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An Extract from Garry Disher’s New Novel, The Heat
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Sunday, 6 a.m., Wyatt waking fully alert, listening, coiling to a crouch, then standing. The room was safe. He listened to the news, showered, wrapped the fake bandage around his calf and dressed. Hobbled downstairs to the dining room. 

Back in his room he shoved the Ruger and a change of clothing into the book bag and heaved on his crutches along Hastings Street to hail a cab outside the tourist information centre. He directed it up the hill towards Noosa Junction and along the side street where the man named Alan Trask apparently lived. ‘Slow down,’ he said, as if looking for a house number, eyeing the apartment block carefully as the taxi rolled past.

If not for that simple act, he would have died. The bird, inhabiting the space where Wyatt’s skull had been, caught the bullet with a puff of feathers and a spray of blood.

One police car parked at the rear, an unmarked at the kerb. The taxi prowled on, and, at the end, Wyatt grunted and muttered as if to himself, ‘Not home.’ He lifted his voice to the driver: ‘Sorry, change of plans: Mossman Court.’ 

Mossman Court was a little knob of expensive houses across the water from Iluka Islet. Wyatt alighted, gave the driver fifty dollars and said, ‘Keep the change.’ Guessing he’d be more likely to remember a stingy passenger than a generous one. He let the guy see him limp in the direction of a cobbled driveway. 

When the taxi had disappeared back across the little bridge, Wyatt stepped down across a patch of grass to a small arc of sand and stared across at Ormerod’s house. Too far away, too obscured, to know if Ormerod had returned. Why had he run? What was he hiding? 

Perhaps Wyatt’s imaginary disability had blunted his senses. A snap beside his right ear surprised him. He ducked and waved his hand about, trying to spot the miner bird. There. Springing from a tree branch, coming in again at a shallow dive. Wyatt ducked again. 

If not for that simple act, he would have died. The bird, inhabiting the space where Wyatt’s skull had been, caught the bullet with a puff of feathers and a spray of blood. 

Wyatt threw away the crutch and fished out the Ruger as he rolled behind a hedge. He crept the length of the hedge, darting looks above it, trying to pinpoint the shooter. Another shot, wild this time, ricocheting off a fence post and into a window. Now people were calling to one another. Soon there would be alarms. 

He ran. 

Onto Noosa Parade, where he grabbed a mountain bike from under a guy decked out in full Tour de France lycra. Dressed like that, he deserved to have his day ruined. Wyatt shot down the street, the wind in his hair, heading for the river. 

It didn’t last. He didn’t have the stamina to cycle out of trouble and mad pedalling would attract attention. He needed a vehicle. A minute later he dropped the bike, ducked along a couple of alleys and cut through the grounds of Laguna Cove Resort, inland of Gympie Terrace, looking for a car to steal. 

He paused at the resort’s swimming pool. A dozen unoccupied sun lounges spread with towels; people messing about in the water. Snatching a yellow towelling hat and dark glasses, Wyatt strolled out to the car park. He knew the statistics: vehicles were stolen every day because the owners had left them unlocked or with the keys in the ignition. But there was nothing like that here. Nothing on the street, either. 

He walked out onto Gympie Terrace and across the road, checking cars at the kerb, and continued east, coming to a large paved area near tennis courts. It was parking for a motley assortment of 4WDs, hitched to empty boat trailers. Wyatt checked these vehicles, too. 

He turned his attention to the boat ramp that angled into the water. As he stood there a white Holden twin-cab appeared, towing a small powerboat. He watched it reverse down the ramp, the trailer dipping into the water. Male driver and male passenger got out, walked down to the boat, fiddled with the stays holding it onto the trailer. 

Left the keys in the ignition, motor running. 

Wyatt slid into the gap between trailer and rear bumper. He released the tow hitch. Trailer and boat splashed down-ramp into the water, panicking the men, whose instinct was to save the boat, not stop Wyatt. He leapt into the driver’s seat and gunned away from the river. 

It wouldn’t be long before the police were called. They’d be nearby already, investigating the shooting and the bicycle theft. But in the land of small tradesmen, the Holden was legion. If the cops were stopping battered white twin-cabs they’d have to stop a fair few before they found him. The numberplate might sink him however, so he drove to a supermarket and engineered a plate swap with a New South Wales station wagon. 

Then he climbed back in the Holden, changed into another set of clothes from the book bag and headed across to Tewantin. He didn’t know who’d shot at him, but he did know that everything hinged on what Leah Quarrell was up to and where she was now. 

