“Porter, Nadia’s missin’, and it’s your fucking fault.”
Liniment fumes filled the ice-box that doubled as Redfern Youth Club’s admin office and whacked Dan Porter on the nose. He stopped typing, blinked stinging eyes, and peered over the computer monitor towards his accuser.
Eddy Tindall, a sleek Koori teenager, stood in the doorway and hissed like a peeved brown snake. “You hear what I said? I thought you’re different from other cops,” he shouted above the ruckus behind him. “But you aint, you’re just another useless pig who don’t give a shit.”
Porter blew hot air, his lips vibrated. He stood, stretched his back, then strolled to Eddy. He looked past him, to the boxing ring in the middle of the gym. Tugger Walford, wearing a faded blue singlet and white footy shorts, leaned against the ropes. He held a punching pad in one hand and phone against his ear in the other.
Porter frowned, his guts churned. Nadia was Eddy’s younger sister, a gem of a girl who brought him homemade biscuits whenever she came to watch Eddy train. “She’s been missing since when?”
Eddy jammed boxing gloves into glistening thighs. “This arvo. I wanted to pick her up from school, ‘cos of what’s going on.” His face flushed purple. “But couldn’t, ‘cos you pricks made me come here.”
“Okay, enough of that…Calm down and tell me wh–.”
“Nah, shove your boxin’.” He ripped the gloves off and threw them at Porter’s feet. “Don’t care if you lock me up, I’m outta here…” He turned and ran towards the exit.
Tugger climbed from the ring and watched him. “Get back ‘ere young fella.”
Porter stepped into the grey gym. Eddy shoved the exit door then slammed it shut behind him. The other boys stopped training, a flock of laughing kookaburras. Porter told them to get back to it.
He beckoned Tugger to join him, then trudged into the office and fell into a chair. He rubbed a smooth jaw and stared at the biscuit jar on the desk. He remembered when Nadia had gifted it to him. She’d blushed and giggled. Bloody hell, had the bastards taken her too?
Tugger ambled in, sat opposite and rested hairy arms on a pot belly. An ex-boxer with a mangled nose to show for it, he helped Porter run a boxing program for juvenile offenders every Tuesday afternoon. A dark-skinned sexagenarian with a resemblance to Danny DeVito, he had tufts of white hair circling a bald crown and a comical face that made others smile. His official title was ‘ACLO Walford’, as the Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer for City of Sydney police command. He’d held the position for a year but had played peace-keeper between cops and Kooris for decades.
“Sorry ‘bout that, Port,” Tugger said. “Not makin’ excuses for ‘im, but Eddy’s frantic. Just spoke to ‘is mum, they’ve no idea where Nadia is.”
“No worries, been called much worse. And that tantrum just now isn’t why I’ve decided to take him off the program.”
“What? Thought you were on his side?”
“Cut that bullshit, mate, you know I am. But he’s almost eighteen and needs to start helping himself. It’s out of my control now.”
“Just read the latest lab report, he’s tested positive to crystal meth again.”
“You think Juve Justice will want ‘im locked up this time?”
“Reckon so, with a record full of petty thefts, then three armed robberies in a month…He was lucky to be here.”
“Told ‘im that, to pull ‘is head in. Even tried gettin’ ‘im to church.”
Porter smirked. “Bet that went down like maggots in a meat pie?”
Tugger folded his arms. “Wouldn’t hurt you either, comin’ to Sunday mass now and again.”
“Reckon I’d rather be at a Justin Bieber concert, and that’s saying something. Church is for weddings and funerals.”
“A non-believer eh?”
“Nah, there’s a few things I believe in…An almighty one in the sky just isn’t one of ‘em.”
“Well, Eddy weren’t real keen on the church invite either, and he’s been hangin’ with that Neilsen grub just to spite me.”
“Reckon he’d be dealing too…”
“Then doin’ a bit of time might be good for ‘im? Get ‘im off the gear and away from Neilsen.”
Porter glanced at the biscuit jar. He saw an image of Nadia’s smiling face, and she seemed happy. Strange, because a stabbing pain in his chest told him she was far from it. He checked his watch. “It’s just gone five…They sure Nadia’s not with friends?”
“Always says if she aint goin’ straight home, and friends aint seen her. A worry…”
“Too right…” Porter draped a navy-blue tie around his neck then buttoned cuffs of a turquoise business shirt. “Got a meeting about the missing girl’s taskforce tonight. Will be out looking for her afterwards…”
“I needed at the meetin’?”
“Nah, it’s only political bullshit…”
“Reckon Moorecroft and his cronies might pull the plug on it.”
“You’re kiddin’?” Tugger unfolded his arms and leaned forward. “How many girls we up to? Be crazy to stop investigatin’.”
“Hope I’m wrong…”
“Bloody oath. How I tell families ‘round ‘ere their girls are vanishin’ but coppers can’t be arsed lookin’ for ‘em?”
“Don’t reckon Asian and African communities will be too impressed either?”
Tugger scoffed. “That supposed to make us Kooris feel better, ‘cos a few Asian and Somali girls are missin’ too? No wonder families like the Tindall’s are pissed, they know your mob aint doin’ enough.”
