Times of Trouble

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					Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison   1
Prologue


  Wrapped in her huge fur coat, face hidden below the soft hood, she marched angrily along the
street. She hadn't realised it was freezing until she got outside, but she was too proud to go back.
Slamming the door was her final word in their latest argument.
  Ever since the text message arrived, she had tried to get him to talk about it, to come up with a
plan to make this problem go away. How could he be too arrogant to admit they were in trouble?
He didn't want to be told he should have listened to her in the first place. So they just ended up
yelling at each other. When he said everything was fine she wanted to believe him, and probably
could have if there wasn’t so much fear in his eyes.
  As she strode through Battersea Park, her phone rang again. He’d been calling every couple of
minutes since she left, and was no doubt getting angrier and angrier when she didn’t answer. It was
one of their worst arguments. He totally freaked out when she said money wasn't everything, and
she wanted to stop working. And when she screamed that she planned to leave London, he looked
like he was going to throw something at her. It wasn't just the text message, or the heat of battle,
prompting these threats. This damp, cold city wasn't exciting anymore. Her life used to feel
sophisticated and special. But lately it just felt lonely.
  She crossed back over Albert Bridge, turned away from the wind, and rubbed her nose to warm it.
She could picture him pacing the apartment, shoulders hunched, phone pressed against his ear,
cursing her for not answering. He hated it when he lost control of her, when she wasn't doing what
she was told. She would stay with Katie tonight, give him time to calm down and start thinking
about how he might fix things.
  As she glanced at her phone, he rang again. This time she answered, and said abruptly: 'I'm not
coming back tonight Danny...'
  'Where are you? Just come home babe.'
  'No, I'm tired of this. I'm so stressed out and...' Her outburst was interrupted by the sound of the
intercom bleep in the apartment.
  'Did you forget your key?'
  'No, I told you, I'm not coming back tonight.'
  Through the phone, she could hear the speaker next to the door crackle, and could just make out a
male voice saying: ‘I’ve got a delivery for the penthouse’, and louder, her boyfriend replying, ‘Ok,
I’ll buzz you up’. Then he was back on the line.
  ‘There's a delivery. Are you expecting anything?’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                  2
 He sounded tired and tense. Maybe she should go home, and try to make up. She heard his
footsteps cross the foyer, and the clunk of the deadlock clicking open. Then she heard two sounds in
quick succession. The first was the crack of a gunshot, deafening through the phone. The second
was the clatter of his mobile hitting the floor. Her heart seemed to turn in her chest, and her hand
trembled, as she heard two voices echoing in the apartment.
 ‘Where is she? ...Check the bedroom... She isn’t here.’
 She could hear them stamping on the polished floorboards. Finally the door slammed, and then
there was an eerie silence. She screamed into the phone for a few seconds, but he didn’t reply.
 She stood momentarily frozen to the spot. Was there any chance he was still alive? She couldn’t
risk going back to check. She focused on her phone, ready to call an ambulance. But she didn’t
want anyone to know who she was. She didn’t want people asking questions. She threw the phone
away from her as hard as she could. It ricocheted off the bridge railing and splashed into the water,
hardly noticeable in the vast Thames murk. Then she turned, and staggered towards a phone box.
Barely able to control her panic, she dialled 999, and gave the operator the apartment’s address.
There was nothing more she could do for him. She had her purse, and the clothes she was wearing.
She had to run. First she would warn Katie. Then she would disappear.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               3
Chapter 1


 At first I thought the bank had made a mistake. Some processing error or administrative glitch,
which sent this letter to the wrong customer. I even checked if it was actually addressed to us.
Maybe the postman put it in the wrong mail box? But of course he didn’t. It was addressed to
Sandra Goddard, my mother, who had lived in this house for twenty years. The postman knew that,
and apparently the National Australia Bank did too. It just didn’t make any sense. How could mum
be defaulting on a mortgage, when she owned this house outright for over ten years? I vaguely
remembered the day she and dad celebrated their last mortgage payment. I must have been about
thirteen, as dad left before my fourteenth birthday. At least mum got the house, fully paid for.
 The huge red letters LATE PAYMENT screamed at me from the top of the page. I heard mum
come inside, and start unpacking the groceries. She jumped as I confronted her in the kitchen,
waving the bank’s notice in my hand.
 ‘Mum, what the hell is going on with this letter?’
 ‘I’ve told you before not to open my mail.’ From her expression, it was obvious she quickly
worked out what the ‘letter’ was about, and wasn’t planning on discussing it with me.
 ‘But what’s going on? You never pay anything late! And why do you need a mortgage?’ I was
surprised to see that mum looked more scared than angry.
 ‘Ellen, it’s none of your business. Just forget about it!’ she said repressively.
 ‘But if you don’t pay a mortgage on a house, they take it away from you! I live here too!’
 ‘For god’s sake, it’s not going to come to that. I’ll sort it out.’
 ‘I should have known you’d be too proud to tell me about it. You love this house. How could you
risk losing it? And why do you need the money anyway?’
 ‘Just leave it Ellen’.
 She side stepped round me, determined as usual to avoid a confrontation by leaving the scene. I
heard the front door close and the car start.


 Money was something that was never discussed in our family. After dad left, I always suspected
things were a bit tight. It wasn’t like we could ever afford a new car, or an overseas holiday. I don’t
think dad ever paid any maintenance; back in those days I suppose it was easier for fathers to get
away with disappearing, and forgetting they ever had a family. Mum wanted to spend as much time
with us as possible. So she found a job as a teacher’s aide, where she worked school hours, and had
plenty of holidays. After a while, we never mentioned dad anymore.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              4
 For a moment, I wished I had never gone to the letterbox. Or been curious enough about the letter
to open it. But as usual, I was bored, and the postman arriving was the first interesting thing that
happened all day. How sad was that? Having seen it, I couldn’t just ignore it. I sat in stunned
silence for a while, and then tried ringing mum’s mobile about five times, hearing it go straight to
voicemail. Mum was a smart woman, a little rigid in her views sometimes, but certainly never silly
about money. Had something changed? My mind raced over different possibilities. Did mum have a
gambling habit? She was always a bit neurotic: did this make her susceptible to addiction? Had she
taken out a loan to cover a debt to someone? Had she just been spending the money without me
noticing? What if someone tricked her into giving them thousands and thousands of dollars? Was
she losing her mind? She was only 54. How much money were we talking about? And why had I
been left totally in the dark about this?
 Then on top of all this, came the final blow: my feeling of guilt. I never moved out of home
because I needed mum. She was there for me through all the ups and downs of my piano career, if
you can call a failed attempt at fame a career. She always encouraged me to keep going. Even if it
meant going without things herself, to save up for the entry fee for another competition or the next
interstate trip. When I gave up, after 15 long years of trying, I wasn’t in any state to move out. Even
if I wasn’t close to nervous breakdown half the time, popping HP’s to get out of bed in the morning,
I couldn’t afford to move out. Simple as that. I was pathetic. Mum cared for me, paid all the bills,
bought all the food, looked after the house. And all the time, she was worrying about some
mortgage which she obviously couldn't afford to pay, while I lounged around like a lazy, miserable
freeloader. My measly income as a piano teacher didn't go very far, and mum always said she was
happy for me to live rent free until I could afford to contribute. But why didn’t she ask me for help
when she couldn’t pay the mortgage? I didn’t earn much, but she never even asked. Did mum think
I was so selfish I wouldn’t want to help? And why hadn't she told me about the mortgage in the first
place?
 After a couple of hours passed, in which I kept my mind distracted by playing an entire book of
Beethoven’s Sonatas, I heard mum’s car pull into the drive. I had no idea what mood to expect her
to be in. She looked surprisingly fine as she walked in, and sat on the sofa. I finished the piece,
hoping she could enjoy a short recital before having the inevitable conversation with me.
 ‘I’ve always liked that one,’ she commented, which she said so often I couldn’t think of anything
I played that she didn't like. I turned around on my stool, inviting her to tell me what was going on.
 ‘What would you like for dinner? I’ve defrosted some chops but we could have them tomorrow if
you don’t feel like them now. It’s a bit hot for chops.’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                  5
  ‘Mum, don't worry about dinner. Why have you taken out a mortgage and stopped paying it? We
could lose the house...’
  ‘Darling, it’s not your concern. Please don’t stress. I’m going to sort it out.’
  ‘So you're not going to tell me what you used the money for? You’ll just wait until the day they
come to take the house, and then tell me I have to find somewhere else to live?’ Tears welled in my
eyes.
  ‘Don’t be so melodramatic Ellen! I’ve got a bit behind on a mortgage which was used for
something that doesn’t concern you. It’s my business, and I’ll tell you about it when I’m ready.’
  Was she serious? How is worry about losing your home melodramatic? Was it mum’s pride – or
did she think I was too much of a mess to be able to deal with whatever it was?
  ‘What are you going to do when they come to take the house? Ask them not to? Because it will be
too late by then. What's wrong with you?’ I could no longer keep the anger out of my voice.
  Mum was finally starting to lose her composure. ‘It won’t get to that, I hope.’
  ‘But mum, can’t you even tell me how much it is? You obviously haven’t been able to afford it so
far, so what’s going to change between now and tomorrow?’
  Mum shrugged, and her head dropped. She didn’t even have words to convince herself now. And
to my dismay, she started to cry.
  ‘Please tell me what’s going on. How much money do we need?’
  ‘Ellen, I promise it will be ok. I can see you're upset I haven't told you what’s been happening,
but, well, you know how things have been with you, and I didn’t want to make it worse. I promise
we won’t be homeless.’
  ‘Let me help you.’
Mum nodded. I was finally getting somewhere.
  ‘Can you at least show me the paperwork?’ She nodded again, and surprisingly, got up from the
sofa to fetch it.


  She handed me a manila folder labelled ‘mortgage’, and left me to read it. There were only few
sheets of paper inside. On top was an official contract, with a lot of jargon and terms and
conditions. It was dated 1st November 2008. Almost 3 months ago! On the second page there was a
section, filled in by hand, showing our address under the heading of ‘secured asset’. Then the
maximum loan amount was written under ‘mortgage facility’. It said $20,000. I felt a small sense of
relief. Surely the payments on a $20,000 loan weren’t really huge? There were only three monthly
statements, and I flipped through them. It appeared mum had been paying $155 for the first month.
Not so much money really? I looked at the most recent statement. The repayments on this were
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                 6
$530 a month. They almost tripled since November! No wonder she couldn’t afford them. That was
a huge chunk of her pay. It took me a lot of muddling through, and laying the statements in order
side by side, until I worked out the loan amount increased over the last 3 months from $20,000 to
$50,000, and then more recently to $80,000. I also worked out exactly how much was due to stop
the threat of repossession- $610. Definitely not enough money to lose your house over. But also
more money than either mum or I had.
 I knew immediately what I would do to get this money. That would at least keep the bank from
taking the house. I knew mum would feel bad about how I was going to raise the funds. And I
thought I might feel even worse. So I decided to do it before I told her, and before I lost the nerve to
act. Then and there, I listed my piano for sale on eBay. I set the reserve at $5,000 because similar
looking baby grand pianos seemed to be selling for about that much on the site already. My plan
was to pay back the debt, and then have enough left over to keep paying the mortgage until we
worked out how else to pay it.
 Mum and I named my piano Picasso because we thought he was beautiful, even if he did take up
most of the space in our front room. I spent more time with him than any other creature on the
planet, other than mum of course. And, sad to admit, I thought of him as my friend. Sometimes I
talked to him, telling him how I was feeling, or got angry at him when I was mad. I won him in a
young performers’ competition when I was 17. I was absolutely sure I‘d won as soon as I finished
my final piece, Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960. I must have practiced that sonata
hundreds of times in the weeks leading up to the competition. Mum knew every single note. She
would sit and listen to me practising, wincing when my finger missed a beat or when a flat turned
into a sharp. As I played the final triumphant bars that night at the competition, I risked looking out
over the audience, and saw her with her chin resting on her clasped hands, willing me to play it
perfectly. I wasn’t surprised when the judges announced me as the winner. I was so sure of myself
back then. I thought I was destined to win every prize. Destined to win scholarships, get prestigious
recording contracts and perform with famous orchestras. That’s why it took so long for my faith to
waiver, and eventually come crashing down around my ears.
 I didn’t get out of bed for a month after I finally came to terms with the fact I wasn’t going to be a
solo pianist. I might be good, but there were always people who were better, or luckier, or in the
right place at the right time. The final realisation came when I was eliminated in the semi finals of
the Sydney International Piano Competition. I knew the great concert pianists had already made it
by the time they were my age. I got close, but not close enough. The adjudicator’s critique of my
performance was the final blow to an already flimsy hope. I remembered her words like it was
yesterday: ‘Miss Goddard obviously has an impressive talent. Her recital was very well executed,
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                7
and technically brilliant. However, it lacked a certain quality, a heart, you may say.’ I didn’t even
have time to hate her, because I was too busy hating myself. Mum and I spent days discussing what
she meant, how I could manufacture a solution for this ‘heartless’ problem. You see, people had
said this to me before. Did I need to look like I was enjoying myself more? Or try to connect with
the audience better? But no matter how much I practised playing with ‘heart’, I couldn't convince
myself anything changed. So I gave up.
 It was the darkest time of my life, those first few days after realising there was no point going on.
I woke up every night at 3:00 am and spent hours trying to get back to sleep, my mind full of hatred
and hurt at my ruined dreams. It wasn’t like someone I loved died. It was worse than that. I felt like
I had died. The person I planned to be had died, and with that realisation, my will to live
disappeared. The weeks that followed were like a muddy dream, filled with days of tears, the
occasional meal, sleep, and sulking. Mum put up with all this. I lost a lot of weight, and sure, I
wasn’t exactly looking after myself. Showering and brushing my teeth were completely lost from
my daily routine. But the thing that worried mum most was my lack of speech. The day she
demanded I go to the doctor with her, she claimed I hadn’t said a word for three days. The doctor
put me on HP’s. My prescription was for anti depressants but I hated the word ‘depressed’ so I
called them Happy Pills.
 After a while, the HP’s started to work a bit. It wasn't that I felt happy, but the deep, hollow
misery was blunted. One day I got out of bed, and said to mum that I had to do something with my
life. I couldn’t become an invalid at the age of 24. So I made do with the only career choice I had
left - piano teacher. When I finally felt brave enough to leave the house, and people asked me how
my piano playing was going, I brought out the old line ‘those who can do, those who can’t teach’,
so as to give them a laugh, and show I was coping fine. But I wasn’t fine and I’m still not fine.
 I slowly realised I had spent most of my life hiding behind my piano playing. It was like my talent
was such an important part of me, I never bothered to become anyone except ‘Ellen the amazing
pianist’. And without that, who was I? I’d never been very sociable. I’d never been extroverted, or
even what one might call friendly. But I could wow people by playing beautiful music, which made
me happy. I pictured people who knew me listening to me play, and feeling proud they were part of
my life. But why would anyone want to know me if I wasn’t a pianist? What else did I have to offer
them apart from that? And now I didn’t see anyone. Except mum and my students. I guess my
students couldn't come anymore, now I was losing Picasso. But that was tomorrow’s problem.
Today mum’s problem took centre stage. It had been hanging over her all this time, and I was too
self centred even to notice. It was amazing how the sudden threat of homelessness put life into
perspective.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                8
 I felt a bit better for knowing how much we owed. But I still had absolutely no idea how we came
to owe it in the first place. And it dawned on me that mum didn't tell me what the money was for,
because whatever it was, she knew I wasn’t going to like it.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           9
Chapter 2


 When she left her family, she told them she was going to find a better life. Her mother was
devastated to see her leave so young, but she had no way of stopping her. There wasn’t enough
money to keep her at school, and her younger brothers and sisters needed mothering more than she
did. She could hardly believe her luck when the man came to their house, and offered her a job as a
nanny in London. Was it really as easy as that to move to another country? With a job in England,
she would send them as much money as she possibly could. Her friends were so jealous she was
going to London. That’s where the celebrities lived; that’s where people had a chance to make it
big. But when she arrived, the job wasn’t what she thought at all. She told him she'd never done
anything like it before. He didn’t seem to mind though, and was hardly listening when she checked
to make sure he knew how old she was.
 ‘You are beautiful, Veronica. You are going to be a huge star,’ was all he said.
   The first scene they shot wasn’t as bad as she thought it might be. There was only one man, and
it didn’t last long. They told her what they wanted her to say, and what they wanted her to do. It
almost was like acting, sort of. Her English wasn't great, but luckily they didn't care. They seemed
pleased it was the first time she had had sex. She would never admit to her family she lost her
virginity this way. But you had to lose it somehow, and wasn’t this quite an exciting way to do it? It
hurt a lot, but she knew it probably would; a friend told her the first time was always like that. The
man was experienced at least, and he didn’t make her feel uncomfortable. She even felt proud of
herself at the end, when he told her how well she had done, how many great shots they got. It gave
her enough confidence to feel she could get through the second scene only two days later. Different
hotel room, same crew, different actors.
   These men weren’t as nice as the first man. They were rough, and hardly said anything to her.
One threw her all over the bed, changing positions every few seconds, making the sex disjointed
and painful. And the takes all seemed to last forever too, much longer than she was comfortable
with. There were at least three men in each scene, each one with more energy than the last. She
tried to make it look like she was enjoying herself. She tried to ignore the pain searing up her
thighs, and making her stomach hurt. She didn’t want to make them angry if she didn’t perform.
 She felt sad at the end of that day, and the sadness hadn’t gone away since. The man who hired
her let her stay in his apartment, and sometimes took her out to bars. But he also expected
something in return. She thought he might have liked her to begin with, but it soon became clear he
was only interested in sex. Whenever he wanted. Sometimes he told her she was doing well in the
films, but she felt something wasn’t right. Why did he let the men be so rough? Not just rough, but
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              10
cruel. One slapped her really hard in the face and the crew didn't even react. Another one tied her
wrists behind her back and threw her on the floor. She almost cried out in pain, but managed to stay
professional, even though her leg was bruised and sore. Then the man she was staying with
disappeared, but luckily she had a key to his place, so she stayed there alone. No one ever said
where he’d gone, but the work kept going. Other men were organised to deliver her to the set. She
hated it more and more each time.
  She didn’t know who to turn to about how she felt. Nearly everyone she met in England seemed
wrapped up in themselves, and not at all interested in her. She managed to make one friend, a girl
she overheard speaking her language at the grocery store. She didn't tell her what she did for a
living though; she was too embarrassed to explain. Then there was a girl on the set of the film one
afternoon, to whom she spoke for a little while, admitting she wasn’t enjoying herself. The girl,
Molly was her name, was getting her makeup done at the same time for filming in another room.
She was older, and seemed really friendly, motherly almost. She wished she could talk to her again
now. But she hadn’t seen her since then, and that was months ago. At the time she told herself if
this girl was ok with the filming, maybe she was just immature. Maybe this was what it was like to
be a real actress.
  Today she overheard them say it was the final scene, so at least she could look forward to having
a break for a while. She had been brought to a different hotel as usual, but something seemed
strange. There were usually a crew of three or four on the cameras and the lights, a lady doing
makeup and a couple of younger guys who ran errands and bossed her around. But today there were
only two men whom she'd never seen before. They told her to do her own makeup, and didn’t even
give her anything to wear. Usually they gave her lingerie; expensive lacy pieces that made her feel
grown up. But she was only wearing plain white briefs and a black bra today. Was this ok for the
film? When she went into the bedroom, she could see Big Ben from the window. Maybe she could
do a tour of London once she was paid, and explore this city she was living in.
  While one of the men was organising the lights, the door opened and another man strolled into the
room. Unlike the other two, he was wearing a suit; she thought he was perhaps the boss. She had
never seen him before.
  The man with the lights said: ‘We’re almost ready to go, Jared.’
  The newcomer had a smile on his face as he opened the mini bar, and took out a bottle of
champagne. ‘We’ve nearly finished. Let’s celebrate before we start. Lance, Ian, do you want some
bubbly?’ He poured four glasses of champagne.
  Then he said to her: ‘I’ve got a special treat for you. It will make this one better than the others.’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                11
 She didn’t know what he meant by this, but could sense it was not a good idea to disagree. He
handed her three small tablets, and watched closely as she obediently put them in her mouth and
took a small sip of champagne. She hated the taste of alcohol, and hardly noticed the bitter taste of
the pills as they slid down her throat. The three men gulped their champagne, and then got down to
business.
   The scene started much like the other scenes. Jared stood in the corner, and watched as one of
the men filmed. The third man positioned her on the bed, and then striped down to his underpants.
Usually there were lines to say, but she hadn't been given any today, and the man seemed to want to
get started with the sex straight away. She tried to look pleased as he started to rub her breasts and
put his fingers inside her. But unlike other times, she was finding it hard to concentrate on how she
was performing. A dark cloud seemed to be forming in her mind, making the room more muted;
everything seemed slow and grey. Just as she felt her eyelids close, she was shocked awake by the
man tearing her underwear off in a violent rip. He used one hand to hold her down, and the other to
pull on the cotton. The elastic burnt her skin as it snapped. His fumbling hand tore at her bra,
breaking the straps, and leaving red marks on her shoulders. Tears welled in her eyes. She had
hoped this scene wouldn’t be as rough as the others, but it looked like it was going to be even
rougher.
   She knew she shouldn’t struggle, but she couldn’t help it when he forced her legs apart, and
started pushing himself inside her. He drove in hard and deep, with more force than she could bear.
The pain was worse than it had ever been before. And even though her head felt fuzzy and dazed,
this didn’t stop her feeling like her insides were being torn apart. He thrust so hard her head was
slamming into the backboard of the bed. She cried out in pain, no longer caring what they thought
of her performance. She just wanted it to end. She could see Jared standing in the corner behind the
camera man, completely ignoring her eyes pleading with him to make it stop. The man started
clawing at her breasts, leaving scratches down her chest and stomach. No one seemed to mind her
crying and pleading. Even with her mind jumbled, she could tell they wanted her to be desperate.
They wanted her to look like she was trying to get away.
   The cameraman was close to the bed now, and seemed to be focusing in on her, enjoying her
anguished despair. Just when she thought it might be about to end, the man on top of her seemed to
get another wave of energy, and attacked her with renewed force, throwing her body into a new
position, and twisting her legs towards him like she was a doll. She felt clumsy and heavy as she
tried to escape his grip. As he changed position again, this time pushing her back against the top of
the bed with a sickening crunch, she finally saw Jared move towards the bed. How could he watch


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              12
her go through this? When he lent in to speak to the cameraman, she heard his words: ‘Get on with
it, he’s almost done’.
   Get on with what?
   She struggled even harder, trying to force the heavy body off her. But she was wedged between
the man and the bed head. The harder she struggled, the more force he used to thrust into her. The
pain got so bad she almost wished she could black out, to make it go away. She tried to scream but
his hand was over her mouth. And just as she thought she couldn’t bear it any longer, both his huge
hands closed around her throat. She couldn’t get any air into her lungs, and everything did indeed
start to go black.
   The cameraman moved the camera even closer to her, zooming in on her face. She could see
Jared still standing in the corner, motionless. His face was devoid of concern, and even had a glint
of satisfaction that repulsed her. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she tried to open her mouth
enough to bite the man’s wrist, but he was too strong; she couldn’t move her jaw. She didn’t want
them to have the satisfaction of looking into her eyes, so she closed them, and clenched her mouth
shut. Her head felt ready to explode; the pressure was unbearable. And then it was over.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            13
Chapter 3


  Mum avoided me for the rest of the day. She was sick of me asking about the mortgage, and I
think she was also worrying about how she was going fix everything, since she was clearly out of
ideas. I tried to go to sleep early, but my mind wouldn’t let me rest. Part of me wanted to storm into
mum’s room, and demand an explanation. The other part wanted to run to the computer, and cancel
the auction. I did finally fall asleep, but my dreams were full of dark imaginings.
  I slept in as usual, having no real reason to get out of bed. Eventually curiosity motivated me to
drag myself to the computer. Mum was outside gardening, the clip of her secateurs as she
deadheaded the roses audible through the study window. I sat staring at the auction for a while.
There were a few people watching Picasso, and one person had already put in a bid. I felt better
knowing we would have a solution to the immediate problem - some cash. I was so engrossed in
watching my piano disappear, I didn’t hear mum walk into the room, and peer over my shoulder.
  ‘What are you doing?’
  She knew as soon as she saw the screen what my plan was. She stared at me with a look of such
pained horror that I jumped out of my chair, and wrapped her in a hug. Mum wasn’t expecting my
suddenly intimate embrace, and almost toppled sideways. As we righted ourselves, she started to
protest.
  ‘Darling, you can’t sell Picasso. It’s like selling part of the family. I just can’t let you do it.’
  ‘I can get at least $5,000 for him. That would pay the mortgage for quite a while. When you’re
ready to tell me what the hell happened to the $80,000, we can talk about what we need to do once
this money runs out.’
  Finally mum looked defeated; the mention of the exact amount of the debt rattled her. She knew
we needed the money.
  ‘But your students. You start a new term next week. What will they play when you teach them?’
  I hadn’t thought that far so I just shrugged.
  The tension in the house was so thick, I sat outside on the back lawn to eat my breakfast, hoping
the cool breeze might help me to breathe easier. Mum came outside, and stood for a while as if
deciding whether to speak or not. Eventually she sat down, making an effort to be cheerful, even
though the stress was seeping out of her like sweat.
  ‘Why don’t we go for a walk at the park? Then I can explain what’s been going on.’
  ‘So you’ve decided to tell me after all?’
  ‘What with you selling Picasso, I know it’s too late to keep this all from you.’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                    14
 I nodded in agreement, and we both went inside silently to get changed. For me, it meant
throwing on a t-shirt and a pair of old cargo pants. Mum always took much longer to get ready, so I
passed the time by playing a few of my favourite piano pieces, aware of having to make the most of
my time left with Picasso. I ended up with the last movement of the Schubert B flat sonata I‘d won
him with, which was appropriate, since it was the last of Schubert's ‘Last Sonatas’.
 Mum looked just as she always did after cleaning herself up from gardening, with her freshly
applied mask of makeup. Even when on school holidays and facing a crisis, she still saw no reason
to dress down. I'd cheerfully wear track pants every day for the rest of my life, but mum thought
that was vulgar. She dressed carefully each day in a dress suit, or short sleeved shirt, skirt and
cardigan, stockings and sensible heels. Her slim, short frame had been the same size for my entire
life, and some of the clothes she wore were nearly as old as me. Her long fair hair was always
carefully wrapped into a bun, the flyaways plastered to the side of her head with hair spray. I never
understood where she found the motivation. Or why she felt the need to look like a librarian.
 We barely spoke on the way. On our last long walk, mum told me she too was mourning the loss
of my career as a pianist. My first reaction was outrage. How dare she tell me she was sad? How
was that meant to make me feel better? But as she kept talking, I realised she wasn’t sorry I failed.
She was just sorry I wasn’t going to be happy. She wanted me to live my dreams as much as I did. I
felt then that mum and I were in this together, and maybe everything would be ok. The day after, I
finally worked up enough courage to place an ad in the local paper for people wanting piano
lessons. Eventually I had a couple of enquiries, and two students soon became three, then five and
then eight. It wasn't exactly a full time job, or even part time really, since the lessons were only half
an hour each a week. And it wasn't the job I wanted; it was just the only option I seemed to have.
 I hoped after teaching my first lesson, I would feel some satisfaction at guiding a new pupil
around the piano. But I hated it. I absolutely hated it. I had no patience with my students. I had no
concept of how difficult it was for a beginner to play the piano. And to top it all off, I didn't even
care if my students never got any better. Listening to them clumsily prod and trip over the keys just
gave me a headache. I looked forward to the end of each lesson, so I could go back to my bored
stupor. All these students would have to be called this afternoon. How embarrassing to cancel their
lessons because I didn't have a piano. But we had nothing else of real value to sell, so I had done the
only thing possible. Sold the goose that laid the golden egg (if you could call $25 for a half hour
lesson a golden egg).


 I stood by the car waiting for mum to get out, but she seemed to be stalling again.
 'I can see how difficult this is, mum, but how bad can it be?’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                15
  I’ve never been a patient person and now I was getting to the point where I wanted to shake her
and see if the words just tumbled out. Eventually she stepped out of the car and started walking so
briskly, I had to trot keep up.
  ‘Ok Ellen. A few months ago, I got a very strange email from an address I didn’t recognise. At
first I thought it was spam, and I almost deleted it. But luckily I didn’t, because god knows what
would have happened if I had.’
  Visions of Nigerian email scams, and suckers sending thieves their bank account details over the
internet, flooded into my mind. Please don’t tell me mum had fallen for something like that?
  ‘Can't you tell it any quicker ...’
  ‘Yes, yes, I’m getting there. So, the email was from an address I didn’t recognise.’
  She’d already said that.
  ‘What did the email say?’
  Much to my surprise, she'd brought a prop. She pulled a sheet of paper out of her pocket and
handed it to me. She had printed the email.
  The first thing I noticed was the subject line: ‘Ob La Di Ob La Da’. And I immediately knew, just
as mum must have, who this email was from. The message was short, but the implications of what it
said caught in my throat: ‘Except it doesn’t. I need somebody. Not just anybody’. To anyone other
than my mum and me, this message would have been meaningless spam. But I could see what mum
saw. It was from my sister Sophie. And she was in trouble.
  My mind was racing at a hundred miles an hour. Mum could tell I had cottoned on. We both
stopped walking.
 ‘Ob La Di Ob La Da, Life goes on, Bra, La-la how the life goes on.’ I spoke the words in a
monotone; it wasn’t the moment for song.
 Mum nodded. ‘And she needs help.’
  ‘Help, I need somebody, help, not just anybody, or else her life won’t go on.’ More Beatles lyrics.
 Mum nodded again, this time more slowly.
 The email had been sent from a nonsense address, tpjk67@hotmail.com, on the 15th October last
year.
  ‘What happened when you wrote back? How could she have known your email address? You
haven't had one for long’.
  Mum was now red in the face, her forced calmness disintegrating.
  ‘When you put my name in a search engine on the internet, my email address comes up as the
contact on my book-club's website. That’s how she must have found me. When I replied, the email
bounced back. It said the address didn’t exist. But it did exist because it was right there. I must have
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              16
tried it 20 times, and it just kept bouncing back. I asked her where she was, what was wrong, how
could I help? But the message just kept coming up that there was a permanent error, from some
mailer daemon.’ Mum’s voice started to shake. She sounded shrill and panicked as she recounted
her frustration.
  ‘The account must have been deleted after she sent the email,’ I said. ‘But why didn’t she tell you
where she was? How were you meant to help her if she didn’t give you any details?’
  ‘I can only imagine she meant to write more at a later time, but couldn’t. Or someone else could
see what she was writing, and she didn’t want them to know where she was. There has to be some
reason.’
  Trust mum to give Sophie the benefit of the doubt. So like a mother to look past her child’s faults.
My fear for Sophie was suddenly replaced by an extraordinary irritation only a sibling can feel.
What the hell was she doing? We hadn't heard from her for seven years. And suddenly this cryptic
email showed up out of the blue, asking for help, but not providing us the means to give it. It was
completely useless. Why contact us by email anyway? She knew where we lived. It was her home
too once. We still had the same phone number we always had for god’s sake!
  Mum seemed to be lost in thought, but there was more to tell. About the money, for one thing.
She took a deep breath and went on talking.
  ‘I decided right away I couldn’t just ignore the email. But I felt so lost, I didn’t know what to do. I
couldn’t tell you about it because you would have been so worried, and you were already very upset
about, well you know, things.’ She paused, while we both contemplated the understatement of the
century. I hadn’t left my cave (bedroom) for a month around the time it was sent. No wonder I
failed to notice mum getting stressed about an email from Sophie.
  ‘Anyway,’ she went on,’ I did some research. I found a private investigator who was willing to
help me find her. You must understand Ellen, I couldn’t just do nothing. You do understand don’t
you?’
  Of course I understood, but I was still trying to come to terms with what it must have been like for
mum for the past few months. I didn’t know what to say.
  ‘The private investigator, Liam Kingsley, has done a wonderful job. He really is very good.
Whatever trouble she is in, I know she is still alive Ellen. He is sure of that. She doesn’t seem to
stay in the same place for very long. But she’s definitely still alive. I really feel he is getting closer
to finding her.’
  Relief rushed through my veins. I didn't want to admit there was a possibility Sophie was dead.
She wouldn't send an email like that unless something was drastically wrong, and the email account
disappearing was not a good sign.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                 17
 ‘Is she still in London?’ I asked.
 The last time we saw Sophie, she was 20 years old and getting on a flight to Heathrow. Mum
didn’t want her to go, and I remembered them arguing about it. Sophie never forgave mum for
‘letting dad leave’. I could see she wasn’t to blame, and I recognised how hard she worked to look
after us after he left. But Sophie had to take her rage out on someone and mum copped all her
anger. She told us she was going to be a famous actress, and dad would be sorry when he found out
his daughter was a star. Then he would return to us. That was her plan. To lure him back.


 I remembered I thought Sophie was the most beautiful person ever. And she used to be my friend,
before all the yelling and crying. She had huge green eyes, and long black eyelashes. Her hair was
such a dark brown she told people it was black, just like dad’s. I remember she used to spend hours
and hours in her room dressing up, putting on mum’s old clothes and swanning around in high
heeled shoes. She always had The Beatles blaring from her stereo. Sometimes she would let me
come in, if I promised to help her put makeup on.
 But everything changed between us after dad left. We never spent any time together, because I
was scared of her. When I was practising the piano, she would turn her stereo up even louder to
drown me out. And she would tell me I was just a frumpy nerd, with a piano as my only friend. She
wasn’t far wrong.
 She promised to call when she got to London, but she never did. Mum and I had one postcard
from her, a couple of months after she left. It was a photo of London Bridge, and it read: ‘Hi Mum
and Ellen, I’ve got an audition for a play in the West End. Told you I was going to be a star! I’ll
send all my loving to you xx’.
 I remembered mum saying at the time: ‘Pity she doesn’t write home everyday’.
 I didn’t understand then how sad mum was that she never heard from Sophie. I always assumed
Sophie had become some sort of West End stage star, not big enough that we ever heard of her, but
well known and loved, so she didn’t need a family anymore. We were all the way back in Adelaide,
and she was living a real life in London.
 As time went by, I asked about her less and less, because I could tell mum didn’t want to talk
about it. She didn’t want to admit her eldest daughter had left us, just like dad. Eventually we never
spoke of Sophie at all. Sometimes I wondered where she was, and what she was doing. But most of
the time this day dreaming was jealousy and resentment. She was off living her exciting London
life, and she never even wondered what was going on with us. I guess I tried to make up for it by
being really good at the piano.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             18
 But now she was back in our lives. I felt a mixture of worry and anger. Especially because I
suddenly understood where all the money had gone. It was spent trying to find her! And that
spending meant we almost lost our house, the one she was so desperate to leave as soon as she
could. And now I’d gone and sold my piano; as she put it, my only friend.


 Mum was so lost in her own thoughts she wasn’t listening to me anymore. Maybe she was
remembering Sophie, like I was.
 ‘Mum, hello, is she still in London?’
 Mum shook her head. She looked scared to speak, as she could see the anger rising in me.
 ‘No, she was in London for a long time. Liam managed to work out that she flew to Sydney
recently.’
 Unbelievable. She had come back to Australia, and was only a two hour plane trip from home, yet
she didn’t feel it necessary to get in contact with us? What had we done to deserve this?
 ‘So you’re telling me you’ve paid this private investigator $80,000 to find Sophie, and he hasn’t
managed to do that yet?’
 I felt very hostile. Sophie was still missing, and this Liam person had $80,000, which is a shit
load of money to be given for three months’ work, even with expenses. Who the hell was this
person?
 ‘I can see you are hurt, Ellen. You are hurt I didn’t tell you about this when it happened, and you
have always felt hurt that Sophie disappeared from our lives. But there are lots of things you don’t
know, and Liam is doing a good job.’ Who was she trying to convince? ‘When we get home I’ll
show you all the correspondence I’ve had with him since I gave him the job. Then you’ll know as
much as I do. He keeps me regularly updated via email.’
 ‘Mum, I want to meet with this guy. Or at the very least speak to him. I think it’s time I got a lot
more involved in this...situation.’
 The look on mum’s face gave away her amazement that I was offering to help. It reminded me
how weak she must have thought I was; what a hopeless invalid she had for a daughter. But this
was no time to feel sorry for myself. If ever there was a time in my life to get it together, it was
now.
 We had hardly gone far by this time, but after what I had discovered, I just wanted to turn around
and go back to the car. Mum powered forward though, determined to finish the walk. Thankfully
she didn’t try to ease my anxiety with chat about the weather, nor did she mention Sophie again. I
knew I shouldn’t blame mum for her part in all this. Sophie was her daughter too, just as much as I
was. And mum made plenty of sacrifices for me.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                  19
  When we got home, she went to the computer, and opened an email account I had never seen
before. I thought of her sitting there as she often did in the evenings, waiting for me to turn the TV
on, or play the piano, and checking for any news of Sophie. I always thought she was playing
computer solitaire. She must have been terrified when she thought something had happened to
Sophie. No wonder she just handed over whatever money she could get.
  Mum left me to it with the emails, just as she had done with the loan statements. I felt like she
was starting to relax a bit; maybe she was relieved she didn’t have to keep lying to me. And with
the mortgage sorted for the time being, she could concentrate on this not so secret search for my
sister.
  Before I read the emails, I had a couple of other things to do. I checked how Picasso’s auction
was going. It finished in an hour, and the bids were up to $5,800. Hopefully there would be a
bidding war right at the end, and we could get over $6,000.
  Next I called all of my eight students. I forced myself to do it straight away, or I’d put it off
forever. The parents of the children didn’t seem too fussed when I said I wouldn’t start the term for
another month. And the two adults were also, slightly worryingly, quite happy to put off their
lessons. I felt guilt and relief as I hung up from my final call, acknowledging I was quite glad to
take a longer break from my very new career. This was also not a good sign. But I had other things
to worry about now, and with this chore over, I was ready to find out exactly what this clever little
Liam had discovered.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                 20
Chapter 4


 Someone had betrayed them. Sydney was now as dangerous as London. It was three months since
Danny was killed. Three months, a flight to Sydney, and 12 hotel rooms. Then, two days ago,
Sophie glimpsed a man who kept a short distance behind her as she shopped for groceries. He
looked like a tall, skinny, scabby faced teenager, with outdated sun glasses, and an oversized suit.
His hunched stride and huge feet made him look like a weasel or a rat, maybe a mixture of the two.
He wasn’t doing a great job of staying hidden; at one point she slowed down so much that he
overtook her, and then stopped to tie his shoelace to let her pass again. She was into a shop and out
the back door before he even had time to stand up. She had almost laughed to herself that they sent
such an amateur to watch her movements. But what did she know? Maybe he was armed, and over-
confident. She was glad to have lost him, in case his orders weren’t just to watch. Maybe he was the
one who killed Danny. Her stomach wrenched at the thought.
 So now it was time to run further away. Katie would go first; no point exposing both of them at
once. Last night was the first they had spent together in Sydney for weeks. They had chosen a
hostel close to Central station, from where they would make their escape. Katie had been scared,
but resolute, when she left moments ago. Charlie was strapped to her front, gently clawing at her
chest, enjoying the rhythm of her steps.
 But as Sophie watched her friend cross busy George St from the hostel window, she could see
almost immediately, with a lurch of fear, that Katie and her son were being followed. It was the
sunglasses she spotted again today. And the hurried walk, standing out in the crowd of wandering
shoppers. As Sophie picked up her phone to warn Katie, she could see that in a few seconds she
would be out of view. Even from this distance, the bulge in the front of the baby sling was
noticeable. Anyone else might expect it to be a bottle or an extra nappy. But rolled into this pouch
was $2,000 in cash, the key to Katie's new life, and a mobile phone with a new number that only
Sophie knew. She saw Katie's hand reach into the front of Charlie's sling as her phone started to
vibrate. She answered it after two rings.
 'What is it Sophie?' She sounded as panicked as Sophie felt. A phone call hadn't been part of their
plan, so Katie could tell something wasn't right.
 'Don't look around, but the ratty sunglasses guy is following you.' Sophie left the window as she
spoke, and headed out of the hostel.
 'Shit! How the hell did he find us this time?'
 'Just keep going, Katie. I'll be right behind you.'


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            21
 'Are you sure I just shouldn't turn back? We can get a room somewhere else and maybe... maybe
he'll lose us, and I can get to the station tomorrow.'
 'No. You're on your way now. He can't know where you’re going. Just walk a bit faster and don't
look back.'
 'Where are you Sophie? I'm shitting myself.'
 'Just keep moving. You're not far away now. You don't want to be late. The train only leaves
twice a day.'
 Sophie started jogging to catch up with the man. As she spotted him weaving around a group of
slow moving tourists, she realised he wasn't alone. There was another man with him, who looked
more confident, and stronger. He kept pointing ahead of them, making sure they could both still see
their prey. They seemed to be purposely keeping a short distance between themselves and Katie.
But they weren't backing off.
 'I can see the tunnel. As soon as I get down there, I'm going to run. I'll call you back from the
station. Don't follow me Sophie. I don't want them to find you too.'
 Katie rang off, and Sophie felt a rush of relief. Katie was going to make it onto the train, and
they'd never find her. Sophie had discovered, on a map in the hostel, the pedestrian tunnel under
George St that led straight into the station. The men wouldn't know about it, hopefully. Katie would
literally disappear under Railway Square, and would be far away before they worked out where she
had gone. She was proud they had plotted Katie's escape so easily. Their old lives kept them
immune from the stresses of waiting in line for a bus that didn’t arrive, or having to spend money
getting from one place to another; Danny had always ensured they were driven everywhere. Now
they had to fend for themselves.
 Sophie knew it was probably best to hide now herself; to run to the flat she had rented outside of
the city. But she couldn't bring herself to stop following. She wanted Katie and Charlie to get on
that train, and it felt wrong to walk away before she knew they were safe. As she came to a busy
cross road, a row of traffic blocked her way, and she lost site of the two men. She was only 50
meters from the tunnel herself now, and no longer felt invisible. As she darted towards the entrance
and down the escalator, the mobile phone she was still clutching started to ring.
 'Are you on the train?'
 'No, I've got my ticket, but the train isn't ready to board yet. I'm on the platform. Is there any sign
of them?'
 'No, I lost them. I'm in the tunnel. You're going to be OK, Katie. Give Charlie a hug for me. I'll
see you in a few weeks. Text me when you‘re on your way.’
 'Ok. Thanks Sophie. You look after your...'
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                22
 Katie stopped talking mid word, and the sudden silence made Sophie's heart stop.
 'What is it?' she asked.
 'They're on the platform. Shit. They've seen me. I'm going to leave Charlie...'
 Sophie could hear Katie's panicked breathing into the phone; she must have been running. She
started sprinting herself along the tiled tunnel, towards the train station. As she reached the
entrance, her eyes scanned the timetable, desperately searching for Katie's platform. Platform four.
She bolted in the direction of platform four, and when she got there, all she could see was a small
group of people sitting on a bench, waiting for the train’s doors to open. Where was Katie? Where
were the men?
 A flash of movement caught her eye at the end of the platform. Katie was dashing out of the
public toilet. She no longer had Charlie strapped to her front, and the look of terror on her face
made Sophie freeze. The two men barrelled through the door after her, chasing at full speed. As
they both caught up to her, they each grabbed one of her arms, and she started thrashing her legs
around like a crazed animal. Within an instant, her feet were off the ground, and with a
synchronized toss, both men let go and she was sailing through the air. The men kept moving and
Sophie lost site of Katie for a second, her eyes searching for a crumpled body on the platform. But
then a loud wind cracked and rumbled, and a train swept through the station on the opposite side of
the platform from Katie's stationery train. Sophie's hand snapped to her mouth as she heard the
blare of the train’s horn, mixed with the screams of two women. Katie was under that train.
 Sophie shook as she ducked down behind the gate to the platform, hiding from the two men as
they hurried away. People were running from everywhere towards the sounds of the screaming.
Sophie felt her insides were melting, as she dragged herself up to stand and watch the scene. Katie
was under that train. Sophie wanted to scream and cry, but this instinct was smothered by an
overriding fear of someone spotting her. She hurried down the platform, careful not to look towards
the fussing and yelling where Katie lay. She didn't want to see what the train had done to her friend.
She just needed to find Charlie. He must be in the toilet.
 She slammed open the door, and could instantly hear him whimpering, the sound echoing around
the empty tiled space. He was in the last cubicle. Katie must have somehow managed to lock him in
there, and climb out herself. Sophie used the toilet in the cubicle next door as a step so she could
drag herself over the partition. His sling was clipped around the cistern, keeping him safely sitting
on the toilet lid. His little arms reached out as she picked him up, and clipped him to her front. Then
she mustered as much calm as she could, and strode out of the toilet, along the platform and out
onto the street. She promised herself Charlie would never hear what happened to his mummy. She


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                23
didn't want him haunted by a memory she knew she'd never be able to forget. It was all her fault.
How could she ever forgive herself?




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                          24
Chapter 5


 I wanted to read the emails from the private investigator in private, so I printed them all, including
the responses from mum. As I got comfortable on my bed with the pile, I wondered who this Liam
Kingsley was. Where did mum find him, and what was his experience? How old was he? And how
much did he charge? He had already taken way too much money, given the lack of results so far.
 The first email was an enquiry from mum, sent on the 20th October. She gave him a brief outline
of the help she needed, and asked if either he knew of someone in London who he could
recommend, or if he would be interested in the case himself. Liam’s response was a bit over the top,
and it was obvious he was desperate for the job. He couldn’t have been rushed off his feet with
other cases, as he emailed back almost immediately, offering to take the case himself, at $300 a day
plus expenses. He signed the email Liam Kingsley LLB. If he had a law degree, then why wasn’t he
a lawyer? He sounded like such a suck up, I disliked him immediately.
 I did a quick calculation on my mobile phone, and, assuming his daily rate stayed at $300, the
$80,000 spent so far could have accounted for about nine months of work. He took on the case
exactly three months ago. So how had mum spent so much money? Was he making up fluff about
looking for Sophie, when he was actually conning mum? The numbers just didn’t add up. And
worse, this was only his second case since he’d given up law. Terrific. Inexperienced and
expensive.
 But mum seemed desperate for help and took him on anyway. I felt even more miserable as I read
her directions to Liam about keeping the case secret from me, because I’d ‘been through a hard time
recently’, and she didn’t want to 'burden me with this problem’.
 I seriously didn’t like the sound of this Liam guy. He signed his email ‘Green but keen’. How sad
was that? I couldn’t help worrying that he was a complete fraud. Every word seemed too smarmy to
be real. Maybe the reason he hadn’t found Sophie, and had wasted so much time on the case, was
because he was completely incompetent. My mind was spinning with just how much money mum
had poured into his account. I pictured him sitting by a pool in Bali, sipping cocktails, putting them
on his hotel bill, and charging mum for every minute of it. And the fact that he hadn’t even had to
speak to mum, or meet her face to face, just made it easier for him. My heart sank as it occurred to
me we only had Liam’s word for it that Sophie was in Sydney, and still alive.
 It became clear as I read mum’s next email that she was more desperate than loser Liam. She
needed to believe he would help her, because she was frantic to save Sophie, and had no other
options. She gave Liam basic information about Sophie, including photos and details of the last post


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             25
card we received from her. She also forwarded the email she got with the jumbled cry for help.
There really wasn’t much else to tell.
 I pictured a list of things mum could write to describe her second daughter, me. She would be able
to tell someone what I ate for lunch yesterday, and what I watched on TV on Tuesday nights. She
could tell them when I last went to the dentist, and when my driver’s licence was due for renewal.
She could tell them how big and strong my hands were from all the piano playing, and how self-
conscious I was about them. And how little I cared about clothes, wearing the same old pants and
jumpers for years until they fell apart. And she could tell them what dramas and triumphs I had
lived through, my best and worst hours.
 I felt sad that she knew so little about Sophie; it reminded me how much we both lost in our lives.
Dad disappeared, literally never heard from again from the day he went for a beer at the pub, and
never came back. He left mum a note which she never brought herself to show us. If he hadn’t, we
would have assumed he was missing, and mounted a search. But this was the last thing he wanted.
He wasn’t missing. He knew where he was, and he knew where we were. He just didn’t want those
two places to be the same. And so it would seem with Sophie, at least until three months ago. She
hadn’t been missing, just absent. Some families talked to each other every day, even when they
were scattered all over the world. Not us. In our family, if you chose to disappear, you were not
followed. But it still hurt me and mum too much to admit to ourselves, let alone to each other, that
for seven years, Sophie hadn’t needed us in her life. Not until now.
 I looked at the photo mum sent to Liam. It was Sophie’s year 12 school portrait. Even with her
face unenthusiastically posing, with a smile so slight it could be mistaken for a scowl, she was just
as stunning as she had always been. She was one of those people who always looked attractive.
Even in her school uniform, with thickly applied makeup, and purposely tousled hair, she was more
photogenic than I had ever been in my life. I wondered if she still looked like this girl in the photo.
If she was still stunning, and making men fall in love with her without even speaking to them.
Maybe if she had stuck around a bit longer, some of her charisma would have rubbed off on me.
 About two months after Sophie went to London, soon after we got the one and only post card
from her, I asked mum if she knew her address, as I wanted to send her a letter. I had a bit of a
crush on my new piano teacher, Thomas, and I wanted Sophie’s advice about it. Actually, it wasn’t
a crush. I was completely and utterly in love with him, in an obsessive and devoted way that at age
17, I had no idea how to handle. He was 26, and I thought he was the most gorgeous, brilliant
person I ever met. He was good at the piano, great even, but like me, never made it to a professional
level. But when he was teaching me, he still believed he could make it, and his ambitious drive
fuelled such a desire within me, I was probably practising mostly to impress him. I was his best, and
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               26
most committed student, and since I had five lessons with him a week, he was my world. I dreamt
one day he would be in love with me, and we would travel the world as famous pianists together.
 I couldn’t possibly tell mum how I felt. So I wrote a letter to Sophie to see if she had any ideas
about how to explain all this to Thomas. We hadn’t been friends in the years before she left; maybe
it was my attempt at an olive branch. And besides, who else could I ask? She had boyfriends for as
long as I could remember: the first one when she was about 12 years old. Some of them lasted a
while, others we only met once. She never seemed to get too emotional about any of them, treating
them like fleeting hobbies. But I was sure she would understand how I felt when I explained the
agonising pain in my heart, that wouldn’t go away until Thomas and I were wrapped in each other’s
arms. With the letter written, and just in need of an address, I was upset to hear mum didn't have
any idea where Sophie was living. I kept the letter in my diary and continued to build up a romance
with Thomas in my mind.
 A few weeks later, drunk with hormones and frustrated at the lack of progress, I tried to kiss him
during one of my lessons. I was in the middle of Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu, which, naturally, I
found terribly romantic. When he leant over to turn the page of my music, I stopped playing mid
bar, turned my head, and tried to plant my lips onto his. I honestly expected him to kiss me back,
and for us to live happily ever after. But he was mortified, and jerked his head back so fast that he
fell off his chair. The sudden realisation at what I had done made me burst into tears, and run from
the room. I never saw Thomas again. I got a new teacher, and to this day I still cringe at the scene I
caused. He must have thought I was a complete nut case. I never tried kissing anyone since then.
Trying to forget about Thomas, I went back to Liam’s emails.
 Something lurking at the back of my mind resurfaced as I read on. Mum never mentioned
anything about going to the police. Why didn’t she try that first? Just as I wondered about police
involvement, so had Liam. Mum told him she tried contacting police here, and in London, and had
got nowhere. They weren’t interested in a 27 year old runaway.
 Mum’s next few emails were panicky requests for an update. I felt irritated. Why hadn’t he stayed
in regular contact as he promised? Maybe mum thought it would take just a couple of days to locate
her, and was surprised that, after a week, she had no news at all. It was like when you expected
someone to be on time, and then you realised they were running late, and you started to wonder
whether they were coming at all. If Liam couldn’t find her in a few days, was he ever going to be
able to find her? He still hadn’t after three months.
 Liam’s responses were full of apologies. He had organised for a friend who worked in IT to track
the email Sophie sent, to see whether he could locate the computer it was sent from. He also
contacted the Australian Embassy in London. Someone there was able to confirm that Sophie
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              27
entered the UK on the 13th December 2002. Big whoop. We knew that. But he did add that her two
year working visa had expired, and they had no record of her applying for another one. There was
no record of her leaving, either. Since she had presumably been living in the UK as an illegal
immigrant, he expected she would have kept a low profile, and not applied for credit cards, paid tax
,or done any of the other activities which would make her easier to find. This was bad news.
 The IT guy worked out the email was sent from a computer that didn’t have a fixed IP address. It
was all gobbledygook to me. Apparently the internet service provider was able to track down a
group of computers that were using this IP address; they were in an internet cafe in Lambeth,
London. And guess what? Liam decided he needed to go there to continue investigating! And guess
who paid for his flight? And his hotel, and other expenses? Eating up the cash as much as he could,
no doubt. He said he wanted to have a look around Whitechapel, where Sophie sent the postcard
from... seven years ago! As if she would still be there! What did he expect? That she visited the
same post box every day for seven years? No wonder mum had to get the mortgage. She would
never have afforded all this expense otherwise.
 I was getting more and more angry as I read through the next few emails, sent as updates from
London, with less progress made every day. He visited the internet café, and showed the people
who worked there the photo of Sophie. Someone thought they might have seen her, but had no idea
where she lived. What use was that? We knew she had sent the email from there, so of course she
had been there. He also canvassed the surrounding area, asking as many people as possible if they
had ever seen her, again to no avail. There seemed to be so many wasted hours of work, with each
dead end costing mum literally hundreds of dollars. Some of his emails didn’t even tell mum
anything, other than that he hadn’t found Sophie yet. Some explained the work he was doing,
expressing the view that he felt it was all useful, but not yet fruitful. How could it be useful but not
fruitful? That didn’t make any sense.
 He was basically trying two avenues – one her present whereabouts, the other her past. He tried
all the hospitals in case she had been bashed up. He tried all the missing person agencies. He tried
the cafés in the area where the email was sent from. He also tried to trace her from when she first
arrived. He went to all the theatrical agencies, to see if she was ever on their books. This was
especially time consuming, as there were many agents, and most didn’t keep good records. But
eventually he found one that did have a record of her. They even had a glamorous publicity photo
on file. The agent told him she had a few auditions, and did some work as an extra, but he said he’d
told her she should use her looks for modelling, rather than acting. Liam then went to the film
studios to see if any of the camera crew remembered her.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               28
 It was becoming clear I was wrong about Liam not working on the case. And I had to concede his
perseverance did pay off in the end. One of the cameramen was very chatty, and suggested that if
Sophie was interested in acting, she might have hung out with a lot of other aspiring actors in a café
in Soho called Backstage. When Liam showed her photo there, most people didn’t remember
anyone from that long ago. But finally the girl behind the counter suggested he speak to the
previous owner, an old Greek guy, who sold the café four years ago, but worked there during 2002.
 Apparently he was quite difficult to track down. But when Liam eventually found him, he
recognised the photo of Sophie at once. Not because she came into the café a lot, but because she
worked for him for six months. She started off hanging out there, trying to find out when auditions
were on, and to meet other actors. When a job at the café came up, she took it. The old Greek said
she didn’t turn up to work one day, and he never saw her again. But he heard rumours about what
she was up to. Apparently this information was enough to help Liam narrow down where Sophie
might be. He told mum she was probably living somewhere in Lambeth – which was where the
internet café was.
 I had to admit Liam had done quite well to get that far, but wasn't it was mostly just luck? Ask
enough people, and eventually someone would be of some use, even after all this time. And this
particular email puzzled me. It started with a complete gush of enthusiasm, but by the end, the
details were so thin, it didn’t even explain what Liam found out. Just that he would keep looking in
this area, back where he started. Why fill mum in on every single piece of information he used to
get to the café owner, and then not explain what the information was that he got out of him?
 I quickly read on to the next email, to find out what this man had told Liam. But surprisingly,
although he said the man was correct, he didn’t say anything else. What were these ‘rumours’ and
where did they lead him? I expected to see an email from mum asking for more information, but
strangely there wasn’t one. She just wrote back that she was glad he was getting somewhere, and to
keep up the good work. And even more strangely, there wasn’t another email from Liam for a
whole week, even after mum sent a couple checking he was still on track. I needed to keep
reminding myself that mum still trusted Liam, and I hadn’t finished reading everything yet. But I
found his next email even more mysterious than the one before.
 Liam told mum that, by knocking on doors, he had managed to find someone else who’d
employed Sophie. This woman didn’t trust Liam to start with, wanting him to explain why he was
looking for Sophie. He said it was as if she knew Sophie’s whereabouts was valuable information.
She said she could help him, but only if he paid for the information. And not at a cheap price.
£5,000! I was stunned. That’s about $10,000! And to make things worse, Liam chose this moment
to ask for payment for himself, which amounted to over $15,000 including expenses. This was so
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              29
much further out of control than I ever thought it could be. Mum obviously didn’t hesitate to do
what Liam asked, taking out the extra $30,000 on the mortgage. What a complete sham! How did
mum know this woman even existed? How did she know Liam wasn’t keeping the money for
himself?
 Since Liam still hadn’t found Sophie, I already knew if this woman did exist, whatever she told
Liam hadn’t led him to her. When Liam worked this out for himself, his emails became even more
uninformative. There were two possibilities that could account for this, neither of which filled me
with any hope for Sophie. The first was that he hadn’t actually found out anything, hadn’t even
been trying, and had taken the $10,000 extra for himself, so he could have a relaxing holiday in the
UK. The second was that he was working hard to do whatever it took to find Sophie, but was
incompetent, and didn’t know nearly as much as he was suggesting.
 There were only a handful of emails still to read, which worried me even more, as these were
spread out over the last two months. What the hell was he doing all this time that made it
impossible for him to keep mum updated? He hadn’t even confirmed what sort of trouble Sophie
might be in, or suggested any reason why she sent the email.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             30
Chapter 6


 Much to my dismay, the remaining emails were just as uninformative. And not long after he
handed over a huge chunk of cash to some unknown woman, he wanted more! He obviously
realised he wasn’t revealing enough, so he made up some dodgy excuse like he couldn’t say too
much in case it put mum in danger. What sort of danger could he put mum in? He said he used the
information from his paid informant to locate another person, who also wanted money for
information. This person claimed to know exactly where Sophie was living, having helped her get
to Sydney. But Liam hadn’t found Sophie in Sydney yet, so how much use was this information?
And the worst part; he gave this person £15,000!
 Unbelievable. I was now more sure than ever that Liam was conning mum. Was he just keeping
all this money for himself? Whenever I felt frustrated, I usually bashed something out on Picasso,
playing as fast and as furiously as I could. But it was too late at night to do that. And anyway, I
would have to get used to living without that escape.
 Like clockwork, mum did as Liam asked and sent the extra money, which was then handed over
to this ‘mystery person’. I cross checked with the mortgage payments, and could see mum had
increased the mortgage by $30,000 at this time. Once mum had written back with news of the
money transfer, Liam sent an email saying he was flying back to Australia, straight to Sydney. If
Sophie was where he had been told she was, why hadn’t he be able to give mum a phone number?
Or even a postal address, so she could write a letter? Mum hadn’t asked for either of these things
when she replied, just saying she was pleased Liam was now so close. I guess she thought she had
been patient for so long, it was worth waiting a couple more days to hear that Sophie was safe. But I
felt no surprise whatsoever when I read the final email Liam had sent, exactly two weeks ago,
explaining that Sophie wasn’t at the address he’d been given. I felt so out of my depth. I just
couldn’t understand what Liam was thinking. How could he take all of mum's money, and still
pretend he was working on the case?
 Before I went to bed, I checked on the result of Picasso’s auction. I had raised $6,200. It seemed
like nothing compared to the $80,000 already spent. No doubt a bill would come from Liam soon,
asking for thousands more dollars for his fee. I felt so sorry for mum; did she suspect he was
cheating her? I can't imagine she would have sent all that money if she had? She never even asked
for proof these people who demanded money existed, or proof they knew Sophie. Mum’s worry
was clouding her judgement, but it wasn’t clouding mine. After tossing and turning for hours,
fantasising about taking revenge on Liam, I finally fell asleep.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                 31
  I could hear mum in the kitchen when I woke up, busying herself making breakfast. My
distraction device was Picasso; hers was household chores.
  ‘Mum, I finished reading all the emails last night. I’m really worried about Liam, I think he
might...’
  Mum spun around to face me, with a look of disappointment and anger that I wasn’t expecting. I
also wasn’t expecting a raised voice.
  ‘You always look for the worst in people. Can’t you see how hard he’s been working?’
  It wasn’t like mum to attack me like this, and it left me feeling even more worried about her state
of mind. The last thing I wanted was an argument, so I ignored her comment and forged ahead,
keeping my voice even.
  ‘I know you must be worried about Sophie, but he’s taken so much money, and still hasn’t found
her.’
  ‘That doesn’t mean he won’t.’
  ‘Haven’t you even considered he might be a con man?’
  ‘A con man? Whatever gave you that idea?’
  Mum slumped down on the kitchen chair, exhausted by this small amount of confrontation.
  ‘It’s a lot of money mum, and nothing in the emails proves he has done any of the things he says
he has.’
  ‘He wouldn’t lie that Sophie is alive. He just couldn’t.’
  I avoided arguing with mum over this one. I didn’t want to admit to myself, or her, that Sophie
was scared for a reason, and whatever it was, it could have caught up with her since she sent the
email.
  ‘I was thinking I might email Liam, and see what he’s up to. Then at least I might get a better idea
about what he has found.’
  ‘Ok, but I don’t want you accusing him of anything. He’s been looking for your sister for months.
He’s given up his whole life. If you can’t appreciate that, please don’t make him feel that I can’t
either.’
  Mum was right in a way. There was no point in approaching Liam with anger. My best strategy
was to be charming and polite, grateful even. Once I worked out exactly who I was dealing with, I
could start to uncover who the real Liam Kingsley was.
  I logged onto mum's email, and I sent a short note to Liam explaining who I was, that I was now
aware of the situation, and I would like to know what was going on. I sent him my mobile phone
number, and asked him to ring me. Much to my surprise, my phone rang within minutes of me
sending the email.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             32
 ‘Hello, Ellen speaking.’ Charming and polite, easy peasy.
 ‘Hi Ellen, this is Liam Kingsley.’
 With even the few words he had spoken, it was obvious he was trying to be charming and polite
too. Or maybe he wasn’t trying, maybe this was what he really was.
 ‘As I said in my email, I have recently become involved in what is going on with you and my
mum, I mean, that you have been looking for Sophie.’ I started pacing the room, trying to keep a
confident air so I sounded completely in control.
 ‘Yes, the case is ongoing. It has been much more difficult than I thought it would be.’
 I felt like saying he probably had no idea how difficult it was going to be, since by his own
admission he was ‘keen but green’. But I was still trying to keep my hostility hidden, so I bit my
tongue.
 ‘So, can you tell me any more about what has been going on? I’ve seen all the emails you sent.’
 There was silence on the other end of the line, long enough to raise my suspicion that his mind
was searching for something to make himself sound like he had been genuinely looking for my
sister, when he had actually been sitting on the beach in Sydney.
 ‘It would be fair to say there have been a lot of things going on that I have, for particular reasons,
been leaving out of the email updates to your mother.’
 That was obvious. I thought for a moment he was going to confess. He wasn’t easy to rattle was
he? He kept going, speaking with such hesitation that I wondered if he was nervous about talking to
me.
 ‘The situation has become far more complicated and dangerous than I anticipated. I don’t want to
speak about it all on the phone, but it is probably quite good timing you have got involved at this
point.’
 Here we go, try to flatter me to take the attention off his crimes. ‘Oh, why is that?’
 ‘As I said, I don’t want to say much over the phone, but it so happens I have to come home to
Adelaide on Saturday – that’s tomorrow. Maybe we should meet up in person. I would have come
before, but your mum said no contact except by email.’
 ‘I would be more than happy to meet up with you. I have lots of questions to ask.’
 ‘No doubt you do. I’ve got your address. Should I drop round at about 12:30? I fly in at 12:00, so
I could come straight from the airport.’
 ‘I’ll be here. Waiting for my piano to be picked up.’ Oops, the hostility slipped out after all. Of
course I would be home. When wasn't I home?
 ‘Piano?’
 ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              33
 ‘Yes, I look forward to it.’
 Was that relief I heard in his voice? Did he want to tell me what was going on? I hoped so. I was
amazed he was suggesting we meet up. I assumed he would never have agreed if I asked him
straight out. Maybe he just made up that he needed to be in Adelaide, so he could make sure his
income was safe?
 Mum was happy to hear Liam would be visiting in person the next day, but she also admitted she
was a bit worried that he would ask for his account to be paid. I told her not to worry about it for
now, but couldn’t help feeling anxious myself. She hadn’t paid him for so long that his wages now
added up to thousands of dollars. The money I got from Picasso was to be used to pay the mortgage,
not be given to Liam. He had been paid more than enough already.


