Jason arrived home at twelve o'clock.
His home was set a little apart from the other caravans in the park. His mother had been persuasive. The manager could see her point. She needed more privacy than his other tenants.
The dusty old mobile home sat, neglected, surrounded by empty bottles and bags of rubbish. The lights told him his mother was still up. He didn't expect her to be worried. He ignored the flash car parked nearby.
When he entered the caravan his mother was talking earnestly to a small, balding man who was perched on the bench at the end of the rickety table.
"Oh, Jason. This is Mr Raven, a friend of your father's."
"So you're Jason," said B.B. Raven. "Very like your father."
Jason sat sullenly on the bed. He had no reason to trust his father's friends.
"Just wanted to talk to him. Bit of business. Never knew he had such a lovely family."
Helen, woken by the conversation, was sitting on the bed next to Jason. B.B. stared at her.
"Yes, a lovely family. Your daughter should be taking acting lessons, Mrs Larsen."
Jason felt his spine prickle as B.B. spoke.
"Shall have to visit again. Please take this and buy a new dress for that angel." As he left the small room B.B. Raven dropped a fifty dollar note on the table.
"We don't want your money," growled Jason, but his mother quickly snatched the money out of his reach.
"Thank-you Mr Raven. Please excuse the boy - you know how they are at his age."
Raven turned and looked at Jason.
"Yes," he said, and walked to his car.
"Flash as a rat with a gold tooth," Richard muttered to himself.
His hunch had paid off. There was Raven himself, paying a call on Larsen. Only Larsen wasn't there. Larsen hadn't been anywhere lately. Richard Rank knew it because he'd looked for him everywhere. A dusty old caravan in a flea-bitten caravan park was his last hope.
Of all the gin joints in all the world . . . Richard knocked on the flimsy door, rattling everything in the rusting mobile sardine tin.
"Hello. Is Ralph Larsen there?"
Maggie Larsen peered around her son, who was blocking the doorway.
"Who wants to know?"
"Richard Rank. Private investigator."
"Clear off then. I don't have to tell you anything."
"I think your husband has information that could lead to the arrest of a very dangerous man."
"Well I don't know where he is!"
Sometimes the direct approach didn't work.
"What do you know about B.B. Raven?"
The silence was deafening. Richard was certain he could hear Maggie's make-up creaking. Maybe it was the rickety 'van.
"We don't know anything," said Maggie, tightening her grip on the fifty dollar note. It was safely in her pocket, caressing her fingers. Money talked. Richard reached the same conclusion.
"It's pretty silly to be silent when a few words in the right ear could be so profitable for all of us." Richard Rank absently pulled his wallet from his pocket. He inspected it's contents. When no-one spoke he shrugged and put it away.
"Pity. Still, if you happen to remember anything, or if Larsen comes home, you might want to get in touch." Richard took the pen from his pocket. He scrawled his phone number on the wall next to the door. He didn't think it would matter if he did. Then he left.
Bertha was parked at a discreet distance. He had nearly reached her when the boy caught up with him. The look on the kid's face said it all. The lanky youth was fighting to be free of the hands held out to him, hands offering to help - help him into the half-life of societies lowest. Raised amongst trash, he could no longer stand the stink.
Richard Rank thought back twenty years. He stared into his own eyes.
"You got something to say, kid?"
"What's he done?"
"No. That Raven bloke."
"Be easier to tell you what he hasn't done, son. The man's a real slime."
"Why do you want my Dad?"
"He can help me nail Raven."
"Why should I help you?" Jason stood, watching Richard warily.
"Because it'll make you feel good," said Richard. He took out his wallet.
Jason muttered an address. He watched the money that emerged from Richard's wallet. He took it. Looking at the money, he walked quickly off into the night.
It wasn't much of a lead. But they do say "Out of the mouths of babes . . .". Richard climbed into Bertha. He thought about the babe he should be talking to. But there was no point thinking about that now. She would have to wait until later. When all of this was over.
The mob of screaming girls surprised Cassie. For a moment she stopped to watch them. Most seemed younger than Linda. Cassie wondered if their mothers knew where they were. Then she looked at their clothes. She decided they had changed after they left home. Clad in an assortment of torn jeans and underwear, the girls wore edge fashions. With make-up over-done and clothing under-done, the teenagers wept, screamed and tried to break through the security cordon in the hotel lobby.
