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Rated: GC · Book · Crime/Gangster · #2202433
When a booby trap doll almost blows his head off, the message is clear.
Dear readers,
This is the end of a novel. For a better understanding of the story, the first paragraphs can be read here:

The oddity of what he was about to do had not escaped him.
Thursday, July 16 2015, 6:35 pm

He ignored feeling insecure leaping two steps at a time. Protection normally offered by handrails and balustrades was missing and, in its place, exposed edges dropping through the floors below. Cribbing knew his assailant was not on the lower floors, it was not part of the plan to entice him to climb into his area of control.

When Cribbing reached the fourth level, he proceeded with caution. His heart raced knowing he was close. Govind would never choose the rooftop of the building as that would leave him exposed to surveillance from the air. The moment he looked across the floor from the stairs, his suspicion was answered. Jane slumped against a column in clear view, a place obvious to anyone climbing the stairs. Cribbing froze knowing his next move was anticipated. He needed to think. Jane wore jeans and a coat. Her head bowed as though studying her feet which were bare. She could have been any passerby in the suburban metro pressing a shoulder against the wall of a station vending machine, killing time between departures. It was her hands behind her back to suggest this was a hostile place. Cribbing took some comfort in noticing her legs were free to run.

If Govind hid awaiting a chance to attack from below, he would have done so by now. Cribbing knew he was here. He leapt the remaining steps to cross a short distance to the internal blockwork of an elevator shaft. A hole punched through the brickwork awaited installation of a landing call panel. The lift car and hoist mo-tors were missing. In its place a gaping fall to the basement.

The building was a long-span, reinforced concrete construction with pillars supporting the floor above in regimental rows. A large part of the expansive floor lay behind the block walls of the elevator shaft. What did Govind expect? His messages worked. Intimate details in the messages kept authorities out of the loop just as he planned. This was personal. Cribbing played Govind's game the way Govind wanted. Was Cribbing, upon seeing the woman he loved, unharmed, meant to run to her, hold her, declare everything was over? "You bet I was," he said under his breath, "Our final moment together only to be slaughtered in the name of some in-sane act?"
Cribbing understood he must play the game. He must now draw Govind out by acting unhinged. It was the first rule of entrapment. Searching the area for something, a hammer, or length of rebar to use as a weapon revealed nothing. A drink can was all there was. He collected it.

Most, if not everyone, forced into this place would be furious. Cribbing was no exception. He wanted to curse Govind for what he did. Cribbing's training warned him against wilful, spontaneous emotion. Instead, he did far, far worse--he let his mind wander. Whether drifting in blissful fancy was a reaction to calm his hostility, he did not know, nor care. He did know he was powerless to stop.

It was late. The bar staff had taken away spill trays and now held ice buckets under beer taps to catch the slops. Nathan watched staff end their shift, but the licensed hours still had time before closing. The sport's bar was empty. Gallopers in Hong Kong the only betting still open. Another monitor screened men's basketball. He watched both without interest. Jane breezed through the pub's door, or more to the point fell in from the street. She was with friends all wasted. Bardot went to the bar. Staff met her with shaking heads.

"RSA," a barman said.

Bardot launched into a lengthy argument all the while aware of the security guard approaching her, stealthy as a kidnapper.

"Don't think you're in the exclusive club," she blurted. The barman was tired. His curt denial of service made it clear he was in no mood for arguments.

"Not the only one asked to sustain awkward positions for long periods. You think you are the only one with Rubik's wrist or Play Station thumbs?"

The barmen looked at her with a mixture of odium and suspicion.

"iPod finger, Blackberry thumb?"

The man shook his head, not interested in playing Bardot's game. "I will lose my job if I serve you under the responsible service of alcohol, RSA," he accentuated the acronym, spelt it out for the woman to understand.

"Oh," Bardot feigned misunderstanding. "I thought you said RSI, repetitive strain injury." Bardot thrashed the air with a cupped fist in mock masturbation.

The guard moved in.