 I had the rest of the day to kill. I needed to busy myself with something, and not dwell on my
anger at Liam, my worry and annoyance at Sophie, and the imminent departure of Picasso. Mum
obviously didn’t want to discuss the search for Sophie; it was so like her to avoid talking about
problems. And while it was understandable, what with how stressed she must have been, it also
made me feel really lonely, knowing all this information and not having anyone to dissect it with. I
wished Liam was arriving sooner.
 I was tempted to sit at Picasso and say my final goodbyes with our favourite Mozart, but when I
went into the living room, mum was taking her turn to bid the piano farewell. She was carefully
cleaning and polishing, buffing and waxing each key, making his shiny black top sparkle like glass.
So I did something I hadn’t done for years; I went into Sophie’s bedroom.
 Unlike Sophie, mum preferred everything to be in its place, so the room didn’t look anything like
it did when Sophie lived here. Mum had packed up all her things and put them away neatly in every
possible storage space. Her double bed was still where it always was, in the corner under the
window, taking up most of the room. But now it had a plain quilt cover, suitable for the guests we
never had. The only other pieces of furniture were a large built-in cupboard, made of dark wood,
stretched across one wall, and a big desk and chair which were bulky and mismatched. The posters
of The Beatles were gone; there were still chips in the paint where mum had peeled off the Blue
Tack. The room seemed bigger when Sophie was here, either because I was smaller then, or
because her things were always strewn all over the floor and the bed, on top of the desk and spilling
out of the cupboards. Maybe a bit of both.
 I remembered the closest mum and I got to talking about Sophie since she left was about four
years after we last heard from her. Mum was cleaning my room and commented on how little space
I had, not even room for anything other than a bed and the built-in wardrobe. She suggested I might
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               34
like to move into Sophie’s room, since it was so much bigger than mine. I quickly refused, hoping
she wouldn’t mention it again. Sophie’s room was her room; what would she think if she came
home to find me in it? I must have still been hoping she would come back, not yet ready to admit
she was gone for good.
 The cupboards were still full of her clothes, and the shelves above packed with old school books,
novels and even toys. You only had to glance at the rack of dresses, now hanging neatly, to see
Sophie was a ‘colourful’ person. Not ‘colourful’ in the sense of using bad language or being gay or
whatever, but literally colourful. One of the dresses had splashes of yellow on top of pink and blue
flowers. Another was white, with pinstripe lines of every colour imaginable. Sophie always made
her clothes look like they were the height of fashion or she was setting a new trend. She mostly
bought them with her pocket money at op shops; mum certainly didn’t buy them for her. And I had
a recollection of her sewing, to make them fit, or to take up a hem. She probably could have been a
fashion designer if she wasn’t so set on becoming an actress. I never asked to borrow her clothes,
even when we were still friends. I simply couldn't pull them off.
 I sat down at the chunky desk chair and traced my finger along the grooves where Sophie had
doodled. She was always good at finding anything to do other than homework. She didn’t doodle
like most teenagers did, with I luv michael or school sux. Her doodles were mostly the lyrics to The
Beatles songs, and quite amazingly lifelike drawings of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Mum
always thought she would grow out of her love for The Beatles, but Sophie’s preoccupation passed
through the description of ‘phase’, and turned into ‘obsession’. She didn’t just dabble in things; she
turned them into her passion, letting them grab hold of her and drag her through the mundane parts
of life. I guess I did this with the piano, so maybe we were more alike than I realised.
 More out of boredom than in an attempt to go through Sophie’s things, I wriggled open the
drawers on the side of the desk, and flicked through the piles of paper and envelopes. Mum really
was a hoarder. She must have gone through all this stuff and decided it was worth keeping. There
was everything from report cards, to invitations to eight year olds’ birthday parties, to stories
written in the semi-illiterate scrawl of a five year old. Near the bottom of one of the drawers was a
large envelope, with thick cardboard mounted photos inside. They were Sophie’s class photos
throughout her entire time at high school. I stared at the rows and rows of faces; most were
strangers, but a few I recognised. The girl standing next to Sophie was Tina Gianopoulos, Sophie’s
best friend. Suddenly an idea sprang into my mind; Facebook!
 Back before I became a virtual recluse, one of my friends invited me to join Facebook. I had
heard of it many times since. Even my youngest piano student, Alice, who was only 13, was a
member, and talked about it all the time. I remembered telling her I wished she spent as much time
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               35
practising piano as she did updating her Facebook profile. I had, so far, never bothered to sign up.
What was the point of ‘networking’ with people if you couldn’t bear the thought of them asking
about your life? If anyone I knew saw me on Facebook, their first question would be ‘so how is
your piano stuff going?’ and my response would be... to log off! But this could be my best chance
to get in touch with Sophie. Liam didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Maybe I could be some use.
 I hardly ever used my email account. There was no point, when I never contacted anyone. It
didn’t take me long to scroll through my old emails to find the one inviting me to join. Within
moments, I was officially part of the Facebook universe. I typed Sophie’s name into the search,
wondering for the first time whether it was possible she married and changed her name. Much to
my amazement, there were over 2,000 Sophie Goddards; I had forgotten Facebook was an
international site. I scrolled through the photos for what felt like hours, but was probably only
minutes, and none of them were my sister. There were a handful of profiles that didn't have a photo,
but the profiles said they lived in the US so were very unlikely to be Sophie. Determined not to hit a
dead end so soon, I decided to see if I could find Tina Gianopoulos. Just because Sophie lost touch
with me and mum, didn't mean she had ditched all the people from her past. I grabbed the school
photo from the bedroom to check the spelling of the last name and typed this into the Facebook
search. Thankfully there was only one result, but the photo only vaguely resembled the teenage
Tina in the class photograph. I clicked on the 'send a message' button underneath the tiny
photograph, and wrote 'Hi Tina, are you the Tina Gianopoulos who left Marryatville High School in
1999?' As I clicked send on the message, I wondered if she would remember me. I was just
Sophie’s annoying little sister to all her friends, but my name would still ring a bell with Tina,
wouldn't it? I sat back deflated, all the excitement now drowned out by impatience. I had only just
started investigating, and was already learning it wasn't as easy as it looked. I had no tolerance for
the whole one step forward, two steps back thing.


 ‘Mum, have you heard of Facebook?’
 Mum was still polishing Picasso. She didn’t look like she was doing a chore; she appeared to be
enjoying herself.
 ‘Yes, I have heard of it. I read an article about it in the paper a while ago. What about it?’
 ‘Oh, I just thought I’d join up, do some fishing around to see if Sophie was on there. I couldn't
find her but then I thought we might be able to get in contact with someone who went to school
with Sophie, to see if they have heard from her since she moved to London.’




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                36
  I tried to play down my self-congratulatory tone. I had been tempted to tell mum I was amazed
Liam hadn’t thought of it, but mum wasn’t reacting well to insults to Liam. She straightened up,
stretching out her back.
  ‘That’s a great idea, love. I’m sure it couldn’t hurt.’
  ‘What do you mean, it couldn’t hurt?’
  Mum went to say something, but then stopped herself, a sure sign she was trying to come up with
a less confrontational way to explain something to me.
  ‘You’ve read the emails Liam sent. This search for Sophie isn’t just based on curiosity, or my
wish to be reunited with her.’
  ‘Of course it’s not, mum, I know that, as well as you do. But how could it hurt for me to send an
email to a girl she knew 10 years ago?’
  Mum sighed and started to rub her temple with the side of her hand. ‘Liam explained that he
doesn’t want to endanger us as well. I just don’t want you to get too involved. I’m worried sick
about Sophie as it is.’
  If I were to be honest with mum at that moment, she would have got very angry with me. She
didn’t realise how much I doubted Liam. She hadn’t caught on that I thought he was a total liar,
who was stealing as much money as he could. But last time I came close to suggesting this, mum
looked like she was going to snap. So I stayed off the subject of Liam.
  ‘Mum, what on earth could happen to us in little old Adelaide? I have absolutely no idea what this
danger is, or how it relates to Sophie, so I find it really difficult to take it all seriously.’
  ‘I can see that...’
  ‘And apart from everything else, I’m bored! Bored bored bored! I can’t just sit around and
pretend to be reading or watching TV, when all I can think about is Sophie and Liam and the money
and Picasso. It’s driving me nuts!’
  My voice had grown louder and louder until ‘nuts’ was so shrill and drawn out that I must have
sounded like a four year old warming up to a tantrum. I stood with my hands on my hips to
complete the scene. Mum stopped polishing again, and looked at me, her eyes asking me to speak
sensibly.
  ‘If you are finished, maybe I'll play for a while?’
  ‘Would it help you to calm down?’
  ‘You know as well as I do it works every time.’
  ‘Ok then. I’m finishing up anyway. Why don’t we put together a rehearsal schedule like we used
to, and I can choose all my favourites?’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              37
 Mum’s favourites were the same as mine, so it sounded like an excellent send off for Picasso.
And a time consuming diversion to fill the rest of the morning for me.
 Before I sat down on the stool, mum lifted the lid to empty out the contents, since the stool would
be going with the piano. There were some old music books I had forgotten about, along with some
loose sheet music, an electronic metronome, and an old broken piano wire that was replaced a
couple of years ago. Mum neatly packed all the books onto the shelf along with the hundreds
already stored there. While her back was turned, I coiled the wire up, and put it in my pocket. It was
the only piece of Picasso I could hang onto.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            38
Chapter 7


 Vince poured himself a glass of red wine as he waited for his visitors to arrive. They were five
minutes late already. He hated waiting. This was their first visit to his beach house. They were no
doubt unused to the dirt road that took them out of the town, winding around the back of the sand
dunes which kept each house secluded. He had known as soon as he saw this house it was where he
would live in Australia. He couldn’t buy it; it wasn’t for sale. If it was, he would have paid cash for
it immediately. But he could lease it, and that would have to do. He didn't know how long he would
be working in Australia, but his business interests were growing so fast, it was hard to think of a
good reason to leave. And from all accounts, things in London were moving along nicely as well.
 This house made him feel right at home. It wasn’t just its private location he appreciated. The
deck leading straight onto white sand dunes was handy. The private beach beyond made him feel
safe. As if he could share his secrets with the sea and no one else. The towering glass panelled
walls, tinted to provide protection from the sun, made it feel like a fortress. He could see out, but no
one could see in. Exactly how he liked to live. The giant, sparsely furnished living area was at the
centre of the house, the open first story gallery making it visible from every other room. And the
master bedroom was ample space for Melissa to inhabit. She could stay out of his way, and he
could stay out of hers. As long as she wasn’t needed for something. The house made him feel
powerful and secure, which meant it was worth its weight in gold.
 He wouldn’t let his visitors use unfamiliarity with the location as an excuse for lateness. All his
employees quickly learnt no excuses were tolerated. It was better just to apologise when at fault,
and say nothing more.
 When the car arrived, he could hear it was driven in a panic. He watched through his glass walls
as it skidded to a halt, leaving a cloud of sand behind like a rally driver throwing up dust. His
visitors scurried to the front door, and knocked quickly; he could almost feel them quivering
through vibrations in the floor. This was exactly how he liked visitors to be; firmly on the back foot,
unwilling to contradict him. Before he got up to open the door, he yelled to Melissa to go upstairs
into their bedroom. If there was one thing he hated it was when his visitors perved at his girlfriend.
She lived in a bikini whilst at the beach house, not by her own choice, but by his. She was already
half way up the stairs by the time he ordered her there. She knew as soon as she heard the car he
would be having a ‘meeting’ she was not to be present at.
 He hadn’t seen these two before. It wasn’t rare for him to have employees whom he never met.
For particular areas of his business, this was how he wanted it to be. He didn’t bother to introduce


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               39
himself because he preferred not to know their names. They walked into the foyer like scared
school boys, ready to be caned by the head master.
  One of them said quickly: ‘Sorry we’re late’, and the other scuttled in, ready for a handshake that
wasn’t offered.
  ‘Nice house, boss, must be a nice change from freezing cold London.’
  He glared at the one who spoke. It wasn’t his business to talk about nice houses, weather, or
where he came from. This nervous prattling was making him feel angry, so he quickly cut to the
chase.
  ‘I like to sit out on the deck to discuss business.’
  He led the way through the giant glass bi-fold doors that looked out over the beach. It was a habit
of his to take this sort of meeting outside. He knew beyond an inch of a doubt there were no
recording devices hidden in this house, but old habits were familiar and comfortable.
  The men had thankfully worked out silence was the best option; they sat at the wooden outdoor
seating on the deck, and waited to be spoken to. Vince let the tension hang in the air for what must
have seemed an eternity to the men, before he turned away from the view, finished his glass of
wine, and started to speak.
  ‘I've been told you lads can be handy when someone has a problem they need sorted.’
  The visitors nodded. Vince felt a sudden flare of irritation. The men were obviously nervous, but
did they have to look so spineless? He couldn't stand wimps.
  ‘Take those ridiculous sunglasses off. I wanted you to come here so I could firstly congratulate
you on your excellent work. You saw a situation might get out of hand, and you acted to ensure it
didn’t.’
  One of the men started to relax, letting a small grin slip onto his face, enjoying the praise. The
other man, however, still looked petrified. Maybe he heard the note of sarcasm. Or maybe he knew
about these ‘meetings’, and how unlikely it was they had been summoned to the beach house for a
pat on the back.
  ‘Secondly, I would like to ask you whose idea it was to dispose of the target in front of so many
witnesses?’
  The small grin disappeared. The men's eyes met, each urging the other to say something. The
seconds ticked by, and neither of them found an answer. They each secretly blamed the other.
  ‘I had a suspicion we might have this problem, two mute men. Don’t worry. I won't hold it against
one of you. I’ll just hold it against both of you.’
  Before either of them had time to protest, Vince saw Jared appear on the deck. His right hand man
always had impeccable timing. Sometimes it was like he could read Vince's mind. Jared was older
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              40
than Vince, and shorter and thinner, with an impassive face. He was, as always, dressed in a suit,
which today looked incongruous at the beach.
 ‘Jared, good to see you,’ said the one with the sunglasses – now in his pocket, relief in his voice.
But Jared didn’t react. He held a gun in his hand, with a silencer on the end of it. The silencer was
probably unnecessary, since the beach house was so isolated. But this was another old habit Vince
insisted on keeping up. Jared lifted the gun, directing it at the face of the more timid of the two men,
who had gone as white as a sheet.
 ‘What are you doing?’ In his panic, he suddenly had his voice back. His eyes were frozen on the
gun.
 ‘The witnesses didn’t see how she got on the tracks. The news, the police, they all said it was just
an accident, she must have tripped. Honest, it was a clean hit.’
 ‘So you watch the news do you?’ Vince asked. His tone was patronising. ‘But do you read the
newspaper? Obviously not.’
 He reached for the paper that lay at the end of the table, and flipped to the second page. He looked
at an article for a moment, reading the first few lines to himself, the silence excruciating for the
frightened men.
 Then he started to read aloud, his voice emotionless: ‘Police are yet to identify the woman who
was struck by a train at Central Station yesterday afternoon. Although police initially assumed her
death to be a tragic accident, subsequent investigations, witness statements and evidence at the
scene suggest she may have been pushed onto the tracks. Police are now treating the death as highly
suspicious. There is no known motive or suspects, but police are anxious to interview two men who
were seen with the woman moments before she fell. If members of the public have any information,
please phone Crimestoppers....’
 He looked up from the paper. The two men stared at him, their faces white, their eyes filled with
terror. Jared took a step towards them. His voice was cold and clear.
 ‘So, as you’ve heard, I’m afraid you couldn’t call that a clean hit. This is a clean hit.’
 One bullet each, straight into the forehead. His experience was obvious in the speed of his actions.
The two men slumped backwards, their chairs close enough to the edge of the deck to ensure the
bodies hit only sand, not polished wood. Neither required a second bullet. Vince watched as Jared
efficiently dragged the bodies down the side of the house, heaving them into the boot of the car they
had arrived in. Then he washed his hands at the tap and joined Vince on the deck.
 ‘Any news of the baby?’ Jared asked, not showing a hint of concern, just sly curiosity.
 Vince grunted, without committing to an answer. He was expert at only speaking when it suited
him, which was usually when he was giving orders.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                  41
 ‘Good to hear things went well for you in London, Jared. But we’ve still got one little problem.
We need more information.’
Jared nodded and replied: ‘Time for some more pressure? Do you want me to give him a call?’
 ‘No, I'll do it. And lose that car out front.’
 Jared let himself out. Vince waited to hear the car reversing out of the driveway, and went back
into the house.
 ‘Melissa, you can come back down now. I’m ready for dinner.’




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                          42
Chapter 8


 ‘Mum, you’re not cleaning the house because Liam is coming today, are you?’ I teased, knowing
full well why she had been up so early, dusting, vacuuming and polishing every visible surface. It
made me thankful we didn’t have visitors more often, as the flurry of activity was exhausting to
watch.
 ‘I’m just giving everything a once over. I wouldn’t want him to think we live in a pig sty.’
 The house was far from a pig sty before mum started cleaning, and now it looked more like a
display home, with 1980s furniture instead of modern white sofas. While she busied herself
scrubbing the kitchen sink, I started mentally to prepare myself for Picasso’s exit. Even after all the
anxiety and misery over the last couple of days, I still hadn’t completely come to terms with the fact
my piano was about to leave the house. The realisation that I wouldn’t be able to play anymore
filled me with dread.
 Eager to stop staring at Picasso like a love sick teenager, I logged onto Facebook to see if I had
found the right Tina Gianopoulos. Much to my excitement, there she was, under the heading
‘Friends’. Thank goodness. Wasting no time, I emailed her to see if she knew anything.
 ‘Dear Tina, I wasn’t sure if you would remember me, but you obviously do as I can see you've
added me as a friend. This may seem like a strange request from someone you haven’t seen for over
10 years, but I was wondering if you are still in touch with my sister Sophie? The reason I ask is
she moved to London a few years ago and, as awkward as it is to admit, we haven’t heard from her
since. Now I’d really like to get back in contact with her. If you could give me any idea where she
is, or what she is up to, or even a phone number, I’d be really grateful. Hope all is well with you,
Ellen’.
 It was a bit of a rambling email. I hoped it didn’t sound too full-on or crazy. It seemed ridiculous,
even to me, to ask someone you hardly knew if they still spoke to your sister, who you had lost
touch with. Who loses touch with their immediate family? Mum and I do, that’s who. It was a long
shot, as the chances of Sophie still having a friendship with Tina were very slim. But I might as
well try to do something useful. I might not be a lawyer or a private investigator, but I was sure
there were some things I could do to help find Sophie. I clicked over my profile for a while,
wondering if I should fill in my ‘likes’ and ‘hobbies’ or if I should add a photo like everyone else
seemed to. Then I clicked onto Tina’s name on my friendship list and realised I could look at her
entire profile, which included her list of friends. So this must be how people network! With a rush
of adrenalin, it became clear that if Tina was still friends with Sophie, there was a chance she was in
her list of friends. If Sophie had got married, or changed her name, surely I'd recognise her in her
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                43
profile picture? Tina had over 200 friends; I hastily scrolled through the names. The most expensive
search in the world would be over very quickly if I could find Sophie through Facebook. I
wondered again if Liam had ever though of looking for Sophie online. But my hopes disappeared as
I got to the end of the list, and Sophie wasn’t there. Her life must have been far too exciting for her
to have time to join Facebook. Not that this was my reason for not joining, it just seemed a more
likely reason why Sophie wouldn’t be there.
 Sophie was always surrounded by friends. When I was 10 years old, she was a grown up 13, and
allowed to have a sleepover party. She told mum she was just having ‘a few friends’. But twenty
people turned up. Sophie found somewhere for everyone to sleep, and she happily put up with
mum’s fussing about the overcrowded house. Dad laughed at mum for suggesting Sophie was
selfish for expecting me to give up my room for some of the girls. He told mum parties should
always be ‘the more the merrier’. And Sophie said, ‘I’ll ask more people if that’s the case’, which
put mum into an even more hysterical spin. I ended up sleeping in mum and dad's bed, my room
hijacked by five guests. Mum tossed and turned all night, fretting about the music and laughter
coming out of the living room. But dad didn’t lose any sleep. Sophie and dad were two of a kind,
breezing through life, leaving all the worry to mum, and eventually me. I wondered if mum and dad
ever found it strange I never had sleepovers, nor went to any. I was never good at making friends. I
blamed all the piano practice, and my complete devotion to making it as a musician. But what could
I blame now? I was 24 years old, and if I disappeared, no one would notice. Except mum of course.


 When the two piano removalists arrived, I cowardly hid in my room. Mum called out when she
heard them pull into the drive, and I pretended not to hear. I didn’t want to witness them loading
Picasso into their truck, and taking him god knows where. I could just hear them discussing the
easiest way of getting the piano through the door. I closed my eyes, wishing they would just get it
over with. After a few moments of grunting, I heard a trolley rolling across the living room floor.
Mum was fussing, asking them to be careful. And then I heard a large crunch, and one of the men
swore. Had they just dropped Picasso? I had to find out whether he was damaged, so I raced
towards the living room. To my relief, the piano was still on the trolley, but had tipped sideways,
and the two huge removalists were struggling to hold it upright. As they pulled, I noticed a third
man also steadying the piano, partly obscured behind it. He wasn’t a removalist; he wasn’t dressed
like someone who moved things for a living. It had to be Liam Kingsley.
 My first thought was that he looked much younger than I expected. He mentioned in one of the
emails to mum when he finished his law degree, and I calculated he must be around 30. But he
didn’t look much older than me. He was wearing knee length shorts, in a conservative cream colour,
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              44
a collared light blue polo T-shirt and what looked like brown suede thongs. Not exactly formal
business attire. His hair was a light blonde wave on top of darker curls, shaped long but neat around
his neck. His toned arms had bulging muscles, put to good use moving my piano. I was incredibly
disappointed to find myself noting he was extremely good looking. Just what I needed. To find my
arch nemesis attractive! I reminded myself it was typical for con men to be attractive; it was how
they got away with everything, with a bat of the eyelids and a huge row of smiling, perfect white
teeth.
  Liam noticed me just as I saw him, and yelled across the room: ‘Hi Ellen, I’m Liam, nice to meet
you.’
  His manners weren’t at all awkward or forced. Even with the huge weight of the piano to contend
with, he looked unflustered and cheerful. I felt suddenly shy and ugly, wishing I had brushed my
hair before I came out of my room. Why did the fact he was good looking make me so nervous? I
reminded myself that most people made me nervous, especially when I met them for the first time.
And Liam was still potentially a con man who had shafted my mum out of more money than she
could ever afford to repay. Why did I care if I’d brushed my hair or not? I quickly waved at Liam
and then excused myself back to my bedroom, to hide from the whole wretched scene.
  I watched from my window as the three of them took Picasso across the lawn and then
manoeuvred him onto the hydraulic platform jutting off the back of the truck. Liam stood by,
chatting to the men, having bonded over the heavy lifting, as they padded Picasso’s edges with
blankets and tied him up with ropes. A shudder ran through me as they slammed the back doors of
the truck. I silently said goodbye. As the truck reversed, Liam walked back towards the house, so I
took a deep breath, ready to meet him properly at the front door. I wouldn’t show him any gratitude
for helping with Picasso. I wanted him to know I wasn’t as easy to sweet talk as mum.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            45
Chapter 9


 ‘Is that your piano?’ Liam asked innocently.
 I scowled at him, tempted to tell him exactly why my piano was about to disappear from view.
 ‘Yes, that was my piano. But it’s not mine anymore.’
 Liam chatted to me like we’d known each other forever as I showed him through the house to the
kitchen. Mum had gone overboard preparing the house for his arrival. There were flowers in a vase
on the kitchen table, and she had Bach playing on the stereo, making our home feel like a guest
house. I was painfully aware of how nervous I was, at a total loss for words as he told me all about
his flight, his taxi ride from the airport and his pleasure at seeing his family.
 ‘It’s mum’s 50th, I wouldn’t miss that. They were disappointed when I …’ he stopped. Then he
grinned and said: ‘I guess I’m the black sheep of the family.’
 So much for my idea he had manufactured an excuse to come to Adelaide to protect his lucrative
income.
 But I wasn’t going to get involved with the small talk. Apart from the fact I didn’t trust him, I
have never been comfortable with chatty people who seemed to be able to talk about anything to
anyone. I wanted to psych myself up to grill him for information, so I offered him a ginger beer and
directed him to the lounge, waiting for mum to join us. But I wasn’t prepared for the shock of what
I found - or rather, didn’t find - there. I could feel him watching me as I stared, open mouthed at the
huge void in the room. There were three round dents in the rug, forming a Picasso-sized triangle
that I feared would never go away; a constant reminder of what used to stand there. I was still
staring when mum walked in. She knew intuitively we would have to move if we were to have a
normal conversation.
 ‘Honey, why don’t we sit at the table under the veranda? It’s a lovely summery day.’
 Liam chatted to mum on his way outside, getting a much better response from her than he had
from me. It occurred to me he might be talking out of nervousness, just as I was speechless for the
same reason. Could nervous people fake confidence so effectively? I doubted it.
 Mum showed Liam outside and went back into the kitchen to prepare some sandwiches. My first
instinct was to offer to help, and avoid confronting Liam on my own. But it would be rude to leave
him sitting outside. So as we settled into our deck chairs, I decided to start the conversation, just as
I planned in my head.
 ‘So Liam, how close do you think you are to finding Sophie?’
 Liam shifted on his seat. He obviously wasn’t expecting to have to get straight to the point. To his
credit, he didn’t squirm for long. He looked me straight in the eyes as he spoke.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               46
  ‘I’m really glad we’ve had this opportunity to talk privately, before your mum comes out. I have
been finding it very difficult to express what is happening in emails to her...’
  Liam had a look of compassion that only a very good actor could fake.
  'Why is that?' I asked, failing to hide my accusing tone.
  'It's a long story...' he started to say, and then noticed me roll my eyes.
  'Why don't you try to explain? Lunch won’t be ready for a while.'
  Liam sat forward in his chair, staring at his feet now instead of at me. He looked like he was
carefully planning his words. ‘You’ve read the emails I sent haven’t you?’
  I nodded.
  ‘And you’ve read the ones your mum sent me?’
  I nodded again.
  ‘Did you get any sense that your mum was hoping for Sophie to be found, but was anxious about
hearing anything bad about her in the meantime? Didn’t you notice she never asked any questions?’
  ‘That’s because she trusted you,' I replied. 'She trusted you would tell her everything she needed
to know.'
  ‘I’m not talking about questioning what was happening, I’m talking about simple questions
anyone might ask, except someone who doesn’t want to know. You must have had questions when
you read the emails?’
  ‘It would be fair to say I had some.’ There was no way to rattle this man.
  ‘Ok, ask me them.’
  ‘You must have found out what Sophie had been doing for a living after she left the café. You
spoke to her employer. Why didn’t you tell us any details?’
  ‘Before I answer, ask yourself why your mum might have avoided this question.’
  Liam had a point. I’d prefer him not to know this, though. Mum couldn’t cope with too much bad
news, and the fewer questions she asked, the less bad news she had to deal with.
  ‘I guess she just wanted Sophie found, and this was her focus. She didn’t feel a need to look into
the past.’
  ‘Might that be because she was worried about what she might learn?’
  Damn. I knew then I was going to be told something I didn’t really want to hear either.
  ‘Ok, then what was she doing? I thought she might have just worked in another café, or a bar or
something... But what you’re implying makes me think it was something bad, something a mother
wouldn’t want to know.’
  I paused, not wanting to show Liam how upset I was starting to feel. He still hadn’t said anything.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              47
  ‘Just tell me Liam. You’re making me anxious. Whatever it is, it won’t make any difference to
me. We haven’t seen her in seven years. We just want to know she’s OK!’
  Was I channelling mum all of a sudden? Why was he making me beg?
  Liam suddenly got straight to the point. ‘She was an escort. A very high class, well paid escort.’
  My stomach dropped through my legs.
  ‘A prostitute? My sister works as a prostitute?’ I kept my voice as hushed as possible, trying to
protect mum from overhearing this news.
  Liam looked embarrassed, but still eerily calm. ‘I’m sorry Ellen, there was no simple way to
explain. She isn’t working as one anymore. But up until recently, around the time she must have
sent the email, she was working in London as an escort. It doesn’t always mean money for sex.
Sometimes it’s just companionship, or an attractive date for a function...’
  He wasn’t making me feel any better. How on earth was I going to explain this to mum? It would
kill her to find out her daughter was a prostitute. Who cared if she was well paid or ‘high class’? It
all boiled down to the same thing. Mum didn’t even let us watch Pretty Woman as children; she
found it immoral even to speak of such things. I felt such an intense anger at Sophie I could barely
sit still. How dare she choose such a horrible way to make a living? The fact she made a ‘good’
living made me even angrier. I pictured her dolling herself up, as she loved to do when she was a
teenager, but instead of costume jewellery and mum’s oversized shoes, I imagined diamonds and
Prada. It made my skin crawl to think about it. The sleazy men, the hotel rooms, the envelopes of
cash. Married men, no doubt. I felt sick. Was there anything worse in the world she could have been
doing than that? I couldn’t think of anything.
  My stomach felt a second squeeze; the familiar humiliating reminder that I was still a virgin. I
hadn’t even kissed a man, well not properly. I guess my sister was making up for my inadequacies
in that area! And my inadequacies in making money. I had always assumed Sophie had great things
in front of her. She had such natural confidence, and she was so loved by everyone, I felt certain she
would make it as an actress. And if not that, maybe a successful business woman, or an
entrepreneur, or something creative. How could she give up everything she had always wanted? At
least I tried to make it as a pianist. It sounded like Sophie gave up before she even tried.
  ‘I can see I’ve upset you. It must be quite a shock,’ Liam said.
  I glared at him. ‘It’s a shock, but I’ll get over it. I don’t know if mum ever would though. You
were right not to tell her.’
  He nodded, keen to move off the subject.
  ‘I had to tell you, you see, because I’m sure it must relate to the trouble she’s in now.’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             48
 ‘Before we talk about this, I need a glass of wine. Do you want one?’ I asked, hoping he
wouldn’t, as there was only half a bottle in the fridge.
 ‘Yes please, I’d love one.’
 Fabulous. I walked inside, desperate not to let Liam see the tears in my eyes. Mum was still
chopping tomatoes for a salad. Since when did we need to eat salad as well as sandwiches? She
must be stalling to avoid the conversation.
 'What are you two talking about?' she asked, looking worried at my expression.
 'Oh, nothing much, I'll explain later...' That seemed to be enough for her for the time being.
 I took my time in front of the fridge, breathing deeply, trying to appear calm and composed by the
time I went back outside. But as I handed Liam his glass, my hand was noticeably shaking. Liam
seemed ready to keep talking, eager to erase the awkwardness that hung between us. I decided to let
him talk, too scared to ask any more questions for fear of what I might be told. Maybe I was getting
more like mum as I got older.
 ‘The café owner told me about the line of work she was in. One of the other girls who worked in
the café told him Sophie was, was...working in this particular field, and he remembered he was
shocked. He didn’t know where she was living or working, so I just went back to the area around
the internet café, and asked around. A friendly cabby gave me an idea of where the brothels were. I
visited every broth.... sorry, parlour... in the area, and showed people Sophie’s photo, the publicity
shot from the agent. The problem was, these people are very discreet. Operating a brothel is illegal,
so they aren’t exactly ecstatic when a man knocks on the door with a photo of a woman, asking if
she works there. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere for a long time. Then I came across a nicely
done terrace. It was in the right area and it didn’t look like someone’s home.’
 I wasn’t sure I needed so much detail, but I also didn’t want to butt in, in case he lost his train of
thought.
 ‘When I knocked on the door, this attractive woman answered. I could tell right away she was a
prostitute by the way she... you know... looked at me.’
 I didn’t know, but I stayed silent.
 ‘I asked to speak to the manager, and at first she tried to slam the door on me because she thought
I was the police. I told her I wasn’t interested in what was going on there, and I was just trying to
locate someone. She recognised Sophie in the photo I showed her, and she took me into a kind of
reception area. The place was really flash, lots of velvet and antique furniture. There was a woman
sitting behind this huge mahogany desk.’
 ‘She was Sophie’s employer,’ I guessed.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              49
 Liam nodded. ‘She was an older woman, really classy, sort of like a politician’s wife, with an
expensive suit. But I could tell she was the Madam. Her lipstick was a bit too bright, and she had far
too many rings on her fingers.’
 Liam seemed acutely observant when it came to spotting prostitutes and their Madams. I hated to
think how he was so familiar with these kinds of people, still not used to the idea my sister was
‘these kinds of people’.
 ‘So she was the one who needed be paid to give information about Sophie?’
 It didn’t sound like this woman was short of cash. All the rings and the antiques. Liam finally
looked rattled at the mention of the money, though not as much as I had hoped.
 ‘Yes, she was the woman I paid the £5,000 to. Her name is Carla. At first she was suspicious of
me, and wanted me out of the place. When I said I was working for Sophie’s family, she said she
didn’t know a Sophie. But she recognised the photo. That was when I worked out Sophie had
changed her name. She went undercover when her visa ran out.’
 Liam looked at me for acknowledgement of what he had said.
 ‘What was her name?’ I said quietly, almost to myself.
 ‘Molly Lane.’
 That made sense. ‘Molly from Ob La Di and Lane from Penny Lane.’
 ‘That’s what I assumed. Your mum said she loved The Beatles. I came back with the cash from
your mum. Then she gave me the information she had about Sophie. It was really crucial, even
though it didn’t lead me directly to her.’
 ‘So you gave her £5,000 even though she wasn’t in contact with Sophie at that time? How did you
know she wasn't conning you?’
 ‘You’re right, she hadn’t seen Sophie in a while. But she knew where she was living.’
 ‘Is that where she sent you?’ I had started to interrupt now, the keenness to hear the rest of the
story overtaking my reluctance to speak.
 ‘Yes, but Sophie wasn’t living there anymore.’
 ‘So she gave you an old address, and got the money for nothing?’
 Liam wasn’t taking my bait. He was too focused on thinking about his story. I noticed he hadn’t
touched his wine, whereas my glass was empty. I felt confused and even angrier.
 ‘You are very blasé about the money. It might not be a lot for you, but it is for my mum. You
have no idea about the money problems this has all caused.’
 I expected Liam to at least look at bit guilty when I said this. But his face revealed no shame.
 ‘Your mum wants me to find Sophie. I am doing whatever it takes to do that. I’m sure you would
do the same if you had a daughter who was in trouble.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               50
  That was a low blow. Now he was trying to make me feel bad for implying Sophie’s safety had a
price, and it had been exceeded.
  ‘I don’t want to appear heartless. I want Sophie found as much as anybody, including my mum.
But how would you feel about losing your home?’
  Still no guilt on Liam’s face, but maybe a hint of surprise.
  ‘Are you behind on your payments? Is that why you sold your piano?’ he asked matter-of-factly,
far underestimating the pain this situation had caused me.
  ‘Yes, I sold it so we could pay the mortgage. And keep up with your fees.’
  He didn’t look perturbed by this. ‘I’m relieved you’re not going to lose the house then. That’s the
last thing Sandra needs. So as I was saying...’
  He paused. I noticed his concern was purposely directed only at mum. I also noticed he was
getting annoyed by my efforts to divert the conversation to money. The cost was quite obviously a
long way down his list of priorities. He sounded satisfied he had justified the expense, and kept on
with his story in an enthusiastic boast. I realised how proud of his investigating skills he was.
  ‘The information Carla gave me... she gave me the name of Sophie’s new employer, who was also
her boyfriend, and the address where they lived.’
  ‘She had a boyfriend even though she was a prostitute? Charming.’ This was a world I just
couldn’t begin to imagine.
  ‘Can you let me keep going? Yes, she had a boyfriend. She stopped working for Carla, and was
working for him. His name was Danny.’
  ‘So her boyfriend was her pimp. Makes sense.’
  As hard as I tried not to let all this information affect my feelings about Sophie, I couldn’t help
but lose respect for her. I just always thought she would amount to more than someone who got
paid for sex.
  ‘Don’t forget she was high class, not just a girl who works the streets. Once Danny took her on,
her clients became absolutely top notch. She started to earn upwards of £1,000 a night.’
  Liam looked impressed by this, but I wasn’t moved. So, she was an expensive prostitute. She was
still a prostitute.
  ‘How did you find this bit out?’
  ‘Well, first I went to the address Carla gave me. It was a penthouse in Chelsea, but there was no
one there. I could see from the outside it was pretty swish, must have cost a fortune to rent.’
  ‘Ok, so my prostitute sister and her pimp boyfriend were rich! So what?’ Even I hadn’t expected
my outburst.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               51
 Liam looked unsympathetic, and finally took a sip of his wine, which must have got warm in the
heat. He screwed up his nose and put it down again. What a waste!
 ‘I can see you’re quite… alarmed… at your sister’s career choice, but honestly, it really isn’t that
big a deal. Lots of people work as escorts. It’s the world’s oldest profession.’ Now Liam was acting
smug.
 ‘How would you like it if your sister was a prostitute?’ I snapped.
 ‘I don’t have a sister. But why do you think I kept it from your mum? Do you want me to keep
going with the story?’
 I folded my arms across my chest, and nodded.
 ‘Right, so no one was at home. I hung around for a while. Actually it ended up being three hours.
This investigating game can get quite boring.’
 ‘You were getting paid weren’t you? $300 a day doesn’t sound boring to me.’
 He said nothing. The confrontational comments were flying out of my mouth now. I felt like I’d
been possessed by an angry person.
 ‘Eventually there was a man going into the apartment building, and I asked him if he knew Danny
and Molly. I assumed she used Molly instead of Sophie permanently, which she did by the way. He
had never heard of them. I asked him which apartment he lived in and he said he had the penthouse.
That left me flummoxed, because I really thought Carla was genuine. I did worry for a moment she
had given me a bum steer, and taken money for bad information. But rather than be totally put off,
just before the lift arrived I asked the man how long he had lived there and he said he’d been there
only a couple of weeks. So I gave Carla the benefit of the doubt, and assumed Sophie and Danny
had lived there, but moved on without telling Carla.’
 The detailed story telling was starting to get on my nerves. Had he just used the word
flummoxed?
 ‘So, back to the story. I had to find out Carla wasn’t a… what did you call it…a con...’ Now he
was teasing me. ‘So I asked which property management firm looked after the building, as I wanted
to look into leasing a flat. He gave me a name just before the lift disappeared.’
 ‘Liam, I’m beginning to be convinced you have, in fact, been trying to find my sister…’
 ‘Were you not convinced before?’ he asked, without even a hint of concern. If anything, he was
amused.
 ‘If you must know, from your emails, I thought you were a complete fraud. I was worried about
the lack of detail about what you had actually found.’
 ‘And what do you think now?’
 It was a fair question. I paused for a while to consider it.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            52
  ‘To be honest, as much as I hate admitting I might be wrong, it does sound like there may have
been reasons why you decided to keep some of the investigation to yourself. You obviously decided
early on that mum couldn’t handle too much seediness. Now you are sitting in front of me, telling
the story, I can see you must have done some work to get where you are. But I still have some
issues with what you have done and said…’
  ‘Like what?’ he asked casually, doing his best to sound uninterested in what I thought.
  ‘I’ll get to those as you go on with your story. I might be judgemental, but I’m not stubborn.’
  This made him laugh, and I almost laughed too, realising how ridiculous my last statement
sounded.
  ‘I was under the impression you wanted more information about the case. I didn’t realise you
asked to speak to me to ascertain whether I was genuine or not,’ he said with a sarcastic sparkle in
his eyes.
  At that moment mum slammed the back door loudly, warning us to stop speaking as she walked
over to the table with a plate of food. It was no longer just sandwiches and salad; there was also
gourmet dips, cheese, biscuits, ham and olives. Trust mum to try to help a situation with food. Liam
didn’t seem in the mood for chit chat any more. Was it possible I had offended him slightly? Or was
he still trying to protect mum from the truth? We ate in forced civility. Mum chatted to Liam about
everything except looking for Sophie, and I sulked in silence. Just as we were finishing the last few
sandwiches, his mobile phone rang, and he stood up to answer it. He excused himself, ducking
around the side of the house where we couldn’t hear him. When he appeared again after a couple of
minutes, his face looked pale and his confident smirk was gone.
  ‘That was my parents. They were wondering when I would be arriving. I better get going, they're
waiting for me.’
  ‘Can’t you tell us the rest of what you found out?’
  Or did he need more time to make things up? My suspicions, which moments earlier had cooled,
flared up again.
  ‘I really have to go, they aren’t happy I didn’t come straight home from the airport.’
  As much as I couldn’t fluster this man, his parents had the completely opposite effect. He said a
quick goodbye to mum, turning down her offer of a lift.
  ‘I’ll get a taxi, thanks anyway Sandra. I’ll call later, and we can make another time to talk.’
  As we watched him hurry out the front gate, mum looked worried.
  ‘What did you say to him before lunch to make him rush off like that? He hardly spoke to me at
all.’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               53
 ‘Nothing mum, seriously. Like he said, he had to go see his parents. They must have been cross,
or something.’
 I felt like I had just got to the end of a book, and found the last chapter torn out. He had given me
some information, but nowhere near enough to understand how he tracked Sophie to Sydney.


 .




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             54
Chapter 10


 It wasn’t often he made this sort of phone call himself. But the security risk had been going on too
frigging long. Vince was impatient to sort it out, before it wasted any more of his time. He wanted
to get this conversation exactly right. And the only way to do that, he had learnt, was to do it
himself.
 ‘Hello?’ the man answered gruffly, making it obvious he wasn’t in the mood to chat.
 ‘Hello. You don’t know me, but I know you.’
 Vince's tone was menacing enough to make the man's voice jump with alarm.
 ‘Who is this?’
 ‘I just told you. You don’t know me. So there’s no point me telling you who I am. It wouldn’t
mean anything to you.’
 ‘What do you want?’
 ‘I want to tell you something important. I want you to confirm you’ve understood. Then I want
you to agree to do exactly what you’ve been told.’
 ‘I can’t agree to anything unless…’
 ‘Be quiet, friend. Just you listen.’
 Vince was not good at keeping his temper, but he had trained himself to breath slowly in this
situation, no matter how much the conversation irritated him. There was a welcome silence at the
other end of the line, so he continued.
 ‘The first thing is that I know you’re connected to a woman whose boyfriend has recently
become… deceased.’
 ‘Is this the police?’ The man's voice was shaky now. Just how Vince liked it.
 ‘Ha! You wish! The police are the least of your worries.’ His laughter was genuine. ‘No. The
reason I know this gent is dead is because I organised for him to be rubbed out. I didn’t get my own
hands dirty, of course.’
 ‘Who are you?’ the man asked again, hopefully knowing by now it was futile even to speak.
 Vince could tell his quarry knew who the dead man was.
 ‘No more questions, lad, remember? I’m doing you a favour. I’m saving your life. And I‘m
potentially going to make you a rich man. If you do what I say, of course. You see, I had planned to
kill you. Tie up lose ends and all that. In fact I had a man organised to be at your front door first
thing tomorrow morning, and he would have put a bullet in your head. But then I thought you might
have some information that would be useful to me. And I’m willing to pay handsomely for any help
you can give.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               55
 ‘What is it you want to know?’
 Another ridiculous question. ‘I need your help to find someone’.
 ‘Who are you looking for?’
 He must have known the answer. ‘Molly Lane of course.’
 ‘I…I...don’t know…’
 ‘Don’t lie to me! Do you think this is a game? Did Danny think it was a game? It’s his fault
you’re involved in this. Now you’ve got this one frigging chance to stay alive!’
 Vince was losing his battle with his temper. God how he hated wimps. This whining was really
pissing him off. Maybe he should have just got rid of him after all.
 ‘I...I....don’t know where she is…. please... I can’t help you.’
 The squeaky voice gave away everything it was trying not to. This man definitely had the
information he needed.
 ‘I hope you’re not lying to us, lad. I’m sure you realise what we’ll do if you are.’
 ‘No… no... I have no idea... Please, just leave me alone, I don’t want to be involved in this.’
 ‘Oh, but you are already, aren’t you? And I know you need the money.’
 ‘No, no, I don’t want anything to do with this. There’s nothing ’
 ‘You help us find her. We’ll make it worth your while.’
 Before Vince could finish his offer, his phone went dead. The man either had a bad connection, or
had just shat his pants, and hung up the phone.
 Vince was in no mood to call again. So instead, he typed a text message to the man.
 ‘100,000 for Molly. Find her and we won’t hurt anyone you love’
 He felt pleased with himself as he re-read the sent text message. Of course he wouldn’t really pay
the little shit anything like that much, but carrots and sticks, that's how business worked. He didn't
get a reply, but that was of no concern. Surely this was all the incentive the man needed to get
himself, and Vince, out of the unfortunate situation they had found themselves in?




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              56
Chapter 11


 I didn’t hear from Liam for the rest of the day. My impatience and curiosity unquenched, I
eventually went to bed, and suffered hours of broken sleep. I had started to feel a bit guilty about
how rude I had been to him. And my reaction to his news seemed a bit over the top. So what if
Sophie worked as a prostitute? At least when her acting career failed, she didn’t fall to bits. Like I
did. She did what she had to do to survive, without any help from her family. Which was quite
commendable, in a way. I would never feel good about her choice, but Liam did say she wasn’t
doing it anymore, so that had to be a good thing. He had seemed quite concerned about Sophie: too
concerned for a con man. Or was he just a really good actor himself? It wasn’t likely. When he told
me about his investigations, he seemed genuinely enthralled by his own story, as if re-telling it was
as satisfying as when it happened.
 At 7:00am, two hours before I usually woke up, my mobile rang. I answered it with a muddled
half awake greeting.
 ‘Ellen here.’
 ‘Did I wake you? Sorry about that, I can call back later.’
 It was Liam. I sat up. ‘No, that’s ok. I’m up, I was just...’
 ‘Sorry about yesterday... I really had to go...’
 ‘Are you going to come back over here today?’
 It sounded like Liam was in a car. I wondered if he was already on his way over.
 ‘Unfortunately I’m not going to have time. I’ve just changed my flight. I’m going back to Sydney
this morning. There are things I need to urgently chase up.’
 ‘About Sophie? What is it? Have you got a new lead?’
 ‘Look, why don’t you come to the airport, and meet me. I’ll have a few minutes to explain more
then.’
 ‘Ok, I’ll see you there. Text me which gate you’re leaving from.’
 I was more confused than ever. My suspicions about what he had been up to were cooling. It was
impossible not to be worried by his tone; he sounded really anxious. I quickly showered and
dressed, explaining to mum as I ran out the door that I was borrowing her car to see Liam off at the
airport. When she heard he was flying back urgently to Sydney, her face lit up with hope.
 ‘Has he found her?’
 But I couldn’t give her good news, as much as I would have liked to.
 When I found Liam in the departure lounge, he was wearing the same clothes as yesterday, and
looking far from relaxed. His air of confidence was completely gone today. His face looked drawn
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              57
and grey, his eyes red and his hair didn’t look like it had been brushed. Much to my annoyance, he
still looked attractive.
  ‘My flight boards in 15 minutes,’ he said.
  ‘Can you tell me why you’re going back? We don’t have time for a really drawn out
explanation...’
  ‘I know, I know. I’ll make it as quick as I can.’
  I wanted him to get to the point, but when he did, I wished he hadn’t said anything.
  ‘You remember I went to see the property manager? He told me the previous tenant had been
murdered there. He said the man’s name was Danny Wright.’
  The word murder crashed over me. ‘Sophie’s boyfriend was murdered? What about Sophie?’
Suddenly my throat was dry.
  ‘She wasn’t there.’
  ‘How do you know she wasn’t there? How did Danny die? What the hell happened to him?’ Panic
filled every pore of my body, and I felt like I was going to faint.
  ‘He was shot. Apparently he must have opened the door to someone, and they shot him in the
face.’
  I gasped. ‘But you don’t know Sophie wasn’t there. How do you know she wasn’t taken by
whoever shot Danny? You don’t know!’ I was starting to get hysterical. People sitting around us
were staring, but I didn’t care. ‘Liam, you can’t just tell me you know Sophie wasn’t there! How do
you know?’
  ‘I’ve already told you, I know she’s in Sydney!’
  ‘And is she safe there? Who shot Danny? Why would someone kill him? What’s going on Liam?’
My voice cracked as I said ‘kill’. This was all starting to become far too real.
  Liam put his hand on my knee, and looked me in the eyes, trying to calm me down. ‘I understand
you are frightened. I kept quiet about it before because I didn’t want you and your mum to panic.’
  ‘Shit Liam! You never said anything about people getting shot! When did this happen? Before or
after Sophie emailed mum?’
  ‘The day before. That’s how I know she wasn’t there.’
  ‘So do the police know who did it? Do you have any idea? Why would Danny be killed? What are
you not telling me?’
  ‘I’ve been trying to find out who might have killed Danny. I’ve managed to work out that
whoever it is, they weren’t just after him.’
  ‘How do you know that?’
  ‘Well, the email from Sophie is a fairly big clue that she felt she was in danger.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                          58
 ‘Of course she was petrified. Her boyfriend had just been killed!’
 ‘Yes, and also the fact she’s been moving around so often that I haven’t been able to track her
down. The move to Sydney, I believe, was to get away from the people who killed Danny.’
 ‘People? How do you know it’s more than one person?’
 ‘I just do. There are too many reasons to explain now. I think Sophie and Danny got involved in
something that made them a target.’
 ‘So you have no more idea than that?’
 ‘That’s what I’ve been working on. I don’t know why they‘re after her. Or why they killed
Danny.’
 ‘What do you know about him?’
 ‘He owned a gym in Brompton. But his other business was managing Sophie and Katie’s…
careers’.
 ‘And who on earth is Katie?’
 ‘Katie Easton. She’s a friend of Sophie’s. They worked together, back when Carla was their boss.
They met Danny through the gym, and sort of became a trio, running their business together,
working alternating nights so that someone was always available when the clients called. I’m pretty
sure she’s in Sydney with Sophie.’
 Any thoughts of a huge scale con on Liam’s part had completely vanished. But the reality of what
he was telling me was much harder to bear than having money stolen from mum.
 ‘So these people, Danny, Katie and Sophie, or Molly or whatever, they got into some sort of
situation where some people wanted them dead. And you’re telling me that whoever these people
are, they’ve killed Danny and you think they are after Katie and Sophie now?’
 ‘I don’t just think so. I know they are.’
 ‘And how do you know Sophie - and Katie as well? - made it to Sydney?’
 ‘A contact told me. Someone I met who knew both the girls.’
 That would have to do for now. He wouldn’t have left London for Sydney unless he was certain
they were there. ‘And you haven’t got any idea where they are in Sydney?’
 Now Liam looked even more concerned. ‘One of the things I did when I got to Sydney was to
visit the morgue. I wanted to find a contact there who would let me know if... you know...someone
came in who might be...’
 ‘I get what you’re saying.’
 ‘I paid him money to keep me informed, and he called me yesterday evening.’
 The blood drained from my face.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                          59
  ‘The description he gave doesn’t match Sophie. But I think it is probably Katie,’ he said quickly,
knowing he was putting me out of my misery.
  ‘How can you be sure?’
  ‘Because I’ve got a photo of Katie. She had dark skin. She was West Indian.’
  I exhaled for what seemed like the first time in minutes. There wasn’t time just then to care that
Sophie’s friend might be dead. It was Sophie I needed information about.
  ‘Ok, so you’re telling me these people have possibly killed this Katie in Sydney. And now they
are going to be looking for Sophie. They weren’t together?’
  ‘I don’t know. I don’t know where Sophie is.’
  It was understandable that Liam was rushing back to Sydney. If these people had found Katie, it
might not take them long to find Sophie. I felt small and stupid for questioning Liam’s motives
yesterday, when he was quite obviously as worried as I was about what might happen.
  People were starting to stand up and queue to board the flight.
  ‘Liam, you haven’t told me who you gave the $30,000 to. What information did you get for that
money? You said in your email you got an address. Was it somewhere Sophie was living in
Sydney?’
  Liam didn’t seem to be listening. He started to flick through his back-pack, eventually pulling out
his boarding pass.
  ‘About the money Ellen, I’m really sorry you had to sell the piano. But honestly, you’ve got to
believe me, the money has been well spent. I would still be in London, chasing my tail, if I hadn’t
got that lead.’
  ‘But that’s the thing. We can’t afford to pay you for the work you’re doing. The money I’ve made
off the piano has to cover the mortgage. I know you are still working, and still have expenses. I
regret now that I accused you of being a, well, you know, not doing the right thing. But I believe
you now. I’m really sorry.’
  It was the first time I’d seen him come close to a smile all day. His expression showed he
understood how hard it was for me to admit this. Now he was walking towards the line, his mind a
million miles away from the money trouble mum and I were facing, as was mine. He waved his
hand, brushing off what I was saying.
  ‘Don’t worry about the money Ellen. I won’t keep sending your mum payment requests for now.
We’ll sort if out once I’ve found Sophie. My parents have lent me enough money to keep me going
for a while.’
  ‘Are you sure? I mean, I don’t really have a choice but to accept your offer, because we can’t take
you off the case now...’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               60
 ‘Of course not. I’m not willing to give up now anyway. I can live fairly cheaply in Sydney. I’ve
got enough friends there willing to offer their couch.’
 ‘So what are you going to do now?’
 ‘There’s something else, Ellen.’
 Liam was the last in the queue, and he was about to be ushered through the departure gate.
 ‘Tell me quickly.’
 ‘Danny and Sophie’s things were sent to the local charity shop. There was an envelope slipped in-
between the books, with a return address sticker for Danny’s parents in Manchester. I thought it was
worth talking to them. But when I got there, the house was deserted. One of the neighbours asked if
I was looking for the Wrights. She told me they had been killed in a car accident. Their car ran off
the road and hit a tree, just streets away from their house.’
 ‘So what’s this got to do with Sophie...’
 The answer dawned on me before I could finish the question.
 ‘I looked up the accident in a local newspaper. They died the day after Danny was murdered. It’s
just too much of a coincidence.’
 ‘Jesus.’ What he said hit me like a ton of bricks.
 ‘I’ve got to fly. I’ll call you, and let you know what I’m doing.’
 ‘Ok, just be careful...’ He was already gone.
 I stood in the departure lounge, watching Liam's plane take off. Usually when I left the house, I
couldn't wait to get home, which was one of the reasons I so rarely went anywhere. I felt most
comfortable in the solitude of my room, or chatting to mum while she cooked, or playing Picasso.
But I didn't like the idea of going back to monotonous hours of nothing. To mum's worried face. To
a house without a piano. It struck me I was jealous that Liam was so caught up in the search.
Jealous he was looking for my sister, while I sat at home wondering what on earth was going on.
Maybe I could help him? Maybe I should be in Sydney too?