Quarrell had requested witness protection, according to Minto, and Wyatt was guessing they’d take her to a temporary safe house. It would be close by because they’d need regular access to her. Would she be guarded? Yes. If in real danger, she’d need protection, and she’d need watching in case she was simply buying time, hoping to run as soon as they turned their backs. 

They’d have moved her quickly yesterday. Out in the open she was a hindrance, getting in the way, attracting attention, overhearing when they made decisions, using up badly needed personnel. Move her straight to a safe house and place armed officers with her, rotating shifts, 8 a.m. till 4 p.m. till midnight. 

No time to stop at her house to collect toiletries or a change of clothes. Besides, they might find themselves walking into another round of gunshots on a suburban street. You can make do for one night, they’d say. In the meantime, make a list please, Ms Quarrell. One of our officers will collect your things tomorrow. 

That’s how Wyatt saw it. It was instinct, all he had to draw on now that Minto was dead. But could Minto have helped him anyway? It was unlikely the man’s police contacts would know anything about witness protection decisions, methods, databases or safe house locations. 

His only hope: get to Leah Quarrell’s house in Tewantin before protection officers did. 

Plenty of people about. A Sunday morning in spring, school holidays almost over. Dressed in his baggy shorts with sunglasses and the yellow sunhat, Wyatt sat at a coffee-shop sidewalk table on Moorindil Street. Sunday newspaper spread out, teapot, milk and sugar at his elbow, the book bag in his lap. He didn’t want the tea; just the clutter. A dad grabbing five minutes’ peace from the family. 

Not a young dad, but built like one. Most men of Wyatt’s age were running soft, worn down by job stress and petty deceits. Some were balding, others worried about the silver in their hair, a little more each year. They moved slower nowadays. None of which was true of Wyatt, but he tried to sit as if it was. He wouldn’t get away with it forever, but right now he was just some guy. Who happened to have a clear view across the street and part-way down a nearby side street to Leah Quarrell’s house, two doors from the corner. 

The police were there, a handful of uniforms and plain-clothed officers, removing files, a laptop computer, a desktop computer, ledgers, photograph albums. The tourists and the locals sauntered by, eyeing the action. Unwittingly supplying Wyatt with additional cover. 

But had the witness protection officers come and gone? 

Wyatt thought about that and decided no. Major crimes detectives would want to search anything requested by Leah Quarrell before it was delivered to her: clothing pockets, diaries, correspondence, footwear, toiletry bags… 

It was time to move from the coffee shop. Forty minutes was long enough to sit alone, reading, sipping from a cup. 

He got to his feet, tucked the newspaper under his arm and sauntered down to the water, passing Quarrell’s house on the opposite footpath. A uniform stared at him a beat too long, confirming Wyatt’s notion that they’d been told to expect trouble, but Wyatt wasn’t the only rubbernecker taking an interest in the police activity. 

He stopped when he reached the river. Looking back, he saw the police cars pull out. He strolled up to Moorindil Street again. 

This time he stood in the window of Riffs & Reels, flipping through shallow cardboard trays of new and used CDs and DVDs. The place smelled of dust and incense. He was the oldest person there, but no one noticed. The place attracted obsessives in all shapes and sizes. 

Eventually Wyatt saw a plain white sedan nose into Leah Quarrell’s street. It stopped outside Quarrell’s house and the driver, a woman, got out, glanced around once and walked to the front door. She consulted a sheet of paper briefly, then selected a key from a bunch, unlocked the door and went in. 

If she was there to collect a list of Leah Quarrell’s clothing and personal effects, it would be a five-minute task. Wyatt stopped browsing and left the shop and headed for the stolen twin-cab. 

And, as he approached one of the outside tables of the coffee shop, he noticed the intent way a woman drinking coffee was watching Leah Quarrell’s house. Facing away from him, she was dark haired, slim and elegant with more of continental Europe about her than any other woman on the coast that day. A moment later she rose swiftly and strode along the footpath ahead of him, slowing as she reached a white Corolla with a rental sticker. 

Holding back, crouching behind a wheelie bin, Wyatt watched Hannah Sten peer in at the Corolla’s rear seat and the footwell between both rows of seats. After that, she walked around to the other side of the car and checked the front passenger footwell. She’s had training of some kind, he thought. Habits of self-preservation that he used himself. 

Apparently satisfied that her car was empty, Sten pressed the button on her ignition key. She opened the driver’s door, manoeuvred herself onto the seat, lifting one leg in and then the other, and when she was at her most vulnerable, searching for the seatbelt, Wyatt slipped in behind her and ground his pistol barrel into the hinge of her jaw. 

He rasped, ‘Tell me what you’re doing here.’ 

*

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