Hello again! Thanks for reading and voting, everyone! Votes at the end of Chapter 12 resulted in a tie for the thread you want to follow so I decided to combine the threads into the first scene of Chapter 13, just to confuse you all! 😉
Here we go!
* * *
“Where are the boys?” Rochelle called to Tina.
“No idea. There’s a hell of a lot of people out here. And they’re still coming out of the casino. Unbelievable. Don’t worry, they’ll be here somewhere. It will just take time to find them.”
“I say we just wait here till they let us back in, otherwise we’ll be walking around for ages and I don’t really feel like doing that in this dress at the moment.”
“Good call.” said Tina.
“That is a fantastic dress!” It was the blonde woman from the ladies room speaking. “Very risque. I was just wondering where you bought it.”
Rochelle was hit by the feeling of deja vu as the second time today she was asked where she bought something. Suspicious much? Why was she was still with them? Just to find out where she could buy a dress? Hmm. Rochelle was quickly distracted by the image of this girl in her dress. She would have more trouble holding herself in, by the looks of her. “Thank you. You know, I can’t remember the name but it’s one of those little indie shops on Collins Street.”
“Great. Thanks!” She smiled and said nothing more.
Tina pulled Rochelle’s arm. “Over there! The guys.” Tina shuffled as fast as she could through the crowd. “What’s going on?”, she called to Anthony and Jake once they were within earshot.
Rochelle thought Jake looked a bit sheepish. Guilty even. A knot formed in her stomach. Don’t tell me…
No one said anything.
“What happened, Jake?”, she asked firmly, wide eyes darting from Jake to Anthony and back again. Anthony’s face wasn’t free of guilt either. It was he who spoke first.
“We were talking about your briefcase when you went to the loos. Jake was joking about opening it up to see what was in it. He didn’t really open it but just said it had a bomb in it.”
“WHAT?”, Rochelle nearly screamed. Jake made no attempt to deny anything. “You idiots! Firstly, you shouldn’t even be discussing it. It’s none of your business what’s in it—”
“Roche—”, Tina tried to calm her.
“He was only joking but someone must have heard him and raised the alarm”, Anthony said. “I tried to talk him out of opening it.”
Rochelle gaped at them both, unable to say anything she thought they might comprehend, given their current display of stupidity.
“I could walk away from it right now, couldn’t I?”, she said to Tina.
Tina didn’t answer.
While they considered that idea, Rochelle heard her phone ping another incoming text. She evil-eyed the boys as she dug the phone out of her bag. One new text, another unopened. She went to the older first. It was only a few minutes ago. She probably missed it while the evacuation siren was going off. It read, “The briefcase has been opened. All parties have been alerted.” She evil-eyed the boys again. They were getting the message. She held the phone for Tina to read.
She gasped in surprise.
Rochelle clicked to the next message which read, “It’s moving. Get it back now.” She said to the boys, with scorn and a sarcastic smile, “Thanks for tonight, but we have to be on our way now.” She took Tina by the arm and pushed past the blonde woman from the ladies room who followed them again, giving her one last glare, and headed back towards the Crown complex.
“Hey! We can’t just leave them”, Tina said.
“We have to. They stuffed up in a big way. At least Jake did. I don’t want anything to do with that idiot. But thanks for trying. I can’t believe he did that.”
“Alright”, said Tina with regret. “What now, then?”
“It’s moving, they tell me. But the fire brigade is only just arriving now. Who could be moving it? The restaurant staff wouldn’t move it if they think it’s a bomb. That would be insane.”
“Anthony said they didn’t open it but your text said it was. Who’s telling the truth?”
They stopped. Rochelle made sure the boys hadn’t followed them and continued. “We reckon they are tracking both it and me somehow, right? The text messages might be automated when we become separated. I’m just trying to think if this is the first time it could have moved. Every other time I’ve had it stashed away and it’s always been there when I got back. This time who knows where it might be?”
“So you think the boys are lying?”
Rochelle nodded. “Probably didn’t think we’d ever find out.”
“So what now?”
Rochelle realised there were benches on the grassy area beside the river. Pulling Tina with her she found one and stood up on it and scanned the length of the Casino complex. just in time to spot two black-suited figures in the artificial light walking quickly and with purpose toward Kings Way with another man in pursuit. “Tina, quick! We can follow them and hopefully keep them in sight.”
The girls moved quickly through the remaining punters along the river front. The crowd was thinner toward this end of the complex so Rochelle took some seconds to remove her shoes. Tina followed her lead. Rochelle lost sight of the two suits despite making much quicker progress on bare feet. The lone man in pursuit was still visible in the lamp-lit evening and eagerly tracking the two ahead of him.
They lost sight of everyone while they ran under the Kings Way overpass, the girls down on the river bank, the three men up beside the buildings. Out from under the bridge the girls glimpsed the two black suits disappear around the corner into Clarendon Street. Rochelle stopped as the lone pursuer followed the two out of sight. Fit as she was, she conceded she couldn’t catch up with those men.
