For what seems a lifetime Roderick Voss flounders in the dumbwaiter chute, almost believing that the twelve-year-old has managed to get revenge for the deaths of her parents by killing him. But always cool under pressure, he does not panic, but reaches out into the shaft with both hands. Knowing it is only half a metre or so deep in the wall, he finds the inner wall and presses both hands against it to stop himself falling down the elevator tunnel.
Then slowly, motivated by anger, not fear, he pushes himself back into the kitchen until he drops out of the dumbwaiter shaft and lands on his backside on the tiled floor.
Breathing deeply to calm himself, Voss is more determined than ever to kill Tara Weston before leaving the mansion.
"Even if I'm caught or killed, it'll be worth it for the satisfaction of crushing that little bitch's neck in my bare hands first."
Smiling at the thought of Tara Weston's death at his hands, Voss climbs back to his feet and hurries across to turn back on the kitchen light. Then running out into the corridor, he heads toward the first staircase.
If he looks up as he reaches the staircase, he will see Richie and Tara on the opposite staircase, not far from the third floor landing. But, of course, Roderick Voss is looking down, expecting the twelve-year-old girl to be running downstairs toward ground level.
* * *
Tara and Richie had barely started up the second staircase, toward the third floor, when the kitchen light went back on.
"Damn!" said Tara, knowing that it meant the maniac had not fallen down the dumbwaiter chute.
"Don't worry, honey, it will have rattled him a little at least," said Richie, only hoping that it was true.
Trying his best not to make a noise, Richie held onto the banister with one arm, to take some of his weight off Tara, as the young girl half led, half carried him up the staircase.
From time to time they had to stop to allow Richie to collect his breath, although they both knew they had no time to waste.
They were almost up to the next landing, when with a roaring like a jungle beast Roderick Voss raced out of the corridor toward the twin staircases.
"Oh!" said Tara in alarm as the murderer raced straight toward them.
"Shush," warned Richie, trying not to fall on his face as he and Tara crouched on the wide staircase, hoping the banister would conceal them. "He won't be looking up. He'll expect us to run down to the ground floor."
And as Richie predicted, Voss did not even glance at the second staircase. He raced down the first staircase roaring like a bull in anger and threatening rape, murder, and miscellaneous mayhem against the person of young Tara Weston.
Tara and Richie continued to crouch on the staircase for a few moments watching Voss thundering down toward the first floor. Then as the maniac raced past the first floor landing and headed toward the ground floor, finally they stood again.
"Help me up to the third floor now," said Richie. Taking his right arm across both shoulders, Tara began dragging her guardian angel up the last few steps toward the third floor landing.
"Now where?" asked Tara.
"Toward the nearest bedroom."
"But there'll be dead bodies in there."
"Sooner them than us, honey," said Richie. "Just be brave, and try not to look at them."
* * *
Still roaring in rage at almost falling down the dumbwaiter chute, Roderick Voss races past the first floor landing, almost falling down the stairs in his haste to beat Tara Weston to the front door of the manor house.
Panting a little from all the running he has already done, Voss races across the tiled lobby floor toward the mullioned front door. Expecting the latch to be already sprung, he tries to pull the door open and curses as his fingers slip on the knob.
Seeing the chain is still on the hook, he realises, "They didn't come this way." Turning, he races across the foyer to the back door, where he finds the tall French windows shut, but unlatched.
"Did she leave this way?" he wonders. "Or did they just forget to latch the window when going to bed?"
Knowing the alarms have been deactivated, he opens the French windows and looks out at the lush lawns leading more than a kilometre to the tall, spiked fence at the rear of the estate. "Did she go this way?" he wonders. He knows the Westons's garage is out this way, behind the house, having already slaughtered the chauffeur, "But the little bitch is only twelve, too young to be able to drive, even if she could get to the garage."
He stands there a moment longer. His instincts tell him that Tara Weston has not left this way, but he is wary of trusting them. "This is where my instincts either help me catch her, or get me killed!" he thinks.
