One of the things that stays in my mind about that morning, is the brightness of the sunshine as I stepped out of the house and walked across the driveway to the car. I had only just finished
white-washing the outside walls of the farm in preparation for the wedding, and the glare of the new paint contrasted with the brilliant green of the spring grass.
It was the sort of peaceful Sunday morning when every small sound seems magnified. Somewhere down in the paddock among the trees a dog was barking, and near the fence, two of the neigh- bour’s horses noisily chomped on the grass. I looked around think- ing, what a perfect day for a ride.
Far in the distance on the highway I recognised the rhythmic hum of a Harley Davidson motor. I pictured the rider sitting low in the saddle with the sun in his face. The direction of the sound told me he was heading away. Perhaps he too was going to the bike meet, but unlike me he was going in style.
I looked at my rusty white car with its sunroof taped up where Fat Butt, the goat, had nibbled away the rubber seal and my spirits fell. I noticed one of the cats had left muddy paw prints on the bon- net again. Still, it was transport. I was almost bowled over by the scramble of kids fighting to beat each other to the front seat.
I had three kids of my own, but when it came to outings, I would always inherit a few more little darlings from the neighbourhood. Earlier that morning I had been through the ritual of ringing parents to make sure that it was ok for their kids to go to the bike meet with us.
Bike meets, or swap meets as they were sometimes called, were one of the few biker activities where kids could be included. This is where bikers got together to exchange or buy bike parts, and usually there would be live music and food, maybe a pig on a spit, and stands selling T-shirts and jewellery. It was like a big fair for bikers and their families. They were the occasions where you’d meet up with friends you had not seen for a while, perhaps have a few drinks, talk about old times, and plan parties for the future.
The Old Motorcycle Riders’ Club was organising this particular meet. Although it was an enthusiast’s club, the meet was open to any- one; various outlaw clubs and loners as well as the enthusiasts were going to be there.
The atmosphere was nearly always cordial. In the past, any bad blood between the outlaw clubs was put aside at these meets or the bike shows, and a type of truce put in place.
One year there had been a stabbing at a bike show arising from a disagreement between two rival outlaw clubs – but it came down hard on everybody afterwards.
After that incident there had been a sort of ‘unwritten agree- ment’ between the bike clubs, and it was clearly understood that there would be no problems, no hassles. Any ‘hassles’ would be dealt with off-location, away from the show or the meet.
Since that one event long ago, there hadn’t been any real trouble at a meet, certainly not in the past few years.
In Bad Company
I did a final head-count that Sunday morning. Five kids: Boy, Erina and Charlie, along with two neighbours’ kids, Daran and Josh. They had all stashed their pocket-money carefully in their jean pockets and were planning to buy themselves a biker T-shirt each.
There was a sticker on the bumper saying, When I grow up I want to be a Rolls Royce, and the car was referred to by all of us as ‘the Rolls’, or sometimes as ‘the Rolls Can-Hardly’, because it could hardly get out of the yard to roll down the drive. But with a team of eager pushers we could manage to get her started and just barely running. It was not the first time the older kids had been called on to shove her into action, and they were pretty expert by now.
Cheering at their own efforts as she spluttered into life, they dived into the car and we set off up the road, back-firing every few seconds. We must have looked like something out of a James Bond movie as we drove off, with smoke billowing out of the exhaust and lingering behind the car in a thick grey cloud. But instead of rac- ing away smoothly, we were engulfed in smoke and chugging to a standstill.
The reflection in the rear vision mirror told me there was no way we would ever make it to the road outside our house, let alone onto the highway. Usually I managed to coerce the Chevy into co-operat- ing, but today it was not having any of it. A couple of minutes later we were all standing around it miserably in a circle at the side of the road, with me cursing Bob (from whom I had bought the ‘Rolls’), the car, life in general, and the kids were pulling faces showing various degrees of disappointment.
‘It’s no bloody good,’ I said. ‘We’ll have to give it a miss. She is not going anywhere.’
