They took her away from me.
I mumbled a protest through the haze of pain and exhaustion that had
turned me into little more than a zombie. I'll never be able to watch a zombie
movie again without remembering this night, I thought.
"It's all right – we have to move her somewhere else to take care of her.
She's hurt worse than you," I was told. "We need to treat you, too. There's a
gunshot wound in your shoulder."
I couldn't remember how long it had been since I'd last slept, so it took a
few seconds to register what she'd said. Gunshot wound. My shoulder. Oh
yeah, it hurt. I couldn't help her 'til that was sorted. Hospital staff would take
care of her until I was okay.
The pain began to dull as a local anaesthetic took effect. I turned to look at
the mess of blood my right shoulder had become. The smell of disinfectant
jolted my brain out of sleep and most of the way to alertness. All that blood
and it was barely more than a graze. A few stitches would sort that.
One of the hospital staff held a clipboard while she spoke to two police
officers just out of earshot. She nodded, looked grim and came over. She
started firing questions at me.
"I was shot."
"A homicidal lunatic with a gun and bad aim."
The next question came tersely. "Her name?"
"What happened to her?"
"Looks like someone tried to kill her."
"Was that you?"
"No, it was the homicidal lunatic and his mates, for all I know."
"What's your relationship to her?"
"Friend." What the hell, I thought. She'd probably agree with that, for the
moment, at least.
"There. Done." The nurse stitching up my shoulder was cheerful, glad to
be finished with me. "Now I'll show you to your room – just overnight..."
"I want to see her."
"She's still in Emergency."
"I want to see her," I repeated.
"Only family are allowed. She's in a critical condition..."
"Which is why I want to see her."
"But you can't..."
"Take me to where she is, now."
Nurse Grim was reluctant, but Caitlin wasn't that far away. Instead of a
normal Emergency Department curtained cubicle, they'd put her in the room
for child patients, with cheerful pictures and mobiles on the ceiling. Small
though she was, I hadn't made the mistake of thinking she was a child.
Nurse Grim stopped to speak in a low voice to an orderly outside. I
accosted a nurse on her way out of Caitlin's room.
"How is she?"
"She's fighting us. Calls out for someone and tries to get up. We can't do
anything for her unless she calms down."
ything for her unless she calms down."
I glanced inside and saw someone with a syringe, advancing on her.
"Please – don't hurt her!" I blurted out.
The orderly blocked my path. "You're not family..."
"I'm the one she's calling for."
"You said your name was Nathan Miller, and..."
"But she doesn't know that." I pushed past him.
The syringe-wielding nurse stared at me, her mouth open. Caitlin
struggled to sit up and grabbed the syringe from the distracted nurse. "Don't
let them hurt me again!" For an instant, I saw her face. Her eyes had hell in
I approached her slowly, looking deep into her tortured eyes, avoiding
looking at the injuries that caused her so much pain. "I'm here. We're in a
hospital and they're trying to help you." I kept my voice calm and steady.
She sagged back against the bed as she took this in, her eyes never leaving
mine. The syringe rolled across the floor as it slipped from her fingers.
"So... tired," she managed to say, "but... scared to sleep. What if... I wake
up... you're gone and I'm still... there... with them?" She didn't look away,
even as her eyes filled with tears. "Please."
"I'll be here. When you wake up I'll be here. Here, in hospital with you," I
promised recklessly, forcing myself to smile as I reached to touch her hair.
"Thank you," she murmured, closing her eyes.
I waited until I was sure she was asleep before I said anything else. "You cut her hair off. She won't like that." Her long hair was now a short, dark cap
that curled slightly around her ears.
"She didn't," came the nurse's voice behind me. "That must have been
what woke her up. But we couldn't leave it – it was matted with blood and
sand. We had to clean the wounds on her back. I've never seen so many
ulcers, especially ones that bad. It's a good thing she's unconscious for this,
because those must really hurt..."
She talked as she worked. I tried to keep my eyes firmly fixed on Caitlin's
sleeping face, so I didn't see the extent of her injuries, but occasionally my
eyes would stray to the subject of the nurse's running commentary. Every
time I wanted to close my eyes in horror at the thought of what Caitlin had
been through, but I didn't. Instead, I dragged my eyes back to her face.
