Jemma cranks the starter for several seconds before the motor catches. It idles rougher than before. The girls listen to creaks and rattles that multiply as they gather speed. A rhythmic rubbing grows into a grinding howl somewhere in the rear end. A small green sign on the side of the road marked with the letter ‘P’ and ’15’ flashes by.
Vibrations increase and the engine stutters, coughing up black smoke. A piece of the floor falls from beneath Jemma’s feet. The instruments die one by one and the dash ages before their eyes. Jemma clings to the shaking wheel, feeling it disintegrate beneath her hands.
They rattle into the town limits trailing smoke, noise and rust. Pieces of metal and plastic are falling off every side. Jemma can see the blue sign with a white cross and arrow marking the direction to the hospital. They barely make the corner when the brake pedal limply hits the floor with no back pressure.
The engine wants to quit and the gear lever jumps out of gear. Jemma forces it in and holds the lever with failing strength. The hospital is just ahead. A small, fluorescent lit sign appears to her like a heavenly vision.
One of the tyres burst. Sparks erupt from the rim. A bang and clatter ends the motor life. Hot oil-smoke mingles with steam that billows from beneath the dented rusty bonnet. The ute rolls to a stop, wheezing and groaning at every joint.
Jemma almost falls out the door and runs the last fifty metres to the hospital entrance. A feat her numb legs didn’t know they were still capable of.
She bursts through the doors and slumps over the reception counter, gasping too heavily to speak. The surprised night shift nurse quickly takes in Jemma’s bloody state and phones for help.
“Dave, get out the front now. Emergency.”
A male nurse rushes in bearing a stretcher.
“Not for me. Traci. She’s over there.”
Jemma drags the stretcher out of his hands and pushes it outside. Dave is stunned for a second then follows to see what the burned and bloody girl is earnestly pointing at.
Jemma can’t see the ute. She points in the direction she came from wondering why the lights above her are dimming. Strong arms grab her as she closes down and collapses. Everything goes black for Jemma…
…The old Sergeant stands at the nurse’s station drinking a coffee and frowning. He brushes biscuit crumbs from a wrinkled uniform, hastily thrown on for the unwelcome early morning callout.
“Seems a bit odd, turning up out of the blue like that. They give their names?”
“Nope. I’ve got no admission records and they’ve got no ID’s. One might be Traci. The less injured girl, came to for a while, but she won’t talk. Traumatised I expect. Something very bad happened to them, that’s all I know.”
“I need something for the report. Where did they come from? Who dropped them off?”
The nurse shrugs and flicks through the records night shift left.
“Candice said the pregnant girl repeats the same thing over and over. They sedated her when she got hysterical. Evil lights, something like that, I don’t know. Tox screen showed a fairly large dose of Rhohypnol in both of them. People say all sorts of strange things when they are under the influence, as you’d know.”
“Great! Drugs! I’ll never get any sense out of them. I’m gonna talk to Candice.”
“No you don’t. She had a hard shift and you’ll let her sleep. I followed procedure to call you in because of the drugs, and in case they’d been assaulted. One of them was bleeding quite heavily. Miscarried during the night.”
“So, any sign of sexual assault?”
“No. Internal bleeding. We did swabs. The other one is still ‘intact’, if you know what I mean. Pretty rare these days, but I’m a bit old fashioned I s’pose. They’ve both got nasty skin burns, dehydration, exhaustion. They must have been exposed in the bush for a few days at least.”
“When they wake up, Can I talk to them?”
“Don’t hold your breath. They’re being transferring to Adelaide, soon as the flying doctor gets here. Why don’t you make yourself useful and get rid of that old ute someone’s left in the middle of the street down there?”
“Yeah, I passed it on the way here. Dave said one of the girls was in it, huh?”
“That’s what Candice said too. I’m sure she can give you a statement later.”
“That’s Charlie’s old farm ute.”
“He went missing six months ago, after his wife left him. I figured he’d done a runner. Sad old bastard. There’s no way those girls drove it here.”
“I never said they did. What do you mean anyway?”
“I don’t know how many times I told Charlie to stop driving it on the road. The bloody thing’s full of rust. I doubt it could go faster than thirty kays without shaking to bits. But it’s completely stuffed now. If I find who dragged it through town I’ll have their guts. There’s oil and crap all the way up the road.”
“Well get it cleaned up. This is the hospital’s main access you know. Now go away, Joe, I’m busy.”
“Yeah, righto Lorraine. The sun’s just about up.”
Joe leaves with a tired sigh. He ambles to the ute unenthusiastically. It looks worse in the morning light, sitting forlornly on three flat tyres and a bare rim.
He pulls out a notepad to take notes, talking to himself all the while.
“Musta been towing it home for spare parts,” he muttered. “Got too hard and dumped it. Probably bloody Murphey’s kid, smart-mouthed little shit.”
He kicks the door, impressed at the amount of rust that showers to the asphalt. The window is done. He sticks his head in and winces at the amount of drying blood covering the rotted passenger seat.
“Must have put her here to have a rest while the other one went to get help.”
He scribbles some more in his notepad.
A smell of burning and a dull glow leads him to the tray. Something smoulders under the two shredded spare tyres. He pushes one aside to reveal a dented, circular piece of metal lying amongst the flakes of rust.
The Sergeant wrinkles his nose as hot, acrid gases burn his nostrils. Something about it make his balls shrivel in fear. Not a commonplace reaction for the six foot copper.
“Bloody Hell. What the hell is that? Gotta get it out of there. Last thing I need is a fire report to fill in as well.”
He grabs a stick from a corner of the tray and flicks the hot disc onto the road. It rolls across the asphalt and drops conveniently into a nearby storm drain. Steam erupts from the opening and the mud bubbles and hisses violently for a long time.
“Good riddance. Christ, that thing was hot.”
The Sergeant scratches his head then shrugs off the crawling, dirty feeling snaking up his spine. He’d give Karl’s Towing a call. He could deal with this mess. There were better things he could be doing. Like filing a useless report about these out-of-town drug addicts and making another coffee.
Like it? See my new serial novel Fatal Cure.