Jane slouched onto a stool opposite Nathan ignoring Bardot and her ousting.

Had she noticed him? He couldn't remember.

"Yarracootamoi," he blurted.

"Been here a while, then, have we?" she said without looking at him.

"Not that long," Nathan lied trying to sound sober.

"You sound worse for wear."

"It's what me ma used to yell at me."

"Uh, huh. Explains why you are the way you are. Too many times watching the world through the bottom of a shot glass."

"What? No, no, no. Not that."

"Not what then?"

"Not what you said."

"What did I say?"

"Jesus wept. Me ma accused me of treating her badly, like a cow. What do you mean, the way I am?"

"Sad fucker drinking on your own."

"Oh, that's good that is. Did you come in here as a lover, or looking for salvation?"

Jane regarded him for a long minute. Perhaps he had too much to drink. She stood and went to leave, "Is that your best pick-up line?"

"No. I have others."

She smiled and left.

A brief encounter not unlike dozens, hundreds of fleeting connections across the city. In the wider world, both should have diverged into separate spheres and not stumbled into each other again. For Cribbing, it seemed a bigger fate tweaked his ear and pulled him along a path to her. Nathan had just weeks before graduated. Over the next three months, he was a probationary constable learning the ropes and finding his way. A jump in salary saw an equal fondness of fast food deliveries. Back then, he lived out on the suburban fringe in a squat block of units in Glass Street. The place had two things going for it, cheap rent, and spitting distance to Glenbervie Station. It was also known as Windy Hill, home of the Bombers. Rowdy fans kicked over a stumpy wall built from decorative blocks. The Bombers moved to better grounds leaving the broken wall as evidence of the team's former glory days. Two grey stone bays sat either side of the entrance, receptacles for garbage bins; red lidded bins on one side, yellow-topped ones on the other; as though passing by the stench of rotting food was an indication of what was to come. Architectural sensibility to shapes and textures, aesthetics to proclaim someone had thought about the building had dissolved into the miasma of cost-cutting. An open stairwell connected the ground floor to the one above. Large windows faced west. All were blocked to fend off the summer heat.

Nathan rented on the ground floor.

She wore a blue parker, business logo stitched over her left breast, hair tucked behind her head. Her jacket declared on loan from a larger team member. A baseball cap squeezed onto her head in place of hair. Jane recognised him at a glance. She bowed her head to shield her face under the cap's peak. Pretending to search for the sales receipt under a roll of garlic bread, gave her an excuse not to look at him. He wanted to make small talk, mention the freezing wind swirling leaves about the open foyer. In the end, all he said was, ta, and held out a tip. She left without taking it.

Jane dressed like a man and smell of garlic, bratwurst, and salami. It was not the way he remembered her sitting opposite in the pub. Apart from that, new distractions and responsibilities occupied his mind. His life had moved on and thinking back to a night some months before felt stupid.

He had dozed off on the lounge when a knock jolted him awake. Not a door-pounding late-night menace, but a meek rap. It was a pizza order. Nathan rattled an apology for the mistake saying it was not his order.

"My shout," Jane said pushing the pizza box into his stomach.

She borrowed a pair of his boxer shorts and a tee-shirt. They slept together, but Jane insisted sex was off the menu. Nathan figured it was some kind of trust-worthy trial he had to pass. An initiation into domestic life. Two weeks later she moved in. He wondered if he was ready with misgivings of giving up the freedom of living wild and unattached. In the end, he figured he'd made a ham-fisted botch of things so far and she couldn't make it worse.

He struggled to pull his mind back, drifting from a dream, longing to go back, but impossible now when awake. His mind focused on the bitter reality he had for a few precious seconds left.

The needs and wants to cause someone to act are complicated. Motivation to get outside rewards such as vast wealth is beyond the wish of most people. Thrill-seeking individuals suffer uncommonly intense desire.
Thursday, July 16 2015, 6:50 pm

Cribbing pressed his cheek into the rugged face of a concrete block. Possibilities popped into his head but none made sense. He needed to focus. He must get over this rapid emotional slide fuelling his confusion.

