Sergeant Danny Walters and constables Hank Guynes and Tim Wyatt were patrolling near the local shopping centre, when the police radio began to crackle.
"Urgent call for car forty-five," said a sultry female voice.
"Talk to me, Maur," said Danny picking up the handset.
"We have received a call about gunshots at the house of Anthony and Valerie Celentano," said Maureen, the dispatcher, going on to provide the address. "Of particular interest the caller said there were three ambulances parked across the road from the house."
"Three ambulances, are you sure, Maur?" asked Danny, almost dropping the handset in excitement.
"That's right. But the men alighting from the ambulances were carrying guns; so are not real paramedics."
"Got it, we're on the way," said Danny. Then to Hank Guynes: "Get this crate moving Hank, we might catch them yet."
"No sweat," said Hank. He flipped the siren on, and planted his foot on the accelerator.
* * *
Val strode increasingly slowly down the back street for fifteen minutes, before finding herself outside the Christ the Redeemer Church. Tony and Val had attended the church for a few months, but finding Father Alex a bit strange they had stopped attending.
"Still, any port in a storm," said Val to herself as she started up the thirty concrete steps. "I wonder if he'll remember me after nearly a year."
She stopped in the arched doorway to allow her eyes to adjust to the light, and then started slowly down the aisle between the pews.
* * *
As Danny Walters and his young constables roared toward the Celentano house, they overtook two other speeding squad cars, who parked just behind them as they pulled up outside.
* * *
Inside the villa house Ralph and the other collectors were still waiting for Valerie to return, when they got a call from the driver of the van outside.
"Get the hell out the back way, the cops are here. Come dressed as removalists."
"Got it," said Ralph and the three men began shimmering for a moment, fading in and out of existence, until changing to removalists, and then Ralph raced toward the back door saying: "Come on."
As effortlessly as Olympians, they vaulted the deal wood fence into the yard next door.
* * *
"Well, there's a removalist van, but no sign of any ambulances," said Tim Wyatt as they climbed out of the squad car.
"So I see," said Danny Walters leading the way toward the side doorway.
The sergeant knocked loudly for twenty seconds or more. Then he stood aside, saying: "All right, kick it in."
"Don't we need a warrant or something?" asked Hank.
"Not when shots have been heard inside," said Danny.
So Hank and Tim proceeded to kick in the door as instructed.
* * *
As the cops broke down the side door, Ralph and the other collectors casually stepped out the gate of the next house and strode across to the removalist van.
"Slowly, slowly," whispered Ralph; "we're innocent removal men with no reason to be wary of the cops."
"No sweat," said one of the collectors.
Smiling at the cops across the street, the three collectors walked across to climb into the rear of the removalist van.
Tapping the side of the van with his hand, Ralph said: "Okay take us out of here … slowly; don't draw attention to us."
"Gotcha," said the driver starting the van.
* * *
"Shit, what a mess!" said Hank Guynes as they looked into the lounge room of the small villa house.
"Last time I saw this big a mess I was at a wrecker's yard," said Danny Walters.
"Serg, in here," called Tim Wyatt, from further down the T-shaped corridor.
"What is it?" asked Danny striding down the small hallway.
Turning right, he stopped behind Tim to look at the naked body of Tony Celentano laying half in and half out of the shower cubicle.
Seeing young Tim looking pale faced, Danny said: "Go to the squad car, and report shots confirmed. And one body found. Believed to be that of Anthony Celentano."
"Check," said Tim. He raced to the front door to avoid throwing up inside and fouling the crime scene.
* * *
Walking down the aisle between the pews, Val could see the black-clad figure of Father Alex bending over the cathedral's expensive sound system.
"Yeah, yeah, I know her, she used to be in my parish," said the priest. Then hearing footsteps behind him: "Gotta go, I've got someone here."
Turning off the sound equipment, the corpulent priest turned around, initially smiling, until recognising Valerie Celentano.
"Father, I need your help desperately," pleaded Val. "I know this will be hard to believe, but there are some men disguised as federal police trying to kill me."
She stopped, almost crying again, as she added: "I think they did kill Tony."
"Holy shit, it's her!" said the priest, turning back toward the sound consul.
"Father … I," began Val, stopping as the priest pulled a revolver from a drawer in the cabinet holding the sound equipment.
Flipping a switch on the sound consul the priest said: "The cunt is here right now."
"Okay, I'll notify Alastor," said a female voice over the consul. "For God's sake keep the bitch there till they arrive."
"No sweat," said the priest.
Staring at the handgun, Val said: "Father … what …?"
"We need that slip of paper, cunt!"
Blushing at the insult, Val asked: "What slip of paper."
