by Diana Hockley
Danni understood that opening her big blue eyes wide, smiling, and tossing her glorious auburn hair would ensure she was denied nothing. She became a miniature household despot whose mother was too tired and overworked to follow through with threats. Her father had left before she was born.
It hadn’t taken long for the school principal and teachers to flush Danni out of the proverbial woodwork; her golden presence cut no ice with them. They tried appealing to Danni’s intelligence, which they suspected lurked somewhere inside her. She could have topped the class if she had tried, but she constantly cheeked the teachers and preferred to slouch at her desk, wasting everyone’s time, including her own.
“You’ll be sorry one day if you don’t learn anything, Danielle. You’ll end up in a dead-end job with low pay while everyone else is earning big money,” the guidance officer said, trying to appeal to Danni’s greed. Of course, his idea of a career differed from Danni’s.
“Yeah? I’ve got news for you,” she’d sneered. “Only fools work for a living!” There was plenty to be made on the side, no sweat. So she did.
Diligent and hard-working at her chosen career, the proceeds of the theft of make-up, clothes, jewelry, food, people’s purses and money, and copper piping stolen from building sites found its way into Danni’s coffers. Anything that wasn’t nailed down at home or was left lying around, was stolen and sold. From time to time she sold joints to her friends, but never hard drugs. Her mother despaired, but couldn’t control her.
The cops arrested her several times, but Danni always got away with an admonishment from the magistrate. Assuming an expression of deep contrition, her eyes filled with tears as she’d promised never to do it again, to get a job, and to clean up her act. Once she actually had to do community service, but because it was at the local animal shelter, she liked it and, unbeknownst to her peers, sneaked back to leave tins of dog and cat food in the charity bin at the gate. The police and the magistrate all knew the writing was on the wall; eventually Danni would “stuff up” big time.
One day, having been a little less fleet of foot while pinching fruit from a roadside stall, two police officers arrested her. The older one, Senior Sergeant Dan Collard, tilted his chair back and watched her silently through narrowed eyes. When he left the interview, she breathed easier. “Boy, he’s hot!” Detective Constable Kevin O’Donald, a slight, soft-spoken man of indeterminate appearance, sat for an hour trying to find out why Danni behaved as she did, suggesting groups for her to join, and encouraging her to finish her education.
“You’re a real, nothing man, like, you wouldn’t know from shit!” she sneered.
He’d eyed her with quiet patience and a little sadness, before he gathered his papers and made arrangements for her to go to juvenile court yet again. The magistrate gave her a piece of his mind and warned her that she was skating on thin ice. “You’re almost seventeen and next time you get into trouble you could be charged as an adult. This is the last time the court will bind you over to be of good behaviour.”?
As Danni sulked on the way home with her mother, even she understood that she was pushing her luck.
From then on, Danni’s criminal activities took a back seat as she set out to emulate her hero, Dan Collard. She discovered the places that he frequented and lurked there, trying to catch a glimpse of him without being seen. She adopted his grim persona, read murder mysteries voraciously, and copied him by always wearing black. She fantasised encounters with him until she drove herself wild, but as far as she could tell, he didn’t spare her a glance.
Nevertheless, she carried on pretending to be – in her own mind – a plain clothes detective. She knew all the moves from going to the movies and watching NCIS.
She could not admit to herself that the “Nothing Man’s” suggestions had gotten to her, but she quietly enrolled in a Grade 12 night course. She wanted to go “up-market” but it wouldn’t do to be seen as un-cool. Danni only did cool.
She started going to a gym, to the joy of the over-excited lads who jostled one another to treadmill beside her. Some of them lurked on the street outside, screeching raucously whenever she appeared, and pretending to push each other into the traffic.
When she least expected it, a job actually found her through a friend of “Nothing Man.” Danni accepted because it was a link, however tenuous, with Senior Sergeant Dan Collard. She started work in a real estate agency dealing with the rentals and found to her surprise that she liked talking to clients. She was warned never to flirt, “Concentrate on the wives, and don’t let the blokes chat you up, Danni. The women won’t rent or buy a house from us if they think you’re a threat.”
Then it happened.
Like the rustling of leaves across a deserted courtyard, it was a whisper which no one could substantiate, but everyone on the edge of the law knew – there were two new players in town.
Danni’s pretty ears pricked up. Unable to help herself, she began to listen carefully in the clubs, on the street, and at the gym. It could be anything from a drugs deal to a bank robbery. Rumour had it that they were from the city and were in with some big names. Danni found out through contacts, that the couple had rented a house for three months and staked it out. He was big and piggy; she looked depressingly like a middle-aged nanny goat in drag.
“They wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t somethin’ goin’ on,” her informants advised. “Stay away from them, Danni, they’re bad news.” There was big money there. She could smell the vibes. She lay awake night after night, thinking about how she could somehow get in on the deal; old habits hadn’t had a chance to die.
