Damien Innes could feel the wooden floor beneath him. The smell of blood filled his nostrils. His heart was pounding. He couldn’t feel his legs.
“Another flashback?” a voice asked.
Damien opened his eyes and looked around him, dragging his thoughts into the present. He could feel the armrests of the chair, the cane resting against his thigh. A faint, watery light illuminated the sunroom.
Sean stood opposite. “Are you okay?” He asked. His voice was gentle, concerned as he placed the tea tray on the table and sat in the adjacent chair.
“They told me the memories will fade. It’s bullshit. They told me everything will heal, in time. That’s bullshit too,” Damien said, irritated. He remembered everything. How long would it take? Would the nightmares ever go?
“More tea?” asked Sean.
Damien nodded, accepting the mug with trembling hands. A thick woolen jumper, now several sizes too big, sagged over his shrunken frame.
Eight months ago, he’d been a fit young copper working with a taskforce investigating police corruption. And he was in love. His friendship with Sean had slowly ripened into something rich and rare. They’d spent two months house hunting until they found the right place and moved in together.
“Have you thought about the offer to return part-time?”
“I didn’t join the police force to drive a desk!” Damien snapped. He wanted to feel well, strong. He wanted his life back! Whenever he closed his eyes, the memories flooded his mind. “Make one wrong move bitch and I’ll kill him,” said Adam Bowen, pushing the muzzle of the gun hard against Damien’s temple. “Drop the weapon. Do it now!” demanded Bowen, his finger tightening on the trigger. His blue eyes were intent, mouth slightly upturned, lips drawn back showing even, white teeth. “Cath … please do as he asks, please,” Damien could hear his own desperation. “Shut the fuck up,” a hiss in his ear, the gun not moving. Sergeant Cath Yates walked cautiously across the room, her footsteps echoing through the empty house. Her movements were slow and deliberate. She bent, laying her weapon on the floor, experienced eyes moving swiftly and analysing the unexpected situation. Adam Bowen’s arm remained wrapped around Damien’s neck, the gun pressed to his temple, a sinking sensation in his gut and a warm stream of urine running down his leg.
Last week, the sunroom had replaced a hospital room as the outer limits of his world. He felt confined, restricted, like a tiger in a small cage. Was it a sign that he was growing stronger? He reached out, placing a hand on Sean’s arm. The shooting had changed them both; each navigating a new world where the rules were unknown, unwritten, and constantly changing.
He was reluctant to move, his legs lacking the strength to carry him more than a few steps. Physiotherapy and exercise were helping but it was a long, tedious process. Patience was something Damien had learned the hard way; lying face down on that dust covered floor, unable to move.
“I’m sorry,” he said. Taking a long slow breath, he willed the nightmare to retreat, the panic to go. “Damien isn’t involved,” said Yates, her voice quiet and calm. “This is between us. Let him go.” A hollow laugh. “No. He betrayed me. He’s mine!” “He wasn’t part of the deal.” Yates stated, inclining her head towards Damien. “Deals change. He’s my insurance. I don’t trust you! Over there,” said Bowen, pointing towards the wall, his eyes fixed in a pitiless stare. Adrenaline flooded Damien’s body. His muscles twitched. Fight, flight or freeze? The man who now held a gun to his head; a colleague, a man he’d once loved, exposed as someone he’d never known. “Please don’t do this Adam!” he begged. Yates stood unmoving. A loud voice from outside broke the silence. “Bowen,” sound carried by the megaphone. “Come out, hands up. You have five minutes…” Bowen tightened his grip on Damien. “Bitch!” he yelled at Yates. “I knew I couldn’t trust you! He’s dead because of you!” “Adam! No!” Damien cried out. Outside the voice began counting down. Five… Four… Three… For a heartbeat, Bowen was distracted. Yates bent towards her weapon, but Bowen was quicker, his shot hitting her in the chest. Bowen shoved Damien away shooting him in the back. Damien fell to his knees, then forwards onto the dusty floor. A ferrous smell filled his nostrils, bitter on his tongue. He couldn’t move his legs. Yates lay on her back, a trickle of blood dribbled from the corner of her mouth. Bowen moved, slightly. The assault team was waiting. The sniper had one opportunity. He didn’t miss.
