An Excerpt From Shadow House

The Sydney Quartet Book 4

Heather Todd’s life had never been easy, but when her sister died as a result of overcut cocaine, everything changed.
Ex MI6 operative turned world sailor, Sam Autenburg is on a bender after his partner died, also as a result of overcut cocaine. When one night things go desperately wrong for Sam, Heather comes to his rescue. Taunting and goading him, she eventually convinces him to take on her cause and infiltrate the organized crime syndicate responsible for her sister’s, and his partner’s, deaths. Going after the brutal gang will be no easy feat, and in order to stop them, Sam and Heather must put their own lives on the line.

Chapter 5 : Falling

It was close to midnight as Heather watched the man stagger out of the club through the small side door into the alley; the one which was used for deliveries and taking out the empties and garbage. He'd been leaning against the bar for the past two hours, drinking shots and chaining cigarettes. He spoke to no one, apparently lost in his own world of demons and pain. Heather took a pull on her cigarette, dropped it into the empty bourbon tumbler on the stained table in front of her, then stood and picked up her handbag.

The man sitting at the table with her looked up. "Hey, where are you going?" he said, then ran his hand across his thinning hair that he kept oiled and combed over the barren crown of his wide head in denial of his advancing baldness.

"I've got to head off now," Heather said, as she looked down at him. He appeared to be in his late forties. His oversized knee length shorts would have looked better on a man half his age, and the Hawaiian shirt belonged in an advertisement for Gold Coast condominiums. When he approached Heather a couple of hours earlier asking if he could buy her a drink, she had reluctantly agreed, then immediately regretted doing so as he launched into a diatribe of conceited drivel. She had hardly said a word.

"Wait up. I've been buying you drinks half the night and now you get up and leave without so much as 'a kiss my ass'? What the fuck's that about?"

"Here," Heather said. She reached into her bag and dropped a twenty-dollar bill on the table. "Here. Have one on me, Elvis."

She walked away without a backward glance. She knew this slob wasn't going to cause a fuss. He was out on the sly leaving his wife at home with the kids and an assurance he was out with some mates, shooting pool, and having a few beers. The last thing he wanted was trouble. She walked away leaving the poor schnook complaining to nobody in particular about what a bitch she was.

Heather walked out of the front door, turned right, and then headed toward the alley. She looked back down the street in case slick had followed her out. He hadn't, he was making a move on one of the pole dancers who had just finished her shift.

Sam stopped and looked around, trying to remember where he was; what he was doing there; where he had been going to, if anywhere. The bare light bulb over the steel-clad door cast a dim yellow glow in an intimate circle around him, lighting him up like a broken down performer on the stage of failed lives. He staggered and squinted down the dark alley towards the bright, noisy street where the crowds passed by oblivious of his presence. He turned his gaze back to the door trying to remember what direction he was heading in. He pulled a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his jeans pocket and tried to light up. As he concentrated on guiding the dancing flame to the end of the cigarette, he lost his balance and fell sideways into the empty crates stacked against the wall. He twice tried to get back up on his feet, but only managed to fall hard against the rough brick wall that smelled of stale beer and piss. The ground around him glittered with tiny shards of broken bottle and crushed vials; the detritus of countless broken lives and unlived dreams.

It was one of those alleys you can find in any large city, anywhere in the world. It doesn't matter what country you're in, what language is spoken; they all look the same, all smell the same, and they all have that feeling of universal human degradation and hopelessness which transcends language and race. It's where the homeless try to sleep; where the desperate junkie comes to shoot up; where a two-dollar whore will give a blow job or a quick fuck against the fetid wall, and where Sam has stumbled and fallen face down, breathing in the rank air of the gutter.

"What the fuck …" His words incoherent and spoken to the night, to the evidence of human frailty that lay mocking him from all sides, and to the memory of who he used to be. He was coming undone, but felt powerless to stop the downward spiral he was riding. He could have been anything, many people had told him so, but he had ended up as nothing; just one more piece of garbage laying in an alley amongst the crushed vials and used rubbers.

Heather looked down at him, her eyes held a mix of empathy and scorn. She had come out to warn him of the dangers of getting so pissed in this area; to tell him there were vultures waiting in the wings to roll drunks, to relieve them of their wallet, watch and anything else they could liquidate on the street before fading into the shadows. Now here he was face down on the bloody ground. And why did she give a shit anyway.

She hesitated, wondering if she should leave him there; mind her own business, and go on her way. She looked down at him again and kicked his leg. Nothing. She kicked him again a couple of times, harder than before.

"Hey. Hey, wake up."

When he didn't respond, she turned and walked away, arms braced across her chest, head tipped downward, her mouth a hard red cut.

She stepped back into the street. A group of a half dozen rowdy young men were walking past, causing her to take a couple of steps back to avoid them. She was back in the alley.

One of them, the one wearing a red football shirt and baggy shorts, slowed and looked at her.

"Looking for business are you?" he shouted above the noise of the street.