His phone vibrated in his pocket. Of all the times to take a call, now was not good.

"Nathan? Nathan?" It was Lisa MacNamara. Cribbing dared not speak, "Nathan? Talk to me. I have urgent intel. Nathan? Nathan?"
Cribbing scarcely drew breath.

"I don't know where you are of what you are up to but you must surrender your-self at the nearest station. There's been a major break-through in the Middle Tarwin case. Both Guadalupe and Lourdes did not take their own lives. Narcotics found in the women's system was a screen to cover the cause of death. Gobe felt things didn't add up with his initial finding. It wasn't until he found unusual amounts of potassic chloride in brain tissue that raised the alarm bell. KC1, as he calls it, occurs naturally in the body. When KC1 is injected in excessive amounts, it causes sudden heart failure. Gobe found injection sites under the victim's toes.

"You are in so much deep shit, Nathan, I can't begin to tell you. Do not contact or confront this preacher. He is not who he says he is. This perp is a ruthless killer. He piled on weight, shaved his head, surgery, who knows how he disguised himself? But he did. We have positive matches to identify him as Novio Kadar. Nathan, please, I'm begging you. Call in your location. Uniform will pick you up. Protect you. You know that. Nathan, listen to me, I've uncovered stuff about Kadar that was under the privacy act. Don't ask how I did it, but I did. Kiswar Kadar’s body was washed up in the shallows of Swan Bay.”

Cribbing heard murmurers in the background. MacNamara was not alone. She was being coached on what to say.

"I'm not at liberty to disclose more, except to say all of Kadar's dealing do not end well."

Cribbing drew a thin breath.

"Listen, Nathan, if you can't talk, press a key to let me know you can hear me."

He pressed the keypad and heard a beep.

"Please, Nathan, I'm begging you with all my heart, do not go after this..."

Cribbing hung up. He was aware that in all likelihood a trace had been put on the call. Whereas before he was indecisive, he was now clear on what to do. He had a motive, a new understanding to all of this.

The game between hunter and hunted took on a new twist.

It is said Judas was the thirteenth apostle at the Last Supper. Most hotels do not have a thirteenth floor. Some airlines skip the thirteenth row. The thirteenth day in a calendar month is a bit harder to dodge.
Thursday, July 16 2015, 7:08 pm

Every cop, prosecutor, and defence lawyer know the limitations of witness credibility. It is known as an estimator variable and states that an eyewitness account is questionable if the person is more than fifteen metres away. Jane was further and why he couldn't read her face. A doll was propped on the floor beside her. He suspected Kadar hid behind the column she was against. Cribbing crouched low as possible figuring a shooter would aim head-height. A bullet hitting the edge of a cement block can blast shrapnel to inflict injury.

He breathed deeply to calm his nerves before speaking, "Judging by the neighbourhood, this place was an apartment block."

His voice brittle over the hard surfaces.

"Upmarket, hipsterville. Trendy. People will pay anything to feel trendy, right? Yeah, mate," he kept his voice conversational. If Jane recognised it, she didn't react.
He continued, "Real-estate? Up and down, freaking crazy in this city. One year no one wants to know about it, and the next they're slapping money down faster than the banks dish it out. Buyers crawling over each other before it's too late and they miss out. A place like this in a young upward-moving population could make millions."

Cribbing started to tighten the screw, "Too bad you loused up."

He needed Kadar to react.

"Greed, that's the thing,” Cribbing said, “Greed brings ordinarily smart people un-done. Causes folks to turn on each other. It swallows trust and spits it out as some-thing vile. Yes, sir, greed's been around for a long time. People recognise it, understand it, bad people, good people alike. Let's take, for example, a good man. You know, someone like Ikhlaaq. He understood the evils of gluttony and avarice. What does the good book say, God does not burden the soul beyond that it can bear? Yes, sir. Only a son can do that..."

