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Red Commodore, Green Gunk

This story is suitable for older, rather than younger, children.
It contains what is referred to as 'moderate coarse language', some mild violence and family issues.
If it were on TV it would probably be classified as PG.
Also, it is set in the late 1980s, hence no references to mobile phones, emails or computers will be found in it.

It wasn't Garry's idea to take the red Commodore. He'd been sprawled idly on the grassy area near the car park when the driver pulled in, got out and walked briskly towards the beach shop.

His gaze had flicked over Garry and dismissed him but under that brief cold brown stare the boy felt an instant of ridiculous and totally unreasonable terror. There was just something in the man's eyes ... sensibly he rejected the idea of being scared of someone who had just looked at him.

The earth didn't shake when BJ plomped himself down beside Garry, but he wouldn't have been surprised if it had. BJ jumping off the jetty made massive waves. Considering that he seemed to exist on a diet of junk food and Coke, that wasn't really surprising.

"Filthy, dude!" BJ said. "C'mon, let's borrow it and go for a cruise." BJ tended to model his speech on film and television sources, and it was generally scattered with a variety of expressions, some current, some out of date and some bizarre. He liked the way he talked, considering himself a tough guy. Most girls considered him a marshmallow. A fat marshmallow, which did nothing for his self image. BJ always had to prove himself.

"He'll be back soon." Garry didn't want to admit, even to himself, that his reluctance was due to fear.

"Nah. He got in a car with another fellow and they took off. I'll open it, you can drive." He was generous. "You're a better driver than I am."

"Don't feel like it." Garry grunted and turned over onto his stomach. BJ tossed his empty Coke can in the general direction of the nearest bin.

"Chicken, are ya?"

Some taunts never fail. Three minutes later, Garry eased the car gently out of the car park and along the beachfront road. Beside him BJ opened a packet of chips and kicked idly at the briefcase lying on the floor.

The car was a dream to handle. And Garry, as BJ had said, was a good driver. It was a pity, as his Mum and Dad had said on numerous occasions, that his attitude towards school work wasn't as good. It was a pity also that as yet he wasn't old enough to possess a driver's licence.

He had an older sister to live up to. Lisa was a student at UWA but currently home on holidays. Earlier than day their parents had left for a brief business trip to Perth. Garry had promised (with fingers crossed, just in case) to be good and Lisa had promised to keep an eye on him. No way, he'd decided, and had promptly taken off downtown while she was on the phone to her boyfriend Drew.

Drew was nineteen, a year older than Lisa. But he was unemployed and living with his father, who was also out of a job. The difference was that Drew was desperate to work while the older man was just as desperate to avoid work.

Halfway to Capel, Garry realised he and BJ were in big trouble. Not the biggest, but bad enough. He'd passed an ancient blue Ford Falcon going in the opposite direction and had both recognised and been recognised by the driver and passenger. He had completely forgotten Lisa and Drew had been going to Bunbury. Just his luck to meet them coming back.

"Oh, oh," he muttered. In the rear vision mirror he saw the vehicle turn to follow him. He wasn't impressed, and he was damned sure Lisa and Drew weren't, either. In spite of BJ's flippant attitude to taking the red Commodore, it was in fact the first time either of the boys had done such a thing. He continued driving steadily, but more slowly, until the other car was closing in behind him. Then he braked sharply and did a sudden U-turn that made BJ sit up and stare.

"Hey, whatcha doin', dude?"

"Taking this back where we got it from. That's me sister back there, her an' her boyfriend. She'll bloody well kill me when she catches up with us."

BJ looked disgusted at Garry's rapid loss of bravado.

"Scareda ya sister? Gawd, whatta wimp!" He rolled his eyes, dumped the empty chips packet on the floor and picked up the briefcase, fiddling with it curiously.

Garry knew he could easily beat Drew back into town and to the car park by the beach, even without speeding. The Falcon was a heap.

In fact, the vehicle belonged not to Drew but to his father. However after the older man's second conviction for driving under the influence his son had quietly relieved him of the keys. He had informed his father that he would drive him anywhere he wanted, and that way the roads would be safer for everyone.

This opinion was shared by the police, especially by the young officers who had stopped and breath tested Drew after recognising the vehicle. He had informed them very clearly that he had not been drinking, did not drink and did not intend ever doing so.

