The Spaghetti Warrior

The Spaghetti Warrior

Five minutes to four, and a long queue still waited out there in the public area. All five tellers were working flat out. At my desk as usual, I kept thinking about tomorrow’s semifinal. I play right wing for the City Flyers hockey team.

Jack called, “Suzie, lock the door, could you?”

Having expected the order, I slipped out from behind my computer, went through the locked door in the partition and excused my way along the press of customers.

My hand was reaching for the keypad on the wall when the double glass doors slid open.

“I’m sorry, Sir, we are clo…”

He had a gun. Time stopped.

The evil black eye of the short barrel looked at me. His hand around the butt was beefy, with black hairs sprouting from the backs of his fingers.

“Do nothing, say nothing,” he said, sounding amused.

I couldn’t have moved if I wanted to. He smiled, showing impossibly even, white teeth, but his eyes were emotionless brown holes.

“It’s only someone else’s money, darlin’. Slowly turn around and walk in. No sudden moves.”

How dare he call me ‘darling’? I came alive. I wanted to remember his every feature. Six feet tall — 180 cm — slim except for the start of a little belly. The straight black hair grew low over his forehead, with silver at the temples. He had a broad face, high cheekbones, thick lips. The voice was deep, cultured. He may have been forty-five years old.

I found myself well inside the bank, though I couldn’t remember walking in.

A sharp clap of noise struck my ear and I’d have collapsed, except his hand suddenly grasped my left upper arm from behind. “Don’t move!” he shouted. “Don’t even think.”

Somebody screamed.

Another man walked past me, holding something like a short rifle. His face seemed grotesquely featureless, then I realised that he had a pantyhose over his head. He wore scruffy blue jeans and a long-sleeved white shirt. My captor said, more conversationally now, “No one will get hurt if you all just behave.” I tried to remember his clothes, but couldn’t. It was different from the gunman’s.

The second man unhurriedly walked toward the back of the bank, the two legs of the pantyhose bizarrely flopping behind him like bunny ears. The customers shrunk away from him as he neared them. Shoulders smoothly moving he swivelled, and another ear-splitting crack filled the space. I saw the second, hidden video camera explode.

My captor said, “Mr Barton, if you want little Suzie here to stay alive, you’ll keep away from the alarm button.”

How could he know my name? Jack’s was on the wall, under his picture, but I didn’t wear a name tag. Also, the patronising ‘little Suzie’ rubbed me the wrong way. I’m tall for a girl, only about five centimetres shorter than him.

His hand on my arm was an irresistible force as he pulled me into the little alcove where the customer enquiry telephone is. Then he jerked me back against his hard body, and I felt a cold touch on the top of my head. His left arm held me around the chest like a tentacle, pressing against my breasts. I needed to vomit. I almost retched but managed to keep it back.

“Hold up, love,” he said, still amused, loudly enough for everyone to hear. “You won’t get hurt if those nice colleagues of yours do as they’re told.”

Standing this way, I could see the whole bank. A third man had come in. He was short but stocky, powerfully built, dressed like the second man and also had pantyhose over his head. He held a big carry-all. The man with the rifle trained it on the customers, who cowered in a press against the partition at the back.

My captor said, “Tellers, fill up my friend’s bag. No dyes, no tricks or you can say goodbye to Suzie. I know you all like her.”

How could he possibly know that?

We waited as the short man efficiently went along the line of tellers, receiving bundles of notes.

“Mr Barton, Sir, you will now let my friend in, accompany him to the safe and fill up whatever space is left in the bag.” His voice sounded courteous to suit the respect in the words, but the sarcasm was cutting. This man felt nothing but contempt for us.

Obscenely, his arm moved up and down, rubbing against my breasts. I couldn’t help struggling, but he tapped the top of my head with the gun. “Stay still, little one,” he growled.

The small man came back out through the partition door, leaning sideways to balance the weight of the bag. I could see the sweat all over Jack’s face as he shut the door behind him.

The man carried his bag of money out, jerking the pantyhose off his head as he exited through the door. He had short-cropped, sandy-coloured hair.

We waited.

The gunman started backing toward the door, sure on his feet. My captor shifted his grip back to my left upper arm, and pulled me with him. He announced, “Sweet Suzie is coming with us, for insurance. Mr Barton, if the Police catch us, she dies, so go slow with pressing that button.”