"The one I suspect that you have in your handbag," said the priest, seeing how tightly she was gripping the bag to herself, like it was a winning lotto ticket.
"Father … I …" began Val, starting to look around desperately for a way to escape.
"Stand still, cunt," said the Father.
From behind Val suddenly came the sound of footsteps, causing them both to look round that way.
"Father Alex?" called a male voice from near the arched doorway.
Peering into the sun, Val could see the figure of the young verger, Tom Chapman, at the rear of the church.
"Shit!" said the priest, recognising his verger, who was not one of their people.
"Father Alex?" called the young verger again.
At the sound of his voice, Val took a couple of tentative steps back down the aisle.
"Stay where you are, cunt," said the priest as she risked another step backward.
"Father … I …?" began Val, unable to take her eyes away from the handgun, even as she took another small step backwards.
"Stand still, you cunt!"
From behind them the footsteps grew louder as the verger, Tom, approached down the aisle.
"Father Alex?" called the verger as he walked.
"I'm busy now, Tom," said the priest, without taking his eyes away from Valerie.
"Stopping, Tom said: "All right, I'll call back later."
The verger turned to walk away again.
"Help! Help! Help!" called Val. "Father Alex has gone mad. He's got a gun."
"What …?" asked Tom, wondering if he had heard correctly. Turning back, he started toward them again, stopping as he saw the gun in the priest's right hand. "Father Alex …? What …?"
"Help! Help! Help!" called Val again.
"Shut up, you dumb cunt!" cried Father Alex to Val. Then to the verger: "This woman is a terrorist, Tom."
"Mrs Celentano?" asked Tom. "That's ridiculous, Father."
Glaring at the young verger, the priest shouted: "Shut the fuck up, you young faggot!"
Val finally shut up and stared at the priest, and then turned to look at the young verger, who was blushing deep pink.
Father Alex laughed then said: "That's right, I know that you like to suck off young boys after choir practice. I've seen you."
"That's a horrible lie," said Tom. Then to Val: "I swear it isn't true, Mrs Celentano."
"Don't worry," said Val; "I don't believe a thing he says. He's mad."
"Is that so, you dumb cunt!" shouted the priest. Taking a step toward Val he fired a shot in anger, but missed her by metres.
Shrieking, Val span round and raced down the aisle toward the verger.
"Lord above!" cried Tom. He forced himself to start toward the priest despite his own terror, mumbling a prayer as he walked.
"Shut the fuck up, you bible-thumping idiot!" said Father Alex, firing again as Val drew level with Tom Chapman.
Just missing Val, the bullet instead hit the young verger who screamed and fell face down in the aisle.
"Shit in a hand basket!" cried the priest firing twice more as Val reached the arched doorway.
Suddenly a burst of light streamed in through a stain-glass window, blinding him and the priest covered his eyes just hoping that one of the shots had hit Val.
When he looked up again though, there was no sign of Val in the church.
"Shit it!" said the priest as he started down the aisle toward the street. Stopping at the corpse of the young verger, he looked down and laughed. "Your God can't help you now, Tom."
* * *
Val raced outside into the street where people had stopped at the sound of gunshots inside the church.
"Run for your lives!" shouted Val as she ran down the concrete steps to street level. "Father Alex has gone mad and has a gun."
Screaming, the onlookers scattered in all directions as Father Alex emerged from the church with the revolver in his right hand.
Val was almost at street level when the priest fired twice more.
"Oh, God!" cried Val, clutching at her left arm.
As the brunette raced out into the road the priest took careful aim and fired again.
But the handgun was empty.
"Shit in a hand basket!" cried the priest throwing the gun down in anger. He started down the steps after Val, but she had already vanished up a cross street and the corpulent priest realised that he was not suited to running after her.
"Shit!" he said in rage. He started back to pick up the handgun, for fear of it being found with his fingerprints on it.
Sighing in frustration, the priest headed back into the church, wondering: "What the hell am I going to say when Alastor and the others turn up?"
* * *
Ten minutes later as darkfall arrived, Valerie reached the emergency entrance to the Western Mercy Hospital.
"Oh God!" she cried at the pain in her arm. Despite not knowing who she could trust anymore, Val headed in through the automatic doors.
"Yes?" asked the triage nurse without even looking up from her computer screen as the doors whooshed open.
"I … I've been shot in the arm," said Val, almost collapsing to the lino-clad floor.
Looking up, the triage nurse looked startled to see Valerie, but quickly recovered her composure.
"Okay, honey, take a seat, and I'll see you right away."
As Val wandered over to a hard plastic seat, the nurse clicked a button on her electronic consul and whispered: "The bitch is here with me. At the Western Mercy."