 As I drove home, I thought about Sophie, all alone, running from these people. She must be
absolutely terrified. I wondered if she knew what had happened to Katie. I almost hoped she did, so
she would know to be extra careful. I wanted her to hide somewhere no one would ever find her,
except Liam of course.
 Sophie was always so brave. As a child, I thought she was invincible. I remembered one time,
when I was about seven, I found a huntsman spider in the bathroom sink. I was so terrified I
dropped my hairbrush, and stood there screaming. Sophie grabbed one of its legs and flung it into
the toilet, flushing it before it had a chance to swim. I stood in shock, staring at her as if she had
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                61
slain a wild beast. The next day, mum let out this piercing shrieked when she came to the front door
with her shopping. Dad and I went to see what was wrong. Hanging from the doorway were three
huntsman spiders, dead, and strung up with cotton at waist height. We looked at each other in
astonishment. Then Sophie wandered out of her bedroom, and calmly explained she had hung them
there to warn other spiders not to come into our house. Dad thought it was hilarious, and
congratulated Sophie on her creativity. Mum told her to take them down, and that it was disgusting
to kill spiders. I was touched she went to all that trouble for me.
 I hoped Sophie still felt brave. But would her bravery make her more likely to run from these
men, or to confront them? They wouldn’t be so easy to string up in a doorway. Maybe she needed
some help?
 By the time I walked in the front door, I was almost convinced I should go to Sydney. Sure, I
hadn’t any idea where to start looking for Sophie. And I also had none of the things people usually
used to find missing people: ingenuity, guts, bravado and luck. But would my presence do any
harm? My email to Tina was a good idea; maybe other inspiration would come.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            62
Chapter 12


 When I got inside, I prepared myself for the idea I might chicken out of going to Sydney. Maybe
the comforts of home would suddenly seem like the better option. But the first thing I saw was the
living room without Picasso in it.
 ‘Mum, I have to go to Sydney.’
 ‘Oh no, Ellen. I’m worried sick about Sophie, and now you want to put yourself in harm’s way as
well? Why would you want to do that? It's not like you.’
 ‘I can’t just sit here waiting for Liam to call. I need to do something to help!’
 Mum was desperate to get me to change my mind. ‘Please Ellen, leave it to Liam. He has the best
chance of finding Sophie. You are better off here with me. Please stay here.’
 I wavered.
 'How on earth do you think you’re going to be of any use anyway?'
 She didn’t mean to upset me. The words just popped out of her mouth. But the comment did more
than upset me: it spurred me on. I hated being her useless daughter who never made anything of her
life. I wanted to show her I could bring Sophie home.
 ‘I’ve already decided mum, I’m old enough to look after myself. You can’t force me to stay here.’
I jumped up from my chair so quickly that it launched backwards, banging against the floorboards.
Mum jumped a foot in the air.
 ‘How on earth are you going to afford to live in Sydney?’
 This was her last ploy, but I was prepared for it. ‘I’ve got plenty of frequent flyer points left from
all the travelling I used to do…’ I almost faltered at this point, but managed to keep going. ‘I’ll stay
in a cheap hostel. I’ve got a bit of money saved up. I won’t be using the funds from Picasso. I’ve
already transferred them into your account for the mortgage. It’s not like I’ll be sightseeing. All I’ll
need to buy is food.’
 I booked my flight for later that afternoon.


 Before I left, I explained to mum as much as I felt I could about what Liam had found so far.
Without being completely truthful, I said it was not really clear what Sophie had been working as,
since it was very difficult to get information from her employer. But I told her about Danny, and
Katie, and Danny’s parents, as much as I had found out, anyway. Mum looked horrified by the
information that Sophie’s friends had been killed, one at a time, like birds picked off a fence.
 ‘I knew something awful was happening. Why else would Sophie ask for help after so much time
away? Can Liam prove beyond doubt that Sophie is still alive? Can he, Ellen?’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              63
 All I could tell her was the same thing she had been telling me for the last two days.
 ‘We have to trust him, mum. He’s our only hope.’
 She made one last attempt to persuade me not to go.
 ‘You’ve just told me that this Danny person...that his family died in a suspicious crash. I’m sure
they didn’t feel like they were at risk. These people are dangerous, Ellen.’
 She expected me to be the obedient, sensible one like always, but obedient and sensible was not
going to get Sophie found.
 I tried to reassure her. ‘I know you’re anxious. I am too. But I’m not in any danger. These people,
whoever they are, can’t have any idea I exist. They’re not chasing me. Or Liam. And I know I can
help him.’
 Now I understood how real the danger was for Sophie, I realised I had to be in Sydney, helping to
find her. Whatever our differences, whatever she had been doing since she went away, I couldn’t
just leave it to a stranger. I would have better insights into Sophie’s behaviour than Liam. Moping
around the house wasn’t achieving anything. I felt like I had been walking on a slow moving
treadmill for weeks, months, years, and the decision to go to Sydney felt like turning it off, and
slowly stepping onto real ground. I was petrified of going in an uncharted direction, but also
exhilarated to have a reason to turn the machine off. It was amazing how much energy and
determination I suddenly found. And, if I was really truly honest with myself, I didn’t hate the idea
of spending time with Liam either.


 As I waited for my bag to arrive on the carousel at Sydney airport, I called Liam to announce my
arrival. He sounded tired and stressed as he answered the phone.
 ‘Hi Ellen, I don’t really have much news for you. I’ve been to the morgue. I’m sure it is Katie.’
 ‘How do you know it’s her? How do you know what she looks like?’
 ‘I told you, I’ve got a photo of her. It was amongst Sophie’s things at the charity shop.’
  ‘Oh. I’m sorry about Katie, but I’m relieved it wasn’t Sophie.’
 ‘Yes, so am I.’
 ‘I wasn’t actually calling for an update. I was just letting you know I’m in Sydney.’
 Liam didn’t say anything for a moment.
 ‘Liam... are you there?’
 ‘Yes, I’m here. I heard you. I really think you should get straight on a plane back to Adelaide.
I’ve told you how dangerous this situation is, the last thing I need is for you to get into trouble as
well.’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                64
  ‘Don’t even start with me Liam. I’ve already had this lecture from mum. And I’m here now. I’m
not going back until we find Sophie.’
  ‘I don’t think you’re taking this seriously. I’ve told you, there are people who want to hurt her.
They’ve killed people! What makes you think you’re immune?’
  ‘They don’t even know I exist. Or you. We’re just two people in Sydney, looking for one person.’
  ‘Listen to me Ellen. I want you to get back on a plane.’
  ‘No, I’m staying. I’m here now. Whatever we’re doing, whatever it takes to find Sophie, I’m not
scared, and I can look after myself!’
  I was aware I wasn’t just trying to convince Liam. I was also trying to convince myself.
  ‘I just don’t think you fully comprehend how much danger you are in by even coming here.
Asking questions, chasing leads, all these things put you in the firing line.’
  ‘I know, I know. But you’re in the firing line too. So why are you still working on the case?’
  I heard Liam pause to think.
  ‘Because I hate giving up. And I think I can find Sophie, and sort out this mess. I want to prove
myself as a private investigator, so I’m going to finish this case.’
  ‘Ok, fine. That’s all very nice. But Sophie’s my sister, and that’s why I’m here.’
  ‘You’re not going to be convinced to go home, are you?’
  ‘No, I’m not. Where are you?’
  ‘I’m on the way to the airport to pick you up.’
  ‘Good. What are you driving?’
  ‘I’ve borrowed a mate’s car. He’s on holidays for a month. It’s a white station-wagon. I’m staying
at his house. I guess you can stay there too.’
  He didn’t sound rapt about the prospect of staying with me. But I wasn’t about to turn down his
offer. It was better than a hostel.
  ‘Ok thanks. I’ll see you soon. I’m at the Jetstar exit.’
  I was relieved Liam had a car, particularly as I had no money to hire one. It would definitely
make the search much easier. I felt satisfied. It had to be better with two of us.


  When Liam arrived, I expected he would be over his annoyance that I had turned up unannounced
to help, but he was far from it. He pulled up, and didn't even get out of the car to help me load my
bag into the boot. When I got into the front seat, he was moody, and hardly said anything as we
drove out of the airport.
  ‘Can you tell me anything else you haven’t had a chance to fill me in on yet?’ I suggested.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              65
 ‘Yeah, I’m going to have to. Basically at the moment I have no idea where Sophie is. I’m doing
my best to trace her movements in Sydney, but I haven’t got too many leads.’
 ‘You still haven’t told me who told you she made it to Sydney.’
 ‘Ok. Danny ran the businesses, but he needed someone to help him with the accounts. They
laundered all the money earned by escorting through the gym. It would barely have turned a profit
as a legitimate business, but with the escort stuff on the side, it was making good money. The guy I
met was their book keeper.’
 ‘So this guy was looking after their cash? What was his name?’
 ‘Frank Sporalli. He took a lot of convincing that I was looking for Sophie for legitimate reasons.
He worked out that Danny had been – well - eliminated - and he was terrified something would
happen to him.’
 ‘Did he have any idea why Danny was killed?’
 ‘No, none whatsoever, or so he said. He obviously knew all about their business dealings, but he
couldn’t see how this had got them into so much trouble.’
 ‘And am I right in guessing he was the one who took the £15,000 for information?’
 ‘Yes. He said he needed it to pay debts for the business. Since Danny died, the gym hadn’t re-
opened. And Katie and Sophie hadn’t worked for quite a while. He said he was out of pocket, and
wouldn’t give me any information about Katie and Sophie unless I paid for it.’
 ‘So all he really knew was they both left London and went to Sydney?’
 I suddenly realised how flimsy this information was. How could Liam be sure this Sporalli guy
knew what he was talking about? He wanted cash and he got it, but where was the proof?
 ‘It wasn’t until Sporalli realised he knew something of value to me, that he got really difficult to
deal with.’
 ‘So he told you he knew where they were, but he wouldn’t tell you unless you gave him money?’
 This Sporalli sounded like a charming specimen.
 ‘First he told me Katie and Sophie needed to get out of the UK.’
 ‘And you asked him where they were going?’
 Liam was glaring at me out of the corner of his eye. He wasn’t enjoying the interrogation.
 ‘Of course I asked. When I gave him the money, he told me they were travelling to Sydney. And
he told me they were using fake names.’
 ‘For £15,000, I should hope so! Did he know what the fake names were?’
 ‘Yes, he organised the false passports. Katie is...or was...Kerry Middleton and Sophie is Yasmine
Phillips. I have a contact in the Department of Immigration. Two girls with those names arrived at


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             66
Sydney airport on the 10th December last year. Sporalli had given me an address for them in Sydney
but they weren’t there. I don’t know if he was lying, or they changed their plans.’
  Right. I felt like I was getting somewhere with Liam. His mood hadn’t improved, but he had
finally given me the information I needed to work the case with him.


  Out my window, I watched the traffic fly by. Everywhere I looked it seemed to be mayhem on the
roads, even on a Sunday evening. Traffic jams. Tooting horns. Screeching breaks. Yuk! I had
forgotten how much I hated Sydney. It was like a labyrinth of dead ends and no-right turn streets.
Why did they make it so difficult for people to get around?
  ‘This city makes me feel claustrophobic.’
  I wanted to ease the tension in the car, to get Liam to relax a little, and have a normal
conversation. But his still sullen face peered over the steering wheel, hardly acknowledging I had
spoken. His friendliness and charm of yesterday had completely disappeared today.
  ‘Liam, are you ok? You seem quite stressed out. I know you’re worried about Sophie, but is there
something else as well?’
  He grunted. ‘As you’ve just said, the traffic is stressful. I’m finding Sydney stressful.’
  I had to take his word for it, but his snappy response didn’t satisfy me. Was he trying to make me
feel unwelcome with his surliness? Maybe more talk about our plans would help.
  ‘So, I’ve been thinking. I know you’ve been concentrating your search on Sophie. But I don’t
think that’s our only problem. These people, these psychos, whoever they are, aren’t just going to
give up and let her go. Whatever has been done to them, they apparently want revenge, and aren’t
going to settle for less.’
  We were waiting at traffic lights, and obviously weren’t going to make it through this set before
they changed again. Liam hit the steering wheel with the base of his hand.
  ‘What were you thinking of doing once we find Sophie?’ I asked, trying to sound as non-
confrontational as possible.
  ‘I’ve already thought all of this through.’
  Now he wasn’t letting his anger simmer. He was throwing it straight at me.
  ‘When we find Sophie, she should have some idea of who these people are, and we can go to the
police, and they can sort it out.’
  ‘But what if she has no idea? Isn’t that possible?’
  ‘I wouldn’t have thought so! If someone wanted to kill you, don’t you think you’d know why?’
  ‘I wouldn’t know.’
  From the way Liam was looking at me, this conversation was over.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           67
 ‘Where are we going?’ I asked.
 ‘My mate’s house, like I said. It’s in Newtown.’
 ‘I know where that is. It can’t be far from here, can it?’
 ‘No, we’re almost there.’
 I had forgotten how big Sydney was. And now it was clear Liam didn’t have any leads as to
Sophie’s whereabouts, I was starting to picture a needle in a haystack.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                        68
Chapter 13


  When we finally got into Liam’s borrowed accommodation, after circling the block numerous
times for a car park, I started to feel slightly more at ease. The house was an old, thin terrace,
adjoined on both sides, and half covered with ivy. It was the only one in a row of houses that looked
untouched since it was built, and, though it was a bit run down, I thought it had charm. Liam
explained that his friend rented it. There were two bedrooms, but only one of them had a bed. I said
I would sleep on the sofa, and then wished I hadn’t when the living room, and the sofa, came into
view.
  ‘Only a male would keep a sofa that far past it’s used by date!’ I commented, as Liam slumped
down onto the oldest, grubbiest piece of furniture I ever saw. I couldn’t even tell what colour it
would have been originally; now it was a light greyish brownish shade. The house was in a mess. I
assumed this was partly Liam’s doing, and partly left this way by his holidaying friend.
  ‘Look, sorry about before,’ he said. ‘I didn’t mean to make you feel like you’re getting in the
way.’
  ‘Well you did, but I accept your apology.’ This was a welcome truce.
  ‘Finding out about Katie, well, it’s really knocked me for six. I had no idea these guys were in
Sydney. I thought we had plenty of time to find Sophie. But it’s suddenly really urgent, and I guess
I could use all the help I can get.’
  ‘The whole thing is still really new to me too, Liam. It wasn’t until today that I found out how
serious it is.’
  Liam had turned the living room into his search headquarters. He had a pin board at one end of
the room, with a photo of Sophie on it: the same one mum sent him. He had also stuck up a more
recent one, which must have been the publicity shot from the agent. She looked exactly as I had
imagined she might. Beautiful and confident, she was pouting at the camera, her long dark hair
falling over her shoulders and onto her back like a model in a hair conditioner advertisement. How
could this woman be all the things Liam had told me...a failed actress, a prostitute living with her
pimp boyfriend?
  There was also a photo of Sophie with a girl I guessed was Katie. She had short dark curly hair
and dark skin. And though she wasn’t as beautiful as Sophie, she obviously would be very attractive
to men. The way she had her arm around Sophie, and her head against her, made me realise they
were as close as friends got, almost like sisters. Her death suddenly felt real as I looked at the image
of her with Sophie. What had happened in these girls’ lives to make someone want to kill them?
This photo made them look so...normal. I don’t know how I expected prostitutes to look, but not
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                69
like this. They looked like those girls you'd see out, having so much fun in bars they don’t notice all
the men staring at them. The very few times I ventured out into nightclubs with friends from
university, I hated seeing girls like that. Men never offered to buy me a drink. They never even
glanced in my direction. They were too busy competing for the attention of the Sophies and the
Katies. I bet Liam would be the sort of man to not only approach the Sophies and Katies, but to
succeed in buying them a drink, dancing with them, taking them home...
  ‘Have you got a photo of Danny?’ I asked, hoping to complete the picture of the three friends.
  ‘No, there wasn’t one.’
  ‘You never told me what happened to Katie. Did they shoot her?’
  Liam shook his head. ‘She fell in front of a train.’
  ‘Fell? So it might have been an accident?’
  ‘I doubt it. I’d say she was pushed. There was an article in the newspaper saying the police are
treating it as murder.’
  ‘That’s a relief. If the police are looking for these people, there might be less chance they’ll find
Sophie.’
  Liam didn’t comment on the police search.
  ‘There’s something else about Katie I haven’t told you,’ he said. ’Sporalli mentioned it when I
gave him the money. She had a baby... a boy. He’d be about 10 months old.’
  ‘And she brought him to Sydney with her?’
  ‘Yes. His name is Charlie.’
  ‘So what happened to Charlie... when she.... she was hit by the train? Please don’t tell me he was
killed too...’
  ‘No, he wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened to him.’
  ‘What do you think she was doing at the train station?’
  ‘I think she was trying to run. And these people caught up with her, and made sure she couldn’t
get far.’
  ‘But why would she run without Charlie? That doesn’t follow at all...’
  ‘I’m not sure. I can’t explain it.’
  Liam seemed exhausted. My guess was these questions were just reminding him how much
further we had to go. He got off the couch, and was standing behind me for a while, staring at the
photo of Sophie, a strange look of sadness on his face. I had to remind myself he had never met her,
but he seemed genuinely concerned, even upset.
  ‘You’d look a lot like your sister, you know. If you...’
  ‘What? Lost some weight?’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               70
  ‘That’s not what I was going to say... straightened your hair.’
  I self-consciously ran my hand through my wavy mess of hair. Maybe I did look a bit like her, but
I wasn’t like her, in too many ways to count.


  There were photos of Sophie and me when we were young scattered throughout our house, some
in frames on the walls, others sitting on mantel pieces or any other surface mum could find. I used
to look at the photos of Sophie when she was my age, and marvel at how much I looked like her.
But then as we got older, Sophie seemed to grow from a pretty child into a beautiful woman.
Almost overnight, she was confidently styling her hair, wearing makeup and looking immaculate
whenever she left her bedroom. But I went from a pretty child to a frumpy teenager, never able to
put myself together like Sophie did with such apparent ease.
  The few times I tried to wear makeup, I couldn’t work out how to make the eyeliner look like
anything other than a thick intrusion on my eyelid. And the mascara would just clump my eyelashes
together and smudge. When I was 15, my eye sight deteriorated, and I got glasses. I never bothered
to put makeup on underneath them. By the time I got contact lenses, I felt too old to ask anyone
how to put make up on. So I never wore it at all, even for performances. I also never did anything
with my hair, because unlike Sophie, who had gorgeous straight dark hair, my hair was wavy, thick
and disobedient. For years, I just rolled it into a bun wet and let it dry like that. Then I cut it really
short, but it just got even thicker and more unmanageable. So I let it grow out a bit, leaving it at an
in-between length that gathered on my shoulders in a tangled mess. When my hair was long, Sophie
used to offer to plait it for me, and later tried to get me to blow-dry it. But I always took her offers
as put-downs; I thought she was criticising how I looked. Since she left, and I grew into my body,
I’d slimmed down a lot. But I’d never been comfortable dressing in anything that showed off my
figure. I was always more at home in baggy shirts and track pants. My only dressy clothes were the
ones worn at piano competitions and concerts: formal black skirts and white shirts. I didn’t have
any need for proper ‘going out’ clothes, nor the money to buy them if I did. How was it that Sophie
and I turned out so different?
  I remembered that no matter how much we clashed, she always defended me in front of other
people. There was a bully in my class, who’d yell ‘nerd’ when I walked down the corridor, and
stand in front of my locker to stop me opening it. He always sneered at me for wearing the pants
and shirt school uniform, rather than the summer dress. He called me ‘butch nerd’ once, and Sophie
and her cool high school friends heard him. She went right up to him and said ‘do you have a
problem?’ He was terrified, and he stammered that he was just having a laugh. She said he wasn’t
funny, and it was obvious he had a crush on me. Why else was he following me round? He went
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                  71
bright red and ran off. Sophie and her friends nearly died laughing. Sophie yelled after him that he
would be lucky if I even noticed him, and he never teased me after that.
  ‘I’d like to get to know her again...you know...if we find her. I miss having a sister.’
  The quietness of the room made my confession seem even more poignant. It probably wasn’t
what Liam needed to hear right now, since he was so worried about the search. But I wasn’t
expecting him to blush quite as quickly and darkly as he did.
  ‘I’d like to meet her too. I’d like to see you guys back together.’
  He seemed too embarrassed at his own emotion to show his face, and quickly disappeared
upstairs.


  The pin-up board had some other bits and pieces that I was eager to look at. Right in the middle
was an article cut from a newspaper, with yesterday's date, about Katie’s death. I quickly read it.
The police didn’t have any suspects, and there was no mention of her baby. Maybe we should tell
the police about Charlie? Pinned at the top of the board was a photocopy of the newspaper article
about Danny’s parents’ car accident. There was also a clipping about Danny’s murder, though this
hardly contained any information at all, as the police knew even less than we did about the
circumstances. The article stated that a man had been found shot in his apartment. His identity had
not yet been revealed, and there was no known motive for the killing, which appeared to be
‘execution style’. There were also no witnesses. One line of the article leapt out at me, reigniting
my anger at Sophie again. It said 'a small amount of cocaine was found in the apartment. Police do
not believe there was a saleable street quantity. It appears more likely it was for recreational use'. I
couldn't bear to imagine Sophie as a drug addicted prostitute! I decided to ignore this problem, and
concentrated on the rest of the article. Strangely, the call to the ambulance had come from a
telephone box a quarter of a mile from the apartment. Did this mean someone heard gunshots, and
called from the nearest phone box? Or did they see something, but not report it to the police? The
last line of the article was also less than helpful: ‘Police have no leads as to the identity of the
gunman’.
  As I read through the article, I suddenly remembered my Facebook investigation. Liam’s laptop
was sitting open in the middle of his mini command centre. I was sure he wouldn’t mind me using
it. My email welcome page advised that I had one un-read email. The internet connection took a
painfully long time to show me the message. Please let it be from Tina, I willed the universe. When
it appeared the subject was: ‘Tina Gianopoulos sent you a message on Facebook...’ Yippee!
  She had written: ‘Hi Ellen. Nice to hear from you! Sorry to hear that you and Sophie have lost
touch, that must be very sad for you both. I haven’t heard from her since she went away. I’m still
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                  72
here in Adelaide and I don’t speak to many of the people I used to go to school with. Different
crowds and all that. But I do have lots of them as friends on Facebook. I can email them and see if
any of them still hear from her. Tina xx’
  I responded that I would appreciate that. But it was disappointing, as she was the one most likely
to have stayed in touch with Sophie.


  Liam and I were now officially at dead ends. I was still on the laptop, trying to get used to the
Facebook site, when he came back down stairs.
  ‘Are you on my laptop’ he asked, with some amusement at my audacity.
  ‘Sorry, is that a problem?’ I asked, daring him to complain.
  ‘No, no, it’s fine. Sorry. You can use it.’
  ‘I’ve finished now. Just checking out my Facebook page. Thought it might be a way to get in
contact with people who are still in touch with Sophie.’
  ‘And did you get anywhere?’
  Liam suddenly looked hopeful, and it was obvious this was an idea he hadn’t had himself. Trying
not to seem smug, I turned the laptop in his direction, letting him read the email Tina had written
back to me. He scanned the message, slowly shrugging his shoulders as he got to the end.
  ‘I guess it’s not really likely she would be in contact with her old school friends, if she lost touch
with you and your mum.’
  ‘Yeah, I know. It was just an idea.’
  Liam had brought a plastic carry bag downstairs, and was holding it in front of him like some sort
of offering. I took it from him, and looked through its contents. It was old Beatles records, and I
recognised where they had come from.
  ‘I bought these at the charity shop. They were Sophie’s. I thought your mum might want them,
so...’
  ‘So we can give them back to her when we find her. Thanks Liam, that was really sweet.’ My
cheeks reddened with gratitude, and guilt at my suspicions about Liam’s motives.
  I recognised the albums; they were my dad’s before they were Sophie’s. She had commandeered
them from his record collection. I wasn’t surprised they made it all the way to her life in London,
and I was grateful they had been salvaged.
  ‘I’m just going to cook up some pasta for dinner. Do you want some?’
  Liam was back to his polite, charming ways, and I was famished, so I gratefully accepted. While I
stood at the counter and watched him cook, he poured us both a glass of wine. It was hard not to
notice how devastatingly good looking he was. His face managed to somehow remain completely
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               73
placid while his eyes dared me to notice a cheeky streak. And he had just enough sarcasm to keep
him polite without being an arrogant know all. He looked strong, but ready to cuddle and as much
as I wished I didn't, I had to recognise that I had a crush on him.
 The subject quickly turned back to what we planned to do the next day.
 ‘So where have you looked in Sydney so far?’
 I didn’t want Liam to revert to his sullen mood. His good mood was so far more preferable. But it
was fair to ask how he had spent the last month, so we didn’t cover old ground.
 He swallowed his pride and admitted: ‘There’s not really much to tell. I hung around the places
for days where I thought she might be. But they were just guesses.’
 ‘Like where?’
 ‘I thought she might try to disappear into the tourist crowd around the eastern beaches. I hung out
near the hostels in Bondi, and Coogee. They’re crawling with English people, but I never spotted
Sophie. I showed her photos at all the major hotels in the city. But that didn’t get me anywhere
either. I also thought she would have to eat at some stage. So I trawled the shopping centres in the
city, in case she was in a hotel, and had to duck out to get supplies.’
 ‘Speaking of hotels, what sort of accommodation do you think she could afford?’
 ‘I don’t think she has much money, but it’s impossible to say.’
 ‘But let’s assume that even if she did have some, she wouldn’t want to spend it too quickly. If it
was me, I wouldn’t stay somewhere too central, or too expensive.’
 Liam nodded grudgingly. ‘So where would you stay, if you were Sophie?’
 ‘When we came to Sydney for piano competitions, we stayed at those budget places called
Formule 1 Hotels. The ones with the big signs on the side that say rooms for $79 a night. They sort
of look like concrete boxes with windows in the side.’
 ‘I’ve noticed them. I couldn’t imagine Sophie wanting to stay there.’
 ‘I’m sure she wouldn’t want to stay there. But she might have no choice. Sophie must remember
what it was like to live off hardly any money. I also wouldn’t stay in a hostel, because I wouldn’t
feel safe not having my own room. But a really cheap hotel room would feel pretty anonymous.
And I wouldn’t stay in the same one for too long...’
 I opened up the laptop and typed ‘Formule 1 Hotels Sydney’ into Google. The search listed
Paddington, St Peters, Darlinghurst, Casula, Sydney Airport...
 ‘Ok, then let’s start with these tomorrow. We can show her photo at the front desks. Maybe we’ll
get lucky.’
 I had given Liam a reason to feel excited, and I felt pleased with myself. I really was helping!


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              74
 ‘So, this piano stuff. You must have been pretty seriously into it if you were flying to Sydney for
competitions.’
 ‘Oh, I was. Really serious. But it didn’t work out. Now I’m just a teacher.’
 ‘So you were trying to be professional? Like, be paid for playing in concerts and stuff? That must
be pretty tough.’
 ‘It is. There aren’t many concert pianists that make a living from it. I thought for a while I would
get there, but I wasn’t good enough.’
 Liam didn’t look at me with the usual pity I expected when telling people my sad tale. He looked
curious, and even a bit surprised.
 ‘You don’t seem like the sort of person who would be a, you know, pianist.’
 ‘Well, I’m not a pianist. So that might have something to do with it.’
 ‘No, I don’t mean that. I mean I sort of picture these pianist types as really... serious. You know,
nerdy types who are all like...’ Rather than use words, he mimed something that looked like
someone with a carrot up their arse, flailing their fingers around on an invisible keyboard.
 ‘You mean I don’t seem like a pompous git who thinks they’re god’s gift?’
 ‘Exactly.’ Liam looked relieved that he hadn’t offended me.
 I should have left it there, but couldn’t resist asking the question. ‘So how do I seem?’
 ‘I don’t know, normal I guess. The way your mum wrote of you...’
 ‘...You thought I’d be a basket case?’ Mum had told Liam I’d been through a rough time
 Liam reddened. I almost felt amused by how ruffled he was.
 ‘I’m just getting to know you, that’s all. And I never expected you to say you were a pianist.’
 ‘A piano teacher...’ I corrected him. ‘No point being up yourself if you’re just a piano teacher.’
 ‘Well, I guess it’s lucky you’re not off playing somewhere in Europe now, hey!’
 ‘Why’s that?’ I asked, thinking that nothing in the world would have made me happier than
performing at that very moment.
 ‘Because then you wouldn’t be here with me, trying to find Sophie.’
 I hadn’t even thought of that. The smile he gave me made my insides flutter, reminding me of
how I felt about Thomas.
 ‘When is the pasta going to be ready? I’m starving! And I’m about to finish this bottle of wine
while I wait!’
 I looked away so he wouldn’t notice it was my turn to blush.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              75
Chapter 14


  When I woke up in the morning, I felt like my body was stuck in the grooves of the old sofa
cushions, making me stiff and grumpy. I had been slightly surprised that Liam hadn’t offered me
his bed. He didn’t seem to have a problem with the sofa’s derelict appearance. I was trying to prize
myself from my cramped position, coaxing my limbs back to life, when I heard his phone ring. The
muffled sound of his voice in his bedroom upstairs proved to me once and for all that houses in
Sydney are too small. I could make out what he was saying, and without being able to help it,
listened in.
  ‘I just have to, ok?’...‘it’s not as simple as that’...‘I know you’re not made of money...’ ‘You can’t
help who you love’...’just listen to me’...‘it’s not about that’...‘I just have to, ok’... 'I have to go
mum...’ He sounded angry, hissing into the phone, but trying hard not to raise his voice.
  From the long gaps between what he was saying, it seemed like his mum was having a bit of a
rant. I heard Liam open his bedroom door, and as he breezed down the stairs, the expression on his
face showed he had absolutely no idea I had overheard him. So I kept my expression neutral, not
wanting him to guess I had been listening. Who had he been speaking about? It couldn’t be Sophie
could it? Surely not.
  He seemed to be forcing a cheerful demeanour, saying to me: ‘We should get going before the
Monday morning traffic is really bad. We can get breakfast on the road.’
  Did this mean he wanted to leave right now? I was hardly awake, let alone ready to leave the
house.
  ‘What time is it?’ I asked, as I tried to conceal myself behind the door before Liam saw the old
baggy night gown that I had been wearing for too many years to count.
  ‘It’s 7:30. Do you want a quick shower? I’d like to leave in about 10 minutes.’
  Liam spoke with forced politeness, but he was obviously frustrated I wasn’t out of bed, and ready
to go. He can’t have lived with a female before: 10 minutes was barely enough time to wash my
face, let alone get ready to leave. Back at home, I wasn’t usually out of bed until 9:00am.
  ‘I’ll have one later. I don’t want to hold us up.’
  I dragged on the clothes I had worn the day before; they had been sitting crumpled on top of my
bag on the living room floor. I would have to remember to set the alarm on my phone tomorrow. I
didn’t want Liam to think I was treating this trip to Sydney like a holiday. He stood in the hall
waiting for me, car keys in hand, as I quickly combed my hair, brushed my teeth and put my
contacts in. When I pulled on my trusty cargo pants I noticed Picasso's spare wire was still in the
pocket. It reminded me I'd need to find a moment to do some washing in Sydney. Liam was acting
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                      76
like there wasn't enough time to dress, let alone wash. Was there any other thing he could do in the
world to make me feel more rushed than stand staring at the closed front door? I was surprised he
hadn’t already got in the car and turned the engine on.
 The street was very quiet when we eventually made it out the door. Liam jumped into the car and
sat impatiently waiting for me to get in. But I couldn’t help taking a moment to notice the car’s
number plate. It was symbolic for me- XYD 960. As I got in, I told Liam it was a good omen.
 ‘That’s the same number as my favourite Schubert Sonata – D 960…’
 Liam ignored me, and zoomed off from the curb like he was on a mission, barely waiting long
enough for me to close the door.


 He had the three photos of Sophie, and he’d written down the names and addresses of all the
Formule 1 hotels in Sydney. As he drove, he explained he thought we should start at the airport one,
as this was the first cheap hotel Sophie would have seen after getting here. I suspected if she had
ever stayed there, it would have been when she first arrived. She wouldn’t be there now. It wouldn’t
have been safe for her to stay for more than two months. But I preferred not to contradict his plans,
so I said nothing.
 ‘Do you get nervous at all, about these people? Do you think they might work out you’re looking
for Sophie?’ I asked, as we slowed to a crawl, hitting the first traffic jam of the morning -
something that seemed to be unavoidable in this city.
 ‘Not at all,’ he said, with complete and utter certainty, which made me feel slightly better. ‘You
said yourself that we are just two people searching for one other person. How could they even know
we exist?’
 I might have said that, but it didn’t mean I believed it. ‘All I know,’ I said, ‘is that whoever they
are, they seem to be very good at tracking people down. How on earth would they have known
Katie was in Sydney? And then they found her, didn’t they. She’d changed her name and
everything.’
 ‘That is a bit scary. But there’s still no connection to us.’
 Liam seemed sure. But during my uncomfortable sleep on the ugly sofa, I had a lot of time to
worry about all the ways we could be found by these people. What if they worked out what
Sophie’s real name was, and tracked me down through that? They could easily work out I had
flown to Sydney from a flight manifest, or someone could be watching us right now. I spun around
in my seat, suddenly anxious to know who was driving behind us. A little old lady in a tiny
Hyundai, her head hardly showing over the steering wheel, peered back at me. Liam saw me look,
and glanced in the rear view mirror.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               77
 ‘Do you think we can out run her?’ He revved the engine as he spoke.
 ‘Ha ha. It’s not funny. I think we should be on high alert at all times. If you ever think you see the
same person twice behind us, that’s a sure sign we are being followed.’
 ‘Ok. I’ll watch out for people I don’t know in cars I don’t recognise. Happy?’
 He wasn’t taking me seriously.
 ‘Another thing I was thinking about…’
 ‘Worrying about more like it…’
 ‘Is whether there is any need to go to the police? People have been killed. I would have thought
we need to involve them at some point.’
 I could feel Liam starting to get wary again.
 ‘So you want to go to the police, and tell them we are looking for Sophie. And that her two
friends have been killed, but we know absolutely nothing about who might have done it?’
 ‘I can tell by the way you’re speaking that you think that’s a bad idea. But why not? Why
shouldn’t we tell them we think Katie was murdered? If we are so sure, why wouldn’t they be?’
 ‘Because there’s no evidence, is there?’
 ‘Except Danny was killed… sorry....murdered… and Katie's death is being treated as murder too,
and we know Sophie is scared. So why can’t we tell the police that?’
 ‘There are so many reasons; I don’t know where to start.’
 ‘Give me one good, convincing reason, then.’
 ‘That’s just it. Convincing is the key. The police have absolutely no evidence Katie and Sophie
even exist. They have come to Sydney illegally, with fake passports and names. Sophie's been
living illegally in London for numerous years before this, working as a prostitute. We say they’re
being pursued by people they may not even know. Do you really think the police would take
anything we told them seriously?’
 ‘It would be worth a try.’ I crossed my arms with stubborn defiance.
 ‘Did you consider it might be dangerous to go on record talking about what we know? You say
you are scared these killers could find us. What better way to lead them to us than giving all our
information to the police? Written statements go on public record.’
 ‘I hadn’t thought of that.’
 Did written statements really go on the public record? I doubted it. But he was the lawyer, so he
must know better than I did. It was time to change the subject.
 ‘Ok, then what if, instead of going to the police, we made a public appeal for Sophie through the
media, like on TV, or in the newspaper? We could ask them not to give any information about us,


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             78
but to tell Sophie that friends are looking for her, and if she wants us to find her, she needs to get in
contact again. Why wouldn’t that work?’
  Now Liam looked even more exasperated than before. ‘Ellen. Think about what you just said.
How is that not going to lead these people straight to us? Or to Sophie, when she tries to get in
contact? That’s not a smart suggestion.’
  Maybe he was right. I had to remember what I had been worrying about myself last night. These
people could be more cunning than I thought. And the longer we went without them knowing about
us, the safer we were.
  ‘I find it hard to be scared of people who are completely unknown to me,’ I said.
  ‘I know what you mean. We know they have killed people, but there’s no face or name to put to
them, so they are just nobodies who can’t possibly hurt us.’
  ‘Do you think Sophie thinks of them like that?’
  ‘Depends how much she knows about who they are. We have to assume she and the others did
something, or know something, that makes them a target. I still think she must have some idea who
they are. But it’s really impossible to say what she knows.’


  We got to the first hotel, which was a block from the airport. Memories of staying at places like
this with mum came flooding back. I remember the way we laughed when we opened the door to
our room, discovering it was the size of a walk-in wardrobe. The bed was so close to the bathroom
that you could leap off it, straight onto the tiles next to the toilet. This really would have been a
stretch for Sophie, compared to a penthouse apartment.
  Liam led the way into reception.
  ‘Would you like to book a room?’
  The receptionist looked very young; she couldn’t have been over 18. Her starched uniform was
oversized, which made it look like her small frame was drowning in collars and sleeves. Her voice
was high-pitched, well suited to her pixie-like face.
  ‘We don’t want a room. We are enquiring about the whereabouts of this missing person. Have
you seen this woman before? Do you recognise her face?’
  Liam’s investigative work obviously brought out the lawyer in him, but his authoritative tone
seemed out of place, and his well rehearsed script cold and wooden. Not surprisingly, he scared the
girl, and she stammered as she tried to focus on the three photos shoved under her face.
  ‘I… don’t…think… so… are you the police?’
  I stepped closer to the desk, not wanting Liam to completely ruin our chances of unearthing a
possible sighting. I smiled at the girl, and tried to speak as softly as possible.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                   79
 ‘Look, we’re not the police or anything. We’re just looking for my sister. She’s in trouble, and we
need to find her so we can help her.’
 The girl’s face relaxed, and she looked harder at each photo.
 ‘Why do you think she might have been here?’
 She still sounded scared; it was obvious she had never come across anyone at the desk before who
wasn’t just booking a room. Liam glared at me as I continued speaking to her.
 ‘We don’t know for sure she was. We’re just checking as many places as possible.’
 Still staring at the photo, she shook her head.
 ‘No, I’m sure I haven’t seen her. I can check the guest database. I’m sure it’s probably against the
rules, but she is your sister…’
 I turned and smiled at Liam, who was still fuming at my intrusion.
 ‘Oh, that would be great. I’d really appreciate it. She arrived in Sydney on the 10th of December,
so if you could just check since then, her name is So…’
 ‘Yasmine Phillips,’ Liam interrupted in the nick of time.
 The girl gave us a strange look as she went to the computer, and started typing in commands. She
started shaking her head, and kept shaking it, as she scrolled through pages and pages of records. I
was sure there must be a quicker way to search for a guest’s name, but didn’t want to suggest this in
case she gave up all together.
 ‘No…there’s no Yasmine Phillips coming up…’
 ‘Do you need ID to book a room here?’ Liam asked, still sounding too imposing for my liking.
 ‘No, we don’t ask for ID.’
 ‘And you can pay with cash?’
 ‘Yes, of course, we accept cash, eftpos, Visa.’
 ‘And how many receptionists do you have working here?’
 The girl didn’t like this question at all, but she answered, probably in the hope it would get rid of
us. ‘There’s me and another girl during the week and two others on weekends.’
 Liam snatched the photos off the desk, and strode outside. I quickly thanked the girl for her help,
and followed him, amazed at how aggressively his investigative persona acted.
 ‘That girl was a complete waste of time.’
 He slammed the car door, as if angry with the poor girl for not having seen Sophie.
 ‘Look, you’re the one who told me you have to be patient with this investigative stuff. I never
thought we’d get a hit straight away. You’re the one who has already visited all the hotels in the
city. What do you expect?’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             80
  ‘I know, I know. I just got frustrated when I realised Sophie could be booking into these places
without even giving her fake name. She might be giving another name altogether. At least in the
bigger hotels you have to leave a credit card number, with a name on it, when you book a room. If
she’s paid with cash, and given a fake name, we’ll have to show her photo to every receptionist at
every hotel. It’ll take forever.’
  ‘It’ll take even longer if you play the mister baddy detective act you had going in there.’
  ‘What do you mean?’ He looked hurt.
  ‘You can’t speak to people like that, and expect them to respond in a positive way with the
information you need.’
  ‘That’s how I investigate. I am a professional. I make people realise I’m not there to waste their
time. I’m doing a job! And it’s got me this far hasn’t it?’
  ‘I just don’t think it’s the right attitude to use with some people. You scared that girl. She hardly
looked at the photo until I talked to her.’
  ‘Are you here to help me or criticise me?’
  ‘I’m here to find Sophie. And I think you should take the advice on, rather than get your back up
about it, because we’ve got a lot more people to talk to. The more personable you can be, the more
likely we’ll get results.’
  The last thing I wanted was more sulking like yesterday, but I also didn’t want to let Liam think I
wouldn’t tell him when I thought he was doing to wrong thing.
  ‘Look, I’ve been used to working alone,’ Liam conceded. ‘I appreciate you are trying to help me,
and you have come up with a couple of good suggestions. Can we just agree that we are both doing
our best, and try not to argue about every single thing? It’s exhausting.’
  ‘Fine. Where’s our next Formule 1?’
  The day went on in a similar manner, both of us frustrated at each dead end, both of us trying our
best not to take our frustrations out on each other. I conceded by mid afternoon that Liam’s style
was quite useful with people who didn’t take the situation seriously enough without the formal
approach. But with many, especially the women, my softer tone was much more welcome. And as
much as he tried to hide it, Liam absolutely hated me taking control of the questioning. He was too
polite to say anything, but he looked irritated every time I beat him to the reception desk, and
started a conversation. I found myself racing him to the front door; he was really bringing out my
competitive side. It was quite thrilling to prove to Liam that I deserved to be the one calling the
shots as much as he did. And even though I conceded that he had done quite well getting the search
this far, I was definitely now offering as many helpful suggestions as he was.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                 81
 The competitiveness between Liam and me reminded me of the fights I had with Sophie in the
months before she left. I was tired of her taking everything out on mum, and I had no tolerance for
the bad mood she seemed to wake up in every day. Little things set us off, like when she
commented on how much time I spent playing the piano, or when she ate the last slice of bread.
Sometimes she was really cruel, paying me out for not having a social life. I started to lie, telling
her I was going out with friends from my class when I was really just having an extra piano lesson.
Back before dad left, she was really proud of my musical ability. She came to all my concerts with
mum and dad, clapping and cheering when I finished playing. But about the time he left, her
interest vanished.
 In the same way that Liam got under my skin when he tried to decide what was best for us both,
Sophie upset me by telling me there was something wrong with the choices I made for my life. I
didn’t want her to think I was a loser. I wanted to prove my choice was the right one, and that she
had no idea what was best for me. I retaliated by calling her lazy or un-ambitious, because she
wasn’t working as hard as I was. But looking back, maybe she was a bit jealous of how much time
mum and I spent talking about my piano career. Maybe we didn’t show enough interest in what was
happening in her life.


 By three o’clock, we had visited six of the eight Formule 1 hotels in Sydney. With or without my
helpful suggestions, no one had seen Sophie, and there was no listing of Yasmine Phillips in their
guest lists. The driving was what was eating up our time; the conversations with each receptionist
hardly took long at all. These places were so spread out, it took almost an hour to get to one of
them, and over an hour to get to the next. Was there a more direct route that Liam didn't know
about? But Liam was in no mood to accept suggestions.
 As we drove through the city to the second- to-last hotel on the list, I recognised the suburb
‘Kings Cross’. I remembered mum had said we weren’t going to stop there on one of our trips to
Sydney, as it was full of ‘low lifes and criminals’. Liam was less judgemental in his description of
the suburb as ‘the red light district and quite a good nightclub strip’. If there was anywhere in
Sydney where Sophie would fit right in, it would be here, I thought to myself uncharitably. The
street the hotel was on was busy with city traffic, and there were no car parks. Liam pulled up right
outside the hotel and undid his seatbelt.
 ‘This is a no standing zone, I really don’t think you should park here,’ I said, not budging from
my seat.
 ‘You are such a worrier! We’ll be five minutes!’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               82
  ‘I’ve heard what parking tickets cost in this city. Can you afford a $200 fine? Because I sure
can’t.’
  ‘Ok, ok! I’ll wait here. You take the photos in, and talk to them. If I have to move, I’ll go round
the block, and meet you back here.’
  I jumped out of the car and hurried into reception. As much as I tried to be optimistic that each
hotel held the chance of a sighting, it was hard not to remember just how long a shot it was. The
man behind the desk looked bored. He was staring at a TV screen with a shot of the empty lobby on
it, the same view he would have for real if he sat up straight, and glanced out over the desk. He
didn’t look up until I started to speak, not even bothering to ask if I would like anything.
  ‘Excuse me. I’m looking for my sister. She is missing, and I think it’s possible she stayed in this
hotel in the last couple of months.’
  ‘We’ve had hundreds of people through these doors. There’s no way I’d remember her.’
  His voice lacked any emotion; the monotone manner sounding like it came from a recorded
message.
  ‘I know, but there’s always a chance.’ I tried to remain polite. ‘Can you at least look at her photo,
just to make sure you’ve not seen her?’
  He grunted, and glanced at the photos, desperate for me to leave him to his boring solitude.
  ‘I’ve seen her.’
  What! He was pointing at the photo. I was so surprised by his response I almost thought I
misheard him.
  ‘You’ve seen her? When?’
  But just as my hopes rose, I noticed his thick, grubby finger was pointing at Katie in the photo
with Sophie.
  ‘Oh, hang on, you’ve seen the dark skinned girl? Not the one with the long hair? Is that right?’
  ‘Yeah, that’s what I said, I’ve seen her.’
  ‘Are you sure?’
  ‘Yeah, sure I’m sure. She was hot. I remember her. Hot mamma. She had a kid.’
  It was definitely Katie then, if she had Charlie with her.
  ‘When was it that she stayed here? Do you remember?’
  ‘I saw her last week, maybe Thursday, Wednesday, can't remember?’
  So this must have been where she was staying just a few days before she was killed.
  ‘Do you remember anything about her? Did you ever speak to her, ask her where she was going,
or anything?’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               83
  He looked like he regretted saying anything at all, and kept peering back at the empty foyer on the
screen, hoping that I’d be gone when he turned his head again.
  ‘I don’t know nothing. I just saw her. She stayed here for a few days. She was hot.’
  He’d said that already. I wanted more information, but he wasn’t keen on talking, and it wasn't
clear how anything he told me could help find Sophie. But I gave it one last try.
  ‘So you never spoke to her, you only saw her, and you think she stayed here for a few days during
the last week. Is that right?’
  ‘Yeah. I told you. I don’t know nothing else. She had a kid. She was a hot mamma.’
  Ok, ok! She was hot!
  ‘Do you remember if she paid with a credit card? Did she show any ID? Would her name be on
your guest list?’
  ‘You don’t know her name?’
  He was starting to look annoyed, and about to reach his limit of concentration.
  ‘Yeah, of course I do. But I wanted to know if she had changed it.’
  ‘No, I’m not looking up no guest list. I don’t know how she paid. I didn’t check her in. I never
spoke to her.’
  ‘Do you have any idea who might have checked her in?’
  But he’d had enough.
  ‘No, no…how would I know that? I don’t know nothing. Piss off, I’m busy’.
  Busy doing nothing. I thanked him for his help and left, relieved to see Liam hadn’t left his illegal
parking space and driven round the block. I had already learnt that a ‘block’ in Sydney can turn into
a 20 minute round trip.
  As I climbed back into the car, Liam could tell by the expression on my face that I’d found out
something.
  ‘What is it? Did she stay there?’
  ‘Katie did... Just in the last few days before she was killed. She had her baby with her.’
  I could see the cogs in Liam’s brain whirring, trying to work out how this information could help
us. But like me, he couldn’t think of a way.
  ‘Well at least it proves she was trying to save her dollars, not spending up big on a proper hotel. It
makes it more likely Sophie is doing the same thing,’ I said, hoping to find some optimism in the
situation.
  ‘Yeah, I guess. Also proves for sure they weren’t together. He probably would have remembered
Sophie if she had been with Katie.’
  Liam looked disappointed; my expression must have lifted his hopes more than I meant to.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              84
 After visiting the last Formule 1 hotel on the list, and again getting nowhere, we had to concede
there were hundreds of other cheap hotels Sophie might have come across, and plenty of Formule 1
receptionists who we hadn’t showed the photos to, many who wouldn’t work again until the
weekend. The thought of repeating our journey enough times to cover every hotel, every shift, filled
me with dismay. This mammoth task would take forever. Liam’s last couple of months must have
been spent much like today. Starting off with hope, and then living through each dead end, moving
to the next one, a little more disappointed than at the last one. How did people do this for a living?
It must be hell! And Liam didn’t even seem too concerned about getting paid.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             85
Chapter 15


 Detective Inspector Peter Wolcott, of the London Metropolitan Police’s Serious and Organised
Crime Command, was not having a good day. His work load had been light over the last couple of
months, not because there wasn’t much work to do, but because he had become quite adept at
passing off cases he had been given to younger detectives in his unit. After all, they were keen for
as much experience as possible. His days of working for promotion were long gone. Some
wondered if he would even make it to retirement, or if he would quit before then. He was well liked
amongst his team, and they respected the words of wisdom he was forever subjecting them to. But
he didn’t hide his cynicism about his job. His junior colleague, Detective Sergeant Pradesh Singh,
often said he would love a quid for every time Wolcott exclaimed: ‘Why wasn’t I a pilot like my
mother wanted me to be!’
 Today Wolcott had planned to spend his time sorting out the paperwork that had been slowly
accumulating in piles on his desk, but he had been called into his Chief Inspector’s office, and told
he had to attend to an urgent case. Before Wolcott had a chance to suggest another detective who
might benefit from the complexity of the situation, he was told this was not a case he could hand
over to anyone else, as it concerned a senior Tory politician. This meant it not only needed
immediate attention, but Wolcott would also have to report back to his Chief Inspector on all
matters relating to his enquiries. The more Wolcott heard about the case, the worse his day was
looking.
 As he and his sergeant negotiated rain and the London traffic in search of the suspect’s address,
he shuddered as he thought of the interview he had just had. Wolcott hated Tory politicians, and
since this one was not only a very senior Tory, but also encapsulated everything he disliked about
the party, he was none too pleased to have to treat the man with the compassion and patience
required when speaking to a victim of crime. Why couldn’t he have gone to his local nick, like
anybody else? He probably played golf with the Assistant Commissioner. The man, Matthew
Harrison-Brown, was tense throughout the interview, but he still spoke to the detectives with an
arrogant air of superiority which was quite obviously innate. And even when talking about
extremely private and sensitive matters, the man spoke as if the detectives were fortunate to be in
his presence. He didn’t show any of the humiliation or awkwardness that should have accompanied
his statement. Wolcott now resented the case, the victim, and in turn the suspect he was on his way
to interview.
 To make matters worse, when Wolcott and Singh arrived at the suspect’s apartment, they found
he was not answering the door.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             86
  ‘How can you be sure he is home, sir? It is the middle of the day, and there’s no obvious sign of a
car outside his flat, or any lights on.’
  ‘Just experience Singh. I can smell him. Plus I saw him move through the blind when we walked
up the stairs.’
  ‘Oh.’ Singh blushed.
  Wolcott continued his rapping on the door, getting louder and more insistent with every second it
remained unanswered.
  ‘Police. We know you’re in there Frank. Just open the door. We need to have a few words with
you.’
  Singh could now sense movement in the apartment as well. Frank must have been looking
through the spy hole in his front door, as there was the sound of shuffling feet, and the door creaked
as if someone was leaning against it.
  ‘We can see you moving in there Frank. Open the door! It’s the police.’
  Singh hoped this guy would answer the door soon; otherwise Wolcott was going to take his
frustration out on him. Eventually a wavering, frightened voice called back.
  ‘Prove you’re the police. I’m not opening up otherwise.’
  Wolcott grumbled, and reached into his pocket, pulling out his badge and flicking it open so it
could be seen through the spy hole. He wondered who else Frank could have thought it was. People
weren’t usually scared to open up unless they had good reason.
  The door swung open, revealing a garbage tip of rubbish, and a dishevelled man, pale and gaunt.
He stood in a dressing gown that was tattered and stained; it hung off him like a hospital robe on an
invalid. Wolcott stepped inside, introducing himself and the Sergeant to the skeletal man, who
looked so relieved he was about to cry.
  ‘Were you expecting someone else?’ Wolcott asked, trying to find a place to stand where there
wasn’t any rubbish on the ground. Singh wasn’t as careful. He followed his boss inside, stepping on
plastic bottles, pizza boxes and empty beer cans. The heating was on, but the warm fug seemed
nearly as bad as a cold one.
  ‘I wasn’t expecting the police.’ The man’s voice was hoarse. He looked like he wanted to dig a
hole and disappear into it.
  ‘We find that a lot. But I got the impression you were pleased it wasn’t someone else. Who might
that be?’
  The man just shook his head. He led the two detectives into the living room, where rubbish had
been piled in the corners and in front of the sofa, in a half hearted attempt to tidy up.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            87
  ‘Bin man not been for a while?’ Wolcott offered, trying to ignore the stench of rotten food and
sweaty skin.
  The man kept shaking his head; his neck looked like it was straining under the weight of his skull,
liable to snap if the shaking didn’t stop soon.
  ‘I haven’t really been going out much. Just busy working and stuff from home.’
  Wolcott had seen messy home offices before, but unless this man was a garbage collector, there
wasn’t much work happening in this apartment. Singh wasn’t doing a great job of keeping the
appalled expression off his face. So Wolcott decided to get straight down to the questioning, to keep
everyone’s mind off the state of the apartment. There was nowhere clean to sit, so he stood at the
side of the sofa, leaning on a bookcase, while Singh stood a few feet from him, notebook open, pen
at the ready. The man stood staring at them, still obviously coming to terms with the relief his
visitors were not someone else.
  ‘Just to make sure we are in the right place, you are Frank Sporalli aren’t you?’
  The man nodded.
  ‘Do you know a Matthew Harrison-Brown?’
  The man’s eyes went wide and his neck reddened, his face remaining as white as a sheet.
  ‘No, I’ve never heard of him.’
  ‘You look like you do. People don’t usually look scared when I ask them if they know someone
who they’ve never heard of.’
  Wolcott held onto the silence for a few seconds, hoping Frank would come up with some sort of
explanation.
  ‘Is there anyone else living at this address, who has a bank account number…’
  ‘… 98764359845 at the Old Broad Street branch of the Bank of Scotland?’ Singh finished off the
details for his boss.
  The man looked at Wolcott, then Singh and then at the ground. Wolcott hoped he wouldn’t start a
string of excuses. But it soon became obvious he didn’t have it in him.
  ‘I thought he wouldn’t tell. That it would be too embarrassing,’ he mumbled.
  Singh coughed into his fist. Wolcott hoped the lad had a tickle in his throat, and wasn’t
suppressing a laugh.
  ‘It would appear he did find it embarrassing, but the thought of being hassled for more money for
the rest of his life was rather more…uncomfortable… than what you were threatening.’
  ‘It wasn’t my idea. I just did what I was told.’
  It was his last bit of defiance, before the will to care left him altogether.
  ‘So you are admitting you have been trying to blackmail Matthew Harrison-Brown?’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              88
  He nodded.
  ‘Do you want to explain the ‘it wasn’t my idea’ statement?’
  The man still stood staring at the ground, his eyes unmoving, his arms hanging by his sides as if
he didn’t have the energy to lift his hands.
  ‘It was the man I worked for, Danny. He came up with this plan, and I was just following
orders…’
  ‘We hear that a lot Mr Sporalli. What was this plan?’
  ‘Danny owns…owned…a gym....’
  ‘Danny who?’ Wolcott asked, like an irritated headmaster.
  ‘Danny Wright. I did his accounts, you know, freelance like.’
  The man didn’t look a bit like an accountant, but Wolcott reasoned that there were so many
business students graduating in London every year, there must be some who didn’t look the part.
  ‘He got involved in this other stuff, too. His girlfriend, and her friend were, you know, working
girls. Danny – er - scheduled their work, you know, dealt with the clients, the payments.’
  ‘So Danny was a pimp and these girls were prostitutes?’
  Wolcott drew a straight line to the conclusion Sporalli was eventually going to get to himself. It
was less painful to have the guy answering questions than to listen to his slow and drawn out
explanation. Sporalli nodded and babbled nervously on.
  ‘High class, like. He thought they could make some extra dough, so he worked out who some of
the clients were, and then went after them, saying he’d tell people about their private meetings if
they didn’t pay him.’
  The man whined like a schoolboy, every syllable intimating his lack of remorse. It was a tone that
grated on Wolcott’s nerves.
  ‘And these payments were organised by you, into the bank account set up by you, and laundered
through the gym by you. Is that correct?’
  ‘Yeah, I was told to do it. Like I said, it was Danny who made all the plans. He talked to the
punters, and all.’
  ‘Oh really? We’ve been told you made a call just two days ago. Harrison-Brown is very sure who
he spoke to.’
  This wasn’t strictly true, but it was getting results. The man seemed to crumple even further into
himself. He didn’t react, just stood uneasily on his feet, staring at the two detectives.
  ‘So this Wright, can you please tell me where I could find him? It sounds like we need to have a
chat with him as well.’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              89
 ‘That’s just it. He’s dead. Murdered. Someone came after him, and the girls. The girls were shit
scared, so they pissed off, excuse my French.’
 ‘Murdered?’ said Wolcott, momentarily distracted by this possible complication of his case.
‘When and where was this?’
 ‘That’s the Chelsea murder, sir. We had notice of it a few weeks back.’
 Wolcott grunted. He never read inter-office correspondence. Why bother, when Singh would do it
for him?
 Sporalli was interested in nothing but his own skin.
 ‘So I’m the only one left,’ he whined. ‘And they’re after me too. I don’t know why. They seem to
think I know something, but I don’t.’
 ‘Like what?’ Wolcott asked.
 ‘Like I said, I don’t know. They threatened to hurt my family too, if I told anyone. It’s only me
mum left. She’s in a home. But I don’t know anything!’
 ‘So can I assume this is who you were expecting to be standing on your doorstep? The men who
threatened you?’
 A small nod.
 ‘And why you have created a cave of filth rather than go outside?’
 Another small nod.
 ‘Right, I think you’ll have to come to the station with me, Mr Sporalli.’
 Wolcott had met hundreds of people like Sporalli. Terrified and weak when pushed, but conniving
and opportunistic when it suited them. Wolcott wondered what this man really knew, and what he
had told to whom.
 ‘Can I have a shower first?’ Sporalli bleated, looking desperately pathetic, his robe falling open
enough to show more than too much skin. Wolcott’s day was not improving.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           90
Chapter 16


  When we got home, Liam disappeared up to his room, and I thought it would be a good idea if I
cooked dinner. I’d didn’t want him to think I was a high maintenance guest. But on finding all the
cupboards empty, I distracted myself from deciding whether to venture out and shop by opening
Liam’s laptop. I heard him coming back down the stairs, and he immediately noticed me on his
computer.
  ‘Are you looking up more cheap hotels for us to visit tomorrow? I’m really looking forward to
trekking all over Sydney again.’
  ‘Sarcasm noted. No, I’m just checking my email. Did you need the computer?’
  ‘No, you go ahead. I was just going to think about dinner. There should be something edible in
the cupboard.’
  ‘Don’t worry about dinner. I was just going to the shop, after I’ve done this. I think I saw a
supermarket on King Street.’
  He looked very pleased at this suggestion. What man doesn’t love to hear a woman offer to cook?
To complete the scene of being a kept man, Liam turned on the TV.
  As my email inbox loaded, my attention was suddenly fixed on the latest message, received at
3:30 that afternoon, from Facebook. I had another message from Tina! I tried to stay calm as I
clicked to open it. After all, it was possible she was just writing back to tell me she’d got nowhere.
But when the email appeared, and I read it, I was momentarily lost for words.
  ‘Liam!’ I shrieked.
  He jumped off the sofa, and I swung the laptop around so he could see what I was looking at.
  ‘Someone’s seen Sophie!’
  Was it ok to believe it could be true? I needed him to say something before getting excited. He
read the email aloud, as if trying to believe it too.
  ‘You’ll never believe it, but when I asked everyone from school if they had seen Sophie, Kylie
wrote back and said it was such a coincidence, she saw her on Saturday! Kylie lives in Sydney now
and she’s a nurse at a medical centre. She said Sophie came in with her baby and she instantly
recognised her! Can you believe it! Do you want me to put you in contact with Kylie so she can tell
you more details? I hope it’s been of use.’
  Liam stared at me, waiting for me to react. Hundreds of thoughts were rushing through my mind.
  ‘It’s got to be her! The baby! It’s Charlie! She must have Charlie! Liam, this could be our best
hope yet!’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              91
 Could it be true? Tina had actually done what she promised, and asked around, and now someone
had seen Sophie! What were the chances! But Liam didn’t look ready to celebrate quite yet.
 ‘Are you sure this Kylie person isn’t making it up? Are you sure she would recognise her?’
 I wasn’t going to admit I had no idea who Kylie was, but I already had plans for contacting her.
 ‘She went to school with Sophie. Of course she would recognise her. And she lives in Sydney and
said Sophie had a baby. It just adds up too much to be a coincidence. I never told Tina that Sophie
was in Sydney, so it’s not like Kylie knew to look out for her. She saw her last week! It’s such a
lucky break!’
 Liam started to walk quickly around the room, not sure what to do with his sudden burst of
energy.
 ‘Ok’, he said, ‘what next? We need to speak to Kylie. Call Tina and tell her you need to speak to
Kylie.’
 ‘I don’t have Tina’s number.’ I tried to keep the impatience from my voice. Couldn’t he have
worked out that I hardly knew these people? ‘Tina was Sophie’s friend at school. She hasn’t seen
me for over 10 years. But mum might be able to help me to get in contact with Kylie. There’s still a
chance her parents have the same phone number they did when Kylie was at school. If mum can
find her parents, they can put us in contact with her.’
 Liam looked like he was going to burst if we didn’t jump into action that very second.
 ‘Then call your mum! Quick! We need to get onto Kylie, and find out where she works.’
 He looked like he was starting to panic. How odd that I was the calm one.
 Thankfully, mum answered her phone, and was eager to help. Her organised study drawers would
have a stack of old school buzz books in them somewhere. She sounded more hopeful than she had
since first telling me of the search. She focused on looking for the phone number, before asking me
for more details about what we had found.
 ‘There was only one Kylie in Sophie’s year 12 class. It must be her,’ mum explained, as I tried to
remember her.
 ‘What was her last name?’
 ‘Granger. Her address was in Maylands. Have you got a pen? I’ll give you the phone number.’
 Liam was getting more and more impatient as I spoke to mum. He wanted me to get off the
phone, and call Kylie’s parents, but mum wasn’t easy to hang up on. She was still worried, still
needing reassurance I wasn’t going to get myself killed.
 ‘Ok mum, I’ll call you later, and let you know what we find.’




