There’s a lot that matters in life. Honesty, courage, love; they all make up a part of what life is. I just didn’t realize it until I lost them.
It all started when…Oh, those words! Everyone who has a story to tell uses the words, “It all started when…” or “When such-and-such happened…” Am I no different to everyone else?
Anyway, it all started when Casey, my brother asked me to go and grab some bread from the freezer for lunch. Just like he had done a hundred million times before then. Only, normally there’s not a man hiding in the darkest corner of the garage, where we keep our spare freezer. And normally that man’s not wearing an oversized sock over his head and pointing a gun at your head. And usually, you don’t end up gagged and thrown onto the back seat of the bandit’s car.
And that’s how I happened to be flying along the Gateway Motorway at a hundred and fifty kays an hour, watching as every other driver pulled to the side as fast as possible to keep out our way. It’s not a pleasant experience.
I had no idea where the bandit was taking me once we turned off the motorway. We’d been heading north, but I lost my bearings after a few turns and twists. Finally, the guy stopped the car outside a suburban property and pushed me toward a brick house. Fat lot of good that’d do me if I tried telling the police where it was. “Yes, sir, we drew up in the driveway of a brick house. Yes, brown brick. Red roof. Oh, and the letterbox was built in, out of the same brick as the house.” Basically, it could have described any house in that street, and any number in that suburb. Even if I knew which suburb it was.
The masked man – I’ll call him that for the moment – the masked man ripped the masking tape off my mouth and I spat out the disgusting hankie. I didn’t see any point in yelling, so I decided to save my energy for escaping later. Problem was, he promptly whipped any reason for escaping out of my reach. He told me to sit on the couch. I’ve never been one to argue with a loaded gun with the safety catch off, so I sat.
“You wonder why I brought you here,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
“Yeah,” I answered. “It’s not exactly like we’re involved with stocks or anything valuable. The biggest things we’ve got are the car and the boat. And the house.” I had to give it to him; the guy didn’t jump on me for anything. He just waited until I finished talking, then continued.
“Well, Sonya,” he said, leaning forward and cracking his knuckles. How did he know my name? “Well, this could be a slight shock to you. See, your dad didn’t buy ‘your’ place. Or ‘your’ car. Or ‘your’ boat. In fact, he hasn’t really paid for much major stuff at ‘your’ place at all.”
I stared at the masked man. “What on earth is the guy talking about?” I wondered.
“You see,” the man said, “Your dad stole all this stuff things people have advertised in different places. Trading Post, Ebay, that kind of thing.”
I think my face turned white at that. Dad, stealing stuff? It couldn’t be true . He’d always yelled at any of us, my four brothers or me, if we nicked so much as a pecan off a birthday cake in the fridge. I couldn’t believe Dad would do that.
The masked man pulled off his sock to show his face. He flashed a badge from his breast pocket. “Detective Ryans,” he said. “I had to get you out of there. There’s likely to be shooting, and we knew you weren’t involved in the thefts.”
“But – but – Casey…the triplets – Detective, they’re all there having lunch with Mum. Dad’s supposed to be home soon. He only works mornings on Saturdays.” Suddenly I thought of another thing. “And if you’re keeping me safe, how come you kidnapped me with a loaded gun?”
Ryans laughed easily. He opened whatever part of the gun it was – I didn’t see – and showed me the blanks inside. “Plenty of bang,” he said. “But no pain in there. If I had to, I would have shot it into the air. Just to get you moving, or stop you, if that had been the case. Trust me.”
“But the boys?” I demanded. “What about them? They’re not doing anything, you know. Casey’s only just started uni and the triplets are still at school. They’re doing year twelve. Check with the principal if you want – they’re enrolled at the same school as me. And I guess you’d know the name of my school if you can tell my name before I’ve told you.”
Okay, I was being cheeky. But, believe it or not, I was scared right down to the tips of my little toes. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me – me! Boring, dull Sonya. Nothing ever happened to me. This should have been something that happened to my friends, Tammi or Carla or Phyllis.
Detective Ryans shrugged. “Honey,” he said gently, “I know it’s hard for you to grasp, but your brothers have been involved in this as well. Between them, they’ve got quite a smuggling ring going on, stealing the stuff from Australia then sending it over seas in the pretty dinghy your dad keeps. We’ve got evidence from a few witnesses over the last few years, and security camera tapes’ve shown your dad and a couple of your brothers breaking into warehouses and stealing stock, with the other brother in the drivers’ seat of a van you didn’t know existed. The triplets in particular are very well-coordinated together. Could be something with being triplets, I guess.”