“You ought to consider going back to work. Start with one day a week,” Sean’s voice was calm. “Or are you going to take a medical discharge?”
“No! Never. I won’t let him win…” Damien was determined. An acrid taste in his mouth, he could feel the warmth of the blood begin to cool. Lying on his belly, head to one side, he could see the blood soaking Cath’s shirt and dripping onto the bare timber floor.
Sean sat in front of Damien, holding his hands tightly.
“It will take time…” Damien said. “I need time.”
Sean ran one broad fingertip lightly down Damien’s cheek, and under his chin. Reaching over he kissed Damien tenderly. He could see the light in Yates’ eyes begin to fade. Her lips moved. “Hang on,” the shape of her last words was clear. And Damien had.
Damien’s fingertips tingled; his senses stirred by the warmth and closeness of another. His eyes watched Sean’s face, seeing the tumult of expressions, the tension.
“Tell me,” he asked quietly.
Sean stood, walking into the living room. Returning a few minutes later, he carried their laptop, screen open to the news headlines. The words were clear. Shooting hero to be given bravery award: Senior Constable Damien Innes, 29, to be awarded the Peter Mitchell Medal for conspicuous bravery after coming to the rescue of a colleague being held hostage.
“Have you read this bullshit?” Damien demanded.
“Bloody journalist knows fuck all!”
Sean reached out, putting the laptop on the nearby table.
“Damien…?” he asked sitting opposite. “Please. Tell me…I need to know…”
A soft sigh before he spoke. Sean knew the official details of the shooting; he’d been formally interviewed by the Taskforce in the aftermath of the shootings.
“I was working with Adam on the corruption taskforce. He’d been contacted by a source with solid evidence on someone known as The Ringmaster. Adam wanted back up in case everything went pear-shaped. He said he’d cleared it with the boss. I trusted him.”
“Damien, I don’t want what you told the inquiry. I want the rest.”
The question wasn’t casual. What Sean wanted to know was personal. Damien could feel the intensity in his words and realised their future together depended on his answer. There was a long pause before Damien continued speaking. “I went because I was angry with you. You kept saying Adam wasn’t what he appeared to be. I thought you were jealous because Adam and I had been lovers. I wanted to prove you wrong.”
“Cath Yates planned a sting operation to catch Adam?”
Damien nodded. “Because I trusted Adam, she didn’t trust me. She did everything possible to keep me out of it. I’ll never forget her shock when she found me there with Adam. She had the house wired, bugged, she would have caught him. But then Adam grabbed me, a gun to my head…And two people died…if I hadn’t been there, Cath may still be alive…”
“You can’t know that!”
“Adam set me up, used me. I was there, as a back for a corrupt copper! Cath Yates died because of me. I’m no hero,” Damien closed his eyes.
“What will you do?” Sean asked.
“Refuse it,” said Damien, his voice a whisper. “It won’t bring anyone back.” He’d lost more than a friend and partner on that cold, wet day, watching as the light left Yates’ eyes, hearing her final soft breath. Damien’s pain-blurred gaze shifted to the second body in the room. Adam was motionless, face down, arms flung outwards in the shape of a cross. A pool of blood flowed outwards from his head, soaking his hair red. In his muscle memory, Damien’s fingertips followed the curves of the face he’d caressed, loving and being loved.
Adam Bowen had betrayed them both.
“Did you love him?”
“No,” said Damien, his voice low, his hand reaching out to take Sean’s. “I love you…If I quit, he wins, and Cath’s death will be pointless. I’ll go back, a day a week to start with. I don’t want to do this alone…”
Sean picked up the tea tray. “Then we’ll do it together.”