When the nurse had finished with her now-cooperative patient, she said,
"Now I'm taking her up to her room..."
"And I'm taking you to yours," an orderly behind me chimed in.
"If you think you're taking us to separate rooms, you've got another thing
"The police want you under guard..."
"And she won't feel safe without some sort of protection. We'll share."
As they wheeled her bed out, I followed, along with a police officer I
hadn't noticed earlier.
"Can I have a word with you?" he asked abruptly.
I shrugged. My eyes were on Caitlin, asleep on the hospital bed.
"Look, you found an injured girl on a beach and got her to hospital,
probably saving her life. That sort of thing can get you a medal. But there are
a few suspicious things that just don't add up. You were walking down a
beach in winter at 2 am. You got into the ambulance with her. She refused all
medical assistance until you were there. There was a dead body on the beach,
not far from where you found her, shot with the gun you were holding. And
she was last seen three weeks ago, speaking to someone in a car just like
I shrugged again. "Look, I've already told two different officers this, but I
can tell you, too, if you like. I couldn't sleep so I went for a drive, then
decided to take a walk on the beach. I saw a couple going for it near where I'd
parked my car when I got back, so I decided to take a longer walk and come
back a bit later.
"When I returned later, they were still there and I tried to keep my distance
from them, but I heard her telling him to stop. When I gathered he wasn't
stopping and she was getting increasingly upset about it, I went over and
asked if they were all right.
"She asked me to help her and the guy told me to fuck off. He pulled a gun
out and started waving it around and threatening me. I dived for the gun and
got into a fight with him. I managed to knock the gun out of his hands and I
didn't see where it landed.
"The next thing I knew, there were gunshots and I threw myself to the
ground, but he didn't. She'd gotten hold of the gun and shot him. I'm lucky
she didn't hit me, her aim was so bad.
"I told her that he wasn't going to hurt her again and tried to take the gun
off her, but she wouldn't let go until I promised they wouldn't hurt her again.
So I did."
I took a deep breath and went on.
"I rang an ambulance and waited with her. The police turned up, someone
got mixed up and figured I was the one responsible, possibly because I was
holding the gun.
"They let me carry her to the ambulance. Then one of your guys shot me,
or tried to, but he only grazed me and managed to shoot her instead. The last
thing she said before she passed out was, 'You promised...'" I gritted my
teeth, remembering what she'd looked like as she said it. "I got in the
ambulance because I was carrying her, I stayed because I'd been shot and I'd
"She's been beaten and worse by the dead guy, then when I tried to help
her we both got SHOT by the police who were supposedly trying to help her.
About the only person who hasn't hurt her is me, so she doesn't trust anyone
else. Damn it, your guys shot her!
"And yes, I'm staying. I found some random girl on a beach, fought off her
attacker and helped to get her to hospital, while getting shot in the process
and winding up in hospital myself. So I'm sticking around because I want to
know she's okay. If you were in my place, I imagine you'd want to know
whether you'd wasted your time, too." I let out a breath I hadn't known I was
He looked unmoved. "You have no witnesses to confirm your story before
the police showed up? Anyone you told you were going for a walk, anyone
who saw you?"
I nodded toward Caitlin. "She saw me." After thinking a moment, I added,
"My doctor knows I have trouble sleeping. He gave me something called
Temaze, but I only use it as a last resort."
"And how do you explain that your car was seen when she disappeared?"
I narrowed my eyes. "My car? I drive a red Mercedes. I know it's an
unusual car, but I bet it's not the only one in Perth. You know it was my car?
Someone saw the licence plates of my car?"
The cop looked abashed. "Okay, no, we don't know what the number plate
was. We don't know it was your car. But it is a hell of a coincidence, all the
I took a deep breath and laughed. "Look mate, do you think she'd trust me
if I was the guy who'd raped her?" More soberly, I continued: "Hell of a
coincidence – more like someone's trying to set me up for this."
He looked indecisive for a moment, before replying in a low voice, "If
someone's trying to set you up, they'll need to set you up with accomplices.
Her medical report says that she's been raped repeatedly by at least four of
them, probably including the dead one on the beach. And judging by her
injuries, they've been at it for at least a couple of weeks. Three of them are
still out there. When she wakes up she might be able to tell us who they are.
But I never told you."