About the author
Arn Winter is a retired civil engineer and university lecturer now living at Redcliffe. A qualified theologian, he has a passionate interest in the natural spirituality of Australia and of links between unexplained phenomena and modern science.
Bodyguard Duty is the third of a series of crime stories he has written around the psychically-sensitive Senior Constable Alan Dodd.
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Senior Constable Alan Dodd eased his foot off the accelerator. In the passenger seat beside him, Detective Senior Constable Phillip Van Nguyen glanced sideways from the road ahead.
“I’m not sure.” Alan allowed the maroon Calais to slow to 100 kph before holding that speed.
They were on a long, slightly curved section of bitumen. Black wattle scrub lined both sides of the road almost to the shoulders. Five hundred metres ahead the lead vehicle in the convoy, a grey Mitsubishi 380, began to draw away slightly. Alan glanced in the mirror at the white Commodore pursuit vehicle acting as his rear guard. The VIP in the back seat, who had been gazing quietly out of a side window, turned his bald head so his eyes fleetingly met Alan’s in the mirror.
All three officers in the rear car would have heard the interchange coming through their earpieces. Nevertheless, the Commodore closed up slightly before dropping back to the standard two car lengths as its speed was adjusted to that of the Calais.
Alan returned his attention to the road ahead, he closely watched the scrub on either side behind the lead vehicle for signs of movement. If they were going to be ambushed, he reasoned, the attackers would almost certainly allow the lead vehicle to pass.
“On the right!” Phill shouted, his left hand diving into the bumbag on the front of his belt to emerge with a 9mm Glock 17L handgun.
Alan had seen the movement in the same instant Phill’s shout began. The rustling in the roadside foliage rapidly became a distinct shape as a camouflaged Nissan twin-cab four-wheel drive accelerated out from the bushes. Fresh-cut branches and bushes adorned the bullbar and bonnet. The vehicle jerked to a stop across the middle of the road, 200 metres ahead of the Calais. As Alan saw the vehicle emerge and judged its length, he instantly decided he wouldn’t be able to go around it and he slammed on the brakes.
“We go back!” he shouted.
But the driver behind had already made the same decision. The Commodore accelerated past on the right of the Calais. Blue smoke rose from the four tyres of the braking vehicle. As soon as the Commodore was in front, it too braked hard as a dozen camouflage-clad troops wearing gas masks poured from the scrub on either side.
Alan slammed the Calais into reverse and began to accelerate backwards. Several of the soldiers were behind him now, rifles raised and firing. Smoking canisters of gas were rolled under the Commodore ahead. Alan could see and smell similar gas rising around the Calais. His eyes watered and he began to cough and dry retch as a splash of blood-red covered the windscreen before him. He flicked the wipers to full speed and continued to accelerate backwards, fighting the need to vomit.
Twisted in his seat to peer backwards as he reversed, he saw through his tears that the VIP was covering his nose and mouth with a large, checked handkerchief. Alan concentrated on the road. He passed the last of the troops and swung the car around in a squealing reverse turn.
A wailing siren sounded from a marked police Falcon approaching from the front. Alan braked the Calais to a stop before tumbling out of the driver’s door, tears streaming from his eyes. He bent forward to gulp in fresh air and continued to fight the urge to vomit as his stomach muscles contracted involuntarily.
“Okay.” The harsh, disembodied voice came from a handheld loudspeaker. “Everyone back to the Calais for debriefing.”
Alan pulled out his earpiece and turned off the microphone. He straightened and looked back at the car. The windscreen, rear and side windows and the door panels were splattered with bursts of colour from the paint balls fired by the weapons of the army commandos. Standing behind the vehicle, the teary-eyed VIP was drinking from a one-litre plastic container of bottled water and wiping his eyes with a wetted handkerchief. He saw Alan looking at him and held out the bottle. Alan walked across and accepted it with a murmur of thanks, avoiding meeting the small eyes. He tipped up the bottle to allow water to run over his face before taking a long drink.