My knees buckled. His arm whipped around me again, holding me up. “Come along,” he said as if he was being kind, “Nothing will go wrong, and you’ll have a story to tell for the rest of your life.”

Nightmares more like.

“Now, we’ll go out of here hand in hand, like friends. I’ve still got the gun in my pocket, pointing at you.”

I managed to nod, though I was unable to speak.

He spun me around, and I saw that he wore a clown mask over his face. Bizarrely, it was a sad clown, with huge downturning lips and oversize tears. He pulled this off as we turned toward the street, then his right hand whipped back into his pocket. The mask hung off his right arm for all the world like a handbag.

A car pulled up and double parked, a bottle-blonde woman at the wheel. The slim man, weapon no longer visible, opened the rear door and the big fellow shoved me in, crowding after me. The second man got into the front, and the woman smoothly pulled away. “Jim drove off without any trouble. I saw,” she said in a high-pitched, little-girl voice.

I plucked up my courage to ask, “Wh… when are you letting me go?”

He turned toward me. “Sweetheart, you’ve seen my face! Do you think I am stupid?” He gave me the same meaningless smile as at our first contact.

“Please. Don’t… don’t…” I couldn’t get it out. I felt like wetting myself.

“I’m not going to kill you. But we’ll need to keep you with us until our escape is finalised. It’s all planned out.”

“Please. I have a young daughter, I need to…”

“Good try, Suzie. But I researched things pretty thoroughly. You do not have a child. You broke up with your boyfriend a couple of months back and are living alone.”

“How do you know?”

He laughed, self-satisfied and smug. “I know everything about every employee in six bank branches. We had several alternative scripts, settled on this one only two days ago.”

The woman said, “He chose your branch because you’re the prettiest door closer. He’s a sleaze, love.” Her voice sounded lower now, she must have been very tense before.

“Shut up, Hazel,” he answered without heat.

I went even colder if possible. Why would he let me know her name if I was to be allowed to go?

We drove into the Eastland undercover car park, hectares of empty cars, but there were many vacant spaces in the gloom. I could see nobody within shouting distance, besides he still had his gun.

“Good, Jim’s moved it,” the slim man in the front said, then we parked next to a battered old white Toyota. The sandy-haired man sat at the wheel.

“Please let me go. I promise…”

He cut me off. “Come on, Suzie, don’t get difficult. You’ll be found, alive, but by then we’ll be out of the country.”

Why didn’t I believe him?

I was now sandwiched between the two men in the back seat. The other fellow was perhaps twenty-five, with facial features and colouring very much like the big man’s. His son?

Hazel reached up a red-nailed hand and pulled at her hair. It was a wig; she had short, curly dark hair. “Oh, it’s good to get this off. I didn’t like being a bimbo.”

Obviously, she was having a go at me for being a blonde.

Jim drove east along the Maroondah Highway, through suburbs and then open farmland, past vineyards, through country towns, up into the mountains. We wound over the Black Spur, through more little towns, then after what felt like hours, he swung left onto an unsurfaced track. We followed a sinuous path to an old weatherboard house.

“Welcome home,” the big man said.

 ***

Quite courteously, Hazel showed me into a room, flicked the light on. Jim walked behind us, but stopped outside the door. It was just a room in an old house, except for the window. A sheet of chipboard had been nailed over all but the top thirty centimetres or so, which showed the red of a sunset. Dingy floral wallpaper lined the tall walls. The high ceiling had a central plaster rose with an ornate light fitting hanging from it. The furniture looked shabby and old, ex-Salvation Army. A faded floral quilt covered the double bed.

Hazel told me, “There’s an en suite bathroom and toilet, through there. The nearest neighbour is over a mile away, so you can scream to your heart’s content if you want to.”

“Please,” I whispered, “let me escape, I’ll keep your secret.”

She laughed in my face. “You kidding? Dad gets half, he planned it all so that’s fair, Jim’s my guy, he, my brother and I each get one-sixth. Dad and Pete are counting now.”

She shut the door and I heard a bolt grate into place.

If only I had my mobile phone, but it was in my handbag, back at the Bank.

The door opened again. Hazel tossed in a large, soft bag. “It’s all your size. Dad thinks of everything,” she said, then locked me in again.