"Keep her there at all costs," said the same female voice as before.
Grabbing some gauze and a first aide kit, the nurse headed out into the patient area to attend to Valerie's wound.
She swabbed the wound with saline then Savlon cream, before starting to bandage it. "Don't worry, honey, it's only a flesh wound. But I'll call one of the doctors to check it out properly as soon as possible."
"Thank you," said Val, smiling at the triage nurse, Shirley, grateful to have at last found a friendly face.
Just stay here you dumb bitch! thought the nurse smiling back at Val, before heading back to the triage area. "They shouldn't be too long."
"Thank you," said Val. Then to an elderly blue-rinsed lady beside her: "Have you been waiting long?"
"About a century," said the old lady's husband. "People had died in this emergency room waiting to be seen."
"It's not that bad," said Shirley glaring at the old man, who refused to look away first.
"Well, not for a couple of weeks maybe," admitted the old man; "but they do die from time to time. I wouldn't mind if it meant we moved up in the line. But you still wait forever."
"Oh don't exaggerate, Clive," said his wife with a half-hearted laugh. Pointing at the overhead television, the old lady said to Val: "There's TV to watch while you wait."
"If you don't mind watching it with the sound at two Percent," grumbled Clive. "I just wish I knew what had happened to my old granny's ear trumpet."
"Oh don't fuss so," said the blue-rinse lady; "why must you always complain about everything?"
"Because if I don't, who else will, Alma?" asked Clive unrepentant.
Trying her best to tune out the elderly couple, Val tried to concentrate upon the news on TV.
"What the …?" Val said as a picture of her husband Tony suddenly appeared on the TV. At first she strained to hear what was being said; then the volume mysteriously shot up as the newsreader announced:
"Anthony Celentano is believed to have been shot dead by his wife, Valerie."
As Val watched a wedding picture of her and Tony was displayed on the TV screen.
"Valerie Celentano, nee Davis, is believed to have shot dead three others: Nathaniel Michaels --," a picture of the old man, obviously dead at the mall filled the TV screen --, "a harmless old man without any enemies. Mrs Celentano allegedly also murdered two policemen trying to arrest her." Pictures of the two police officers came onto the screen as the newsreader named them: "Officers Ed Quince and Andrew Peters. Both men were newly married.
"Mrs Celentano," Val's picture filled the screen again; "is suspected of being part of a terrorist cell and is regarded as highly dangerous. Police are being advised to shoot on sight."
"No, it's not true!" shouted Val making the other patients stare at her.
"Are you all right, honey?" asked Alma, the blue-rinse lady.
Val started to stand, then with a groan she collapsed in a heap on the emergency room floor.
"The dumb cunt has fainted," said the triage nurse loud enough for Clive and Alma to hear and stare at her in amazement. "Well, that ought to keep her here until Alastor and the others arrive."
"Good," said the female voice over the radio.
* * *
"Okay, let's go get her," said Alastor as they pulled up in front of the Christ the Redeemer church.
The three men raced up the concrete steps - with Alfonso lagging behind the other two - expecting to find Father Alex holding Valerie Celentano. Instead they saw him, gun in hand, standing over the corpse of his verger, Tom Chapman.
"Did you get her?" demanded Alastor.
"No," said the priest cowering a little.
"Why the hell not!"
"I had her lined up when my stupid faggot of a verger got in my line of fire. I shot him and she ran into the alley across the road."
"You stupid shit!" snarled Alastor, looking fit to murder the priest.
"But I wounded her in the upper arm."
"Are you sure?" asked Alastor as they headed over to the arched doorway to look out into the street.
"No doubt about it, she clutched her arm and cried out," said the priest. Pointing across the street he said: "She ran down that street."
"The Western Mercy is down that way," said Alfonso. "If she's wounded she must have headed that way."
"Good thinking," said Alastor as they headed down the steps again.
Looking relieved that they were no longer angry at him, Father Alex called after them: "Don't forget to send some collectors for the faggot."
"Yeah, yeah," said Alastor as they raced back down the steps. Then, as they got into the Fairlane, he said to Alfonso: "All right, let's go get her."
Izzi pulled out a mobile phone, saying: "I'll notify them to stall her. The emergency staff at the Mercy are all ours."
"If it's like most hospital emergency rooms, you won't need to," said Alfonso as he started the car. "A gunshot wound, they'll probably keep her waiting eleven hours before anyone sees her."
They all laughed as they started to pull slowly away from the kerb.
"Good one," said Izzi.
The car radio beeped and Alastor picked up the handset and said: "Tell me."