Drew spent a large proportion of his unemployment benefit on caring for the battered old vehicle, buying petrol and parts and generally mollycoddling it along to prevent it from dying in the middle of the highway. Garry however felt nothing but distaste for the Falcon. Riding in it was only marginally better, in his opinion, than walking, and being seen riding in it was the ultimate humiliation.

In spite of his panic however he drove carefully. He slipped off the highway and down to the beachfront without mishap. There he parked the red Commodore less than twenty metres from its original position. Lisa and Drew were probably not far behind, he was sure of that. But if he and BJ could get far enough away from the vehicle and brazen it out, he might even be able to convince her that she'd made a mistake.

Not much chance of that, he thought sourly. She'd never give up. She'd be at him, and then when their parents returned and she blabbed, they'd be at him. At least he didn't think the cops would be at him too.

He used the edge of his more than slightly grotty tee shirt to wipe the steering wheel and anything else he could remember having touched. Garry knew about fingerprints. Then he jumped out of the car, his sharp eyes taking in the fortunately still peaceful scene. If he and BJ were around when Lisa came along, peaceful it wouldn't be.

Fortunately also the owner of the car was nowhere to be seen. If he had been around anywhere Garry would have gone elsewhere. Fast.

"C'mon, let's get outta here." A hundred metres away, he stopped and his eyes widened in disbelief and disgust. "What the hell have you got there?"

BJ held the briefcase up as if shielding himself from Garry's rage.

"Ah - souvenir? It might have something valuable in it."

"You bloody idiot!" Garry was ready to go off his face completely. He didn't really like to think of the expression in those eyes when their owner discovered that not only had his car been borrowed for a joyride, but that his property had been stolen as well. It was however too late to insist BJ return it. He turned his back and hurried off down side streets and through car parks towards the river, hoping to put a safe distance between himself and the owner of the red car. Telling BJ to return the case would be useless, he knew, and he didn't waste any further breath on the matter.

BJ, unintimidated and unworried, followed him and sauntered down the river bank. He sat down casually on the grass and opened the briefcase carefully. It had been locked, but then locks never bothered BJ for very long. He pulled the contents out and surveyed them in disappointment. "Ah, damn. Nothing here." There was a tourist map of the south west, a manila folder and typed sheets, gibberish to BJ, and a polystyrene container. He frowned and eased it open and stared at the six glass phials of thick green liquid. "Errh, Garry, I dunno what we've got here." He shook his head. He craved a can of Coke and a pizza. "But it don't look good."

"No." Garry's attention had been directed towards the road. At the sight of Drew's heap pulling to a halt he shook his head sadly. "It sure doesn't." At least it was Drew, and not the owner of the red Commodore. Garry didn't want to set eyes on him ever again.

Lisa was furious. Lisa was actually a bit of a pain in the neck, Garry had long ago decided. Maybe that was why he didn't mind going out of his way to annoy her whenever he thought he might have even the slightest chance of getting away with it.

This time however, he had to admit she was really in the right and he was in the wrong and he was afraid he wasn't going to get away with anything.

When she paused for breath Garry motioned weakly at the briefcase.

"Uh, Lisa. I think that fellow might be up to something real mean."

"Stealing other people's cars is pretty mean," she snapped. "How do you think Drew would feel if someone stole his car?" Garry looked scornful.

"Steal that heap? Get real. But look - BJ - ah - found this - "

"In that car? He stole it, you mean?"

"But Lisa - look at it." He wheedled, little brother to big sister, and she relented enough to glance at the contents of the manila folder. Her eyes went wide.

"Oh my god." She put her hand to her mouth and sat down, skimming through the papers. Then she spoke resolutely. "Police station. Come on."

"No!" Both Garry and BJ howled her down and BJ snatched the papers and crammed them back into the briefcase. "I'll get rid of it. I'll throw it in a bin. Or in the river!"

"For heaven's sake don't do that." Lisa took a step towards him. "That case is dangerous, BJ. Those bottles - " She'd glanced at them curiously before she'd started on the technical data. " - they've got poison in them."

BJ's plump face went white and he almost thrust the briefcase into her hands.

"Here, I don't want it after all. You can have it. Poison? What kinda poison? Argh, I'm gonna die in agony!"

She rolled her eyes heavenwards unsympathetically.