On a sudden impulse, Cassie joined them. She stood at the edge of the small crowd, observing for a time, then approached a girl who had fallen to the back of the others for a quiet cigarette. The girl crouched, waif-like despite her aggressive costume, supporting herself by leaning her back against a pillar. Her black dress was old and torn. Her face was heavily made up. Grotesque jewellery hung about her. Her hair was indescribable.
"Hi," said Cassie, wishing she had the benefit of some of Annie's experience and confidence when dealing with adolescents.
The girl looked at Cassie. Cassie was unnerved by the shrewd intelligence that gleamed in the dark eyes.
"What're you doin' 'ere?" the girl asked.
"I wanted to know why you were here."
"You a reporter?"
"Yes. I'm doing a story on Ezekial's Armageddon, and I thought it might be interesting to get things from the point of view of the fans."
Cassie was surprised by the wicked grin on the girl's face.
"Come on, let 'em have their fun," the young woman continued, gesturing towards the girls who milled about, eager for a glimpse of the objects of their fantasies. "They're probably safer here than visiting their boyfriends. They won't get any closer to a man than they're getting to those security gorillas."
"Excuse me," said Cassie, slightly bewildered. "You speak as though you're not one of them. Aren't you here to see Ezekial's Armageddon?"
The girl now laughed, a rattling laugh that was quickly stopped by a hacking cough. After a few moments she regained her voice.
"Look, lady, the kids here have to have something to do with their time. They'll stand here and scream and then they'll go home and Mummy'll tuck 'em up safe in bed. Next week they'll have forgotten this lot and be head over heels in love with the next media-created pop hero. So what! Are you goin' to write how terrible it is? What's so terrible about it? They've got something to dream about. There are worse dreams around."
The girl ground out her cigarette and began to move away from Cassie.
"No wait, please," asked Cassie, touching the girl lightly on the arm. "I don't understand. Why are you here?"
"Me?" The girl chuckled wickedly. "Everybody's got to be somewhere. Besides," she said over her shoulder as she walked away, "they pay me real well to do this."
The girl pushed her way to the front of the crowd as some photographers began preparing to shoot. She put her hands to her head and began sobbing and shouting, "'Zeke, I love you!" The photographers began framing her in their photos, but were so busy with their equipment that they didn't see her wink as Cassie walked past. Cassie smiled.
The band was late for the interview. Cassie had expected them to be. She had done several interviews in the weeks since she was forced into her new position. The worst had been a young girl who was being promoted as the next Kylie, and who kept her waiting for an hour and a half while she talked to her mother on the phone. Cassie had found that people in this industry had a rather relaxed attitude to time.
This time it suited her, though. She had brought the background details with her and sat and studied them while she waited. Around her other journalists were taking their ease and gossiping. Cassie exchanged brief greetings with one or two who she recognized.
There were only five other journalists in the room with Cassie. The photographers formed a separate group to one side, exchanging stories and looking as though they could have been hired by "rent-a-party".
Justin, or "Scoop", as he had told Cassie to call him, was with the rowdy group. He looked like Jimmy Olsen gone punk. While the clothing and hairstyle were very convincing, his face beamed out from below the spikes, innocent and eager.
The information in front of Cassie was not all that interesting. She ploughed through the list of bands that each member of "Armageddon" had played with and read the biographies with an increasing belief that some-one must have typed out the same story six times by mistake, then shuffled around some dates and places so that it wasn’t too obvious. The names had been changed to protect the guilty, but the story was the same.
The most recent information consisted of a press release that had been put out by the band's promoters. It included details of the revised tour schedule and explained the reason for the postponement. The band had been ready to go and had even rehearsed in front of home crowds in the States, but Ezekial had disappeared. Frantic efforts had failed to locate him and the tour had been postponed. Then, the day before the tour had originally been going to start he had walked into a session with the band as though he'd never been gone.
Cassie could still remember the publicity that had been provoked by the whole business. The `Daily Eye' had put her story on the front page, "Pop Star Kicks Habit", with more in the entertainment pages. It wasn’t a story she had felt proud to see her tag attached to. At the time there had been press conferences and endless talk about the subject, but the "Eye" had insisted that she simply use all the existing information from the wire service. Her boss had been surprised and pleased when Cassie had been able to get a position in this informal meeting before the band played their first Australian concert.
It hadn't been that difficult. After trying to get straight answers out of politicians who were never there when you wanted to talk to them, Cassie was finding her new job far too easy. Jockeying for a position with this select group of journalists had almost been challenging. Cassie looked about her at the group in the room. Some of them looked as though they had just stepped out of a video clip. The promoters had been glad to have Cassie join the interview. The presence of a "real" journalist would lend credibility to their act.