“Save some for Phill,” the VIP ordered, nodding beyond the car. “And check he’s okay.”
The marked Falcon drew to a stop ten metres away. Both rear doors opened, but Alan could see only the female driver and a cameraman filming the scene from the front passenger seat. Beyond the Falcon, the Nissan twin-cab had moved to the side of the road where the grinning commandos were regrouping under the instructions of their sergeant.
Alan turned his attention to Phill. The short detective was on the verge of some roadside scrub, bent forward as he vomited into the undergrowth, the Glock still clasped in his left hand. Alan hurried over and offered him the water bottle. Phill turned, wiping his mouth with a soiled handkerchief.
“I’m sorry, Phill,” Alan handed him the clean, white handkerchief he carried in his left pocket. “I didn’t realise they were going to use gas.”
Phill took a gulp of the water and smiled wanly. He turned off his microphone and returned the Glock to the bumbag on his stomach. He upended the bottle above his head to pour water into his hair and allow it to run over his face. He mopped at the water with the white handkerchief and wiped his face and neck.
“Finish up the bottle.”
Phill tilted back his head and drank the last half glass or so as Alan turned to face the advancing officers.
“What the fuck’s wrong with your team, Dodd?” A burly, crew-cut man wearing blue jeans, police T-shirt and baseball cap was striding towards them. He stopped by the open passenger door of the Calais to glance over the stained windows and side panels. He leaned inside and scanned the dashboard. He straightened and sneered towards Alan as the video cameraman, now standing in front of the Falcon, focused on his face, “Forgot to change the air inlet button to recirculation, hey?”
“Sorry, Senior Sergeant,” Alan blurted, standing to attention by the front wheel of the vehicle. “I was only assigned the car ten minutes ago. I was too rushed to do a proper check.”
The tail Commodore, also liberally spattered with burst paint balls, had reversed up to be behind the Calais. Its three young detectives, two men from fraud squad and a woman from the casino squad, stood rigidly to attention in front of the senior sergeant’s Falcon. The lead vehicle, containing a sergeant and two constables, returned to stop on the road shoulder beyond the Calais. Three uniformed officers clambered out and stood near the detectives.
Senior Sergeant Cameron turned to survey the six officers as Phill, still looking pale and ill, came to stand beside Alan, who glanced at his shorter partner with concern. Phil nodded he was okay, and the two took a couple of steps to be at the end of the larger group. The VIP was joined by a thin man in an assistant commissioner’s uniform, probably from the Falcon. They stood by the edge of the road watching the scene.
“What a bunch of fucking dickheads,” the senior-sergeant instructor roared at the assembled officers, “Three blind mice in the lead car, five dead officers, and a dead dignitary. Not to mention an incompetent driver in the VIP car.”
“There was no side track,” the uniformed sergeant said defensively, “and the Nissan was covered with bushes and camouflage nets.”
“For Christ’s sake!” the senior sergeant roared. “What the fuck do you think you’re supposed to be looking for? Two local marked cars would already have swept the route fifteen minutes in front of you. They would have checked out any parked cars or side tracks. You blokes are the ones with the special training. You’re meant to see things they don’t see. How many of you are accredited VIP drivers?”
The uniformed sergeant and the woman detective raised their hands. Alan self-consciously raised his to his waist.
“When transporting VIPs,” the senior sergeant shouted, glaring around the group before fixing his stare on Alan, “no matter how rushed you are, or how much other people are pushing you, you do a full check of the vehicle. Your own life, as well as that of the VIP depends on it. You have no outside air. The air-con is on, all windows closed and locked, and you recirculate the air.” He glared at Alan. “Almost every attack on VIPs will involve gas, so you don’t want outside air coming in. If you are held up in traffic, the tail vehicle closes to within a couple of centimetres of the VIP car so no one can get between them. If danger threatens ahead on the open road, the tail vehicle goes to the front to give the VIP vehicle a chance to get away.” His eyes focused on the woman detective who had been driving the tail car. “You did a good job there, Emery. Too bad you died in vain because the VIP car was filled with Sargon gas, so they all died too.”