He looks out into the vast lawns for a few seconds longer. Then shutting the French windows again, he turns and starts back inside to search the rooms on the ground floor. Which he does quickly, before starting back up the stairs to search through the rooms on the first floor.
* * *
Stepping into the nearest bedroom on the third floor, Tara Weston stopped and gasped in horror at the sight of the disembowelled butler and maid on the bed.
"Don't look at them, honey," advised Richie Travers, leaning heavily on the girl for support. Reaching across with his left hand, he took the girl's chin into his hand to physically turn her head away from the bed and repeated, "Don't look at them."
Stopping to allow his eyes to adjust again to the darkness, Richie slowly looked round the room for somewhere to hide. He did his best to follow his own advice and not look at the disembowelled couple on the bed.
"Does this room have an en-suite, like yours?" he asked.
Tara had to think for a while, but finally said, "I don't think so. Only the rooms on the fifth floor have their own bath and toilet. This floor has two bathrooms which the servants have to share."
Looking about the sparsely furnished room, Richie realised that there was virtually nowhere to hide. Forcing himself to look at the double bed, he realised it was too low to the ground to hide under. "Besides, that's the first place any self-respecting psychopath would look," thought Richie. "And with my injuries, once I was on the floor I could never get up again in time to escape."
Looking at Tara, he realised that the girl was already close to hysteria again at being in the room with the dead couple. "I doubt if she could hide under the bed to save her life," he thought. Then he realised that it still might be a life and death decision where to hide next.
"With any luck he's already raced out through the front doors to hunt for us in the gardens outside," thought Richie, looking down at his wristwatch. Seeing there was still a few hours to dawn, he wondered if they could rely on the killer hunting outside for that long. "Or will he quickly realise we didn't go outside and come back looking for us?"
Turning away from the bed he thought, "Maybe we should get out of here while he's still outside. If we can take one of the estate's cars, maybe we can out race him. Or even run him down on the way out."
Turning to Tara, he asked, "Honey, you said this house has more than one car, didn't you?"
"Yes, we have a six-car garage, although we only have five cars." The girl stopped and blushed, obviously embarrassed, not having meant to boast about her parents's wealth.
"Well, if we could start one of them ...?"
"But could you drive it in your current state?"
"Of course," insisted Richie, trying to sound more confident than he felt. "Sitting down and driving is no problem. It's standing up and walking around that hurts."
"But what if he comes back and catches us trying to leave?"
"He's not likely to return for a long while yet." But even as Richie spoke, they heard crashing and swearing beneath their feet.
"He's searching one of the floors below us," whispered Tara, almost crying again. "Your plan didn't work."
Richie flinched at the young girl's words, although he realised that she probably had not meant it as an accusation.
Shining the penlight around the room, he saw the louvre wall against one side of the room and asked, "Is that a walk-in wardrobe?"
"Yes," said Tara.
"Can it be locked from the inside?"
"I don't think so. But he's got a gun anyway. He could easily shoot us through the louvres. Or quickly smash his way through them to get to us."
"Maybe, but there's nowhere else to hide in here," insisted Richie. So reluctantly Tara led him across to the walk-in wardrobe. There was a key in the lock of the door at each end of the wardrobe, but Richie quickly saw that Tara was right: the doors could only be locked from the outside. "Still, it's better than nothing," thought Richie as he pulled the right-hand door open and started to shuffle inside the wardrobe.
After a moment's indecision, Tara Weston slid into the wardrobe beside her guardian angel and carefully slid the louvre door shut again.
"Now what?" she asked.
"Now we hide here till dawn and hope he doesn't find us first."
* * *
Roderick Voss thunders through the first floor rooms like an express train, no longer worrying about the noise he makes. Turning on all the lights as he goes, he slams doors in rage, rips open wardrobes, throws around any piece of furniture which Tara Weston might be able to hide in or under. So that by the time he has thoroughly searched the first floor, he is also thoroughly exhausted.