"Don't be ridiculous. It won't hurt you. Not people. But ... " For a few moments she stood thoughtfully on the grass, the briefcase clutched to her. Then she made up her mind and spoke briskly. "You could be right. We'll take it home and put it in a safe place. When Mum and Dad get home on Sunday night we'll show it to them and they can decide what we ought to do."

After all, she reasoned, someone carrying such a potentially lethal load would have to have a very convincing cover story to protect himself should the case be tampered with. He'd probably put up a much better showing to the law than the four of them. Especially when one considered how they had come by the case. Lisa had come to the regretful conclusion that even at eighteen, she wasn't quite as grown up as she liked to imagine. Parental help and advice was definitely needed here.

She didn't even consider Drew's father as possible 'parental help'.

Garry gave her a weak grin of relief. She scowled at him and continued. "That'll give you two long enough to think up some more or less convincing tale about where and how you came by it. Perhaps."

Drew frowned. He didn't like the sound of any of this.

"Lisa - what is that stuff? What have these two little idiots got themselves into this time?" Drew was what one of Garry's friends from school referred to snidely as 'the strong silent type' because he had so little to say for himself and Lisa always had a great deal to say.

She pulled a face. "I'm not exactly sure just yet, Drew. I'll have to read through all this carefully. "I do know it's not the sort of thing that ought to be floating around here anywhere." She looked at Garry with exasperation but affection. "You really are idiots, you know, to try stealing a car - "

"Oh, it's easy when you know how," BJ informed her airily. "And it's not like it was really stealing. We were just borrowing it. Well, he wasn't using it. We were gonna put it right back after we'd had a ride."

She gave them an icy stare.

"That is stealing. Shut up, BJ." She addressed herself to Garry. " - but this time you might just have stumbled onto something important. Let's go home. And Garry, you are not going anywhere without me until Mum and Dad get home. Drew and I are going to Meelup tomorrow and you are going to come too, got that? And no scarpering off downtown or anywhere else tonight."

She swung back to BJ. "And as for you - don't you say one single word about this, not to anyone, you got that, BJ? Not one word."

He shrugged. "Okay. See ya." He slouched off and the other three headed for Drew's car, Garry unenthusiastic but for once deciding compliant silence was his best course of action. Half way there she relented and called out.

"Want a lift home, BJ?"

"Oh, thanks." He hurried along and got into the back with Garry. Lisa half turned and regarded them speculatively.

"Where did you leave the car, Garry?"

"Down the beach. In the car park, just near where it was." Suspiciously. "Why?"

She smiled. "Let's take a little drive along there then, Drew, and see what's doing."

"What?" Garry nearly jumped out of his skin. "Why?"

Lisa explained patiently. "Look, if there's a horde of cops around, and the owner's carrying on like any ordinary citizen whose property's been stolen, than maybe, just maybe, he's honest and has some good reason for having this stuff. But if he's saying nothing but just looking worried, then I'll know we're doing the right thing hanging on to this." She put the briefcase on the floor and Drew sighed and took off. Arguing with Lisa, even if he could have thought of an argument to put up, would have been useless.

Garry could have told her that this was not a good idea. But she would have paid no more attention to him than to Drew. Probably less. Lisa was in the habit of doing exactly what she wanted anyway. Even at home. But if he tried that sort of thing, he got yelled at. Garry sat slumped in the back of the car in sullen silence. BJ sat and thought about food.

But as they passed the beach car park both boys sat up and stared. The red Commodore was where they had left it. But there were now two men standing beside it, and near them a small Japanese vehicle was also parked. BJ gave a yelp of excitement.

"That's the other one! And his car. Hey, they look two mean type fellas, don't they?"

Passing, Lisa caught a quick impression of two men, one tall and bulky, the other scrawny and rat faced. They both looked up as the Falcon limped past, and for a few horrible seconds Garry was aware of that cold brown stare on them all.

BJ turned to gawp through the back window and Garry grabbed at him.

"Moron! He saw me, he recognised me. He's gonna get me! Lisa - " His face twisted in fear and he huddled in the corner of the back seat. "Let's just get home, quick!"

The cold brown eyes of Ross Delaney had indeed recognised the boy, but they had also noted and memorised the licence plate of Drew's car. The man pulled out a biro and notepad and scrawled it down quickly. Then he turned to his ratty little companion. Leaving the briefcase in the car while he had gone off with his partner had been done in a moment of carelessness, he admitted to himself.

