WILD DOG RIVER BY GREG BARRON
The killer was not alone. Two more men climbed from the Steber onto the Naika’s deck. I recognised both from the gang who had bushwhacked Owen and me in a Cooktown park the night before. I was still kneeling, waiting to feel a bullet strike, but instead the tall bloke with the moustache kicked me hard in the side of the chest, sending me sprawling sideways.
The world was tilting off its axis, my heart shattered from what I had seen in those last few minutes.
The gunman wrestled me down, pinning me to the deck with a knee in the small of my back. He grabbed my right forearm and twisted. Agony shot up my shoulder, through my side, into my spine and brain.
‘Move,’ he hissed at the others. ‘Find it.’
Talking and stomping, the pair headed down to the cabins. It didn’t take long before they brought up that damned bronze relic in its box, chuckling and congratulating each other.
A fourth man came over from the Steber, and he kneeled beside me. I could not raise my head far enough to see his face, but I guessed from the loose, callused skin of his knees that he was older than the others. He unrolled a strip of canvas on the deck, like a tool roll, and started fiddling with the contents. When I saw a syringe I tried to fight, but the gunman twisted my arm harder, using it as a lever to control my level of pain.
I stared as the old fellow produced a small flask and used the syringe to draw liquid from it. Next he inverted the syringe and tapped it several times with his fingernail. There was a bag of brown powder that I guessed must be heroin on the calico, along with a spoon and zippo lighter, but he did not use them – the contents of the flask, I guessed, was already mixed and cooked.
Now he jabbed the syringe into a vein in my arm. The result was fast. It was like a tide of broken glass laced with honey flooding my system, filling my brain and every sense. I knew a bit about heroin. I’d tried it once in Vung Tau, against my better instincts, and I knew how it felt.
My mind and body distanced themselves. The shock and pain of seeing two good men gunned down dulled to a vague unhappiness. For a couple of minutes, the gunman continued to hold me down. Then, when I was fully in the grip of the drug he released me. By then I understood that the dose I’d been given was far stronger than I had previously experienced.
Even in the first shock of the drug, lying on the deck, I heard them talking. One said, ‘Leave the rest of the gear in his bag. Don’t make it too obvious.’
More footsteps, more words. I saw them wiping things down. One wore a glove while he forced my hand to grip the Type-59 Chinese pistol before dropping it on deck.
Things went blank for a minute, then I tilted my head to one side, registering the sight of them removing the ropes and pulling in the fenders, motoring away in the Steber. I could hear QF9 Cairns on the radio, asking for an update, but I had no interest or motivation in reaching the HF set in the wheelhouse.
I wanted to sit up, but getting my muscles and limbs to obey was a difficult task. I felt like closing my eyes and sleeping, but enough of my old self remained to keep pushing. I opened the fingers of my right hand and they responded. I gathered the big muscles of my thighs and lower back, and managed to roll from my rear end onto my knees. Nausea struck in waves, and blood thumped painfully in the veins in my temples. Finally, the feeling passed, and I raised my head, looking at the bodies of my friends in their pools of blood. This was war again; I knew that now. I had some idea of who I was up against, but no sense yet of the power and influence my foes commanded.
I crawled on my knees to the port side, and gripping the gunnel I pulled myself up until I could look out at the sea. Strangely the Steber had stopped half a mile out, and as I watched, a second boat arrived. I recognised the police boat from Cairns, a steel-plate cutter with a white cabin amidships. After a couple of minutes of conversation between the two crews, the Steber headed north, and the police boat turned towards me.
The cops rafted up to the Naika and swung across in their heavy boots. One or two carried weapons. One thuggish giant dragged me away from the gunnel by the collar. I was knocked to the deck, turned over and cuffed.
‘You have the right to remain silent,’ someone said.
They dragged me over to the police boat, opened a hatch aft of the main cabin and dumped me into a windowless compartment. Even with the drug in my system, understanding was dawning of what was happening to me. I sat in the dark, the sound of the engines roaring in my ears, in two inches of rusty, filthy bilge water while my drug-crazed brain carried me away from reality.
The terrifying war dragon on the face of that old Tong medal came to life in my mind, and when I started screaming they hammered on the hatch to make me stop. I would not. I remember that they opened the hatch and threw a bucket of seawater onto my face.
©2023 Greg Barron
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Continued next Saturday.
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