"That cunning little bitch! Where is she?" he says aloud, half wondering whether his instincts have failed him this time? Wondering whether Tara has run out through the French windows after all? Or has gone out through the underground garage -- the way he had entered the estate, what now seems like a lifetime ago.
"No! No, I can't be wrong!" he says. Now panting like a horse, he hurries across to the staircase and races up to the second floor, thinking, "She can't be hiding on this floor. This is where the dumbwaiter took her. Where the cunning little bitch almost sent me plummeting to my death! She can't still be hiding on this floor!" He had heard her footsteps stumbling toward the staircases. But now he wonders, "Was it all a cunning ploy. Did the clever little bitch stay hidden on this floor while I was racing madly down to ground level?"
It seems unlikely. But over the last few hours he has developed a grudging respect for the twelve-year-old girl. So, he slowly starts searching through the master kitchen and other rooms -- mainly storage rooms for cutlery and crockery, as well as food stores for non-perishable food stuffs.
After half an hour Voss has exhaustively searched the second floor and still hasn't located the young girl.
"Then where did she go?" he wonders as he returns to the staircases. He has started back down the stairs to the ground floor, when the answer comes to him: "The cunning little bitch!" he says aloud, eyes glowing from rage as he realises how adroitly she has outsmarted him. "While I was charging downstairs to the ground level, she crept back upstairs! She may have even been on the stairs just a few metres up when I charged out like a mad bull and unthinkingly raced downstairs, assuming she'd go that way!"
Livid with rage at being made to look a fool by the young girl, Roderick Voss starts up toward the third floor. His hands are both clenching and unclenching from rage as he climbs the stairs. And he is more determined than ever to kill Tara Weston before leaving the estate.
* * *
Tara and Richie waited for what seemed like hours in the wardrobe, trying their best not to choke on the slightly caustic stench of mothballs, which lined the floor of the walk-in wardrobe.
From downstairs they could hear crashing and swearing as though the maniac was literally tearing the rooms apart board by board. Then after more than an hour, the crashing and swearing mysteriously stopped.
"Do you think he's gone away?" asked Tara Weston, doing her best not to slip over on the layer of mothballs lining the wardrobe floor.
"No, he's probably just worn himself out and stopped for a breather," guessed Richie correctly.
They waited in the cramped wardrobe for another forty minutes. Then a door slammed in the corridor outside the room.
"He's on this floor now," said Tara, almost crying as she spoke.
Wondering if he had made a fatal mistake by going back upstairs, Richie reached out to take Tara's right hand and give it a reassuring squeeze.
After a few minutes, the door to the bedroom suddenly swung open and the light flickered on.
* * *
Roderick Voss is convinced now that Tara Weston has to be on the third floor of the Weston estate. But he is increasingly annoyed by his inability to locate the twelve-year-old.
"How can the little bitch have eluded me for so long?" he wonders as he steps into the room. Looking about the room slowly, he sees the butler and his wife on the bed, awash in their own blood. He smiles as he remembers raping the woman while her husband watched on, then killing then both with the filleting knife.
He steps slowly into the centre of the room and creeps across to the double bed. Although it is too low for anyone to hide under, he kneels down, points the revolver under the bed and fires two quick shots.
Disappointed not to hear a cry, he kneels down and looks under the bed, hoping to see Tara Weston's corpse.
"Shit!" he says, seeing only an enamel chamber pot and mountains of dust bunnies.
Standing again, he starts back toward the door to the corridor, then stops and looks back. "Of course," he says, starting across the room toward the walk-in wardrobe.
* * *
Hiding in the louvre doored wardrobe, Tara and Richie watched as Voss hunted around the room. Richie clamped a hand over Tara's mouth to prevent her from crying out when Voss fired the handgun under the bed. Then, to their delight, the maniac turned away and started back toward the outside corridor.
"He's going away," whispered Tara in relief, having pulled Richie's hand away from her mouth.
Then, as though hearing the young girl's whisper, the murder turned back and started across the room, seemingly looking right at them.
