The Cairns police station was adjacent to the courthouse, a block off one of the main downtown streets. When we arrived, we were escorted to the office of the police chief, one Oliver Geoghan. He stood to greet us. “Amy, Neil, Mr. Gildea, I’d say we’re glad to welcome you to Australia, but these are not happy circumstances, are they?”
“Have you found anything?” Amy asked.
“You’ve seen the newspapers this morning?” Geoghan responded.
“I bought a copy in Sydney,” and I was pleasantly surprised by the accuracy of Rutherford’s account. Having the facts mangled was an occupational hazard for any attorney forced to speak to a reporter. Additional points to Rutherford for getting her hands on a picture of the Brackens wearing shorts and sun hats and standing next to the gangway of a boat.
“The article gave a good overview of how things stand so far,” Geoghan said. “We’ve had divers out at the reef location OceanQuest used on the twelfth. We’ve also had aircraft flying grids over the ocean between the reef and the shore and a helicopter checking the shoreline where your folks or their equipment might drift in. And we’ve notified boat operators to keep a lookout.”
“You haven’t found anything at all?” Neil’s voice sounded strained.
“No. I’m very sorry. You need to understand. It’s doubtful we’re going to find them alive this many days out.” Geoghan spoke gently, but no doubt it was more difficult for Amy and Neil to hear it from him than when I’d said the same thing.
“You can’t stop searching.” Tears thickened Amy’s voice. “You can’t give up. Not yet.”
Neil gripped her hand.
“I said it was unlikely,” Geoghan said. “We haven’t yet reached the point where we can say it’s impossible. We plan to keep the search going until we’re certain there’s no chance they survived. If we find anything, we’ll inform you first.”
I provided Geoghan with our local address and phone number, and we walked back out the way we came in. The lobby, which had been mostly deserted when we arrived, now had a number of occupants. One of them caught my eye—a woman with short blondish hair, sitting by the exit. She was leaning forward with an elbow propped on one leg, chewing on a finger while she talked into a phone. A large, scruffy handbag sat on the floor next to her feet.
She looked up, and seeing us, ended the call and shoved the phone into a holder on her waist. She pushed a heavy lock of hair out of her eyes and stood up. “Mr. Gildea? G’day. I’m Jake Rutherford. How’re you going?” She held out a narrow hand and waited, while I shuffled my crutch out of the way in order to shake it. While I did, I struggled to readjust my mental image.
After dealing with Rutherford over the phone, I expected her to be a spinster type, drab and businesslike, certainly not…well, not so tall, for one thing. The shorts she was wearing made her legs appear five feet long.
She shook my hand with a firm grip and gave me a quick assessing look before switching her attention to Amy and Neil. “G’day. Jake Rutherford with The Australian. I’m real sorry about your folks. It’s criminal, what’s happened. I understand you’re tired, but I’d like to talk to you. I plan to nail OceanQuest’s ass to the wall.”
Amy and Neil gave me questioning looks before shaking Jake’s hand.
I spoke firmly. “You’re right. We are tired. You and I can meet, but later.”
She lifted her eyebrows, but after a beat said, “Good-oh. How about we do dinner. At the Thai Chai in the lobby of the Natsuku at six?”
I nodded, acceptance mixed with resignation.
“Here, let me give you my cell number. Call anytime. I sleep with it.”
I took the card she handed me, shoved it in my pocket, then the kids and I walked out. Jake came out right behind us. She’d added huge sunglasses and a straw hat to her ensemble. She smiled, waved, and loped past us to a small red mini. The phone was once again attached to her ear, and she was talking in quick bursts.
“So, they do say g’day,” Amy said, watching Jake.
“Yeah. I thought it was a joke,” said Neil.
“She’s weird,” Amy said.
Weird wasn’t the word I would choose for Jake although it fit. But what I thought in those first moments was that this was someone Cassie would give a two-thumbs-up.
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