But it was a moment of carelessness those kids would pay for. He hadn't imagined there would be so much crime in a country town like this, that a man's car wasn't safe left locked in a public car park. Oh yes, they would pay.

"Relax," he said comfortably. "That's the kid I saw, and the one you saw. I'd be prepared to swear they took the car. They both looked as guilty as hell. And there were a couple of other kids with them. I got their number, Joe, so I'll get on the phone tonight to a mate of mine in Perth. He'll be able to give me a name and address, no worries." He frowned to himself. "Considering as how they came by the briefcase, even if they get it open, they're not likely to run to the cops with it." He smiled briefly at the other man and reached into his car, taking out the abandoned chips packet. He scrunched it viciously in his hand and tossed it to the ground. "Tomorrow, we'll get onto them and get the stuff back. Then we can get on with the job we're being paid to do." The smile turned nasty. "And then, goodbye to the wine industry down here."

Joe Petkin snarled in the direction Drew's car had gone.

"And goodbye to them, too?"

Delaney shrugged. "Maybe. We'll see."

Back home, Lisa repeated to Garry that he was to stay home that night. Drew had gone off to inform his father than he was staying the night with Garry and Lisa. They had both decided this was a good idea. Just in case ...

Although it was midwinter the past few days had been clear and free of rain but cold. The idea of a trip to Meelup however did nothing for Garry. With a safe distance between him and the owner of the Commodore, some of his bravado had returned.

"Meelup? Jeeze, it's the middle of winter! What ya gonna do at Meelup? Snuggle up ta Drew, I s'pose. What am I gonna do?"

"I don't care. But you're coming with us and that's all there is to it!"

"You're as bossy as Mum and Dad!" he shouted. "Stop ordering me around! Anyway, when I'm sixteen I'm gonna leave home!"

"Good," Lisa snapped back. "If you've still such an obnoxious little toad then as you are now I'll bloody well help you pack!"

"Don't you swear at me. Mum and Dad would be wild if they heard you talking like that."

"And they wouldn't be wild with you, I suppose, for stealing a car - "

"Borrowing it. BJ said we'd only borrowed it. We were gonna take it back."

"Stealing it. And not just any car. Probably a criminal's car, for god's sake." Then she stopped and looked at his narrow little face, puckered up and tearful. "Oh Garry, don't start bawling now. Everything'll turn out all right." She put her hand on his arm and he pulled away and then hung his head.

"Ah, shit, Lisa, we didn't mean any harm. It was just for fun."

"Fun. Some fun," she retorted tartly. "One day you and that bloody BJ are going to get into real trouble, just having fun." Then she smiled. "Get me some eggs, will you. I'll make a cake for tomorrow. You can ring BJ up and ask him if he wants to come along with us. You can ask him if he'll come and stay here tonight too if you want."

"Yeah. Okay." They smiled slowly and awkwardly at each other. Each decided maybe the other wasn’t quite so bad after all. At least not all the time.

Drew returned with Chinese food for dinner; BJ accepted Garry's invitation to stay the night and turned up with pizza and cool drink. Dinner turned out to be a major event, with masses of food to choose from.

They were totally unaware that not five kilometres away Ross Delaney and Joe Petkin sat in their motel room. Armed with a name and address, albeit that of Drew's father, they planned to retrieve their briefcase the next day.

Delaney's contact had been very efficient, at the same time jeering at their problems. Getting his car stolen by a couple of young punks was pretty stupid, he had told Delaney, and the man had not been amused. Those kids really were going to regret their actions ...

But it could certainly wait until the next day, he had pointed out to Petkin. And if by chance there was more trouble than they expected, then Petkin could deal with it. He, after all, in spite of being physically the smaller of the two, was the brawn of their partnership. Delaney considered himself the brains. In reality he did not particularly like Petkin. This would be their last joint operation. He'd see to that, one way or another.

Garry would share his room with BJ, Drew would have Lisa's room and she intended to sleep in their parents' bed. As he watched his sister and Drew saying goodnight - a process that seemed to take a very long time - Garry sniggered.

"You make sure you stay away from her after I go t' bed, too. Mum keeps going on at Lisa, telling her how she wants to be a mother in law before she's a grandmother. I know what you - " Lisa went pink and she snapped at Garry as she pulled abruptly away from Drew. There really was nothing like a rotten little brother to inhibit one, she thought.