Boy gave the front tyre a kick in frustration. We had all been looking forward to going to the Midtown meet, and now we were going to have to miss it! The farm was pretty isolated. The only bus service was a school bus which was no use on a Sunday, and there was no way all the kids could fit on the back of the bike.
Usually Hemi, my partner, or one of his club-mates, Pup, Dazzle and Angry would have been there to sort things out and try and get the car running. But they had all stayed with Hemi at the Abigor Riders clubhouse the previous night. It had been a Saturday night, they had been drinking pretty heavily and didn’t want to ride back to our place.
Hemi had rung me that morning from the clubhouse to let me know me he was going to the swap meet, and to see what plans I had made. He had asked if he should come back home first, but I had told him not to bother – we would meet him there. After all, Midtown was south of Parkland where the clubhouse was located, and Loganville, where we lived, was northwest, so it had made more sense to travel separately. Now I was annoyed at myself.
By now, Erina was wailing in disappointment and I thought for a minute that I might give Hemi a call and get him to change his plans. I thought better of it. More than likely he would have left for the meet already and, realistically, the chances of Hemi being able to fix the Chevy were about as good as Erina’s wailing getting star billing at the Grand Ole Opry.
I grew up with a passion for motorcycles. I bought my first bike, a 1951 BSA Side Valve for a couple of bucks when I was fourteen. It was a basket case; it was in pieces and had to be rebuilt, so getting my hands dirty didn’t bother me if it meant getting something to run. I could tinker with bikes and cars when the repairs were simple,
In Bad Company
but the Chevy’s problems were far more complicated than any I had dealt with before. I had become well acquainted with her engine in the eighteen months since I had bought the damned thing, and I knew that this time the trouble was terminal.
I looked round at the kids and a little voice from the back of the group said tearfully, ‘Does this mean we are not going to see Daddy, today? We can’t give him our presents?’
It was Charlie, my youngest. Next to him Erina was doing her ‘Aw, muuum!’ routine, tears starting to run down her cheeks, while the rest of them stared mournfully at me.
I shrugged. ‘Sorry kids, looks like she’s had it. Let’s turn her ‘round,’ and together we pushed and shoved the car back up the road to the farm.
When I look back now, I sometimes wonder how differently that day might have turned out for me and the kids if Honest Bob had sold me a decent car instead of the white Chevy. It sends a shudder down my spine to think that we may owe our lives to a bucket of rust.
Normally it would not have been such a big deal to have the car break down – the kids had learnt to get used to it over the last few weeks. But today being Hemi’s birthday, the breakdown meant a great deal.
They had all been out to buy Hemi presents and had spent the previous night wrapping them carefully, excited that they could give them to Hemi today at the meet.
The gifts were their own idea and mission, and they had not let me help choose them. Erina and Charlie had gone off together with their pocket money on Saturday to one of the bike shops, and had each come back with a small tool appropriate for Hemi’s Harley. The parcels were not the tidiest I had ever seen, but they had undertaken
the whole thing themselves. I told them I thought they were pretty good – in fact I was proud!
Boy, the eldest, had a good relationship with Hemi, and had spent a whole afternoon shopping for something special. He had finally come home with a huge T-shirt. He had boasted to the shop assistant that his Dad was 6 foot 8 inches tall, and she had sold him what she said was the biggest T-shirt in the shop. It had “HARLEY” printed across the front of it, and Boy kept asking me, ‘Do you think he will like it? Do you think it will fit?’ every five minutes on that Saturday night before his birthday. Even I couldn’t wait to see Hemi’s face when he opened it. I knew it would make him really happy. Being a typical man, I didn’t think he even realised it was his birthday.
For a long time it had been just me and the kids on our own. I had met Hemi through Dazzle, named for the coloured beads in his long dreadlocks. Dazzle had been living in my bunkhouse for a couple of years, a good friend, biker and tenant. He decided to start up a bike-building business in the back shed with his fellow biker, Hemi. Hemi started spending so much time at the farm that he too eventually moved into the room in the bunkhouse next to Dazzle.
