The holding cells at Ocean Grove Police Station. The custody sergeant is trying to explain the disappearance of a prisoner. The cells are colder than the rest of the station, and high windows are admitting light. The walls are painted in the public service green that seems reluctant to be an actual colour. The floor is old fashioned linoleum, and the custody sergeant keeps glancing down at it in the vain hope it will open and swallow him.
“I brought him to you for safekeeping. I could have stuffed him in the boot of my car and taken him back to the city, but no. I entrusted him to you,” said Inspector McBride, without a hint of anger in his voice. This seemed strange to both of the sergeants. The custody sergeant was used to being yelled at by his chronically constipated Chief Inspector.
“When did you last see him actually in the cell?”
“I saw him when he got his dinner, but constable Willis says he was still in there at lights out — ten-thirty last night.”
“So somewhere between ten-thirty and six o’clock this morning, my suspect evaporated.”
“Well, yes. As far as we can tell. The cameras are old, and they don’t work in the dark. Never needed them to, until now. The cell door was definitely locked. No other way out.”
Sergeant Wilson peaked around the open doorway just to be sure. Definitely only one way out.
Sergeant Wilson and his Inspector had spent the night at the Seaview Motel which didn’t have a view of the sea, but you could hear it when it got quiet. The rooms were small but comfortable. Their rooms were next to each other — they both smelled the same — must have been something about the cleaning products they used.
Breakfast, which was included in the price, arrived on time. Bacon and eggs with tomato and avocado. Sergeant Wilson liked avocado, and he always pronounced it correctly.
Wilson was ready first, so he waited outside the Inspector’s room. He leaned on the car and listened to the ocean between the sound of passing traffic. Small birds were ignoring him as they rifled through the native bushes.
Sergeant Wilson didn’t like being away from home.
The two policemen knew something was up when the constable on the desk wouldn’t make eye contact.
“We’ve come to speak to our prisoner,” said the Inspector.
“If you could wait here a moment, sir, I’ll get the custody sergeant.”
“They’re a bit formal for a country station,” said Sergeant Wilson.
“Something’s up,” said the Inspector.
“So, did he say anything before he disappeared into thin air?” said the Inspector.
“I had a long chat with him last night before I clocked off. He seemed like a nice bloke. Told a good yarn, said he loved his job and I said that delivering pizzas seemed like a strange occupation. He said that it gave him time to think and he enjoyed meeting new people. Like I said — he seemed like a good bloke.”
“Did he say anything else?”
“He said he was hoping that they would forgive him. I assumed he was talking about your case, but the young constable who tucked him in said something similar, only he told it that the prisoner said he HAD been forgiven. The prisoner seemed quite excited. Said he was looking forward to getting back to work. The constable brushed it off — you hear all sorts of crazy stuff down here in the cells.”
A cafe on the foreshore which did have a view of the ocean. The two policemen from the city are having lunch, fending off ambitious seagulls, and talking about their next move.
“That big bugger has designs on your ham roll, Inspector.”
“Forget about the gulls sergeant. What are we going to do about our winged pizza deliverer?”
“Nothing we can do. We didn’t lose him. Just have to wait for him to resurface. Love to know how he got out of that cell though. Didn’t seem like the kind of bloke who could walk through walls.”
The two men drove back to Melbourne, going the long way, around the coast — The Great Ocean Road — one of Australia’s wonders and a huge tourist destination for the state of Victoria.
Inspector McBride’s wife was waiting in the driveway when he got home. She hugged him and risked crushing their baby son. McBride hugged her, and the baby played with his hair.
“Did you get your man?” said Helen McBride.
“Yes and no.”
The Inspector didn’t like to bring his work home with him, but Helen was interested, so he filtered out the heinous stuff and talked to her about the details around cases’ edges. Helen was fascinated with the hunt for the pizza delivery rider. The wings on his jacket and the chrome helmet sounded exotic.
“We caught him easily enough. He didn’t try to run. Came along peacefully. He seemed tired and worn out, and I believe he would have told us everything, except …”
“Except that he disappeared out of his cell overnight. Not a trace. I would have said it was impossible, but the more I work on this case, the less likely I am to use that word.”
Helen had the dinner ready, and the Inspector played with his son until the child fell asleep in his arms. The parents watched a movie and turned in early. The baby would be awake at the crack of dawn, so sleep was a luxury.
An unremarkable double fronted house in a nondescript street in suburban Melbourne. A man opens the front door to a pizza delivery.
“What are you dressed up for? Halloween’s months away mate,” said the young man in jeans and a singlet, “how much for the pizzas?”
The young man fishes in his jeans and brings out three five-dollar notes. He straightens them out before handing them over.
“No tip,” says the young man, “no-one tips me for doing my job.”
The pizza delivery driver stares at the young man, and the young man stares back at him.
The pizza delivery driver takes off his winged helmet and punches the young man in the face. The young man staggers back into the house and lands on the carpet — out cold.
A young woman emerges from the shadows and surveys the scene.
“Are you going to hurt me?” she says dispassionately.
“No. And neither is he, anymore.”
The young woman puts her hand to her face to cover the bruise she believes he is looking at.
“You have a choice. You can stay with this reprehensible person, and continue to be his punching bag, or you can pack a few essentials, get into your car and leave. He hides his money at the back of the bathroom cabinet.”
“How do you know that?” says the young woman.
“Your car is full of petrol, and I know that your sister will be happy to see you. It’s a long drive, so you had best get started. He could wake up soon, and he won’t be happy. Don’t come back, don’t look back. Just go. I’ve done all I can for you, now it’s up to you. Go, stay, it’s your choice.”
The woman notices the wings on the pizza bloke’s jacket as he turns to leave.
“Why are you helping me. I don’t know you at all,” says the woman, who sounds like she might begin to cry.
“It’s my job. It’s what I do. Everyone needs a job.”
The light streaming through the doorway made the feathers on his jacket glow, and the breeze made them flutter.
“If you do decide to go, which I hope you will, go back and finish the science degree you started. You have things to discover that will make a difference. People are depending on you.”
“What people? Who is depending on me? No one is interested in me. It’s too hard. How do you know all this stuff? Who are you? I can’t go back. I want to sleep for a hundred years,” said the young woman clutching at her stained dress.
“You can sleep when you get there. Now go.”
The young man put his shiny helmet on and disappeared through the doorway.
The breakfast break room at a suburban police station. One man is eating a chocolate croissant, the other is working his way through a ham roll.