoulder. A nurse came in and gave Ian a shot of something, and he began to settle again. "Now, get some more rest, and get well," Nick ordered with a smile.

Ian nodded in agreement, and closed his eyes again, letting the pain-killers do their work, and surrendering to the relative comfort of sleep once more. Nick stood and stretched, then told the nurses he was going to make a couple of calls and would be back shortly, walking outside and turning his phone on. He quickly rang Tina to let her know they were both okay, and that he had confirmed Ian would be moved to Sydney later that day. He repeated Ian's request for some personal items, and she promised she'd call in at his home and get them, before meeting the two men at the hospital in the city that evening.

Next Nick dialled Ian's office number. He spoke quickly to Jill, Ian's secretary, explaining that her boss had been in an accident, and was in hospital. He told her he wasn't sure how long Ian would be away from work, and gave her Nick's number as a contact if required, before claiming to be needed elsewhere and hanging up speedily to avoid any complicated or awkward questions. He called his own office quickly and told them that he would be away for a few days because of a 'family emergency', and that he'd get back to them as soon as he had any better idea of when he'd be able to come back to work. It occurred to him that Ian's mother should also be notified, since strictly speaking she was his next of kin, but decided against ringing Mrs Sterling until he'd cleared it with her son. Switching the telephone off again, he returned to Ian's room to check on his mate.

When he arrived back on the ward, Nick was startled to find Ian surrounded by several nurses and two doctors. He began to panic, rushing in and demanding to know what had happened, but was stopped by one of the nurses who gently took his arm and held him back.

"Nothing's wrong with your brother, sir," she said evenly. "The doctors are just checking his condition to be sure he's well enough for transportation to Sydney. If they give him the green light, there's a transfer ambulance ready to take him up to RPA Hospital straight away."

Nick relaxed a little, and watched nervously as the doctors asked Ian a whole stack of questions, and examined his wounds, before checking blood pressure and reactions. Finally they pronounced him well enough in the circumstances and cleared him to be moved. As the nurses and aids began to ready their patient, Nick grasped Ian's hand. "Don't worry, mate," he said. "I'll be right behind you on the road, and as soon as they've admitted you I'll be in to see you. I'll call Tina and let her know where you are and she'll come in as soon as she can with the things you wanted."

"Thanks, Nick," Ian mumbled, still a little groggy with the sedatives he had been given to ease his journey. "I'll see you there."

Nick waited until the paperwork was completed and Ian was wheeled out on a gurney and down to the ambulance bay. As the van drove away, he returned to his car, threw his things into the rear seat and phoned Tina to tell her they were on their way. As an afterthought, he also dialled the number he had been given for Detective Sciutta, intending to keep the officer up-to-date as he had promised, but was told that Michael had not yet come in that morning. He declined to leave any message, and started the car, heading north out of town and across to the M5 Freeway to make for the city once again.

This time he drove at a leisurely pace, figuring that Ian would take some time to be processed once he arrived. Nick took his time, his mind occupied by the events that had led to today, and wondering how they would affect his friend, who had been through so much in the last few months. As the freeway skirted around the Highland towns of Bowral and Mittagong, and began its long slow descent into the Sydney basin, he silently prayed that Ian would come through this alright. He thought of Geoff again, with sadness now. He had never really liked the man, but no-one deserved to be murdered so brutally, and Geoff had been good for Ian in many ways. He pondered on what he thought he had seen last night; how did this cop fit into the picture? Was there more to his interest than simply professional determination? Nick couldn't be sure, but he felt that Michael Sciutta had been genuinely and personally upset about Ian's injuries, yet there was no good reason for that.

It was only when the traffic started to become heavier again as the road sliced its way into the suburban sprawl near Campbelltown, that Nick shook himself out of his musings to concentrate on driving. With each on-ramp that he passed more vehicles entered and the speed dropped. Through the tolls he went, sticking with the Motorway as it cut through the suburbs east and north then under Wolli Creek where a tunnel carried the traffic for five kilometres below the densely packed homes of Bexley and Arncliffe, then around the airport and up onto Southern Cross Drive into the city. He took the Cleveland Street off-ramp and cursed the eternal stop-start crawl through Redfern toward his destination, finally finding a parking space not too far from the hospital itself.