Late one night, the phone rang. “Danni, the word is there’s a big drug deal goin’ off in the next coupla weeks, an’ it’s what those two are here for.” The voice was so soft that she had to strain to hear the details.
“Okay Julie, I owe you.” She leaned back against the wall, sweating. A new career and respectability…but maybe a chance to horn in on big money? On the other hand, she might even “shop” them if there was a decent reward going. She would have to think about it, but she’d do her own investigation in the meantime. She knew that she was risking everything, but either way it couldn’t hurt to find out what was going on, could it? She wouldn’t go back to her old ways, there was too much to lose…
The couple was ridiculously easy to follow, but Danni didn’t stop to think about that. Her red hair hidden under a cap, her now trademark black clothes traded for coloured sweat-shirts and jeans, she stalked her quarry relentlessly. She used Jordan, the office boy, as cover. They followed the couple to pubs and to the supermarket where Danni coldly snogged Jordan, watching over his shoulder as the couple poked their fingers into the fruit and vegetables. Innocent Jordan was ecstatic; it was only a matter of time before he would score.
Then she inveigled Jordan into taking her to dinner at a cafe where, from behind some artificial shrubbery, she managed to overhear a vital conversation: “We have to get it tomorrow, there’s no time left before the boat goes,” said the pig, between shoveling huge forkfuls into his cavernous mouth. Danni strained against the bush, trying not to fall through the branches as Jordan ranted about the Easter holidays. She could have strangled him; she was having a hard enough time eavesdropping against the clatter of dishes in the kitchen, as it was.
“Okay, so where are we meeting him?” asked the goat.
“The National Park, 3:30 tomorrow at the car park near the information centre. Then we get it to…”
He leaned closer to his companion. Danni’s eyes widened as they named their contact.
“Oh…” she whispered in disbelief.
“…so will you come with me?” Danni straightened up, confused by Jordan’s voice over-riding those of the duo.
“What are you doing?” Jordan weaved around, trying to peer through the shrubbery. “Who’re those people? Friends of yours?”
“Shh…shh…nothing…no one. I thought I knew them, but I don’t,” she hissed, trying to shut him up. “Are you finished?” She scrunched her napkin on the table and reached for her bag.
“I’ve got to go to the gents before we go,” Jordan snapped, scraping the feet of his chair on the polished floor as he stalked off.
Her heart pounding, Danni took a deep breath and peered through the leaves again. The pig had gotten to his feet and the goat was collecting her handbag. Quickly, she turned away, hardly daring to breathe as she sensed the couple looking around the room. Her heart pounded as they fussed around and then started to relax as they walked out the door and disappeared down the street. When she was sure they had gone, she reached for her mobile. Tomorrow was her day off. There was something she had to do, and she couldn’t do it on her own. She needed a friend to help set it up…and a car to do it with.
. . .
Danni put the radio on and tried to sing along to settle her nerves, as she hit the open road, confident if she kept her head everything would be all right. It was a warm afternoon, perfect for driving in the country. She was dismayed when she realised the numbers of hikers and bird-watchers had thinned out by the time she arrived. She left the little borrowed Hyundai unlocked – the better to leave in a hurry – and went into the Tourist Information kiosk and cafe. There were still people there so she pretended to be looking at postcards and reading brochures as she scanned the parking area from behind the display stands.
The moment she had been waiting for arrived; a nondescript car was driven into the park and stopped opposite the centre. She ducked her head and stared fixedly at some garish Made in China koalas. After a moment, a couple climbed out and came toward the building. Heart thumping, Danni slipped into the far corner of the room and turned her back to the door. When they left she would follow them, casually, as though she was going home. For a few moments nothing happened, then the air moved behind her and something pressed into her ribs, penetrating her sweatshirt. The pig sidled around the corner of the card stand, smiling.
“Don’t turn around, just walk out the door.” Goat woman firmly wrapped her arm around Danni’s shoulders, and they walked as a tight-knit trio to the door. The car park stretched before them, almost deserted. There would be no witnesses to whatever was going to happen.
“You didn’t think you’d get away with it, did yuh? We know you’ve been followin’ us for days. We need to know why you’re hangin’ around. We think you’re a cop, and we fix cops for nuthin’! You’re going to do for a little walk in the park,” promised the porker, as they traipsed across the car park to their vehicle. Danni’s heart almost leapt out of her chest; a third figure was waiting in the car. Evidently, playing cop had been too convincing.
Gravel crunched under their feet as they walked up to the vehicle. A curious scrub turkey was pecking at the tires of the car, meeping to itself. It was now or never! As they opened the car door, Danni dropped abruptly, hooked her elbow viciously under the breast of the woman, and twisted her body violently. The woman stumbled backwards and fell over the startled turkey, grabbing at the car door. Taking a lightning glance behind her, Danni took off, running as fast as she could and plunged into the rainforest. Behind her, the goat rolled on the ground amid a cloud of feathers.