"Shut up, Garry!"

She stayed up for a long time after the boys had gone to bed. She sat and read the screed of biochemical notes accompanying the six glass phials. Then she reread them very thoughtfully. It was midnight before she eventually went to bed, the briefcase locked again and tucked safely away under the bed.

Next morning Ross Delaney paid an early morning visit to Drew's father, who received him bleary eyed and hangover; his usual morning condition. The man was easily deceived by Delaney's casual impersonation of a plain clothes police officer and answered all his questions without hesitation. He gave the information out that Drew usually drove his car, but didn't explain the reason. He told Delaney about Lisa, and the fact that she had a revolting little brother, and gave the man her address. If they weren't there, he said, they might have gone to Dunsborough or Meelup. They often did, he said. He didn't know why Drew so seldom brought her home.

Ross Delaney eyed the generally unkept state of the house and said nothing.

There weren't many people at the beach. In summer, Meelup was almost literally crawling with people. Now in mid winter it was practically deserted and they had no difficulty getting a picnic spot. It was so empty that BJ and Garry nearly came to blows over exactly where they would sit.

They compromised by sitting where Lisa and Drew decided. After all, they had the food.

There was cold meat, a collection of fruit and vegetables, sandwiches, muesli bars and the cake Lisa had made. Garry had put in half a dozen cans of Coke and BJ produced a couple of large bags of chips. Seeing them, Lisa had raised her eyebrows and shook her head at him.

"You eat too much junk food, BJ. You'll probably drop dead of a heart attack when you're thirty."

"So?" He attacked the food, scowling at her when she put the chips out of reach and offered him carrots and cold chicken.

His mouth full of sandwich, Garry looked up from the food to see the bright red Commodore, followed closely by a small white Japanese car, ease its way into the near deserted car park. He elbowed BJ, who took one look and spluttered on the chips he had been able finally to liberate from Lisa. She and Drew were engrossed in each other and did not immediately notice the source of their distraction. However she did reach out an almost casual hand to thump BJ between the shoulder blades.

Then Drew noticed the cars. He blinked, looked at the two men who had just got out and sighed. "Oh, oh."

Garry jumped to his feet. "I've had enough to eat. Let's go home. Let's go into Dunsborough. Let's go anywhere, Lisa - "

"What?" She stared up at him. "What are you warbling on about now?"

Drew nudged her. "We've got company, Lisa. Trouble by the look of it."

Then the two men were approaching them across the grass and it was too late to go anywhere. Delaney cast a quick appraising glance over their small group, Petkin close behind him.

Lisa was annoyed to find herself watching Delaney in fascination. We're like four bloody helpless little rabbits, she told herself angrily. Sitting here and waiting for the big bad hungry foxes to gobble us all up.

The trouble was, that unlike his ratty little companion, this man didn't look like he could be a villain. He probably was, but he looked more like a cop than anything else. He was big and tall and moved gracefully. Like the alien character Brian Dennehy had played in Cocoon, she thought absently. But he did have nasty eyes. They were a chilly hard brown. He stopped not far away and looked at them all very levelly and directly. She felt cold.

BJ's voice, cheeky and shrill, broke the silence.

"Plenty more beach thataway, dudes," he said. "Why dontcha push off?"

Delaney gave him an icy stare.

"Shut up, kid. I'll forget you stole my car. After all, you didn't damage it. But I want my briefcase back."

Lisa noticed, with very short lived and almost malicious amusement, that BJ didn't try to quibble about the difference between borrowing and stealing with this man.

"Briefcase? What briefcase?" Garry's voice was high pitched with fear and excitement. His innocence was also totally unconvincing.

Delaney glanced up and down the beach and reached under his jacket. Four pairs of eyes widened in shocked anticipation. He looked momentarily exasperated and pulled out a wallet which he flipped open at an ID photo which he waved negligently and quickly at them.

"You kids took on more than you realise. That briefcase has official and top secret material in it. And I want it back."

Drew stared. "You work for the government?"

Putting the wallet away, Delaney smiled. This was too easy.

"Not so loudly now. We don't have to let everyone else know what's going on. Now where is it?"

"Idiots!" Drew said to the other boys. "Now look what you've got us into. Your parents are gonna kill you, Garry, when they find out." Beside him, Lisa stood up slowly.