The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital at Camperdown was a huge complex of interconnected buildings, divided by Missenden Road and butting up against the University of Sydney's main city campus. It had a world-renowned reputation as both a teaching hospital and a research facility, as well as providing some of the best care available in the country. Autonomous from, but working closely with, the University, 'RPA', as it was universally known, had even featured in its own television series - a reality programme which followed the experiences of numerous patients, doctors and staff. Nick found himself standing in front of the ornate Victorian portico of the main entrance. He looked up at the newer tower rising from the century old original building, took a deep breath and headed inside.

Surprisingly, Nick had little difficulty in locating Ian. At reception he was informed that Mr Sterling had already been admitted and was in the process of being assessed. The woman consulted her screen and looked again at Nick.

"It appears Mr Sterling has been placed in a limited access area," she commented. "May I ask your name, sir?"

Nick looked concerned. "Why restricted access? Does he have some contagious disease?"

"No, restricted security rather than medical. Your name?"

"Nick Leonidis," he answered, expecting problems.

"Do you have any identification, Mr Leonidis?"

Nick produced his driver's licence, which she examined quickly, before smiling at him.

"That's fine, Mr Leonidis," she said easily. "Mr Sterling has nominated yourself as next-of-kin for the purposes of his stay with us." To Nick's surprised silence, she went on to explain how to find the relevant area, and which room Ian was in. "You will be checked again by security up there, but I'm sure you'll have no problems seeing him."

"Uh, thanks," Nick sputtered as he walked toward the elevators in search of his mate.

As he exited the lifts and walked into the ward, he was again confronted by a security guard, who asked him to walk through a metal detector, similar to the ones at airports, then asked for identification and details of who it was he was there to see. After a relatively cursory look at his licence, Nick was shown into Ian's room. Another man was standing at the foot of the bed, and he turned around as Nick pushed the door open.

"You again!" Nick said with surprise.

"Hello, Mr Leonidis," Michael answered. "Yes, I'm afraid I'm here again!"

"Hey, Nick!" Ian called warmly.

"Hi, mate. What's with all the security? You'd think you were the Prime Minister or something!"

"Ah, well that's my doing," Michael answered. "You didn't have any problem getting in did you?"

"No," said Nick, "but I'm just surprised at it all. Is it necessary?"

"I hope not, but it's better to be safe ..." the cop said, hesitating. "As I've just been explaining to Mr Sterling, the men who killed Mr Carruthers and Mr Simpson, and who were chasing Mr Sterling, were members of a highly organised criminal gang. On top of that, Mr Sterling has information about Carruthers' activities which could incriminate several very high profile people. So we felt it was better to have him in this secured area. It's only fairly low level security however, and Ian ... um, Mr Sterling, sorry ... can nominate anyone he likes to be given access. Even if someone just shows up whom he hasn't specified, the front desk will simply call up here and ask whether he wants them to be allowed in."

"Yet you can still call me 'Your Majesty'," Ian finished for him.

"But this place is hardly fit for a queen!" Nick said quickly, then turned bright red with embarrassment at his gaff. Ian burst into a fit of the giggles at that, and as Nick's blush subsided the three men shared a laugh easily, and Michael turned back to Ian.

"I have to go again, now, Mr Sterling," he said. "But I'll be back to sit down with you and take a full statement later - probably tomorrow sometime, if that's alright?"

"Yes, of course," Ian responded. "Thanks - for letting me know what's happening, and for taking the trouble to arrange all this."

"You're welcome!" Michael faced Nick, holding out his hand. "See you again, Mr Leonidis," he offered. Nick nodded and shook hands, before watching the cop leave again.

"He seems very chummy," he commented, after Michael was out of earshot.