The blast caught him off guard clenching his eyes beneath the dust and rubble peppering his head.

"Do not talk of my father," Kadar screamed, "You know nothing about him!"

The muzzle flash came from a column metres to the side of where Jane stood. Cribbing was wrong in thinking he was behind her. He also thought he saw Jane jump at the sound but everything was too quick to know for sure.

Crouching hurt Cribbing's ankles and he was in two minds what to do next. He knew the absurdity of what he was doing. Confronting an armed man with nothing but a few verses from the Qu'ran, was not courageous but foolhardy.

Standing clear of the corner, he hammered the blockwork with the crushed drink can, slow and rhythmical, a mocking slow clap from a hostile audience. The sound was sharp as a snare drum. Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.

Confused, Kadar stepped into the open.

The gunman had, in all likelihood, figured that Cribbing was unarmed. If Crib-bing carried a weapon, he would return fire. It’s how stand-offs play out. This situation was not to script, and Cribbing needed it for his advantage. Now, he wanted Kadar to move away from Jane and towards him. Cribbing sidled across the front of the lift well to be on the side opposite. He called down the shaft to disperse the direction of his voice and further confuse his assailant.

"Unquestionably,” Cribbing began, “To God belongs whatever is in Heaven and in the Earth. So, which of the favours of your Lord would you deny?" his voice bounced through the hollows down through the levels.

In contrast, Kadar's' reply sounded childish, "Do not quote Al-Huda to me, you foul swine!"

Kadar stepped forward. Cribbing heard the ratchet of a rifle bolt. It meant Kadar did not have a semi-automatic weapon. It also meant the gun's magazine was limited to four or five rounds. Cribbing's plan was simple: confuse the gunman into thinking his prey was somewhere it wasn’t. Just as the snake in his parent’s garden was not there.

It was a summer many years ago, but Cribbing remembered it as though it were yesterday. A snake lay along the top of a stout wall in the backyard of his parent's home. The teenage Cribbing went to investigate stopping long enough to slip-on shoes by the back door. The young Nathan Cribbing focused on the exact spot where he last saw the snake. He walked warily to it but no longer saw the snake. To his horror, he discovered the venomous snake had moved when his attention was diverted by his shoes. It now slithered just a foot's width from where he stood. Crib-bing hunched against the well's blockwork, the nearest column was eight strides away and a slim chance of making it alive.
Floors in multi-story buildings have an underside hidden behind ceiling panels; a vast area to accommodate air conditioning ductwork; ventilation and exhaust ducts; sanitary and floor waste pipes; electrical cabling. They call it the 'sofit'. Crib-bing studied the assortment of T-bars dangling from the sofit. He flattened the soft drink can against the palm of his hand. Twisting his body like a discus thrower he flung it into the sofit, hurling with athletic precision to fly to the far side of the floor.

Kadar followed the clatter with the keen reaction of a skeet shooter but did not fire.

Cribbing leapt the distance in long strides until he was behind the column. Jane had not seen him. He was glad, for if she had she would give away his new position.

Kadar knew something was up. The months of planning, the meticulous detail of a fanatic inventing Maximino Govind as an alias, was now in danger of coming unstuck. His body language said it all, twisting his head, shuffling his stance, wiping his face, the signs of frustration. The sole intention of Kadar's master plan was to kill Cribbing and getaway.

Cribbing needed Kadar to come closer to the lift well, seek out the snake behind the wall. When he did, it would allow Cribbing to drag Jane away.

Buildings of this size require just one lift but fire safety demands two points of exit. If he got Jane to the far end stairwell, they had a chance. Shooting at them was not a clean line of sight. Columns were in the way to deflect bullets and shield them. For a moment, Cribbing was buoyed by the thought—he could save her and they escape.

Everyone, including a police officer, is susceptible to suggestion—ideas planted in their mind to doubt memories. In worst-case situations, some remember incidents that never happened. Now, Cribbing had only his wits to protect him.