“I’ll never forget to check the air circ again, sir.” Alan promised fervently.
“Maybe you and Detective Senior Constable Emery should exchange jobs,” the senior sergeant said sarcastically. “I suppose you country coppers are so used to your big four-wheel drives you think you’re invincible without taking any special precautions.”
“I’m only at Cambooya,” Alan replied flatly. “Twenty klicks from Toowoomba. We don’t rate a Toorak tractor that far east.” Growing tired of the instructor’s bullying and knowing the senior sergeant’s personal vehicle was a Nissan Pathfinder four-wheel drive, he added insolently, “When I was stationed at St George, we used to say anyone who needed a four-wheel drive east of the Warrego River was a wanker.”
The group sniggered and the instructor’s eyes narrowed. He focused on Phill, still pale, but grinning with the others.
“You don’t like gas, do you, Nguyen?” the senior sergeant sneered. “I suppose you had enough of it in your home country. You still want to partner this cowboy?”
“I was born in Australia.” The detective asserted in annoyance. “I’ve only been to Vietnam once, to visit my grandmother. Senior Constable Dodd sensed the situation a good half-minute before the enemy vehicle appeared. I’d rather put my life in his hands than in yours, sir. If this had been fair dinkum, we would have got clean away and I would have killed at least three of the enemy.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Alan saw the listening VIP smile slightly.
“You were dead from Sargon gas.”
“Because the outside air was still on. As Alan told you, he won’t make that mistake again.” He grinned sardonically, “If he bloody does, I certainly won’t.”
The others in the protection detail grinned nervously.
Alan heard a shouted order and glanced along the road. The army vehicle was already receding into the distance around the curve, and the personnel were marching after it. The police instructor, Senior Sergeant Ian Cameron, who had come to the Queensland Police Service from an army SAS unit, glanced after them, his expression wistful. He looked over his eight police officers, contemplating their slovenly assembly for a few seconds before dismissing them to return their vehicles to the command area for a further debriefing and a lecture on recent security procedures.
As Alan and Phill moved across to the Calais, Alan said, “Thanks, mate.”
“I must be bloody mad.” Phill grinned after him as Alan separated to walk around the back of the Calais to the driver’s side. “Passing up the opportunity to work with a groovy chick like Maxine.”
“Yeah!” Alan called across the boot to his friend. “Well, how do you think I feel working with a left-hander? Having some over-sensitive Chinaman with a weak stomach sitting on my left with a loaded Glock pointing at my guts from his bumbag?”
Phill laughed as he drew out his soiled handkerchief and began wiping the worst of the paint off the passenger side of the windscreen. Alan began to do the same on the driver’s side.
A dark blue Commodore drew to a stop nearby. Alan looked across the Calais’s bonnet and recognised the driver as Detective Senior Constable Susan Choi, a young detective of Chinese descent who was stationed at Toowoomba. He exchanged a discreet wave with her as the instructor’s marked Falcon made a U-turn and drove away, this time with the senior sergeant in the front passenger seat and the cameraman in the rear. The assistant commissioner was still talking on the roadside to the VIP, presumably intending to return in the blue Commodore.
As the assistant commissioner walked around to get into the rear of the Commodore, the VIP came across to Phill. He spoke to Alan across the Calais.
“My office, senior constable,” he said brusquely. “Friday morning at ten. I’ll clear it with Inspector Vicary.” He strode off to join his ride.
“Who was our dig?” Phill asked. “He seems to know you, and I’m sure I’ve seen the bugger around somewhere.”
“That’s Inspector Julian Crase, from Toowoomba CIB.”
“That’s Crazy Crase?” Phill replied, watching the Commodore do a U-turn around the Calais. He added fervently, “What rotten bloody luck, having him in the car when you forgot to change the air circ.”
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