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              92
 I hung up and quickly typed in the number mum gave me, hoping desperately that Kylie’s parents
hadn’t moved house. I wasn’t going to admit to Liam how little I liked using my phone, especially
calling someone I didn’t know. I hoped he wouldn’t register how nervous I sounded.
 The phone seemed to ring for ages. Or was that just because I was so impatient? Finally, a man
answered, his voice snappy, as if he’d been interrupted in the middle of something important.
 ‘Hello, what do you want?’
 ‘Is that Mr Granger?’
 ‘Yes, what do you want? You’re not trying to sell me something are you? I’m eating my dinner.
You people always call when I’m eating dinner. It’s very rude…’
 A bit taken aback, I tried to get him to listen.
 ‘No, I’m not selling anything. I went to school with your daughter, Kylie. And I would really like
to speak to her. Are you able to tell me where she works?’
 ‘What? Kylie? She doesn’t live here anymore...’
 There was a woman’s voice in the background. The phone was partly covered, but I could hear
Mr Polous telling the woman I was looking for Kylie. Then I heard the woman take the phone.
 ‘Hello? Who’s this? You went to school with Kylie?’
 ‘Hi, this is Ellen Goddard. I went to school with Kylie, well, my sister Sophie was in her year, but
I was a few years behind…’
 ‘Oh!’ she cried, ‘I remember you, dear! Aren’t you the piano player? Such a talent! We used to
love to hear you play at the concerts. There was one time you played something that was just so
beautiful, now what was it, I’m sure it will come to me in a second…’
 Oh dear. Liam was making hand gestures at me, trying to get me to hurry things along. I rolled
my eyes, hoping to make him see I was trying my best.
 ‘Yes, that’s me. Look, sorry to be rude, but I would really like to get in touch with her. You
wouldn't happen to know where she works, would you? It's a long story, why I need to know...’
 The woman was a bit taken aback by my tone, but it had the desired effect.
 ‘Well, she used to work at a lovely clinic in Lane Cove, but that was a while ago... I just can't
think of the name of the place she works now.....'
 'Could you maybe give me her number, so I can just call her?'
 'Of course, that's probably best. My brain isn't what it once was. It will probably come to me,
when I get off the phone. You know how it is. I’ll just give you her number shall I? Wait a moment,
I’ll get it out of my mobile phone.’
 I could hear her pressing buttons; it took her a painfully long time to find the number she needed.
I wrote it down as she carefully recited each digit, and then I tried politely to get off the phone.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                  93
  ‘When you speak to Kylie, say hello to her for me. She doesn’t ring us enough, tell her that. It was
lovely to speak to you, dear. I hope you are still playing, you really did play very well…’
  ‘Ok, thanks, bye.’
  I hung up, hoping she didn’t think me too rude. Again, I quickly typed in the phone number, not
pausing long enough for Liam to vent his frustration at how protracted this all was, or to think again
about how much I hated making calls. At least I was getting somewhere, wasn’t I?
  Kylie’s mobile rang. I had a sinking feeling after a couple more rings, and sure enough, the voice
mail cut in. Typical. I found the right number, and she didn’t answer her bloody phone! My body
went tense, my hand squeezing the phone tight, trying to control my reflex to throw it at the wall.
Kylie sounded cheerful on her message. I still had absolutely no idea who she was. I just hoped she
checked her messages often.
  ‘Hi Kylie. This is Ellen Goddard. You probably don’t remember me, but Tina told me you’d seen
my sister Sophie, and I was just hoping to speak to you about it. Can you call me back on …’ The
voicemail ran out, beeping in my ear to tell me time was up. Before Liam could get angry, I
explained: ‘It’s ok, she’ll have the missed call. She’ll get my number from that.’
  ‘Just call her back, give her the number again. She might answer this time’
  I did as I was told. It didn’t hurt to show Kylie how urgently I needed to speak to her. She didn’t
answer again, so I left a message with my number, and asked her to call as soon as she could. When
I got off the phone, Liam had the car keys in his hand.
  ‘Where are you going? We have no idea where she even works.’
  Now he was headed for the door, I had to jog from the room to catch up.
  ‘If we are in the car ready, when she calls back she can tell us where she works, and we can go
straight there.’
  It sort of made sense, but I couldn’t help but notice Liam was really jumpy. We had a lead, which
was great, but he seemed frightened it would slip through our fingers. Maybe it was because of all
the disappointments he had so far on the search that he couldn’t bear the idea of getting close, but
not finding her.
  ‘What if Kylie doesn’t call back? We’ll just be driving around in circles, wasting petrol. We may
as well wait and see where we’re heading. It might not be far, or it could be ages away.’
  Liam didn’t even pause to consider my objection. He was already getting into the driver’s seat
and starting the car. There was even less point him driving away without me, I was the one with the
phone. So I jumped in, and went along with his slightly crazy plan.
  ‘Just keep calling her,’ he instructed. ‘She’s bound to answer eventually.’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             94
  ‘When she sees I have called, she will call back. When we find out where the medical centre is,
what do we do then? Sophie has been there, but that doesn’t mean we’ll know exactly where she is
now.’ I said.
  Liam looked at me like I was speaking a different language.
  ‘So? There are plenty of ways to track her down from there. She will have gone to a medical
centre close by where she is staying. We'll go to all the closest hotels. We’ll stalk the streets if we
have to, knocking on doors! And she might have left an address with the nurse, or even said where
she was staying. Anything is possible.’
  ‘I really doubt she’s left an address with them… but it can’t hurt to go find out.’
  Kylie was a good lead, a great one, but it didn’t mean we had found Sophie. She might have gone
somewhere a long way from there by now.
  ‘The quicker we can get there the better. It’s probably going to shut before 7:00, so we can’t
waste any more time. Call Kylie again.’
  Not having any better suggestion, I called again, getting the same voice mail message for the third
time. Liam appeared to be heading towards the city. But there weren’t likely to be many medical
centres there.
  ‘Why don’t you head towards the suburbs past Newtown, otherwise we’ll just get stuck in the
traffic in the city.’
  Liam pretended not to hear me. His hands gripped the steering wheel so tight that his elbows were
bent, and he sat forward in his seat. I had to admit that three months of enquiries like we made
today would drive me a bit nuts. And to think, when I met him, I worried he wasn’t interested in
solving the case. This was, I knew now more than ever, a complete misjudgement on my part. He
wanted to find Sophie as much as I did. I’m sure part of his motivation to find her came from his
desire to prove himself as a private investigator, but there was more to it than that. The way he
looked at Sophie’s photo, his expression definitely had an emotional edge to it. And add to that the
phone call I overheard him having with his mum. As hard as it was to believe, it was as if he had
somehow managed to form an attachment to her, even though he had never met her. Was Sophie so
attractive that men could fall in love with her photo? It wouldn’t surprise me. Trust Sophie to have a
guy like Liam give up his life to search for her, when she didn’t even know he existed! It was
obvious I didn’t have that affect on him. He looked straight through me, just like every man I ever
met.
  As I predicted, the city was in gridlock, and soon we were stuck in it. The lack of movement
seemed to make Liam even more tense. He kept glancing at the phone on my lap, willing it to ring.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               95
It was obvious he wanted me to call again, and I had just picked it up to redial, when suddenly it
started to vibrate, and I got such a shock I almost dropped it.
  ‘Hello?’
  ‘Hi, is that Ellen? This is Kylie.’ Thank god.
  Liam could obviously hear Kylie speaking, as he veered off the road, and pulled up at the curb,
ready to decide which direction to drive in.
  ‘Hi Kylie, thanks so much for ringing me back. Sorry I called so many times. It’s just it’s a bit of
an emergency.’
  ‘Yeah, I got that. So you’re looking for Sophie? How strange that I saw her on Saturday! When I
got the message from Tina, I wrote straight back.’
  ‘Thanks so much. You have no idea what a huge help you’ve been. Can you tell me anything else
that might help us to find out exactly where she is?’
  I could hear Kylie breathing into the phone. I was pleased she was giving it some thought, but
Liam’s eyes were boring into me, waiting for directions.
  ‘Well, the medical centre is in Dee Why. Do you know where that is? It’s on the main street,
Pittwater Road.’
  I had absolutely no idea, but Liam had also heard, and was pulling away from the curb. The car
behind us beeped loudly as it avoided running into us, but Liam didn’t even hesitate, and we were
back in the traffic.
  ‘How far away from the city is that?’ I asked.
  ‘About half an hour, maybe 40 minutes if there is a lot of traffic. Are you going there now? I’m
not working today.’
  I still wasn’t sure exactly what we were doing, but I wasn’t going to tell Kylie this.
  ‘What time does it shut? We might visit now, if it’s still going to be open.’
  ‘It shuts in an hour so you should make it. I wasn’t working on the desk when Sophie came in, but
I saw her in the waiting room.’
  ‘Are you sure it was her? It’s been a while since we were at school...’
  ‘I’m absolutely positive. I’m really good with faces, and I think she recognised me too. She was
acting a bit strangely, though. Did Tina mention she had a baby?’
  ‘Yeah, she did. What do you mean by strange?’
  ‘Well, when I saw her I went over to say hello. It’s not often I see people I know in Sydney, but I
knew it was her. And she sort of just pretended not to hear me.’
  Was it my job to apologise on her behalf? I didn’t think so, but Kylie was intimating it was.
  ‘She’s going through a hard time. That’s one of the reasons we’re desperate to find her.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             96
  A ‘hard time’ had been how mum had described my situation to Liam. But how hard had it been
compared to Sophie’s?
  ‘Yeah, she did look a bit stressed, and really tired, too. I guess a baby can do that to you. Her baby
was sick; I heard her say that to the nurse at the desk. And it was crying most of the time she was in
the waiting room. I would have sat with her, but she was avoiding eye contact with me. I thought it
was a bit strange really.’ Kylie definitely wanted to say ‘rude’ in the place of strange, but she didn’t
have the heart.
  ‘Did she give an address where she was living?’ I asked, desperate to see how useful this lead
really was.
  ‘Not sure. She would have had to fill in a form to see a doctor, so she might have put her address
on that. If you get there tonight, the girl at the desk will be Charlene. I’ll call her now, and tell her
to expect you. I’ll explain you’re looking for Sophie because you’re worried about her.’
  ‘Ok. Thanks so much Kylie. I can’t tell you how relieved we are to finally have some idea where
she might be.’
  ‘No worries, glad to help. She has changed a lot since I last saw her, but I’m sure it was her.’
  I was about to hang up, but had one last question. ‘How has she changed? Do you mean her
looks?’
  ‘Yeah. I mean she used to have that gorgeous long dark hair. We were all so jealous! But now it’s
really short, like a crop cut, and it’s white blonde! She still looks stunning, but if I wasn’t so good
with faces I wouldn’t have picked it was her. Anyway, good luck finding her, I’ll definitely let you
know if she comes in again.’
  ‘Thanks again Kylie.’ Well, that was extremely interesting.
  ‘Did you hear that? She’s cut her hair and dyed it blonde. Good idea to disguise herself. It might
be one of the reasons they haven’t found her yet,’ I suggested, proud of Sophie for managing to
evade her pursuers.
  ‘How do you know they haven’t found her? They might know exactly where she is, and just be
waiting to...’
  Before Liam could finish his sentence, he looked at me, and realised his statement was not going
to be useful.
  ‘So where is Dee Why? Kylie said it is half an hour away, and the medical centre shuts in an hour.
It sounds like it would be in the middle of nowhere...’
  ‘It’s on the northern beaches. It won’t take long, once I get onto the bridge’.
  So Sophie was staying further out from Sydney than we guessed. Our search would have been
useless, if Kylie hadn’t sent us in the right direction. Liam had never mentioned that Sophie might
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                 97
have been living somewhere other than close to the centre of Sydney. But it made sense to me now.
She was a sitting duck in the city. Just as we never considered an outer suburb, the people after her
wouldn’t have either. And anyway, there were so many places to choose from.
 ‘Let’s just hope she put her address on the form. If Charlie is sick, she would have done whatever
she could to get a doctor to see him, and maybe you need to give an address before you can get an
appointment.’
 ‘She could have made it up,’ Liam added, though he looked desperately like he hoped that wasn’t
the case.
 He was driving too fast, accelerating at the cars in front, and then swerving around them as if they
were in his way. I held onto my seat to avoid swaying with the car as we made our way in spurts
over the bridge. Out my window, I watched the harbour fly past. The water looked cool and calm,
with boats bobbing in the bays, and ferries chugging towards Circular Quay. I hadn’t felt calm since
before I found out about the mortgage. I realised now that mum had probably been frantic with
worry for months, knowing something was scaring Sophie.
 And Sophie probably couldn’t remember what it felt like to be calm, either. How could she send
that email to mum, and then not make contact again? Why involve us, and then make it near
impossible to find her? I knew I still resented her for leaving, and not trying to stay in contact. Was
it possible she was too ashamed of what she was doing for a living to talk to us? Maybe it wasn’t
anything to do with her forgetting us, or not caring about what we were doing.
 A niggling anxiety that I had been trying to suppress resurfaced as I thought about Sophie’s
absence from my life. Why hadn’t I tried to contact Sophie before now? In the last seven years, I
could have made some sort of effort to find her, even just joining Facebook or Googling her name.
But I never tried. And I knew why. At first I was too busy trying to prove I could succeed. Then
when I failed, I felt ashamed and didn’t want Sophie to know what a failure I was. I’d always
convinced myself that as soon as I made it as a pianist, I would find her, and tell her how amazing
my life was. But since that hadn’t happened, I hadn’t any motivation to speak to her. Was that
selfish of me? Or just plain pathetic? I’d always thought Sophie was living a marvellous life, and
that was why she didn’t have time for her family. But maybe she wasn’t contacting me for the same
reason I wasn’t contacting her. Maybe she was just as embarrassed about her life as I was about
mine. I suddenly wanted more than anything to tell her I still loved her, that I still needed her in my
life. And that it didn’t matter what trouble she was in.


 The memory of the last fight I had with Sophie suddenly flooded into my mind. I’d avoided
thinking about it, because of the feeling of guilt that came with it. Mum and I had been fighting
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               98
with her so much, we hardly ever saw her. She had dropped out of university at the beginning of her
second year, and was working in a bar. She said she felt a drama degree wasn't going to help her get
acting work; I remember mum asking her how bar work was going to contribute. She moved out as
soon as she finished school, living with four friends, and hardly ever coming home to visit. She
dropped in occasionally, usually when she needed something. Like to borrow money off mum.
 I remembered that this particular time, she came in to do her washing. I was particularly annoyed
with her because she hadn't bothered to come to my latest concert; it had been a really important
night for me. I was doing some washing, so she asked me to do hers as well. I said I would, to avoid
a fight. But I was really pissed off because she had literally three loads of washing in a huge
suitcase. I angrily shoved the first load in the machine, checking pockets for tissues. But instead of
tissues, I found something in her jeans pocket that made me angrier than ever before with her. It
was a tiny zip lock bag, with what I assumed was dope in it. The smell was unfamiliar, but pungent
enough to make me fairly sure I was right. I didn't hide what I’d found. I took it straight to mum,
and told her what I thought it was. What a self righteous little goody two-shoes I was! Mum was
furious. She went over to Sophie's house, and yelled at her in front of her friends. The next day,
Sophie woke me up by barging into my room, screaming that I was a little snitch. She looked like
she wanted to strangle me.
 The next time we saw her, she announced she was moving to London, having booked her flight
with the entirety of her life’s savings. Mum and I dropped her at the airport, and we managed to be
quite civil with each other. Sophie was too excited to leave us angry. And when we got the post
card, with the loving message from her, it made us feel like the fighting was forgotten. But I always
thought that was the final straw for our relationship, when I dobbed on her to mum. If I’d known
she would disappear from my life as a result of it, I would never have said a thing. The article about
Danny's murder had said that drugs were found in the apartment. Had Sophie graduated from
marijuana to cocaine? I desperately hoped not.


 The traffic became clearer as we got further from the bridge, and eventually Liam said he thought
we were only a few minutes from Dee Why. As we drove up the main road along the coast, I
noticed there were literally hundreds of different apartment buildings on every street coming off the
main road. Was it possible Sophie was living in a flat? And if so, how on earth would we work out
which one? An address would really help...
 ‘Can you look out your side for something that could be a medical centre? I thought it would be
obvious, but this place is bigger than I thought,’ Liam conceded.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              99
  Maybe I should have asked Kylie for a street number. I lurched forward suddenly as Liam
screeched on the brakes.
  ‘There it is! We just went past it!’
  I looked behind us, and saw the distinctive blue cross on the sign above a big white building.
Liam parked on the road, and we both jumped out, almost running towards the front doors. As we
entered the waiting room, forty eyes turned and stared at us, trying to see what the emergency was.
But as they all registered that we looked completely healthy, they went back to their magazines.
Liam got to the desk first, and before he could say anything, the woman sitting behind it said: ‘Are
you the people looking for their sister?’
  God bless Kylie! She had called as she promised.
  ‘Yes,’ we both said in unison.
  ‘Did she leave an address?’ Liam wasted no time asking the question.
  The nurse was already rifling through a pile of paperwork as she explained: ‘When Kylie called, I
had a look through the new patient forms. I remember your sister. She was very worried about her
baby. What a gorgeous child he is, such beautiful coloured skin. But there was something else as
well. She just seemed really on edge...’
  ‘Yeah, she would be.’ I didn’t offer any other explanation. It had to be Sophie.
  ‘I remember approximately what time she was here. I was about to finish. So this must be her... is
her name Grace Patterson?’
  Liam and I both looked at each other, and shook our heads. Why would she use that name? Unless
it was totally randomly made up. Before we could answer, a man who must have been a doctor
came through a door from behind the reception area, and asked the nurse for a patient’s file. As the
nurse went to the filing cabinet, I picked up the sheet that she had been looking at.
  ‘I think it’s her handwriting,’ I said.
  Liam looked at me with eyebrows raised, as if to ask whether I would remember her handwriting
after all this time. Why wouldn’t I? Hand writing doesn’t change that much. But then I saw the
address section filled in, and knew it was definitely Sophie. Back to her old Beatles code, she had
written 15 Jude St, Peppers Hill, NSW. Didn’t anyone notice that this suburb doesn’t exist? Liam
noticed...
  ‘Peppers Hill, is there such place? Doubt it...’
  ‘No, it’s her Beatles code again. That’s a fake address...Hey Jude and Sergeant Pepper.’
  The nurse could see the disappointment on our faces.
  ‘Did she put a fake address? I haven’t entered these in the computer yet. I probably would have
noticed once I did...’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                          100
  ‘Back to the drawing board,’ I said, feeling like a deflated balloon.
  Liam wasn’t ready to let the wind go out of his sails yet. ‘Do you keep a file, even if the
information isn’t put in the computer?’ he asked. ‘Would there be a record of her appointment with
a doctor?’
  The nurse didn’t say anything, but she kept her head still, and directed her eyes at the doctor, who
was flicking through the file she had given him. Then she put her finger to her lips, and we both
understood. She wasn’t allowed to show us someone’s file, as medical records were private. Of
course they were. We should have thought of that. None of us said anything as we stood and
watched the doctor reading. After what seemed like minutes, he finally put the file back in the
cabinet, and left through the door he had come in by.
  The nurse seemed to exhale as he disappeared, and then said conspiratorially, in as quiet a voice
as could be heard: ‘I can’t show you the file, but I can look at it for you. Just don’t ever tell anyone.
Ok?’
  We nodded, again in unison. She opened the file on her lap, and quickly looked through it. She
then grabbed a post-it note from the desk, and scribbled some words on it. Closing the file, she
didn’t look up from her desk as she handed the note to me. It said: ‘Referral: Dr Cheng, Paediatrics
Department, Royal North Shore Hospital’. Charlie was sent to a specialist! Hooray! Another lead! I
was sure Sophie would have kept the specialist’s appointment. If Charlie was that sick she would
have done what the doctor advised. Liam and I smiled at the nurse, hoping she understood our
gratitude, knowing words might get her in trouble.
  We raced back to the car, and Liam asked me to look up the hospital in the street directory. It was
back where we’d just been, not far from the harbour. Liam’s foot hit the accelerator hard as I told
him where to go. Was it possible we were actually getting somewhere? I wanted to believe we
were. I didn’t have to ask how Liam felt. His look of determination told me he wanted to believe
this too.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              101
Chapter 17


  As Vince swam closer in to the shoreline, he could see Melissa standing on the deck. She looked
like she was waving his phone. Did she want him to speak to someone? Why didn’t she bring it
down onto the beach for him? There was plenty of coverage. He clenched his fists in anger,
assuming she was too lazy to cross the sand dunes, or that she would say the dinner was going to
burn, or offer some other equally pathetic excuse. She knew his evening swim was his favourite
time to have a break, to get away from the laptop and the phone. What could be so important that it
needed his attention now? It better be an emergency, or there would be hell to pay. Even good news
wouldn’t be worth the interruption. He grabbed his towel and moved slowly towards the house, his
steps sinking heavily into the soft sand, making his calves strain under his huge frame.
  She still had the phone in her hand as he stepped onto the deck. She looked frightened as he
glared at her, snatching the mobile from her.
  ‘What is it?’ he asked as she flinched, stepping away from his mood.
  ‘I was going to bring it down onto the beach, but I wasn’t sure if you’d want to talk to him down
there. It’s Jared. He said he needs to speak to you urgently.’ She stepped back inside, eager to avoid
his irritation.
  He put the phone to his ear. ‘What is it Jared? I was having a swim.’
  ‘Sorry, but you need to hear this. I’ve got some good news and some bad. I’ll start with the bad’.
Jared knew how to communicate with his boss. Quickly and concisely. Without opinion, without
assumptions. Just the bare facts, then wait for instructions. Vince grunted, waiting for him to go
ahead.
  ‘The bad news is that our little accountant friend has been talking to the cops. We got a tip off that
he’s been arrested.’
  ‘What for?’
  ‘God knows, but the cops are definitely interested in him.’
  This was bad news. Extremely bad news. It had obviously been a mistake not to get rid of him. He
didn’t know much, but anything he did know was too much. The boys had got some of the
information they needed from him, but had left him alive in case he came up with anything else.
The last thing they needed was police sniffing around. Even so, there was no way to link anything
the accountant knew with any of his activities.
  ‘And the good news?’
  Jared was keen to start talking again. ‘Our men in Sydney believe they have sighted Molly. They
were hanging around the hotel where the other girl was staying, and she walked into the reception.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            102
She didn’t book a room. Just spoke to the man behind the desk. They are sure it was her. She’s lost
a bit of the glam, but that’s no surprise. After she left the hotel, she got into a car. A man was
driving. They didn’t get a good look at him, and they weren’t able to follow. But they got the
licence plate of the car, and it’s registered to a Grant Morley at 47 Victoria St, Newtown. They’ve
just been there now, but no one’s home.’
 ‘Did they go in?’
 ‘No. There were neighbours in the front yard next door, and no back access. They‘re going to
keep an eye on the place, wait for her to come back. I think we’ve got her boss. I’ll call back with
an update as soon as I hear from them.’
 This was good news. Extremely good news. And if he did ring back tonight with a report that they
had been successful, the police wouldn’t be a problem after all. It would be nice not to have to pay
to find her too. This whole mess could be put to bed and never thought of again.
 ‘Don’t forget to remind them of their instructions. She is to be taken without injury, and handed
over to the crew that is set up to go. Unfinished business. I want to make the most of her.’
 Jared confirmed he understood, and promised to make this clear to his men.
 ‘And one more thing, I’m trashing this sim card. My new number will be messaged to you. Keep
me updated.’
 He hung up, and stared out at the final moments of the sunset. Then he opened the clip on the
back of his phone, and took out the sim card. He crunched it between his teeth for a few moments,
and then spat it into the sand, burying it with his foot. He could smell his dinner cooking, so he
went inside.
 ‘Babe, come here will you. We need to go back over the procedure for answering my phone.’




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                103
Chapter 18


 The roads were nearly free of traffic as I carefully directed Liam towards the hospital. He was still
speeding, making navigation a challenge. We finally pulled into the car park, after missing the
entrance, and having to circle the block. There was a chance that the hospital could be a dead end,
but we were both high on adrenalin.
 ‘Do you want me to run in, while you to find a park?’
 ‘No, we’ll go in together. There’s no point separating now.’
 The car park lift was frustratingly slow, and brought us out into a reception area with arrows
pointing to what seemed like hundreds of different departments and wards. Liam glanced at the note
Kylie had given us, and scanned the list for the Paediatrics department.
 ‘Level 4…’
 Just as we were about to run towards the lift, a nurse stepped in front of us, and asked if we
needed any help.
 ‘We’re looking for Paediatrics. We have to see Dr Cheng,’ I blurted out.
 We must have looked so panicked she assumed we were visiting our sick child. She looked at us
with the sort of pity that nurses must use every day, and directed us down the corridor, to another
lift area, and up to level four. A sign above two large swing doors pointed us in the direction of
Paediatrics, and we finally got to a nursing station, with a nurse sitting behind it.
 Liam hurried forward. ‘Is Dr Cheng here? We urgently need to see him. It’s about our…
nephew…Charlie. He was referred here on Saturday… Can you tell us if he is still here?’
 I realised there were going to be the same privacy issues as at the medical centre, but Liam hadn’t
considered this.
 ‘Dr Cheng isn’t working at the moment,’ the nurse explained. ‘But I can tell you if a patient is
still here. What was the name?’
 Liam didn’t hesitate. ‘Charlie Patterson’.
 The nurse obediently checked her records.
 ‘Here he is. He wasn't admitted…’
 Shit. Dead end. Liam didn’t hide his frustration, covering his face with his hands in an effort not
to scream. The nurse looked at us, puzzled as to why we were visiting a patient who had never
stayed in the hospital. I jumped in before she could ask any questions.
 ‘We’re really worried about Charlie. He’s my nephew, and my sister is a bit unstable. We want to
make sure he’s ok. Are they due back for a check up at all?’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             104
  I was doing my best to act flustered and afraid, hoping the nurse would take pity on us. She was
still looking at the screen.
  ‘He should be fine, he’s having a home visit every two days for the next week to make sure the
croup is clearing up…’
  ‘Home visit?’ Liam chipped in.
  He turned to me and said: ‘Do you think she’s living at Shane’s, or at her place in Dee Why?’
  I quickly caught on to what he was doing. I shook my head and then looked at the nurse.
  ‘We don’t know whether she’s gone back to her boyfriend. He beats her up, but she never stays
away for long…’
  The nurse looked like she didn’t want to get involved. Before I could think of anything else to
say, Liam lent over the desk, and pulled the computer screen around to face us. The nurse yelped,
and tried to grab it back, but Liam needed more time to read the page. I grabbed the woman by the
wrist, and tried to twist her away from the computer. She struggled, and opened her mouth to shout,
but I let go before she had time to say anything. Liam had the information he needed, and he bolted
from the desk. I chased after him, not looking back to see if anyone was following. The lift doors
were opening for someone else as we rounded the corner, and threw ourselves in.
  ‘5/89 Beach Parade, Dee Why… it was on the notes… you’ve got to help me remember, I don’t
have a pen…’ He only had to tell me once; the address was now imprinted on my brain.
  ‘It’s not the fake address It must be where she is… if the nurse is booked to visit she must still be
there…’ I puffed, doing my best to keep up with him as he sprinted towards the car park.
  The journey down the car park levels was far too fast and, at times, quite scary. But I wasn’t
going to complain, as long as Liam could control the car, and didn’t get pulled over for speeding.
We were on our way back to Dee Why, and I couldn’t think of a reason why Sophie wouldn’t be
there.
  ‘I can’t believe she’s living in a flat. How on earth did she manage that?’ I asked.
  ‘There’s no reason why she couldn’t get a flat. Not all leases are organised by real estate agents.
Some people rent out their flats themselves, and aren’t as concerned about references and ID and
things, as long as they get their rent.’
  That was true.
  ‘Thank goodness Charlie is ok. I’m sure the nurse visits are just a precaution. I was worried there
might be something seriously wrong with him.’
  Liam didn’t respond, but he looked at me with surprise, as if Charlie’s health hadn’t even
occurred to him. His focus was on Sophie. Every metre of road we covered was a layer of stress
peeling off him. He was sure we were going to find her, and I was starting to be sure as well. I
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              105
almost picked up my phone to call mum, but hesitated long enough to decide against it, knowing
there was no point getting her hopes up until we had Sophie with us.
  Again I opened the street directory, and explained that the apartment was a few blocks behind
where we had just been at the medical centre. I guessed Sophie would take Charlie to the closest
doctor, but I also noticed that there were thousands of people who would count the Dee Why
medical centre as their closest doctor. Having an address was more than helpful; it was completely
essential. We left the main road, and were soon at the start of Beach Parade.
  ’57….63….slow down,’ I instructed. ‘That’s the one, apartment five.’
  Before I could suggest our next move, Liam had jumped from the car, having barely taken the
keys out of the ignition. I had to struggle for a moment to undo my seatbelt, so by the time I ran
through the entry gate, Liam was well ahead of me. He was bounding up the outside stairs, clearing
three steps at a time. Halfway up the stairs, I could hear him knocking excitedly on the door. But
nothing happened. He knocked again. As I joined him on the landing, a sound in the apartment
made us both jump. A door slamming. A back door. Shit! Liam pushed me aside, and almost fell
down the stairs in his rush. When I reached him at ground level, he was looking desperately for a
way to get to the back of the building. But the block of flats was quite old, and was attached to other
buildings on both sides. The only way to get behind it was to run all the way along the street, turn
left, and then look for the back lane.
  ‘There must be a back entrance!’ I yelled, as I started to run.
  Liam quickly caught up. As we made the left turn, we saw a car pull out of the lane ahead of us,
and speed off down the road. Dust and sand billowed behind it, but I saw enough of the back of the
driver’s head to know what had happened. Sophie’s car was parked out the back, and she’d made a
quick escape. I stopped running, feeling my legs ache, and my chest burn. Liam ran straight on,
somehow believing he could catch the car. But it was long gone, and eventually he stopped, and
turned around, trudging back towards me looking devastated.
  ‘It was her. I saw her hair. Short, peroxide blonde,’ I said.
  ‘FUCK!!!!!’ he screamed into the air, his face turned upwards as if cursing some higher force. I
was too disappointed to react. It was the first time I had seen Sophie in over seven years, and I
didn’t even see her face. Just the back of her head, disappearing into the night.
  ‘She won’t be back. She thinks someone dangerous has found her,’ I said. ‘We should have talked
about this more. She must have seen you through the spy hole in the door. Of course she would be
terrified of strangers.’
  Liam turned and glared at me. ‘How the fuck was I to know she was going to run?’
  ‘You should have let me go first. She wouldn’t have run if she’d seen me.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               106
 He didn’t respond, but ran back towards the car. Before I could get there, he jumped in, and drove
towards me, winding his window down. ‘I’m going after her,’ he shouted. ‘You stay here, and see if
you can get into the flat. She might have left some stuff behind that could help us find her. I’ll come
back for you.’
 He drove off before I could argue. The sudden realisation that I might have just seen my sister for
the last time filled me with a fierce dread. How would I explain this to mum? Hot angry tears ran
down my cheeks, and I balled my hands into fists, looking around for something to shove or throw.
How could we have stuffed this up so badly? It was our one chance, and now she was gone. The
needle was back in the haystack.
 Liam had turned his anger into action. I didn’t like his chances of catching up to her, but he might
as well try. I wiped my face on my sleeve, trying to pull myself together. Maybe Liam was right,
and her flat would have a clue to where she had gone. I didn’t like my chances of breaking in
through the front door; it had been solid, with two locks. I trudged around the corner. A bit further
along the street was the small pot-holed lane that Sophie had driven out from. It had other residents’
cars parked in small garages, and white lined parking spaces. Sophie’s building was close to the end
of the lane, and I could see back stairs similar to the front ones. If Liam had just waited for a second
longer, we could have worked out there was a back entrance, and made sure we had it covered
before going to the front door.
 I walked up the stairs to the third level, expecting to be confronted by a locked back door. I had
heard the door slam from all the way outside the flat. It would probably be as solid as the front. But
as I got closer, it looked as if the door wasn’t flush against the door frame. I pushed on it, and it
swung open.
 My first thought when I went into the flat was that no one could possibly be living there. Unlike
when I walked into Liam’s borrowed house, and saw remnants of his mess all over every surface,
this flat was pristine. At first glance, it looked completely devoid of personal possessions. But then I
noticed a baby bottle drying on the kitchen sink, and a magazine lying open on the kitchen counter.
The fridge also had some evidence of life, with milk, baby food and yoghurt sitting on the top shelf.
It occurred to me that Sophie hadn’t been here for long, and hadn’t felt able to turn it into a home,
not knowing whether she would have to leave suddenly, and never come back. She couldn’t have
had time to pack anything when Liam knocked on the door. She would have just grabbed Charlie,
and run.
 I went into the bedroom. The bed was made and there was nothing hanging in the cupboards. Did
Sophie still wear dresses? Or had she changed that look to suit her undercover life? As I stepped
past the cupboard, I saw a sports bag lying next to the bed, full of clothes. There was a baby-sized
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              107
singlet, and some jeans on top. Sophie lived so carefully, she didn’t even unpack her bag. But Liam
had frightened her so much she hadn't time to grab it from the bedroom. Now she was running
without her things, so we’d made it even harder for her.
  I emptied the bag onto the bed, interested to see what possessions Sophie had carried with her.
There were a couple of outfits for her and for Charlie, as well as some toiletries, and pills in a small
makeup bag. The pills were prescribed for Charlie, obviously to treat the croup the nurse had
mentioned. At the bottom of the bag, there was a tattered City Rail train timetable. I opened it to see
if it told me anything, but it was just rows and rows of timetable information. This must have been
the timetable Katie used to plan her doomed trip to Central Station. The empty bag still had some
weight to it, and I realised there was a side pocket that had something in it. The zip was hidden on
the inside lining, and as I opened it, a small notebook fell out. I went to open it, and see what it was
when my phone rang. It was Liam.
  ‘I couldn’t see her. There’s a lot of places she could have gone. I’m coming back. Did you get
into the flat?’
  I felt suddenly protective of Sophie’s little flat. It didn’t exactly tell me much about her: if
anything I was surprised she had it in her to be so tidy. But that just showed how much pressure she
was under. She couldn’t relax for long enough to make this flat feel anything but sterile and
unloved.
  ‘Yeah, she left the back door open. I’m just having a look. She’s left her clothes, but there isn’t
much else of interest. It doesn’t look as if she’s been here very long.’
  ‘I’ll meet you there. I’m just around the corner.’
  I put the notebook in my pocket, not ready to share it with Liam yet. I was pissed off he had
avoided discussing what went wrong, and I just wanted to get home and have this day over with. I
waited, feeling depressed, until Liam walked through the back door.
  ‘Do you think it’s worth staying here, and waiting for her to come back?’ he asked.
  ‘No, like I said, she won’t come back. If she was scared enough to run, she won’t give these
people another chance to find her.’
  Liam nodded. ‘Where’s her stuff? This place is pretty sparse.’
  I pointed at the sports bag, and he rifled through it, commenting on Charlie’s pills, the train
timetable and the small amount of clothes. After a few minutes, he admitted nothing in the flat was
of any use. I said I’d take the bag in the hope I would be able to return Sophie’s things to her.
Having seen Sophie, getting so close, but not having a chance to speak to her made me even more
determined to find her.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                108
 I wondered how she was coping with Charlie. Seeing his tiny clothes folded in her bag had made
him real for me. It couldn’t have been easy looking after him, whilst trying to keep herself safe, and
running at a knock on the door.
 I never felt very maternal myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t want babies. Some day I probably would
like one, but I have never got clucky about other people’s children. Sophie was the opposite when
she was a teenager. She loved children so much she used to baby-sit whenever she could, even if it
was for a measly few dollars. The children she looked after adored her. She would come home with
handmade presents, finger paintings covered in love hearts, jewellery made out of pasta. And she
always told mum she wanted to bring the children home with her too. Mum would laugh and say it
wasn’t as easy when you had them full time. Maybe Sophie was learning this now. I just hoped we
hadn’t flushed Sophie and Charlie from a safe, comfortable hiding spot, to somewhere the
murderers would find them.
 We drove back to Newtown, barely speaking to each other, each lost in our own hostile thoughts
about how badly the day had turned out. Liam mentioned he would like to spend tomorrow in the
streets around where Sophie had been living, hoping to find someone who she spoke to, or even
someone who she might have run to. I thought it sounded like a long shot, and didn’t commit to
coming along. I wanted to get home, and have a good look at the notebook. Maybe that would give
me some idea of what my next move could be.
 I hoped my mood showed Liam how disappointed I was, but he didn’t seem at all worried about
how I felt. He was too preoccupied with working out where Sophie might have gone. I wanted to
know this too, but I still worried that finding Sophie wasn’t going to solve everything. Even if she
was in the car with us right now, these people would still be after her. I hadn’t wanted to say this to
Liam on the way from the hospital. He had said that once we found Sophie, we could go to the
police. But somewhere between the Harbour Bridge and getting back to Newtown, I decided I had
to speak to the police, with or without Sophie. It was time to discuss this situation with someone
who might be able to help. And if Liam didn’t want to do this, I would do it without him.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            109
Chapter 19


 When we got back to Newtown, despite the intense disappointment I was feeling, I was absolutely
starving.
 ‘Should we stop somewhere and get something to eat?’ I suggested as we drove down King St.
‘There seems to be plenty of different options. We could do Indian, Chinese, Italian or a pub meal. I
could do with a beer.’
 Liam looked relieved that I had broken the ice, and he pulled the car over as soon as he saw a
spot. He hesitated before he opened the door, and turning to me he said: ‘Sorry about before. I
really stuffed up, not waiting for you. I was just so keen to see if she was there. I really thought
we’d made it, you know. I never expected her to run.’ He looked really ashamed.
 ‘I know you didn’t mean to. We just need to discuss things more. We’re meant to be working
together.’
 As I said this, I felt the notebook shift in my pocket and guilt spread through my chest. I would
tell him about it if there was something useful in it. No point raising his hopes unnecessarily.
 Our car was sitting in front of a pub advertising bistro prices on a blackboard at the door. They
were surprisingly cheap.
 ‘What about six dollar steaks?’ Liam pointed at the specials.
 ‘Sounds good to me, I’ll get them. Do you want a beer?’
 I noticed Liam was quite happy for me to pay for dinner. He didn’t even offer to buy the beers. If
he was living off his parents’ loan, it must have made our failure today even harder to take.
 As we drank our beer, waiting for our meals to arrive, I tried to start another conversation about
the people hunting Sophie.
 ‘Do you think these people who are after Sophie had something to do with prostitution? Or maybe
drugs?’ I asked.
 ‘Why would it be about drugs?' he asked.
 'I read the article on your pin up board....'
 'Cocaine. Yeah, I forgot about that. I have no idea. Like I said, I think it’s best if we find Sophie,
and then see what she knows… otherwise we’re just guessing. It’s a waste of time’.
 Liam didn’t look at all interested in this topic.
 ‘But when we do find her, she’s going to need help to get away from them. So if we could have
some idea of who we’re dealing with…’
 ‘Can you just drop it?’ Liam snapped. ‘I don’t feel like speculating about this all evening. We just
need to keep looking for Sophie.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              110
 What was his problem? The lucky break we had today, the information that got us this far, had
come from my Facebook idea. Did he now want me to just fall in line, and do what I was told? I
was tired of being bossed around.
 ‘Why do you get so prickly? I’m just trying to talk things through, come up with some ideas
maybe. I don’t want to fight with you.’
 ‘I know. I’m just really over this at the moment. Missing her today has really pissed me off,’ he
explained, not sounding any less prickly than before.
 ‘I’m pissed off too. But we just have to keep going. What other choice have we got?’ I asked,
hoping Liam wasn’t looking for a reason to give up.
 ‘Of course we have to keep going. And we will find her. I promise you we’ll find her Ellen.
We’ve got so close now, there’s no way we’re giving up.’
 By the time our steaks arrived, Liam was more friendly, the tension and resentment mostly wiped
out by cold beers and the thought of a good meal. When Liam was in a good mood, he seemed like
the sort of guy who could talk to anyone; even a total stranger wouldn’t make him nervous. But no
matter how hard I tried, I always seemed to have to search for something interesting to say. To
make things worse, it also wasn’t often that I hung out with someone as good looking as Liam. I
couldn’t help but take in how many girls were checking him out across the room. Liam, like Sophie,
didn’t notice the attention he got. His mind was, as usual, completely occupied by our search for
her.
 ‘So were you and Sophie close when you were young?’ he asked, staring me straight in my eyes
as he always did when asking a personal question.
 I thought about explaining what had happened to my relationship with Sophie, but wanted to
avoid talking about the fight I feared had caused her to move to London. Maybe she would have
gone anyway, but we might have stayed in touch if she hadn’t lost faith in me… maybe?
 ‘Yeah, we were good friends. Until dad left, anyway. I mean, we were four years apart, but she
was very protective of me. She was always the popular one. I pretty much hung out with my piano
teachers, my piano and my parents. Sad as it is to admit.’
 ‘So your mum and dad divorced when you were young?’
 ‘Not exactly divorced… he would have had to speak to my mum to arrange that. He left, and we
never saw him again. It was a pretty tough time. Mum was devastated, and she never really got over
it. Sophie was shattered too, and she took it out on me and mum.’
 ‘Oh.’ He poked at his food for a few seconds and then resumed his attentive stare.
 ‘So you never had time for boyfriends, with all the practising and stuff? You must have had at
least some sort of affair …’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                          111
 There was no way I was going to admit how limited my relationship history really was.
 ‘Sure, there were some men, nothing special though,’ I lied, talking quickly to get it over with.
‘What about you? Do you have a girlfriend?’ I asked, successfully avoiding eye contact.
 ‘I haven’t exactly had time over the last few months…’
 I felt stupid. Of course he hadn’t. He saved me by continuing to explain.
 ‘Before I left my law firm, I did have a serious girlfriend. I thought she was the one. But it all got
pretty screwed up. I wasn’t really meant to be having a relationship with her, and we didn’t survive
the controversy.’
 ‘Was she your colleague?’
 ‘Something like that. How good is this steak! Only six dollars too!’
 Nice change of subject.


 With a full stomach, I started to feel weary, and suggested we go home. We were only a couple of
streets away so Liam drove slowly, searching for a park near the house. Just when we almost there,
he suddenly looked really agitated, and sped around the corner, taking us past parks that were quite
close to where we wanted to go.
 ‘Where are you going? You’ve missed the house.’
 Liam was scrambling out of the car. ‘Wait here. Lock the doors. I’ll be back in five minutes.’
 His tone scared me. He sounded determined, but his voice was shaky, as if he was frightened by
something. I did as I was told. Sitting in the dark, I twisted in my seat, trying to work out what
Liam had seen. But the street was mostly in shadow, and I could only make out dark shapes under
the glow of the street lights. I watched the car clock ticking away, each second stretching out into
minutes. After he had been gone four minutes, I started to wonder if he was playing a trick. Was he
about to call me from the house, and ask me what I was doing sitting in the car?
 As I heard the door unlock, my hands instinctively flew to cover my face, but then I saw it was
Liam. He opened the back door and threw something in with a thud. I thought I recognised my bag -
but what was he doing with that? Then he quietly opened his door, and slipped back into the
driver’s seat, puffing from the effort of carrying the luggage. He pulled away from the curb, barely
looking at the road, and giving too much attention to the rear view mirror.
 It dawned on me what was going on, just before Liam opened his mouth to explain.
 ‘Did you see the car parked outside the house?’ he asked.
 ‘Was there someone there you recognised?’ I suddenly felt jumpy, desperate to get out of this
place. So much for being brave like Sophie.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            112
 ‘When we drove past, I'm sure it was the same car I saw behind us earlier. The guy in the front
seat looked like he was asleep, and the driver was reading a newspaper. They looked like they were
staking out the house.’ He exhaled, the stress in his voice seeming to catch in his throat.
 I felt terrified. The danger was suddenly real.
 ‘How could they have found us?’
 ‘I don’t know,’ he said.
 He turned left far to fast, exiting the side street, but immediately landing in the middle of a traffic
jam on King St. If he had been able to turn right, we could have got out of the Newtown gridlock
quicker, but I could understand why he hadn't waited for a gap in the traffic. He was as petrified as I
was.
 ‘Are they following us?’ I asked, instantly wishing I hadn’t, as Liam looked for so long in the rear
view mirror that we almost swerved into oncoming traffic.
 ‘They will be. I tried to look calm going into the house, but they must have seen the luggage when
I left. Hopefully it took them a little while to work out what we were doing.’
 ‘What are we doing?’
 ‘Running!’ he almost screamed.
 Liam's driving was more than usually erratic, especially considering we were only driving at the
pace of the slow moving traffic jam. Our car was inches away from nudging the bumper of the car
in front. And every few seconds, Liam swerved to the right as if to pass. But the oncoming traffic
didn't leave space for overtaking. The cars parked along the left hand side of the road cut off any
chance of overtaking there. So we were stuck. I felt like a caged animal.
 'Can you see them behind us?’ he asked. ‘It was a blue Magna.'
 I turned round in my seat, wondering what a Magna looked like. But then I remembered, when I
saw the model three cars behind us. We were separated from it by a ute and a little hatchback. They
were definitely behind us. This was not Liam being paranoid.
 'They're not far behind Liam. I can see them. They're going to catch up!' I shrieked.
 'How can they? We can't go any faster, so they can't either!' he snapped.
 'We need to turn off! What if they get out and try to catch up on foot?' I reached into the back,
slapping the lock down hard. Liam did the same on his side. We were still moving slowly forward,
but had only travelled about 150m since we entered the main road.
 'There's no way they'll get out of the car.'
 'Maybe we should get out? And make a run for it?'
 'Where on earth would we go?' As Liam said this, he had to slam on the breaks to avoid colliding
with the car in front, which had just stopped for a red light at a pedestrian crossing. I spun round in
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             113
my seat, staring at the Magna, waiting for them to make a move towards us. I felt like I was in a
nightmare. A car chase where we couldn't accelerate away, and no chance to turn out of the slow
moving procession. The car made me feel claustrophobic, but Liam was right. It wasn't a good idea
to get out now. They would just get out of their car too, and then what would I do?
 'Grab your bag out of the back. Get mine too' Liam barked.
 I did as I was told, awkwardly hauling the bags through the gap in the seats. I stuffed them both at
my feet, and stared at Liam, waiting for another instruction. Liam said nothing, but he quickly
undid his seatbelt, and then undid mine in one rapid flick. Had he changed his mind about getting
out? I didn't have time to ask.
 The light turned to green in front of us, and Liam had only a moment to act. The first car at the
traffic lights on the opposite side of the road was slow to take off. As the car in front of us moved
forward, Liam yanked down hard on the steering wheel, slewing our car across the pedestrian
crossing, effectively blocking the traffic in both directions. The car stalled as Liam took his foot off
the clutch. It was a miracle no one hit us. They made up for it by hitting their horns instead.
 ‘Get out,’ Liam bellowed. ‘Quick! Taxi!’
 I pushed my door open, and almost tripped trying to drag the bags with me. Liam was much
quicker, slipping around the front of the car, and grabbing his bag as he sprinted past me. He was
pointing and yelling as he ran down the middle of the road, and I suddenly realised what he meant.
The car in front was a taxi. It was moving away from us, but only at walking pace. Liam managed
to hurl himself in, leaving the door open for me to throw myself, and my bag, across the back seat. I
slammed the door shut, and Liam screamed at the bemused taxi driver to keep going.
 Liam’s car sat jamming both lanes of traffic on King St, with the Magna stuck behind it. Traffic
was starting to bank up on the other side of the road as well. But our lane was now moving faster,
free of the bottle neck. The beeping and yelling quickly faded as Liam directed the tax driver down
the first side street we came to. We were free of the jam. And the Magna was no where to be seen.
All I could do for a few moments was stare at Liam, dumbstruck at what he had done.
 ‘That was brilliant,’ I said eventually. ‘What will happen to the car?”
 ‘I guess someone will move it out of the way.’ He seemed overwhelmed.
 The taxi driver was peering at us curiously in the rear-view mirror. It must have looked like we
robbed a bank.
 We didn’t seem to be going in any particular direction, other than away from King St. It was clear
Liam was too flustered to give directions, so I tried to think where we could go. We needed
somewhere to stay, but I couldn’t produce any coherent ideas. My mind was too clouded by a terror
I had never felt before. What were those men going to do to us? And how did they find us?
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             114
 ‘We have to go to the police…’ I began, realising too late Liam was on the edge of losing it
altogether.
 ‘I already told you! There’s no way they will help us! We have nothing useful to tell them…
and…’
 Before he could continue his rant, my mobile started ringing. We both looked at the phone like it
was a bomb, ready to explode. The name flashed up on the screen. I had never been so relieved to
see the word ‘mum’ in my life.
 ‘Mum,’ I answered, not trying to hide the panic in my voice.
 ‘What’s the matter Ellen? Did you find Sophie?’
 Her panic easily matched mine. I had forgotten to keep her updated on what had happened.
 ‘No… she… she wasn’t where we thought she might be. But Liam and I can’t go home. There
were men there, and Liam thinks they might be… the same men as are after Sophie. Mum, I’m
really scared.’
 ‘Oh my god, I told you not to go to Sydney! I knew it was a bad idea! Where are you?’
 Liam could hear mum’s frantic tone vibrating out of the phone. He looked even more worried,
hearing the reaction from someone else.
 ‘We’re in a taxi. We don’t know where to go. I guess we’ll have to find a hotel.’
 I expected mum to complain, to say it wasn’t safe. But she was silent. I could almost hear her
mind ticking over, trying desperately to come up with a way to keep me out of harms way.
 ‘Just keep driving Ellen. I’ll call you back in a second. I have to make a phone call.’
 She hung up before I could ask any questions, leaving me staring at the phone like it was a foreign
object.
 ‘What did she say?’ Liam asked, desperate for some good news.
 ‘Nothing. She’s calling me back.’
 The taxi driver seemed too timid to ask where to go. So he just kept driving. Judging from the
change in the landscape, I could tell we were already a long way from Newtown. I guessed we were
heading west. Within a couple of minutes, my phone rang again.
 ‘Mum.’ I answered.
 ‘I know somewhere you can go. I just called your uncle, your father’s brother Andy. I didn’t
really explain what was happening. I just told him you urgently needed somewhere to stay.’
 I was too surprised to speak. I had only met Andy once, when he visited us for Christmas in
Adelaide when I was little. I had no idea mum still had a phone number for him. She can’t have
spoken to him since before dad left.
 They weren’t following us were they? Surely they couldn’t find us somewhere else…
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           115
 ‘Where does he live? ’
 ‘In Parramatta. Unit 14, 46 Robertson St.’
 ‘Thanks so much mum, we’ll be safe there. I’ve got to go, so I can find his house. I promise I’ll
call you in the morning.’
 ‘Please Ellen, come home. It’s the only way you’re going to be safe! If they know you are there,
they might find you again!’
 I felt bad to hear mum begging me to come home. Tonight’s phone call would just make her even
more worried than she was before. But there was no way I was coming home now, and leading
these people to mum.
 ‘I’ll be ok now mum. There’s no way they can know about Andy’s house.’
 I hung up, worrying about what I had just said. If they could find me at Liam’s friend’s house,
maybe they could find me at my uncle’s? But I was too tired to come up with any other ideas, and I
directed the taxi driver to head for Parramatta. We wouldn’t stay with Andy for long; just until we
found somewhere safer. Liam didn’t object. He obviously didn’t have any better ideas.