"He's seen us!" whispered Tara.
Covering her mouth again with one hand, Richie pulled the twelve-year-old girl closer to himself, trying not to make a sound despite the mothballs lining the wardrobe floor.
As the maniac strode across toward the right-hand door of the walk-in wardrobe, Richie tried his best to lead Tara Weston across toward the left-hand door. Shuffling, taking baby steps to minimise any noise, they had almost reached the left-hand door when Roderick Voss reached the right-hand door.
"Ah ha!" cried the maniac pulling the door open wide with his right hand. As the door swung open wide he aimed the revolver with his left hand and fired a single shot into the clothing. "All right, where are you? I know you're in there!"
At the other end of the wardrobe Tara and Richie crouched down so that the maniac would not see them over the tops of the clothing.
* * *
"Where the hell is the little bitch!" wonders Roderick Voss as he hunts through the wardrobe. He almost gives up, when he catches sight of Tara Weston's left arm and realises she is crouching at the other end of the wardrobe.
"Got you now, you little bitch!" cries Voss, leaping right into the wardrobe.
"Eeeeeeeeeiiii!" shrieks Tara Weston as Voss grabs her left elbow and begins squeezing it brutally.
* * *
Richie Travers thought at first that the maniac had not seen them. Then hearing Tara scream, he realised Voss had touched her.
"Got you now, you little bitch!" cried the maniac.
"Not if I can help it," whispered Richie, more determined than ever to save the silver-blonde girl's life.
He pushed open the left-hand door of the wardrobe, grabbed Tara's hand and yanked her out of the maniac's grip.
* * *
Tara screamed again in shock as her guardian angel almost brutally ripped her out of the maniac's grasp and all but tossed her out of the walk-in wardrobe.
The young girl slid in a blood-slick and fell on her backside on the lushly carpeted bedroom floor.
A second later Richie Travers, looking as though he was about to die, with blood still streaming down his face, staggered out of the wardrobe, barely able to stand up without Tara Weston's shoulders to lean across for support.
"Hurry, we've got to hurry," called Tara, struggling back to her feet.
"Not so fast," said Richie between gasps for breath. "We've got a few seconds."
So saying, he swung shut the left-hand door of the wardrobe and turned the key in the lock. Then staggering across to the right-hand door, he locked it also.
"That won't hold him for long," pointed out Tara as she took Richie's right hand across her shoulders again to lead him hurriedly out of the bedroom.
"Maybe not," agreed Richie as they started down the corridor toward the stairs. "But it gives us a few seconds to establish a head start again. To help us get down to the ground floor."
"But you said we couldn't go downstairs; we'd never outrun him?" pointed out the blonde girl.
"Yes, but I was wrong, we'll have to try. We'll never be able to hide long enough inside the house."
* * *
Roderick Voss grips Tara Weston's elbow and goes to pull her toward him. When suddenly she pulls away from him hard. Caught off guard, he falls facedown in the wardrobe, then struggles to regain his footing as the mothballs slide around like marbles beneath his feet. He reaches up to grab at the hanging clothing only to start a cascade of dresses, blouses and men's clothing all falling down on top of him.
"Little bitch!" he curses as he hears first one door to the wardrobe lock, then the other. Still struggling to find his footing, he hurriedly pulls himself to his feet and looks out through the louvre walls of the wardrobe.
Seeing Tara Weston stumbling out the doorway into the corridor, he aims the revolver at her head and says, "You've caused me a lot of trouble, you little bitch. But now it's all over!"
He pulls the trigger and the hammer click-clicks on empty chambers.
"Shit!" he curses, hurriedly patting himself down to find the two spare speed loaders. He locates the two reloaders, but curses again as he drops one in the dark wardrobe.
He hurriedly loads the final six cartridges into the revolver, then looks down in the hope of locating the dropped speed loader on the wardrobe floor. But realising it is hopeless with the floor already swimming in mothballs, he decides, "Okay, so I've got six shots left to get the little bitch. Or I really will have to strangle her with my bare hands.