"Oh?" responded Ian vaguely. "I guess he's just doing his job - and making sure I stick by my promise to give him all the information Geoff gave me abut his criminal contacts!"

"Mmm, maybe ...?" Nick sounded much less convinced than Ian, but the lawyer didn't pick up on it. "So how are you feeling after the trip?"

"Not bad, although a little tired, and sore."

"That's understandable! Is the pain bad?"

"It comes and goes. They told me to press this thing ..." he held up a small button attached to a cable which disappeared under the bed, " ... if it gets too much."

Nick nodded in comprehension. "And what about everything ... else? How are you holding up emotionally?" he said with concern.

Ian's smile, weak as it had been, disappeared. "He's dead, Nick! He was coming back to give himself up, to face the past. He said he wanted to change, wanted to start again."

"What happened?" Nick asked.

Slowly, quietly, with the least degree of emotion, Ian detailed the events of the day before, from the early morning start in Melbourne, through the journey north to the phone calls and detour into Canberra. He told Nick about arriving outside the motel, and choked a little on his words as he re-lived the attack on himself, his running away and watching helplessly as Geoff was clubbed to death. Forcing himself to go on, he told Nick about the race out of Canberra and the long drive toward Goulburn, the phone call from Michael Sciutta and the final dash to the road block and safety. Nick sat and listened patiently, trying not to let the horror he felt at what his friend had been through show on his face. When he had finished, Ian lay there, exhausted, his eyes moist and his breathing fast.

"Oh, Nick, what am I going to do?' he agonised.

"Get well!" replied his mate. "It's over now, and you've gotten the story off your chest. The worst is finished, so now all you have to do is recover."

Ian's only response was a wince as renewed pain made itself felt in his chest and arm. He pressed the self-administering button several times, allowing the sedative to be fed into his system through a drip in his forearm. Nick watched silently, and waited as the drugs had their effect and Ian calmed again. He tried to take his friend's mind off what had happened, making inconsequential small talk for a while, until it became obvious that Ian was becoming sleepy once more.

"Have a rest," Nick said with a smile. "I'm going out to get some fresh air, and check in with Tina, okay? I'll see you when you wake up."

"Okay," Ian agreed softly, closing his eyes almost immediately.

Nick walked out to the nurses station, and spoke with the Nursing Unit Manager on duty. She showed him into her office so that they could speak more easily.

"I don't want to tell you how to do your job," Nick began, "but Ian Sterling has been through more than just the physical injuries. He saw his lover killed by the men who attacked him, and chased him through Canberra and all the way to Goulburn. I was wondering if there has been any counselling arranged for him?"

The N.U.M. nodded in sympathy and understanding. "I was aware that there was some emotional trauma associated with his wounds," she said reassuringly. "One of the hospital's psychologists will be assessing Mr Sterling later today, and I'm sure that after that a counsellor will be around to speak with him." She looked Nick up and down. "You look fairly tired yourself, Mr Leonidis, is there anyone else who should be here, or should be told about what has happened?"

"No, not really," said Nick slowly. "My wife will be in later this afternoon. Ian doesn't have any family in Sydney. His parents live in Queensland." He thought again that Ian's mother should be informed, or there would be hell to pay when she found out! "Thanks for letting me speak," he said. "I'll be back later on."

"That's fine - and don't forget that Mr Sterling is going to need plenty of rest, so you don't have to be waiting around all the time," she said.

Nick smiled as he shook her hand and left the office, making his way out of the building. He phoned Tina, and told her Ian was sleeping, and that Nick would meet up with her at home. He wanted to have a shower and change before the two of them came back together to see Ian later that day.


When Nick and Tina returned to the hospital, they again went through the security checkpoint and the rigmarole of showing identification before they were allowed onto the ward where Ian was being treated. As they passed by the main desk, the N.U.M. called out to them.

"Mr Leonidis, do you have a moment?"

Nick looked surprised, and he and Tina followed her into a small but comfortable room, where they were joined by a young woman who identified herself as Dr Traynor, and told them that she was the psychiatric registrar looking into Ian's case.