 When we got there, I paid the taxi driver at the end of Andy’s street. There was no point in
making it really easy for them to find us, and no telling whether or not they could find our taxi
driver. He’d certainly remember us.
 Andy was waiting in the foyer. He awkwardly introduced himself to Liam; I felt like I needed to
be introduced too. It had been so long since I had seen him, I barely remembered what he looked
like. He was tall and solid like dad, but unlike dad, his dark brown hair was balding. Though dad
could be balding now too. He was dressed in jeans that looked more like a teenager would wear
than a ... what would he be... a 50 year old? And his casual T-shirt reminded me of clothes people
wore in the ‘80s, far too bright, with writing that didn’t seem to say anything, and too many
mismatched colours. Definitely no dress sense. He seemed shy, but also quite happy to see us. I was
glad we didn’t seem to be putting him out, but I almost wished we were at a hotel, so I wouldn’t
have to be sociable. It felt rude to walk in unannounced, and not catch up on old times. But what
better excuse did I have than the nightmare I had just been through? And anyway, what old times
did we have to catch up on? His brother leaving us, and never even calling to say hi? But to my
relief, Andy sensed I wasn’t in the mood for a chat. He can’t have got much information from mum;
I wondered whether she had told him about Sophie. He didn’t ask about her.
 He took us up in the lift to his apartment. Liam seemed a bit too shaken to be polite, which was
out of character for him. Andy offered us the spare room, but before I had a chance to explain we
weren’t a couple, Liam offered to sleep on the sofa. I was absolutely exhausted, so with a fairly
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           116
lame attempt at an excuse, I left Liam and Andy talking in the living room. I heard Liam ask him
about security: whether he had a dead lock, and if the windows were secure at night. Andy sounded
worried as he explained the whole apartment building had a security system and he’d never had any
robberies. He can’t have realised that thieves were the least of our problems.
  I slipped into bed after texting mum to tell her I was safe, and pulled out the notebook I found at
Sophie’s. After the events of the evening, I was even more desperate to find any clues that might
lead us to the people who were after her – and apparently us as well.
  The notebook didn’t have much writing in it. But the writing it did have was in Sophie’s familiar
style that I had seen on the medical centre admission form. The pages still looked quite straight and
new, but I could tell the notebook had been bought in London, as the price tag on the back was in
pounds. It wasn’t a diary, and she hadn’t torn any pages out. The first page had a list of dates back
in September, and initials next to them. How were these going to help me? Maybe they were clients
and appointments. The next page had some sums on it, adding and subtracting. It looked like a
budget of some kind. This went on for a few more pages, numbers scrawled all over each sheet.
  The next page had only a few words: ‘Busby George Old Shoe’. This meant absolutely nothing to
me. And to add to the strangeness of the words, there was a number written underneath: ’20,000’. I
stared at the words, trying to make sense of them, but my eyelids felt heavy, and my eyes couldn’t
focus. The next page had two more strange words, and another number: ‘Perkins’s Drums, 35,000’.
And the page after had an even more muddled sentence: ‘Toothy seal E.P star I will be golden,
20,000’. The notebook was blank after that, apart from one page that had something that looked like
a flight number on it. I would have to remember to ask Liam if this was the flight Sophie came out
on.
  I flipped back and forth between the three pages a few times, but there was still nothing that gave
me any idea what Sophie was recording. I had a sudden fear that she was on drugs or something,
and was writing random, hallucinating sentences. But the writing was so clear and precise that she
had to have been in total control when she wrote it. And the numbers had to mean something.
Maybe it was a code. Maybe it wasn’t, and I just hoped it was. Either way, my mind didn’t have the
energy to think about it then.
  I heard Andy closing his bedroom door, leaving Liam to the sofa in the dark living room. I
wondered whether he was still feeling as scared as I was. He had been brave to go and get our
things. And his get away strategy was incredibly smart. I hoped he didn’t mind too much about the
car.
  There was no way of knowing whether the men were watching for him or me. It made more sense
that they were watching for him. He had been searching for Sophie for much longer than I had, so it
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            117
was far more likely that they had somehow tracked him down. But knowing that didn’t make me
feel any better. I didn’t want anything to happen to Liam, for how would mum and I ever forgive
ourselves if he got caught up in Sophie’s drama, and was hurt or even killed for trying to help? My
fear for us all gave me a new drive. I wanted to find these people to keep them away from Sophie.
And I wanted them gone, so we could all get our lives back, and maybe get each other back too.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                         118
Chapter 20


 I woke up early with a stone of dread in my stomach. I wanted to get out of the unit quickly,
before getting trapped talking to Andy, or agreeing to do something with Liam. But to my surprise,
Andy had already left for the day. A note on the table said he would see us tonight when he got
home from work, and gave his phone number in case we needed him. He also left a spare key on the
table so we could come and go. I tried to think what Andy did for a living, but it was so long since I
saw him, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever known.
 His apartment appeared almost brand new, and if it wasn’t for all his mess, would probably be
very nice to live in. To be fair, he wasn’t expecting visitors, and people who lived alone probably
spread themselves out. But it looked like Andy hadn’t put anything away, let alone cleaned the
place, for weeks. At his age, with no wife and children, he must have had quite a bit of money. He
had enough to buy a really nice apartment. Couldn’t he fork out for a cleaning service too?
 I didn’t feel right about staying in his apartment much longer. Apart from feeling uncomfortable
about his obvious absence from my life, and the reason for it, I’d rather not be anywhere longer
than a night in case they tracked us down again. Now the danger felt so close, I hated the thought of
spreading the problem to Andy, like a contagious disease.
 I quickly showered and dressed, and careful to not wake Liam, slipped out of the apartment. Liam
would probably be worried when he woke up to find the place empty, but he'd call my mobile
before he did anything else, and I could explain then that I had gone out.
 Where I was going I wasn’t quite sure. The nearest police station would be easy to find if I had
thought of checking on Liam’s laptop before I left the apartment, but having not done this, I had to
use old fashioned nous. The first thing I did was ask a pedestrian for directions to the nearest train
station. I felt scared to be out in the open, on main roads and busy streets, in case a blue Magna
suddenly appeared. But the back streets were even scarier, making me feel cornered and alone.
 My nerves gave me enough energy to quicken my step, and by the time I reached the train station,
I was out of breath. The timetable board didn’t give me any inspiration, but I recognised the station
‘Town Hall’ in central Sydney, and decided it was best to head somewhere familiar. There had to be
a police station around Town Hall somewhere. I bought my ticket and walked to my platform. I
pictured Katie doing this exact same thing at Central Station during her final moments. Had she felt
like me? Like a hunted animal? My skin crawled at the thought of what had happened to her. There
was no way she fell onto the tracks accidentally. I understood now her urgent desire to get away, to
hide wherever she could from these men. I just wished she had made it onto her train.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             119
  When my train slowed to a stop in front of me, I slipped into a carriage, and sat between two large
men. They hardly noticed me; both were intently reading their newspapers. But I felt comfort in the
fact I wasn’t alone. It was hard to imagine how someone might try to hurt me with two strong
strangers on either side of me. With nothing to occupy my mind but disappointment at yesterday’s
debacle, my eyes followed the route of my train on the plastic map stuck to the wall opposite me. I
hadn’t realised how many stops it would be to get into the city. The taxi ride to Parramatta last night
had been so frantic that it went by quickly. But this train journey seemed to be taking forever.
  When we finally reached Town Hall station, it was so packed with people getting on and off trains
that I felt safe dodging my way through the crowd, and jumping on an escalator. I recognised where
I was: right in the centre of the city. I tried to catch someone’s eye, to ask if they knew where there
was a police station, but the streams of people walking past were so focused on their own
destinations it was impossible to get their attention. Then I noticed an old woman sitting on a low
wall near the entrance to the station, and went over to her, my sudden proximity making me
impossible for her to ignore.
  ‘Do you know if there’s a police station around here?’ I asked.
  She looked up from her shopping bags, and pointed her finger directly at the building at street
level, above the train station.
  ‘There’s one in there, love’ she said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, which I
suppose it was.
  I hurried in the direction she was pointing, and saw a shop front with the familiar blue and white
police logo on it.
  There were already several people at the counter, so I stood in line behind them. They all looked
angry and impatient. From what they were saying, I guessed one of them had her handbag stolen on
the train, and they were trying to get some action out of the bored looking policewoman behind the
desk. She was slowly writing on a form, looking about as interested in the description of the thief as
most people are in the finance report on the news. Just as I started to feel impatient, wondering how
long I would have to wait in line, my mobile phone rang, making the people at the desk turn and
glare at the shrill intrusion of sound. It was Liam.
  ‘Where the hell are you? I was so worried when I woke up to find you gone.’
  I had expected him to be a bit concerned, but he sounded more annoyed than worried. I almost felt
flattered. But then I reminded myself he was probably angry that I was taking control of the search
without telling him, rather than concerned that something had happened to me.
  ‘I didn’t want to wake you,’ I lied. ‘I’m at the police station in the city. I’m going to tell them
about what’s going on.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              120
 I heard his sharp intake of breath, the warning sign he was about to explode with rage.
 ‘Ellen. I told you…’
 Just as his rant started, the people at the desk stepped aside, and it was my turn to speak to the
policewoman. I didn’t even wait for him to pause.
 ‘I have to go,’ I interrupted. I hung up and turned off my phone.
 ‘I need to speak to someone about two murders, one in London, and one in Sydney, and some
people who are after my sister and me.’
 I hadn’t really thought about exactly what I would say, so when the words found their own way
out of my mouth, I realised how little information I actually had to tell anyone. Maybe Liam was
right. There was no point talking to police until we had something concrete to say. The
policewoman made me feel even more unconfident about my decision, looking at me like I was a
speed hump in the way of her morning tea break.
 ‘Take a seat.’ She pointed to the plastic chairs behind me. ‘I’ll get one of the detectives from City
Central to have a word with you.’
 Ok, this was a start. A detective was exactly who I needed to speak to: someone who dealt with
major crimes. Now that I had another wait on my hands, I was determined to work out how I was
going to explain everything. I needed to make them realise how serious the situation was, and also
be as concise and straightforward as I possibly could with the small amount of information I did
have. I wished I had done some more research before I came, but now these men knew about me
too, there didn’t seem time to waste for fact finding. I had no idea whether Sophie would be in
trouble for prostitution, especially since her crimes, if any, were committed in London. Should I
leave that bit out?
 Before I had made up my mind, a tall, thin, middle aged man stamped into the waiting area and
was pointed in my direction. He seemed grumpy and rushed, avoiding eye contact in case that gave
the impression he was friendly. He didn’t introduce himself, but asked me to follow him, and we
went down a dingy corridor and into a cramped little room. It looked like someone had used a very
small budget to try to make it seem comfortable and friendly, but this had been so long ago that
now it just seemed tired. Light blue walls, dark blue carpet and an oval shaped grey desk with two
plastic chairs. The detective offered me one of the chairs, and sat down heavily on the other, his
wiry frame looking edgy and impatient, his eyes shrewdly assessing me.
 ‘My name is Detective Williamson. I’ve been told you want to talk to someone about a murder?’
 I nodded, and was ready to start talking, but he wasn’t finished.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            121
  ‘At this stage, this is an informal conversation,’ he explained, going through the motions of
following some sort of protocol. ‘If it is decided we need you to make a statement, it will be
recorded at a later time. Do you understand?’
  I was relieved to have an informal discussion, as that seemed likely to prevent the tracing of
official records, on the off chance Liam was right about the risk. Again I nodded, pausing to check
if he was going to say something else. But he just looked at me expectantly, so I started to speak.
And as I spoke, his bored looking expression started to waver, until he was sitting on the edge of his
chair, leaning towards me as if to hear me better. At various stages, his face took on a look of
recognition, or understanding, that I couldn’t really explain. But he didn’t interrupt, so I just kept
talking until I had nothing else to say.
  ‘My name is Ellen Goddard. I live in Adelaide with my mother. I have recently found out my
sister, Sophie Goddard, is in danger from some people who we think might have killed two of her
friends. She sent an email to my mum about four months ago, asking for help, and saying she was
in danger. She moved to London seven years ago, we had completely lost contact with her until
mum got the email. Mum hired a private investigator to find her in London, and he managed to find
out why she was so frightened. Her boyfriend Danny was murdered in their apartment. I don’t know
much about that, except Sophie and her friend Katie were terrified. They thought they were going to
be next, so they flew to Sydney about three months ago. Katie had her son with her, Charlie. When
I found out about all this, I decided to come to Sydney to help find Sophie. The private investigator
has found out that Katie was killed last week. She was pushed in front of a train at Central Station,
and you… I mean… the police are investigating her murder. I don’t think the police know she had a
child. His name is Charlie, and he is now with Sophie. The private investigator and I worked out
where Sophie was living yesterday, but when we got to her, she didn’t realise who we were so she
escaped with Charlie in a car before we could follow her. Then when we got home, there were some
men waiting for us outside where we are staying, and when we drove off, they followed us. They
were in a blue Magna. We think they are after us too, but we lost them. I’m now staying with my
uncle in Parramatta, but I thought it was time to talk to the police about it, because it’s getting out
of control.’
  To my surprise, Detective Williamson seemed to jump five steps ahead of where I thought he
would be.
  ‘Does the name ‘Molly Lane’ sound familiar to you?’ he asked, with a puzzled expression on his
face.
  I gulped. How on earth could he know what Sophie’s alias was? He could tell by the look on my
face that I knew exactly who Molly Lane was.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              122
 ‘How could you know that? Liam told me…’
 I shifted in my chair, suddenly anxious to speak to Liam. He had said the police would be useless,
but what if they knew more than we did about what was going on?
 ‘Liam is the private investigator?’ he asked.
 ‘Yes, Liam Kingsley. He’s here in Sydney with me.’
 The detective started stroking his chin, staring at the table as if he was piecing thoughts together
in his head before he spoke.
 ‘And you don’t happen to know what Danny’s last name was, do you?’
 At first I couldn’t remember, but then the article about his parents’ accident flashed into my mind,
and the name came to me…
 ‘Wright. Danny Wright.’
 ‘I don’t believe in coincidences,’ he said slowly, ‘but you have no idea how much that belief is
being challenged today. Do you know what your sister does for a living?’
 I felt my cheeks blush, and I kept my head down. Again, he could read my expression without me
having to say a thing. His tone changed to something resembling compassion when he saw how
ashamed I was of where the conversation was heading.
 ‘Please don’t worry too much about that. It’s not that she was a prostitute that has brought her to
our attention,’ he offered, almost sounding flustered at having to comfort me.
 What then? How on earth had he heard of Molly Lane?
 ‘I think your sister may have been doing more than just soliciting men. There has been a
complaint made against her and her associate Danny Wright, who we know to be deceased.’
Complaint? Was it possible Sophie wasn’t quite the innocent victim in what was going on?
 ‘What do you mean, complaint?’ I asked.
 ‘We had a fax from London Metropolitan Police. They are also looking for your sister. She has
been implicated in a fraud charge. One of her clients was blackmailed by Wright, and then by
another man, Frank Sporalli. Wright got 20,000 pounds out of him and Sporalli was trying to get
another 10,000.’
 Frank. The accountant who took $30,000 of my mum’s money for information about where
Sophie was? Why was I not surprised that he was a dodgy shit? As I took this in, the detective kept
talking.
 ‘Mr Sporalli has been arrested. He was apparently relieved to be somewhere where no one could
get to him, and didn’t apply for bail. It seems there are some people looking for revenge.’
 So it would seem. But what was this blackmail about? Just as I was about to ask, my mind came
to the obvious conclusion I must have missed, not wanting to believe it was true.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            123
  ‘So Sophie, Danny and Frank were blackmailing a client, threatening to publicise that they were a
client?’
  ‘That’s the one.’
  I felt humiliated on Sophie’s behalf. How could she get involved in something like that? Wasn’t it
bad enough that her profession was dodgy, without having to do something completely criminal as
well? I felt sick again, just as I had when Liam told me about Sophie’s job. This was a Sophie I just
didn’t know. I had been so devastated to find dope in her pocket, but compared to prostitution and
blackmail that was nothing!
  ‘So how much trouble is Sophie in?’ I asked.
  ‘It sounds like a police cell might be the safest place for her.’
  ‘Who was she blackmailing? Wouldn’t it follow that this is the person who has killed Danny and
Katie? Isn’t murder a bit more serious than blackmail?’
  ‘Of course. The detective working the case in London has thought about that possibility. But the
person who brought about the complaint is a member of parliament. If he was hell bent on revenge,
and was taking these people out one by one, he wouldn’t go to the police.’
  He had a point, but I wasn’t so sure. Maybe this was the best cover he could get; turn himself into
the victim, and bring in the police to make it look like he could have nothing to do with the killings.
That wasn’t so farfetched, was it?
  ‘What is his name?’ I asked.
  The detective looked thoughtful, wondering if it was ok to tell me. With a small shrug, he decided
it was.
  ‘Matthew Harrison-Brown.’
  I let the name settle into my memory, and then had another thought.
  ‘Is he the only one they blackmailed?’
  ‘The detectives in London assume not. If they got away with conning one client, there’s likely to
be others. They will be working on that at their end. Doesn’t sound like Sporalli is much use,
though.’
  ‘And how did the detectives know Sophie was in Sydney?’
  Again he paused, not overjoyed at giving too much information to me.
  ‘I presume this Sporalli fella told them.’
  Of course, it suddenly made sense. Just as Frank had given the information to Liam (at a huge
price) he would have easily folded, and given it to the police. But who else had he given it to? If
these people were after him as well, it was possible he had given them Sophie and Katie to save his
own skin.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            124
  The detective was looking at me as if to work out how I could be of use to him. I wondered how
seriously he and his colleagues were taking the search for Sophie, and whether they cared that she
was in danger. He hadn’t mentioned Katie: did they know more about the events at the train station
than they let on? Or was this the first time a connection had been made between the woman who
died at Central Station and the fax they received from London? I suddenly felt uncomfortable at the
way he was staring at me. The detective shifted in his seat and looked ready to stand.
  ‘I’d like you to give a statement about the men who followed you, and what you know about your
sister’s case.’
  I didn’t hesitate to reject this idea. Liam had warned me about putting any information on the
official record. The fewer people who know I’m involved in this situation the better.
  ‘No, look, Liam and I might have been imagining it. We are pretty stressed; it’s possible the men
weren't actually following us. It’s more likely that these people have no idea we exist. I won’t make
a statement today. I can come back another time...’
  The detective looked cynical about people who don’t want to make statements.
  ‘The sooner you make the statement the better. And in the meantime, why don’t you leave the
detective work to us. Make the statement and then go back to Adelaide. We will be on the lookout
for your sister.’
  I heard a patronising tone, and I felt his main aim was to help the London police to arrest Sophie.
I hadn’t come all this way to help the police lock her up. Imagine what she would think of me then!
  ‘Take my card. If you think of anything else helpful, and of course if you find your sister, give me
a call on this number.’
  His large finger obscured almost everything on the card, but I could see a mobile phone number
under some other numbers. I shoved the card in my pocket and thanked him for his time, almost
running down the corridor before he could ask any more questions. He called after me.
  ‘Can you leave your number with me, in case I need to contact you?’
  I turned back, wishing I had the guts to ignore his request, and run. But I was always too polite for
my own good. He took a notebook out of his pocket, and eyed me suspiciously, sensing my
nervousness.
  ‘0425325323,’ I obediently recited, changing the last digit from a four to a three in my head so
not to give him a real number. I wasn’t going to have him calling me if he wanted to arrest Sophie.
Again I turned to leave, confident it was the last time I would see Detective Williamson. But before
I could get out of the door, he called me back.
  ‘Is this the right number? It says it’s disconnected.’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           125
 I can’t believe he called it to check! He must be used to finding himself with a fake number. I
fumbled for my phone and showed him the screen. Detective Williamson wasn’t impressed.
 ‘Oh, it’s off, sorry. I was about to turn it back on. I’ll just do that now.’
 This time I turned and ran, not looking back to see if he followed me. I went straight down the
escalator to the train, still reeling from what I had heard. This had to be the break I needed to find
out who was after Sophie. It had to be something to do with Matthew Harrison-Brown. He had to be
stalking Sophie, and maybe me as well.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             126
Chapter 21


  Liam had left four angry messages on my voicemail while my phone was off. He was still
seething by the time I called him back.
  ‘I told you not to go to the police,’ he almost screamed into the phone.
  ‘I don’t care what you told me not to do. You don’t own me.’
  ‘And thanks a million for the help with the car. I had to get a train back there, and when I found
the car it had about ten parking tickets on it …’
  I wanted to tell him what I had found out, but it was impossible to get a word in edgeways around
his fury. At least he had retrieved the car. Apparently someone had moved it off King St and left it
in a side street. They'd even locked it, and left the key on the wheel. This was a huge piece of luck,
it could just have easily been stolen or towed away. But Liam was not in the mood to acknowledge
this. I hung up on him, and then texted him to call me back when he had calmed down, as I had
things to discuss with him. He hadn’t phoned by the time I got back to Parramatta on the train.
  The journey gave me time to think. And in due course, it occurred to me that the member of
parliament, Harrison-Brown, might not be the only one with a motive to harm Sophie and her
friends. Was there someone else they were blackmailing who didn’t pay up, but decided to get rid
of the problem another way?
  Sophie sure wasn’t making any of this easy for me. Not only did she have someone looking to kill
her, but I had to assume they also wanted to find anyone else she was involved with. Obviously
they were worried she would tell other people about their working relationship. But who would care
so much about people finding out they visited a prostitute, to the point of killing to keep the secret
safe? It would have to be someone who stood to lose a lot. The member of parliament fitted this
profile. But then why would he also go to the police as well? Assuming Sophie, and possibly Frank
Sporalli, were the last ones he needed to get rid of, he had almost reached that goal. But his
complaint to the police had got Frank arrested and now the police were after Sophie too. If she was
arrested, all her secrets would eventually come out, and the world would know who her clients
were. The more I thought about it, the more likely it wasn’t Harrison-Brown. His reputation
couldn't have been worth killing over. If he was convicted of murder, he wouldn’t just lose his
career, he’d be in prison for the rest of his life!
  I walked quickly back to Andy’s from the train station. Liam wasn’t there when I got into the
apartment. I guessed once he got the car, he had gone back to Dee Why, to our last sighting of
Sophie. I felt nervous about being outside for too long, potentially visible to blue Magnas, and
searching for Sophie meant being outside. If Liam was happy to do that on his own, I was happy to
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              127
stay in the apartment, doing my best to investigate the people who were behind the murders. I
locked the door, and shut all the curtains. Even though Andy's apartment wasn't on the ground floor,
and no one could possibly see through the windows, I somehow felt safer with everything closed
tight, cocooning me in the dark flat.


 Liam had left his laptop, so I opened it up and typed ‘Matthew Harrison-Brown’ into a Google
search. The first result was a website with the address ‘matthewharrisonbrown.co.uk’. It was his
official website, with the banner at the top announcing he was the member for Bethnal Green and
Bow. There was a photo of him; he looked like a pompous snob. He had a little moustache, and his
face had a greasy sheen to it. He was overweight, and really unattractive, but his expression in the
photo gave the impression he thought he was a smug little man. As much as I tried to avoid the
thought of what he would look like having sex, my mind couldn’t help jumping straight to that
image. Gross!
 I tried to rub out the thought by focusing on what was on the website, but it was so dull, it didn’t
do a good job of distracting me. There was a lot of information about his constituency, and from the
information on his policies, and the style of the website, it was obvious he was a Conservative MP.
He had a section on his latest reports to the parliament, which showed he was ‘anti-crime’, ‘pro tax
cuts’ and ‘fighting for the rights of businesses affected by new EU environmental regulations’.
Boring! He also had a ‘contact me’ page which invited people to book appointments with him.
 I stared at the ‘contact me’ page, my mouse hovering over the ‘email me’ button. I clicked onto it,
and a form came up asking for my contact details, so Matthew could make a time to meet with me.
Before I could decide it was a bad idea, I quickly typed ‘concerned friend’ in the name field, and in
the contact field I wrote Liam’s address: liam.kingsley@gmail.com. It was Liam’s computer; the
message could be traced back to him either way, so I may as well use his real email address. Then
in the ‘details’ field, where people would usually write ‘there are gangs hanging around my street’
or ‘I don’t want a phone tower built in this suburb’, I typed ‘leave Molly alone’. Short and sweet. I
pressed send, and watched as the page loaded to a ‘thank you for your email. Matthew will be in
contact with you shortly’ message.
 Even though I was almost sure that this person couldn’t be the one threatening Sophie’s life, it
didn’t hurt to let him know someone knew what he was doing, if he was in fact a murderous
psycho. I wondered if anyone would be able to work out the exact location the message was sent
from, as Liam’s friend had with the internet café. But since it was a laptop, there was no way of
knowing exactly where the computer was when it sent the message? I hoped so. The last thing I
wanted was to pinpoint us in this exact apartment. A lump formed in my throat as I thought about
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           128
the implications of the message I had sent so impulsively. Had I just fucked things up? Liam was
going to spew. But my mind cleared as I thought about the slight chance there was of anyone
actually reading the email, let alone caring who it was from.


  As I thought back to what the detective had told me this morning, something suddenly struck me
as important. 20,000 pounds. Danny had blackmailed this guy for £20,000. Sophie’s notebook! I
grabbed it from my handbag, and opened to the first page to check if my mind was playing tricks on
me. But it wasn’t. I was right. The first garbled phrase was followed by the number 20,000. This
had to be a clue; there was no way it was just a coincidence. I looked at the words again: ‘Busby
George Old Shoe’. Was it possible this really was a code, as I had guessed? I thought back to the
cryptic message Sophie had sent to mum. She had used a code that would be familiar to anyone
who knew her well. Lyrics to The Beatles. As if this was the last piece of the puzzle my mind
needed to get the code sorted, the link fell into place. Matthew Harrison-Brown. George Harrison,
one of The Beatles’ names. That had to be it!
  But what about Matthew and Brown? I had heard Beatles songs so many times that they ran
through my mind in a list. Busby…busby…busby. It still wasn’t making sense. I got back onto the
laptop, and searched for Matthew Busby. Some results came up for Facebook profiles of people
with the name Matthew Busby. That didn’t help me. So I tried ‘Beatles Lyrics’. The first search
result brought up a list of every lyric of every Beatles song. Thank god for the internet!
  I did a ‘find’ search for ‘Busby’, and the curser leaped to the one place in the lyrics that showed
this word. I exhaled, as the proof I was right hit me in the face. ‘Matt Busby’ was a tiny part of a
tiny song that I couldn’t remember ever hearing. It only had one verse: ‘Like a rolling stone, like a
rolling stone, Like the FBI and the CIA, And the BBC, BB king, And Doris Day, Matt Busby. Dig it,
dig it, dig it, Dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it, dig it’. Just to prove a point, I also
searched for ‘old’ and ‘shoe’, and was unsurprised to see this also now made sense. Harrison-
Brown. ‘Old Brown Shoe’. This was another Beatles’ song; this time one I remembered hearing. So
Sophie had coded Matthew Harrison-Brown as ‘Busby George Old Shoe’, and recorded the amount
they got from him as 20,000 pounds.
  I felt pleased to have figured this out. But at the same time, proof of blackmail was devastating. I
wondered how long it took Sophie and Danny to spend all that money. And whose idea was it to
start blackmailing people? I preferred not to believe it was Sophie who came up with the scheme.
We had a bit of a disrupted childhood, and Sophie was a bit out of control at times, but mum did her
best. I hated to think how upset she would be to find her daughter was involved in serious crime.
We weren’t brought up to feel like money was really important to happiness. Well I wasn’t,
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                            129
anyway. As long as you had enough money to live, and were doing something with your life, it
didn’t matter if you weren’t rich. But Sophie must have viewed things differently. Having sex for a
living couldn’t have been an enjoyable job. I just couldn’t believe she wanted to do it. But she did it
for money, so money must have become important to her. And maybe she needed more and more of
it to make herself happy. Even if it meant moving from escorting to blackmail. When she talked
about becoming a famous actress, I thought she was imagining her adoring fans, and her name in
lights. But maybe what she had was visions of hundreds of thousands of dollars. How did this
happen, Sophie?
 With a sigh, I returned to the problem. There could only be one conclusion. The other two pieces
of code were the names of other people they had blackmailed. And they had to be the other people
with a motive to kill Sophie. If I could decode them, I had two more suspects.
 ‘Perkins’s Drums, 35,000’. This was shorter, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to me how it
related to The Beatles. I did a search for ‘Perkins’s drums’, wondering if it was an obscure Beatles
song that only die-hard fans like Sophie would know about. But the search only found useless
references to drum shops, and people called ‘Perkins’ who were advertising their drum lessons.
 Adding another key word, ‘Beatles’, I found, half way down a long list, an instantly exciting
possibility. A website called ‘songlist.com’ had a sentence that said ‘The Beatles covered Perkins's
‘Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby’ and ‘Honey Don't’. Pete Best, The Beatles’ original
drummer, sang lead on this until he ...’ I never knew The Beatles did covers. I thought all their
songs were written by the band. But I bet Sophie knew about the cover song. I clicked through to
the site. There was a small sentence at the end of a list of lyrics that said ‘This song was originally
recorded by Carl Perkins’. So if there was someone called Carl Perkins, what did this have to do
with drums? Was it possible Carl Perkins had a band, and that band had a drummer? Or was the
code just something to do with the name ‘Carl’ and then ‘drums?’ Who had Sophie written this
code for? She knew who her clients were. She was the one who slept with them, and then decided to
fleece them for money. The codes in her notebook must be some sort of security record, safe from
prying eyes. But would anyone else be able to understand them? She couldn’t have known I was
coming.
 I took a deep breath. This couldn’t be impossible. I just had to be smart about it. My next search
was ‘Carl Perkins drums’. It revealed a biography of Carl Perkins on the Rolling Stone website. His
photo made him look more like a nerdy geek than a rock star, but back in the 50’s his huge glasses
might have been fashionable for about five minutes. Scanning the biography, he was described as
one of the ‘architects of rock and roll’. I kept reading, and found he had written ‘Blue Suede Shoes’,
made famous by Elvis. The biography stated that his first band was with his brothers, and in 1953, a
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             130
drummer called W.S ‘fluke’ Holland had joined it. So, Carl Perkins’s drummer was W.S Holland.
Perkins later became friends with The Beatles. They worked on albums with him, and did some
covers of his songs. This had to be the right Perkins. And since the only drummer mentioned in his
biography was W.S Holland, this must be something resembling the name of the second person
Sophie was blackmailing. But who the hell was W.S Holland?
 Continuing the search, I typed in ‘what is W.S Holland’s first name?’, and connected with a page
all about W.S Holland. It was an obscure rock fan’s website, where an entry explained that W.S was
his first name. Apparently it was common at the time in West Tennessee for people to give children
initials instead of names. No wonder he had a nickname. Fluke. So I was looking for someone
called W.S Holland? But I assume this person has a first name and a middle name too. Holland was
quite a common last name, but how common were the initials W.S? When I searched W.S Holland,
a few more references to Carl Perkins’s band appeared, and some other random entries. Nothing
seemed relevant, so I jotted down W.S Holland in Sophie’s notebook, and turned to the next page to
see if a third name could be dragged out of her code.
 ‘Toothy seal E.P star I will be golden, 20,000’. There were more words in this code, which made
me feel slightly relieved, as it should mean it would lead me to a more specific name. I didn’t even
need the computer to work out the first word must have something to do with ‘Walrus’. I
remembered a time when we were really young, and mum and dad had taken us to a Chinese
Restaurant. I think it was dad’s birthday. Sophie and I were really excited. We hardly ever went out
for dinner. Our meals arrived with chopsticks, not forks. We had no idea how to use them, so mum
patiently tried to show us. Dad called the waiter back over to see about forks. And in the meantime,
Sophie lodged her chopsticks in her top lip, so they hung vertically, wobbling with her laughing
mouth. I thought it was hilarious, and called her a toothy seal. She slapped the backs of her hands
together, and made whooping noises. Mum was not impressed, and wrenched the chopsticks out of
her mouth. Dad tried to suppress a laugh, and explained that she wasn’t a toothy seal, she was a
walrus.
 So ‘Toothy seal’ had to mean ‘walrus’. And The Beatles’ song ‘I am the Walrus’ had to have
something to do with this code. So again I pulled up the website with The Beatles lyrics, and read
through the words. If Walrus was a clue, something else in the code should relate to these lyrics.
But there was so much nonsense I started to feel lost again. The code could have too many
meanings. ‘I am the eggman…’ Did this have something to do with a real person? ‘See how they
run like pigs from a gun’…. ‘Tuesday man you been a naughty boy’. The Beatles had to be on
drugs when they wrote this one. ‘Mr. City policeman sitting pretty little policeman in a row’. Could
the person be a cop? I looked at the next part of the clue. ‘E.P star I will be golden’. Could the
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                131
initials E.P be a separate clue on their own? I read through the lyrics again ‘Elementary penguin
singing Hare Krishna, Man you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allen Poe’. There was
something. Edgar Allen Poe. Initial EAP. Or EP if you took out his middle name. Could Allen be
the missing word? In terms of a name, it was the only thing that vaguely made sense from the
muddle of lyrics in the song.
 That only left ‘star I will be golden’ to work out. Could this be another lyric from a Beatles song?
It didn’t sound familiar. Back to the keyboard. The computer plucked the answer out of the air more
quickly than my mind could read the resulting search. Google had found almost an exact match to
the phrase, and completed the sentence for me, revealing what had to be the answer to the riddle. A
website called ‘hollywoodgoss.com’ had a sentence that began ‘Allen Berkley, young star of ‘I Will
Be Golden…’ Allen Berkley, that had to be right.
 I had never heard of the movie, but this wasn’t surprising as the website was an American one,
announcing the movie was just released in the States. And I had never heard of Allen Berkley
either. But it all made sense. The more I read, the more I was sure this was the third person Sophie
blackmailed. The article explained that Allen was a’ fresh young talent’, having earned his acting
stripes in several successful West End productions. He came from London, and had recently moved
to LA after scoring the lead role in a new film about a gay dancer who ‘overcomes poverty and
personal tragedy to become a Broadway star’. It was only too likely that Sophie had preyed on this
person as a victim of her scam. I thought of Hugh Grant, and the headlines after he was caught with
a prostitute in a car. Would he have paid £20,000 to make that situation go away? Maybe, if his first
major film role was in jeopardy.
 The article about Allen Berkley had a promotional photo, and unsurprisingly, he was extremely
good looking. It must have been a relief to Sophie when some of her clients weren’t revolting to
look at. As much as I tried not to think about it, images of Sophie’s job kept flicking through my
mind. I tried to focus on Allen Berkley as a potential murder suspect, rather than a hot movie star. It
made sense that Sophie would blackmail him. Maybe she didn’t realise he was a star until later.
And then worked out he would be rich, and potentially easy to embarrass. But would he be so angry
that he‘d start a campaign of revenge, ordering people be killed to protect his secrets? It didn’t seem
likely. But then this was a world I was completely unfamiliar with. Maybe as well as being a
gorgeous, talented, hooker-visiting actor, he was also a crazy psycho who hated the idea of people
holding something over him.
 But if he started killing people to keep the secret hidden, how could he be sure they hadn’t told
someone about what he did before they were killed? Maybe Sophie had made a will with a letter
included to be read after her death, revealing her secrets to the world? It was the first time I realised
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              132
how risky the situation was for the person, maybe Allen, who was trying to cover up what they had
done. To kill Danny, then Katie, still left plenty of chance for Sophie to tell anyone and everyone
what she knew. Secrets could so easily be passed from one person to another, and once they were
out, there was no way to contain them. So what was stopping Sophie using this against Allen now?
She feared for her life. Why not leave the information for someone else if she was killed by these
people? Maybe she feared for other people’s lives? I suddenly thought of Danny and his family. His
parents had been in a suspicious car accident, only a day after he was killed. Was this enough of a
warning for Katie and Sophie not to tell anyone else what they knew? Had the killer warned them
that other lives were at risk too? Katie had Charlie to worry about, and then after she was killed,
Sophie had him to worry about. And maybe she had me too? Maybe these people were after me on
the off-chance Sophie had told me what she knew.
 After worrying so much about the killers’ motives, it seemed almost pathetic that it could just be
about reducing humiliation for a Hollywood actor. Would someone really kill to stop people finding
out they visited a prostitute? Could the risk of a murder charge be worth all the trouble? I had to
find out more about Allen Berkley. He’d been a star in the West End. Could Sophie have known
him personally, not just professionally? She had auditioned for plays in the West End when she first
moved to London. Did she meet Allen doing this? Was he one of the ‘actor crowd’ who hung out at
the café she worked at? Did jealousy of his success help her decision to target him with blackmail?




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            133
Chapter 22


 No matter how hard he focused, working on details of suppliers, transport, distribution routes and
profit per unit, Vince couldn’t distract himself from the lose ends he still hadn’t managed to tie up.
He needed to maintain his cash flow, but if this problem wasn’t fixed, there would be more than
profits to worry about. He had been waiting all day for an update from Jared, and the longer his
phone didn’t ring, the more impatient he got to hear what was going on. It would be a weight off his
mind to know Molly was off the streets, and ready for her final performance.
 The busy working day had given him some comfort, though. He had been reassured that his
narcotics business was booming. And despite all the distractions, and the stuff up by his nephew,
other divisions of the business were still turning over a healthy profit. He had been warned many
times not to mix family with business, but he had needed someone by his side he could trust to keep
things going when he had a break. The boy had started off well, opening up profitable new
opportunities. But his mistake couldn’t be ignored, and thankfully he had gone to ground as
ordered. He had almost compromised everything with his lack of judgement. So good at living the
fancy lifestyle and accepting the bundles and bundles of cash, but not so smart in choosing who he
associated with. The boy obviously never fully understood how this empire had grown from
nothing, and how many intelligent, well-planned decisions had been made along the way to get it to
the point it was at now. He would decide what to do about his nephew when the damage he caused
was fixed.
 Thankfully, the huge profit bought him all sorts of security. Everyone who worked for him was
their own unit, taking responsibility for such a small part of the business that none of them knew
how the whole operation ran. So if the police ever did catch any of them, no matter how much they
tried to pry information from them, there would be nothing they could tell that would lead back to
him. The few who were in his inner sanctum, and allowed to meet him face to face, didn’t know his
real name. The only ones who did were his nephew, who was too far away now to matter, and
Jared, who was in too deep to give anything away. Jared’s idea to use recognisable landmarks in the
films was genius; there was now a huge premium on the product that made profits soar even higher.
And with business booming in London and Sydney, Vince would make more this year than all the
previous years. His thoughts were diverted by the sudden ring of his mobile phone.
 ‘Jared, what’s happening,’ he asked, failing to keep the concern from his voice.
 Jared also failed to hide his disappointment. ‘They got away. My men were watching the house
but she never went back inside. The man she was with grabbed some things and left. They
followed, but lost them in the traffic.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            134
  ‘I assume they are not your men anymore.’
  Vince couldn’t believe that people hired to watch a house could let someone go inside, pack up
their things and leave without managing to follow. What sort of imbeciles was Jared dealing with?
  ‘I can’t afford to lose them yet. I still need them to work on this one. I don’t have that many
contacts in Sydney. If I lose these without a result I’ll be stuffed. I don’t have enough man power to
mount a search of the entire city.’
  Jared sounded frustrated, but was carefully keeping his tone in check, not wanting to come across
as angry or out of control. He obviously knew his boss needed information, not emotion.
  ‘So what do we know about this lad she is with? Grant Morley wasn’t it?’
  Jared let out a loud breath, preparing Vince for something else he wouldn’t want to hear.
  ‘That’s the other thing. We’ve looked into Grant Morley. My contact at immigration told me he
isn’t in the country. He’s been gone a couple of weeks. I think he has some house sitters.’
  ‘So we don’t know who Molly is even with?’ He didn’t want to lose his temper at Jared, but he
was close to it.
  ‘We’re working on that, boss.’
  So they were back to square one. Molly was on the run again, helped by a mystery male.
Someone else who would have to be dealt with before this whole business was complete.
  ‘The offer I made of 100,000 quid hasn't got me anywhere either. If that little tosser knew
something, he would have coughed it up by now.’
  ‘It was always a bit of an off chance. He can’t know any more than we do at the moment. Maybe
we should go back to plan A, and just get rid of him?’
Vince didn't respond to this. He still hoped there might be a lead there. They really were back to
square one.
  ‘Do you need more staff? I might have some people working on other projects that can be pulled
off.’ The last thing Vince wanted was to compromise his profitable business with this side problem,
but he also knew this side problem could destroy any chance of future profit.
  ‘Not for now. Jim and Keith aren’t exactly qualified for this, but they’ve got as much to lose as
we have now. I know they’ve let you down with the latest sighting. But they did find her in the first
place, so we have to hope they find her again.’
  ‘Ok, keep me updated.’
  His blood was boiling by the time he got off the phone. He was sick of bad news heaped upon bad
news. He hoped his evening swim would calm him down for the time being, and that some good
news would come soon.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               135
Chapter 23


  I was at the laptop, scanning the references for Allen Berkley, when my phone rang. It was Liam,
and in the intervening hours, he’d calmed down, and he’d come up with a new plan to find Sophie.
He was at the hospital.
  ‘We know she has run from us, but she still needs to care for Charlie, doesn’t she?’ he asked,
hoping to bring me on board with his excitement.
  ‘I guess...’
  ‘She’s going to have to go come here. The nurse who’s supposed to check up on Charlie won’t be
able to find them. Sophie won’t risk Charlie’s health, I’m sure of it. She doesn’t even have his
pills.’
  ‘If she’s really scared, she will have gone a long way from the Royal North Shore. I don’t see
why, if she’s so worried about Charlie, she wouldn’t just go to any hospital.’
  Liam was silent, too frustrated to respond. After a few seconds he retorted: ‘It’s worth a try isn’t
it?’
  I felt a lingering uncertainty about how Liam was talking about Sophie, as if his own happiness
depended on finding her. But he had a point. It was the only lead we had.
  ‘I guess you may as well check it out, but it’s going to take a lot of effort to sit and watch the
hospital all day.’
  ‘I’ve already been here for a couple of hours. I’ll stay until 7:30.’
  ‘Ok, I’m working on some other bits and pieces. I’ll tell you about them later.’
  ‘Like what?’ Liam’s tone was both questioning and accusatory.
  ‘I’ll speak to you later, bye.’ I hung up, tired of trying to justify myself to him.
  He hadn’t wanted me to go to the police, but it had been a fount of information. Not so helpful in
finding Sophie, which was the only thing he seemed interested in. But extremely useful in decoding
Sophie’s notebook (which he still didn’t know about). I was still convinced Sophie would never be
safe until we knew who was after her. How else would we know what we were all up against?
These people were serious. They had found where I was staying, and I didn’t even think they knew
I existed.


  The more I looked through the references to Allen Berkley, which profiled his stage career and
his new movie screen success, the more it seemed unlikely he would be killing people to hide a visit
to a prostitute. From the events he had been attending recently, movie premiers and awards nights,
there was no way he had been in Sydney or London for any length of time over the last couple of
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              136
months. He seemed to be spotted at an LA event every couple of days. It was possible he had hired
people to do his dirty work for him, but hit men couldn’t be cheap. His career must have made him
quite well off, but I wouldn’t have thought he was rich yet, with only one movie to his name, and
that only just starting to get noticed.
  It was time to stop wondering and start acting. I was getting used to having a lot on my plate. I
wanted to find a way to speak to Allen so I could figure out what was going on. It might be
dangerous to speak to him, but what could he do to me over the phone? If he did have hired hit men
in Sydney, searching for Sophie and anyone connected to her, he could tell them I had called, but
how would they ever track me down from that?
  One of the sites profiling Berkley’s career mentioned a public relations company, the Lily Cohen
Agency, which had become his agent in LA. They were credited with managing his ‘successful
launch into Hollywood’. Liam’s laptop had a world clock on it, which automatically told me the
time in any city in the world. Selecting Los Angeles, I was relieved to see it was 5:00 pm; they were
a day behind us, but not too late to call someone. A quick online search for the Lily Cohen Agency
brought up a simple website. It looked as if they were trying to make a small agency appear like a
market leader, but didn’t have the budget or the clientele to pull it off. The home page listed a few
actors I had never heard of. Allen Berkley wasn’t mentioned, but maybe they hadn’t updated the
site for a while. There was a black and white image showing Lily; she looked exactly as I imagined
Carla, the Madam, would look. Like a woman who wanted to appear 20 years younger but in a
tacky, try-hard, unsophisticated way. I guess Lily’s and Carla’s professions did have some
similarities.
  Now I just needed to work out where I could phone her from. I didn’t want my phone traced, yet I
needed a number they could call me back on. There was a landline in the apartment, but I couldn’t
endanger my uncle in any way. I also didn’t like the idea of going outside. I felt exhausted by
venturing to the city in the morning, and I hated to give them another chance to find me. I stared at
the laptop, fingers poised over the keyboard, willing myself to come up with something that could
give me an answer.
  I had to act fast as the business day was drawing to a close in LA. But my mind was blank, and so
was the search field. In frustration, I minimised the internet screen and suddenly something caught
my eye on the desktop. Skype. I opened Liam’s account and was relieved to see it automatically
logged him in. There was an account balance of $15.80, which I assumed would be enough to make
an international phone call. I typed the Lily Cohen phone number in, and I heard the squeaky blips
of the call connecting. I had acted so quickly, I’d forgotten to come up with a plan of what I was
going to say. Too late now, because someone had just answered the phone.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             137
  ‘The Lily Cohen Agency, how can I help you?’ The nasal American accent sounded upbeat and
helpful.
  ‘Uh… Hello... I’m looking for Lily Cohen....my name is... Margaret Porter... I’m calling from...
Coast FM in Sydney, Australia.’
  I was impressed with my ability to ad lib. It must have worked, because the friendly receptionist
asked me to hold on, presumably to find Lily for me. But then she came back on the line, and I
thought she was going to say Lily was unavailable.
  ‘Sorry about that, just had to get rid of another call. This is Lily speaking.’
  Oh. Lily’s agency was smaller than I had expected. Lily answered her own phone.
  ‘I’m calling about one of your clients, Allen Berkley. We would like to interview him on air about
his upcoming movie ‘I Will Be Golden’.’
  ‘Oh, you do?’
  Lily sounded surprised. I thought this was the sort of call agents would receive all the time.
Maybe Lily spent her time setting up these interviews, not fielding requests for them.
  ‘Yes, we’re really excited about the release of the movie in Australia, and we’d like to talk to
Allen about his experience in making it’. Did that sound plausible?
  ‘Australia? I don’t think they are releasing there for a few months. Do you really want to talk to
him now? It might be better to hold off until it launches in your region’.
  Oh dear. ‘Yeah, we know it’s not going to be here for a while, but our audience loves to hear from
actors who are making it big in Hollywood.’
  ‘Well, if you’d really like to talk to him, I’m happy to set up an interview. When do you want to
do it?’
  ‘We’re on air this afternoon at 1:00. That is an hour from now. Would Allen be available to talk
then?’
  This was asking a lot, but Lily was rustling papers in the background; hopefully she was checking
to see if Berkley was free.
  ‘So you are doing the interview live? That isn’t usually how this is done is it?’
  Damn. She was right. Radio stations probably do pre-record interviews with celebrities so they
can take out mistakes and boring bits.
  ‘Many stations do,’ I made up... ‘But not ours. We like to make our interviews sound as genuine
as possible. Everything on this station goes live to air.’
  ‘Oh, well that’s a challenge isn’t it? I’ll warn Allen to be on his best behaviour. Now you are
obviously aware this number is to be kept confidential. Are you ready with a pen?’
  ‘Yes.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              138
 ‘Ok, his number is 07838241856. Got that? Now I’ll call him and make sure he is ready. Do you
have a number I can call you back on, if I can’t get hold of him?’
 I gave her the Skype account number, and thanked her for her help. I felt bad for judging her
photograph so harshly. She was actually a lovely woman, and had just done me a massive favour.
 I was tense and exhausted when I got off the phone. It was great to have this guy’s number but
now I had to decide what I would say to him. I felt good that I had managed to go from finding a
code in a notebook to actually having a suspect’s mobile number. I was starting to get used to this
whole ‘investigating’ thing, and each phone call I made seemed to lessen my fear of using my
phone. I could talk to people, even people I didn’t know! I couldn’t wait to tell Liam what I had
managed to do on my own.


 It wasn’t often that I did things completely by myself. Back when I was performing in concerts
and spending hours practising, I might have looked like I was alone. But I wasn’t. Mum was always
there with me. In the audience. Listening from another room. Commenting when I finished. It felt
strange not to be sharing what I was doing with her today, but she wasn’t coping well with hearing
anything about our search for Sophie. She sounded really anxious when I spoke to her last night.
She had kept her head and managed to think of somewhere we could stay, though I knew she just
wanted me to come home. But since she also wanted Sophie home, and I wasn’t going home
without her, I had no choice but to keep looking until I found her.
 Ever since I got to Sydney, I had been so preoccupied with worry for Sophie, I had hardly thought
about Picasso, mum’s money problems, and my crappy career on hold. I also noticed, with a small
amount of pride, that I hadn’t taken an HP in two days. I felt like I hadn’t properly exhaled since I
opened the letter from the bank. But I wasn’t depressed. Just scared. Everything kept rolling
forward in a storm of anxiety, and all I had time to worry about now was the faceless people who
were chasing Sophie, and now me. I had to believe I was on the right track to making everything
ok.
 My thoughts drifted back to Sophie again. She was always good at believing everything was ok.
She never seemed to stress about anything, to the point where mum and I would worry on her
behalf. Was she studying enough to pass her exams? Was she going out too late with too many
different boys? The only thing I remember her ever getting upset about was dad leaving. She
seemed to think if he came home, everything else in her life would be ok.
 Once when I was about 11, I was panicking about a piano exam. I had practised for hours and
hours, but still hadn’t played the exam piece without making a mistake. I was sitting at the table,
staring at my dinner, too stressed to speak or eat. Sophie breezed in, and asked how my exam
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            139
practice was going. I just burst into tears. She quietly waited for me to pull myself together and then
told me she had a great way of getting rid of stress. She handed me a piece of paper and a pen and
told me to write down what I was worried about. I wrote ‘Piano Exam’. Then I dutifully followed
her out onto the street, where our wheelie bin was ready to be collected. She screwed up the piece
of paper and threw it in the bin. I said I didn’t feel any better. She just laughed, and told me not to
worry because the trick wouldn’t work until the next morning. And sure enough, early the next day,
as I lay awake fretting about my exam, I heard the garbage truck come down our street. As our bin
was lifted from the curb, I pictured the screwed up piece of paper falling out into all the other
rubbish, and being driven off down the road. Then I pictured the truck dumping it at the tip, buried
amongst piles of things people didn’t want. And suddenly I felt calm. I got out of bed, sat down at
my piano and played the piece perfectly. Mum hugged me, and told me how well I would do in the
exam. Sophie smiled, as if to say, 'see I told you so’. I never asked whether she wrote down her own
worries and put them in the rubbish. Had her silent worry about dad leaving made her leave us? Did
she see the plane that took her to London as the huge garbage truck in the sky? And if she had been
in my life when I gave up on my dreams, would she have found a way to pull me out of my funk? I
probably needed a bit more than a piece of screwed up paper to fix that.