Hearing the sound of footsteps on the staircase outside, Voss realises the young girl is starting to put a serious lead between them again.
Cursing her perspicacity and cunning, Voss puts the gun away carefully in his vest, so he won't drop it in the wardrobe also. Then, trying his best not to fall on the layer of mothballs lining the wardrobe floor, he backs up to take what little running start he can and lunges forward at the louvre door.
Designed only to hide clothing from view, not to restrain anyone, the louvres are weak and bend almost to breaking point at the first charge. A second charge has some of the louvres breaking audibly. And on the third leap forward, Roderick Voss suddenly tumbles out into the bedroom as the frail louvres shatter against his latest charge.
He curses again as he tumbles into a heap on the bedroom carpet. Then, patting himself down to make sure he has not dropped the revolver, Voss climbs a little unsteadily to his feet again and starts across the room toward the corridor. Like Tara Weston he slides in the blood slick on the floor, but manages to keep his feet, although he slows his pace a little till reaching the surer footing of the hallway.
* * *
Hobbling as fast as they could with Richie Travers's injuries, Tara and Richie had just passed the first floor landing when they heard the crashing of louvres above, which signalled Roderick Voss's escape from the walk-in wardrobe.
"Come on," said Richie. And, trying to ignore the increasing agony of every movement, he took the lead, almost dragging Tara down the stairs after him.
As they reached the ground floor at last, Tara headed toward the front door, but Richie held onto her to stop her. "No!" he said.
"But we have to go outside."
"To get help."
"And how far is it from your front door to the street? About half a mile, if I remember rightly."
"Half a kilometre," corrected Tara Weston.
"Even so, it's too far for me in this condition. These big estates might seem like a good idea when you buy them. But it's a long way to run if you need help in a hurry."
"You said earlier you have a six-car garage?"
"Yes," said Tara pointing. "But it's around the other side of the house."
"Is there any way to get to it from inside the house?"
Tara had to think for a moment: "Yes," she said, pointing back behind Richie. "Through the basement."
"All right, let's go," said Richie, almost collapsing from fatigue and blood loss as they started down one last flight of stairs.
* * *
In the basement, even in the dark, they could see the windowed door leading to the garage and started toward it. But then Richie stopped and stared at something at the other end of the basement.
"My God, so that's why I didn't find many valuables upstairs," he said, staring at the walk-in safe that took up most of one wall.
"Yes. Apart from a few paintings, we keep everything locked up in here." So saying, Tara tried to lead him toward the door to the garage. However, he stopped her.
"No, wait, I want to see if I can crack this thing," said Richie. And to the astonishment of Tara, he hobbled over to the safe, then reached into his vest pocket and removed the plastic case with his picklocks.
"We ... we have to get out of here," insisted Tara hearing Roderick Voss's heavy tread on the floorboards overhead.
"Don't worry, this'll only take a minute or two."
* * *
Tara hesitated, tempted to abandon Richie and run toward the garage alone. But she knew she could never drive one of her parents's cars without his help. So, reluctantly she returned to watch him as he began to probe at the safe with a series of long metal picklocks.
"What is he doing?" wondered the young girl, no longer certain if she could trust her guardian angel's judgement to get her out of the mansion alive.
Hearing footsteps on the stairs, Tara looked round as Roderick Voss started down the basement steps toward them.
* * *
Roderick Voss clenches the revolver in his right hand now as he races down the staircase after the twelve-year-old girl. Although he cannot see Tara two or three floors below him in the dark, he can make out a blur of movement and knows which way she is going. He sees she is staggering a little, and wonders if she is injured.
He is tempted to fire a shot at her, but has only six cartridges left and knows that he would miss her at that distance in the dark.
As he expects, the blur moves toward the front door. But instead of exiting, it suddenly reverses direction and heads back behind the staircase.
