“Why did you pick me? Why do you think I can help you?” I said.
I took a sip from the vodka she’d poured me when I arrived.
“Because you found those kids when no one else could.”
I’d heard this speech before, or some version of it. There is something mystical about being able to do something that no-one else can, I guess.
And then there’s the kidnapped kids element — tugging at the heartstrings.
“Do you know how I pulled that off — the high point of my career?”
She looked at me over the rim of her glass. Her blond hair was still pulled back, and I wondered what she looked like first thing in the morning.
“I was in the right place at the right time. I didn’t know they were there. I was banging on that door because someone had hemmed me in — parked so close that I couldn’t move my car. I was tired and pissed off from chasing the story all day — asking questions of people who didn’t want to answer, or couldn’t, and I guess I sounded angry. The fuckwit must have thought I was the police and he legged it out the back door. When the front door came open, and that little face looked up at me and said, ‘Have you come to save us?’ I just froze. I expected to get a shotgun pushed into my face.”
She never broke eye contact, and I thought she was going to say something, but she just gazed at me with those eyes. Now I was wondering what she would look like after a torrid afternoon in a hotel bedroom.
“The kids were all scared and tired and grubby, and except for the boy who opened the door, they were all silent. I sat on the old vinyl couch in the living room with the kids and waited for the police to arrive. I’m not sure that the switchboard operator believed me when I rang it in. I left the front door open to show that we were in there and we were okay, but it didn’t stop the Special Response Squad from bursting in with the familiar sound of ‘ARMED POLICE. GET ON THE GROUND.’ I still have that fuckers knee print on my back.”
She held her glass tightly, her lips slightly apart and I wondered all sorts of things about those lips.
“They caught Stanley James Smith a few houses away, and I got a curt apology for being roughed up. You know how it is Mr Fox. We can’t be too careful. Sorry about arresting you and all the rest.” I said with my best ‘cop in charge’ accent.
“I asked him what his name was. Commander Wilson. I was in charge of the search. He put his hand out to shake mine — for the cameras. Fuck you very much, Commander Wilson,” was my reply — or words to that effect. The Commander smiled at me and said, Fair enough. We both produced our best smiles for the camera.
About a year later I won the Walkley Award for my series of articles on the Cameron Street Primary School kidnapping. The story stretched over four Saturday editions — about twenty thousand words and not once did I mention the kidnapper’s name — didn’t give the fucker what he wanted — fame.”
“But you got yours — fame, I mean,” she said.
“Yes, I did, and every time someone mentions those kids, I feel like apologising.”
“You must have done something right in another life — the Universe likes you.”
“Maybe. The votes aren’t in yet. So exactly what is it you think I can find for you?”