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Authors: Katherine Howell

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller


BOOK: Frantic
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Katherine Howell is a former ambulance officer.
, featuring Detective Ella Marconi, is her first novel, and is about to be published in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Russia. Katherine lives on the New South Wales north coast and is currently working on her second novel,



For Phil H. and Phil G



First published 2007 in Macmillan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
1 Market Street, Sydney


Copyright © Katherine Howell 2007


The moral right of the author has been asserted.


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations),
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
prior permission in writing from the publisher.


National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication data:


Howell, Katherine.


ISBN 978 1 4050 3797 6.


1. Allied health personnel – Fiction. 2. Police – Fiction.
3. Police corruption – Fiction. 4. Abduction – Fiction.
I. Title.




Author photo © Cal Mackinnon
Typeset in 12.5/14pt Bembo by Post Pre-press Group
Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group


Papers used by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited are natural,
recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests.
The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental
regulations of the country of origin.


These electronic editions published in 2008 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
1 Market Street, Sydney 2000


The moral right of the author has been asserted.


All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced
or transmitted, copied, stored, distributed or otherwise made available by any
person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any
form (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical) or by any means (photocopying,
recording, scanning or otherwise) without prior written permission from the



Katherine Howell


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Thanks to Graeme Hague for much help over many years.

Thanks to Selwa Anthony and her assistant, Selena Hanet-Hutchins, for advice, belief, and unending encouragement.

Thanks to Cate Paterson and Kylie Mason at Pan Macmillan, and also to Julia Stiles, for fantastic editing and support.

To my friends in the job, thanks for the paramedical, pharmacological, and firearms insights, ‘war stories’, and, of course, friendship: Col Benstead, Allan Burnett, Jenni and Steve Flanagan, Garry ‘Syd’ Francis, Warren Leo, Justine Petit, Alan Smith, John Wood, and, in particular, Mel Johnson. Thanks to Adam Asplin and Esther McKay for police procedural advice. All errors and stretching of truths are mine.

Thanks to UQ staff Dr Veny Armanno, Amanda Lohrey, and Jan McKemmish, and to my friends in the MPhil and sf-sassy groups.

Thanks to Varuna – The Writers House: Peter Bishop, Mark Mcleod, Leigh Redhead and Alice Nelson.

Thanks to Tanya and all the great staff at Angus and Robertson, Tweed City.

Thanks to my family, especially my brother.

And – saving the best for last – my most heartfelt thanks to Phil.


Monday 5 May, 2.21 pm


eventy-four to Control.’ The paramedic’s voice was tight. Sophie Phillips leaned forward and turned up the volume of the ambulance radio.

‘Seventy-four, go ahead,’ Control said.

‘We’ve got two children code two, post house fire. Request urgent back-up.’

Sophie grimaced.
Two kids in cardiac arrest. Jesus

Seventy-four was a Randwick ambulance and unless the crew were out of their area and somewhere in the CBD it was unlikely she and Mick would be called on to go, thank God. Serious kid jobs were never good. Since she’d had Lachlan ten months ago they were even worse.

Although most people didn’t know it, every moment of every day catastrophe slammed its heavy boot into the face of some poor Sydneysider. On a day like this it seemed particularly unfair. The sky was the crisp and endless blue of late autumn. The wind snapped in the flags along Circular Quay and the smell of salt water and fried foods filled the ambulance. They were parked in a bus stop on Alfred Street. Mick was across the road in a Quay takeaway fetching kebabs for a late lunch, listening in on the portable radio in case they got a call. Sophie watched for his return and thought about the parents of the code two children, and the small, still, smoke-stained faces.

‘Thirty-one, what’s your location?’

Sophie grabbed the microphone.
Not the fire, please
. ‘Thirty-one’s at the Quay, picking up twenty.’

‘Thanks, Thirty-one. I have a person shot at the Civic Bank on George Street. Police are on scene and CPR’s in progress.’

Adrenaline jolted her. ‘Thirty-one’s on the case.’ She rehooked the mike and yanked a pair of latex gloves from the box stuffed between the seats. Mick ran back empty-handed from the kebab stand and threw the portable radio into the cabin, then leapt into the driver’s seat and cranked the engine. He turned off the hazard lights and hit the beacons and siren as he pulled out of the bus stop. There was a squeal of brakes and the blast of a horn behind them. Mick didn’t so much as glance back.

‘Bet it’s another robbery,’ he said.

‘Think so?’

They hit the red at Bond and Sophie checked the traffic on her side. ‘Clear.’ Mick floored it and punched the horn to change the siren from yelp to wail.

‘Yeah. Another gang job,’ he said.

Another red. ‘Clear.’ Every time the gang of four struck, the newspapers went nuts over the continued failure of the police to catch them, and Sophie’s husband, Chris, took the insult personally. He’d been a police officer in the city for nine years. His shell should have grown harder than a turtle’s, but things like this always struck home.