"Now where the hell is the little bitch going?" he wonders, heading down the stairs after her. He resists the urge to charge madly headlong down the stairs to reach the silver-blonde girl, or at least to get into range to take a shot at her. Instead he runs down the stairs as stealthily as possible. "Even if the little bitch gets a substantial lead on me, I can easily run her down across the back lawn."
Yet his instinct tells him that she is not heading toward the back door.
When he reaches the ground floor there is no sign of Tara Weston, and he has not heard her footsteps running toward the back door.
"Then where has the little bitch got to?" he thinks, starting to wonder if she is distantly related to Harry Houdini.
He has already started down the wide corridor toward the back of the building, when he spots the door to the basement steps. He grins his broadest shit-eater grin, recalling again how he had entered the building this way many hours ago after slaughter the chauffeur.
"That's where the little bitch has gone." He recalls seeing a large board holding the keys to the Westons's five cars, plus spare keys for the house. "The little bitch thinks she can just drive off! Well, she's got another thing coming to her!"
Then wondering if she really can escape from him that easily, Voss pulls open the basement door and peers inside. Even without turning on the overhead light, he sees the blonde girl standing at the opposite end of the room near a large wall safe. Grinning his broadest shit-eater grin, Voss thinks, "I've got the little bitch now!"
Aiming the revolver in her direction, he reaches out to flip on the light switch with his other hand. But then, to his astonishment the wall safe suddenly springs open and Tara Weston races inside.
* * *
"Come on, please?" says Tara, having heard Roderick Voss's footsteps even before she saw him standing at the top of the basement steps. As the maniac switched on the basement light, Tara turned to run toward the garage, knowing it was too late now to try outrunning him.
Just in time, Richie Travers grabbed the beautiful blonde girl's arm and pulled her toward the safe.
"No, in here," he whispered, dragging Tara into the walk-in safe. "Now help me to pull the door closed."
With difficulty, allowing for the safe door's immense weight and Richie's injuries, they managed to pull the door inward.
* * *
Roderick Voss watches in amazement as the twelve-year-old girl races into the walk-in safe, then actually pulls the door shut on herself.
"Stupid bitch!" he shouts, racing down the stairs, then across the basement floor to reach the safe.
He carefully checks the door all around and confirms that the door is undoubtedly locked.
"She's done it to me again!" he says in astonishment. "How did she know the combination to this thing? Surely the Westons didn't entrust the combination to a twelve-year-old brat?" But over the last few hours he had acquired a grudging respect for Tara Weston and now had to concede that she was no ordinary brat.
"So what now?" he wonders. "I'll never open this thing in a million years. But there's no need, surely? In twelve hours or so the little bitch will die of oxygen-starvation in there."
* * *
"Now we're safe from that bastard," said Richie, lying against a row of security boxes along one wall of the walk-in safe.
"But we'll die from asphyxiation in here in a few hours," insisted Tara, wondering if Richie Travers was a false guardian angel after all.
"No," said Richie. Reaching into his inner vest pocket, he pulled out the small penlight. "That's a myth. Like me, you've probably seen dozens of murder mysteries where someone is murdered by being locked in a walk-in safe and dying when the air runs out. But that's all crap."
"How come?" asked Tara.
Richie shone the beam of the penlight on a small red button near the right-hand wall beside the door. "Because all walk-in safes have an emergency release button inside, in case you do lock yourself inside. I noticed this one near the door when it first opened. Press that button and it will override all other locking mechanisms, timers, and so on and swing the door open in a few seconds."
"But the maniac is just outside the door."
"Yes," agreed Richie, sounding weaker than ever from his injuries. "So we have to resort to Plan B."
"Plan B?" asked Tara, puzzled.
"Walk-in safes also always have a built in telephone. Separate from the house's other phones. So even if he's cut the phone lines out there, the phone in here should still work."
Pointing the beam of the small torch into the safe, he said, "Help me down the back, that's where they usually put the phones."
"But who do we ring? Will there be a current phone book?"