"The triage nurse at the Western Mercy is stalling the cunt," said the female voice.
"We're already on the way," said Alastor hanging up. Then to Alfonso: "Good guess; that's just where the bitch is."
"Hey, don't forget the faggot," called Father Alex as they started to pull away.
"Yeah, okay," said Alastor. Picking up the handset again, he pushed a button and the voice asked:
"Send a meat wagon to the Christ the Redeemer Church for one carcase. Have them go as removalists again. The cops must be onto the ambulance bit by now."
"Got you," said the female voice.
"Satisfied?" asked Alastor.
"No sweat," said the priest.
"If anyone sees him before that, just tell them the Celentano woman shot him, then tried to kill you," said Izzi. "We'll get them to upgrade her on the news to complete psycho."
"Gotcha," said the priest turning to start slowly up the steps as the Fairlane finally drove away.
Panting, out of breath, Father Alex was almost up to the cathedral, when a woman's scream rang out from inside the church.
"Christ, what now?" said the portly priest, doing his best to run into the church.
Inside the church he saw the corpulent figure of his housekeeper, Mrs Murphy, standing over the corpse of the young verger. Her eyes looked as though they were about to leap out of their sockets.
"Father Alex, someone has killed Tom," said the old woman. She stopped as she saw the gun in the priest's right hand.
"He was murdered by Valerie Celentano; she's gone on a killing spree."
"Mrs Celentano?" said Mrs Murphy sounding unconvinced. "But you've got the gun."
He looked down, surprised, having forgotten that he was still carrying it.
"Oh, what the fuck," said Father Alex. Raising the gun he shot the old woman in the forehead. "I guess they can take two bodies instead of one."
* * *
Val awakened on the lino floor, with the elderly couple, Alma and Clive, crouching over her.
"Are you okay, honey?" asked the blue-rinse lady, as she and her husband helped Val back into one of the hard plastic seats.
"What … what happened?" asked Val, unsure where she was at first.
"You fainted while watching the news, honey," said Alma. "You're not pregnant, are you?"
Looking down at her stomach in wonder, Val said: "I don't think so."
"Will you be all right now?" asked Clive.
"Yes, yes, thank you, you're both very kind," said Val, looking pale as she suddenly remembered why she had fainted.
Looking up at the clock above the counter Val saw that she had been unconscious for at least fifteen minutes. With only six other patients in the emergency ward, she wondered, Why am I still waiting to be seen, with a gunshot wound? Even a flesh wound!
She started to look up again, then fearing the news might be still on, she looked down at her feet instead.
Looking about the emergence ward, she asked Alma and Clive: "Has anyone been attended to while I've been here?"
"No, honey," said Alma. "They're very very slow in here."
"They're incompetent, you mean," corrected Clive. "You wait forever to be seen in here."
Hearing the old man, the triage nurse looked up, no longer smiling, and tried to wither him with a glare; however, the old man refused to be stared down."
"How much longer do we have to wait?" he demanded. "This lady has a bullet wound in her arm for God's sake. Don't you people give a damn?"
"No, no, it's only a flesh wound," said Val, embarrassed to be the centre of attention.
"Nonsense, any bullet wound is serious," insisted Clive.
"I have bandaged the wound for her," reminded the triage nurse, Shirley.
"And I'm sure you did your best, honey," said Alma; "but you're only a nurse, not a proper doctor." As Shirley flushed crimson in anger, Alma added: "And even if it's a flesh wound, a gunshot wound isn't to be taken lightly."
"Of course it isn't," agreed her husband. "Shift your backside woman, and get a doctor to see this woman. She's already fainted once."
"She's all right now," pointed out the triage nurse, Shirley.
"Thanks to us helping her," pointed out Clive. "You didn't do squat when she collapsed. She could still be lying there on the floor for all you care."
"Yeah," agreed an elderly black man, Morgan. "You didn't do squat."
"There was no point lifting her up when she was unconscious," protested Shirley; "she might have fallen again. She was safer on the floor until she came around."
"She could have struck her head on the ground," said Morgan, who bore a striking resemblance to Bo Diddley. "You should have at least examined her."
"Yes," agree blue-rinsed Alma.
"You don't care if we live or die, do you?" demanded her husband, Clive.
"Look, she'll be attended to as soon as possible," insisted Shirley. "There are others ahead of her."
"Who?" demanded Morgan. "There are only seven of us here."
"And you haven't seen anyone in the two hours we've been here," pointed out Alma.
"That's right!" agreed her husband standing. Pointing at Val, to her embarrassment, he ordered: "Get someone out here to see this lady immediately."
"Yes," chorused the others.
"We don't have anyone to see her at the moment."