Having read through the material in front of her, Cassie began to lazily flip through the accompanying photos. She was trying to sort out a different approach for her article. The papers had already run the predictable stories and Cassie had seen the official T.V. interview. The "agent provocateur" in the crowd below seemed to be the most controversial line to pursue, but Cassie wasn't sure that she wanted to harm any of the excellent anti-drug propaganda that the band had been able to generate.
Cassie was amused by the photographs. The band members stood, self-consciously tough, dressed in clothes that were carefully chosen to make them look spontaneously alluring. One photo had the band crawling through a holocaust scene, hair shining and carefully arranged in amongst the dust and destruction. The final series, of individual band-members, invited their audience into personal fantasies. The dominant, leather-look was, Cassie decided, somewhat predictable.
The final photo, of Ezekial, was a little different. An insert to the photo showed him sitting on a rock staring out to sea. The main photo showed the face as it gazed, handsome and brooding. Cassie found herself oddly drawn to the dark eyes and strong features.
"No wonder those girls are swooning outside," she mused.
A sudden quietening in the room and a stir at the door announced the arrival of the band. Cassie sorted the folder on her knee and arranged her notebook and recorder. She looked up to find the band sitting in front of her smiling and playing up to the photographers while the other journalists organized themselves.
Cassie now studied the members of "Ezekial's Armageddon". She decided they were a fairly good-looking group of men, but once again found herself attracted to Ezekial himself.
The band's promoter, thoroughly enjoying his role of host to the event, now introduced the band-members. Then the journalists who were present were asked to introduce themselves. Cassie was oddly nervous, and aware only of the dark eyes of Ezekial watching her. When John from "Disc" magazine began the questions Cassie was relieved. Ezekial now turned to John.
"Yes. Giving up the drugs is what everybody seems to be most interested in." Cassie tried to prevent her gasp from being audible. "I would have thought you'd have heard enough about it already!"
"Could we hear it again, anyway? In person, you know."
Ezekial shrugged. "It's a bit hard to explain. I just decided one day that I wanted to be in control of my own life. . ." Cassie checked that her recorder was operating and began regaining control of herself before anyone noticed her agitation. Ezekial continued with his story and every word he spoke echoed in her mind making her certain. Yet, how could this be the same dishevelled man who had rescued her from those thugs at Refuge Cove?
" . . . so once I knew I could manage without my needles I went back to the band. I was glad to be back with my friends."
The other band members nodded. Biter, the group's drummer, spoke.
"We was glad to 'ave 'im back. The band ain't the band wivout 'Zeke."
A reporter that Cassie did not recognize now spoke.
"Ratso, there is always a lot of talk about drugs in the music scene. Are any of the other band-members using drugs?"
Sump Oil snarled but was restrained by a friendly arm from Hammers, the keyboard wizard.
"Look, I don't know what your industry is like here Down Under," said Ratso, "but back home it's tough. You have to be good to get anywhere. We don't let anything interfere with playing our music and playing it well."
"It's not fair to attack the band for my problem," said Zeke. "They looked after me and carried me when I didn't really deserve it. The bad shows I did because I was just too stoned aren't a secret. They're good people. Leave them alone."
Cassie's spine prickled. She turned and glared at the journalist, like every-one else in the room, but as she silently expressed her outrage at his attack on the good name of the band members, she remembered the night that her place of sanctuary had been threatened. She remembered a voice that had to be obeyed. The spell lifted a little and she looked towards 'Zeke.
Her eyes locked with his. She felt naked but unable to leave the visual embrace that reached out towards her. When the other journalists stirred 'Zeke looked away and Cassie was left more flustered than ever.
Her heart was pounding and she tried to wish away the flush in her cheeks. She withdrew into herself, seeking calm. Eventually she was able to follow the drift of the conversation. The reporters were asking the band about various exploits, about their private lives and the truth of a variety of rumours. When Cassie regained control Ratso was telling a rather tasteless story about Hammers.
"So there was Hammers, having an intensely personal moment with one of the fans when his old lady walks in. She just sits down and waits, cool as you please, and when he's done she says, "I wonder if I could speak to you about the `faithful' part of the contract?" Hammers would've jumped out of his pants if he'd had'em on."
Cassie didn't join in the polite laughter that followed the story. She looked at Zeke, finding that she was now less unsettled by his gaze. She suddenly realized that all the talk had focused on the group's past, apart from some general chatter about the tour that had brought them here.