A case will fall over in court if the defence finds a defendant was misled or told things by interviewing officers they could not have known. Question techniques using open questions or facilitators such as 'okay' to keep the witness talking are practised by the police. This was not an interview, nor was it a negotiation. Cribbing needed to ask leading questions. He needed Kadar to doubt himself, plant false information and suggest different to what happened. Cribbing must do all things his police training taught him not to say.

If he spoke at his assailant, his voice would give his location away. He called up-on ventriloquist trickery. Cupping his hands around his lips he addressed the hard surface of the back wall to the lift well.

"It is written those who hoard gold and silver and do not spend them in the service of God, promise them painful retribution."

Kadar weaved on his feet. He speech quavered, "I said, do not speak, filthy infidel."

As people in society get richer and feel equal to others, they no longer need a kindly God to keep watch. However, in the fearful stench of battle, there are no non-believers.
Thursday, July 16 2015, 7:56 pm

"Face me like the coward you are," Kadar demanded. The seconds of silence un-settled him.

"You know what Novio?" It was the first time Cribbing called him by name, "As far as names go, Maximino has more of a superhero kick to it," he continued hop-ing light-hearted banter would infuriate the gunman.

"Except for the Irish accent... that was shit. You know what else I'm thinking?"

Cribbing's mind flashed back to genial banter between him and Strickland. He once asked him the same to which Strickland replied he would rather squeeze his head into a condom and suffocate than know what Cribbing was thinking. A sense of melancholy gripped him. Strickland was his duty buddy. More than that, they hung out together after work, watched football, drank beer. After Strickland was killed on duty, things fell apart. That morning in Staunton Avenue changed the lives of those involved. He supposed it was why he was here, why Jane was brought to this forlorn place. A sense of dread replaced his melancholia. He was exhausted and emotionally defeated. Cribbing yearned for timeout, a few moments to curl-up on the floor and escape the battle fatigue every soldier knew only too well. The pressure, intense as it was, must go on.

"I think you don't give two hoots about your faith. That big, fat development company you owned and all those Chinese investors throwing money at you like there was no tomorrow, and as for the hereafter? Well, the good times were right here and now on good old terra firma."

Cribbing stopped. He knew Jane had confided with Kadar under his guise as a preacher, thinking he would help her. And yet, he couldn’t say it, could not bring himself to mention her name.

He continued, “She was beautiful. I can see her like she was here—chubby cheeks and the largest brown eyes…. I told myself the man who was killed was holding a doll, a present he bought for a kid. I repeated the story over and over and over, so many times it drilled into my brain as undeniable fact. That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? A lie never goes away. It hides out of sight until it’s time to come out as horror.”

Cribbing knew he shouldn’t do this, open up and lay prone to his enemy’s trickery. But he had to say it.

"Me? I don't know what to believe. You see, I got this fear of dolls, crazy, I know but real just the same. I guess you figured that one out as well. And until this afternoon, I never knew why. Why I was scared of tiny dolls? See, I completely forgot about a little girl in a man's arms, her grandfather's arms." Now that Cribbing said the words aloud, feelings surfaced. He fought to control a tremor in his voice.

"Some things," he cleared his throat, "Some things are so bad we wipe them from our memory and refuse to believe it ever happened," he paused breathing heavily. "But that's not you, is it, Novio?"

Kadar crab-walked in a wide arc. He toed the floor with intent, suspecting the snake had moved.

Cribbing knew no time was left, "So, why are we here then? It's not because you want to interest me in a piece of real estate. Neither is it to revenge the death of your father and little girl. It must be something else; the prospect of losing everything, perhaps? The colossal empire built from nothing: the big house, fancy cars, and fancy women. I gotta give you that, you had yourself a pile of money. Yeah, mate, a real motzer. Or is this about your sister?"

Kadar spun on his heel. Cribbing ducked behind the column. The game was up.

"Your sister Kiswa vanishing with a fortune..."