“They do a lot of stuff well together,” I agreed. Oh, no! I realized I had just confirmed what they thought and convicted my brothers without even thinking! Too late now. Detective Ryans kept talking.
“Your mum, too, hon,” he said. “She’s been hiding the stolen goods at home if they’re small. She’s also covered for your dad a couple of times when we’ve called in for a chat and found him not there. Strange how much he suddenly likes golf or tennis.”
“Dad doesn’t – oh,” I said, suddenly understanding what the detective was saying. “I mean – I just – it can’t be happening. This is so far out of everything - there’s no way it can possibly be true .”
The detective sat down on the couch beside me. I noticed he’d put the gun, disassembled from when he’d shown me the blanks, on the coffeetable. “It’s alright, sweetie,” he said. “We’ll look after you. You’re safe here.”
“But – it’s just not right!” I cried, swiping at him with the side of my hand. He just caught it and held my hands in his firm grasp. “Dad wouldn’t! He’s Dad. And Mum wouldn’t either. They’re not mean to me, never. They always make sure I’ve got food and clothes and plenty of love to go around. It can’t be them!” Even as I denied it, I slowly realized that the police had to be certain that Mum and Dad and my brothers were doing it – and that they were dangerous, too. Otherwise they wouldn’t have got me out of there.
“We went round a couple of days ago,” Detective Ryans said, leting go of my hands as I calmed down a bit. “We told your brother, Casey, that we knew what was going on. He broke down – it was while you kids were at school and your mum was out genuinely shopping. He told us you didn’t even know what was going on. He wanted us to get you out of there when the time came, because he didn’t want to see you hurt if it came to a shootout.”
“That’s why he sent me to the garage for bread,” I thought. “He knew someone’d be there waiting to take me away.” Somehow the thought didn’t make me feel any better, even though I knew Casey was trying to look out for me as well as she could.
“He loves you, you know,” the detective said. “That’s why he wanted you out of there. Otherwise you would probably have had to go through in court and you would have been sentenced. The others, so we’ve seen from past experience, would have no qualms leaving you to take the blame for the entire operation, and you likely would have ended up getting sentenced for at least not informing. A blotch on your record, to say the least. So we got you out of there.”
That did it. I huddled into as small an area as I could, my jeans jamming under my knees like they always do when they’re a size too big, and I tried to stop the tears from dribbling down my face. It’s not that I didn’t want my make-up blurred – I never wear any. I just didn’t want this big, burly policeman – sorry, detective – to see how bad the news made me feel. Only one person in my family cared enough about me that he tried to keep me safe. Casey, my rough-and-ready big brother, whom I’d played robbers and policemen with when we were kids, who’d always scorned me as I grew older because I wouldn’t ride on his motorbike with him, who’d laughed when I made a big deal out of the Grade seven disco – he was the only one who cared about me? Goodness knew, I cared about all of them enough – more than enough – I loved them with every scrap of me that I could find. And they’d just leave me to take the blame for something I never even knew about?
Detective Ryans got up and pulled his jacket sleeve up to check his watch. “I’m going to leave you here for a while, Sonya. I need to shoot back to the station and see if everything’s over yet. I could be longer if it is, because I’ll grab you some clothes and stuff. Okay?”
“No,” I said quickly. What if they came back while he was gone and tried to get me, if the pick-up hadn’t gone properly? And I didn’t want to be giving the detective directions on exactly what out of my underwear drawer I wanted. “Can I come too, please? So I can grab my own stuff, what I want from home? Please?”
He scratched the back of his head. “How about you stay here while I work out what to do with the officers first, then I’ll swing by and collect you and we’ll go to your place from there. I promise I’ll lock every door and window here before I go,” he added, as if he’d read my thoughts. Of course, every fifteen-year-old girl he saves from her family in this situation probably feels the same way.
“Okay,” I said.
“And my wife’ll be home soon, too. She finishes work at four.”
I glanced at the clock as Detective Ryans walked out of the lounge. Three oh-nine. “I can’t believe it’s been two whole hours since I went to grab bread from the freezer,” I muttered. It didn’t feel even half as long. I guess fear and disbelief do that to you.
“All right, Sonya,” Detective Ryans called from the front door, “I’ll be back shortly. There’s food in the fridge if you’re hungry. I know you didn’t get to eat lunch.” He closed the door and I heard the lock click in place. I realized then that I was hungry. I hadn’t eaten since eight a.m.