‘Chris working today?’ Mick said. ‘He might be on scene.’

Sophie hoped not. If he was there, his partner, Angus Arendson, would be too. It was only five weeks since Sophie had made The Biggest Mistake Of Her Life, and ever since then, whenever she saw Angus she felt as though she’d forgotten how to arrange her face in a normal expression, how to speak casually like an ordinary person. It was worse when Chris was around. If Chris wasn’t so caught up in his PTSD or whatever it was, Sophie felt sure he’d have realised long ago what she’d done. He’d have known that very night.

The closer they got to the bank the more the traffic clogged up. Sophie tried to focus on the case, not the people who might be there. Shootings had become more frequent in the city in the last couple of years but they still couldn’t be called commonplace. They translated into scenes of high emotion where you could really do your stuff and make a difference to a person – if the bullet missed vitals and you got there quickly enough. Eight years ago as a trainee she’d been to a shooting where the bullet had lacerated the victim’s aorta. The guy was dead inside a minute. She always remembered her senior officer’s words: ‘If he’d been shot on the operating table, he might just have made it.’

Mick swung onto the wrong side of the road. The siren was on yelp and the headlights on high beam. He leaned on the horn. Cars coming from a side street swerved out of their way. Mick charged down the clear path toward a marked police car parked sideways across the street. He veered around it and to the front of the bank. Police were everywhere. Sophie’s hands were sweaty inside her gloves.

‘Thirty-one’s on location,’ Sophie said into the radio microphone. Before Mick had stopped the engine she was out on the roadway. She yanked open the side door into the rear of the ambulance to grab the Oxy-Viva and drug box, and Mick came around from the driver’s side to pull out the cardiac monitor and first-aid kit. They hurried across the footpath towards the wide glass doors. A police officer held them open, his face pale, his eyes fixed straight ahead onto the street. ‘It’s bad.’

The bank was big and marble-floored. Their steps echoed. Four metres inside the door a police officer stood guard over a blood spatter on the floor. Sophie looked around for the patient. ‘This one got away,’ the officer said. ‘That’s your man there.’

He lay on the floor at the far end of the roped-off queue area. Three police officers and two bank staff stood around him in a huddle while two more police did CPR.

Sophie’s stomach lurched.

Chris was leaning over the guard with his elbows locked, counting loudly with each compression. ‘One and two and three and four and breathe.’ Angus was kneeling at the guard’s head. Neither he nor Chris were wearing gloves. He bent to blow into the one-way valve on a plastic resuscitation mask he held on the man’s face.

Sophie made herself breathe deeply before putting down the equipment and looking over Chris’s shoulder.

The guard was dead, that much was clear. The bullet had hit him in the throat and a pool of blood lay like a halo around him. A blood-soaked dressing was taped roughly to his neck. Every time Angus blew into the mask, air bubbled out of the wound.

Mick knelt and attached electrodes to the cardiac monitor’s three leads. He reached around Chris’s hands and opened the guard’s grey uniform shirt. He stuck two electrodes to his upper chest then pulled the shirt out of the guard’s black trousers, placing the third electrode over his lower left ribs.

‘Keep going?’ Angus said, businesslike. His bloody hands gripped the dead man’s jaw and his knees were in the halo.

‘Stop for a second,’ Sophie said. Chris froze, his hands still touching the dead man’s chest. Sophie put her hand on his shoulder. ‘Raise up a little.’ He leaned back so his hands were clear of the guard’s shirt front but still maintained their position. Through her gloves and his shirt Sophie felt the warmth of her husband’s skin, and she squeezed his shoulder gently. He didn’t move, didn’t glance around. She guessed he was still angry about that morning’s argument.

She exhaled and let him go, then crouched by the body and eased back the guard’s eyelids. This was always hard. Not for the dead man – he was long gone – but for the people who’d tried to save him. Sophie knew Chris had struggled with things like this before. The bank staff would take it even harder. She glanced over and saw the blood on their hands was dry. They’d obviously started the resuscitation effort, maybe when the man was still alive and gasping.

The guard’s pupils were fixed and dilated. Sophie released his eyelids and took the six second ECG strip Mick printed out. It showed the flat line of asystole, as she’d expected. You checked these things not so much to confirm what you already knew but to make the people involved feel they’d given the man a chance. You couldn’t walk in, take one look and say, ‘Stuffed.’ You might think it but you couldn’t say it.

Maybe if he’d been shot on the operating table…

She got to her feet. ‘I’m very sorry but he’s gone.’

The bank staff turned to each other in helpless fright. The three police standing by murmured words of comfort and gently herded them away. One officer carried the guard’s gun in an evidence bag. They left behind a little first-aid kit, the top open, and various small dressings scattered about the polished marble floor. A roll of medical tape lay on its side three metres away, covered in bloody fingerprints.