The kids took to Hemi immediately, I think because he was like a huge kid himself. He made time for them, telling them stories, fixing their push bikes, making kites and playing games. They fell in love with him, and he with them.
Hemi and I eventually got together as a couple, and a year later he asked me to marry him. We had set the date for our wedding for the spring coming up. It was only a few weeks away now – and the kids were ecstatic. The presents for his birthday had a special mean- ing, a way of showing their happiness that he was officially part of the family.
In Bad Company
But it could not be helped; the present-giving would have to be delayed until Hemi returned from the swap meet. I herded all the kids back to the house telling them that he could get his presents when we had our barbecue later that evening. It didn’t do much to lighten the gloom. Erina was sticking out her bottom lip and behav- ing as though it was the end of the world; but when I said we could have our own party right now, and another one when Daddy got home, the tears disappeared.
The older kids started making sprinkle-bread, and all of them were excited. I went into my bedroom and telephoned my friend Mare with whom I had planned to spend time at the swap meet. Mare lived in the city near the university where she was doing a doc- torate in music, but she was also a keen bike enthusiast. She was riding to the meet on her Triumph.
The two things she and I had in common were music and motorcycles. We had met at a music festival years before and we just clicked. She was the sort of woman who did her own thing, was independent and resilient, and I admired that. Most of the women I met on the bike scene were either very timid or else brash and reac- tive. Mare was different. She was not typical of the type of woman that hung off the back of a Harley. We often had good and deep con- versations, and could have a good laugh. I loved her company and thought of her as a sister.
I had to let the phone ring a while before Mare answered, she had been out the back of her house working on her bike.
When I told her that we weren’t going to make it to the swap- meet, she sounded relieved. She had discovered something wrong with the fuel tap on her Triumph and she hadn’t thought she would
be able to fix it in time to meet me. Now she wouldn’t have to rush to try.
‘If I do manage to fix this problem, I will come for a ride to the farm this afternoon,’ she said. I was always amused at Mare’s very correct way of speaking, her posh accent, which was the result, she had explained, of ‘a rather proper middle-class upbringing.’
‘Good, I am planning a barbecue for Hemi’s birthday this eve- ning anyway,’ I had told her.
‘I’ll do my best!’ Mare had promised.
I walked out to the kitchen to supervise the kids’ party prepa- rations. I made hot chocolate to drink with the sprinkle-bread, and when they had finished eating, we played a few games. It was early afternoon and we couldn’t expect Hemi and Dazzle to turn up for a few more hours yet. Eventually, in desperation, I relaxed one of my house rules of ‘no TV during the day or when friends were visiting’, and let them watch the Sunday afternoon movie.
It was nearly two o’clock when we settled into the lounge room. I had fetched a leather vest I was making from my workroom, one of the many orders I received from the biking community, and sat down in the corner of the lounge to finish it off. It brought in income, but it was something I enjoyed doing, gave me comfort. The kids were sitting around half watching the TV, but mostly talking amongst themselves.
The noise from their chatter gradually built up. Frustrated, I was about to tell them to go outside to play when suddenly I heard the word ‘Midtown’ spoken on the TV. Boy had heard it too and yelled out, ‘Shut up. Listen!’, rushing over to the TV to turn up the volume.
We heard the tail end of the news flash from the news announcer. A number of people had been killed in a shoot-out in Midtown. We
In Bad Company
didn’t hear who they were or where it had happened, but Midtown is not a big place. I knew right away, and I could tell by the look on Boy’s face, that he knew too; Hemi was involved in this some- how. We just felt it.
For a moment, no one said anything. Then, springing into action I grabbed the phone and called the TV station. The woman at the other end was vague. Yes there had been a newsflash, she said, but all she knew was that people had been shot and she couldn’t tell me anything more. I slammed the phone down and picked up my phone book to find my friend Bill’s number. Bill was a TV journalist who would have access to this type of news.