“They’ve gone”, she said in defeat. “I bet they had a car waiting or they’ve jumped in a taxi. Did you see the briefcase?”
“I thought one of them was lugging something. Not sure”, Tina replied.
“You know what? Stuff it! Stuff it all! They can text me all they like with their warnings and demands. I don’t care. I’ve had enough.” Rochelle stomped around, first back the way they’d come then towards the Clarendon Street, where she presumed the briefcase had disappeared. She finally stopped and stared along the Kings Way bridge, across the river toward Melbourne’s nightclub district.
Tina approached and put her arm across her friend’s shoulders. “Wanna head back, then?”
“No. I’m not going back to those two. I’m too angry with them. We can get a taxi home. Let’s go to a club. I’ve really had enough of all this. I need to get plastered and dance all this out of me.”
“What about our jackets?”
If there ever was a straw that broke a camel’s back, this might have been it for Rochelle. “To be honest I don’t give a rats about my jacket!”
* * *
This is not my bed. Rochelle woke with a shocking headache and no recognition of the slightly off white wall in front of her head. She rolled onto her back and tried to take in the rest of the room. It hurt her head more to do so. Ow, Tina’s room.At least I’m not in a gutter somewhere. Or a hospital.
Daylight around the curtains. She lifted her head to take in more of the day. What time is it? Where’s my bag? Phone? She noted the bedroom door half open and something black draped over on Tina’s dresser. Her jacket. On the floor was her familiar bag. Lifting her head that high to see over the edge of the bed was too much. She flopped back down. At least all her stuff is here. She was still in her dress. That’s a good thing. She couldn’t remember, and didn’t care how they, or she, got to be here. The explanations can wait till later.
“Hey, sleepy head!” Tina called from the door some time later. “What do you want for lunch?”
Lunch? Oh, God, is it that late? Rochelle tried to reach for the phone in her bag but gave up when she realised it was beyond arms length. “What time is it?”
* * *
“Okay, sorry, start again. I wasn’t quite with you.” Rochelle had eaten some food and felt a lot better. She sat with Tina on the couch, her switched-off mobile phone in her hand.
“We went straight to a club in King Street —”
“Yeah, I know. I remember that part —”
“Alright. Bear with me. You told me to start again.”
Rochelle waved away Tina’s annoyance.
“You got stuck into the tequilas pretty quick. And you just danced. You ignored everyone completely. Guys tried to pick you up all night but they just gave up when you wouldn’t respond. I was getting worried about you. So I put you in cab and took you back here.”
Rochelle digested this. It didn’t sound right. “How did my jacket get back here?”
“We stopped by the restaurant and I got our jackets.”
“What time was this? They wouldn’t have been open that time of morning.”
“They were cleaning up after the bomb threat. There were a few staff members still there.”
“Don’t lie, Tina. You called the boys, didn’t you?”
Tina knew it was a feeble attempt to keep her friend from becoming angry. “Yes because I didn’t want to abandon them, Roche! And they did go back to get our stuff.”
“It’s okay, don’t stress. I vaguely remember seeing them again in one of the clubs. But I don’t remember them bothering me. Were they scared of me?”
“You were a little wild and unapproachable. They were worried about you too.” Tina was sincere and Rochelle knew it. “I’m glad you’re thinking more clearly now, I must say.”
Rochelle smiled. “Do you know what happened with that damn briefcase? What do the boys know about it?”
“We lost it. Those guys we chased took it. No idea where it is.”
“Hmm. Good and bad, I guess. But I still don’t care.”
“The boys still don’t know any more about it.”
“Probably good.” Rochelle sat silently for a few moments. What did this mean now? She gently tossed her phone from hand to hand. “Who turned off my phone?”
Rochelle raised her eyebrows, waiting for elaboration.
“When you turn it on, be prepared. You started getting weird texts with nothing but numbers in them.”
“Oh, yeah. I think I remember that. I started ranting to anyone who would listen, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, it was a bit embarrassing, actually.”
Silence for a short while.
With a movement so sudden it made Tina jump, Rochelle lifted her phone from her lap and switched it on. Immediately she was bombarded with a bunch of new texts. Opening her inbox Rochelle gasped in shock. “Jesus! How many are there? A hundred?”
“They came in every couple of minutes last night. After about five I got sick of it and turned your phone off.”
“You mean you got sick of me going off about it to everyone.”
“That too”, said Tina. “But they’re just sending you random numbers now. It doesn’t make sense. What happened to the warnings?”
“You’re asking me?”
“Have a look at the numbers. Random. Similar to each other but random.”
Rochelle opened one of the most recent messages which simply contained the numbers “144.6524 -38.3031” Rochelle thought she had an idea of what they meant and began scrolling back through the messages. The last twenty or thirty or so were the same and were timestamped exactly thirty minutes apart. Up to that point there were many more sent five minutes apart.
Tina, growing impatient with Rochelle’s silent text surfing, tried to pick her brain. “What’ve you found?”
