Two Weddings and a Fugitive by Donna Joy Usher by Donna Joy Usher - Read Online

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Two Weddings and a Fugitive - Donna Joy Usher

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Fugitive.

1

Brother Schmother

‘I now pronounce you Husband and Wife.’

Tears pricked my eyes as Liam bent and pressed his lips to Suzie’s. I gripped her flowers as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her in tight. Sniffling, I looked away, my gaze taking in the decorations that led down to the beach beside which the ceremony was being held.

The sun danced above the transparent azure water. The soft-pink chairs sat prettily on the liquid-green grass. The bunches of pink-and-white roses puffed perfectly in their vases. It was beautiful. All so beautiful. And yet I felt hollow inside.

Someone in the audience let out a wolf-whistle and the newlyweds broke their kiss, their smiles broad enough to risk cracking their faces. I felt a tear escape the constraints of my eyelids and trickle down my cheek.

I wasn’t the only one crying. Suzie’s mother smiled through her tears, and there was a scattering of women daintily patting their faces with tissues. And well, we were going to need to totally re-do Martine, my Plus One’s makeup before the reception.

I pasted a smile on my face.

There, that was better. Now if I was crying for a slightly more selfish reason than everybody else, it was undetectable.

Suzie turned back to me and I pressed her bouquet into her hands. Her new wedding band glinted in the sunshine. ‘I’m so happy,’ she said.

I mentally kicked myself. One of my best friends just got married. She deserved more than I was giving her. ‘You look beautiful,’ I said. ‘The ceremony was perfect.’ I must have done okay because her smile widened further before she was swept off to greet her guests.

‘Here.’ Martine pressed a glass of bubbly wine into one of my hands and a tissue into the other. ‘Now be a good girl and wipe your eyes and drink your champagne.’

‘Yes Mum.’ I dashed at the traitorous tear with the tissue and then took a big slurp of the alcohol.

‘It’s just the sort of advice your Mum would give you,’ she said.

She was right. But I didn’t feel like talking about Mum. It was her fault I was in this miserable mess. I took another sip of my drink. ‘Should we mingle?’

‘I was thinking perhaps first I might….’ She waved a hand at her face.

I looked up at her and felt a real smile appear on my face. She looked ridiculous. ‘I don’t know why you won’t wear waterproof mascara.’ I mean honestly, I thought all drag queens liked their make-up as permanent as they could get it.

‘It makes my eyelashes brittle. And besides, it always makes you smile when my makeup gets in a funk.’ She reached out a finger and touched my nose. ‘Even though it doesn’t quite make it to your eyes at the moment, it’s still worth it.’

I tossed back the last of the champers, feeling the slight burn of the alcohol starting to sear through my limbs. Let it not be said that alcohol had become my crutch – it hadn’t, but at times like this, it sure did help.

‘Come on.’ I grabbed Martine’s arm. ‘We’d better get you fixed up before someone rings the circus and tells them they’ve found their missing clown.’

She swiped at me with her clutch and I jumped out of the way – not an easy feat in the form-fitting, pale-pink, full-length gown, but she had a smile on her face as she followed me to the ladies’ bathroom.

Waiters were circling with trays piled with canapés when we returned. Suzie was still clutching Liam’s arm as they moved from guest-to-guest so I swiped a spring roll and another glass of champagne and followed Martine to a bar table overlooking the beach.

‘I need a holiday,’ I said.

She snorted. ‘You just had one.’

‘That was like, eight weeks ago. And besides, it wasn’t like we got to relax at all.’ Nope the whole holiday had been spent trying to find Mum and then being interrogated by the FBI. I sighed.

‘Stop thinking about it,’ Martine said.

‘I wasn’t.’

‘I know that sigh.’

I stuck out my bottom lip. ‘It’s not like I’m thinking about him,’ I said. I mean he was my half-brother for goodness’ sake. ‘It’s just that it seemed so right.’

‘Seemed, schemed. Oh look, dim sims.’ She hopped up and hurried towards one of the waiters, returning shortly after with a small plate loaded with steaming buns. ‘Pork. My favourite.’

‘I thought you didn’t eat meat.’

‘Pork buns don’t count.’

I saw Suzie pull away from Liam and look around. ‘Gotta go,’ I said. ‘Bridesmaid duty calls.’

I admired Suzie’s Vera Wang inspired dress as I hurried over to her. Anybody who had only met the Suzie I had known during my police training would not have recognised her now. Her figure had morphed from plump to petite and her glossy, brown hair was swept up on each side of her head with diamante-encrusted combs before it cascaded down her back in ringlets.

Eyes sparkling, she grabbed my hand and walked towards the beach. ‘How are you holding up?’ she asked.

‘Me? I’m wonderful, why?’

She shook her head and let out a low laugh. ‘You might be able to fool other people but I know you better than that. Something happened to you in Las Vegas that you’re not telling me.’