My heart was hammering and my hands were shaking so much I could barely dial his number. Why was I so terrified? I had not heard any mention of the swap-meet. Surely it could just be a coincidence, I thought, trying to reason with myself as I waited to be put through to Bill’s extension. The younger kids stood around with confused looks on their faces sensing something was wrong but not knowing what. Boy, Josh and Daran, the older kids, seemed eerily silent and watchful, as if they were putting two and two together. I could tell from their expressions that they knew what I was fearing.
It seemed like hours before Bill answered. His voice was calm as he told me what he knew; there had been a shoot-out between two bike clubs. People had been killed and many more were wounded at a Midtown Tavern.
‘Have you any idea which clubs they might be, Max?’ he asked, the journalist in him coming to the fore.
‘No,’ I said, unhesitatingly. I had my suspicions but I wasn’t about to tell a journalist, friend or not! I was still hoping I might be proved wrong. Bill didn’t push. My head said it was a battle between the
Highway Rogues and Abigor Riders, but my heart hoped no, please no.
‘Well, I will let you know if I hear anything, ok?’ Bill said as he hung up.
I looked at the kids staring silently up at me. I was thinking, ‘Shit, it’s finally happened.’
‘Is Daddy alright?’ asked Erina. Her voice was frightened.
‘I don’t know yet,’ I said, ‘but I’m going to try and find out.’
I found the number for the Midtown Tavern bar and called it, trying to will my hand to keep steady. I didn’t think anyone was going to answer – the phone rang on and on – and then at last a man’s voice said warily, ‘Hello?’
‘Is that the Midtown Tavern?’ I asked.
A cautious voice answered ‘Yes.’
Dreading his response, I asked, ‘Can you tell me who was involved in the shooting?’
The man on the phone now went into a panic, yelling his response. ‘I don’t know who the fuck they are – they’re dead, that’s all I know, they’re all dead!’
Suppressing panic myself, I asked, calmly as I could, ‘Please just tell me, are they bikers?’
He replied, ‘Yes, yes they are.’
‘Is it the Highway Rogues and the Abigor Riders?’ I was man- aging to keep calm. I knew the Tavern was a hang-out for bikers, anyone working there would know which club was which.
He answered, ‘Yes.’
‘Where have they taken the injured?’
In Bad Company
‘I don’t know, I just don’t know.’
Impatient, I asked, ‘Is there anyone there who does know what’s going on?’
‘There’s a police officer here.’
‘Can you put him on please. Or ask where they’ve taken the injured and dead?’
His voice erupted into a near scream as he answered, ‘The dead are still out on the ground, they are still here!’
There was a pause. I could hear him speaking to somebody away from the phone but couldn’t make out what he was saying. My heart was pounding. He came back to me a few minutes later, and steadily, he read out a list of hospitals. There were about three hospitals where they had taken the wounded. Grateful for the information I thanked him, and hung up the call.
I had an urge to scream and throw things. I was angry, bloody angry, but I knew I had to stay rational, stay calm.
My house was filling up with neighbours who had seen the newsflash, all wanting to know if the boys from the farm were ok. It wasn’t just Hemi I was searching for, but Dazzle, Angry and Pup. As far as I knew all the men who lived at the farm had been going to the swap meet. And there was Bodee, too – the Highway Rogue, one of my closest friends – who had remained loyal to our friendship despite the fact that I had partnered with Hemi, an Abigor Rider.
Everyone was asking the same question, and it was the question I had asked the poor guy on the phone at the Midland Tavern; was it the Highway Rogues and the Abigor Riders who were involved in the incident described on the news?
The phone was ringing continuously, calls from friends and fam- ilies of the riders living at the farm. I was the logical contact – I was Hemi’s partner, and he knew a lot of people – but I wasn’t telling them anything we didn’t all already suspect. It had to be them.
Did the whole world know the clubs were at war? If so why hadn’t someone tried to stop them?
I stood in the lounge room trying to will myself to think straight. Nothing felt real to me – it was as though all this was happen- ing to some other person and I was watching her from outside. But I couldn’t stay in a daze, there wasn’t time. I had to find Hemi.