Standing, Val said: "In that case I think I'd better come back tomorrow."
"No, no, you mustn't take a chance with a gunshot wound!" protested Shirley.
"Don't worry, I'll come back in the morning," said Val as she started toward the automatic doors.
"No, no, you mustn't leave," said the triage nurse, running to the small door to the patient area. "They said to keep you here at all costs."
Val and the others stared at Shirley as she started into the patient area.
"Who said to keep her here?" demanded Clive started toward the front desk.
"No-one," said Shirley unconvincingly.
Val stared at her for a moment, then turned and raced toward the automatic doors, almost colliding with the doors as they opened too slowly.
"No, no," shouted Shirley, the triage nurse; "you're not allowed to leave."
As Val started into the car park, Shirley raced after her and grabbed her by her injured left arm.
"Aaaah!" cried out Val, trying to break away from the nurse.
"No, come back, damn you!" cried Shirley as the other patients raced across toward the automatic doors and started outside.
"Leave her alone," said the elderly black man, Morgan striding across toward the two women. "If you won't treat her, she has the right to leave."
"Fuck off, you dumb nigger!" cried the triage nurse, making the onlookers all gasp.
"I'll give you, dumb nigger," said Morgan. Grabbing Shirley, he span her around and gave her a resounding slap across the face.
Stunned for a second, Shirley release Val and glared daggers at the old man.
"You black bastard!" she hissed at him.
Then before the old man could react, she pushed him in the chest hard, sending him flying backwards onto the concrete path.
"What the hell kind of a nurse are you?" demanded blue-rise Alma.
"You're supposed to help the sick, not kill them," said her husband, Clive.
"Fuck off, you geriatric arseholes!" hissed the triage nurse. Her eyes seemed to narrow snakelike for a moment as she glared at the elderly patients, who backed away into the emergency room; the automatic doors hissing shut behind them.
Standing a pace away from the nurse, Val stared in horror at the old man lying broken on the concrete, blood streaming from a small hole in his head.
"You evil witch!" she shrieked at the triage nurse.
"What?" demanded Shirley, used to hurling abuse at people, but not used to receiving it.
She turned back to attack Val. But instead, ignoring the shooting pain in her left arm, Val grabbed the nurse and started shaking her wildly, shouting:
"You evil, evil bitch!"
Then, in rage, she hurled the startled triage nurse backward onto the concrete path.
Shirley screamed, hitting her head, and passed out.
Raising her hands to her mouth shocked at what she had done, Val stared at the crumpled nurse for a moment. Then turning; she started toward the elderly man lying on the concrete path.
From the doorway Clive reappeared and called out: "You'd better get out of here, if there are people like her coming after you. We'll take care of old Morgan."
"Don't worry," called blue-rinse Alma from the emergency ward doorway as Val hesitated. "Head wounds always bleed a lot. But they usually aren't that serious."
Val hesitated a moment longer, watching as the elderly patients went into the triage area for bandages. She was reluctant to abandon the old man after he had come to her aide.
"Go on, honey," said Alma as she walked toward the prone man to kneel with her husband's help to start bandaging his bloody head.
"Thank you," said Val. Then after a second she turned and raced through the car park to cross the road and start down a side street.
* * *
At the Christ the Redeemer Church Father Alex was standing over the corpses of his verger and housekeeper, when Ralph and the other collectors arrived, disguised as removalists.
"Hi, man," said Ralph, suddenly stopping as he saw the housekeeper's corpse lying beside the young verger's. "What the Hell's going on? We were told just one to collect!"
"The old bag was my housekeeper, Mrs Murphy," said Father Alex. "She found me standing over the faggot's corpse with the gun in my hand, and put two and two together. Besides she was a terrible nag, so I decided to off her too."
Ralph stared at the old lady's corpse uncertainly for a moment. "Well, I don't know …?"
"Come on, you can take her too, to help me out, can't you?"
Ralph considered a moment longer, then said: "Sure, why not, but you owe me one, buddy."
"Good man," said the priest with a Cheshire grin. Handing his revolver to Ralph, he added: "You'd better take that too so no-one else can see it."
"No sweat, buddy," said Ralph as two collectors dumped the old housekeeper's corpse onto the trolley.
"Heave, heave-ho," joked Ralph as they hefted the verger's corpse to toss it straight on top of the old lady. Then taking the gun, Ralph used masking tape to affix it to the verger's cassock.
"You'd better not go out like that," advised the priest. "In case someone is watching. Some gawking Orthos saw me shooting at the fleeing cunt earlier."