"I've had quite a good, long session with Mr Sterling this afternoon," she said confidently, "and we'll be arranging for a counsellor to see him on a regular basis while he's with us, starting tomorrow. He has given me most of the background behind what happened to him, and mentioned both of you. I take it you are close personal friends?"

"Absolutely!" Nick and Tina chorused.

"Good. Part of his recovery will include being able to get through the emotional upheaval of what has happened. I understand that you knew, but didn't approve of, his former partner?"

"Uh, ..." hesitated Nick.

"That's pretty well correct," Tina said. "They weren't partners for long, though, and they split up about three months ago."

"Yes," went on Dr Traynor. "However, Mr Sterling seems to think that there had been some reconciliation, albeit very brief. And now he is blaming himself for Mr ...", she consulted her notes quickly, "... Carruthers' death. He is going to need a lot of positive re-inforcement and support, and while we can offer him professional help, I'm afraid that nothing will match up to the value of peer support, such as from close friends like yourselves."

"So what do you want us to do?" Nick asked eagerly.

"Be positive, and try to keep him the same way. Reassure him that he is going to be well, that things will turn out alright. Highlight any positive moods, and try to steer him away from negative conversation or thoughts. And even if you don't agree, it would help if you could try not to disparage his relationship with Mr Carruthers, or to speak negatively about Mr Carruthers, at least for the near future. For the sake of his recovery, it's better if he concentrates on the positive aspects of the relationship and avoids the negative results. Tell him the relationship with Mr Carruthers was good, talk to him about the benefits he has gained from it, even if you don't necessarily believe them. Can you do that for him?"

Tina and Nick both nodded, thinking hard about what they had been told. "Just keep things easy and simple," offered the Doctor, as she left them to continue her rounds.

"Easier said than done!" Tina whispered as they walked together into Ian's room, to find him sitting up. He greeted them with a weak smile.

"Hi, guys," he offered, as the couple did their best to smile back and to look unconcerned. But there was no hiding the drawn look on his face, or the weariness in his voice.

"It's so good to see you sitting up," Tina declared in a bright, if slightly forced, voice. "Here, I have the things you asked for." She handed Ian a bag continuing his personal items, as she leaned carefully over him to kiss his forehead.

"Any idea how long they're going to keep you here, mate?" Nick added, his words sounding stilted in his own mind.

"Not yet," Ian responded quietly. "At least a couple of weeks I guess ..." his voice trailed off as his eyes glazed a little with silent thoughts. Nick and Tina both watched with concern as their friend became distant. Tina squeezed Ian's right hand to bring him back to them again.

"A couple of weeks?" she laughed. "By that time you'll be chasing the staff around, organising them, if I know you!"

Ian smiled a little in acknowledgment, and Tina went on, encouraged by his response. "Maybe even chatting up some of them - I saw a good looking orderly as we came up in the lift. If you play your cards right ..." She fell silent again, as Ian's eyes looked directly into hers, sad and full of moisture.

"I don't think so," he said in a voice firm yet almost inaudible. "I couldn't do anything like that again!"

"Hey, Ian," Nick said reassuringly. "You're alive, and young. You'll be back on your feet, and out and about before you know it!"

"But Geoff is dead!" Ian replied simply. "Dead because he saved me. After all the things I said about him, he was coming back to give himself up because he loved me. And now he's gone ..."

Tina ached inside, fighting to find the right words. "But he did love you, and he wouldn't want you to give up! He saved you from being killed so that you could go on and live your life," she said carefully, "and you have to do that, for him and for yourself!"

Ian began to sob at that, and Tina's breath became short. Nick sat beside the two of them, an arm around each, his own heart breaking at the hurt of his friend and the inability to do much more to comfort him. Together, the three hugged each other amid a soft, shaking outpouring of grief and loss.

"In spite of everything," Ian whispered between sobs, "I loved him, but I didn't tell him that, and now it's too late!"

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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!