I made myself a Vegemite sandwich and ate it at the table, careful not to spill crumbs. After washing it down with apple juice, I washed the huge mound of dishes that littered the kitchen bench and ironed the clothes in the basket on the ironing board. It gave me something to do, other than brood on my family.
But eventually I ran out of chores. Even the washing had been hung out a while ago, and it wasn’t dry enough to fold yet. So I sat in the lounge and brooded again.
“I thought they loved me,” I thought. “I believed we were honest with each other. I hoped they’d have enough courage to own up if they did something. Dad always did. Love, honesty, courage, respect: all the things I was proud to know I had. Are they all gone now? Does no one care for me, even my own parents?” I’ve got to admit, I was sinking into deep depression – fast. Who wouldn’t?
Then I remembered Casey. Casey still remembered me. He’d taken charge and asked the police to get me out of there. He’d fulfilled everything the others had rejected. I smiled through the pain in my heart. One of them still loved me as much as I loved them.
Mrs Ryans arrived home a few minutes later. I let her in. She didn’t seem particularly puzzled to see me. Maybe Detective Ryans made it a more common occurrence than I’d thought. She dumped her armful of groceries on the kitchen floor and stared at the sink, as if trying to work out what was missing. “I didn’t think I got those dishes done,” she said.
“I did them,” I explained. She nodded.
“Thanks, honey. I suppose you’re Sonya?”
I nodded. By now, nothing short of Mrs Ryans being a gangster would have surprised me. “Detective Ryans warned me you’d be coming if he could get you away. I hope you made yourself at home,” she continued. “You’ll probably stay for a few days yet, until we see about your family.” At my inquisitive look – I didn’t think police officers were supposed to talk about their cases outside groups of colleagues – she laughed. “I’m a policewoman,” she said. “I work under my husband. We talked your family’s case over last night, when he knew today would be the day. He’s out seeing if all went well, is he?”
I nodded. “If it’s right he’s taking me back to my place so I can grab some of my clothes and my homework and that. I’ve still got a Maths assignment, forty percent of my grade, to finish. Not that I’m sure how I’ll concentrate.” I bit my lip to keep from crying as my family’s betrayal of my love and trust in them flooded back into the front of my mind again. I hate crying in front of strangers, even lovely ones like Mrs Ryans. Dad’s influence there. He said never to show weakness.
Mrs Ryans seemed to sense my mood change. She pulled me into a hug, like Mum would have done had she been in Mrs Ryans’ position. “Oh, sweetie, I know. It’ll be easier over time,” she said. “It’s always hard at first, particularly when everything’s all fresh and you didn’t know anything about it, like you didn’t. You’ll get accustomed to it over time.”
“Casey,” I said. “Can I testify for him - since he told them to get me out? Because otherwise I’d have been there and…”
Mrs Ryans nodded. “Of course. I was going to suggest it later, closer to the trial. It’ll give you a chance to talk to them too.”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to talk to them. Except for Casey. Only him. They planned to use me, and I won’t be family to them again. Not properly. I don’t want to have to face Mum or Dad after this. I just want to thank Casey for getting me out.”
“Okay,” said Mrs Ryans. “I’ll tell the people sorting it out. You won’t have to see your parents if you don’t want to.”
“Thanks,” I said quietly.
After that, Detective Ryans arrived back again and called me to jump in so we could go get my stuff. We went to my house and I packed all my clothes and Anna, my only doll – I refused any others; Anna was all I wanted – and I grabbed a few of Casey’s things, too. I wanted to make sure I had them for him, because he was the only one of my family I intended to ever speak to again. Detective Ryans said we’d come back later, after the trial, to get the rest of the stuff that actually belonged to my family, so I decided to get all my big stuff then. It didn’t feel right, taking everything like that.
Then Detective Ryans drove us back to his place, and I’ve stayed there ever since. Now the trial’s tomorrow. I’m supposed to be fourth to testify for Casey. I’m only going to say that he made sure I was out of there, when the rest of my family didn’t bother. That he protected me rather than himself. That’s all. But I’ll talk to him later, in the cells, probably, but also after he gets out of jail. Then I hope we’ll stay in contact forever.
I’m writing all this down so I never forget how I felt for if I ever have kids. That way I’ll never give them this pain that’s coursing through me at the moment, and they can become adults with years, not minutes. Because there’s no way I’d ever want to give this ache to anyone else. Ever.