"Maybe not." Her voice was calm, a great deal calmer than she felt. She looked at the man and held out her hand. "Let me have a good look at that ID." His face darkened with sudden anger and she continued. "No, I thought not. You don't work for the government after all."

So it wasn't going to be that easy after all. Delaney scowled. It could even be a great deal more awkward than he had anticipated. He flipped his jacket back and let them see the pistol in its shoulder holster.

"I don't want to have to use this. Just give me the case and we'll both be gone. Well?"

Lisa sat down heavily. "Oh Garry, just what have you two kids done?"

"Me? It was his idea. And he took the case." He pointed to BJ.

"Oh. So where is it now?" Delaney demanded. BJ pointed to Drew.

"He took it offa me." The older boy shrugged and spread his arms wide.

"I don't have it. What was in it anyway? Money? The Crown Jewels perhaps? Or just your lunch?"

"Hardly," Delaney snapped. He sighed and pulled the gun out. The nearest other people on the beach were well over a hundred metres away and behind his back, down on the sand by the water's edge. No one else was in a position to see the weapon except the startled little group in front of him. He considered then pointed the gun at Drew and addressed Lisa. "You. You're the brightest one out of this little lot. What's your name?"

"Lisa," she whispered.

"Good. Mine's Delaney. Now Lisa, being the brightest, you would know where my briefcase is. That's true, isn't it?"

She nodded silently, miserably. Without moving either the pistol or his gaze Delaney raised his other hand and beckoned to Petkin, who had remained a few steps behind him. His rat face eager and unpleasant, the other man came closer and Delaney addressed him curtly. "You can baby-sit these two - " He indicated Drew and BJ, " - while this one and her smart arse little brother can take me to where they've put the case."

"It's here," Lisa said in a very small voice. "In the boot of the car."

"Get it." He almost laughed, but it was not a pleasant sound. "That wasn't such a smart thing to do, was it now?"

Silently she retrieved the case and handed it to him. Delaney took it and put the pistol away and in the same second Petkin took his out. Satisfied that the briefcase appeared not to have been tampered with, Delaney nodded and swung it casually from his hand. Lisa did not give the sigh of relief she felt.

"Right." He smiled thoughtfully. It was a nasty expression. "Now these two can help me - ah - distribute it. Poetic justice, I'd call it."

Drew, his face white and tense, stood up and faced him angrily.

"Leave them alone, you bas - "

He got no further, as Delaney's almost casual blow sent him sprawling on the grass.

"Don't speak to your elders like that, kid. Be grateful I didn't break your neck for you. And attacking me is not going to help them. They won't come to any harm with me as long as you behave yourself." He turned to Petkin, who was holding his pistol almost lovingly. "I'll meet you in a couple of hours, Petkin. I'll be waiting somewhere along Caves Road before the turnoff to Gracetown, okay."

"Right." Petkin jerked his head at Drew and BJ. "What about these two?"

Delaney regarded them coldly and shrugged.

"Suit yourself. But if you decide to get rid of them make sure it looks like an accident. Young maniacs are always running their cars off the road and killing themselves."

"No!" Lisa cried out and he half turned at her.

"Don't start anything stupid now, or I'll off them myself right here and now. Is that what you want?"

"No. Please."

He pointed to his car. "Do you have a driver's licence? Then get in. You can drive. And as for you - " He seized Garry's arm and twisted it painfully. "Get in the back with me. Now Lisa, drive carefully. Let's go."

Drew and BJ watched helplessly as they drove off. Then they turned back to Joe Petkin, who regarded them both nastily in ominous silence. He looked almost happy at the situation, but he was the only one.

Lisa, directed by Delaney, had driven in silence along Caves Road, coming to a halt in a small gravel area beside one of the many vineyards in the district.

"This is a very simple operation," the man said, almost pedantically, as he got out of the car to stand by her. He held one of the glass phials in one hand and Garry's ear gripped firmly in the other. The boy winced and tried to pull away but his grip tightened. "Don't be so bloody stupid, Garry. Here, Lisa, give me the carkeys and take this. Go over to the fence now. Take the top off the bottle and throw the whole thing right in among the vines. As far as you can. Try to hit one of those stakes, so the glass will shatter."