‘Apart from being chased by the Mafia and performing on stage as a clown?’

‘I would pay good money to see that. But yes, something else.’

I hadn’t told her the bits about Billy. I mean who wants to admit that they fell in love with their own half-brother.

Aghhhhh. I mentally head slapped myself. I’d used the words love and half-brother in the same sentence. I was going straight to hell.

‘What makes you think that?’ I gave her my sunniest smile hoping to bluff her.

‘This, for one thing.’ She lifted a lock of my now jet-black hair. ‘It seems to suit your mood better than the blonde did.’

She was right. The happy-go-lucky blonde inside me had died that morning in Las Vegas. My transition to Goth black, something which previously would have been unthinkable for me, had been a smooth one.

I sighed and turned my gaze from the ocean back to her. ‘Yes. Something else happened.’

‘I knew it.’ She blew a stray piece of hair away from her forehead. ‘Well you obviously don’t want to talk about it, so how about we drink up and then go get a refill.’

It sounded like a good plan to me.

***

‘Why did I drink so much last night?’ I groaned and clasped my head as I sat up. The mid-morning light was trying to sear a pathway through my eyes to my brain.

Martine walked towards me with what I was hoping was a cup of coffee in her hands. ‘You kept saying it was a good plan.’

I swung my legs to the side of the bed and stared at a huge bruise blossoming on my thigh. ‘Where did that come from?’

‘You also thought it was a good plan to dance on one of the bar tables.’

‘How did I climb onto a bar table in that dress?’

She raised an eyebrow and then looked pointedly at my bruise.

‘Oh no.’ I groaned again and sunk my head into my hands.

‘Don’t worry about it. You were the life of the party. You had everybody up and dancing.’

‘But….’ Was I remembering the layout of the wedding correctly? ‘There wasn’t a dance floor.’

‘The whole world is a dance floor.’ She threw her arms out and twirled on the spot and I wasn’t sure if she was quoting me or herself. I decided not to find out.

‘Here drink this. Check out is in half an hour.’

She handed me the cup and I noted with relief that it was coffee.

Thirty minutes and a shower later I donned dark sunglasses and followed Martine down to the hotel reception. We paid the bill and pulled our bags out to where the car was parked.

‘I still can’t believe Martyn let us bring the Audi,’ I said, climbing into the convertible sports car.

‘I know. It’s his baby. But he hasn’t taken it out for a while and he said the engine needed a good run.’ She smiled. ‘And who am I to question that?’ She slid her sunglasses down from the top of her head and turned the key in the ignition. The car purred to life and leapt away from the curb at the touch of her foot. If I hadn’t been so hung over I would have really enjoyed it.

A few hours later I prised open one eye and stared at a passing road sign. Sydney – 60kms.

‘Wow.’ I sat up further in my seat. ‘That didn’t seem to take anywhere near as long as the drive down.’

‘Honey,’ Martine flashed me a quick smile, ‘you’ve been asleep for, like, three hours.’

I glanced at my watch. It was one in the afternoon. Huh. No wonder my stomach felt like it was trying to digest itself. As if to prove a point it let out a large gurgly growl.

‘Glove box,’ Martine said. ‘I got you a muffin at the petrol station.’

Petrol station?

‘Also got the paper,’ she continued. ‘There’s an interesting article on the third page.’

I opened the glove box and took out the muffin, ripping at the wrapper like the desperate woman I was. Once half the muffin was living in my stomach I reached down and picked up the newspaper Martine had wedged by my legs. It was already open to page three.

FBI Break Human Trafficking Ring

‘Whoa.’ It was an article by Matt King.

I sped-read through it, happy to see that our names were absent from its contents. We had been described as an Australian Police Officer and friend on holiday in Las Vegas. I really didn’t feel like being hassled by the press at the moment. Or ever. While it sounded quite glamorous, I was betting it was a royal pain in the arse.

‘Wonder why it took him eight weeks to publish this,’ I said when I was finished.

‘Probably had to clear it all with the FBI.’

I nodded my head. The last thing he would want to do after going to so much trouble to catch them was jeopardise the case. ‘I didn’t realise that Matt got the original lead.’

‘Billy said that Matt had come to him with a lead.’ She winced as she said Billy’s name. ‘That’s why he let him go along on the case.’

The shock of finding out about Billy had pretty much wiped anything else from that morning clean out of my mind. ‘Fancy finding a lead in Morocco while he was there on holidays.’

‘Some people are just shit magnets.’ She raised her sunglasses with her right hand and looked over at me.

‘What? I’m not a shit magnet.’

‘Hun. You are like honey to a swarm of shit-covered bees. It’s like your super power.

I sighed. There had been a lot of poo in my life lately. Maybe she had a point. I stared back down at the page, running a finger over the words Billy Milano.