The blast was shattering. Cribbing chanced his luck to peer around the corner. Kadar no longer watched him. Instead, he about-faced looking backwards. Twisting his body to cover the width of the column, he saw Jane slide to the floor. He hair a soft brush painting a bloody smear down the column she had moments before leaned against. She crumpled to the floor, stark against pallid concrete. The shock stole air from his lungs. He dared not breath until the dark and swelling ground forced him.

Overwhelming loss devoured all fear.

What a small matter now? Should he live or die... it was all the same? His existence was a shamble with no purpose.
He stepped out. Perhaps it was his gaze, the thousand-yard stare of Frank Morecambe. Then again, it may have been the way Cribbing strode, shoulders square, arms lose, that made the gunman jump and level his rifle at him. His assailant knew the spectre of terror was now vanquished and his victim no longer felt for life.

Kadar swung his face from the rifle sight long enough to spit, "Get on your knees."

"Why should I?"

"Because you are the disease to contaminate my culture."

"How is that when all I own is surfboard and a van?"

"I am deserving of all I own and built."

"What about all those who lent you the loot? What do they deserve?"

"They? The filthy servants of the devil? They got what was coming to them."

"Oh, yeah. Usury. I forgot about that one."

"Get on your knees and beg for your life."

Cribbing continued to shuffle forward, "Fuck you."

"On your knees to die like a dog."

Cribbing felt his leg snap. He collapsed to his knees, the shock sprawling white flashes before his eyes. Urgent hurt gushed from the deep gash through his calf muscle from a wayward bullet.

"On your hands and knees to meet your maker as scum."

Cribbing fought to remember the number of rounds fired but adrenalin fogged his mind. Kadar was swift. Before he could react, the gunman kicked him in the back sending him sprawling. He felt the gun's muzzle press into the back of his head. Everyone at some time in their life thinks of dying and how the last moment will be. His was with a cheek pressed on cold filth of a concrete floor metres from a woman he could not save. With a hulking sadness, he gave up his will to resist.

The blast was sharp, yet different.

He felt the fall vibrate through his cheek on the floor. When his vision focused, he saw Frank Morecambe, arms stretched holding a pistol.

"Always aim squarely at the chest, Cribbo. That way they don't get up," he said.

Nathan stood. He knew of dull pain and the trouble lifting his foot to step. He limped to where Jane Wylding settled. Laying her on the ground, he fought to remember the number of compressions for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He couldn't. He did, however, remember the lyrics and sang in whispery breaths, pumping Jane's chest to each word, "Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive."

Reaching for her mouth, he clawed open her jaw and blew into her face. He returned once more, "Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive..." Fingers dug into his shoulders pulling him backwards. He wanted to fight them off, leave him to do what he must, but was too exhausted. An arm reached across his chest and pulled him to his feet. When he glanced over his shoulder, he saw Lisa MacNamara holding him. Others were also there.

Jamie Buckler stood over Kadar, service pistol primed at the sprawling gunman. He kicked the rifle away.

Cribbing heard Joshua de Base say, "Put the gun down, Frank. I don't have to tell you the routine."

"Tell it to me anyway, you prick," Morecambe said.

Buckler shook his head at the defiance of the old man.

Morecambe obeyed like a scolded child. He clicked the safety lock and dropped his gun, before squeezing his hands behind his head. Two uniformed constables wearing flak jackets bustled forward to take his arms.

De Base could not stop the smile edging his lips, "Francis Morecambe you are under arrest. I must caution you that you do not have to say anything, but anything you do or say can and will be used as evidence in a court of law. Do you understand?"

Morecambe nodded.

"I need to hear you say it."

"Yes, detective inspector de Base, understood."

MacNamara guided Cribbing to the stairs. They took them one baby step at a time and for a fleeting moment, he was in Iraq shouldering Jeremy Clementine, the soldier who forever after refused to carry a gun. Blood from his leg wound squelched inside his shoe and brought him to the present. Paramedics scrambled up the steps towards them.