Thoughts were buzzing round my head. It was as though I was having a conversation with myself, outside my own head.
Is he dead? He is dead. I just know he’s dead. ‘People killed,’ they had said. Not beaten up, not just hurt, like the other times, but dead. There’s no coming back from dead. Fucking Seth and his war games, I thought. Has he no respect for life? Doesn’t he know that death is forever? Oh Jesus, why us? We were going to be married. He can’t be dead. It’s not fair. Not again.
‘Mum! Are you going to ring the hospital?’ Boy was standing next to me, his question snapped me out of my merry-go-round of thoughts. ‘Yes, ring the hospital,’ I said out loud.
The man had told me the names of the hospitals where they had taken the injured.
‘I must find Hemi. Ring the hospital,’ I thought, giving myself sensible instructions. ‘What were the names he gave me? Remember, remember.’ My thoughts were racing. ‘Slow down. Take a deep breath. Don’t panic. Stay calm.’ Some part of myself was telling me how to keep on track.
In Bad Company
Images ran through my mind. Hemi, lying in a parking lot, alone and bleeding. And then, side by side with this image I was thinking, ‘he’ll never know about his birthday presents. He’ll never really know how much me and the kids love him. I’ve got to find him. I want to be with him. Ring the hospital.’
It felt like I’d tried every hospital in the city by the time I rang Midtown. It was the same story over and over – there had been no admission under the name of Hemi Latu that day. But this time the woman who took my enquiry suddenly asked, ‘Is he a biker? Which club is he with?’
I quickly answered her, keen to get more information, any information.
‘He’s an Abigor Rider.’
Quickly she said, ‘Try The Shore,’ referring to another hospi- tal on the list I was working my way through. ‘That’s where they’ve taken all the Abigor Riders.’
I was so relieved, my gratitude came out in a rush of ‘thank yous’.
‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ I gabbled. I dialled the num- ber. But suddenly I was afraid. This is it. The last call. For better or worse I was going to know… ‘Let him be alive, please God,’ I prayed, turning to a God with whom I hadn’t spoken since I had left the convent school as a kid. ‘Please dear God, let Hemi be alive. Let him be hurt, anything, but let him be alive …’
A woman’s voice answered. I spoke into the phone, managing to phrase my words in a way that I thought would get me the informa- tion I was so desperate, and yet so reluctant, to know.
‘Hello. I’m trying to locate my husband. He was possibly brought to your hospital this afternoon.’
‘Hold on, please,’ said the voice, ‘and I’ll get someone to talk to you.’
‘It’s like a game of pass the parcel,’ I was thinking. There was silence for a little while, and then:
‘Hello, this is the ward sister speaking. Can I help you?’
‘Yes, please.’ My voice sounds like someone else’s. It’s desperate and verging on panic, despite my best efforts.
‘Please. I’m trying to find my husband. He’s an Abigor Rider and I want to know…’
She interrupted me briskly. ‘What’s his name?’ she asked.
‘Latu – Hemi Latu.’
‘Hold on, please, while I check.’
There was a long pause. My mind had gone numb when her voice returned, crisp, efficient and unfeeling.
‘Hello Mrs Latu. I’m just going to put you on to a police officer.’
‘What?’ My thoughts start racing again. ‘Oh my God, he’s dead. Why else would she put the police on the phone? All she has to do is say yes, or no. He’s there, or he isn’t there. He was OK, or he was not OK … Oh, Jesus he’s dead.’
A new male voice. ‘Mrs Latu?’
‘Yes,’ I answered, cautious.
‘Hemi was brought in here after the shooting this afternoon.’
This is not what I want to know. It is nowhere near enough. I interrupt him, ‘Is he alive? Just tell me if he’s alive, damn it!’
The voice was reassuring. ‘He was injured, but he’s fine. If you give me your number I’ll call you back when we have some more news.’
In Bad Company
‘I’m coming down to the hospital.’