"Will Zeke be taking a more active role in the band now?" she found herself asking. "How is this going to affect your music: do you expect that you may be taking some new directions?"
The members of Ezekial's Armageddon were quiet, and looked at one another, slightly at a loss.
"I have suggested some changes to the others, but they're not too sure," replied Zeke.
"Yeah, like, we just wanna keep makin' music and havin' a good time and makin' the crowds happy," said Biter as the others nodded agreement. All, that is, except the lead guitarist, Tristan.
"I think that Zeke's right," said the softly spoken guitarist. "There's no reason for our music to suffer because of what Zeke wants. It's time we stood up and said something worthwhile."
Michelle from the `Chronicle' was quick to see the newsworthiness of this apparent dissent.
"What is it that you want to do?" she asked.
Zeke hesitated before speaking.
"It's probably not fair to say this in public - you have to understand that what I'm saying is my own point of view, nothing to do with the band. It's just that I strongly believe that we can't go on ignoring what's happening in the world today. Every individual has to do what they can.
"This world is becoming more polluted every day. We’re only just beginning to understand the consequences of this. Global Warming isn’t the only problem. How this world will be in fifty years time is something we can only guess at, but there isn't any-one left who says that what we're doing hasn’t already upset the delicate balance of this planet.
"This is such a beautiful world! How can we let it be destroyed when we know that it won't benefit any-one in the long run? We have to do something now, before it's too late."
The appeal in Zeke's voice touched every-one present.
"He is right you know," said Ratso to the rest of the group. All of them nodded in agreement and Sump Oil grunted movingly.
Cassie found herself strangely detached from the emotion in the room.
"So your band will be joining the growing number of entertainers who are making capital out of political issues."
The other journalists looked at her in astonishment. Zeke was unruffled as he spoke.
"The band hasn't even decided what it will be doing. I have made my position clear and will stick to that whatever the band decides.
"This isn't about personal gain - not for me. If anything, that's what I'm most opposed to. So much of the trouble facing the Earth today can be traced back to the greed of a few people who already have more than they need anyway. One thing that I will insist on, though, is that the band cleans up it's own act. There's no point in talking about helping the environment if your own actions are harming it."
"Does this mean that Ezekial will try to stop Armageddon?" Every-one in the room laughed at John's rather weak joke, even Cassie, glad of an excuse to ease the tension.
"Well, thanks everybody," said the promoter, suddenly anxious to end the interview. "I think that'll about do it for today." It was fairly obvious that he had been unaware of Zeke's new political conscience.
The group posed for a few last shots, some with the reporters so that their papers could prove that they had really interviewed the stars. Cassie was uncomfortable, standing so close to Zeke for the benefit of the cameras, and unable to approach him.
She was reluctant to leave, but desperately needed fresh air. The band had been whisked away by the time Cassie left the other journalists arranging a meeting-place for their liquid lunch.
She had not gone far down the corridor when a hand grasped her firmly by the arm.
"I have to talk to you," said Zeke. He led her to a nearby empty room.
Cassie found herself standing, speechless, looking into Zeke's eyes. It was Zeke who broke the spell. Now that they were alone he seemed uncomfortable. He walked over to the window and scrutinized the street below.
"What did you want to speak to me about?" Cassie finally asked.
Zeke looked at her again and opened his mouth as if to speak. His hand reached briefly towards her, then he abruptly changed his stance.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm not quite myself at the moment and . . . you are so attractive." Once again his manner softened, until he shook himself gently, shrugging away his mood, and continued speaking. "You recognize me, of course."
"Yes. And I want to thank you for helping me. I owe you a great deal."
"I only did what had to be done." He paused. "I need your help now."
Cassie was bewildered. Zeke continued.
"It would be very difficult to explain to people just how I got to be in a position to help you. I was . . . withdrawing from heroin, and I came into this country illegally. I wasn't thinking very straight at the time."
"You want me to keep it to myself?"
"Yes. Please." If Cassie had not already owed this man so much she would certainly have been moved by the entreaty in his plea. It was unnecessary. Again she found herself locked in his gaze.
And again he broke away.
"I have to go." He began walking to the door. As he passed Cassie he stopped. He rested his hands on her shoulders. One hand caressed her neck and gently cupped her chin. "I wish things were different," he said wistfully.
"The tour only lasts for three months," continued Zeke. "When it's over I want to come back here. Can I see you then?"
For a brief, electric moment Zeke's lips brushed against Cassie's: then he was gone.