"No sweat," said Ralph. He stared hard at the two corpses on the trolley for a few seconds. They began to shimmer as though fading out of existence, but instead they changed shape to look like two large cardboard boxes with the lids already taped down.
"That glimmer thing is so cool," said the elderly priest as the collectors started to wheel the trolley toward the arched doorway.
"Hang it in, like Gunga Din," said Ralph in imitation of Jerry Lee Lewis from his country music days.
Laughing, Father Alex waved as they started out onto the concrete steps.
"Watch out," warned Ralph; "I don't know if the glimmer will hold if the boxes fall off the trolley going down the steps."
* * *
The elderly patients had finished bandaging the head of the old man, Morgan, who was now sitting up on the concrete outside the hospital emergency ward.
"Can you help me up?" asked Morgan, holding out his arms.
"Can you stand with our help?" asked an elderly Vietnamese lady, Tilda.
"I think so. I'd rather try than just sit here on the cold concrete. My backside is freezing."
"Okay, but take it slowly," said blue-rinse Alma.
"Lean on me, old timer," teased Clive.
"Ain't none of us getting any younger," said Morgan with a toothy grin.
"Sad, but true," agreed Clive, helping him up.
"What about the wicked witch?" asked Tilda. She pointed at the triage nurse, Shirley, who was still unconscious on the concrete.
"Leave her there," said Clive. "I don't care if she lives or dies. She didn't care if Morgan was hurt."
"We can't just leave her there," protested his wife.
"Well … okay … but let's just get Morgan seated inside first. Then we can worry about the evil bitch later," said Clive.
"Okay," agreed Alma, as they started slowly toward the automatic glass doors.
The procession had reached the doors, and had started inside, when the blue Fairlane pulled into the car park and stopped just before hitting the prone triage nurse.
"Look out," warned Alastor, and Alfonso just managed to brake the Ford in time.
"What the fuck!" said Izzi as he got out of the car and started across toward Shirley.
Alastor and Izzi raised the upper half of the nurse from the footpath and started shaking her roughly.
"Wake up, you stupid cunt!" said Alastor, slapping her roughly across the face.
As he slapped her a second time, the triage nurse started to murmur and slowly awaken.
"Come on! Come on!" said Alastor impatiently, slapping her a third time.
"Careful, don't knock her head off," warned Alfonso.
"I'll tear her head right off her shoulders if she's let the bitch escape," said Alastor.
Finally opening her eyes, the triage nurse looked perplexed by her surroundings.
"What am I doing sitting here …?" she began. Then seeing Alastor, Izzi, and Alfonso, her memories came flooding back.
"Well! What are you doing sitting in the car park?" demanded Alastor.
"She ran out into the car park to get away and I ran after her. Then she knocked me out and must have run off."
"You incompetent cunt, you just had to keep her here," said Alastor. "I wish I'd let Alfonso run over you now."
He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his .45.
Eyes wide with terror, Shirley said: "She only left a minute or two ago. She can't have got far."
"You had better be right," hissed Alastor, still looking as though he intended to shoot her.
Grabbing his gun hand, Alfonso said: "Not here, too many people will see." He nodded to where the elderly patients stood in the doorway to the emergency ward, watching them avidly.
Pocketing his gun, Alastor said: "Figure yourself lucky, cunt."
"Come on," said Izzi heading back toward the Fairlane. "We can still catch the bitch."
Alastor continued to glare daggers at Shirley, his eyes squinting snakelike for a moment longer. Then reluctantly he turned to race after Izzi and Alfonso.
* * *
Sergeant Danny Walters and the two constables were cruising, waiting for the end of the afternoon shift when the police radio squawked.
"Talk to me, Maur," said Danny, picking up the handset.
"We are notifying all squad cars that all leaves are now cancelled and everyone will have to do double shifts for the next few days at least."
"What?" asked Hank, behind the steering wheel. "Does that mean we've got another eight hours to go on our shift?"
"Afraid so," said Danny, then to Maureen: "How come?"
"The news services are running reports that Valerie Celentano is in a terrorist cell and murdered the old man and the two cops in the Westernfeld Mall, as well as her husband, Tony."
"What?" demanded Danny. "Who the hell told them that?"
"We don't have a clue. No-one here has told them anything, we where trying to downplay it; and they refuse to reveal their sources. Fifth Amendment rights and all that crap."
"What the hell is going on here?" Danny thought aloud.
"That's what we need you to find out," said Maureen. "We've founded witnesses who can put Valerie Celentano at the mall at the time of the shootings, but they all swear she had nothing to do with it. They claim it was three men in smart suits claiming to be feds."
"What?" demanded Danny.
"Some of the witnesses say the cops demanded to see the feds ID cards and then said they were phoney. That's when the feds - if they were feds - shot the two cops."