 With a new found determination, I turned back to the Skype page and typed in Allen’s number. I
hoped to make it up as I went along, since I had already managed to do so with Lily. The phone
rang for so long I felt sure I was about to hear a message bank click in. But then a muffled voice
came on the line. It was crackly and distant, but it was him.
 ‘Allen Berkley speaking’.
 He had a BBC English accent, slightly pompous and snobby. But he didn’t sound scary or mean.
What had I expected? A threatening voice?
 ‘Hi Allen, this is... Margaret speaking... I’m calling about the radio interview I set up with your
agent.’
 What was I doing? I wasn’t doing a radio interview, I was confronting a suspect!
 ‘Yes, I spoke to Lily. I was just heading home so I could be somewhere quiet when you called,
but I’m still driving. Can you hear me ok?’
 He must have been wondering why I wasn’t saying anything. I gulped, preparing myself for the
sudden turn I was about to give to the conversation.
 ‘Look, Allen, this isn’t really Margaret from Coast FM. I’m ringing to find out what you know
about some crimes that have occurred in London and Sydney. I want to know how you have been
involved.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               140
 Would this be the point a guilty person would show anger? Or would they go into cover up mode,
and try to divert me from the truth? Or simply hang up?
 ‘Who is this?’ he asked.
 There was a small amount of anger, but also a bit of fear. That was odd.
 ‘I won’t tell you who I am, but I will tell you I am a good friend of Molly’s. And I’m trying to
make sure you aren’t the reason she is in danger.’
 ‘Molly? Do you mean Sophie? Who is this?’
 How did he know Sophie’s real name? I was speechless while I tried to work out whether to tell
him who I was.
 ‘I told you, I’m a friend of Sophie’s... I mean Molly... I mean...’ Shit. I was stuffing this up.
 ‘This isn’t Ellen is it? You’ve got the same Aussie accent Sophie once had...’
 He sounded suddenly relaxed, the fear completely erased from his voice. How the hell did he
work out who I was? My pause in responding gave him the confidence to keep talking.
 ‘Ellen, I know Sophie. She’s a close friend of mine. How did you find me? Is Sophie ok? I
haven’t heard from her in weeks.’
 He sounded genuinely concerned, and I suddenly realised it was possible he wasn’t a client of
Sophie’s, but was really a friend.
 ‘Your name was coded in a notebook of Sophie’s, with a sum of money next to it. I thought you
might have been blackmailed by her... and be trying to get revenge.’
 ‘Why would she be blackmailing me? I lent her money as a friend. She needed it to get herself
and another girl out of London. They had to buy new passports, and flights. She promised to repay
me, but I don’t care. I just want to know she’s safe. Is she ok? And what do you mean about
crimes?’
 He had me convinced. This made sense. There was no reason why the notebook only listed
blackmail victims. Maybe Sophie wanted to pay everyone back, and Allen was just another debt
record. The phone line suddenly went fuzzy, and Allen’s voice started cutting in and out. I could
just hear him enough to understand he was asking me to call him back in fifteen minutes, when he
would be home. Then the phone dropped out.
 I sat in silence, watching the clock on the computer click over, wanting to hear more about what
Allen had to say. He knew who I was now. Was this a mistake? I needed proof he was a friend of
Sophie’s. I was impressed he remembered she had a sister called Ellen. Sophie wouldn’t have told
that to someone she didn’t trust. What could I ask to make sure he was what he said he was? 11
minutes had ticked past, which felt like an eternity. Not able to wait any longer, I redialled him on


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                141
the Skype screen. Allen picked up immediately, and although the line wasn’t very clear, I could
hear he was no longer in his car.
 ‘Is that you Ellen?’ he asked, sounding more confident than when I spoke to him before.
 ‘Yes, it’s me. Look, I’m sorry to be so suspicious, but can I ask you a couple of questions to prove
you are a friend of Sophie’s, and not one of the people who are after her?’
 ‘I totally understand. You are right to be suspicious. Sophie had dealings with some very dodgy
people.’
 That was an understatement.
 ‘So, Sophie told you my name. Did she ever tell you her parents’ names?’
 ‘I can’t remember your dad’s name. I know he left your mum when you guys were teenagers. I
think I remember your mum’s name is Sandy, or Sandra? My memory’s not great.’
 ‘Her name is Sandra. What is Sophie’s favourite band?’
 ‘That’s an easy one. The Beatles. I can’t hear their music without thinking of her.’
 ‘Ok, I believe you now. How did you know Sophie?’
 This guy was genuine. He explained he was Sophie’s boyfriend, back when she first arrived in
London. They had met at an audition, and had become inseparable, falling in love and moving in
together. Allen started to get good parts in well known plays. But Sophie struggled to get anything
more than extra parts. After a few months, without even a speaking role to her name, she took a job
at The Backstage cafe in Soho to make ends meet. After a few more months, Allen realised it
wasn’t the only job she had; she had started working for Carla. When he confronted her about it,
she was devastated he had found out, and they had a huge fight. He tried to tell her she didn’t have
to do that for a living, and he would look after her. But he wasn’t making much money as an actor
either, and Sophie was convinced she would get better roles herself soon, and wouldn’t have to
work as a prostitute for long. But she kept doing it, and Allen couldn’t cope. So they broke up.
 Sophie went to Carla’s as a live-in worker, and eventually started dating Danny. But Allen and
Sophie stayed in contact, behind Danny’s back. Allen always worried about Sophie, and still really
cared about her. But she had moved on, and only contacted him infrequently, usually when she was
upset about something. He would come and find her, and take her out for a meal, making her feel
like life was back to normal for a short while. It made me so sad to think of Sophie throwing away
her relationship with Allen to become a prostitute. Allen had gone on to make a real acting career,
something Sophie must have been so jealous of. He said even after all this time he still hadn’t had a
relationship like he had with Sophie. She sure had a knack of breaking hearts.
 Allen hadn’t heard from Sophie for over a year when she called out of the blue three months ago,
wanting to meet up. He was surprised to hear she needed money, as last time they spoke she said
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                          142
she earning loads of cash. But this time she seemed frightened, and said she had to disappear. She
had told him ‘something bad’ had happened to Danny. Allen hadn’t got many details out of her. But
he could tell ‘something bad’ sounded like either ‘hurt’ or ‘killed’, and Sophie was in danger of the
same. He had already finished filming ‘I Will Be Golden’, and had enough money to help her out.
So he handed it over, and then soon after, moved to LA, hoping every day to hear from Sophie that
she was safe. I felt bad for Allen, both because he obviously still cared about Sophie and because
she had taken his money.
 ‘I’m sorry Allen, it seems like you’ve done your best to help Sophie. I’m so worried about her.
Can you think of anything else that might help me find her? Or the people who are after her? Did
she give you any clues as to who was out to get her?’
 Allen thought about it for a while; he seemed desperate to give me something of use. But he
couldn’t come up with anything.
 ‘Don’t you be sorry Ellen. I’m so relieved to hear Sophie’s ok. The only thing I can think of that
she said about the trouble she was in was that it had something to do with a scam that Danny
organised. I never liked Danny. He should never have encouraged Sophie in that career. When I
pushed her on what the scam was, she admitted the blackmail stuff. But she didn’t tell me anything
about who was involved.’
 ‘I know the name of one of the people she blackmailed. He’s gone to the police. A politician
called Matthew Harrison-Brown. But I don’t think he’s behind the murders.’
 ‘Really? Harrison-Brown was one of them? God, who would have thought?’
 I wondered if Allen was picturing Sophie, his old girlfriend, with that horrible twerp Harrison-
Brown.
 ‘There was another name in Sophie’s notebook too, but I’ve had trouble decoding it.’
 ‘What have you come up with?’
 ‘W.S Holland is the only thing I’ve been able to make sense of. But I can’t work out who W.S
Holland might be. I don’t have an actual first name so I have no idea where to start looking for
him.’
 ‘Oh? Bill Holland. His real name is William.’
 ‘Who is he?’ My voice leapt with hope.
 ‘He owns nightclubs. But there’s rumours that his clubs are just a front for other things, like a
very profitable drugs trade. I know Sophie’s worked for him before. She mentioned to me ages ago
that she always drinks in his bars for free.’
 This was a very good lead. It had to be him. But would a drug lord be worried about blackmail for
prostitution? Maybe Sophie knew more about him than she should have. Interesting, but scary too.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           143
 ‘I think we’re onto something. Thanks so much Allen. You have no idea how much you’ve helped
me. Sorry again for accusing you.’
 ‘Don’t be silly. I’m so glad you are onto the case. Please keep me updated. I would really like to
hear that you find her.’
 ‘Will do. Thanks again. And good luck with the movie.’
 Another step forward. Not quite what I expected, but it was good news.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                          144
Chapter 24


 I was staring at my search for ‘Bill Holland London Nightclubs’ when I heard the front door open.
My body went tense, momentarily alarmed at who might be walking in. But then I remembered that
the door had been locked, and it had to be my uncle coming home.
 ‘Hi, I hoped you’d be here. I left work early. Not much going on, so thought I’d come home and
see what you were up to.’
 Andy sat down across from me at the table, carefully diverting his eyes from the laptop screen so
as not to pry. But I could sense the curiosity in him. Even though he looked nothing like dad, he
was still obviously related to him, slumping himself down into the chair as if he never planned to
get up again, just like dad used to. And the way he held his chin in his hand; it was exactly how dad
looked when he was thinking.
 With feigned interest and a smile, I asked: ‘How was your day?’
 ‘Pretty boring. I’m working on some new software for wireless internet connections for mobile
phones. It’s going nowhere fast.’
 That’s right, he was a computer geek. He looked younger than most 50 year olds. I guess he lived
the bachelor life of a 25 year old. There was a long, uncomfortable pause in the conversation as I sat
impatiently, trying not to glance at the laptop, and he sat ready to say something, but still searching
for the right words.
 Eventually he said, ‘Your mum called me today.’
 ‘Oh?’
 ‘She told me about what’s going on with Sophie. You’re welcome to keep staying here... and
Liam. But is there anything else I can do to help?’
 ‘Look, I’m not sure what mum told you about the people who are after Sophie, but they are really
dangerous. They’ve worked out what I’m doing, and they’re looking for me too. I really appreciate
the offer, but I’d prefer not to put you in any danger. I really can’t tell you any more, but I have
been to the police.’
 He sighed, leaning back in his chair.
 ‘Well if the police know, that’s something, but I don’t want you doing anything dangerous. And if
you change your mind about needing help, I’m here, ok? I’ll leave you to it.’
 He seemed slightly put out as he pulled himself off his chair and left the room. I felt like I was
kicking him out of his own house, but there wasn’t time to worry about his feelings.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             145
 From the list of references for Bill Holland there was one site that looked promising. The
reference was to him as the owner of ‘Cosmo’, a ‘hip new London night spot’. The club’s website
gave a contact number. I felt brave after my success with finding Allen. Yes, I could do it again.
Bill Holland could be friend or foe, but either way I was going to find out what he had to do with
Sophie.
 I logged back onto Liam’s Skype account, with the credit reduced to $7.80. I checked the time in
London; 2:40 am. Would someone answer the phone in a nightclub at that hour? I typed the number
in and waited. A woman with a strong London accent answered after three rings. There was noise in
the background, but it wasn’t so loud that I couldn’t hear her; she must have been in a separate
room from the main nightclub area.
 ‘Lucy speaking,’ she said, as if aggravated at having to answer the phone.
 ‘Hi, is Bill there?’ The lies had flowed so easily with Lily Cohen, but this girl’s tone made me
nervous, and I rushed my question.
 ‘Who are you looking for? This is a bad line...’ No shit. I’m calling from a laptop in Sydney.
 ‘I’m looking for Bill Holland. Is he there? He’s a friend of mine.’
 ‘No he isn’t. He hasn’t been in for weeks.’ Ok, at least she knew who I was talking about.
 ‘Really? That’s strange. The reason I’m calling is to let him know I’ve lost my mobile so he
won’t be able to contact me. Do you know when he’ll be back?’
 ‘No, I was just saying to our bar manager that someone ought to report him missing. He’s usually
hanging around the place every afternoon, but no one has spoken to him in ages.’
 Interesting. ‘Do you think it’s possible he’s gone on holiday, and not told anyone?’
 ‘No idea love. You’re his friend, shouldn’t you know that?’
 Lucy suddenly sounded hostile, like there was something about me she didn’t trust. Time to get
off the phone. But first I needed a contact number for him.
 ‘Yeah, but he hasn’t been able to call me since I lost my phone. Could you give me his mobile
number? It saves me calling around for it.’ Did I sound casual enough?
 Lucy wasn’t saying anything. But she hadn’t hung up either. I heard the bleep of mobile phone
buttons. I exhaled, she was obviously scrolling through for his number.
 ‘0785 737 2052’ She recited it quickly, as if she didn’t quite trust that she should be giving it out.
 ‘Thanks so much, when I get onto him I’ll tell him to drop into the club and show his face.’
 ‘Ok, bye.’ She hung up.
 So, that was a coincidence. Bill Holland was ‘missing’. I would have thought if he was planning a
holiday or wasn’t going to be in his own club for ‘weeks’, he would mention to someone where he
was going? I had got a bit flustered during the phone call, but managed to get what I wanted. A
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            146
phone number. Liam’s account still had enough money for another call, but I’d have to make it
quick in case there were other calls to be made. It was such a good run, I felt like I was jumping
hurdles and getting close to the finishing line.
  I entered Bill Holland’s number, and my momentum came to a dead end. The phone didn’t ring.
Instead, a woman’s voice recited: ‘The phone you have dialled is currently switched off. To notify
the person of your call, hang up after the beep. Normal call charges will....’ I hung up, not wanting
to leave the Skype number. Would it come up as a private number or the number on Liam’s
account? I tried calling my own mobile, the sound of the ring piercing the silence and reverberating
around the quiet flat. ‘Private number’ showed up on the screen. Good. I was anonymous. I tried
Bill’s number again, and again the phone was switched off. Maybe he was asleep. I would have to
try again later.
  I closed down the laptop, and put it back where Liam had left it. He would know I had been using
it when he next logged onto Skype; the calls I had made were logged in the system and no doubt
could easily be seen by anyone who knew where to look. I would have to come clean about the
notebook, the codes and the people I had spoken to. But not until he came home. He was still
staking out the hospital, and wouldn't be leaving until later in the evening.


  So what next? I had been active all day and the hours had passed quickly, but now I felt suddenly
useless. My days were so long and uneventful at home that I often had moments like these, when I
had nothing better to do than sit and think about life. At such times I would usually sit down at
Picasso and spend one or two hours practising just to pass the time. I was staring at my giant, ugly
hands, which were flat down on the table in front of me, wondering when they would next play a
piano, when Andy came out of his room.
  ‘Did I hear you talking on Skype?’ he asked.
  ‘Yeah, I was using Liam’s laptop. Sorry, was I disturbing you?’ I hoped he didn’t over hear too
many details.
  ‘No, I was just wondering why you weren’t using your mobile?’
  ‘I’m trying to do some investigating without using my own number. Skype comes up with a
private number when you call people, and I’d prefer to remain anonymous.’
  ‘That makes sense.’
  He took a few steps closer and picked up my mobile phone from the table.
  ‘But you do know you can use your mobile phone to make private calls. You just need to set it to
withhold your number. It will come up as private.’
  ‘Really? Can you show me how to do that?’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           147
 ‘Sure, I’ll set it up for you.’
 He sat next to me, and took me through my phone menu, into settings I never knew existed. He
sure knew his way around a mobile.
 ‘See, now you are set to ‘withhold’ so your number won’t come up.’
 I could use my phone now, instead of Skype. I wouldn’t need Liam’s laptop.
 ‘Thanks, that’s really useful.’
 Andy seemed like he genuinely wanted to help. ‘Are you trying to call people who might have
seen Sophie recently?’ he asked carefully, aware of the tense vibe I was always letting out when
asked too many questions. But I was at a dead end. It wouldn’t hurt to tell him what I was trying to
do.
 ‘I need to contact some people who were listed in Sophie’s notebook. I found it at a flat she was
living in. It had the names as codes, but I worked out who they were.’
 ‘Good one. So where have you got with the calls?’
 ‘The one I was just trying to call has his phone off. I think he might have something to do with the
people who are after Sophie. I can’t tell you why, it’s all too complicated. But since his phone is
off, I can’t really do anything else for the time being.’
 Andy had his hand on his chin again. He looked like he was fertilising an idea.
 ‘You know, there are a lot of things you can find out about a person from their mobile phone.
Even when a phone is turned off, just the number can be useful... if you have the right software...’
 ‘What software do you mean? Do you have something I could use?’
 ‘Depends. What do you want to find out?’
 ‘Everything! Could you tell me when this phone number was last used? Who it has been calling?’
This was sounding too good to be true. Andy looked more cautious all of a sudden.
 ‘I worked as a contractor on a program the police and government agencies use in investigating
crimes, potential terrorist threats and all that. It basically coordinates with all the phone providers
and requests information on particular numbers. If you have the right password, you can get
information on any phone in the world.’ Andy spoke quietly, as if he could be in trouble if
overheard.
 ‘That’s amazing! Please tell me you’ve got the password.’
 He exhaled deeply, preparing me for an answer in the negative.
 ‘I don’t. It changes every day, and the people authorised to use it are given a new password each
morning. But I can hack into the system and find out what it is. I got authorisation to use the
system, back when I was working on it. I still know how to get in without them knowing I have. It
would be completely illegal... but if it would help to find Sophie...’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              148
 I could have hugged him.
 ‘That is brilliant! Let’s do it!’ My mind raced forward, wondering what information we could
gain from this software. First, I needed to know where Bill Holland was. Then I needed to know
who he was speaking to. But what could we find out? Was it going to be a list of unknown
numbers? I couldn’t believe this sort of information was available to the authorities. So many
people would stop using mobile phones if they knew it existed.
 I followed Andy into his bedroom, where a built in desk covered an entire wall. There were four
computer monitors, a couple of keyboards, and various other bits of equipment I didn’t recognise
spread out along the huge work area, and two office chairs. The room wasn’t very large and the
desk was obviously the focal point, leaving only enough space for a single bed crammed into the
corner. I wondered why he didn’t put the desk in the spare room I was sleeping in. Then I realised I
was sleeping in his room. This was the spare room.
 Andy was already typing furiously. An array of numbers and letters filled one of the screens. He
was either writing or unlocking code. It was more complicated than a foreign language; it looked
like a cat had been walking to and fro across the keyboard for hours. But Andy could obviously see
what it all meant, and it wasn’t long before he turned his head and said to me, ‘we’re in.’
 I clapped my hands together, and said: ‘Right. You need the phone number. It’s 0785 737 2052.’
 Andy entered the number so quickly his fingers reminded me of mine gliding over piano keys.
The computer program didn’t look like anything I’d seen before. There were all sorts of lists and
menus all over it. I didn’t know where to look. Andy was filling in the blank sections and getting
the software to request information on the number.
 ‘So what do you want to know?’ he asked.
 ‘First, when was the last call made? Second, where was it made?’
 ‘That should be easy enough.’ Andy seemed to be enjoying himself now. ‘Ok. The system should
have those details in a sec.’ He used the mouse’s cursor to point at places on the screen, as he
scrolled down the page. ‘Ok, the last call was made on the 25th November.’
 ‘That’s odd. The person I spoke to at his workplace said he hadn’t been around for weeks. And he
hasn’t made any phone calls for almost two months. Maybe he has another phone?’
 ‘Possibly. Or he’s no longer around.’
 That was the other option. Mum must have told him about the murders of Sophie’s friends. He
was right to consider the person I was looking for was potentially another victim.
 ‘Can you tell me the phone number that was the last to call him, and the last one he called?’
 ‘They are the same number, a mobile.’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              149
  I jotted down the number as Andy read it out to me, wondering how it might be useful. I had to
remind myself we still weren’t sure how this Bill person was involved, if at all.
  ‘How often did he call that number in the past? Was it likely a number of someone he knew
well?’
  Andy obediently scrolled through the list, and pressed a key to put all the phone numbers in order.
  ‘He’s had the number for five years, according to these records. It looks to me like he only started
calling this number regularly in the last year. It is called at least once a day, some days a lot more
often. He also received calls from this number often.’
  ‘Probably a girlfriend,’ I suggested.
  ‘That would make sense. Or a colleague. What else do you want to find out?’
  ‘Can you find out about text messages?’
  Andy grinned. We were onto something.
  ‘That’s what I was working on when they contracted me. I installed a function that was able to
read the memory off a phone and recreate text messages that have been sent to and from the phone.
Even ones that have been deleted.’
  ‘No way! That’s incredible! You could rule the world with that sort of information.’
  ‘People do.’
  Andy’s fingers were dancing again, and within seconds, there was a list of hundreds of entries of
text messages. I thought back to the information we knew about when Sophie first got into trouble.
Mum had got the email from her at the middle of October.
  ‘Can you search for a particular word, or set of numbers?’
  ‘Sure can’.
  ‘Ok, search for ‘black mail’.
  Andy looked puzzled, but he didn’t question, and typed in the commands.
  ‘There are literally hundreds of text messages here’, he said. ‘This guy was a text freak. It will
take a sec to search through.’
  The computer slowed down as it tried to process the search. It was a long shot, but it was worth a
try. After about a minute, the screen showed something even I understood; ‘your search brought up
0 results.’
  ‘What about black mail in one word?’
  Andy typed it in and again it took an age to come up with ‘0 results.’ Andy shrugged.
  ‘What about 35,000?’ I suggested.
  ‘As in 35k?’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             150
  This time the computer seemed to whiz a bit quicker. and suddenly honed in on a message,
highlighting the ‘35’ it had found in yellow so it jumped out at me. I quickly read the message,
recognising who it was from. Danny.
  ‘We know what you have been up to and we know lots of people who would be interested. Give
us 35k to guarantee we keep it to ourselves. Will text later with details’.
  There is was. The blackmail threat. As clear as day and as straightforward as it needed to be. Was
it possible Bill never paid that money, but didn’t want his secret getting out? Andy’s face showed
he understood, and I could tell he was dying to ask me what it was all about. But he didn’t.
  ‘What was the message sent next? Did he reply? What was the next phone call?’
  ‘The next phone call was the number that you’ve written down. The one he called regularly over
the last year.’
  Didn’t that make it less likely to be his girlfriend? It would be the last person he would tell about
a threat from some pimp.
  ‘What about text messages back to the number that sent that one?’ I asked.
  A couple of clicks on the keyboard brought up a new message. It was sent back to what must be
Danny’s phone a day after the original message, and it said: ‘Don’t threaten me you stupid fuck.
You and your friends are dead. You don’t know who you are dealing with’. And there was proof of
the threat.
  ‘Is there any evidence of phone calls between the two numbers? Or just text messages?’ I asked,
wondering if Danny ever called Bill to organise the exchange of cash, as he had said he would.
  ‘No, it looks like the second number called the first a few minutes after the original text, but the
first number didn’t answer. Then the next day this text was sent back.’ Andy pointed to the threat
from Bill. His face had gone quite pale and he looked like he was regretting getting involved in this
mess.
  ‘Can we just look up one last thing?’ I asked, trying not to push Andy too hard. He nodded, but I
could tell this was the last bit of information I’d get.
  ‘What about the activity on the other number that was called regularly. The one he called after the
text message with the 35,000 turned up.’
  I read out the number, and Andy filled it into his software. Then, in a subdued manner, he gave
me an outline of the activity.
  ‘There are over a hundred phone calls made with this number every day. The account has been
active for about a year. There have been no calls made, and none received, since last night. It
appears the phone was based in London until the 20th December last year, when it started making
calls in Sydney.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             151
  ‘Sydney? Can you tell where it is in Sydney?’
  I’d heard of police using mobile phones to track the location of criminals. Could Andy possibly
give me enough information to lead me directly to this person?
  ‘I can tell you where the closest phone tower is to most of the calls. The person seems to be
making and taking calls from somewhere near Wollongong, on the south coast.’
  ‘Wollongong? How far away is that?’
  ‘About one and a half hours south of Sydney I guess.’
  That was odd. Maybe I was wrong about the relevance of this number. But it was the first person
Bill called when he got Danny’s message. And then it turned up in Sydney exactly 10 days after
Sophie and Katie arrived. Was this the person sent to get rid of them? Could they have pushed Katie
under a train? And why hadn't they made any calls since yesterday if the account had been so active
before then? Why had Bill not been seen or heard from, or used his phone, since the end of
November?
  ‘Thanks so much for your help Andy, I seriously had no idea software like that existed.’
  Andy grunted an acknowledgement as he shut down his computer and said: ‘As far as you are
concerned, this software doesn’t exist. I have no idea what you are going to use that information
for, but you can never tell anyone where you got it. You have to promise.’
  The worry in his voice made me feel bad. I hoped he wouldn’t stress that I was going to slip up
and get him into trouble. I felt like we had bonded over the last few minutes, but now he seemed ill
at ease.
  ‘I'll never tell anyone. Promise, cross my heart.’
  The tension left Andy’s face as he got up from the chair, and went into the kitchen. I didn’t know
what else to say to make him feel any better. He was obviously worried, not just about using the
software, but also about what he had seen in the text messages. And so was I. Bill had to have
something to do with the murder in London. And now someone he was in constant contact with was
on the south coast of NSW. I felt better knowing Sophie was a fair way from there. But it still left
me with too many unanswered questions.
  I used my newly anonymous mobile and called the number that had been used near Wollongong.
If Bill had phoned it straight after he got the text from Danny, it made sense it had to be someone
close to the situation. There was no ringing sound and the message said the phone was currently
switched off or unavailable. I called one more time just to make sure and got the same result.
  There was another phone call to be made; it was time to tell Liam about progress. I felt stuck in
the house without him and his friend’s car for transport. Maybe tomorrow I’d spend the day with


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             152
him at the hospital. I really doubted Sophie would turn up there again, but we didn’t really have any
other direction to take.
  When he answered his phone he sounded bored and irritable; it was clear his ‘stake out’ wasn’t
bearing any fruit.
  ‘What have you been doing today?’ His tone was still accusatory.
  ‘I’ve found out so many things. The visit to the police was totally worthwhile. I know why
someone would want to hurt Sophie, and I think I’ve even got close to working out who they are.’
  ‘So the police didn’t think they could help you to actually find Sophie?’ he asked, seeming
uninterested in my news.
  ‘Well... no... they are looking for her too, but for another reason... they have less idea than we
do...’
  ‘So what was the point in going to them?’
  ‘To see if they could be any help. Obviously I didn’t expect they would already be looking for her
because of other reasons...’
  ‘What other reasons?’ His mounting anger made me regret phoning him.
  ‘Sophie and the others were blackmailing clients. One of them has made a complaint, and so the
police in London tracked Sophie to Sydney. Now they are looking for her so she can be charged
with fraud.’
  ‘So Sophie could go to jail?’
  He was starting to get upset. As usual his concern was for Sophie alone, and he completely
ignored what this information meant for finding a motive for the murders of two people. I decided
not to mention the notebook, the codes, Allen, or Andy’s software. Liam just wasn’t interested.
  ‘The police want to speak to her. I have no idea if she would go to jail. But right now I’m more
worried about these other people finding her than the police.’
  ‘So you want to turn the search for her over to them? You want the police looking for her instead
of us?’
  ‘No, I don’t want to turn it over to them. When the detective said they were looking for her, I got
out of there as quickly as I could. But that won’t stop them looking.’
  He didn’t seem to be able to be professional about the search anymore. I was more sure than ever
that he had feelings for Sophie.
  ‘Ok, so we’ve got to find her before these psychos and before the police. It makes it even more
urgent, doesn’t it?’
  ‘Yeah, I guess. Are you planning on sticking with your plan at the hospital?’
  ‘Of course I am. I really think she’s going to turn up here. I’m sure of it in fact’.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             153
 ‘Ok, if you are sure, I guess it only takes one of us to sit and wait...’
 Liam was about to snap.
 ‘Fine. But I think I’ll go back to Newtown tonight. And I’ll come back here in the morning.’
 He hung up. I stared at my phone, stunned. What was that all about! It had to be safer here than in
Newtown?
 After spending the evening trying to research more about Bill Holland, I finally gave up and went
to bed early, hoping to get a full night’s sleep, free from anxiety-induced insomnia. But as usual,
my mind was racing at a hundred miles an hour, trying to decipher everything I had found that day.
I'd tried Bill Holland's phone number numerous times, and it was still switched off or not available.
Nothing on the internet gave me any more idea where he was, or how he might be involved with the
murders of Danny and Katie. The text he sent to Danny with the threat was all the proof I needed
that he had something to do with the trouble they had got themselves into. But I couldn't work out
what to do with that information, as it didn't get me any closer to finding him. Or Sophie.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           154
Chapter 25


 Peter Wolcott was at the end of another long day. The Harrison-Brown case, initially
insignificant, had now expanded into an unsolved murder investigation, since one of the fraud
suspects had turned up dead. There was little evidence in the case, and no suspects. The keen young
pup from the Homicide and Serious Crime Command who was working on the murder eagerly
welcomed his help, on the grounds that the links between the murder and the fraud case were too
obvious to be ignored. He wasn’t aware Wolcott only offered after the Chief Inspector insisted. It
was exactly what Wolcott did not feel like dealing with.
 To make matters worse, Frank Sporalli turned out to be a useless waste of space. Wolcott and
Singh had interviewed him for over two hours, and though he admitted to a coerced involvement in
the blackmail of Harrison-Brown, he couldn’t or wouldn’t reveal any other targets for the scam. A
search of his flat had turned up quite a bit of cash, but nothing else of use. He claimed he didn’t
have a clue who might have wanted his friend dead. He knew the women involved had fled to
Sydney, but couldn't give any concrete information about exactly where they were. He was saying
so little that it looked like he would prefer to be considered guilty, locked in a cell and kept there,
out of harm’s way.
 And to load even more annoyance into the case, the Chief Inspector had called him into his office
first thing that morning, to tell him Harrison-Brown was now concerned he was being stalked by an
associate of his blackmailers. He claimed someone had emailed a threat to him through his website.
Harrison-Brown was well enough connected to put plenty of pressure on the Chief Inspector, and
this pressure was heaped, in additional proportions, onto Wolcott. This made him grumpier than
ever.
 'Find out who this Liam Kingsley is who sent the email. It was sent in the middle of last night.
This person could be anyone, but Harrison-Brown is convinced it has something to do with the
blackmailers. The mention of the name Molly could make this assumption valid,’ the Chief
Inspector had explained. Pompous git.
 Wolcott spent the next couple of hours finding out who Liam Kingsley was. He was relieved to
discover that, though he had temporarily resided in London, he now lived in Adelaide, Australia.
This firmly made him Australia’s problem. One quick phone call to a detective in Adelaide, and this
small annoyance would soon be off his desk. Only trouble was, Australia was still asleep for
another few hours, which meant Wolcott would either have to take the file home with him and do
some after hours work, or get in early enough that the Australians would still be at work. Not being


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              155
a morning person, he hated the idea of rising before the sun, so he opted to make the phone call at
10:00 pm, moments before he went to bed.
 The detective he reached in Adelaide sounded unreasonably bright and cheerful when he
answered the phone, especially considering the early hour there. It reminded Wolcott of his
resentment of the weather in Australia, which seemed to make all the people living there happier
than was necessary in most situations.
 ‘Detective Sergeant Conroy speaking, how can I help you?’
 The three beeps on the other end of the phone gave away the international caller’s distant
location.
 ‘This is Detective Inspector Wolcott from the Serious and Organised Crime Command in London.
I’m calling about a fraud case we’re investigating. We believe someone on your patch might be a
co-conspirator.’
 Wolcott expected the detective to sound unenthused by this information, which is the way he
would have responded had a similar statement been made to him by someone calling from overseas.
But Detective Conroy not only remained bright and cheerful, he also gave away a slight sense of
excitement at the news he had been given.
 ‘What is the suspect’s name?’ he asked, and Wolcott could imagine him eagerly grabbing a pen
and starting to write notes, so not to waste any time.
 ‘Liam Kingsley. He sent an email threatening the victim of a blackmail scam. I can hook you up
with our computer people here so they can get the message sent to you. You can no doubt do an ISP
search etcetera to make sure it is this fella’s real name.’
 ‘Yes, yes, I’d definitely do that.’
 ‘I’ll fax you the case notes we have so far, and obviously I would need to be kept updated on any
interviews you do with Kingsley. We are not sure whether he is an outlier, or if he is directly
involved, so the more information you can get out of him, the better.’
 ‘Of course, give me your details, and I’ll get onto it right away.’
 Wolcott recited his details, reminding the detective of the time difference between London and
Adelaide, and hoping he took this as a hint not to call him on his mobile in the middle of the night.
Wolcott lived by the assumption that everyone is dumber than you expect them to be, and he didn’t
make any exceptions for Detective Sergeant Conroy.
 As is often the case, his assumption was correct and he did receive a call back from the detective
less than an hour later, when he was sound asleep. Sounding annoyed, he took the call sitting up in
bed.
 ‘Sorry to call you so late, but I wanted to get back to you about what we’ve found.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             156
 ‘I'm sure I'll eventually nod off again. Have you interviewed Kingsley?’
 ‘No, that’s just the thing. We were able to track him down from his email address and ISP. But
when we contacted him, he told us he was in Sydney, working. He wouldn’t give us any specific
details of what he was doing, but it would appear he is a private investigator, from the information
he did give us. We had some other records on him though.’
 ‘Records?’ Wolcott was just enough awake to put together a coherent thought pattern.
 ‘He was involved in a criminal case here, a year or so back. He used to be a lawyer. He worked in
a criminal law outfit, and made the big mistake of becoming romantically involved with a female
client. She ended up doing time for knocking off her ex-husband, but Kingsley wasn’t through with
the relationship at that point. The silly fool smuggled contraband items into the nick for her: a
mobile phone, some prescription drugs, and other bits and pieces. Nothing too serious, but it went
on for long enough that he got caught. ‘Course he got fired from his job. The case against him
ended up with a slap on the wrist. But he got disbarred. We didn’t know until now that he’s trying
his hand as a private investigator. But he seems to have scraped a licence somehow. He’s not a
great friend of the police, after what went on with this woman.’
 ‘So how did he respond when you gave him a call?’
 ‘He didn’t exactly volunteer for an interview. He said he had no idea about any email, and no idea
who Harrison-Brown was. He said he was working when I spoke to him, but he refused to tell us
anything about what he was doing. Very arrogant he sounded. So I got on to City Central in
Sydney, and they said they’d look into it and call you back.’
 Wolcott couldn’t help but smile at Detective Conroy’s eager persona. But there was no way he
was going to take another pre-dawn phone call.
 ‘Can you get them to call me when I’ll be back in the office tomorrow? I’ll be in a better mood
for an update then.’
 ‘Yeah, sure. My apologies, I should have checked the time before I rang.’
 Wolcott eventually went back to sleep, though it was a restless slumber, interrupted by niggling
thoughts about the case. Why did it always seem that a straightforward case, when handed to him,
became a cacophony of different tangents and criminals? It was as if the Chief Inspector had some
psychic ability to see which cases would take this path, and handed them to Wolcott, knowing how
desperately sick of his job he was. It originally seemed like it would be an easy one to close, the
perpetrator Sporalli caught, his partner in crime dead, and the politician kept well out of the media
as requested. But with murder comes more attention and Wolcott couldn’t guarantee the politician
his name wouldn’t get leaked to the press as part of the investigation.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               157
  At 1:00 am, he woke up again when his phone rang again. He cursed that he hadn't turned it off
after speaking to Conroy.
  'Who is this?'
  ‘This is Detective Inspector Williamson.’
  Another Australian accent. Didn't these Aussies ever check the time before calling? This one
wasn't as cheerful as the last. He sounded older than Conroy, more Wolcott’s vintage, and his
weathered voice had the same unenthused ring to it that he chose to use himself. Wolcott respected
him immediately, despite the late hour, and got straight to the point. He didn’t want to be
conversing in his pyjamas for a minute longer than necessary.
  'So what have you got to tell me about our friend Liam Kingsley?’
  ‘Looks like he’s just one piece of the jigsaw. It’s quite a long story.’ Wolcott sighed audibly, but
Williamson took no notice. ‘It’s no coincidence that this got put in my in tray,’ he went on. ‘We got
the fax from you guys about the possibility that a prostitute called Molly Lane you were looking for
in London, for involvement in a blackmail scam, had travelled to Sydney. I noticed it, but didn’t
think much on it. Finding someone like that in Sydney is, just like London, finding a needle in a
haystack. But then this girl drops into the station unannounced yesterday, and tells me she is
worried about her sister, Sophie Goddard, aka Molly Lane, who she thinks is running from some
people who may have killed two of her friends. One in London, one here in Sydney that we are
treating as a suspicious death.
  Wolcott interrupted. ‘I know about the one here. Danny Wright. We never found the girlfriend,
Molly Lane, or the other woman involved, Katie Easton. Next thing we hear, they're in Sydney. So
where does Kingsley come in?’
  ‘I’m getting to that. The sister told me she is working with a private investigator to locate Sophie
– your Molly, that is. They are all from Adelaide. The private investigator is Liam Kingsley.'
  ‘That’s interesting to say the least.’ Wolcott perked up a bit. Maybe someone else was going to do
his work for him. ‘What else did you find out from the sister?’
  ‘That’s the thing, I told her about her sister’s involvement in blackmailing the MP, and she
clammed up. I guess if Sophie could end up nicked, the sister didn’t want us to be involved
anymore.’
  ‘And she ran off and told Kingsley, who emailed Harrison-Brown to warn him off,’ Wolcott
concluded.
  ‘It looks more like she sent the email off her own bat. I had one of our units pick Kingsley up. He
was staking out the Royal North Shore Hospital, convinced this Sophie would be visiting there with
a child.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            158
 Wolcott tried to smother a yawn. 'What happened?’
 ‘He denied knowledge of the email. But he tried to do a runner when the uniforms turned up to
ask him a few questions. So they brought him in. He was acting very strangely in our interview. He
wasn’t at all interested in giving information away that might help us to find Sophie. Same as the
sister, Ellen. His line is that he is employed to find Sophie, and has no interest in any other related
investigations. We questioned him for about an hour and didn’t get anywhere. He had no reason for
absconding from the police, other than a claim that he had to stick around to find Sophie. He
seemed to be taking the case extremely seriously. Almost personally.'
 ‘That’s odd. I can understand the sister being protective, but what would Kingsley have to gain
from keeping the police out of the investigation? Surely he doesn’t care if she is found and arrested,
as long as he gets paid for the work he is doing?’
 ‘Did Conroy in Adelaide tell you about his past?’
 ‘With the criminal girlfriend?’
 ‘Yeah, we think it is possible he has become emotionally involved again. With either Ellen or
Sophie, or both.
 ‘Do you believe him about the email?’
 ‘Yeah. The sister could have been using his computer and his email account. He claims to have
left his laptop in her possession throughout the entire day. The thing is, as I’m sure you know, she’s
right that the blackmail and the deaths have to be connected somehow. It obviously isn’t the MP,
but it could be someone else they tried to put the squeeze on. Unfortunately she hasn’t got any
information that could help us work out who. She was probably just testing the water with this
Harrison-Brown. Either way, I don’t think the sister, or the private investigator, is involved with
your fraud case. You can tell your Harrison-Brown he can forget about the email. We let Kingsley
go. There was nothing to hold him on.’
 ‘So where does this leave us with the murders? Is there any chance of you picking up Sophie?’
asked Wolcott, still hoping there was something more in it for him.
 ‘We are obviously interested in talking to her because of her involvement in your blackmail case,
and we’d also like to find out what she knows about the murders – yours and ours. At this stage
though, we have no idea where she is. I’ll keep you updated on that situation.’
 ‘Good man. I’ll let you know if anything else crops up here that might be of use.’
 Wolcott hung up, satisfied to have spoken to someone who was obviously a highly skilled
detective. If he was going to have to coordinate with foreign detectives, he would rather it be
someone like Williamson, who was very thorough, than someone like himself, who was not. Even if
he did ring in the middle of the night.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              159
Chapter 26


  She wasn’t used to having so little money. It wasn’t long ago that she had more than she knew
what to do with. Danny didn’t believe there was such a thing as too much money. He even had
enough spare cash to buy ridiculously expensive drugs, for his increasingly erratic party life. She
hated watching him snort her hard earned cash up his nose. And even with all this money, he
wanted more. But look where that had got them. And now there was none coming in, she felt
stressed even spending a dollar. She’d only just paid the first week's rent when she had to run from
the apartment. The $2,000 she had found with Charlie was a huge help, but even added to what she
had left, she knew it wouldn’t last her much longer. The passports had cost them most of the money
she got from Allen, and she had spent $500 on a bomb of a car, feeling it safer to drive than use
public transport. And now Katie was gone, and the men were in Sydney, she was no better off than
before.
  She had been tempted to go straight to Adelaide; her mum would have happily taken her in and
looked after her. But she couldn’t put her family in that danger, not after what had happened to
Danny’s parents. She was a curse and she needed to stay away from them. She even regretted the
email she’d sent from London; it must have worried them so much.
  She had so many regrets these days it was hard to know how she could start again. If only she had
never been in that revolting movie. Or perhaps if she had never mentioned to Danny the under-age
girls they were using for it. Maybe if she’d tried harder to convince Danny that using the
information was a mistake. Or left him once and for all, like she had been thinking about doing for
months. But she hadn’t saved enough money to start on her own. It all came back to money. Or so
she had thought at the time.
  As she pulled into the hospital car park, Charlie started to pull the seat belt over his head, making
it far too easy for him to slip off the seat. She felt like a terrible carer, driving around with a baby on
the front seat, the seat belt wrapped dangerously across his little body. Car seats were one of the
first things people organised for their babies, to show they going to look after them properly. But
she hadn’t had any sort of preparation time for Charlie’s arrival. Getting him out of the station was
the one glimmer of luck she’d had in months. Everyone’s attention was on the accident that had
happened on the tracks. She shuddered when she thought of what had happened at there. They’d got
Katie. She could never erase the scene from her memory. Or the guilt she felt for letting it happen.
The least she could do was to protect Charlie.
  When she got him back to her flat, her new sanctuary, she thought for a while that he was fussing
because he missed his mum. He wouldn’t stop crying, and his little face was pink and sweaty.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               160
When she tried to get him to settle in her bed, he was grizzly, and his whole body was hot. Then he
started to cough, but not like a baby usually does: more like an adult, his body shuddering with the
effort. She had looked after him for Katie in the past, but never known him to be so difficult. And
she had no idea what to do about his fever.
 She hardly got any sleep that night, crying for Katie, and listening to Charlie coughing beside her.
First thing the next morning, she had taken him to the medical centre she had seen on the main road,
and from there, she had been directed to take him to hospital for tests. The young paediatrician told
her it was like croup, but more serious - a bacterial infection that needed to be treated with some
sort of steroids. If being on the run had been difficult before, now it was an absolute nightmare. The
flat was no longer safe. They had come to her door, and she had bolted without any of her things.
How could they possibly have found her there? Last night she had curled up with Charlie on the
back seat of the car, terrified that the men would somehow find her parked in the beachside car
park. But she had to look after Charlie, and if the nurse couldn’t come to him, that meant taking him
back to the hospital.
 She parked the car, and scooped Charlie into her arms. Despite his tiredness from an
uncomfortable sleep, he seemed to be slightly better today. He was still a bit hot, but he wasn’t
crying as much, and his barking cough wasn't as frequent. The steroids might have been working;
she needed to replace the ones she had left behind in the apartment. She walked quickly across the
car park, hating to be out in the open, looking for the safety of the hospital’s front doors. She had
grown used to being aware of her surroundings, alert to sounds and movement she ordinarily
wouldn’t have noticed. And that was why she turned to look at a car, two rows from where she had
parked. A man was sitting in the front seat, peering at the hospital entrance. As she met his eyes,
there was a moment of recognition. It couldn’t be. Could it? Was she becoming too paranoid? The
man looked exactly like the one who had come to the door of her flat. She had glimpsed him for
only a moment through the spy hole in the front door before she bolted out the back. But she had
always been good with faces, and she was sure it was the same man. The same blond mop of hair.
The same wide blue eyes. Had he followed her here? She’d have to ditch the car. She couldn’t risk
being wrong.
 She ducked behind a large four wheel drive and then started to run, crouched low, along the row
of cars. Between them, she could just see his car door had opened and he was getting out, stretching
his neck to see where she had disappeared to. Now she was sure. It really was him. How the hell
was she going to run from him here? With Charlie in her arms? The hospital entrance was still 100
metres away. She got to the end of the row. She could either sprint towards the doors of the
hospital, out in the open where he could easily chase her, or stay hidden behind a car. Charlie
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             161
seemed to sense her panic, and wasn’t making a sound. She craned her head around the car, trying
to decide her next move. Suddenly, the man and his car were obscured by another vehicle, which
pulled up just in front of it. To her amazement and relief, it was a police car. She never expected to
feel relieved at seeing police! This was just the diversion she needed. She bolted towards the
entrance. She was going to keep her appointment. But then she was going to get out of Sydney,
once and for all. She had no idea why the police were after this man, but it had to be good news.
Didn’t it?




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            162
Chapter 27


 When I got up the next morning, Andy was gone, so I had the apartment to myself. And sometime
during a quick shower and breakfast, a question formed in my mind that had eluded me during the
fuzzy midnight hours. It was too much of a coincidence that Bill Holland had been in close contact
with someone who had been in London until recently, and then been in Sydney ever since. What if
Bill Holland hadn't been seen in London in weeks because he was actually in Sydney as well,
chasing Sophie? He had been unaccountably missing from work for a couple of months. He hadn’t
used his phone for about the same amount of time. That would mean he might have disappeared
sometime between the murders of Danny and Katie. So was he missing by choice or had something
happened to him? Surely if he hadn't been seen in weeks, and his employees don't know where he
was, someone would have reported him missing? Was there some way to find out if he was on a
missing persons list?
 As I opened Liam’s laptop, I wondered if he had felt pretty stupid getting back to Newtown and
realising he didn’t have his things with him. Maybe he could wear his friend’s clothes, but he’d left
all his toiletries and his laptop here. I tried not to think about him too much because he was so
aggravating. His laptop was useful though, even more useful than him at the moment. The easiest
way to find out if Bill Holland was missing was to call the police in London. But now I knew they
were looking for Sophie, I'd have to avoid that avenue. So, instead, I'd have to rely on the internet to
help me. The search for ‘missing people UK’ came up with quite a few useless references, but there
was one website down the list that looked like it might be useful: www.missingpeople.org.uk.
 The website looked quite professional. It explained that it was linked to a successful TV show,
‘Missing Live’, on the BBC. But as I searched around the site, reading their information about
contacting them and requesting information, I found I didn’t know enough about Bill Holland, not
his address, date of birth, his parents’ names or even if he was single, married, had children or
anything. This could be a problem. Looking at other similar sites didn’t help. Most directed people
to the police. Not helpful. However, they all seemed to have a page where you could contact
representatives with information about a missing person, or questions about someone you are
looking for. Maybe that was worth a try.
 I was filling in my sixth query, wondering if this was a useless exercise, when my phone rang. It
was Liam. What now?
 ‘Hi Liam.’ I tried to sound cheerful as I answered the phone, hoping to find him in a better mood.
 But this wasn’t the case. He was so angry I could feel the rage through the phone as he spat,
‘What the fuck have you been doing with my laptop?’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               163
  Oh dear. ‘What do you mean? I’ve been doing some investigating on the internet...’
  ‘Have you been emailing people? Using my address? Sending threatening emails?’ His voice was
high pitched, an accusing barrage of questions spewing out.
  ‘Are you talking about the email I sent to Matthew Harrison-Brown?’ I kept my voice steady. The
calmer I sounded, the less guilty I would seem...
  ‘Who the hell is that? The police took me in for questioning for fuck’s sake!’
  ‘Questioning? What for? Sending an email?’
  ‘They thought I had something to do with some blackmail bullshit. I had no clue what they were
talking about. But you’ve no idea what you’ve done, Ellen. I missed Sophie because of all this!’
  ‘What do you mean you missed her?’
  ‘I saw her, this morning, at the hospital. She was crossing the other side of the car park. She had
Charlie with her. But the police were trying to talk to me just when I spotted her. I tried to run and
find her, but they got really pissed off, and almost handcuffed me. I had to go with them to the
station.’
  ‘Shit! Shit shit shit! You can’t be serious! I can explain to them it was me...’ I offered, knowing I
didn’t want to. The last thing I needed was the police talking to me about the email. But then the
reality of what he had said forced its way into my consciousness. We had missed Sophie again!
  ‘Oh Liam, I’m so sorry…’
  But Liam wasn’t listening. He was too upset. ‘It was my one chance Ellen, I waited all that time
and now she’s gone.’
  Liam sounded bitter and angry, but also really distressed. Before I was able to work out what to
say, or to apologise again, he hung up. I didn’t blame him. It wasn’t the moment to point out that it
wasn’t his one chance, it was his second. What chance was there of finding her a third time? I felt
terrible. If it was Liam's fault we missed Sophie at the apartment, it was definitely my mistake this
time. The email had been a stupid thing to do. Liam had every right to be angry. I wondered if I
would ever hear from him again. Would he still want to keep looking for Sophie, now that we had
made two disastrous attempts to catch up to her? The way he said ‘she’s gone’ sounded like he was
completely devastated. Like all hope was lost. It was the way someone would respond to hearing
their relative or best friend was lost, not the daughter of a client.
  As the news started to really sink in, it suddenly occurred to me that Sophie would always run
from Liam. She had no idea who he was, and she was terrified of strangers who were trying to kill
her. I should have been there. She would have known she was safe if she had seen me. I felt like
burying myself in my bed, and not getting up again. Liam was right, the search for Sophie was more
important than my investigations into who might be trying to hurt her. I thought I was in control,
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             164
but I wasn’t. I thought I was getting good at probing into people’s lives, but I’d stuffed it. And I had
no idea what to do next.


 As if answering my thoughts, my phone rang. It was mum. I felt guilty as I said hello. I had been
putting off speaking to her, because I hated to hear the lift of hope in her voice when she heard it
was me. It was as if she inhaled, ready to hear we’d found her, and then plunged back into the
depths of despair when I said we hadn’t. But now I was down there with her, so it couldn’t make
me feel any worse to deliver the bad news about the latest sighting. I explained to her what had
happened that day, and as disappointed as she sounded, she tried to make me feel better.
 ‘The bright side is that we know she is still ok, and she is still looking after Charlie.’
 ‘Yeah, I guess we should be pleased about that,’ I conceded.
 Mum suddenly went silent, and I thought for a moment the call had dropped out.
 'Mum, are you there?' I asked.
 'There's something I need to tell you. That's why I called.' Her voice sounded strange, like she was
unsure whether she should still be talking, but was forcing herself to.
 'What is it?' I asked, impatient at how long it was taking her to speak.
 'I got another email. From Sophie.'
 ‘What? 'When? Did she say where she was?' Mum's sigh told me all I needed to know. It was
another useless message. 'Read it to me,' I ordered, ignoring any obligation to be polite to my
mother.
 'It was sent early this morning, but I only got it just now.'
 'What does it say mum?'
 “They are going to kill you if you keep looking for them. Just leave me. I don't want anything to
happen to you. They are more dangerous than you think”.
 How does Sophie know what I'm doing?
 Mum sounded panicked now, reading the email aloud seemed to cement its meaning for her.
 'Sophie knows you are in danger. You have to come home. Please Ellen. No more phone calls and
emails.' Mum was begging now. She sounded like she was at the end of her tether.
 'How do you know she sent it?' I asked.
 'It's from the same address as the last one...actually, not exactly the same, but almost.
tpjk675@hotmail.com. There's an extra five. If the address was shut down like you said it was...'
 'She might have opened a new one. Ok. I've got to go. Can you please forward that email to my
Yahoo account? I'm not coming home without Sophie.' I hung up. Mum wouldn't call back; she
would be too upset to argue.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             165
 How could Sophie warn me off like that! Why wouldn't she just tell me where she was! Just
because she didn't want me looking for the people who were after her, didn't mean I had to stop
looking for her.
 I felt all alone, and finding out Sophie didn't want me looking for her just made me feel worse. I
started to cry, and my tears quickly turned into sobs as I thought about how close we had come to
having Sophie back with us. I loved mum for trying not to sound disappointed at hearing how I had
stuffed up the search. She sounded petrified about the email. As if it was a sign something was
going to happen to me. She had spent thousands of dollars on the search, and had no more to spend.
Picasso’s funds weren’t going to pay the mortgage for long. And Sophie was still out there, hunted
by faceless, murderous thugs, who were looking for me now too.


 As my mind tried to grab onto something other than failure and fear, it found leverage on Bill
Holland. There was no way I was giving up on finding these people, no matter what Sophie wanted.
Bill Holland had to be involved, whether he was a victim or a suspect. I blew my nose and tried to
focus. I had got nowhere in my roundabout attempts to find out if Bill was really missing. Direct
action would make me feel better. It was time for more phone calls. I hadn’t got much information
from Lucy at his club, so I would give her another call. This time I used my mobile phone, with its
new-found private number setting.
 The club phone rang for longer than last time, and just as I was starting to wonder if they were
open late every night of the week, a woman picked up. It wasn’t Lucy. The background noise was
the same, but this person had a deeper voice; she sounded older, and spoke slower.
 ‘Cosmo Club.’
 ‘Hi, is that Lucy?’ I asked, knowing it wasn’t, but trying to suggest a sense of familiarity.
 ‘No, Lucy’s not in tonight, this is Linda.’ Linda didn’t speak with the same sense of urgency I had
detected in Lucy’s voice. Maybe a phone call in the office was a welcome break from working
behind the bar.
 ‘Hi Linda, I’m a friend of Bill’s, and I am wondering if he’s been in lately. I can’t get onto him on
his mobile, and he’s not answering his home phone.’ Linda laughed, not showing any of the
concern Lucy had when I asked about Bill’s whereabouts.
 ‘You’re not the first girl I’ve spoken to who’s looking for him tonight, love.’
 ‘Oh, really? That’s a coincidence. Who was looking for him? I’m starting to get a bit worried
about him. I’m just a friend, not a girlfriend or anything.’
 ‘It was some girl called Lena, or Karina, or something like that. She dropped in a couple of hours
ago. It’s the fourth time she’s been in this week, looking for her friend. Veronica, she said the name
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            166
was. Odd thing is, she thought this Veronica worked here. I’ve been here since we opened, and I
know which girls are on the roster. There was never no Veronica.’
 ‘Why do you think she thought her friend worked there?’
 ‘No idea. I told her she was mistaken, and that’s when she asked about Bill. She knew he owned
the place. She said her friend lived at his place, and that she needed to speak to him urgently…’
 ‘But you haven’t seen Bill either…’ I guessed.
 ‘Exactly. I told her the same thing I’ll tell you. I haven’t seen him for weeks. Not that I mind. He
isn’t exactly the most proactive boss. We get paid by the manager here, that’s all we care about. Bill
only comes in here to drink. He never actually does any work.’
 Linda didn’t seem to care that she was badmouthing her boss to one of his friends. She actually
sounded like she was enjoying having a good old fashioned bitch. So I held my breath and hoped
for some new pieces of the puzzle to emerge.
 ‘It wouldn’t surprise me if he’d gone on holiday, and just not told any of us.’
 ‘So when was the last time you saw him?’
 ‘Can’t remember, love. It must have been several weeks ago. Some of the other girls here have
commented that they haven’t seen him for a while either, but no one is that concerned.’
 ‘I think he might be missing. Do you think that is possible?’
 ‘Hadn’t really thought about it, love. Like I said, he might own this place but he doesn’t run it.
That’s all sorted on his behalf. He might have buggered off with one of the girls he was seeing.
There was a little Russian dolly that he had with him a fair bit recently.’
 ‘What was her name?’
 ‘Now you’re testing me... let me think... no, don’t think I ever knew. There’s been so many of
them, love, I just can’t keep up! And they’re all so young! But I must admit, I never realised he had
women friends that he wasn’t sleeping with. If that’s what you are, you’re a rarity.’
 I needed to sound as casual as possible, so I laughed at her last comment.
 ‘This girl that came in looking for him tonight, you thought her name was Lena?’
 ‘Yeah, she had a real strong accent, maybe something Eastern European…’
 Another Russian maybe?
 ‘Did this Lena girl leave any way to contact her?’
 It was a long shot, but Linda didn’t seem to think there was such a thing as too much information.
If someone else was looking for Bill, she might have got further than I had.
 ‘She did actually. I wrote down her number, and promised to call if he showed up. It was the only
way to get rid of her, you know. Got a pen, love? It’s 07458749878’.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           167
 ‘Thanks Linda, you’re probably right, he probably has gone away and not told any of us. I just
want to make sure.’
 ‘No problem love.’
 I was starting to get really good at extracting information from people I had never met. It was all
about getting rapport, and persistence. I dialled the number and the phone went straight to message
bank, explaining that the person I was trying to call was on the phone. So I left a message: ‘Hi, I got
your number from the barmaid at the Cosmo. I’m looking for Bill Holland too. My name
is...Rita...can you call me back on 0465780765? It’s an Australian mobile number. Thanks’.
 I needed more fake identities ready up my sleeve; it must have sounded suss every time I paused
before blurting out my name. I wondered if she would find it strange to be calling me on an
international number. But I didn’t have to wonder for long, as my phone rang within seconds of
leaving the message.
 ‘Rita? This is Lena.’ She sounded stressed and tired. And Linda was right, her European accent
was very thick.
 ‘Hi Lena, thanks for calling me back. I know it’s quite random that I called you, but I wanted to
speak to you about Bill. The barmaid at the Cosmo said you’ve been looking for him, and I’m
looking for him too.’
 ‘Are you friend of his?’ she asked, sounding almost accusing.
 ‘Not really. I’m actually looking for someone he knows’.
 ‘Someone missing? Who is missing?’
 ‘It’s my sister actually. I’m looking for my sister. And I think Bill knows her.’
 ‘Why you think that?’ Lena was starting to get on my nerves. I was the one who wanted answers,
not just questions from her.
 ‘I just do. The barmaid said you were looking for your friend…’
 ‘Yeah, my friend Veronica work for him… and live with him… but he hasn’t been around for
long time. I think since I couldn’t find her, she might be with him…’
 ‘When did you last see her?’
 ‘She say she meet me on Saturday night. And she not turn up. Is not like her. She don’t know
anyone in this city…’
 ‘Have you told the police?’ The question popped out without me meaning to say it. With all these
missing people, it was odd that everyone seemed to be doing their own investigations.
 ‘I not involve police.’ That sounded familiar.
 ‘And what luck have you had finding Bill?’
 ‘None. I been searching for both of them, but I haven’t got nowhere. Who you looking for again?’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            168
 ‘My sister. She was a friend of Bill’s too.’
 ‘What your sister’s name?’
 ‘It’s Molly.’
 I avoided giving her Sophie’s name, as I felt suddenly protective of the information I had. It was
definitely interesting that there was another missing girl who was involved with Bill, but it didn’t
solve anything. For all I knew, Bill and Veronica had been killed as part of the same situation that
Sophie and her friends had found themselves in. Or they had gone into hiding for some reason. Or
they were both responsible for killing Danny and Katie. I was pretty sure Sophie was trying to
blackmail Bill, but that wasn’t proof he was trying to kill her. Especially since he disappeared
around the same time she left London.
 ‘You tell police about your sister?’ she asked, daring me to explain more than I wanted to.
 ‘They know she is missing.’ That was true enough.
 ‘And you are where? Not in England I think.’
 ‘I’m in Sydney.’
 ‘You think Bill is there?’
 ‘No, I don’t. I don’t know where he is.’
 ‘Neither do I.’
 I felt like we were going around in circles. Lena wasn’t giving anything away and her tone made
me feel like I had to be careful.
 ‘I’ve got a phone number I think might be Veronica’s. Can you tell me if it is?’
 I started to read out the number Andy had pulled out of his software, the number Bill Holland
called most often, and had phoned as soon as he got the blackmail text from Danny.
 But before I had finished reading, Lena interrupted abruptly, saying: ‘No, that’s not Veronica’s.
She did not have mobile phone. Where you get it?’
 I avoided that question too. ‘Did Veronica live with Bill before she went missing?’
 ‘Yes. She live at his apartment, even since he’s not been there. I been there, she not taken any of
her things.’ That wasn’t a good sign.
 Lena let out a frustrated sigh. ‘I sort of... break in...and it not look like he’s taken much either.’
Also not a good sign.
 ‘Do you know anything about what Bill was doing before he went missing? Did Veronica ever
tell you anything about him?’
 ‘No, all she say was he own a bar. She tell me she work there, but she didn’t. I don’t know why
she lie.’ She suddenly sounded distressed; her voice lost its cold edge.
 ‘You’re really worried about her, aren’t you? You don’t think she’s run after him do you?’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               169
 ‘She wouldn’t leave without telling me.’
 I heard the emotion in Lena’s voice. It softened her slightly. Her tone wasn’t as accusing and
aggressive as it had been. I wanted to comfort her. But I needed to know more about Bill.
 ‘So you don’t know anything else about Bill. Like who he hung out with, or if he did anything
other than own the club?’
 ‘No. I been trying to find out. There was stuff at apartment that was strange, but I don’t know
what it means.’
 ‘Strange in what way?’
 ‘Just paperwork and things that made it look like he work on a film.’
 That’s odd. ‘Like what?’
 ‘There was piece of paper that had – what you call it - filming schedule on it. It made no sense to
me.’
 ‘Could be a hobby?’ I suggested.
 ‘Maybe.’
 ‘Did you keep it?’
 ‘Yeah, I take it with me.’
 ‘Could you fax it to me?’
 I doubted she would agree, but it was worth asking the question. She sounded so alone, maybe she
would appreciate having someone else on her side.
 ‘I guess I could. I don’t have fax machine, but there is one at convenience store, I could send it
from there.’
 ‘Ok, give me two seconds and I’ll give you a fax number.’ I had seen a fax amongst the
computers and phones in Andy’s study. Scrawled in black ink on the top of the machine was a
phone number that must be the fax number for this machine.
 ‘Ok, +61287498345. Got it?’ Lena read it back to me. She sounded more positive, like she was
getting somewhere even if only by finding someone else who was looking for Bill.
 ‘I’ll let you know what I think of it. And I’ll keep you updated on my search.’
 ‘Me too. Thanks for calling, Rita. I hope you find your sister.’
 I felt bad all of a sudden, and decided to be honest with her.
 ‘My name isn’t Rita, it’s Ellen. I try not to give my real name out, but I can trust you.’
 ‘I understand. Bye Ellen’. She hung up.
 Was it a mistake to give her my real name? Oh well, just notch it up with the others.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           170
Chapter 28