"What?" She stared at him. "What is this stuff anyway? What's it going to do?" She already knew the answer to this, but she wondered just exactly how much Delaney knew about what he was doing. It seemed more likely to her that he and the other man were simply doing a job for money. After all, neither of them acted or spoke like people who could understand all the biochemical data that was in the manila folder.

Damn it all, she was a second year science student, one of the brightest in her group, and some of it had been well beyond her!

"It's an airborne virus. Do your best to make sure the glass smashes, won't you." He twisted Garry's ear. "Then the fluid can evaporate more easily. It'll attack the vines. They're all bare now, the middle of winter, but after this they won't have any fruit. They'll wither and die, pretty quickly too, I believe. The effect spreads very rapidly. It's very contagious. Bingo! Soon, no more grapes, no more wine and no more vineyards either - "

"That's awful." Lisa froze, the phial in her hand, and he snapped at her.

"Get on with it. And don't try anything silly, or little brother really will be very sorry." He moved his hand threateningly towards his jacket, where she knew he carried the gun, and she nodded her head shakily.

"All right, all right, I'll do it. Just don't hurt him - please." She leaned over the low fence and threw the phial in among the vines. He heard the sharp sound as the glass shattered against a stake and nodded in satisfaction.

"Good. One down and five to go." He jerked his head towards the car. "Get back in and I'll give you the keys."

Unenthusiastically, realising she had no choice, Lisa helped dispose of the remaining phials of fluid at the vineyards he directed her to. She wouldn't let herself think about Drew and BJ, left with the noxious Petkin.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked once and he grinned.

"Money, of course. A great deal of money."

"But - all the vineyards are going to lose all their vines. There won't be a grape crop next year. An awful lot of people around here rely on the industry, but now it's going to be ruined. The economy of the south west could collapse. It probably will. And if that virus is as contagious as you say, then eventually all the vineyards in the state could suffer."

"Quite so," he said equably. "You're a bright girl, aren't you? Do you have a job?"

"Not yet. I'm a student."

"Oh. Where? What do you study?"

She went tense then, glad he was seated in the back and that hopefully he wouldn't be able to tell that she was lying. She was sure that her face would betray her.

"At Uni. I'm doing an Arts course. I'll probably end up being a teacher." All she needed now, she thought wryly, was for Garry to blab that she was doing science, not arts, and Delaney could become suspicious. After all, the data on the virus had been very detailed, even if she hadn't totally understood it all. Fortunately her brother remained silent, huddled in the corner of the back seat.

It really was very lucky Delaney hadn't bothered to observe closely the behaviour of the fluid containing the virus when she had thrown the phials in among the vines. It was unlikely that the green fluid, which would be lying in sluggish pools before slowly seeping into the ground, had even remotely resembled the anticipated behaviour of the airborne virus. That would have quickly evaporated, carrying its deadly load.

The washing up detergent that she had so very carefully substituted for the viral fluid the previous night just didn't do that sort of thing.

After the last phial had been disposed of he jerked his head at Garry, standing holding his hand protectively over his bruised ear.

"Get into the back, sit still and don't do anything. Got that?"

White faced, Garry nodded and obeyed, his slight form seeming even smaller and frailer than usual. Lisa got into the driver's seat again and Delaney sat comfortably beside her. He was relaxed now but she was tense and apprehensive.

"Soon," he said, almost gently, "we'll go and find a nice quiet little bit of bushland. Where we won't be disturbed."

Lisa stared, horrified at the implications behind his words.

"That's not fair!"

"Fair? You expected me to be fair? Don't be a fool."

"You said you weren't going to hurt us. You said - " She shook her head desperately. "Don't hurt Garry, please."

"I'm not going to hurt either of you." He looked tired. "I'm a business man, Lisa. Not a criminal. Not a thug like Petkin." Garry made a stifled sound of derision and Delaney turned to scowl at him ferociously. Then he continued, patting at his side where the gun was. "I carry this, sure, but I've never used it. I'm not sure that I could - and certainly not on either of you. But what you have got to realize is that you and your friends got yourselves into this mess. You've got only yourselves to blame now." He turned to look at Garry again. "Or you can just blame him if you want."

Garry groaned. "I'm never gonna steal anything ever again as long as I live."