"In an expensive safe like this, the phone is usually linked directly to either a security company, or the nearest cop station," explained Richie as they located the small phone on the wall at the back of the safe. "So with any luck we won't even have to dial."
Picking up the receiver, Richie said, "Weston estate. There's been a number of murders. We need the police and at least two ambulances."
* * *
As Tara watched on, fascinated, Richie Travers hurriedly summarised what had happened that night at the estate, then hung up.
"See, that wasn't so ..." Richie said, before finally collapsing from his injuries.
Squealing in shock, Tara Weston raced across to attempt to revive him.
* * *
Outside in the basement, Roderick Voss is still debating the best course of action, when he hears sirens outside and the sound of a helicopter overhead.
He looks toward the door to the underground garage, wondering if he can make a break for it that way. But hearing footsteps behind him, he spins round as three police officers run down the basement stairs.
Voss knows that surrender isn't an option. Despite Australia's lame justice system -- notorious for giving brutal mass-murderers the lightest possible sentence -- he knows that having killed the third richest billionaire in the country he will be locked away in solitary confinement for the rest of his life. "One law for killing the rich, and another for killing the poor," he thinks.
So, grabbing the revolver from his vest pocket, he quickly fires off the remaining six shots, killing the three police who crash down the stairs to lie in a heap on the concrete floor in the basement.
"Jesus!" cries a fourth cop. He and two more police leap through the doorway and open fire in the general direction of the wall safe -- where Roderick Voss is standing.
Cursing the parentage of all police, Voss goes to throw his empty revolver at them. However, half a dozen or more rounds slam into him and toss his corpse backwards against the walk-in safe.
* * *
Inside the safe, Tara Weston was cradling Richie Travers's head in her lap, crying from helplessness. When, to her surprise, the phone on the wall above her head suddenly rang.
Gently lowering Richie's head to the floor of the safe, Tara stood up, lifted the receiver, and said, "Hello."
"Is that Tara Weston?" asked a middle-aged, female voice.
"Yes," she replied hesitantly.
"You can press the emergency release button now, love," said the woman. "The police have taken care of the badman."
Hanging up the receiver, Tara hesitated, wondering if it was a trick. If the woman was really in cahoots with the murderer? But hearing Richie moaning, she realised that he needed help desperately. So, almost whimpering in terror, she crawled to the front of the walk-in safe, then felt around the wall till finding the emergency release button.
With a whirring of gears, the door swung open and Tara looked out at nearly a dozen police and emergency services officers.
"Are you all right, love?" asked a police lieutenant, Elaine Maylor.
"Yes. But my friend needs help badly," said Tara, pointing into the safe.
Two ambulance officers raced into the walk-in safe, and after a minute or so they returned with Richie Travers on a collapsible stretcher.
* * *
Five minutes later the stretcher was being loaded into the back of an ambulance at the front door of the Weston estate.
As they placed Richie Travers gently into the ambulance, two police officers, Lieutenant Elaine Maylor and Senior Sergeant Aaron Powell discussed Tara Weston's immediate future: "In the long run she can live with her relatives in New South Wales," said Elaine, "but in the short run she might well have to go into care."
"Perhaps we should take her round to Community Services Victoria," suggested Aaron Powell as dawn finally began to break.
"No, I want to go with Richie!" insisted Tara. "He saved my life!"
Then before the two police officers could stop her, the twelve-year-old climbed into the back of the ambulance.
"Ready to go?" asked the ambulance driver, a grey-haired man of at least sixty.
"Just about," said Elaine Maylor, climbing into the rear of the ambulance with Tara.
Aaron Powell locked the rear door of the vehicle, then patted the side of the van and said, "Okay, take 'er away."
* * *
Despite the objections of Elaine Maylor and others in officialdom, Tara Weston waited in the Royal Melbourne Hospital while they operated on Richie Travers. Then, even after the surgeon's verdict that Richie would recover, Tara sat beside his hospital bed for forty-eight hours, until he finally woke up.
© Copyright 2011
Philip Roberts, Melbourne, Australia