  While I waited for Lena's fax to arrive, I thought about the email from Sophie. Mum had
obediently forwarded it to me. Andy had left his computer on, so I logged on to see it for myself. It
said just what mum had told me, and the email address was almost the same as the one she had used
in London. I read through it a few times, and wondered how on earth she knew I was searching for
the people who were after her? It just didn't make sense. I was about to give up, when something at
the bottom of the email caught my eye. She had signed the message. Unlike the coded email this
one said 'Soph' at the bottom. That was odd. Mum hadn't mentioned that when she read it out, but
surely she would have noticed the same thing I did. Sophie never got called Soph. She hated the
name Soph. If anyone ever called her that she would correct them straight away, saying 'my name is
Sophie'. Was it possible this had changed in the last seven years? It didn't seem likely. Sophie was
about as stubborn as it gets. And no Beatles reference either. I supposed she didn't always need to
talk in code to us, but something just seemed out of place.
  As I sat staring at the email, with the word Soph stuck in my mind, I heard Andy's fax machine
whirr into life. The beeping of the phone ringing made me jump up and run towards his study. I had
wondered, since it was the middle of the night there, whether Lena would have to wait until the
convenience store opened in the morning to send the fax. But London must be the city that never
sleeps.
  The first page scrolled slowly into my hands. So desperate was I to see if there was anything
useful on it that I felt like dragging it from the teeth of the machine. I even tried to read the text
upside down as the machine gave me one line at a time. The first thing I noticed was who the fax
was addressed to. It didn’t look business like; just a hand written scrawl ‘Bill, the schedule as we
discussed’. There was a heading above the smaller text saying ‘Special Productions’. Underneath
this, there was a table made of straight rows and columns, which seemed to be some sort of
calendar or chart. This had typed text, neat and evenly spaced. The first column listed times, the
second had dates, and the third had the names of hotels with their addresses, none of which were
familiar to me. The last column had names in it. It looked like it was some sort of roster. As the
page finally fell from the clutches of the machine, I read it more closely, the right way up.
  The first line showed that ‘Jim and Keith’ were due to be at the Millennium Hotel at 12:30 pm on
18th June 2008. So it was an old list. The other dates were every month or so for the last six months
of 2008. The names hardly varied; there was either ‘Jim and Keith’ or ‘Lance and Ian’. I stared at
the list, wondering if it was a work roster, and if so, what kind of work? Then I noticed something
else scrawled on the side of the schedule, which might have been a clue to why Lena assumed it
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                171
was a filming schedule. The writing had an arrow pointing to a row that listed ‘Jim and Keith’ at an
address in October 2008, and said ‘camera and lights supplied by Santo, Hillman double booked’.
Camera and lights. It looked like Lena was right. This was a schedule of filming for a movie. But
why film only one day a month?
 As I stared at the page, images of the faceless Bill Holland hanging out with women at the bar of
his nightclub flashed into my mind. Was it possible I had in my hands his schedule for filming porn
films? Ever since Liam had revealed Sophie’s occupation to me, I felt like nothing could shock me
about her world anymore. I was the sister of a prostitute who blackmailed her clients. My point of
reference had completely changed. So why wouldn’t a nightclub owner who occasionally hired a
prostitute not dabble in pornographic movie production? Were Jim, Keith, Lance and Ian porn
actors? It all suddenly made sense.
 And then something else struck me. Did this give Bill a real motive for trying to keep his liaisons
with Sophie and Katie a secret? Maybe the blackmail had something to do with porn films? Now I
was more confused than ever. Maybe the pairs of men were cameramen? That was also possible.
Maybe Sophie and Katie weren’t just acquainted with Bill as escorts, maybe they were porn
actresses. My stomach flipped in protest. But I had to consider that I could be right. Was this
another way they made extra cash, on top of the prostitution and the blackmail? Sophie had always
wanted to be an actress. Had she finally become one, whatever path it took?
 I took the fax page into the living room, and opened Liam’s laptop. As long as I had clues, I was
going forward, and this made me feel better than sitting around sulking. Who knew what Liam was
doing now? Probably still trying to control his anger at missing Sophie this morning. It was hard to
see what, if any, information was useful to me. I did a search for the name of the first hotel:
Millennium Hotel, 17-25 Sloane Street, Knightsbridge. Not surprisingly it was in London, but apart
from that, there was nothing else about its website that gave me any ideas. The second hotel was
also in London: the Grosvenor Kensington, 2-10 Harrington Road, Kensington. Also nothing of
interest on its site. And the same for the other four in the list. The only other information I had was
the names ‘Santo’ and ‘Hillman’ who appeared to be camera and lights suppliers. So I tried
‘Hillman Camera and Lights London’. The only result that came up was a single listing with a
phone number on a UK directory called ‘www.rentequipment.co.uk’. The listing named the
business as ‘Hillman Audio Visuals’, and then had a phone number. Since Hillman was obviously
supplying to Bill Holland for whatever he was filming, maybe I'd learn something from speaking to
them? I glanced at the clock on the laptop screen, showing the time in the UK. It was the middle of
the night. There was no point ringing now. I sat back in my chair, phone in hand, ready to act but
with no direction to act in.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             172
  I stared at the fax, willing it to throw some inspiration at me. The list of hotels was just a blur of
words and numbers. Useless addresses that meant nothing to me. I thought back to the last list of
hotels I had looked at, the equally useless Formlue 1 hotels Liam and I had visited two days ago. As
if answering my prayer, the fax suddenly gave me an idea. Bill Holland was obviously working on
some type of film. He was hiring film equipment, and had hotel rooms booked for particular days,
as well as some sort of staff, whether it be actors or other film crew. He was calling someone
constantly who wasn’t his girlfriend. Could it be a work colleague or partner or boss? The phone
number he had called didn’t seem to be active anymore; I had called it every hour since Andy read
it out to me, but it always said it was unavailable. I knew it had been used in Australia, near
Wollongong, very recently. Was it possible Bill’s contact was now working in Australia? Doing the
same thing as they did in the UK, making some sort of movie in hotel rooms? It might be difficult
to find out if this was the case, but what else did I have planned today? Nothing.
  As a plan started to settle in my mind, I saw a way to narrow down my search, and check if my
suspicions were correct, by matching up two apparently random things: a random camera and lights
supplier with a random hotel booking. There would be fewer companies hiring equipment than
there would be hotels, so that was the first thing to find. Google was too much of a hit and miss
listing, so I did a yellow pages search for ‘audio visual equipment hire’ in Sydney. I wasn’t sure
how many businesses to expect, and wasn’t too disappointed to see there were only 83. Anything
less than 100, and I had a chance to speak to all of them this afternoon if need be. I soon saw there
were lots of businesses I wouldn’t need to call as they hired TVs, DVD players and other equipment
that didn’t include cameras and lights. Some businesses also had multiple listings, so the actual
number of potentials was even fewer. Maybe only 40.
  No time like the present. I called the first business. And as the phone rang, I decided I would have
to do something quite illegal: impersonate a policewoman. But it was the quickest and easiest way
to get to the point.
  ‘All Star Lights Film Equipment, Mick speaking.’
  ‘Hello, this is Detective Constable Little from the major fraud squad...’ the title rolled off my
tongue like an old pro... ‘I’m calling about a client you may have had that we are investigating.’
  ‘Yes...’ Mick sounded worried. Like anyone who suddenly finds themselves talking to the police,
his voice had an edge of guilt, as if he had done something wrong by just taking the call.
  ‘We would like to know if you have delivered film equipment to any hotels in the Sydney area in
the last three months?’
  Mick didn’t hesitate, responding confidently: ‘No. I’d remember that. For the last three months,
all our clients have been on film sets. No hotels amongst them.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               173
  ‘Ok, if you are sure, that’s all the questions I have. Thank you for your time.’ I tried to sound as
authoritative as possible.
  I quickly moved on to the next business on the list. I had a lot of calls to make, and so there
wasn’t time to pause too long in between. The next business manager I spoke to was less sure of his
answer to my question, but after checking with some colleagues in his office, assured me they
hadn’t delivered to a hotel. After ten more calls, some short and some painfully drawn out, my
energy was starting to wane. But then I spoke to Chris from Ling Cho Hire. He was totally blasé
when I said I was a detective, as if he got phone calls like that every day. Then I asked him about a
delivery to a hotel.
  ‘Oh yeah,’ he said. ‘I’ve done a couple. The Four Seasons in December and the Intercontinental
last month.’
  I was so surprised at his answer that I almost didn’t know what to ask next. ‘Can you please give
me the dates for those bookings?’
  Again Chris was calm as I heard him shuffle pages in a diary, and quietly read out the bookings.
He was concise, but edifying. A dream informant.
  ‘One day only, delivered at 11:30am to The Four Seasons on the 30th December, picked up at
4:30pm. Another one day only, delivered at 12:00, to the Intercontinental, picked up again at 4:30’.
  I jotted down what he said as I asked my next question. ‘What was it you delivered?’
  ‘Two cameras, two tripods, four light stands and four lights. Same both orders.’
  ‘And who was it that made the order and paid for the equipment?’ I tried to keep the enthusiasm
from my voice, aiming to sound like a bored detective, not a desperate sister.
  Chris hesitated and sounded fed up. ‘I didn’t get a name. Just a delivery address. Paid in cash.’
  Shit. Not another dead end. But then Chris kept talking.
  ‘Same person called last week, looking to book in another delivery for today.’ And? Chris was
taking far too long to continue but I refrained from prompting him in case he lost his train of
thought. ‘But we were booked out. Had a film crew take most of our lights last week for the next
two months.’
  ‘What hotel was the booking for?’ I gave up hiding my enthusiasm.
  ‘I can’t remember. Not sure he said.’ Chris’s laid back manner was too much for me.
  ‘Are you positive? Just think about it for a moment...’ I urged him.
  ‘He might have mentioned the Quay Grand...or maybe it was the Hyatt. I remember thinking it
was a hassle to deliver to Circular Quay, so... No, it was Quay Grand. I remember now, because
I’ve tried to pull up there before, and I remember feeling relieved when I worked out we couldn’t
do the job because I couldn’t be bothered going there and back in one day...’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               174
 ‘So you’re sure. It was the Quay Grand at Circular Quay. What time was the booking?’
 ‘We didn’t get that far, I couldn’t book it in, remember.’
 ‘Ok, you have been really helpful. Thank you.’
 I hung up, and felt my head spin with what I had heard. There wasn’t time to think about whether
it was a bad idea or not. I had no one to speak to about it. Mum would just tell me to stay put, and
Liam was off limits today. So I grabbed my bag, and jogged out of the apartment before I had time
to feel scared about the outdoors. I was going to Circular Quay.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           175
Chapter 29


 It wasn’t until I got onto a train headed for the city that I realised I was doing something
potentially reckless. But I still had Liam’s voice ringing in my ears, telling me I’d managed to spoil
his plan to track down Sophie at the hospital. I had only been in Sydney for three days, and we had
managed to miss her twice. But now that I had another lead into who might be after her, there was
no point sitting around the apartment wondering what to do next. It wasn’t time to be a wimp. It
was time to act. Just as I used to deal with my nerves at a concert by focusing all my energy on my
fingers, ignoring the audience and all the other distractions, I had to focus my mind on why I was
going to Circular Quay. This was for Sophie. That was all I needed to think about. I had to try to
forget this could be dangerous.
 At each station, more people crowded into my once empty carriage, making me feel
claustrophobic, and more nervous. I kept my head down, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone,
hoping it would make me less noticeable, even invisible amongst the passengers. The man sitting
next to me was speaking angrily into his mobile phone, the volume of his voice completely
drowning out any other noise in the carriage. His tone forced me to start planning how I was going
to confront the people who I hoped I’d find at the Quay Grand.
 My instinct told me not to be angry, not to be confrontational, no matter how angry I was with
what they were doing. I was just one person, there was no point putting myself in the line of fire
with no back up. Should I pretend to be an innocent bystander who happened to come across them?
Or should I pretend to be someone who knew of them, who was a friend of a friend? Would these
men recognise me? Could they be the ones that were waiting for me in Newtown? I had to assume
it was possible they might be the same people, just in case they were. A resolve firmed itself in my
mind. I would find out who they were, what they were doing and whether they were in fact
connected to Bill Henderson in any way. Then I would call the police and let them deal with what I
had found. Once the police had them, I could keep looking for Sophie without fear of someone else
finding her or me first.
 I had hoped the train would take me all the way to Circular Quay, but as it pulled into Wynyard
station, the computer screen showed the next stop was Milsons Point, which the map in the carriage
showed was on the other side of the harbour. I would have to get off here and walk down George St
to the quay. No matter where I was in Sydney, Circular Quay was the one place I could easily find.
I had played piano at the Opera House three times in my life, the last time being my final dismal
competition. That was not a good memory. Mum and I had had a nice time before the competition
started, though. We walked around the city, and we’d noticed the white sails of the Opera House
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           176
poking up between buildings, guiding us towards Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge, which
seemed to be at the centre of Sydney. Stepping out onto George St, after a moment of
disorientation, I glimpsed the edge of the bridge and turned left, joining a sea of men in business
suits and Japanese tourists heading towards the harbour.
 I willed my feet to walk quickly. It was as if my mind wanted to go forward, but my body was
strangely reluctant to obey. The man I spoke to from the equipment hire place had said the Quay
Grand was at Circular Quay. But as I got closer, I realsied I’d have to find out whether it was east or
west of the ferry wharfs. On the edge of the quay, there was a tiny shop which looked like a cross
between a convenience store and a newsagent. The man behind the counter was counting the money
in his till, and he slammed it shut as I approached.
 ‘Excuse me. Do you know where the Quay Grand Hotel is?’
 He pointed left, and said: ‘It’s in the toaster.’
 To someone who wasn’t familiar with Circular Quay, his response would have seemed gibberish.
But I remembered what’ the toaster’ was. One of the musicians in the orchestra had told me she was
staying there. I was too embarrassed to admit I was staying outside of the city in a budget motel.
The building is called ‘the toaster’ because that’s what it looks like.
 I walked along the edge of the quay towards the Opera House, still unsure of exactly what my
plan was. It was all very well to know what result I wanted, but this still didn’t give me a clear idea
of exactly what to say and do. I wanted to keep walking, down into the lobby of the Opera House,
and maybe even grab a beer from the bar. But just as the man in the shop had said, here was an
elegant sign that read ‘Quay Grand Suites’. This was where I had to go.
 There was an elderly, rich looking couple entering the hotel next to me. They appeared much
more at home in the swish interiors than I did in my old cargo pants and grey jumper. I hadn’t even
bothered to brush my hair, not realising I was going to have to look ‘five star’. The couple
approached the counter, and I could tell by the amount of luggage they had that they were checking
in. As they chatted to the man behind the desk, I wandered around the lobby, hoping to look as if I
belonged there. Then as they bustled towards the lift, fussing with their oversized suitcases, I
breezed towards them, hoping it would look like I was their quiet, sullen granddaughter who they
took no notice of. Nobody approached me to ask what I was doing, so it must have worked. The lift
doors finally opened and I stepped in ahead of the couple, who hadn’t acknowledged I existed.
 The couple were going to level 2. I noticed the elderly man take a swipe card out of his jacket
pocket and use it to choose his floor. I would have to get out at the same floor as them, then roam
the halls. I wouldn’t make myself known to anyone just yet. I wanted to snoop around first, to make
sure I was still on the right track. When we all got out of the lift, I turned left and walked
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              177
purposefully towards the furthest end of the corridor, hoping to look like I was a guest going back
to my room. The couple, thankfully, turned right, and eventually disappeared around a corner, the
noise of their fussing disappearing as quickly as they did.
 The silence in the hallway made me wonder exactly what I was hoping to find. If I was right and
there was a movie being filmed here, what was it I was expecting to hear? If it was a porn movie,
surely there would be music? I had never seen a porn movie so I was just guessing. But there had to
be some sort of noise surely, even if it was the moans and groans of the actors. Would music be
added later over the top? That was more likely, I had to concede.
 Since there was no one around, I crept up to each door in the hall and pressed my ear against it,
sure that if there was a movie being made, I would hear some evidence of it. But level two was
eerily quiet. The last door at the end of the hall was the fire stairs. So I went down to level one and,
again finding no one to be seen, repeated my listening technique along the row of doors. Again, not
even the sound of a voice could be heard. Did this hotel have any guests?
 The fire stairs gave me easy access to all levels, so I went from floor to floor, checking every
hallway. The top floor, Level six, had only half as many doors, so I guessed these suites were
bigger than the ones lower down. Maybe they were even apartments instead of just rooms. I crept
along the soft carpet, the lump in my throat reminding me to stay alert and focussed. But again there
was no noise at any door. At the end of the corridor, there was a full length glass window that
revealed an incredible view out over the harbour. I stood and stared. The water glistened in the sun,
and I could almost feel the breeze on my face in the silent corridor. It seemed so peaceful, I
wondered if I was completely off course, and had come all this way for nothing. I felt glued to the
spot, happy to gaze out at the sailing boats for the rest of the afternoon.
 After a few minutes, the silence of the hotel and the scene of the harbour made me feel much
more at ease. There was obviously nothing going on here. And, as much as I hated dead ends, I was
relieved by the thought of going back to the apartment and feeling safe again, ready to keep
investigating. It had been pretty stupid to come here alone after all, hoping to confront these people.
What would I say to them? Why would they listen to me? I walked back to the lift, tired of using
the stairs, and pressed the Ground button. I wouldn't need a swipe card to get to the reception area
would I?
 The quiet in the hallway was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a door opening a little way
down the corridor from where I stood, and a man stepped out of the room. He looked like he was in
his mid thirties, his clothes were casual but expensive looking, his hair cut short and neat. I stood as
still as I could, willing him not to notice me, no matter who he was. My heart was beating in my
mouth as I willed the lift to arrive. There was no one around in this hotel. How could a lift take so
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             178
long? Out of the corner of my eye, I could see he was striding towards the lift, his head down,
reading something on his phone. And just as his eyes looked up impatiently towards the lift, a light
came on, signalling that it was about to arrive. The movement of his head looking up must have
opened his peripheral vision, because his eyes suddenly fastened on mine. And his sudden question
made my legs almost collapse underneath me.
 ‘Molly? Are you finally ready to do your last scene?’
 Before I had time to respond, he was striding towards me, covering the space between us like a
wave breaking on the sand. I turned, looking for somewhere to run, but I was caged in by the end of
the corridor, the window imprisoning me where I stood. My face must have portrayed total fear,
instead of the look I was trying for - the blank stare of confusion at the question. He was almost in
front of me when he opened his mouth and yelled.
 ‘Keith! Get out here!’
 The door opened again and suddenly another man, this one fatter and much shorter, was bolting in
our direction.
 ‘Go away!’ I managed, before my throat seemed to close over, and no more words could get out.
I’d had nightmares like this, where you try to scream but there is no sound. And every time I had
woken up relieved I never had to feel what that was like in real life. Until now.
 The first man bundled me into his arms, the weight of his body pushing me against the wall. He
hoisted me over his shoulder, my legs flailing uselessly against his stocky frame. He was holding
my arms against my sides so tight that air was pushed out of my lungs, and no sound came when I
tried to scream. The second man grabbed onto my ankles and they both lurched back towards the
closed door, kicking it open and throwing me on the floor of the apartment. Pain shot through my
shoulder as my body smacked into the tiled floor. I took a quick breath and tried to scramble up,
looking for somewhere to run. But the men stood over me, hands on hips, ready to attack if I tried to
go anywhere. They spoke to each other as if I wasn’t there.
 ‘I can’t believe it. She was just standing there in the hallway!’
 ‘Are you sure it’s her?’
 ‘Look at her! It’s definitely her! A bit rough around the edges, but I’d know that face anywhere.
No where to run this time.’
 He had said ‘Molly’. They thought I was Sophie. My voice croaked as it finally returned.
 ‘I’m not Molly. Who are you people? Let me go!’ The bigger man stepped aggressively towards
me.
 ‘Nice try, love. We’ve been looking for you for weeks. No way you are getting away from us
again.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             179
 He bent down and lifted me off the ground, as if I weighed nothing to him. There were two doors
off the main area of the apartment, one was shut, the closest one open enough to show it was a
bedroom. He dropped me onto the bed, and I started to kick my feet wildly, hoping to make contact
with his chin or even better, his groin. He swiftly grabbed one of my feet in one hand, twisting until
my ankle hurt, and with the other hand he pulled a plastic strip out of his back pocket and grabbed
my other foot with this hand. He was too strong for me to wriggle from his grip.
 ‘Help me out will you!’ he yelled to the man with the phone. He ran in and took the plastic strip
from his partner, wrapping it around my ankles and clicking it together. There was no way to break
the bind; it was some sort of industrial tie that had to be cut to come apart. Then they grabbed my
shoulders, pulling me to the top of the bed and tied another strip around my wrists, looping it
around the bed frame so I was stuck still on the bed. The plastic strips cut into my wrists and ankles,
making red marks that looked like they would break open if I struggled too hard. What were they
going to do with me?
 ‘You fucking psychos! I’m not who you think I am! Check my wallet! I’m not Molly!’
 I screamed as loudly as I could, desperately hoping the silent corridors outside might eventually
have other guests in them. Why had I come here? How was I stupid enough to think I could
investigate these people without them attacking me too? How had I been so naive to think this
compared to playing at a piano concert?
 ‘If you don’t shut up, we’ll kill you now. Then you’ll have to perform dead.’
 The fatter man lifted his shirt up, showing a knife tucked into his jeans. My mind couldn’t
comprehend what he had just said. Perform dead? Perform what?
 Lying still on the bed, I heard everything the men were saying to each other. I knew I needed to
act, but I felt completely trapped, unable to move even an inch without feeling like I was cutting my
wrists. They spoke excitedly to each other, with a conspiratorial pride that made me feel sick.
 ‘Whatever you do, don’t tell him we just came across her. I have no idea what she’s doing here,
but it doesn’t matter now. Tell him we found her in the city, and we’re ready to start filming.’
 ‘What about the other one?’
 ‘We’ll see how we go with time. We might just have to get rid of her. She’s still a bit out of it
anyway. Molly is our priority now.’
 ‘Should I call him, and tell him we’ve found her?’
 ‘Yeah, you’d better. He might have some final instructions for the format.’
 I heard the taller man, the one that spotted me in the hallway, clicking buttons on his phone.
 ‘Jared, good news, we’ve got Molly... in the city... yep she’s here... she’ll need to be tidied up a
bit but we can do her today...are there any other details for the shots?...yeah we can see the bridge
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              180
from the window…it’s right in the centre of the background... perfect weather...Keith knows how to
use the cameras...she’s in the other room....ok call you when we’re done...looking forward to a
bonus for this one...see you then.’
  The conversation terrified me, because of what I could hear, and what I couldn’t. What were they
planning to film? How could they think I was Sophie? Is that why they were watching the house in
Newtown? They didn’t think I was Sophie’s sister, they thought I was Sophie! And what did they
have planned for her? I didn’t want to be filmed doing anything. And who was in the other room?
Another girl? Panic was ricocheting around my chest. Cutting my wrists on the plastic suddenly
didn’t seem like such a bad idea, if it got me off this bed.
  As the terror in my mind started to overwhelm me, I desperately searched for some way to get
control of my emotions. I shut my eyes tight and pictured the familiar black and white keys of a
piano, shiny and still under my hands. I ignored the pain in my wrists, as I imagined my hands
slowly starting to touch the keys, pressing and sliding over the first few bars of the Pathetique, my
favourite Beethoven sonata. The music sounded in my head, as my fingers perfectly found the
notes, with just the right dynamic and a faultless tempo. It was beautiful. I didn’t feel hysterical
anymore, and a new found determination to survive gripped me.
  Then my daydream was interrupted. Silent tears were running down my face. My mind stopped
hearing Beethoven; instead, my ears heard harsh reality. The fatter man approached the bed.
  ‘You’ve not been looking after yourself in Australia, have you?’ he said. ‘What happened to the
glamorous Molly? Though I guess you’ve had a kid to look after... where is the little man by the
way? We were hoping to deal with him as well. No matter, it’s time to get you ready for your
starring role.’
  His voice was deep and husky, and he was panting as he spoke, as if so unfit he was exhausted
from the effort of hauling me around. I spoke quietly, so not to give him any reason to pull out his
knife.
  ‘If you even lay a finger on me, I’ll fucking kill you. You don’t know who you’re dealing with.’ I
tried my best to sound menacing and cold, as if I wasn’t scared. But my voice shook, and the man
just laughed.
  He pulled up his shirt again, and the knife was the only thing I could see. My head pounded with
fear, I didn’t know whether to scream or plead. In one motion, he pulled the knife from his
waistband and sliced between my hands, cutting the plastic strap. Holding my hands together in his
hand, he sliced through the strap holding my ankles. Blood rushed back into them, pins and needles
followed, and I felt as disabled as I had when tied up.
  ‘If you so much as whimper, I’ll cut your throat.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             181
 To accentuate the threat, he held the knife to my throat, letting the cold metal touch my neck just
under my jaw. I tried to plead with my eyes, but his face was impervious to emotion. He pulled me
off the bed, my legs just able to hold me up. Then he prodded me towards the ensuite bathroom,
holding the knife in front of him as a sign to obey. The taller man followed, and tossed a red lacy
bra and matching undies into the empty wash basin.
 ‘Check if she’s got a mobile phone,’ he directed the fatter man.
 Before he could touch me, I reached into my back pocket and handed him my phone. I couldn’t
bear his hands anywhere near me. The tall man spoke again, this time directly to me.
 ‘There’s makeup, and a hairbrush in the cabinet. Make yourself look nice, like you used to. And
put the underwear on.’ Why were they making me do this?
 The man with the knife was still standing over me. They weren’t going to give me privacy to do
what they asked. But I was terrified the large man would use the knife if I didn’t try to make myself
look better. So I slowly opened the cabinet, and took out the hairbrush, trying to make them see I
was willing to cooperate. My hair was a mess of tangles and I did my best to make it seem shiny
and straight. But it was no use. There was a large black eyeliner pencil on the shelf, but my hand
shook, as looking in the mirror, I tried to touch the tip onto my eyelid and draw a line around my
eye. Not surprisingly, the line didn’t meet the edge of my eye properly; it sat too high on my eyelid,
making me look like a child who’d found her mum’s makeup for the first time. I smudged the line
downwards, hoping to make it less sharp and crooked. Then I picked up the mascara and rubbed it
across my wet eyelashes as tears kept seeping down my cheeks. It smudged immediately under my
eyes.
 The large man grunted, as if showing his disgust at my efforts. He turned his back for an instant,
yelling to the taller man: ‘She’s making a right mess of herself. Maybe we should just get started
anyway.’
 In the second he had his back turned, I reached into the bottom pocket of my cargo pants, and
pulled out the spare piano wire I had stolen from Picasso. I had just enough time to stuff it into my
mouth as he turned back around. I pretended to be struggling with my shoe laces, trying to get my
shoe off to show I was undressing as I had been told.
 The taller man yelled back, again either forgetting or not caring I could hear him. ‘She needs to
look beautiful as she dies. That was the whole point. Make sure she isn’t messing herself up on
purpose.’
 Look beautiful as she dies? What are these people planning to do to me? Were they going to film
me as they killed me? My body went rigid, and started to shake as I registered what he had said.
They were going to kill me.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           182
 ‘Get a move on. Your makeup looks fucking awful. You’re going to have to start again,’ he
barked.
 I pulled off my other sneaker, and took a tissue out of the box on the basin, dabbing at the
mascara smudged under my eye. The wire in my mouth was coiled tight, but I still had to keep my
mouth completely closed to stop it from slipping out. I concentrated on that while I thought about
my next move.
 The taller man yelled from the living area. ‘The camera is set up ready. Great shot of the harbour.
I’m ready to start filming when you are.’ He sounded cheerful, excited even. And scarily well
rehearsed. How many other times had they done this?
 I had never taken my clothes off in front of a man before, and this was the last man in the world I
wanted to do it in front of. He was starting to get impatient, so I pulled down my pants and
underwear quickly, shielding myself in the corner between the basin and wall, so all he could see
was my bare behind. Stepping into the red undies, I felt like I was going to be sick. They were too
small for me, and not suited to someone who didn’t prune their bikini line. I pulled my jumper and
tee-shirt off just as quickly, and keeping my back to the man, clipped the bra on. It fitted slightly
better than the undies. He spun me round roughly by the arm, and looked me up and down,
obviously disappointed with what he saw.
 ‘You sure have let yourself go, Molly. You used to be a stunner. But the boss wants you in the
movie, so you’ll have to do.’
 As he pushed me forward towards the bedroom, I caught the edge of the open bathroom door with
my hand, and swung it closed in front of me. I could sense the knife just behind my back as I spun
round to face the man. He was slow to react, and my forearm hit his wrist hard enough for him to
drop the knife. Then I kicked him hard in the direction of his groin, just missing, and landing my
foot into the top of his thigh. He called out, and lunged to pick up the knife. While his head was
down, I spat the piano wire into my hand, grabbing the end of it with one hand, uncoiling it with the
other. To my relief, it didn’t tangle, and as his fingers found the knife’s handle, I stepped on the
blade and slid it away from him, so he almost toppled forward trying to reach it. Before he could
look up, I looped the wire over his head, and swapping the ends from hand to hand, pulled it tight
around his neck.
 The wire was thin and sharp, and as soon as I tightened it, his hands instinctively went to his
throat, trying to pull it away so he could breathe. I had to get close to him to hold the wire taut. As I
pulled harder, it disappeared in the flesh rolls on his neck. It was starting to cut the skin, burning it
enough that it started to bleed. It was too tight for him to make any other sound except a gurgling
noise in his throat. I twisted the wire round my hands, still pulling it as hard as I could, moving my
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               183
hands closer together to get a better grip. My hands felt big and strong with the wire wound around
them, the muscles in my fingers and palms strengthened by thousands of hours of piano practice. I
felt suddenly powerful. All the anger and the fear inside me was making me stronger.
 I thought of the plans this men had for Sophie, and what they were going to do to me if I didn’t
fight back. I thought of Katie in the train station, and the fear she must have felt when she was
chased under a train. My wrists and fingers felt like steel as his arms flapped around trying to grab
me but not getting any purchase. He was starting to panic, and as he dropped to his knees, I got an
even better grip, and pulled tighter. When I felt all the air had gone out of his lungs, I pulled down
with all my might, smashing the side of his head against the edge of the bath. Then I let go of the
wire and jumped over his body, grabbing the knife that had come to a rest against the wall.
 Opening the door, I focused on the front entrance of the apartment, working out how quickly I
could cover that distance and get out the door. I sprinted forward, hoping to make it before the other
man saw me. But just as my hand grabbed the door handle, he got hold of my left arm, trying to
tugg me back into the room. With a fierce stab of my hand, I punctured the knife into his arm. That
snapped his fingers open, letting me go. It gave me the second I needed to get the door open. I ran
faster than I ever had before, throwing myself towards the stairs and careering down, three steps at a
time. I felt like my feet hardly touched the ground as I spiralled down down down towards the
ground floor. I heard the man shout. The one I had stabbed was running after me. But I had got
enough of a lead that he wasn’t close enough to grab me. Finally, a door said G. G for Ground. I
slammed it open and slid barefoot across the plush foyer. There was no one there except the man
behind the desk, who looked shocked to see me stumble towards him.
 ‘Please help me!’ I shrieked. ‘They’re trying to kill me.’
 He stepped out from behind the reception desk, just as the man chasing me came through the
door. As he saw me diving behind the desk, he kept running, straight through the glass sliding
doors, out towards the harbour, aware that unarmed, he would have no choice but to leave me be. I
collapsed under the desk, hiding myself away, letting the darkness surround me. The receptionist
was staring at me.
 ‘Call the police,’ I begged. ‘There’s another girl up there.’ I stayed crouched under the counter,
trying to cover up my body. ‘And can someone please get me a bathrobe?’
 I didn’t know if the other man was dead or not. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be far behind the one
that had bolted.
 I heard the receptionist pick up the phone and dial, asking the operator to get the police here
quickly, as a woman had been attacked. He then called someone in the hotel, and asked them to
bring a bath robe to reception, aware I was in no state to be left alone.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               184
  I sat in stunned silence, realising what I had just done. It had been so easy to hurt both the men. I
hadn’t realised how much strength I would have when cornered. What if I had killed that man? The
image of the cuts on the side of his neck, and the crunching sound of his head hitting the side of the
bath, made me feel like I might vomit. I had stuck a knife into a man’s arm! He deserved it, but I
couldn’t believe how easily I had done it. I had never thought I was capable of violence like that.
Was it just the pressure of the situation, my survival instinct outweighing everything else? I found I
was still clutching the knife, and there was blood on me too.
  The bathrobe arrived at the same time as two policemen ran into the foyer. And I exhaled for what
felt like the first time in an hour.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             185
Chapter 30


  Vince was waiting for Jared to arrive at the beach house, when his phone rang. He saw it was
Jared. What did he want that couldn't wait until he arrived? The movie wouldn't be done yet, and he
wasn't meant to be hearing anything else until the filming was finished. Once Molly’s last
performance was over, there was no one left to reveal what they knew about the business, and he
was looking forward to opening a Shiraz with Jared to celebrate. Maybe Jared hit traffic, and was
calling ahead to say he was late. But Vince immediately knew by Jared's tone that this was not a
courtesy call. Shit.
  ‘What is it?’ he asked abruptly, stealing himself for another fuck up.
  Jared was, as ever, straightforward and concise in reporting the news. ‘She got away. She stabbed
Jim in the arm, and ran. She somehow got away from Keith too’
  Vince couldn’t believe his ears. ‘Which one?’
  ‘Molly’
  ‘And where’s the other one?’
  ‘They left her in the room. She was out of it…they were waiting for her to wake up a bit when
they found Molly.’
  ‘So they managed to find her, and let her go again? How the hell did that happen?’
  ‘I don’t know, she got Keith’s knife and stabbed Jim with it, the little bitch. Jim chased her but
couldn't catch her. She must have called the police. God knows what she did to Keith.’
  Vince felt like his head might explode with anger. Who were these incompetent gits that Jared
had hired? No doubt they had had a bit themselves. How else could they both let Molly go?
  ‘Christ, where are Keith and Jim now?’ he asked, scared he already knew the answer.
  ‘They took Keith away in an ambulance with the other girl. Molly went with the police.’
  This was getting worse and worse. Vince usually appreciated Jared's calm demeanour, but at this
moment he hated it. He wanted someone to scream and rant with him.
  ‘And Jim?’
  ‘He called me on the way to the airport. He obviously didn't tell me where he was headed. He
knows how heavy this is for us’.
  Us? What was this ‘us’ business? Vince paid Jared well to keep him out of everything. But Vince
hated to admit, even to himself, that Molly going to the police was heavy for both of them.
  ‘How much stuff was in the apartment?’ Vince knew he had to ask, and probably wouldn’t like
the answer.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            186
  ‘Everything we filmed last month. Everything we did with the other girl this morning. Lots of
shit.’
  ‘Jesus Christ!’ Vince's usually deep voice rose two octaves.
  ‘I know this is bad, they've really fucked it up. I'll be at the house in half an hour.’ The phone
went dead, and Vince didn't even have time to acknowledge that Jared hadn't asked permission to
hang up.
  This was a fucking disaster. The things the police would find in the apartment were bad. Very
bad. He’d definitely have to stop production for a while. And what would that fucker Keith say to
the cops? He was up to his balls in it. Surely he wouldn’t be thick enough to give anything away?
Keith had Jared's name, but not his. In the past they had been incredibly careful to keep the film
side of the business separate from everything else. But with Bill out of it, and with trying to set up
in Australia, there hadn’t been too many people he could rely on. So Jared had got more involved.
Too involved maybe?
  But, thought Vince bitterly, the thing that really destroyed all his hard work was Molly. And now
the police had her too. God knows how Bill ever let her find out what his business activities were.
But somehow he did. And her dumb boyfriend tried to capitalise on this knowledge. Fucking idiots.
Why couldn’t they just leave well enough alone? Bill was too easily linked to him. That was always
the problem. He wanted someone he trusted working the production side, but Bill turned out to be a
massive mistake. Jared had warned him Bill was incapable of discretion. And he’d thought this was
just Jared being jealous that he hadn’t been given more responsibility himself. Well, it was coming
back to bite them. It was Jared’s fault. He should have insisted. The best he could hope for was that
if Molly did talk, Bill would never be found. That way the connection with him couldn't be made,
and the rest of their business could continue as before.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              187
Chapter 31


 As I sat in the back of the police car, I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t stop crying. The police
woman in the front seat was very patient, and told me to take my time before giving a statement.
She had tried to insist we go to the hospital, to make sure I wasn’t in shock, but I refused. I was
fine. Just upset, and a doctor couldn’t help me with that. I dabbed at my face with a tissue, and
explained that I wanted to give a statement as soon as possible. I needed to give as much
information as I could to help the police find my attackers. After they had given me some clothes to
wear, I had asked if Detective Inspector Williamson would be able to see me at the station. He had
been called in, and was on his way. I knew it would save time explaining what had happened, since
he already knew most of the story I had to tell.
 As the car pulled up at the station, the policewoman told me that Williamson wasn’t there yet, but
I could wait for him in a private interview room. I asked if I could make a phone call, and she
showed me to a phone, standing close to me as if worried I might break down and collapse if
someone wasn’t there to catch me. I needed to speak to mum. I typed in her home number because I
didn’t know her mobile number by heart. My phone was either in that fat oaf's pocket, or still in the
apartment.
 ‘Hello?’ mum sounded worried as she answered, as if she intuitively knew something was wrong.
I thought I could be strong, but hearing her voice made me feel so scared and alone. I sobbed harder
than ever.
 ‘Mum, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have gone off alone...’
 ‘What’s wrong Ellen? What’s happened?’ mum’s voice was panicked, waiting to hear the worst.
 ‘I went to the hotel where I thought the men were, and they were there, and they got me and tried
to kill me. It was...horrible...’ The tears were choking my throat. I couldn’t get any more words out.
 ‘Where are you? What did they do to you? Are you there Ellen?’ The policewoman passed me a
tissue and I blew my nose hard, trying to gather some sort of composure.
 ‘They didn’t do anything. I got away, I... I’m with the police... they thought I was Sophie, mum.
They wanted to kill Sophie so they were going to kill me...’
 ‘Where is Sophie?’ The alarm in her voice heightened. I could barely recognise her in this state.
 ‘I don’t know mum. She’s fine, she wasn’t there. They don’t have any idea where she is either.’ I
heard her breath in and out a couple of times. She didn’t know what to say next.
 ‘Mum, I just called to let you know I’m ok. I’m scared but I’m ok. I need to speak to the police
now. Can you please give me Liam’s number so I can call him? I’ve lost my phone.’
 ‘Oh, ok.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             188
 I heard mum’s feet click quickly across the kitchen, trying to find the number. After a few
seconds, she was back, and I jotted Liam’s number on my hand with the policewoman’s pen. Mum
sounded stronger all of a sudden, as if she had come to terms with the fact I was ok.
 ‘I’m calling Andy to come and get you. Where are you?’
 ‘I’m at the City Central police station in the city. It’s next to Town Hall station.’
 ‘Ok, I’m sure he’ll be there as quickly as he can.’
 Mum sounded like she felt helpless. Never before had I needed a hug from her like I did now. But
she was too far away to comfort me, so she was sending me the only person she could think of who
might make me feel a bit safer.
 ‘Mum, they’re going to get these people now. They’ll know who they are, and they’ll get them.
Then they can’t hurt Sophie... or me. I know it was dangerous, but I got away. I’ll call you from
Andy’s when we get back there. Promise.’
 I felt slightly stronger as I put down the phone. I turned, and I saw Detective Inspector
Williamson walk through the door. He looked brisk and important as he strode towards me, staring
at me up and down as if asking what happened to me, without words.
 ‘Do you feel ok to be interviewed now?’ he asked, obviously having been briefed on what had
happened. I nodded and followed him into the same room we had been in yesterday morning. Part
of me wanted to go back to that interview, and then live the last day again, avoiding my impulse to
hunt down Bill Holland’s associates at the hotel. But then I reminded myself of the same thing I
told mum; we were going to get them.
 Detective Williamson looked genuinely concerned as he sat down and asked if I was ok. I didn’t
want to waste time with his sympathy, so I told him I was fine.
 ‘Can you tell me what happened?’ he asked, getting down to business, taking out his notepad and
pen. The sooner this was over the better.
 ‘I don’t know how, but these men who are after Sophie thought I was her, and tried to force me to
be in some sort of movie. They were going to kill me. But I managed to get away...’
 ‘How did you get away?’ he asked.
 ‘One of them was forcing me to put on some lingerie in the bathroom. He had a knife. I had a
piano wire in my pocket. It’s like a good luck charm. I managed to put it round his neck and... sort
of strangle him with it until I could get away. I didn’t mean to kill him. I just needed to get out of
there! The other guy came at me, but I had the knife by then, so I cut his arm. I don’t think the cut
was very bad. He still managed to chase after me. But I got down to the ground floor before he
caught me.’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              189
 The detective stared at me, looking surprised to hear me be so frank about it. ‘Why were you at
the hotel?’ he asked.
 ‘I’ve been doing some investigating into who might be trying to hurt my sister, and I had a
suspicion about some men who I found were filming a movie at the hotel... the Quay Suites at
Circular Quay.’
 Williamson put his hands up as if to stop traffic and said: ‘Slow down. How did you decide these
men were suspicious? You need to give me more detail....’
 There was no way I was going back over everything I had done in the last day, especially the bit
where I impersonated a policewoman...and the bit where Andy and I used secret government
software...
 ‘I found some things after contacting a friend of Sophie’s...’ When in doubt, white lies were
always a good idea.
 ‘Have you had any contact with Sophie?’ he asked.
 ‘No, I wish. Liam saw her at the hospital, just as some police took him in for questioning. They
thought he had something to do with the blackmail, which is ridiculous.’
 ‘About this Liam Kingsley, how much do you know about him?’
 ‘What do you mean?’
 ‘Well, you told me your mum hired him as a private investigator. Did you know he used to be a
lawyer?’
 ‘Yes, so what?’
 ‘And he was disbarred for having an inappropriate relationship with one of his clients? His client
was a murder suspect, Abigail Marks. She was eventually convicted of murdering her ex-husband.’
 What? What did this have to do with anything? Is that why the police had swooped in and arrested
Liam, right when he was about to make contact with Sophie? So Liam had fallen for a client? I was
amazed how unsurprised I was. It seemed just like Liam to fall for someone he shouldn’t. Like
Sophie, for instance... It was time to get the detective back on track.
 ‘Look, that email to the politician was sent by me. Liam had nothing to do with it...’
 ‘Thought as much...’
 ‘But we’re wasting time even discussing that. The men who attacked me thought I was Sophie.
That’s what worries me. I found out what they were planning to do to her if they found her...’
 ‘What do you think they were planning to do?’
 ‘Kill her. But film her first. And maybe film her while they killed her.’ A shiver ran down my
spine.
 Williamson could sense my fear. ‘What made you think that?’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            190
 ‘From what they said when they tied me up. When they made me put on lingerie, and makeup,
and then said something about me having to perform. There was a camera set up in another room.
And there was a girl there too. I couldn’t see because the door was closed, but I heard them talking
about it.’ I started to sound whiny and frantic as I retold just a bit of what had happened. I needed to
calm down and focus.
 Williamson was writing something on his notepad. ‘Another girl was taken away from the scene.
She’s in hospital. So you are saying you think they were making a snuff movie, and they wanted to
use you in it, but they thought you were Sophie?’
 ‘A snuff movie?’ I suddenly realised what he meant by that. I’d seen it in a horror movie years
ago, but I never realised people actually made them in real life.
 Williamson explained what it was, giving a surprisingly frank explanation. ‘People have been
known to make pornographic movies where the viewer is able to watch as someone is killed, in real
life, on camera. There must be a market for this type of film, as we do hear that they are sold. I’ve
never heard of them being made in Australia, but I assume it must be possible.’
 Unbelievable. How could people want to watch someone being killed? This was exactly the sort
of film I had escaped from appearing in.
 ‘Why would they want to put Sophie in one of those films?’ I asked, suddenly impatient to get out
and find her, before the man who escaped the hotel did. ‘I can’t believe one of the men got away.
You guys were there so fast. Do you think they will find him?’ I pictured the man who I had
stabbed running through the streets of Sydney, getting further away and harder to find with every
second that passed.
 ‘We’ve got plenty of officers out there looking for him. The other suspect is under guard in
hospital. He was still unconscious when they found him. Now, the more you can tell me about what
happened, the better. And we will get you to sit with our sketch artist so we can get an identikit put
together.’
 This all sounded like it was going to take forever. And I hadn’t even called Liam yet, to let him
know what happened. He would probably be relieved I was attacked instead of Sophie. He wouldn’t
want anything to happen to his beloved.
 ‘Look, I think I can give you a pretty good description, but there are other things you need to
know that will help you to find who these people are. I don’t have time to explain how I know all
this, but can you just trust me for now and I’ll explain everything later?’
 Williamson looked at me sceptically, he was obviously curious to find out what I knew, but he
also wanted to know how I knew it. ‘Ok, what do you know?’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             191
 ‘When I was here yesterday, you told me you were looking for Sophie because you thought she
was blackmailing someone.’ Williamson nodded. ‘I think Sophie was going to be killed because she
knew what these men were doing –or at least they thought she knew.’ Surely if she had really
known she would have gone to the police, not tried to blackmail them. How could she risk people's
lives just to make some extra cash?
 ‘That thought had crossed my mind.’
 ‘I don’t know if she knew about the... snuff... movies, but she used to hang out with a man called
Bill Holland, and I think he had something to do with it.’
 ‘Where did you get that name?’ he asked. From the look on his face it meant nothing to him.
 ‘I just found it. I think he was one of Sophie’s clients, she was working...’ I avoided the word
prostitute, still feeling a pang of embarrassment at the thought of Sophie’s work. ‘When she was
working for him, I think he must have told her about the movies, or she found out about them
somehow.’
 ‘And you think she blackmailed him, threatening to tell the police if he didn’t give her money?’
 ‘Yes. It was probably her boyfriend’s idea. They can’t have known how Holland would react. I
think he was behind the murders. The thought of people knowing about the movies was too big a
risk. I don’t know how these people managed to mix me up with Sophie. When they were waiting
for me at the house in Newtown, they might have already mixed me up by then. And when I turned
up at the hotel, they thought they had Sophie. They wanted to put her in a movie. When they tied
me up, they spoke to someone on the phone, and were given directions about what to do to me.’ It
was hard to keep my voice steady so I took a deep breath.
 ‘Do you think they were talking to Bill Holland?’ Williamson was now looking more interested in
what I had to say.
 ‘I’m not sure. The thing is, I also happen to know Bill Holland is sort of missing. He hasn’t been
seen in London, where he lives, for a couple of months. He might be here in Sydney. I’m not sure.
But one of his associates is definitely here. Somewhere on the South Coast.’
 Now Williamson’s expression changed again, and he looked incredulous. ‘How on earth could
you know that?’
 How many times did I have to tell him I wasn’t going to explain that? I put my face in my hands,
and let out a long drawn out sigh.
 ‘I really don’t have time to explain now. You just have to believe me, because while we talk the
men who attacked me are still out there. And, since they still think I am Sophie, they are probably
aware that ‘Sophie’ has gone to the police. I’m not sure whether they will come here looking for
me, but I won’t feel safe until you find them. And even more critically now, until I find Sophie.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           192
  ‘About that, you know we still need to speak to her about the blackmailing she was doing.’
  ‘Of course, but what’s more important? Finding someone who tried to make money off someone
else’s crimes? Or finding the people who are actually doing the crimes? They tried to murder me
today! And I wasn’t their first victim! Not to mention murdering two other people that we know
of!’
  I was starting to get hysterical again, because the detective wasn’t acting with any sense of
urgency. He obviously wanted to know more before he acted. He seemed to be speaking as slowly
as possible, in an attempt to calm me.
  ‘We need to find these people who attacked you today. If they are involved in murdering women
on film, we should be able to find evidence of that fairly quickly. Right now, I think it would be
best if you give us a description of the other man, and we hear in greater detail what happened to
you this afternoon.’
  Was he serious? I had told him everything he needed to know! How did it help him for me to re-
live the last couple of hours? I was attacked and I got away! I was almost killed as the star of a
snuff movie! End of story!
  ‘Can I make a phone call before I give the sketch artist the description?’
  ‘Who are you going to call?’
  ‘Does it matter?’ A week ago I would never have said that to a detective. This experience had
changed me, whether it was for the better was hard to say.
  The detective got up from his chair, looking at me like I was a misbehaving teenager who he
didn’t feel like dealing with. I followed him back into the foyer and he motioned to the
policewoman at the desk to come and stand with me as I picked up the phone. Liam answered
straight away. He sounded tired.
  ‘Liam, it’s me Ellen. I’m at the police station...’
  ‘Not again! What the hell are you doing there this time?’ he interrupted.
  ‘I was attacked Liam!’ I hissed into the phone, trying to keep my voice down, as the policewoman
was listening.
  ‘Attacked? Who? Where? When?’
  ‘Some people who thought I was Sophie. I found them, the people who killed Danny and Katie.
I’m sure it’s them. They were about to use me in a snuff movie.’ I already hated the word ‘snuff’,
having only found out what it referred to minutes before. Liam didn’t need to be told what it meant.
  ‘They were going to kill you on camera? Is that what they were going to do to Sophie?’ His voice
petered out into a frightened whimper as he said ‘Sophie’.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             193
 ‘They thought I was her! They were calling me Molly. We have to find her, Liam. The police are
looking for the men now, but who knows when they’ll find them. I just don’t want Sophie found by
the people they work for in the meantime. There are definitely more of them. One of them was
talking on the phone to someone else.’
 ‘I’ve been trying to call you all afternoon. Your phone has been off,’ Liam complained.
 ‘The man who attacked me has it! Or it's still in the apartment. For fuck’s sake, didn’t you just
hear what I told you! They almost killed me! I had to strangle one of them, and stab the other to get
away!’
 ‘Shit Ellen! Are you ok?’ Finally a bit of sympathy.
 ‘Yes, I’m fine. Where are you? Mum has asked Andy to come and pick me up.’
 ‘That’s why I’ve been calling you, I think I’ve worked out where Sophie might be and I’m just on
my way there now!’
 ‘Where?’
 ‘This morning I went back to the hospital, to see if I could find out who Sophie saw. I finally
found a nurse who had checked up on Charlie, and she told me he was fine. But she had asked
Sophie why he had a dirty nappy, and was wearing dirty clothes. Sophie admitted she had nowhere
to stay that night, and she had been sleeping in her car. She must have slept in her car after she left
the apartment at Dee Why. And she didn’t have any clothes or anything.’ I felt terrible. ‘The nurse
asked her if she wanted the address for some women’s shelter, but she said she didn’t. She wasn’t
going to stay in Sydney long.’
 ‘So where would she go?’ I couldn’t bear the thought of Sophie leaving Sydney. How would we
ever work out where she had gone? Liam didn’t seem to share this anxiety.
 ‘I think I know where she might be going. It’s just a hunch, but it’s worth checking. When we
went through Sophie's things in her apartment, she had the City Rail train timetable. We both
thought it was Katie's. But why would Sophie keep it?'
 'You think Sophie might be catching a train too?'
 'It's just an idea. The thing is, her car was still in the car park at the hospital. She must have left it
there. So I was thinking, if Katie was trying to leave Sydney by train, maybe the plan was that
Sophie would take the same train later, and meet up with her. It was safer to travel separately. So if
Sophie said she was leaving, and she’s not using the car anymore, and she was holding onto the
train timetable, the chances are that she will be taking a train too. I looked into the reports on
Katie’s case and found out what platform she was on, it was obvious from the timetable that she
was either on her way to Brisbane or Lismore, depending whether she planned to catch the train that


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                 194
was stopped at the station, or the one that hit her. Soph has to be headed to one of these places, I’m
sure of it.’
  Liam’s enthusiasm was not infectious. I had to admit that his investigations had been quite clever,
but there wasn’t any certainty that Sophie was going to Brisbane or Lismore. Even if she was
catching a train, she could be going absolutely anywhere! She might have already left! And then
where would we start looking?
  ‘I’m on my way to Central Station now,’ Liam went on. ‘Both the trains Katie might have been
catching leave twice a day. They’re both due out in about an hour. But I may as well hang around
the station, just in case she’s catching a train somewhere else.’
  I had to hand it to Liam. He sure was persistent in his search for Sophie. The excitement in his
voice was palpable. I had to keep reminding myself he had never met Sophie. What would he say
when he found her? ‘Hi Sophie, you don’t know me, but I’ve been searching for you, and by the
way, I’m in love with you’?
  ‘Ok, I guess it’s worth a try. Do you want me to meet you there? Andy should be here soon, I
could get him to drive me over to wait with you?’
  ‘After what you’ve been through, you probably should just rest. If I find her, I’ll let you know and
I’ll bring her straight to Parramatta.’
  I did want to go wait with Liam, but I was also aware of how painfully exhausted I was. I had to
try to stay positive, no matter how long a shot I thought Liam was chasing. Could it possibly be that
by the time Andy got here, Liam would already have found Sophie and we could all meet back at
Andy’s flat? The thought of being able to call mum and tell her that Sophie was with me lifted my
spirits.
  ‘You’re right, I am pretty whacked. When Andy gets here, I’ll call you back on his mobile so you
will have a number to call us on when you find Sophie...’
  ‘If I find Sophie,’ Liam corrected me.
  'Yeah, if. Also, there's something else I thought of. Sophie has run both times we found her. If
you find her again, you need some way to make her understand you have been sent by mum and
me, so she'll know she is safe.'
  'Good idea. Like what?'
  'I was thinking you could yell 'Soapie', instead of Sophie. I used to call her that when I was little. I
couldn't say Sophie'.
  'Do you think that will work?' Liam sounded dubious.
  'Trust me, she'll get it.'
  'Ok, thanks for that, it will be useful.'
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              195
 The excitement in his voice gave away his hopefulness. He thought he was onto something. I just
prayed he was right. I hung up the phone, now more eager than ever to get the rest of my police
interview over and done with. I realised that in all the excitement, I had forgotten to tell Liam about
the email from Sophie. But that wasn’t important now, especially if he managed to find her in the
meantime.


 The policewoman led me into another interview room, where a surprisingly young, scrawny little
man was sitting behind a computer screen. He introduced himself as the sketch artist, and we got to
work. I had such a clear image of the man who chased me that I expected the artist to be able to put
together a near perfect likeness. But when he turned the screen towards me, I was shocked at how
imperfectly the image resembled what I was picturing. I tried to change a few things - the size of
the nose, the length of the ears - but I just couldn’t get the drawing to look like the image I could
see in my head. The artist sensed my frustration, and calmly explained it was near impossible to
make the sketch look identical to the man I had seen. This didn’t make me feel any better. I felt like
I was wasting time.
 When there was nothing more I could add to make the picture more lifelike, I asked if we could
move onto my statement. Detective Inspector Williamson came in with another policewoman, who
had a tape recorder. They asked me to explain the events of the attack in perfect order, from the first
moment I saw the man in the hall, to when the policemen arrived in the lobby. I started out reciting
what happened almost robotically...
 ‘He yelled to the other man for help.’
 ‘He tied a plastic tie around my ankles.’
 ‘He left me on the bed and made a phone call.’
 But when I got to the part in the bathroom where I had to put on makeup and take my clothes off,
my shoulders started to shake and tears flowed down my face. I was humiliated explaining how
vulnerable I felt. And when I went through the part about the piano wire, and what I did with it,
Detective Williamson asked me questions that made me feel like I was in trouble.
 ‘Where did you get the piano wire?’
 ‘Was the man breathing when you smashed his head?’
 ‘Were you trying to kill him or just get away?’
 By the time I explained about stabbing the other man, and sprinting down the stairs, I just wanted
to curl up in a ball and go to sleep. Finally, the tape was turned off and the policewoman left me and
the detective alone. I avoided eye contact with him, hoping he didn’t have any other questions for
me, off the record. But he surprised me by saying: ‘You were very brave Ellen. You’ve been very
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             196
lucky to get away from these people. They were almost certainly planning to kill you. We’ve seen
the tapes they had in the apartment, and there is plenty of evidence to back up what you have told
us. We have lots of people looking for them. Your uncle is waiting for you in the foyer. Do you feel
ok to go with him? Or would you prefer one of our officers accompanied you to his house?’
 ‘I’m ok. Thanks for everything. I just feel like sleeping now. Can you give me your card again? I
think I might have lost the other one.’
 ‘Lost or threw out?’ he asked, giving me a wink.
 Andy was sitting on a chair in the foyer when I came out. He looked worried, almost like a parent
picking up a sick child.
 ‘Are you ok?’ he asked, awkwardly moving towards me as if he thought he should give me a hug.
 I took a sideways step to avoid this, and said: ‘I’m fine, thanks. Let’s get going, I’m desperate for
some food and sleep. Also, can I borrow your phone please?’
 I called Liam to check in, and give him Andy’s number. He was waiting at the platform; no sign
of Sophie yet. As we walked back to Andy’s car, he tried to ask me some questions about what had
happened, but I said I was too tired to explain. He took the hint for the rest of the trip home. I sat
staring out of the window, my eyes glazed, almost asleep. I wanted to forget about what had
happened. And I wanted Sophie to be found tonight.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              197
Chapter 32


  Andy treated me like an invalid when we got back to his apartment. I called mum as soon as I got
there, careful not to mention that Liam had a new lead for Sophie. If he didn’t find her, mum’s
hopes would be dashed again. I was half asleep on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, with a bowl of
soup on the coffee table, when Andy’s phone rang. I was suddenly awake, calling for Andy to
answer the phone.
  ‘It could be Liam!’ I yelled, remembering I hadn’t told Andy that Liam might have found Sophie,
and that Andy’s mobile was my only contact with him. Andy fumbled with the phone, taking an age
to pick it up and answer it.
  ‘Hello?’ I heard him say as I unwrapped myself from the blanket, and started to get up. Then my
hopes vanished as I heard a woman’s voice through the phone. Don’t tell me it’s mum, checking up
on me again? But then Andy said something that made me leap towards him.
  ‘Sophie?’ Andy’s eyes were suddenly wide, his mouth gaping open. He stumbled forwards,
almost throwing the phone at me. His face said it all. He had just been speaking to Sophie. I put the
phone to my ear, wanting so much to believe it could be her.
  ‘Sophie? Is that you?’ I asked. And as soon as she replied, I knew it was.
  ‘Ellen! It’s me! You found me! How did you find me?’ She sounded like she was about to cry.
Her voice was so filled with relief that she sounded ready to crumple. Charlie was in the
background, gurgling and giggling. Then I heard Liam’s voice; he must have been holding Charlie.
  ‘Are you there with Liam?’ I asked, my mind suddenly muddled, knowing she must be with Liam
since she was on his phone.
  ‘Yes. He was on the platform where I was catching the train. I didn’t know what to think when he
cornered me. I was terrified. But he told me mum sent him to find me. He said Sandra and Ellen
sent him, and I freaked out. But then he said 'Soapie', and I just knew I could trust him.’ Sophie was
gushing. I was so relieved to hear Liam had managed to convince her he wasn’t a threat that I
wanted to hug him.
  ‘Liam’s going to bring you to Andy’s. Remember uncle Andy? I’m staying with him. You can
stay with him too, then we’ll go back home. Mum is going to be so relieved to hear you are ok.’ For
the first time in my life, I was the big sister, and I was telling Sophie that everything was going to
be alright.
  ‘I can’t come home yet Ellen. There’s stuff you don’t know about. I had to stay away from you
guys because there are some people trying to kill me...’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             198
  ‘Don’t worry, I know all about that,’ I said. ‘I’ll explain when you get here. The police know who
those people are. They won’t be able to get you once they’ve been arrested. The police have found
their snuff movie. They aren’t going to get away now...’
  ‘Snuff movie? What? Who are you talking about?’ she asked, suddenly sounding frightened and
unsure.
  ‘Don’t worry! I’ll explain when you get here.’
  ‘Liam said we are coming now. So I guess we’ll see you soon.’
  ‘Ok. Liam knows where he’s going. We’ll be here when you arrive. Bye.’
  It was strange to have such a short conversation after not speaking for seven years. But I wanted
her to get off the phone so Liam could get them in the car, and start driving to Parramatta.
  I paused for a moment. How did Sophie not understand when I said snuff movies? Wasn’t that the
whole reason she was blackmailing Holland? Because she found out about the movies, and
threatened to tell the police? Maybe she didn’t refer to them as snuff movies? But Liam knew what
I was talking about. Strange. It didn’t matter. We had plenty of time to talk.
  ‘It was her!’ I announced to Andy, who had already worked this out for himself and was now
grinning at me. ‘I have to call mum!’
  This was the call I’d been waiting to make. Mum took forever to answer her phone, as if
purposely delaying the moment of relief.
  ‘Mum, Liam’s found Sophie! He’s bringing her to Andy’s! I spoke to her! She’s fine!’
  Mum squeaked with excitement. ‘Where was she?’ she asked.
  ‘At Central Station. She has Charlie with her. As soon as she gets here we’ll book flights to come
home. She’s still scared of the men, but I’ve told her the police are going to get them.’
  ‘Oh Ellen, I don’t know what to say! I’ve never felt relief like this before! I’m so proud of you!
And Liam! You never gave up.’
  I pictured mum standing alone in our dark little house. She wouldn’t have had a moment’s peace
since Sophie emailed her all those months ago. And now everything was going to be ok. I felt
ecstatic.
  ‘I’ll call you when she gets here, and then you can speak to her. Ok?’
  ‘I can’t wait! I’ve been so worried! And I’ve missed her so much! I can’t believe she’s coming
home!’
  ‘I know mum. I can’t believe it myself. She sounds just the same as she always did. And she’ll be
here in person soon. I’m going to get off now. I’ll call you the minute they get here.’
  ‘Ok, bye Ellen.’
  ‘Bye mum.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            199
 ‘They’re on their way,’ I said to Andy, ‘I’m just going to shut my eyes for a sec. Wake me when
they get here.’ I lay back on the couch, the tension in my shoulders slowly unwinding, making me
feel more comfortable and tired than I did before. And I fell asleep with a smile on my face.