"What the hell?" said Danny. "Fake federal agents going around killing people." He thought for a moment then said: "Possibly including Anthony Celentano."
"That's what we thought," said Maureen. "Soon after the shooting at the Celentano house three men in suits claiming to be feds stopped at a nearby Maccas to ask about Valerie Celentano."
"Shit!" said Danny. "Fake feds have murdered four people."
"Maybe more," said Maureen, the dispatcher. "Shots have been reported inside the Christ the Redeemer Church. So far we haven't had a car available to send there."
"You have now," said Danny, hanging up the handset. Then to Hank: "The Christ the Redeemer Church, and step on it."
"You got it," said Hank. Flipping on the alarmed he quickly accelerated into fourth gear, and did a flying U-turn to roar back the way they had just come.
* * *
Ralph and the collectors were placing the trolley with two big cardboard boxes into the rear of the removalist van as the squad car screeched to a halt across the road.
Ralph looked across the road as the three cops climbed out and said to the other collectors: "Slowly … don't panic, and they won't give us a second glance."
* * *
Across the road Danny Walters stopped for a second to stare at the removalist van with a touch of déjà vu.
"What's up, Serg?" asked Hank Guynes.
Danny looked at him, brow furled, on the brink of a flash of inspiration. Then it had flown from his head.
"Nothing," said Danny, starting up the concrete steps; "come on."
The three cops raced up the steps to the arched doorway of the Christ the Redeemer Church.
Inside they found Father Alex sitting on a round stool at the sound consul.
"What's going on here?" demanded Danny.
The priest looked round startled, then relaxed and smiled as he heard the roar of the removalist van driving off.
"Oh, Sergeant Walters, it's good to see you," lied the priest. "Did you hear about Mrs Celentano?"
"What about her?"
"She turned up earlier with a handgun and started shooting up the place," he said; pointing to where bullet holes pocked the walls near the door. "Thankfully she missed the stain-glassed windows which are two thousand … er, two hundred years old."
"She did that?" asked Danny looking at the bullet marks.
"Of course. Fortunately she left without shooting anyone. Took the gun with her, so she's still dangerous. You'd better shoot her on sight. Can't take risks with psychos."
"That's strange, we had reports that you did the shooting," said Danny.
"Me?" asked the priest, sounding genuinely shocked. "I wouldn't know how to fire a gun. I've been a confirmed peace-nik since my days as a conscientious objector to the first gulf war."
"That's strange," said Hank Guynes; "we've had reports from over a dozen people that you were shooting at Mrs Celentano. Not the other way around."
"I don't know what stupid cunts told you that," said the priests, surprising the three policemen. "But she was the one doing the shooting, not me."
Looking about the church, Danny said: "You're all alone here, Father?"
"That's right; oh, lonesome me," he said: quoting a Hank Williams song.
"Are Tom Chapman and Mrs Murphy about anywhere? So they can corroborate your story about Mrs Celentano doing the shooting?" asked Danny.
"Afraid not," said the priest, still tinkering with the sound consul. "They were already gone by then."
"Gone?" asked Tim Wyatt.
"Yes, they ran off together this morning. It seems they'd been having a sexual liaison behind my back for years."
"Tom?" asked Danny Walters.
"With old Mrs Murphy?" asked Tim. "She's old enough to be his mother!"
"Yes, I was shocked too," said Father Alex. "Personally I always thought he was a faggot, the way he used to eye off the older choir boys. Frankly I didn't dare leave him alone with them."
"What?" demanded Danny in disbelief.
"It's true," insisted the priest. "Maybe he was … is only a semi-faggot. What do they call them in politically correct English …?" He considered a moment, and then said: "Bisexuals, that's right. Personally I call them all faggots."
"Tom Chapman a bisexual?" said Danny in amazement. "I don't believe a word you've said since we came in here."
"Maybe we ought to apply for a warrant to search this place?" suggested Hank Guynes.
"No need for that," said the priest with a sanctimonious smirk. "Feel free to search with my full blessings. If you find a gun anywhere I'll come quietly as they say on TV."
Danny considered a moment then said: "If you're willing to let us search without a warrant, there's no point searching, is there?"
"None at all," agreed the priest flashing a broad shit-eater grin at them.
Somehow resisting the urge to punch the smug priest in the face, Danny spun around and started back down the aisle.
"Maybe we should search anyway?" suggested Hank Guynes as they started back toward the arched doorway.
"Yeah," said Tim; "no way did Tom Chapman and old Mrs Murphy run off together."