"Grief will come," MacNamara said, "Not today, but it will come and you must not be alone when it does. You will stay with me, for now. After that, we'll talk about your future."

Sunday, September 19, mid-morning two months later

The cemetery carpark was empty. Unusually warm spring weather affected Lisa MaNamara’s hay fever.

“All these flowering shrubs and grassy meadows is not my idea of a fun place, not this time of the year. Let’s get this over with,” she said climbing out of the driv-er’s seat.

Nathan Cribbing remained on the passenger side holding a star shaped balloon on his lap. Written across the front of the balloon was the word ‘Forever’.

MacNamara stuck her head through her car door, “Come on.”
Cribbing made no attempt to get out of the car, “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“We talked about it, been over it several times. Come on.”

“Yeah, I know, I know,” he sighed.

“You need to see where she is.”

Cribbing did not answer.

MacNamara waited. She pulled a tissue out of her pocket and wiped her nose.
After several minutes, Cribbing opened the door. He reached for his crutch propped against the dashboard and eased himself out of the seat. The large foil star bobbed above his head on the end of a string. He looked clownish.

“I know the location,” MacNamara sniffled, “Follow me when you are ready.”

She moved along a path that wound between shrubbery and ornamental trees.

On a gentle slope dotted with headstones was a rectangle of whitewashed paving stones. Cribbing looked around. The place was shielded from other parts of the cemetery crowded with crosses and angles.

“It looks so tiny,” Cribbing said studying the area marked out being no bigger than a tea towel. “I thought it would be bigger and there’d be something. You know, an inscription to say who she was.”

“Some religions regard writing on headstones as unfit.”

“Yeah, I get that. But still, it seems so, I don’t know. Like her short-lived life was all for nothing.” Cribbing wondered if he could tie the balloon to one of the stones.

“What if?” MacNamara said tucking her skirt between her thighs to sit on the grass. She pinched a single daisy from a nearby patch and twirled the stem between her fingers.

Cribbing regarded her with a quizzical look.

She continued, “Let’s play a ‘what if’ game. I’ll go first. What if Ikhlaaq had not locked his door?”

“We did everything by the book. We knocked, announced who we were. It was locked. Strickland checked. I don’t remember now, but I think he did. I mean, why else would he break the lock?”

“Now it’s your turn,” MacNamara said.

“Why was Ikhlaaq running around outside his house?”

“No, no, no, this is a ‘what if’ game, not a ‘why’ game.”

“Huh!” Cribbing grunted. He leant heavily on his single crutch to take the load from his wounded leg. “Okay, what if Ikhlaaq was inside his apartment sitting on his sofa when we entered his home?”

“What if Ikhlaaq had not returned home to find two mask men ransacking the place?”

Cribbing shot MacNamara an astounded look. Was it possible the gunman did now know they were police? Cribbing shook his head, “It makes no sense,” he muttered.

“Your turn.”

Cribbing half-punched the balloon before gazing off into the distance, “What if you didn’t find a data disc on Morecambe’s desk?”

“What if Morecambe listened to me and stood the operation down until negotiators resolved the situation?” she blurted.

Cribbing waved his hand over the tiny grave, “Adelina Leace would be here now and Jane…”

MacNamara got to her feet.

Turning sharply to her, Cribbing said, “What if Frank went home and not shown up when he did?”

Lisa came to him and slid her arm under his to cup his hand holding the balloon, “As much as I didn’t like him, Morecambe felt he had to square the books.”

“Morecambe may have been a lot of things, and sure, he made mistakes. But at heart he did what he thought was best… catch the baddies, protect the good.

His was a last selfless act that took guts.”

MacNamara nodded in agreement, “Life is full of what-ifs. In the end, all we can do is accept what’s done is done and follow the path our hearts tell us to tread.”

She tugged the string from Cribbing’s fingers and let the star balloon go.

They followed it until it flew so high, they could no longer see it.

#1. Graveyard Shift
ID #967477 entered on October 8, 2019 at 5:50pm

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