She pressed her face against the gnarled vines and blackened bark inside the massive, cavernous tree, charred from the previous year’s fire. Little pieces of soot broke off and clung to her face. The sickening smell permeated her nostrils. She tried to breathe slowly, to stifle sobs of fear. Footsteps came closer…and closer…and stopped beside the tree. She could feel eyes scanning the bush.
A huge shadow blocked out the light. Danni cringed and screwed her eyes shut, waiting for the knife – the gun – whatever they were going to use.
A hand grabbed her by the neck of her sweat-shirt. She ducked her head into her shoulders as she was dragged roughly out of the tree. She opened her eyes. Two hard-eyed men surrounded her. The one clutching the back of her shirt tightened his hold. tightly. They’d got her! Why hadn’t she just left it alone? Nothing was worth this! She squeaked and screwed her eyes tightly closed. They didn’t speak as they frog-marched her gasping, stumbling, and slipping over knotted vines embedded in the pathway.
“Open your eyes! How do you expect to see where you’re going?”
“No!” squealed Danni. If they were going to kill her, she didn’t see why she should have to watch. She could feel the tarmac under her feet and knew they had reached the car park.
“All right, have it your own way!” he growled. “Step in.” A massive hand held her head down, propelling her into a vehicle, bumping her shin on the door. She cowered, trembling in the back of seat, and hoped she wouldn’t wet herself. The car rocked and dipped as her captors climbed in, one behind the wheel, the other in the back seat.
A hand reached out and touched her on the arm. She shrieked and threw herself against the door. “Detective-girl’s gunna hide from us! Thinks if she can’t see us, we can’t see her!” chirped the man beside her, in a sing-song voice, dripping with sarcasm. They roared with laughter and Danni squeezed her eyes so tight that red lights danced in front of her eyeballs. Were they pig man and goat woman’s accomplices? Danni tried to lull herself into a coma; it was safer that way. When they killed her, she wouldn’t know anything about it because she wouldn’t see it coming.
The car reeked of old sweat and tobacco. She’d overheard one of the trainers at the gym telling a lamebrain girl that deep breathing would stop her feeling sick. Perspiration trickled down Danni’s back and chest. ‘Slowly…hold it in…I can do this. If they know I haven’t seen their faces, they won’t kill me, will they?’ But she had, indeed, seen the faces of the pig and the goat. She opened her eyes a fraction, but could only see the outline of the man at the wheel. She glimpsed the fat gut of her companion in her peripheral vision.
The car drew to a sudden stop, the car door opened and she was pulled roughly out onto the tarmac. A hand shoved her forward and she was propelled up a ramp. A door swished open and warm, fuggy air blasted her in the face. There was the sensation of movement all around her, a snigger of laughter, half-finished sentences, phones ringing, and technological bleeps – the sounds of business being conducted. For a moment, she was held steady, then she heard a door opening in front of her, and she was pushed through. She staggered and bumped into what felt like a table. Her knee knocked painfully against what felt like a chair. Just as she was about to open her eyes, someone walked into the room. For a moment or two, all she could hear was heavy breathing. Fumbling, she found the back of the chair and sank into the seat.
“You can look now!” said a familiar voice. She opened her eyes, wincing in the light. “Well, well Danni!” Dave Collard smiled coldly. “What were you doing chasing drug dealers?” His mouth twisted cruelly, and he snorted with laughter as he slapped a sheaf of papers on the table. “You’ve been too smart for your own good, mate. You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you. Well, you’re going to walk out of here quietly with me, and you’re not going to say a word. I’m telling them I’m taking you Juvenile. One false move on your part, and it’ll be the last thing you ever do!”
“You’re a drug dealer!”
“Yup. You didn’t think I’d let you get away with mucking up a deal? Drugs are big bucks and you’re coming with me as insurance, babe. We’ve been watching you for weeks. Who’d you think you were fooling, sneaking around spying on us?” He pinched her arm cruelly, as he dragged her off the chair and across the room, but when he opened the door to propel her into the passage, they were confronted by a grim-faced group.
Collard took a deep breath. “I’m taking her to…”
“Dave, it’s all over, mate, we’ve got it all on tape. You’d better come quietly.”
A uniformed cop who looked as though he might clean his teeth with a crowbar, snatched her arm, and whipped her away from her captor, sending the papers he had been carrying falling to the floor. Two other officers stepped forward and took Collard by the arms, turned him around, snapped handcuffs on his wrists, and turned him back.
For a long moment, as he was being advised of his rights, Dan Collard – her hero – stared at Danni. What she saw in his eyes sent her blood cold. A commotion further along the corridor drew her attention. The pig and the goat, surrounded by police officers and gibbering with rage, stood along a hallway in front of the custody desk, the light shining on their steel handcuffs.
A familiar figure walked over to her. “Just as well you were at the restaurant that night, Danni, and thank you for tipping us off. It can’t have been easy for you,” said Kevin, the “Nothing Man,” as he helped her take the microphone from under her shirt. “A good job well done, mate. You’ll make a fine detective one day!”
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