Mentally slapping myself, I stuffed the paper back down beside my feet and decided it was time for another nap. The sound of our building’s underground carpark door opening woke me.

‘We’re hooommmmme,’ Martine said in a creepy, sing-song voice.

A few minutes later I was opening up the door to my little apartment. Cocoa, my Miniature Schnauzer, launched himself into my arms, wiggling around so that his long tongue could get to my face. I staggered over to the couch, collapsing onto it while Cocoa and I greeted each other properly. This involved much patting and scratching on my part, and much licking and hair chewing on his.

When he had calmed down, I sat up and picked up the note my friend Bruce had left on the coffee table.

Cocoa enjoyed his slumber party with Lancelot. Walked him again this morning before dropping him home around one. Hope you two had a great night.

Lancelot was Bruce’s black poodle. He and Cocoa were in love.

‘Well boy,’ I said. ‘How about we have a nap, then go for a walk and find food?’ He seemed to think that was a fine idea, so that’s exactly what we did.

***

Work sucked.

I mean, normally I loved it. Being out on the beat, chasing down hardened criminals – it was like feeling the wind rush through your hair in a high-speed car chase. Adrenaline to a junkie. Admittedly, those hardened criminals were more often petty thieves, but hey, something was better than nothing.

And that was my problem. I wasn’t out chasing criminals. I was working the reception desk. Again. And this time I wasn’t even sure what my boss, Inspector Ramy, was punishing me for. The first day back after the wedding he’d mumbled something about due diligence and sentenced me to life imprisonment on that stupid desk. That had been a week ago. One, very, very long week.

‘What’s up?’ Dave, my Sergeant, asked as he came through the front door. I closed my eyes and breathed in, relishing the breath of fresh air that had whirled in with him.

‘Is it sunny out there?’ I couldn’t tell from where I was.

‘As sunny as an exposed light bulb.’

I sighed.

‘Thought this might cheer you up.’ He pushed a cardboard box toward me over the bench top.

‘Is that…Krispy Kreme?’

‘Glazed. Just the way you like them.’

Oh boy. My own six pack of Krispy Kreme glazed donuts. The sin would need to be repaid with several hours of exercise, but it was going to be well worth it.

I hid the box under the desk so that the others wouldn’t steal them and then turned my brightest smile on for Dave. ‘You’re the best Sergeant a girl could ask for.’

He chuckled as he walked past with the other boxes of donuts.

I snuck a donut from the box. Saliva exploded into my mouth as I bit into the soft flesh. I felt the thin glaze crackle against the roof of my mouth, sticking to the insides of my teeth, and I was in heaven.

‘Hey.’ Trent popped out of one of the interview rooms and strode towards me.

I chewed rapidly and then swallowed. ‘Hey you.’

He leant against the other side of the desk and crossed his arms. I knew what he wanted to ask me.

‘She’s good,’ I said.

He sighed and rubbed at his forehead with one hand.

‘How are you?’

‘Good. Yeah, good.’ The dark circles under his eyes told a different story.

‘She misses you too.’ I didn’t know if that was making it any better, but it was the truth. Mum may have gone back to Harry, my Dad, but it didn’t mean she hadn’t had intense feelings for Trent.

‘And she and Harry?’

‘Going great guns.’ I probably could have sugar-coated that more but Trent deserved to know the truth.

He let out a big breath. ‘I went back through the Customs records for the time Tess and Harry first came to Australia.’

‘Really? You can do that?’

‘Inspector, remember?’ He smiled at me.

‘No, I mean they’re still available?’

He pulled a face. ‘Archived. It took me a while.’

I winced as I imagined him feverishly hunting down information on my parents. ‘And?’

‘Harry really did come after her. He was here for a month before he went back to Las Vegas.’

‘You thought maybe he hadn’t?’

He rubbed at his forehead again and shot me a guilty look. ‘If he had lied about it, well, I thought Tess should know.’

I sighed and reached under the table for my box of donuts. ‘Do you want one?’ It was the only consolation I could offer him. He’d been hoping Harry had lied about coming after Mum so he could get her back. Now that was never going to happen.

‘Thanks.’ He reached into my box, plucked out two, and then he headed back into the interview room.

I looked into my box. Only three left. It was going to be a long day on only three more donuts. I was going to have to space them carefully.

‘Probationary Constable Smith.’ Ramy’s voice broke me from my woeful contemplation of my depleted donut stock.

‘Yes sir.’

‘I need you in my office. Now.’

I smoothed back my hair and tucked the donut box under the desk, but then I remembered my colleague, Bob. Bob could spot a defenceless donut from a hundred paces and had been known to bring a twelve pack to its knees. My three little donuts would be small change to him. I hid them behind the spare paper pile before heading down to Ramy’s office.

What had I done now? I pushed open the door and peered inside. Ramy was already back behind his table and a man of medium height stood with