This was reassuring. Surely if I was to be killed, they could do it now and never be found out. Also, it was intimidating. How could I play chess against a person who thought so far ahead? He’d said they’d only settled on this plan two days ago.

The bag contained everything, all new, even bras in my size. I had a shower, changed into jeans and a T-shirt. I lay down on the bed, but as soon as I closed my eyes I was back at the bank door, frozen, looking into the gun’s single black eye.

Would I ever dare to sleep again?

It was after seven on my watch when I heard the door being unlocked. It was the father. I still didn’t know his name. He grinned at me, his stance even more arrogant and self-satisfied. “Come on, Suzie, it’s dinner time. And we have something to celebrate.”

In my misery I hadn’t realised it, but now I felt hungry. As I stood, he grasped my elbow and steered me along a dim corridor to a large kitchen. He said, “And after dinner, darling, you can give me a good time.”

I froze inside.

A cheap-looking, metal-legged table almost filled an adjoining alcove, with a white tablecloth, two steaming pots in the middle, five places set. Two candles added to the overhead light.

He made me sit against the wall, next to Hazel. Jim was at the end of the table on my left, Pete opposite him. The big man faced us two women. Hazel served a nice-smelling spaghetti bolognaise. The big man opened a bottle of champagne, poured into five goblets. He lifted his, and said, slowly and impressively, “Two million fifteen thousand four hundred and eighty six dollars after expenses.”

This didn’t surprise me. Nearly three hundred businesses deposit cash at our bank every afternoon, and Friday is always the heaviest day. No doubt he knew this. They all drank with grinning faces, elation in every movement. I refused to touch the goblet. What did I have to celebrate?

He smiled at me, but with menace behind the friendly face. “Drink up, sweetheart. You may be an unwilling part of the team, but…”

For once I cut him off. “I am NOT part of the team! I’ve been terrorised and kidnapped!”

He was unruffled. “But not hurt, yet. Behave yourself and you’ll be OK. Now drink up the bubbly like a good girl.”

I had never felt this helpless in my twenty-five years.

Hazel said, “Suzie, so far everything’s gone according to Dad’s plan. If it continues that way, you’ll be free and a celebrity in a few days.”

It was easy for her. My being had been violated. He’d just threatened me with rape. I knew I could live this nightmare for the rest of my life. And how could I go back to the job I’d loved until then?

I reached for the goblet, in apparent submission, then my hand knocked it over. “Oh sorry,” but I fooled no-one.

Still standing with the bottle in his left hand, the man reached across the table towards the goblet, then I felt a stinging slap across my mouth. The blow had enough force to knock my head back against the wall behind me.

He picked up the goblet, refilled it. “Now, don’t waste good bubbly,” he said, still in that even tone of voice.

His face looked calm, but those brown eyes glittered with a fire.

Pete said, “Suzie, we learned as very small kids never to defy Dad. He always wins.”

“You’re not MY Dad!”

He leaned forward again. As his hand reached towards me, I hurled my steaming plate of spaghetti bolognaise in his face. I was beyond thinking, or more exactly my actions were faster than thought. I’d shoved Jim’s heaped plate into his face, and crouched with my hands under the edge of the table. I heaved, and by some fluke the pot of spaghetti landed on the big man’s head like some monstrous helmet.

Jim was clawing at his face, leaning back, so I pushed hard at him even while feeling Hazel’s hands clutching at me. Jim crashed over backward and I was out from behind the table.

Pete was coming at me but skidded on meat sauce, then tripped over the writhing form of his father. I picked up a chair lying on the ground and brought it down over his head.

The big man pulled the pot off his head, which looked like a nest of white worms, with spaghetti covering his head and face. I raised the chair and strike again, but Hazel’s shoving hand deflected the blow. The edge of the seat landed on his back.

Hazel slipped sideways, bent to pick up Jim’s chair and came for me. Her teeth showed in a tiger’s grin. Jim started to scramble to his feet, face boiled red where it wasn’t covered with food.

I skipped backward, putting Jim between Hazel and me, then whacked him on the head too, from behind. Hazel struck at me, but was still too far away. One leg of the chair smashed into my left shoulder, so that I dropped my awkward weapon, but I managed to grasp her chair with my right hand.