"No, he's probably killed them," said Danny as they started down the steps to the squad car. "But if he's disposed of the gun, without any bodies or witnesses we've got nothing."
"We've got plenty of witness," said Tim Wyatt.
"Claiming that he shot at and missed Valerie Celentano. But no witnesses to him killing Tom or Mrs Murphy."
"Maybe there were witnesses?" suggested Hank.
"I'm guessing there was only one."
"One witness?" asked Tim as they reached street level.
"Valerie Celentano. Who probably also witnessed her husband's murder."
"Which explains why she's running," said Hank, as they walked toward the squad car. "She's probably too terrified to even trust us."
"Well, after she's had a priest try to murder her, why should she trust the cops?" asked Tim Wyatt.
"Exactly," agreed Danny. "It also explains why three fake feds are looking for her."
"They're the assassins!" exclaimed Tim. "At least of the three in the mall and of Anthony Celentano."
"I'd bet my ever dwindling pension on it," said Danny as Hank Guynes sat behind the steering wheel.
"Hey, the removalist van has gone," said Hank, making Danny look across the road.
"There was a removalist van outside the Celentano house, when we found Anthony Celentano's corpse," reminded Tim Wyatt.
"Holy shit!" said Danny Walters. And the inspiration that had almost hit him earlier suddenly struck him like a sledge hammer. "They were removing the bodies of Tom Chapman and Mrs Murphy even as we went inside to grill Father Alex."
"That's why he was so smug," said Hank. "He knew that there was nothing left in the church for us to find. It had just been taken away."
"Including the gun he used, I'll bet," said Danny as he and Tim ran across to the squad car.
"Come on, we might still be able to catch them," enthused Tim, almost leaping into the backseat of the car.
"I doubt it," said Danny. "It's probably something else by now."
"What do you mean?" asked Hank as he started the car.
"At the mall we chased after three white ambulances, which were also reported at the Celentano's house … presumably by Valerie Celentano," explained Danny. "But when we reached the house we saw a removal van, just as there was outside the church."
"So?" asked Tim Wyatt.
"So, it seems they're too smart to use the same disguise more than twice," said Danny. "Even if we did catch up with them we wouldn't know it, since it's probably disguised as a baker's van or a laundry truck or something by now."
"Shit," said young Hank; "just who are we dealing with here?"
"Someone very cunning, and very evil," said Danny. He reached for the radio to contact the dispatcher.
* * *
Still clutching her bandaged left arm, Val was running down a dark alleyway when she suddenly heard a car roaring up behind her.
"Oh God, no!" she cried, ducking into a gateway at the back of a house, as the blue Fairlane pulled up only metres from her.
* * *
"Why are we stopping here?" demanded Alastor.
"I thought I saw movement near that gate," said Alfonso, pointing almost straight at Valerie Celentano.
"You're imagining it," said Izzi.
"Yeah, you're probably right," agreed Alfonso, starting the car again.
Crouching behind a dense shrub not far from the gate, Val held a hand over her mouth to avoid crying out until the car sped off again.
Val continued hiding for a moment longer, then emerged and started off in the opposite direction to the car.
* * *
"Hello, car forty-five here," said Danny Walters into the handset of the police radio.
"What is it?" asked Maureen.
Danny quickly went on to relate their suspicions about Father Alex, the fake federal agents, and the ambulances and removalist van.
"Sounds like a big operation," said Maureen.
"It seems they never use the same disguise more than twice," continued Danny. "So put the word out to keep an eye out for any vans or trucks close by any crime scene … especially shooting scenes."
"We've got news too," said Maureen. "The mayor got in touch with the Bureau and the Agency to tell them about the fake feds, to see what if anything they could tell her."
"And?" asked Danny.
"And they told her to butt out and let them take care of it."
"Shit! She's not going to is she?"
"No way! She told them to eff-off, that this is our case. And she's made it plain that she wants us to solve it."
"Thank God for that!" said Danny with feeling.
* * *
Val had just started down the cobbled alleyway, when there was a loud snap.
"Aaaaah!" she cried as she was suddenly pitched face down onto the cobblestones.
She looked back: "What now?"
At first, in the dark, she couldn't see what was wrong. Then she realised that the heel had snapped off her left shoe.
"Oh Lord," she said: climbing to her feet again. She tried to keep walking, but the different height of the shoes meant she was only able to hobble.
"Damn!" she said; almost falling again. After a moment she took off her right shoe and began whacking it upon the cobblestones until she had broken the other heel off.
"At least now they're level," she said putting the shoe back on. Although uncomfortable she was now able to walk much more naturally and a little faster.
TO BE CONTINUED:
© Copyright 2011
Philip Roberts, Melbourne, Australia