‘There’s nothing you can do. It’s dangerous for you to be here. There have been a lot of threats made.’ He was outlining all the sensi- ble reasons for me not to make the trek to the hospital. He was giving me due caution, but it made no sense to me.
‘I’m not waiting here. I’m coming down.’
He sighed and said, ‘Suit yourself. Would you like me to pass on a message for you?’
‘Just tell him I love him and I’ll be there soon.’ I said quickly, thanking him before hanging up.
When I hung up the phone, I was surrounded by a crowd. My kids, Boy, Erina and Charlie, and all the neighbours who’d come in for news, were standing in a big circle around me. But there was utter silence; you could hear a pin drop.
Erina spoke, her voice soft and scared, ‘Mummy, is Daddy all right?’
‘He’s hurt, but he’s OK,’ I said, and the kids’ faces split into grins. Everyone erupted into a cheer. Dori, my next-door neighbour, put her arm around me. ‘Do you want to go to him, love?’ she asked gently. I nodded, speechless.
‘Come on then, we’ll take you down to the hospital.’
After that it was a blur. Neighbours volunteered to look after the kids, to hold the fort and handle the many calls still pouring in. I was swept into Dori’s car by Lara, her niece. I didn’t remember the hour- long drive to the hospital, but it seemed to be a suspension in time, taking us forever or no time at all to get there.
When, at last, we pulled up at the doors of the hospital, we were met by the sight of a mass of bikes and riders scattered about the
hospital parking lot. The police were moving among them like sen- tries, keeping watch, monitoring the situation.
I didn’t recognise anybody. I suggested that Dori and Lara go home. If the cop I had spoken to was correct, and there was danger here at the hospital, I didn’t want them caught up in the middle of it.
The waiting room was crammed with people, some of whom were bandaged bikers with vaguely familiar faces, but most of them were ‘straight’ looking people I had never seen before at any biker events or gatherings. Families and friends of bikers I guessed. Ironically it was often the most way-out looking of the guys that had the most conventional sort of parents and families.
However, no-one was caring about appearances that day. The one thing everyone had in common was a look of confusion and disbelief. No-one knew what was happening. No-one could believe what had happened. I squeezed through the crowded waiting room and reached the nurses’ desk. After repeating my mantra of my name and Hemi’s name, I was told to wait with the other relatives. As I turned back into the room, I spotted a familiar face standing over by the far wall. It was TT’s woman, Cassie.
I’d known her and TT from back in the day when the Highway Rogues and Abigor Riders were still one club. I’d been seeing a lot of them since Hemi and I became partners. I also knew Cassie had a more than friendly interest in my old man, but this was neither the time nor place to consider that piece of resentment. I was just relieved to see a familiar face.
‘Cassie,’ I called from across the crowded space. She looked up and even from where I stood, something seemed odd about her. She appeared hyped up, excited rather than upset.
In Bad Company
I pushed my way over to her and asked her how TT was. She shrugged, and said she thought he wasn’t too bad, but it was as if she wasn’t really seeing me. My immediate thought was that she was in shock, so I reached out to put my arm round her shoulders, asking if she was ok. She jumped, and her hand went to her head.
‘Don’t touch me there,’ she said, ‘it hurts like hell.’
She didn’t seem injured, so I asked why.
‘Porky did me with a baseball bat,’ she said looking at me as if to check my reaction.
‘When?’ I asked.
‘Today. At the swap meet.’
‘You were there?’ I asked. ‘You saw all this happen?’
She nodded and looked straight at me. ‘I shot Shady in the neck, and his brother Chaz too.’
My mind went blank for a moment trying to take in this information.
‘Are you telling me that you shot two people today?’ I asked, hoping that I had been completely mistaken in what I had heard.
Cassie just kept looking a little to the right and beyond me, as if not focussing correctly, and then replied in a matter of fact tone, ‘Yeah! Two of the Durham brothers.’ She seemed to be gloating. I pushed her against the wall, telling her to lower her voice. I wasn’t sure if I should believe what I was hearing.
I spoke directly. ‘What happened?’ I asked, looking around to make sure no one else could hear our conversation.