Angus put down the plastic mask. His knees came free of the pool of clotted blood with a small wet sound, and his bloodstained hands hung by his sides as he looked down at the guard. Chris still knelt at Sophie’s feet, his hands over the guard’s chest.

‘You gave him the best possible chance,’ she said.

Angus blew out a breath of air, and went to put his hands on his hips then stopped himself. Mick pulled the monitor leads off the electrodes, leaving the electrodes themselves in place and the guard’s shirt open. For a non-suspicious death Sophie’s next move would be to get a sheet from the ambulance and drape it over the body, but this was a crime scene. Nothing more could be touched.

Chris was motionless at her feet. She picked up the Oxy-Viva and touched the back of his neck. ‘Come outside and we’ll clean you up.’

George Street was in chaos. The police had sectioned two lanes off and queues of cars, trucks and buses were stuck behind the blue and white tape strung between police cars. Horns blared and people shouted. Flashing red and blue beacons glinted off the windows of shops and banks across the street. Curious workers watched the scene, talking with their arms folded.

At the ambulance Sophie put the Oxy-Viva back into the equipment shelves and took out a bottle of alcohol handwash. ‘Hold out your hands,’ she told Chris. She squirted it onto his palms. He held them clear of his body as he rubbed. The bloodstained liquid dripped to the roadway.

Mick leaned into the ambulance to radio Control and say the victim was code four.

Sophie turned to Angus and squeezed the bottle over his bare hands. The legs of his blue uniform trousers were dark with blood and the right one was hitched up from sticking to his knee. ‘So the guard got one, did he?’ Sophie said, trying to sound normal.

‘That’s what they reckon.’ Angus met her eye. ‘Shot the guy in the bum. The tellers said he let out a hell of a yelp.’

‘More,’ Chris said.

Sophie coated his hands again. The alcohol smell was strong. Chris scraped at the edges of his fingernails where the blood had gone deep. Sophie could see his short nails weren’t up to the task. ‘Here.’ She reached for his hands but he pulled back.

‘I can do it.’

He still didn’t meet her gaze. She lowered her voice. ‘What’s the matter?’

He shook his head.

She shook hers in return, annoyed but unsurprised at his reticence. Since he’d been assaulted two months ago he’d become silent and moody. It was sometimes hard to shake the thought that it was actually because he knew what she’d done, that Angus must’ve slipped and said something, but oft-checked logic told her he was moody before that. Shit, it was the reason she’d gone and done it. No, that wasn’t fair. It was only partly the reason. A small part. A very small part.

Guilt bubbled in her stomach like gas in a stagnant swamp.

She eyed him. ‘Where were your gloves?’

‘There was no time,’ he said.

‘There’s always time.’

He didn’t answer.

‘Make sure you both go to the hospital and get tests done. So should the bank staff.’ She’d had to do that once, when a psychotic patient bit her on the arm. Chris’s chances of contracting a disease through the unbroken skin of his hands were tiny, but still the security guard was going to be a small and silent ghost in their house for the next three months. More tension. Great. ‘You should’ve worn your gloves.’

More police arrived. They walked past with camera cases and equipment boxes. Behind the police tape a growing crowd of people watched. Some held up mobile phones and took pictures of the gathered police vehicles. Overhead, against the bright blue sky, two news helicopters hovered. The chopping of their blades was a familiar background to much of Sophie’s work.

A lanky female detective in a black pants-suit came over. ‘Phillips, you were first on scene?’

Chris nodded. ‘We were on Broadway when the call came in.’

‘See anything?’

‘The gang was gone before we arrived,’ Angus said. ‘All we saw was the guard.’

‘Okay,’ the detective said. ‘Come and find me when you’re done here.’

There was a commotion and raised voices in the crowd, then a woman in a grey skirt and white shirt, her red hair tied back in a bun, ducked the police tape at a run. Her face was bloodless. ‘My husband,’ she gasped. She wrenched open the ambulance’s rear door. Chris went to her and she grabbed his arm. ‘Where’s my husband?’

‘Who is your husband?’

‘He works security in the bank. They said on the TV he was hurt.’ The woman’s eyes brimmed with tears. ‘Please tell me he’s already gone to hospital.’

Chris put his hands on her shoulders. ‘I’m sorry.’


‘We did everything we could.’

‘No, no.’ She began to weep into his shirt, half collapsing against him. Mick hurried to help, and between them they walked the sobbing woman away from the mesmerised crowd.

Sophie was aware of Angus coming up close behind her. ‘Your husband’s a good guy,’ he said. His breath was warm against her neck.

She turned to face him. He smiled at her. His blond hair shone in the sun. His blue eyes flicked down to her mouth for a second, then up again. ‘Don’t you reckon?’

BOOK: Frantic
11.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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