 I woke up to Andy gently prodding my shoulder. I felt like I had only been asleep for a few
seconds, though I could see it was getting dark outside. Andy looked troubled.
 ‘Can I talk to you about this email Sophie sent to you?’ he asked.
 ‘What?’ I was half asleep and had no idea what Andy was talking about.
 ‘I know you didn’t want me to get too involved, but you left an email open on my computer. I
took a quick look to see if I could work out where she sent it from. I couldn’t help myself’
 After everything that happened today, I had hardly had a chance to think about the email. Why
hadn’t I suggested we look into this before? Just like the original email from her, maybe this one
could be tracked. Andy had obviously had the same thought.
 ‘I’ve got software that can pick up the ISP address of a computer, just by running the email
through its system…’
 ‘And where was it sent from?’
 ‘That’s why I woke you. I wasn’t surprised to find it was sent from an internet café. But when I
worked out the café was on King St in Newtown…’
 ‘Liam.’ I answered his speculation. ‘You think Liam might have sent it.’ But why?
 Something else had been niggling in my mind, and suddenly reappeared in the form of suspicion.
The email had been signed ‘Soph,’ and when I had spoken to Liam earlier, when he was explaining
which trains Sophie might catch, he referred to her as Soph. Was that too much of a coincidence?
She had never been a ‘Soph’. Andy could see that thoughts were forming in my mind, and he
patiently waited for me to voice them. But I wasn’t ready to accuse just yet.
 ‘Why would Liam send that email?’ I asked. Andy looked concerned. It was the first time I
realised he didn’t really trust Liam.
 ‘Is there any reason he would want you to stop looking for the men who are after Sophie? Or stop
looking for Sophie?’ he asked.
 ‘I can’t think of any...’
 But was that really true? As much as he’s wanted to find Sophie, he always got angry at me for
suggesting it was important to find the men as well. And as for going to the police…
 Andy stood up, glancing at his watch. He seemed suddenly impatient.
 ‘So where is Liam? He left Central over an hour ago.’
 That long! I hadn’t realised how long I had been asleep.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           200
  ‘So how long does it take to get from Central Station to here?’ Sydney’s traffic was erratic, but
suddenly an hour seemed like an incredibly long time.
  ‘It should only take about forty minutes, even if the traffic isn’t great.’
  I got off the couch, and picked up Andy’s phone from the table.
  ‘Liam’s probably got lost. It’s ok. I’ll call him, and check where he is.’ I dialled back Liam’s
number, noticing that he had called us at 6:00 pm. His phone was off, or out of range, and it went
straight to voicemail. I tried it again, but it still didn’t ring.
  ‘Maybe his phone died?’ I suggested uneasily, remembering that he had left his charger here, and
might not have one at Newtown.
  Andy shrugged, still not ready to take the concerned look off his face. Sophie was so close now.
Were we just feeling impatient that she hadn’t arrived yet? Or was there good reason to be
concerned?
  I sat back down on the sofa, not knowing what to do to pass the time. The seconds seemed to be
ticking past excruciatingly slowly. Andy kept looking at his watch; it was making me nervous.
Would it be rude to busy myself tidying the flat? Probably. We sat in silence, staring at our laps for
a couple of minutes. Then I picked up the mobile again, and redialled, hoping Liam would pick up
this time, and say he was just around the corner. Relief flowed through me when the phone
connected and started ringing. But as I waited and waited for him to answer, I started to wonder
what the hell he was doing. And then the ringing stopped, and I was listening to his voicemail
message. I left a quick response, saying that I was just wondering if he was lost, or stuck in traffic,
and to call back with an ETA. Couldn’t he understand how desperately I wanted to see Sophie?
Why on earth was he taking so long?
  Andy heard me leave the message, and impatiently stood up and went into his study. I followed
him, now feeling too restless to sit in silence and wait. It didn’t take over an hour to get from
Central Station to Parramatta. So where the hell were they?
  ‘Andy, I know you don’t like using that software illegally, but it wouldn’t hurt to do a quick
check of where Liam is, would it? Could the software tell us how close to Parramatta he is? I’m
going to go nuts if I don’t find out when they’re going to get here!’
  Andy looked relieved. I suspected he was about to suggest the same thing himself, since he was
already logging onto the computer.
  ‘Yeah, it will only take a sec, and we can find out if he’s on the right track. He might not have
been able to answer when he was driving.’
  Andy was trying to make me feel better, but in truth, he was just as worried as I was. I watched
him typing away. Then I read out Liam’s phone number; it was still written in pen on my hand. The
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               201
computer seemed to sense the urgency in the room, and came up with the data surprisingly quickly.
I stared at it, trying to work out what it meant. But Andy had to translate it for me, pointing at the
screen as he spoke. His tone sent my stomach plunging to the floor.
 ‘Why on earth is he going south?’
 ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘He must be lost or something.’ I was trying to keep the panic from
my voice. ‘How do you know he’s going south?’ I didn’t know Sydney well enough to be able to
say what might be down south, but I knew Parramatta was definitely west of the city. West of
Central Station. Liam should be driving west.
 ‘This data shows that when you just left that voicemail message, Liam’s phone was connecting to
the Stanwell Park phone tower. Stanwell Park is quite a long way south of Sydney,’ Andy
explained, still typing away as the screen filled with numbers. My mind felt muddled and tired, but
I knew something was wrong. What was Liam doing?
 ‘Has he made any calls?’ I asked, ‘or sent any messages?’ Andy was one step ahead of me and
had an answer straight away.
 ‘No calls. The text messages are just loading up’.
 Words appeared on the screen, just as when we had been able to see the messages between Bill
Holland and Danny. This message had been sent at 6:05. Liam must have sent it straight after
Sophie got off the phone to me.
 ‘Got what you want. Have money ready. Send address. Will meet you there’. Who the hell was
that message sent to? My heart started pounding in my chest. Liam couldn’t be doing what that
message implied. He just couldn’t.
 ‘Did he get a message back?’ I asked.
 With a click of the mouse, Andy brought the response up on the screen. We both read it, and then
stared at each other, speechless.
 ‘Can’t have been difficult. Got her from the police station did you? Will negotiate new price. 85
Towradgi Rd, Towradgi’.
 A new price? It could only mean one thing, and there wasn’t even the smallest doubt. I knew
instantly what Liam had done. He was selling Sophie to the people who had been looking for her.
And I had agreed that he go and find her on his own.
 ‘Fuck!’ I screamed, running from the study, and grabbing Andy’s mobile. I had originally thought
Liam was a fraud, and somehow I let him charm me into believing in him!
 I had Detective Williamson’s card in my pocket. I took it out, and with shaking fingers, called his
mobile number. To my immense relief, he answered straight away.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             202
  ‘It’s me, Ellen. I’ve just found out Liam has kidnapped Sophie, and is going to take her to the
people who want to kill her! You need to send police to find her! I’ve got the address. Can you
please send someone now!’
  I was running on so fast I thought the detective would tell me to slow down, be calm, explain it
again. But he caught on quickly, and didn’t waste words. ‘Give me the address...’ I ran back into the
study where Andy had brought up a map on the computer screen, showing the location of the
address that had been sent to Liam’s phone.
  ‘85 Towradgi Rd, Towradgi... it’s near... Wollongong.’
  Andy was pointing his finger at the word Wollongong on the screen. The detective was still
speaking as it occurred to me where I had heard of Wollongong before... Bill Holland’s associate
had been taking calls near there...
  ‘Do you know how far away from the address he is?’ the detective was asking.
  ‘He left Central Station at 6:00. I don’t know how long it takes to get there...he’s driving a white
Holden station-wagon, I don’t know what year, it’s pretty old, must be a early 90s model...’ Why
hadn’t I ever taken note of exactly what make his car was? But then I remembered the number
plate, or at least some of it.
  ‘The number plate! It’s got a D 960 in it, I’m sure!’
  ‘Ok. I’ll send a local crew from Wollongong. You stay where you are, and I’ll call you back on
your uncle’s phone when I have some news.’
  Yeah right. I wasn’t going to sit on the couch now and wait for someone else to act. Andy was
already picking up his car keys and grabbing a coat.
  ‘Are you going there too?’ I asked the detective, avoiding his statement about staying where I
was.
  ‘Yes. I’m on the road now, so I’ll head towards the address. Can’t hurt to see what’s going on
there. If Kingsley has gone straight there, he should be there in 10 to 15 minutes from now.’
  I didn’t really care what was going on there, if only Sophie wasn’t involved.
  The anger I was feeling for Liam was like nothing I had ever experienced. There was no fear, just
a deep anger, and hatred. How could he do this to us? It wasn’t just the money we've paid him. We
trusted him. How could he be capable of such a betrayal? Just when I expected to have Sophie
walking through the door, Liam was taking her to the people who would kill her. I risked my life to
track these people down, and he’d been working with them! This was madness! How could he sell
Sophie to anyone for certain slaughter? And how long had he been planning to do this?
  I suddenly saw my mistake. Liam wasn’t in love with Sophie. He was in love with the idea of
how much money someone was willing to pay for her capture. Revolting. I couldn’t believe I had
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            203
been friendly with him over the last few harrowing days. Maybe even more than friendly. My first
instinct, when mum told me about him, was to think he was a con man. But I let his smarm work on
me. I liked him. I trusted that he was a good guy. And he was worse than a con man! He was a
murderer! I had ignored the things Detective Williamson had told me about his past, but suddenly I
saw who Liam really was. I felt sick. Anger was pouring out of me, making my eyes water and my
hands shake. My face burned. I had to control myself not to scream, and swear, or bang my fists
against the wall. The only way to keep myself sane was to picture what I'd do to him when I found
him. He might think he was going to profit from his betrayal, but I wasn’t going to rest until he was
locked up for a very long time. And if anything happened to Sophie before I got to her, I just didn't
know what I was going to do.


  Putting my angry energy to use, I jogged down to the car. Andy ran next to me, explaining
between puffs that it would take about an hour and a half to get to Wollongong. We could put the
address in his Sat Nav to make sure he took the fastest route. I was so thankful that he was
continuing to help me. I had thought Liam was the one backing me up. I suddenly thought of mum,
and remembered she was waiting to speak to Sophie too. How could I call her and tell her what had
happened now? I had to ring her, but I’d have to make something up.
  She answered with so much joy that it crushed my heart to have to tell her Sophie wasn’t with me.
  ‘Ellen? Is she there?’ she asked, sounding like an excited child.
  ‘No mum. I’m just calling to let you know Liam and Sophie have got a bit held up... they went to
get... some of Sophie’s things she had left somewhere else that she didn’t want to lose... so they are
doing that and it will be a bit longer before they get to Andy’s.’
  ‘Oh... ok then, thanks for letting me know...’ She sounded disappointed, but the excitement was
still there.
  ‘We’ve waited this long, we can wait a couple of hours more,’ I said, forcing myself to sound
casual and carefree.
  ‘Of course we can.’
  ‘I’ll call you as soon as she arrives.’
  ‘Ok love, speak soon.’ I got off the phone as quickly as I could.
  Andy looked like a man on a mission. He was driving safely, but fast enough to make me think
we could be getting speeding fines all over the place. I cursed that we had let Liam get so far away
before we checked where he was. But how on earth were we to know he wasn’t on his way to
Parramatta? I had thought I understood his motives. How bad a detective would I make! Andy
looked over at me, and I knew he wanted to say something comforting. But, not having had any
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           204
experience with this sort of situation, he was as lost for words as I was. So we both focused on the
road, and willed it to get us to Wollongong as fast as it could.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           205
Chapter 33


  Vince paced the room. Every few seconds he glanced at Jared, who looked much calmer than he
must have felt. The last few hours had been beyond ridiculous, with fuck ups that he just couldn't
believe. But the text message out of the blue from Kingsley had helped him to calm down.
  ‘How much do you think she said to the cops before he got her?’ he asked Jared again, for the
fourth time.
  Jared didn’t point out that he’d already answered that question, and patiently replied: ‘I wouldn’t
have thought she had time to make a statement or anything. He must have got her just as she got to
the station.’
  ‘So without her, the cops can't link me to anything they found in the hotel. Or to Bill. Or to any of
part of my business?’
  This was also a question Jared had already answered, but he answered it again, this time in a
monotone that subtly purveyed his own frustration at the situation.
  ‘Keith knows who I am, so if he has implicated anyone, it would only be me. I've been very
careful to keep everything contained.’
  Vince nodded, aware that Jared might be thinking his pay cheque wasn’t worth the trouble he was
in now. The hostility was barely there, but there was definitely a hint of it. And he didn't like it. He
needed Jared to fall back into line, because if ever he needed his unfaltering support, it was now.
  ‘When will Kingsley be here?’ he asked impatiently. Jared still spoke calmly, but diverted his
stare. This was another sure sign that something had shifted.
  ‘I'm sure he'll be here any minute. I haven't had a chance to organise his payment. Should I
promise it in cash tomorrow?’
  ‘Are you bloody mad Jared? I’m not giving that little fuck a cent! He should have given her to us
before the police got involved. He can deliver her, and then we’ll deal with him.’
  Jared didn't react to this, his expression filled with muted contempt.
  The tension between the two men broke, as if on cue, when they heard a car turn off the road.
From the front door, they watched the white Holden pull up at the far end of the driveway, and saw
a fair-haired young man wearing shorts and a t-shirt get out, and go round to the passenger door,
opening it for a woman. At first Vince felt a rush of fear when he saw her. She didn’t look like the
photos of Molly that they had been given by Bill. He hadn't watched the first few scenes of her
movie yet; he'd always hoped he have a chance to watch the completed version. Now that she had
escaped the filming today, he wasn't willing to waste any time trying to finish it off. He’d cut the
losses and make sure she wasn't getting away again. He glanced at Jared to confirm this was the
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              206
right girl, but he was, as usual, expressionless. As the couple walked up the driveway, he got a
better look at her face, and he could see it was her. She had cut off her long dark hair, and dyed the
remaining spikes almost white. But it was definitely her. And she was holding the kid. Katie’s kid.
He stared for a moment at the man she was with. So this was Liam Kingsley. What a wimp. God, he
hated wimps.
 He heard them speaking as they got closer to the front door.
 ‘I didn’t realise Andy lived so far away! And at the beach too! His house is amazing...all that
glass! Must have been expensive! I hope Ellen’s had a nice time staying with him!’ Her voice was
high-pitched and excited. Liam had obviously succeeded in keeping her in the dark about where
they were really going.
 Vince instinctively stepped back into the lobby when Liam knocked on the door. Jared opened it
for them, and Vince could see that Molly was smiling, peering into the house as if expecting to give
someone a hug. She barley looked at Jared as they stepped into the entrance hall. In an instant, Jared
had slammed the door behind them, trapping them in the house. Vince smirked as Molly shrieked
with fright, and was amused, if slightly surprised, to see Liam looked scared too.
 ‘Hello Molly,’ Vince said. ‘I hope you don't still have a knife on you.’ As soon as she heard her
name, she spun on her heel and tried to pull the door open, clutching the kid on her hip. She wasn't
going anywhere. Stupid bitch.
 ‘What are you doing? Where is Ellen? Where are we?’ She turned and looked at Liam, her face
pleading for help. Then seeing his blank expression, she screamed. Liam stared at her silently.
 Jared reached into his back pocket and calmly pulled out a compact black revolver. The sight of
the gun made Molly go white. The best way to shut people up usually involved guns.
 Liam spoke in a cold, quiet voice. ‘Her name isn’t Molly. That was just her hooker name. Her
name is Sophie.’ Sophie stared at him again, this time with more of a glare than a look of confusion.
 Jared didn't react to this information, so Vince didn't ask what was going on. It was definitely her,
no matter what her name was. As he strode into the living area, Jared followed, waving the gun
forward to direct Liam and the girl to walk ahead of him. She looked petrified; her eyes were wide,
her mouth slightly open, ready to cry out but too scared to speak. She clutched the kid to her chest,
and moved close to Liam, still apparently under the naive impression he was there to help. Liam
avoided looking at her.
 Vince felt calmer, now that Liam had delivered the goods, as promised. Even Jared looked more
himself, comfortable in his roll as enforcer with a gun in his hand. Vince was back in control, and
he knew Jared would do whatever he was told.
 ‘Put Molly and the kid in the spare room before we deal with him.’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             207
 Jared jerked his gun in Liam’s direction, which made Liam flinch backwards. Now Liam looked
at Molly, his face suddenly full of fear, willing her not to follow Jared. But Jared was already
pointing the gun at her, motioning with it towards the stairs so she knew where she was meant to be
walking. She held the kid to her chest, shielding him from them as she went unsteadily up the stairs.
She'd need to do more than that to keep the child safe. Vince noticed her legs shaking, and laughed
to himself. She had caused enough worry for him over the last few months. It was nice to see her
suffer now. The kid started to cry just as Jared shoved them into the small bedroom at the top of the
stairs. He locked the door after them, and joined his boss back in the living room. Vince sat down
on the sofa with Jared, waving Liam to a seat across from them. Liam sat down like a spineless
puppy waiting to be fed. The child’s wailing was getting louder, and more annoyingly insistent.
Vince couldn't stand that sound. It was no wonder he had never had any kids.
 ‘Can someone make that kid shut the fuck up!’ he snapped at Jared, as if it was him that needed to
shut up.
 Jared ignored the order, and said calmly to Liam: ‘So, you’ve done what we asked. You’ve
brought Molly, or Sophie, or whatever her name is to us.’ Liam nodded enthusiastically. Jared kept
talking. ‘The only thing is, you didn’t get to her before she went to the police. That leaves us with a
problem. We don’t know what she’s said to them. If she’s said anything, we’re all in trouble. If
she’s said nothing, we’re ok. So the question is, what has she said?’
 Vince nodded in Jared's direction, corroborating his question, and they both sat back, waiting for
Liam to answer.
 Liam laughed nervously, and replied: ‘Oh, I haven’t told you yet, but Sophie wasn’t the one the
police spoke to. Your guys had her sister, Ellen. Sophie wasn’t at the hotel today. It was a case of
mistaken identity.’ Liam spoke as if it was a funny coincidence, urging the two men to share the
joke with him. But neither of them was amused.
 Vince ignored Liam, and looked at Jared accusingly. ‘Is this true?’
 Jared thought for a moment, and then shrugged, looking nervous himself. ‘Maybe. Jim never said
anything about Molly’s hair changing. If her sister looked enough like her, maybe it was her.’
 Liam jumped in, feeling better that he had more good news to give. ‘Ellen looks very much like
Sophie, as Sophie used to look with dark hair. It was definitely Ellen with the police. And she
doesn’t know anything. Whatever Sophie knows, Ellen has no idea about it.’
 Jared looked like he thought this was good news, a smirk appearing on his face. But this was no
laughing matter. Jared was making too many mistakes, and it was only by luck that this one had
turned out to be in their favour. Vince wasn’t ready to celebrate yet.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              208
  As Jared opened his mouth to ask another question, they heard the sound of footsteps crossing the
deck at the front of the house. It made them both jump. Visitors usually announced themselves by
pulling their car up the drive. But Liam’s car was parked at the end of the drive, blocking it for
other people. And they weren’t expecting any visitors. But they had discussed a procedure for
situations like this, and they swiftly put it into action.
  Jared took out his gun, and pushed it into Liam’s shoulder, putting his finger to his lips as a
gesture to remain silent. Then he marched him up the stairs, and shoved him into the room with
Sophie, slipping in behind him and locking the door from the inside. Vince silently motioned to his
girlfriend, Melissa, to answer the door. She had put a silk robe on, and started down the stairs as
soon as the doorbell rang, appearing relaxed and natural, just as he had coached her to look. She
waited for him to duck out of sight before opening the door. He couldn’t see who was there, but he
could hear everything they said.
  ‘What can I do for you, officers?’ Melissa asked, mixing just the right amount of surprise with
puzzlement at why they might be there.
  Officers? Police? Vince felt a wave of fury. What the fuck were they doing here? This was his
sanctuary.
  ‘We had reports of a disturbance at this address,’ he heard one say. Disturbance? From the front
door, they wouldn’t see anything but an empty living area and kitchen.
  ‘Disturbance?’ she asked, sounding even more confused. ‘I don’t know what you are talking
about, I’m the only one here...’
  As she spoke, the child began wailing again upstairs. Melissa held her nerve.
  ‘Apart from my son, who was asleep until you got here. You’ll have to excuse me. He probably
needs his nappy changed. Sorry I can’t be any help.’ She started to close the door.
  ‘Just a false alarm then’, said one of policemen. ‘These houses are isolated. Best keep your door
locked if you are here by yourself. Goodnight.’
  Vince watched the policemen walk down the drive from the window next to the front door. He
was angry. Perhaps angrier than he had ever been in his life. But he needed to stay in control. He
breathed deeply, watching to be sure the police car was leaving the property before he called for
Jared back down. He watched their headlights reverse from the entrance of the drive, and then
speed off down the dirt road, disappearing behind the sand dunes.
  He knew it was his attention to detail that made him so good at his profession. He prided himself
on checking and rechecking every possible risk that could influence his business. So why were they
up shit creek? Jared had caused him embarrassment twice already today. First when his men
managed to let Molly escape from the hotel room. And a second time when they found out it wasn’t
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                               209
even Molly. Kingsley might be pleased to tell them that they had the real Sophie now, but what had
the sister been saying in the meantime? How come Jared hadn’t known about the sister?
 And now this. Was the visit by the police really a coincidence? Could they know he lived here?
How on earth did they get this address? That little shit Liam must have given it to them.
 Vince felt uneasily that things were getting out of hand. It was time to get rid of this problem once
and for all. He watched Melissa walking back upstairs to her room; at least she was of use when
needed. But just as he had this satisfying thought, she glared down at him from the landing, with a
look of pure hatred. She had never looked at him like that before. And there was no fucking way
she was going to get away with it.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           210
Chapter 34


   Sophie cowered in the corner as if she wanted the wall to swallow her. Liam had taken Charlie
from her arms, holding him uncomfortably out in front of him. Jared ignored her, and spoke directly
to Liam. ‘Come with me. Give the kid back.’ His gun lead the way, directing Liam back out of the
room. Liam handed Charlie to Sophie, who slowly stood up, balancing on her thin legs so not to let
Charlie fall from her grip.
 ‘He needs his nappy changed,’ Liam said quietly to Sophie, who glared back at him.
Jared pushed Liam out onto the landing, locking the door behind them. Sophie could hear the other
man in another room nearby, shouting at someone.
 ‘Why the fuck do you care what happens to the boy? It’s none of your business!’
 ‘But he’s just a baby! You can’t hurt him! He hasn’t done anything to you!’ The girl's voice was
shrill and frightened.
 ‘Just shut the fuck up and do what you’re told! I never asked you what you thought!’
 Sophie winced as she heard a door slam. The shouting continued.
 ‘The cops coming here has to have something to do with him. Get rid of him. Melissa’s packing.
We’re leaving now. We’ll take the boat.’
 Sophie pressed her ear to the door, eager for any hint of what might be happening. She heard a
yell, and then a frantic scuffle, followed by a sickening crunch. At first it wasn't clear who had
made the sound. But the two men continued their hurried conversation, leaving as only the
possibility that it was Liam who had been silenced. The larger man was barking orders to the other
one, sounding more agitated every second:
 ‘Go get the car, I’ll just finish packing, and then we’ll get going. This place is fucked now. The
police could be back any second’.
 Sophie started crying silently into Charlie’s soft chest; holding him close enough to her face that
he muffled her sobs. She couldn’t understand what Liam was doing. He had said he was hired by
her mum, and he definitely knew Ellen, so why had he brought her to the very people she’d been
running from for months? Just when she had thought she was safe, that she was about to see Ellen
and her mum again, she was even closer to disaster than she was before.
 She heard the latch on the door open, and she shut her eyes tight, expecting yelling or violence to
follow. But the door only opened enough for someone small to slip quietly in. She could sense it
wasn’t one of the men, so she opened her eyes. There was a young woman standing in the room,
wearing only a bikini, her eyes red from crying. She whispered something, but Sophie couldn’t
immediately understand what was going on. Then she made out what she was saying.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            211
 ‘I’m not going to let them...Bradley marina...they’ll drown you both... he’s too little to
understand...’
 She was so upset that she wasn’t making much sense, but Sophie could hear the fear in her voice.
Before Sophie could respond, the girl slipped silently out of the room, and locked the door behind
her. Was the girl trying to help her? And what had happened outside her room? Had Liam been
badly hurt? Or killed?
 Her question was partly answered soon after. The door was flung open; this time the person
opening it was not trying to be discreet. The shorter man with the gun shoved her and Charlie out
onto the landing, pushing them towards the top of the stairs. She could see Liam lying just beyond
the bottom step, blood on his face, and on the back of his head. He body lay awkwardly, and he
wasn’t moving. She willed herself not to scream.
 With one hand she gripped the banister, and with the other she held Charlie as she carefully
walked down, trying not to look at the body. The man walked behind her, a huge duffle bag over his
shoulder, and his gun at her back. He seemed impatient to get out of the house. She slowed to
manoeuvre herself around Liam’s body, which enraged the man even more. He grabbed her by the
arm, dragging her towards the front door.
 Liam’s car was no longer in the drive. Instead, there was a four wheel drive parked at the front of
the house. The man shoved Sophie into the back, pushing her across the seats, ignoring her pleas to
watch out for Charlie. Then he slammed the door. The girl who’d come into the upstairs room was
sitting in the front seat, her eyes forward, still as a statue. The driver was the other man from the
house; he had a large gun in one hand, with what must have been a silencer attached to the barrel.
Charlie started crying again, and the man in the front spat at Sophie: ‘Can you shut that fucking
baby up!’ She tried to comfort him, but he was scared by the shouting.
 The smaller man dumped the duffle bag in the boot, slamming it hard, and went back into the
house. After a few minutes, he ran out, and jumped into the back seat, yelling ‘Drive’ to his boss in
the front. Red and orange flames, growing brighter by the second, were suddenly visible through
the tall glass windows, and smoke was starting to billow up to the high raked ceiling. He had
torched the place. He looked exhilarated as his boss sped away.
 Charlie kept fussing. Sophie bounced him up and down on her lap, in an attempt to show she was
trying to stop him crying. As she bounced, she felt something hard hitting her thigh. It felt like a
lump of plastic in Charlie’s pants. She slid her hand down his back, finding something tucked in
there, sitting on his soiled nappy. She suddenly realised it was the familiar shape of a mobile phone.
Liam must have put it in Charlie’s pants in the brief moment he held him upstairs. She felt an
unexpected rush of relief. It was now her chance to be brave.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              212
 Still careful to bounce Charlie softly on her lap, she moved the phone sideways so she could reach
it with her right hand, concealed between Charlie and the car door. She had used enough phones in
her time to know how to unlock the keypad without looking at it. She pressed the star on the bottom
left and the menu bar in the middle. She was relieved to find the phone was on silent; the keys
didn’t make a sound. The screen lit up, but the light from it was barely discernible, hidden by
Charlie’s small frame. She knew if you pressed left on the toggle button, a blank message appeared.
She had also sent enough text messages to be able to turn off the predictive function, and find the
right letters by feeling her way across the key pad. She hardly moved her arm, but let her fingers
carefully crawl across the pad, typing ‘Bradley marina’. She glanced at the man on the seat next to
her, and could see he was looking out his window, no doubt watching the glow from the burning
house disappear in the distance. His boss had his eyes on the road, and the girl in the front seat
hadn’t moved or said a word since they left.
 She hugged Charlie close enough that she could pull open the side of his pants and glance down at
the screen. Then she pressed ‘send’ and scrolled silently through the short list of A’s, pressing hard
on ‘Andy’ so that the text disappeared off the screen, replaced by a small floating envelope. She
said a silent prayer that Liam had saved her uncle’s number in his phone, and it wasn’t some
random Andy who would have no idea what the message meant. When she had called Ellen from
Liam’s phone, he had explained that she would answer her uncle’s phone. Was this still the case?
She had to hope so. She moved Charlie slowly one more time, pressing the phone back down into
his pants. Then she held him on her lap, and prayed that Ellen would get the message.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             213
Chapter 35


 As Andy sped down the highway, I glanced nervously between the road ahead, and the lit up
screen of the Sat Nav attached to his dashboard. We’d been driving for about half an hour, but the
time had ticked by so slowly, I felt like we’d been driving for days. Every second that passed, my
mind tortured me with thoughts about what could be happening to Sophie. And my rage at what
Liam had done was making it difficult for me to think clearly about anything.
 I watched the squiggly little line on the map showing us how much further we had to go. The
suburb and street names meant nothing to me, but we weren’t getting there fast enough. Andy had a
determined expression on his face, and seemed to know where he was going without the Sat Nav
directions. I could hear his breathing; it was heavy, as if he was under a lot of strain. I watched as
the little dot that represented Andy’s car flicked through a suburb called ‘Roselands’. ‘Wollongong’
had meant nothing to me until the last few days but it was now the centre of my universe.
 A vibration suddenly caught my attention, and then the sound of Andy’s phone receiving a text
message made me jump. I quickly opened the message. Andy took his eyes off the road long
enough to glance at the phone, anxious to know what the message said. The only text that appeared
on the screen was ‘Bradley marina’. I stared at it for a few seconds, waiting for some meaning to
materialise.
 As I stared, Andy asked, ‘Who is it from?’
 I looked at the message details, but the number wasn’t saved in Andy’s phone. Nevertheless it
looked familiar...I glanced at the number on my hand...that was it...it was Liam’s phone!
 ‘Liam!’ I yelled, far too loud for the confined space in the car. ‘What does Bradley marina mean?’
 Andy was slowing to stop at some traffic lights, and with one hand he typed on the tiny keyboard
on his Sat Nav to check whether it could find ‘Bradley marina’. The screen flashed a couple of
times, and then a map appeared. With his finger, Andy traced the line, which linked with the place
our car was right then.
 ‘It’s not that far from here. We’re going in the right direction. It’s about 40k’s away.’
 ‘Closer than Wollongong?’
 ‘Yeah, it’s about half way to Wollongong from where we are now.’
 But what did it mean?
 ‘Is Liam going somewhere else? Why has he texted me to tell me this if he doesn’t want me to
come after Sophie?’
 Andy was joining dots of his own. He looked nervous as he said: ‘What if he’s trying to trap us?
Because he thinks we will come after him...’
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             214
 That was possible. But what did that mean for Sophie? Had something...already happened...My
mind rejected the thought. But I couldn’t work out what Liam was doing.
 ‘We have to go there! Wherever Liam is, Sophie will be there too.’
 Andy still looked worried, but he wasn’t slowing down. The bright line on the Sat Nav was
showing the new route, to Bradley marina.
 ‘We’ll go there, but we have to be careful, Ellen. After what has already happened to you today...’
Andy’s voice drifted off.
 ‘I’ll call Detective Williamson. If the police are there, we’ll be Ok,’ I said.
 Andy looked pleased at my suggestion, pressing his foot down on the accelerator to show that he
was willing to get to the marina as quickly as possible.
 The detective must have recognised my number. He answered, and said: ‘Ellen. I was about to
call you. The local uniforms in Wollongong checked out the address. A woman answered the door.
She said she was the only one there, with her child.’
 ‘What did she look like?’ I asked, suddenly thinking it might have been Sophie.
 He pre-empted the thought. ‘It wasn’t Sophie. Apparently she looked nothing like your
description. The uniforms saw Kingsley’s car was there, and they weren’t convinced that she was
legit, so they hung back. Hang on, I’ve got another call...’ Before I had time to tell him anything, he
put me on hold, the phone beeping in my ear, making me even more frantic to speak to him. After
what seemed like forever, he was back.
 ‘That was the local boys again. The house is on fire. The fire engines are on their way... they were
able to pull someone out...I think it might be Liam Kingsley.’
 ‘Is he alive?’ I asked, aware that the only reason I cared was to check whether it was possible that
someone else sent the text message.
 ‘He was unconscious. He has some serious burns, but he’s alive. The patrol saw a car leaving the
house, but they weren’t able to chase, and so we’re sending back up to track them down...’ It was
time I interrupted.
 ‘I know where they’re going. I think someone else has got hold of Liam’s phone. It could be
Sophie. I just got a text from it saying ‘Bradley marina’.’
 ‘I’ll call you back in a sec.’ Detective Williamson didn’t need to be told twice. He had caught on
that the information I gave was turning out to be very useful. I prayed he was calling for
reinforcements to be sent to the marina.
 After about a minute, the phone rang again, and the detective said: ‘You sound like you are in a
car. Where are you?’


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            215
 There was no point lying. ‘Andy and I are going to the marina. The text was sent to me. I’m not
sitting back and waiting for someone else to find Sophie.’
 I heard him sigh loudly into the phone.
 ‘I don’t have time to convince you not to get involved. I’m heading to the marina too.’
 Good. Just what I wanted to hear.
 I relayed the information about the fire and Liam to Andy, who looked as untroubled as I felt
about him getting hurt. Served him right.
 ‘At least it means he’s not waiting for us at the marina,’ he said. ‘But it probably means the
person who hurt him is going to be there...’
 I had already thought of that. Whoever it was must have left Liam in the house, and taken Sophie
and Charlie with him. Did he have a boat he planned to disappear on? What did that mean for
Sophie and Charlie? What was he going to do with them?
 ‘From what the detective said, they must have left the house in Wollongong. He was getting
updates about what was going, on and they’ve only just got Liam out. So how far does that make
them from the marina?’ I asked Andy.
 ‘It’s hard to say. Depends how long ago they left, and how fast they drive. But if they left when
they sent the text message, I'd say they’re about the same distance as us, so we should get there at
about the same time.’
 Maybe there was a chance that they would be stopped before they got there. That the police would
find them first. Knowing where they were headed was the key. Without that text message, we
would have been stuffed.


 When the dot on the Sat Nav hovered over our end point, I was ready to leap from the moving car,
impatient to see whether Sophie was there. But the street we were on was pitch black and there was
no sign of a marina. Andy slowed the car to a crawl, and we peered left and right, looking for some
sign of an entrance. The street was dead quiet, and I was just starting to wonder if the Sat Nav had
misdirected us when there was a screeching of tyres behind us. I turned my head, expecting to see
the flashing lights of a police car, or at least the familiar white and blue markings. But the car
barrelling towards us was big and black, a menacing four wheel drive with dark tinted windows.
They screamed past us to the end of the street and fishtailed into a nearly invisible opening in a wire
mesh fence. It had to be them. Sophie had to be in that car.
 ‘Quick! Follow them!’ I screamed at Andy.
 He slammed his foot on the accelerator, making his car pitch forward. Even though we couldn’t
see in their windows, they would have been able to see in ours. But there was no sign that they had
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                216
even noticed us; they were in too much of a rush. Just as Andy took the left turn into the marina, I
heard another car behind us, making as much noise as the four wheel drive had as it ploughed up
the street. It was the police, their lights flashing but their siren not on.
  As we pulled into the marina, I could see a long row of boats in front of us, tied to a narrow
wooden jetty. Beyond the boats, the dark water of the harbour stretched out in a semi circle, the
light from the moon making the open mouth glint where the sea met the calmer water at the
entrance. The four wheel drive had pulled up about halfway down the row, and the doors were
already opening. We were getting close enough to see the scene in more detail.
  A large, dark haired man got out of the driver’s seat. He looked angry and menacing, as he waved
his arms and yelled at other people in the car. He glanced at our car, and the police car behind us,
and quickly dragged someone out of one of the back doors. As soon as I saw her head, I recognised
Sophie; her peroxide blonde hair shone like a second moon in the dim lights of the marina. She
stumbled forwards as he dragged at her arm, and I could see she was moving awkwardly because
she was carrying Charlie. Another man had jumped out of the other back door, and grabbed two
large bags from the boot, quickly throwing them onto a large cabin cruiser that was moored at a
jetty angling out into the water in front of the car.
  There was something else glinting in the lights other than Sophie’s hair... both of the men were
holding guns. And the larger man held his to Sophie’s head. Andy stopped the car, looking scared
stiff, his eyes fixed on the gun. Sophie’s face was just as petrified, her cheeks were blotchy from
tears, and she looked fraught and exhausted. I opened my door, trying to forget about the guns and
yelled, ‘Sophie!’ She heard her name and turned her head just enough to see me. The look of
recognition lasted only a split second before it turned to horror at the danger I had just put myself
in. As the man holding her spun towards me as well, I ducked back behind the door of the car,
crouching low enough that he couldn’t take aim.
  Two police officers were now out of their car, and yelling at the two men.
  ‘Police! Put your guns down’...‘Don’t make us shoot’....‘Don’t move’. The sounds of their voices
mixed together into one long, continuous outburst which seemed to make the men move even faster.
  Another woman was getting out of the front seat. She didn’t have a gun pointed at her, and she
walked with a confidence that belied the panic in the air. The large man who held Sophie’s arm was
yelling at her to do something; he was pointing at Charlie. She followed his orders, striding towards
Sophie, and wrenching Charlie out of her arms. Sophie didn’t let go easily; she tried to hold him
even closer as the woman pulled him away. But the man swung the gun even more sharply towards
Sophie’s head, knocking her on the side of the temple. She let go of Charlie with a wail.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              217
  The second man was now on the boat, positioning himself low enough that the police would
hardly have been able to see him, let alone shoot him. He held his arms out, ready to take Charlie
from of the other woman’s hands. She was moving quickly, but not towards the boat the man was
on. He yelled: ‘Give him to me! Where are you going?’ But she ignored him and jumped down off
the jetty; I could see she had landed in a small dingy that was moored to it. The man holding Sophie
was now yelling at the woman as well...more noise mixing with the shouts from the police. But the
woman didn’t look back. She steadied herself in the rocking boat, with Charlie bawling in the
bottom of it. She pulled on the mooring rope, and a she pulled, the boat disappeared under the jetty.
Andy looked at me; even under these circumstances he managed an impressed smile.
  ‘She’s just saved the kid...smart girl...’
  I didn’t know who she was, but that was exactly what she had just done.
  As the men realised that Charlie and the woman had disappeared, they became even more
flustered, and turned their attention back to Sophie. The larger man kept the gun held against her
head, and pulled her roughly towards the jetty. He backed along the narrow walkway, keeping her
between himself and the police, a shield against their threats.
  I could bear it no longer, and stepped back out from behind the car door. One of the policemen
behind me screamed at me to get back, or be risk being shot. But I couldn’t believe we were all
standing there watching them put Sophie on the boat. It was the biggest cabin cruiser I had ever
seen, with huge spotlights set on the cabin roof for night navigation. Once they had her on there,
they would be able to speed off, going wherever they chose, and we would never see Sophie again.
  The police were edging forward, their guns drawn, as the smaller man skirted around the deck,
untying ropes. Part of me wanted them to shoot him, but that would give the other one more reason
to shoot Sophie. I heard another car screech to a halt behind the police car, and Detective
Williamson ran toward us, his gun drawn.
  ‘They’re going to get away!’ I called to him. ‘Don’t let them!’
  He was still assessing the situation, his eyes darting between the two men and Sophie. Another
sound caught everyone’s attention just as the smaller man threw the last rope down, detaching the
cruiser from the jetty. Another launch, smaller than the cruiser, was speeding towards the entrance
to the marina from out at sea. It had a luminous police strip down the side, and I knew it had to be
the water police. The smaller man darted across the boat, meeting the larger man on the deck. They
were both close enough to the cock pit to start the motor, but the larger man held Sophie with one
hand, his gun with the other, making him incapable of doing anything else. He stepped sideways, so
the smaller man could shove past and start pressing buttons on the control panel. I heard the engine
kick into life, idling in neutral. I couldn’t let them leave.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           218
 ‘Sophie!’ I yelled, running forward towards the boat. The policemen, detective and my uncle all
lunged at me, trying to stop me. But too late! I was determined to get to Sophie now. I yelled again.
My voice was loud, resonating in a high pitched shriek over all the other commotion.
 ‘There will be an answer, let it be...And when the night is cloudy....there is still a light that shines
on me...Shine until tomorrow...let it be’.
 Everyone peeled off me as I surged forward. They seemed temporarily paralysed; in a state of
shock that I had completely lost my mind. But Sophie’s face was all I saw, her look of anguish
suddenly turning into one of understanding. And in that instant, as the two men on the boat stood
stock still, staring at me with confused anger, Sophie soundlessly moved her hand towards the
control panel, and flicked down a whole bank of switches. I saw it, because that was what I had
hoped she would do. The song lyrics worked. My message had been received. The lights on the
boat’s cabin roof blazed on, straight into the men’s eyes, and each threw up an arm to shield them.
And in the moment, where they were blinded by the light, Sophie got away. All we saw was a huge
glow of light, and then we heard a splash, but as our eyes adjusted, the two men were standing there
and Sophie wasn’t. They didn’t have time to look for her. The police cruiser was bearing down on
them, and they were about to be cornered.
 The larger man acted first, slamming the throttle down so that the boat lurched away from the
pier. The smaller man lost his footing, his arms flailing, but failing to find something to hold onto.
He flew backwards, slamming onto his side, and sliding towards the back of the boat. We all stared
as the cruiser zig zagged towards the entrance of the marina. The larger man must still have been
blinded by the light, as he seemed to be heading straight for the police launch. I thought they were
going to collide, but the water police swerved out of the way just in time. The large man swerved
too, in the opposite direction. Then as his boat careered forward, a huge crunching sound filled the
air. The boat had hit the rocks on the point of the marina, just where it met the sea. At the moment
of impact, a ball of fire exploded from the back deck, and within seconds the whole boat was
engulfed in flames.
 I ran towards the jetty, desperately searching for a sign of Sophie. Andy was by my side in
seconds, holding my shoulders as if scared I was about to jump into the water myself. The boat had
left white foam washing against the jetty, and the water was so dark it seemed to have swallowed
Sophie beneath the blackness. Every part of my body was frozen, my unblinking eyes staring into
the water. Never before had I wanted something to appear like I did now.
 Andy suddenly cried out: ‘There!’
 He was pointing to the water but there was nothing ... what had he seen? And then I saw it too... it
was her white head bobbing in the foam. She was doggy paddling towards the jetty. She was ok!
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              219
Chapter 36


 ‘There’s something I need to talk to you guys about. Probably best to do it before Andy gets
here,’ Sophie said, looking uncharacteristically serious. Mum and I sat down at the table.
 Sophie had spent the first week she was home telling both of us how sorry she had been to put us
through all the stress and worry. How sorry she was about the money. How sorry she was that I had
been attacked. And how sorry she was that she had disappeared from our lives. Mum had managed
to be gracious in her acceptance of the apologies, exclaiming that everything was ok now she was
home with us. But, as much as I would have liked to do the same thing, I couldn't totally forgive
what Sophie had done. As she started talking, she looked down at Charlie in her lap, avoiding eye
contact with me and mum.
 ‘So, I got a letter from a lawyer yesterday. It came here. It’s to do with Danny’s estate.’ She had
barely mentioned Danny since we had been reunited. ‘When they opened a safe deposit box listed
in his assets, they found he had quite a bit of jewellery in there. Some of it was in my name…’
 Mum put her arm around Sophie’s shoulder, quietly comforting her.
 ‘That’s lovely, dear. He must have really cared for you…’
 Sophie looked cynical, and said, ‘I think it was for tax purposes. But for whatever reason, it seems
it now belongs to me. The box also had my original passport. That’s how they found out I lived
here. Danny must have been converting his cash into assets. Not that he ever really told me much
about anything like that.’
 ‘So where is this jewellery now?’ I asked.
 ‘I’m going to get the lawyers to sell it on my behalf. The various bits have been valued at around
$120,000. That’s enough to pay off the mortgage. And pay back Allen.’
 Mum and I looked at each, trying to decide if the mood was right for celebration, or if Sophie just
wanted us to play it low key. We chose the latter.
 ‘Thank you Sophie,’ mum said. ‘That is a weight off my mind.’
 ‘Oh, and I forgot’ Sophie added. ‘There will be enough left to buy you a new piano, Ellen.’
 She squeezed Charlie tight, comforting herself as much as comforting him. The tears she had tried
to stop from coming finally started flowing down her cheeks. Mum got up from her chair and
hugged Sophie, her arms wrapping around Charlie as well. I sat smiling at Sophie, selfishly
dreaming of a new piano. I was also glad to hear Sophie would be getting back in contact with
Allen. He seemed so lovely, but when I asked her about him a couple of weeks ago she said she
didn’t know if she would ever see him again. We sat quietly for a while, until there was a knock at
the door.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           220
 Andy had a huge grin on his face as he came in. He awkwardly put his arm round my shoulders,
saying: ‘Ellen! It’s great to see you.’ Mum appeared behind me, and when he spotted her, his grin
widened and he said: ‘Hi ya Sandy!’
 As he moved away from the front door, I saw two men standing on the veranda, staring into the
house. Before I had time to be scared or wonder why they might be there, Andy turned to them and
said, ‘Go and get it off the truck. I’ll show you where to put it.’ Go get what from a truck? I turned
to mum as if to ask what they were talking about, but the look on her face showed she had no idea
either. I stepped onto the veranda and saw the huge truck in the driveway. It had a piano painted on
the side. Andy stood nervously next to me.
 ‘I hope you like it. The man at the shop said it was a good one.’ The awkwardness between us
disappeared as I wrapped him in a huge hug.
 ‘It’s to make up for all the missed birthdays...and...you know...to show you how impressed I am
with your stunt at the marina,’ he said as I finally let him go, and rushed onto the lawn to see my
new piano. It was beautiful, just like Picasso.
 As the men brought the piano inside, Mum showed Andy into the living room, where we were
joined by Sophie and Charlie. Andy fussed over Charlie for a few minutes as I made sure the piano
was put exactly where I liked it. It looked so brand new and shiny, it was almost too perfect to play.
 After the men left, Sophie waited until Mum and Andy were in conversation so they couldn’t over
hear, and said: ‘I’d really hoped to be able to replace your piano, I know you sold it to save this
house. I never meant for all that money to be spent on me...’
 ‘It’s ok. I know you would have done the same thing for me.’
 ‘I would have, I promise. And I’m not going to let you down again...’ Her eyes welled with tears
once more, as she looked at the new piano.
 ‘It’s ok. It was just a piano. Not like having you back with us…’
 Mum interrupted our conversation by proclaiming: ‘Ellen, you must play something for us... I’ve
missed hearing you so much.’
 ‘What should I play?’ I asked, mentally flicking through the hundreds of books I hadn’t touched
in weeks.
 It was Sophie who responded quickest. ‘Can you play Chopin’s Nocturne, Opus 9 No 2? That was
always my favourite.’ Mum and I stared at her, open mouthed, surprised she remembered the details
of any piece I used to play.
 ‘What?’ she asked, looking bemused. ‘I put it on my I-pod. I’d play it whenever I felt homesick.
Never as good as hearing it for real though.’
 ‘What’s an I-pod?’ mum asked, as I found the piece and started to play.
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                            221
  I was excited to have my own piano again, and also proud to show it off. Not wanting the concert
to be over too quickly, I quickly started another piece. It was one I chose especially for Sophie: The
Beatles ‘Let it Be’. As I finished, I heard Sophie bounce Charlie on her lap, and say to him: ‘Isn’t
your Aunty a star! She might teach you to play one day if you’re lucky’.
  Had I heard that comment two months ago, I would have been deeply offended. Both because I
wasn’t a star, and didn’t feel like one, and also because I didn’t feel any pride in teaching. But
something had changed since my time in Sydney, and the realisation filled me with a joyful relief. It
was the first time I had played in as long as I could remember when I wasn’t critical about my
performance. I wasn’t practising to get better. I wasn’t imagining myself in front of judges at a
competition. I was just playing and enjoying it. And Sophie’s comment wasn’t aimed at hurting my
feelings; she truly was proud of me.
  ‘This has convinced me,’ I said. ‘I’m not going to give up playing – in public, I mean.’ I could
never give up playing, but performing was another matter. ‘I’m going to accept the offer I’ve had
from a violinist and a cellist I knew when we were students to join them in a piano trio. There’s
heaps of beautiful music for piano trio, and if we’re good enough, who knows?’ It wouldn’t be a
career, but it would be fun. Beaming, I sat down next to Andy on the sofa.
  He turned to Sophie and asked: ‘So how have you been Sophie?’
  ‘We’ve settled right in, haven’t we Charlie,’ she said. She put Charlie on his rug on the floor, and
smiled at Andy. You had to know her well to see the grimace behind the smile. She wasn’t close
enough to Andy to explain how hard things had been for her since she got back.
  ‘So do you see much of our dad?’ she asked. I was taken aback by her sudden frankness. I had
forgotten how openly she could talk about him. Mum looked away, as if afraid of the answer Andy
might give. His stammer gave away how he felt about the question:
  ‘Ah... no... not really. I haven’t spoken to him in years. He moved up to Darwin about five years
ago...’
  Ok, that was all I could take. I interrupted for mum’s and my sake. ‘So did you have a good
flight?’
  He sat back, much more at ease with my question. ‘Yeah, yeah, it was fine.’
  ‘And can I get you a cup of tea?’ Mum asked, falling back to the comfortable role of hostess to
smooth the tension in the air.
  The conversation started to flow more freely as we sat and ate morning tea. Even when obviously
unhappy, Sophie was still able to be sociable and chatty. She seemed content to avoid any mention
of her life in London, preferring to laugh about things we got up to as children.


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                222
 When she paused to play with Charlie, Andy turned to me and said: ‘I spoke to Detective
Williamson yesterday. He said there’s no real rush to call him, but that he still had a few questions
for you.’
 I nodded, aware I still had more of that to deal with. Over the last couple of weeks, I had slowly
retold the whole story of my time in Sydney to the detective. Andy had managed to keep the use of
the government software at his flat a secret. He had talked to someone he knew high up in one of
the national security organisations, and he had had a word with Detective Williams’s boss. Need to
know basis, and all that. I had been relieved to hear Andy hadn’t got in trouble over it.
 ‘How are you going Sophie? With the detectives in London?’ he asked. Sophie shrugged. She had
not shown any stress over her dealings with them. She had been far more upset talking about her
lost friend Katie than the prospect of facing fraud charges. However it seemed unlikely that she
would be charged with anything.
 ‘The detective over there, Wolcott, he’s pretty cool. He’s willing to agree that I was caught up
with Danny’s plans, but that I didn’t do anything illegal. There’s no actual evidence against me. The
MP is still putting a bit of pressure on, but I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. I’m going to
have to go over there at some stage, but I was planning to go back anyway, because I have to sort
out the adoption.’
 ‘So you are adopting Charlie?’ Andy asked.
 ‘I’m looking into getting custody, fingers crossed. Not sure what I’m going to do work wise. Not
acting, that’s for sure.’ There was an uncomfortable silence and no one disagreed with her.
 I admired Sophie for her candour. She spoke about the whole blackmail scandal with regret and
honesty, freely admitting what a dumb idea it was, and how it was the beginning of all the misery
that followed. The stupid thing about the whole business was that she and the others didn’t even
have the information that Holland and his uncle thought they did. After some long and confusing
conversations with her about it, it became clear to me that she and Danny knew nothing about the
snuff movies. She and Katie had met Bill through being in one of his porn movies. Sophie only shot
a few scenes because she hated it so much. When Danny had threatened Bill that he would tell all
he knew, Bill assumed that Danny had found out they were killing people at the end of some
scenes. But Danny had only actually meant to threaten him about using under-age girls in the films.
Danny had no idea that Bill’s uncle was a gangster who killed anyone who got in his way. It had
been a deadly misunderstanding.
 I had been so relieved to find out Sophie hadn’t known people were being killed. If she had
known, how could she not have gone to the police? Using underage girls was pretty bad, but
nothing like murder. It was hard to imagine how it had been for Sophie, to watch her friends being
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                             223
killed and to expect that the same thing would happen to her. But she always had been a strong
person, and having Charlie to look after seemed to just make her stronger. Watching the way she
was coping with what had happened was having an impact on my life as well, making me realise
that all the moping around I had been doing was just wasting time. There were worse things in life
than giving up a dream career.
 ‘Well, it seems like you guys are really getting things sorted,’ Andy said awkwardly. ‘How is the
case going against the movie ring? Have any charges been laid yet?’
 I seemed to be the likely one to respond, since I knew more about the people chasing Sophie than
she had herself.
 ‘The London police finally tracked down Bill Holland in hospital. He had been trying to take over
his uncle’s drug business in London, and one of the competition shot him. But not dead,
unfortunately.’
 Andy smirked. ‘Couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke.’
 ‘Yeah, there’s enough evidence of his involvement with the movies that he will be charged with
murder. He’s also implicated a few other people who were involved. It’s a relief to hear he’s not out
there anymore.’
 ‘It is,’ Andy agreed. ‘What happened to the girlfriend - Melissa?’
 ‘I asked that myself. I didn’t like the idea of her getting off completely scot-free. She must have
been a bit complicit in what went on. But apparently she’s agreed to testify against quite a few of
their associates, and she probably won’t spend any time in jail. Saving Charlie counts in her
favour.’
 ‘I would have thought so. Is there any more information about what happened to Veronica, that
girl that was missing?’
 Sophie and mum looked at me, obviously wanting me to tell Andy the bad news.
 ‘Yeah, they found out what happened to her. She was used in one of the movies. She was one of
the under-age girls Sophie met…turns out she was only 14.’
 ‘Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.’ Andy looked genuinely sad at the news.
 We all sat contemplating how close I had been to sharing the same fate as Veronica, when mum
broke the silence, asking Andy a question that I wasn’t expecting.
 ‘You said you were going to visit Liam. How is he?’
 What? No one had told me that Andy was going to see Liam. I tried to keep the look of disgust
from my face. Mum had been mortified to find out what Liam had done to Sophie, but she spoke of
him with sympathy now. He had given Sophie his phone, but I still didn’t feel he had redeemed


Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                           224
himself. I wouldn’t say he deserved what happened to him, but I also didn’t feel any sympathy for
him whatsoever.
  ‘Yeah, I dropped past the hospital. When I explained who I was he looked pretty alarmed, and
rightly so. He’s doing ok. The burns are healing, but he’s still going to be there for a while longer.’
Andy took a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me. ‘He asked me to wait while he
wrote something for you, Ellen. I brought it with me.’
  I opened it, and skim read it, aware that everyone was staring at me. His writing was messy, but I
could make out what it said:
  ‘Dear Ellen. I can’t imagine how you feel about me, you must think I’m the devil. But I just
wanted to try to explain. I am sorrier than you will ever know for agreeing to hand Sophie over to
those people. I regretted it as soon as I got to their house. I know I can never justify why I did it.
And you probably think I deserve to be in the state I am in now. I wasn’t thinking of Sophie and
your family when I chose to do what I did. I wanted the money to help with Abi’s appeal. I assume
you know about my relationship with her. She is rotting away in prison and I want to help her get
out. They threatened her to. I couldn’t let anything worse happen to her because of me. I know it is
selfish to only think of her and myself, but that’s the only justification I can try to give. I’m sorry I
sent that email pretending to be Sophie. I just wanted to warn you off so you wouldn’t get too
involved. Please pass my apologies on to Sophie and your mum. I will never forget the pain I put
you all through and you can’t imagine the relief I felt when I found out Sophie was safe. You sure
saved the day. Liam’
  I passed it to mum, who read it with a look of sadness on her face, and then passed it to Sophie.
  She scoffed at it and said, ‘I don’t want to see anything that little prick wrote. He can go to hell!’
  Wasn’t that a bit rich coming from her? Mum folded the letter, and put it in her pocket. She would
file it away somewhere safe, for Sophie to read when she was ready.
  I’d already had many discussions with Detective Williamson about what would happen to Liam.
Without him admitting that he had agreed to sell Sophie to people who were going to kill her, there
wasn’t really the evidence for a case against him. Since he had changed his mind, and tried to help
us, I was having trouble deciding what I wanted to happen to him. I would never forget how
betrayed I felt when I found out what he had done. But he’d been the one that found Sophie in the
first place, not me. His note made my dilemma worse. I knew at once that I would have done
anything to save Sophie, and I had to think about that when I thought about Liam and Abi. I would
have felt much differently about Liam if we hadn’t managed to get Sophie back safely. I knew Liam
had done the wrong thing, and I hated him for it, but I wasn’t exactly helping the detective to build
a case against him. Liam’s note could be used as evidence of what he did, but would I use it? Or
Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                                225
would I pretend I never got it? Could I forgive Sophie but not Liam? It didn't help that I still felt
stupid for letting Liam con me into believing in him. I hated to think of the clues I missed in his
erratic behaviour. But would I be less naive in the future?
  While I was pondering this, Andy turned to me and said: ‘So what’s happening with you Ellen?’
  I jumped back to the present. ‘I’ve still got a few students. I can use my new piano now, which
will make it easier, thank you very much. I’ve been teaching them at the local school for the last
few weeks. And there’s the trio. But I’ve got other big news... I’m applying to join the police force.
I want to be a detective... I sort of got a taste for it...’
  Sophie laughed at mum’s face; she hated the idea of me becoming a policewoman. But Sophie
thought it was a great idea.
  ‘She’s a natural!’ she said. ‘I’m sure glad she’s on my side!’ Andy laughed too.
  ‘That’s great Ellen. I think you’ll make a terrific detective. That Beatles stunt at the marina was
genius!’
  The decision to try and become a police officer had come to me as I sat talking with Detective
Williamson. I realised I would enjoy doing what he did. And that was all I needed to know to make
up my mind to apply. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I hadn’t felt as excited or motivated
about doing something in ages.




Times of Trouble by Victoria Rollison                                                              226

				
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