“No sure. The ones that are sent half an hour apart are all the same and they started about 11 PM last night but before that they were sent every five minutes. And I’m just looking inside… Yes! These are different. These are GPS coordinates! What’s the bet it’s the location of the briefcase after it was taken. While it moves its location is sent out every five minutes but once it stops they only broadcast every thirty minutes.”
“Could be. But why has it only started now? It could be the locations of the guys who took it. But remember the text you got at Crown said all parties have been notified? Would they all get these GPS coordinates, too?”
“That happened after it was opened.” Rochelle realised, responding only to the first question. “Probably. But we don’t know who these other parties are. This Team B are the guys who took it so they don’t need the locations. Who else gets them is anybody’s guess. Tina, my head still hurts and this isn’t helping.”
Tina saw the weariness in her friend and decided she’d had enough. “You want me to take you home? You urgently need to relax and do nothing.”
“I think that’s a great idea. Enough of his crap. It can wait till tomorrow. But I’ve got work tomorrow. And Tuesday. Looks like I’m gonna fail at getting this briefcase back to the shop on Wednesday, huh.”
“Do you care?”
Rochelle shrugged. “I do and I don’t. I can’t help feeling there’s something important behind all this. But, damn it, today is the only chance left to do anything about it.” Rochelle chewed her lip for a second or so, tossing up ideas. “Yeah, let’s go home so I can at least get out of this dress. Can you drive? I don’t think I’m up to it.”
“Your car’s in your garage, remember?”
Slowly another memory from the previous evening came back to Rochelle’s consciousness. “Oh yeah!”
* * *
Rochelle had fallen asleep again as Tina drove her home. Tina pulled into Rochelle’s court and pulled up behind a blue hatchback. Tina elbowed Rochelle in the side to wake her up. “Oy, we’re home and you’ve got a visitor.”
Rochelle stirred awake, blinked her eyes open and stretched her arms in the cramped front seat. A few seconds later the identity of the car in front registered. “Oh, shit! What’s he doing here?” She double checked her jacket was on properly over her revealing dress and nodded to Tina to get out of the car together.
Ashley stepped from his car. “Good afternoon, ladies! Have a good night last night?” His smile was genuine as far as Rochelle could tell.
“Hi Ashley.” Rochelle saw no point in putting up a wall. She drew up beside Tina and leaned against the front of her car. “I think we did, thanks. What brings you here?”
“We got off on the wrong foot the other day and I need to explain.”
Rochelle slipped an arm around Tina. “You don’t think we suit each other?”
“What? No. I know you two aren’t an item so you can drop that charade.” He quickly smiled to hide his annoyance. “Listen, we’re on the same side here. Truth —”
“How are we on the same side?” Rochelle interrupted him.
“I’ll get to it”, he responded, his annoyance showing again, briefly. “The truth is my identity was stolen a while ago and I’ve become a little paranoid since. I don’t really know exactly when it happened but I’ve recently started getting all this financial trouble I couldn’t explain and I’ve had a hard time proving it to the bank and other organisations.
“Anyway, on Wednesday I was simply trying to give that briefcase back to you because as far as I could tell it was yours and I didn’t want you to lose it. Then you left me stuck with it, which I thought was a bit bizarre.”
“I thought you were trying to use it to pick me up.”
Ashley’s face showed the girls he had no response prepared for this question. “No, well, I did say I wanted to ask you out and the thought did cross my mind.” He smiled sheepishly.
Rochelle smiled in reply.
“But I wasn’t going to chuck the case away! And I didn’t want to open it. Although it was tempting.”
“Right.”, her eyes still twinkled.
“And then I started getting anxious about how you knew me and why you didn’t want the thing, so I left it with your neighbour after I saw you go into her place. But, yes, I didn’t want to let it go. You go.”
“Right”, Rochelle said again and left it hanging.
“So…”, his eyes flicked across to Tina and back.
Rochelle, of course, realised he wanted to talk to her alone but wasn’t giving him the opportunity. “Yes?”
“There’s something else.”
Ashley pulled out his phone, tapped it a few times and handed it over to Rochelle. His inbox showed a series of SMS messages from a blank number all received thirty minutes apart. Tina, who naturally peeked, too, groaned.
Rochelle looked back at a grave-faced Ashley. “What about it?”
“Oh, come on! You know damn well what it means, Rochelle.”
“Hey! What’s with the bad temper?”
“Sorry”, he said more gently. “I believe you know what they mean. Open one up and see what it says.”
Rochelle didn’t bother. “Numbers? All the same for the thirty minute messages, different for the 5 minute ones?”
“GPS coordinates, maybe?”
“Spot on. Do you know where?”
“Around here somewhere, I guess. We haven’t looked into it yet.”
“I have. They started down near Brighton and follow the highway all the way to the tip of Point Nepean. So they mark the path of something that most likely travelled that way and is probably still there. I was going to head down there but I think you might also be interested. So who’s coming?”