She shrugged. ‘I just pulled the trigger. And I hit Shady. I know I hit two of them, and I’m pretty sure one was Shady and I think the arsehole is dead.’ She seemed pleased with herself. I was angry.
‘Fuck, Cassie. Are you sure?’
‘Yeah,’ she said with a smirk. She showed no regret, no remorse or conscience about what she claimed she had done. In my time I’d seen plenty of violence, but Cassie’s callous attitude tempted me to punch the stupid out of the bitch. I had her pinned against the wall, it was easy. I forced myself to release her, and she slumped. Her smile was gone, she now knew that I was pissed off with her, and that I was not the least bit impressed.
‘For fuck’s sake, just keep your mouth shut and don’t say any- thing more to anybody,’ I told her.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ she said with contempt.
‘You are a dumb cunt, Cassie, you don’t even realise the shit you’re in.’ I called her a few more choice names to release my own frustrations, and I shook my head in disbelief as she stared at me. She was either not registering or not caring, I wasn’t really sure.
Women didn’t get involved in these sorts of matters normally. But Cassie always wanted to be where the boys were, and she chose to partake in all this. I had always presumed she was somewhat naive and unintelligent, what most of the guys called a ‘dumb bitch’. My suspicions were right.
‘You need to have a doctor check you out. It’s obvious that you are not right in the head,’ I told her.
She shrugged, but before I turned away I asked, ‘Have you seen TT yet?’ She focussed on me for the first time and said, ‘Yeah, the doctor’s checking him and Hemi out now.’
At that moment the nurse called from the desk, ‘Mrs Latu?’ I turned from Cassie, still in disgust, and turned my attention to the nurse.
In Bad Company
‘You can see your husband now,’ she said.
I wondered whether to correct her statement, tell her that we were not married yet. But I thought, what difference does a couple of weeks make? I pushed through the swing doors into the casualty ward and they sprang back behind me, cutting me off from Cassie and thoughts of her. All that was on my mind, was Hemi.
The third bed from the end, the nurse had said. It had curtains around it. The curtains around the other beds were drawn back. I could see bleeding, bandaged men, still dressed in motorcycle leath- ers lying on the white sheets. Some of them were moaning as I passed by, but at the time I hardly noticed as I rushed to Hemi’s cubicle.
He was lying motionless on a high trolley with the sheet pulled up over his head. All I could see of him was his arm, which hung loose over the side, with the familiar tattoos telling me there was no mistake, this was him. My heart felt as though it had actually stopped.
I thought, ‘Oh God, is this someone’s idea of a sick joke, telling me I can see him when in fact he’s been lying here dead?’
I walked over to the trolley and picked his hand up in mine, and as I pulled the sheet slowly back from his face, half believing I would see a corpse, he opened his eyes and looked at me. I saw that his eyes were filled with tears and I knew then no-one was playing jokes. He just looked at me with tears running down his face and said, ‘Pup’s dead, babe, please take me home.’ I put my arms around him.
I had never seen Hemi cry before. He thought tears were a sign of weakness. He didn’t even like me to cry though he tolerated it because I was a woman. I had never seen him vulnerable like this. And I couldn’t believe that Pup, funny, friendly little Pup with his toothless grin, was dead. I couldn’t believe any of it.
‘What happened to Dazzle?’ I asked softly.
He sighed, and said, ‘Dazzle put up a good fight. He’s alive, a bit banged up, but when they put him in the ambulance, he was sitting up. It all went crazy out there today, babe. I don’t ever want to see that happen again.’
His voice was croaking with emotion. I put my arms around him and held him to me, too afraid to let him go. It was a while before he spoke again. When he did, I just let him talk, starting and stopping whenever he felt able.
‘Someone just started shooting. That’s all I know.’ I dared not even breathe, I just wanted him to let out what he wanted to say.
‘They got me with an iron bar, and I went down. They got my back – the back of my head – but I’m OK. It’s the rest of them.’ He shook his head. ‘There were people dead everywhere. And while I was laying there, I just kept thinking about you and the kids … Are the kids all right?’