We stood facing each other, panting, with three fallen men and a tableful of food and crockery littering the floor around us.

She pulled hard. I resisted for a moment, then pushed instead of pulling, and let go. She landed hard onto her bottom.

By my feet, the bottle of champagne still quietly emptied itself over the lino. I snatched it up and threw. I am not usually good at sports like cricket, but I guess desperation sharpened my aim. The bottle bounced off Hazel’s head, leaving me the victor.

What now?

Father was throwing himself from side to side, moaning. His face must have been terribly burned. Pete and Jim lay still. Hazel was face down between the horizontal legs of the table, and I could see a swelling grow out of her dark hair.

They needed medical aid, and I needed the police. Maybe there was a telephone. I saw none in the kitchen. Did I dare to leave them? If they came to, I’d be killed for sure.

Almost walking backward so I could keep an eye on them, I half walked, half skidded my way to the corridor — the floor was slippery with champagne and meat sauce. I found the light switch, to see three closed doors on each side, and the leadlighted front door at the end. I knew the third door on the right was my prison. I tried the nearest left one. When I turned on the light, I saw that this was a double bedroom, probably Hazel and Jim’s.

Various objects rested on a dressing table, including a man’s wallet, and next to it a bunch of keys. Wonderful! I ran over and shoved the keys into one pocket, the wallet into another. I hoped it’d have identification.

The next room on the left was a lounge, and there on an office desk sat a telephone. I picked up the receiver, pressed 000.

A figure staggered in through the door. It was Pete, holding his rifle in his hand. But his eyes looked glazed, and a snail trail dribbled from his mouth.

Would they never pick up the phone? I scurried around the desk, ready to duck.

Pete raised the weapon to his shoulder and shot. The noise was even louder here than at the bank, but I didn’t know where the bullet went. He reached an armchair, leaned against the back and brought the weapon around toward me. This time it seemed a lot steadier, and suddenly my terror tripled. I ducked as he shot, the noise just as deafening.

The phone went dead, shards of white plastic flying over my head.

Could I use this desk the way I used the table? No, it was much too heavy.

Next to me was an office chair on castors. I shoved hard at it. He shot as the chair emerged, and I was out the other side, like a sprinter from the starting blocks, racing for the door.

I looked at him while running, my head twisted to the right. He was swivelling toward me, face contorted, eyes burning with hate.

I smashed into the doorpost, should have looked where I was going. It hurt my right shoulder, but my hand felt the light switch. I flicked it off, then threw myself through the doorway and rolled.

Something tapped me on the shoulder, and I heard the bang of the rifle at the same time. But I felt no pain, except where I rolled over the keys in my pocket.

Up off the floor, and into the room across on the other side, slamming the door behind me. The curtains were open on the window. Moonlight streamed in. The old-fashioned catch wouldn’t budge for what felt like forever.

The door was opening behind me when at last the catch turned and I raised the window with a squeal and a rattle of pulleys. I dived out head first and rolled through some thorny plant. It tugged at my clothes, but then I was away, toward the front of the house.

I heard the shot and the sound of breaking glass, with the room behind me lit up by a flash.

The house stretched far longer than it could possibly be. I sprinted, but the corner was still ahead, and Pete would be at the window by now.

Then I reached the corner and saw the Toyota.

The driver’s door was unlocked. I fumbled the key but at last got it in the ignition. I actually felt guilty, not taking the time to put the safety belt on as I steered along the winding dirt driveway.

Did we turn right or left when we came here? I couldn’t remember. In the end I turned right onto the narrow mountain road and when I toped a rise, there was the glow of the city in the distance.

Usually, I am a good driver, but now I found myself going into curves too fast, my steering failed to follow the road, I nearly lost control a couple of times. Thank heavens there was no other traffic. At last I passed a speed sign, then street lights dotted the dark road.

I found a public phone booth and finally got through to the police.

Within ten minutes, a white Range Rover pulled up next to me, the blue and red lights on the roof unlit. A giant in a dark jumper and pants jumped out and walked around the vehicle’s nose to meet me. “Miss Jensen?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Senior Constable Ivan Blake, the local law here. I’m afraid you’ll need to show me where this place is. That’s if you’re up to it… or is that a problem?”