"Piss off," she hissed, folding her arms tighter still.

"C'mon, Kev, she's older than ya fuckin' mother," laughed another, pulling red-shirt along by the sleeve.

She stood and watched them go, then turned and looked back down the alley at Sam. He was still on the ground. She looked out at the street again, then back again at Sam, heaved a resigned sigh and groaned inwardly as she walked back into the darkness. She bent down beside him, shook him by the shoulder and said quietly, "Been raising hell again, mate?"

Sam stirred as she took the crumpled cigarette pack from his hand. She withdrew two cigarettes, lit them both, put one between his lips, and drew heavily on the other. He pushed himself up on one elbow, squinting, trying to focus on her face. He took the cigarette from his lips, looked at the dull red glow and the blue-grey smoke curling into the still night air, and then looked up at her face again.


The cigarette dropped from his fingers as he raised his hand to touch her face. Then he fell into the black oblivion he craved.

"Okay, let's get you home." She left him lying there face down amongst the broken glass and cigarette butts, while she walked back up to the street to hail a cab.

"Give me a hand to get him in the back," she said to the cab-driver, who had followed her to where Sam still lay.

"He'd better not chunder in my cab, lady. If he does it's another twenty five for the clean."

"Yeah, whatever."

"Never mind yeah, I'm serious. He spews it'll cost you another twenty five bucks for the clean."

"Alright, stop bitching and give me a hand to lift him," arsehole.

"That's more than he'll be giving you tonight," the cabbie laughed.

Fucking smart-arsed wop, thought Heather, but outwardly she ignored him as they dragged and bundled the comatose Sam into the back seat of the ageing white Mercedes. The car already smelled as if somebody had puked in it, but she didn't say anything. She regretted not calling her regular cab company that had clean silver cars and smartly dressed drivers. Then she regretted getting involved at all.

She climbed into the back, pushing Sam's head out of the way to gain enough room, and gave the driver directions. He pulled out into the late night traffic without looking. The car he cut in front of sounded its horn and the cab driver responded with a finger in the air and a quick 'fuck you!' shouted into the clammy night air.

"Make it Mosman instead; two twenty two Bridge Street," Heather said, as she realised she was not sure if Sam did live at the marina. Even if he did, she would never be able to get him down the flight of steps in this state.

"Sure, honey," the cabbie responded, giving her a big cheesy grin in the rear view mirror.

Heather looked up at the licence hanging from the tatty stained sun visor. It identified the driver as Marco Bagliatelli.

Like I thought, a fucking wop who thinks he is God's gift to all women. Bloody tosser.

The cab stopped at the lights and waited to turn into William Street. Heather looked out at a couple of skinny young hookers working the corner. One of them, a kid of about sixteen or seventeen, was dressed in a tight fitting halter-top, a tiny denim mini skirt, a pink G-string, and knee high white boots. Whenever a car slowed near her, she would bend over exposing her arse, in an effort to draw a trick from one of the mongers who crawled those kerbs in the small hours before dawn.

The girl reminded her of the time when she dressed and behaved just like this kid. A time when she would do whatever it took to make enough money to get a fix. In and out of cars half the night, driving to industrial estates or blind alleys, where she would bring the guy off as fast as she could, so she could get back to the corner and on to the next one. New cars that still smelled new even if the John didn't. Old cars littered with trash that told her about the character of the slob she was about to suck off. Then there were the panel vans fitted out especially for screwing whores. They were at least comfortable even if the owners were weird, with their black satin sheets and Barry White CDs. What did she care? She laid back and opened her legs, and detached her mind from what was happening to her body. She thought only about the money, and the fix it would bring her.

In those days, drugs were the centre of her world, her whole world, as they were for most of the girls working the streets around The Cross. She had started using when she was fifteen. By the age of sixteen she was hooked, and like so many others, turned to working those same streets where she scored her drugs as the way to pay for them. Selling sex didn't seem wrong to her then, and even now, she saw nothing fundamentally wrong with sex as a tradable commodity. A guy needs pussy, a girl needs a fifty. It was straight commerce in her mind. It was the fuckers who made money from pimping and protection she loathed. Those that pushed drugs to young kids barely in their teens, creating a market for their dope, meth or crack. She had become addicted that way, as had her sister Carol and many of their schoolmates. Taking drugs seemed cool to some, an escape from troubled reality for others. She had seen so many young kids take to the streets recently, and she felt like shaking them, telling them, 'wake the fuck up before you end up dead, just another stat, or like any one of the hundred burnouts that lurk waxen-faced around the streets of The Cross, begging for change, and who can say which is worse'.

She had lost count of the number of girls she'd known that ended up dead. Accidental overdoses; suicide when it all became too much to bear; beaten to death by dealers they could no longer pay; the unrelenting living-death of AIDS, or like her sister Carol, by coke cut with poison. She would avenge that one day.

The lights changed, the cab pulled away and she was jolted back into the present.

I need a new life!

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