"Oh I believe you." Delaney gave a short ugly laugh. "Like I said, I'm a business man. Hurting or damaging something, like the wine industry for example, doesn't bother me, as long as I get paid enough for what I have to do. But people - and especially people I could like - " He stretched out one hand to touch Lisa's face and she recoiled. " - I couldn't hurt you. I find it impossible to hurt people."

Then his face hardened and they all heard the sound of the approaching vehicle. Lisa and he both glanced into the rear vision mirror and saw the small white car coming up behind them and he nodded in satisfaction. "Petkin however doesn't find it at all difficult. Actually he rather enjoys it. What will happen to you will depend on what he did to the other two." He shook his head. "Sorry. Now get out of the car, both of you."

But as the vehicle pulled to a halt behind them and the driver jumped out his expression changed to one of almost comical dismay. Lisa's face lit up with delight and relief. She had never before in her life been so pleased to see anyone.

Drew was holding Joe Petkin's pistol as he approached them. Gingerly and very unprofessionally for sure, but it was pointed clearly in Delaney's direction. Above it Drew's expression was determined.

Quickly, without needing to be prompted, Lisa and Garry moved away from Delaney, who just stood there and regarded the young man gravely. Then he smiled. It was almost a nice smile, except that Lisa knew what he had had in mind for her and Garry.

"Well. Planning on being a hero, are you now?"

"If I were you," Drew said quietly, ignoring the taunt, "I'd get the hell out of here just as soon as I could. Your pal Petkin is locked in the boot of my car back at Meelup. He won't be at all happy when he wakes up. It's entirely up to you whether you go back to rescue him or not."

"I see," Delaney said seriously. "When he wakes up? Ah, what happened to him?"

Drew grinned. "BJ sat on him." Garry chortled appreciatively and Lisa giggled. Drew continued. "I dropped BJ off in Dunsborough to get the law. They probably won't believe a word he says so you might have a bit of time to get away."

The older man pointed. "You have Petkin's gun. You could stop me."

Drew glanced down at the weapon in distaste and shook his head. He spoke candidly.

"I don't really think I could use it. Not now, anyway, now that I know Lisa and Garry are safe. If you'd hurt them it would be different. The cops are going to catch up with you anyway. Stay here and wait for them or go away, it's up to you. Just leave us all alone now." Delaney nodded at them and then he was gone. Lisa ran to Drew and put her arms around him and leaned against him thankfully.

"Oh, I am so glad to see you."

"Me too. Just a minute." He leaned in through the open window of Petkin's car and dumped the pistol onto the seat. "Ugh. Guns. I hate guns." Then his arms were around Lisa and they were both oblivious of Garry, standing nearby. He watched them with a mixture of embarrassment, fascination and disgust at such blatant soppiness. In fact he wished someone would hug him.

It was not until the sound of the police siren intruded that they pulled apart. As the two cars, with BJ waving excitedly from the back seat of the first, pulled in behind them Drew pointed with one hand.

"He went thataway. We've got his licence number too. But be careful, he's got a gun." Within seconds the second car was off in pursuit, BJ semi disgusted because they had refused to allow him to go with them.

Garry looked hopeful. "Y' don't suppose they'd let us have his car for a reward? That Commodore was a real dream machine to handle." He caught a number of pairs of disapproving eyes upon him and shook his head sadly. "Nah. I guess not. And we did help him spread that virus. We helped him kill all the grapevines."

One police officer shook his head. His companion was busy on the two way. "You really didn't have any choice. Co-operating with him was the smartest and safest thing for you both to do."

His companion called to him from the vehicle. "They've got him. He didn't cause any trouble, just gave himself up when he saw them." Lisa nodded slightly.

"I'm - glad of that." Then, holding Drew's hand, she moved over to her brother. "It's all right, Garry. Really it is." She hugged him to her with her free arm. "I put that green gunk in a safe place at home." She giggled. "He's going to be really mad when he discovers he's been carefully watching me throw containers of washing up detergent into all those vineyards." She continued and explained to them all what she had done.

Garry stared at her and then all four burst into laughter of relief and amusement.

Delaney was not going to see the funny side of this operation. It was likely however that he and Joe Petkin would have long enough in prison to reflect on how neatly they had been tricked by an eighteen year old girl.

And all because Garry and BJ had been unable to resist the temptation of the red Commodore. It was definitely however the last time either of them would so much as consider taking someone else's property. Even BJ was cured of quibbling over semantics.