Even in the poor light from the phone booth, his face made me feel safe. He looked tough, I wouldn’t want to get on his wrong side, but also his eyes shone with concern, his question showing his sensitivity. For the first time since — I shied away from the thought — the coiled spring inside me relaxed.

“Not with you,” I blurted out, and he grinned.

“Come on, hop in. When I get bucked off a horse, I get right back into the saddle again.”

As I clambered up the big step, I told him, “They have guns. At least one is well enough to shoot.”

“Reinforcements are coming.”

As I turned to shut the door he said, “Hold up, you’ve been bleeding.” He reached out with a hand like a young tennis racquet and touched my right shoulder.

I remembered the shot in the corridor, and that was when it started to hurt. “It can’t be much,” I told him. “Let’s just go.”

“Righto.” As he drove off, he exulted, “You’ve made my day, young lady. Every cop in the State is looking for these birds, and here they are in my territory. Beauty.”

“They’re dangerous.”

“Now tell me how you got away.”

I gave him a stumbling account, and he laughed so much he had to pull over. “Oh, oh, oh, the spaghetti warrior!”

“Yes, but he must be badly burnt. And actually, they hadn’t hurt me until then.”

He suddenly turned serious. “Oh yes they have, my dear. Physical harm is the least damaging. I’ve had contact with many crime victims, and let me tell you, the memories can be worse than any beating.”

“I know. Already, I keep seeing it every time I close my eyes.”

“I’ll make sure you get help.”

He was just a bulky silhouette next to me, but even without seeing his face I knew he meant it. My father had died when I was three, but this must be what it feels like to have a Dad. “Are you married?” I blurted out before realising what I’d said.

He laughed, sadly. “I used to be. Oh, we’re still friends, but she reckoned she couldn’t compete with a 24-hour a day job. Got two kids though, Adam is seven, Jennie is five.”

We drove along the winding road in silence for a while, then he asked, “And what about you, Miss Jensen?”

“Just call me Suzie. I was about to get married, but he started hitting me during an argument. I wouldn’t stand for it.”

“Good for you. No person has the right to abuse another. But surely the fellows are standing in a double queue outside your door?”

“I’ve been telling them to get lost.”

“Suzie, not all men are the same. Maybe, when you’ve recovered from this…”

“Hmm?”

“Sorry,” he said after a silence. “I’ve no right.”

“What if I didn’t mind?”

“I made Sylvia unhappy. I’ve told myself I won’t impose the same load on another woman. I love my work too much.”

“Well, Ivan, you’re not proposing yet, are you?” He laughed with me. “I might consider something a little less intense if you were to suggest it.”

But then we rounded a curve that looked familiar and yes, there was the dim driveway. I pointed it out to him.

He pulled over, switched off, killed the lights, picked up a mike and pressed buttons. Within seconds, he held an incomprehensible conversation, all acronyms and jargon. He turned the radio off, then said, “Stay here.”

He slipped out. I saw him pull his gun from its holster, then moving like a ghost, he disappeared along the drive. How could such a big man move so smoothly?

Ivan was still away, and I started chewing my fingernails, for the first time since I became a teenager, when another white four wheel drive coasted to a stop. The lights dimmed, then two men in blue uniforms walked over.

I wound down the window.

“Miss Jensen?” one asked. “Where is Ivan Blake?”

“He went in… quite a while ago. I… I’m worried about him.”

He laughed, softly. “You don’t need to be. He was a Green Beret in the Army. We’ll wait for him.”

An ambulance pulled up, the two attendants coming over. Then Ivan was back, I didn’t even see him arrive.

“Little lady,” he said, “You’re a one-woman army. Well done. I’ve handcuffed the young fellow who was halfway to effective. We can all go in.”

 

***

So, you see, that’s how I found my real profession. Today is my graduation from the Police Academy, and next Sunday will be my marriage to Ivan Blake. He has been promoted to Sergeant, and is my boss as well. And what’s more, his promotion has led to more regular hours for him. Until that was arranged, he wouldn’t hear of marriage.

But he definitely does as he is told at home. Last night, when I was a little short with him, worried about today’s ceremony, he did his usual: “Oh no! Not the spaghetti! Spare me!”

But he loves living with the spaghetti warrior. He tells me that every day.



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