“Eh don’t forget, you work for the cops now. My mob’s your mob…But you’re spot on, can’t blame ‘em for being angry.”
“They’ll show just how angry if Moorecroft ends the taskforce…They’re scared, Port, ‘cos nothin’ like this has happened before.”
“Yeah, two of the girls are from Amber’s school and Jane’s beside herself.”
Tugger lowered his black eyes. “I shouldn’t rant, not when you’ve got your own girl to worry about. Just frustrated…”
“I get it…But cops on this taskforce are flat out, mate, working hours of unpaid overtime. It’s piss-weak bosses skimping on resources that let us down.”
“Yep, and bet they’d find the overtime money if young white girls were missin’…”
Porter couldn’t disagree.
“Look, I see the good work you coppers do, what others don’t, but Kooris are talkin’ of protests and riots and they want change. And they still don’t trust you fellas, despite your bosses sayin’ different.”
“They trust you, mate, kids through to elders. If you ask for calm they’ll listen.”
“Like you said, I’m workin’ for the cops now and trouble-makin’ Kooris don’t like it…” Tugger reached into a pocket and threw a red pamphlet on the desk. “They’re listenin’ to fellas like ‘im.”
Porter scanned the pamphlet. “Where’d this come from?”
“They’re all over the city. He’s put ads in papers too.”
“Who?” He paused to read from it. “This…Lionel Roberts?”
“Yep, he’s the new Aboriginal human rights fella for Legal Aid. Based in Sydney.”
“Didn’t know Legal Aid had human rights advocates…”
“Some judge created the positions back in ‘07 after those interventions in the Territory. Every State’s supposed to have one, only taken eleven years to get ours.”
“You know this Roberts bloke?”
“Since he’s a pup…He grew up ‘ere in Redfern, a good Koori kid. Haven’t seen ‘im for a bit ‘cos he’s been out west.”
“Roberts?” Porter scratched his cheek. “I know most Koori families around here, but not them.”
“Lionel don’t have real family ‘round here, not that we know of. Was only days old when the nuns found ‘im dumped at Saint Francis. Father Roberts, bless ‘is soul, took ‘im in and raised him.”
Porter had attended police funerals at Saint Francis, the oldest church in South Sydney. “When was that?”
“Around ’78 I guess, ‘cos Lionel’s forty this year…”
“Same here, but reckon I’ve spent a lot less time in church.”
Tugger chuckled. “Lionel, or Lio as we call ‘im, was always of strong faith. Takes ‘is job real serious and from what fellas tell me, he’s a jet. Made a name for himself out bush and is lookin’ to do the same here.”
Porter read aloud from the pamphlet. “Police must do more to find Sydney’s missing girls. The incompetent police hierarchy has failed to protect our sisters and daughters. Trust me, to save them. Any information helps. Stronger, together, let’s bring them home. Contact my office at daa, daa, daa… Confidentiality assured. Lionel Roberts, Bachelor of Law, with honors, University of Sydney…”
“Like I said, he’s full of gusto, with plenty of support already.”
“Incompetent police hierarchy.” Porter sniggered. “No argument there…But why Legal Aid? With honors in law he’d make squillions at a private firm.”
“Money’s never been an issue.”
“Other orphans at Saint Francis went to state schools. But Lio went to posh, private ones. Didn’t work during uni…Someone outside the church sponsored his education. No small change…”
“No-one knows. Not even Lio, I’ve asked ‘im.”
“Strange…” Porter read aloud from the pamphlet and imitated the baritone bravado of his childhood hero, Roger Ramjet. “Trust me, to save them…” He chuckled. “Bloke’s on a one-man crusade. Bit naïve isn’t he?”
“No, Port, he’s different…”
“Well, reckon I’ll come across him sooner or later. And he’s spot on, we’re not doing enough.” He waved the pamphlet. “But this breeds mistrust. Hard enough getting info from Kooris, without sprouting paranoia…”
“Or the truth? Now you’re being naïve…Us Kooris are born with paranoia about your mob.”
Porter smirked and returned the pamphlet. Your mob. He swiveled in the chair to face a mirror and knotted the tie, then finger combed his dark-brown fringe to the left. He leaned towards the mirror and squinted green eyes, then rubbed the dark circles below them. In the past year, crows’ feet had crept into the skin around his eyes. In recent months they’d become Pterodactyl claws.
He scratched the scar that ran two inches down the middle of his forehead, the permanent reminder of a knife-wielding junkie’s attempted lobotomy, and yawned as he turned from the mirror. He bent to straighten trousers over polished black shoes, then stood and hauled an imitation-leather briefcase from the desk.
“Get Roberts on side, mate, for the girl’s sake.”
“Leave it with me…”
Porter jabbed his shoulder. “Good man.”
“And you talk some sense into them politicians tonight. Tell ‘em they’ll lose the streets if they scrap your taskforce, and have more blood on their hands.”
Porter turned in the doorway. “We’re fighting an uphill battle against these drongos, but I’ll give it a crack…And don’t fret, Nadia will be okay.” The ache in his gut stabbed. Why would Tugger believe him, when he didn’t believe himself?
“You said that about them other girls, months ago, and they aint come home yet.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll find ‘em,” Porter said. “If it kills me…”