I nodded silently.
‘I was afraid I’d never see you again, Max,’ he whispered. ‘I really thought they were gonna kill me, and I just keep thinking, what if you and the kids were there when they started shooting. Fuck, babe, it was a mess. Everyone just went crazy. I don’t ever want to see that happen again,’ he repeated. After a little while he asked, ‘Just take me home, please, take me home,’ like a small child would to his mother, and the tears continued to stream down his cheeks.
I left when a doctor came back to check Hemi, and to take him to X-ray. There was a phone call I knew I had to make. Pup’s friend, Mitch, would have to be told about Pup. They had been good mates and known each other for a long time. He wasn’t going to take the news easily. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
In Bad Company
I dialled Mitch’s number and he answered immediately with, ‘Yeah! Who is it?’ and there was fear in it.
‘Mitch, hi. It’s me, Max.’
‘I heard it on the news,’ he said. ‘Who were the ones that were killed?’
I was straight up, in exactly the way I would want to be told.
‘I don’t know all the details,’ I replied, ‘but one of them is Pup. Mitch, I’m sorry he’s dead.’
There was a long, long silence, until at last Mitch said, ‘I sort of thought that’s why you were calling.’
‘I’m sorry, Mitch.’
‘Yeah. How’s your old man?’
‘He’s been hurt, but it’s not too serious. I’ve got to go. Can I call you back later?’ I could tell he wanted me off the phone but I wanted to make sure he was OK.
‘Yeah, OK,’ he said. ‘See you.’ Mitch’s voice was distant.
I leaned back against the wall feeling empty and confused. Mitch was a friend, he was hurting. I wondered if Pup’s ol’ lady knew yet. What about his kids – they were just babies – and she was expecting another one in a few months. What a bloody awful situa- tion. Why didn’t anyone think about them before they started shoot- ing? The wives and children. Didn’t they count? Didn’t we matter? Seven people dead, the police had said. Four Abigor Riders, two Highway Rogues and an innocent bystander, who just happened to be in the way, caught in the crossfire …
I felt angry, so bloody angry, at the stupidity of it all, at the self- ishness, at the waste. At the people who started it and the people who could have stopped it happening. How the hell did we get dragged
into something like this? How the hell could this happen in our city? This wasn’t the jungle. It wasn’t some Middle East conflict. How the fuck could two groups of grown men get to the point where they were prepared to kill each other because they had different colours stitched on their backs. Surely this was insanity.
What I could see was this: if one or any of the biking community dared challenge someone like Seth, the leader of the Abigor Riders, the result would be catastrophic.
I walked slowly back towards the Emergency department where Hemi lay damaged. No-one had to tell me that this day’s events were only the beginning of a long trail of despair and chaos. I knew there would be consequences. I could see charges, prosecutions, court cases ahead of us. But I had no way of knowing what a devastating effect those events were to have on me and my children, and the course of our lives.
The media were already dubbing this, ‘The Bikie War’. Well this war, like all wars was costly. I didn’t know that within a couple of years my whole life as I knew it would be turned upside down. But I did know that day, with the sudden clarity of hindsight, the whole thing had been predictable and all the warning signs had been there.
From the day the Abigor Riders Motorcycle Club was first formed years before, clues to Seth’s instability had been evident. He needed to control his world, but he also had grand plans to rule the entire biker fraternity. There had been a build-up of tension in the months after the split of the one club into two. Like others, I too had ignored the dynamics between the personalities involved, and the gradual disappearance of common sense and reason. None of us had entertained the possibility it could end like this.
In Bad Company
Perhaps if I’d taken their stupid threats more seriously, had realised how seriously they took themselves, I could have done something to stop those people being killed. In retrospect it was so obvious, so inevitable. A child could have seen it coming.
The question which went around and around in my head was, why hadn’t I or anyone else seen what was coming and tried to stop it? The question that I asked myself, only much, much later and for a very long time was, what on earth could anyone have done to stop it