Page 60 of Starlit Skies

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Without warning, the man lashed out, striking Skylar in the temple with the butt of his gun. “Shut the fuck up,” he growled, as Skylar slumped in the seat. “That’s for the kick in the guts.” He grinned.

“Hey!” Nash yelled, the car veering across the road as he turned to see what was going on in the back seat.

“Keep driving,” the man yelled. “Or I won’t have a problem killing her here and now.” In the mirror, Nash saw him point the weapon at Skylar’s prostrate body.


Nash returned his focus to the road ahead and steadied the car. It’d do no good if he crashed now. Although… The idea may have merit. While Nash had his seatbelt on, the commando wasn’t wearing one. But then, neither was Skylar. Nope, he couldn’t take the risk she might be flung from the car and killed if he intentionally crashed. He’d have to come up with another plan.

The road to Gamboola unfurled in front of him. No other cars were visible either ahead, or behind. They were on their own.

“Just keep going,” the commando said.

Less than ten minutes up the road, the commando spoke again. “Slow down. There’s a turnoff on the left in about two-hundred meters.”

Nash slowed the car, but he almost missed the overgrown, dirt track heading off at a tangent from the highway.

“Here. Here. Turn here,” the gunman yelled, and Nash had to brake hard. There was a thump from the behind him as Skylar’s unconscious body slid forward and hit the rear of his seat.

Shit, he needed to be more careful. Was Skylar even okay? She hadn’t made a sound since the bastard had hit her. It wasn’t a good sign to be unconscious for this long. He wanted to stop the car and jump out and check that she was okay. But he ground his teeth together and kept driving.

His sedan bumped and shuddered down the potholed track. This road hadn’t been used in a long time. The open woodland of the floodplains encroached along the edges. He had to steer around a couple of clumps of mulga growing onto the track. The late afternoon sun slanted through the sparse trees, glowing orange in the dust raised from his tires. There was nothing but trees and sky as far as the eye could see. They were completely alone out here.

Five minutes later, the woodland opened, and a clearing appeared. A couple of ruined buildings lay sagging and abandoned around the edges. An old homestead, perhaps? Nash didn’t know enough about the history of the area to figure out who this land might’ve once belonged to.

They must only be a couple of kilometers off the main highway, if that. And only around twenty kilometers out of town. Close, but yet so far.

“Over there.” The commando pointed at a small building, a shed of some sort. It looked newer than the rest, made of corrugated sheet metal.

Nash parked his car beside the shed, where the man indicated.

There were tire tracks in the dust around the shack. Motorcycle tracks, by the looks of them. Nash had been wondering how the other man had travelled around the area, and now he thought he had his answer. There’d been no car parked in the street when they’d arrived at his house today. It didn’t mean the commando hadn’t parked it elsewhere and walked, but a motorcycle would be much easier to hide, and getrid of once it was no longer needed. And a motorcycle would be easy to ride around the bushland tracks out here. Which might solve the question of how the gunman had gotten into his back yard unseen.

“Carry her inside,” the man instructed.

Nash slowly exited the car as the man stepped out and watched him from the other side. Skylar was sprawled on the rear seat, motionless. Her black dress was all crumpled up at her waist and her feet were bare where her shoes had fallen off. He opened the door and leant in. Turning her over so he could see her face, he called to her gently, “Skylar. Can you hear me?” A large purple bruise spread across the left side of her cheek and up her temple.

That fucking bastard. Nash almost stood up and went for the guy. He had no right to do this to her. But the only way either of them was going to survive was for him to keep his cool. Stay focused and wait for the right moment to get this guy. He felt for a pulse in her neck and was happy to find a strong beat beneath his fingertips.

It was awkward, gathering an unconscious Skylar into his arms, smoothing her dress down to maintain her dignity, but he managed somehow. The extra weight put a strain on his injured leg, and he stumbled a few times. But he was determined not to fall. The commando laughed, as if hoping Nash would drop her. Like this was some sort of entertainment for him.

The door to the shed was ajar, and Nash shoved it the rest of the way open and went inside. While small, it was relatively neat. And it became obvious with one glance that this was where the commando had been hiding out over the past few days. This guy must have a military background. Everything was squared away. The single bed by the wall had been made with razor-sharp corners. It was hot inside, with no way for the heat of the dayto escape the tiny, metal shed. The only light came from a single window, up high on the far wall, and through the open door.

Nash wasn’t sure why this hut was here. It was at least ten years old, by the looks of the rust forming on some of the outside walls. Had the commando stumbled across this place? Or did he have an accomplice? Or even a network of accomplices?

Robinson had told him only this morning, that the gunman’s brother, Stan the Man, was still refusing to talk. But they were digging through Stan’s life and beginning to close in on his friends and associates, finding out more about the social network he hung out with. Society’s underbelly, if Robinson was correct. Some of Stan’s acquaintances were well known for their connections to outlaw biker gangs. The gunman had divulged that Stan was his older brother. Nash hadn’t told Skylar this, but Robinson thought he might’ve identified the gunman. It seemed Stan was the eldest of five brothers. The police were in the process of tracking the siblings down. It seemed they’d all done a stint in the army at some stage—following in their father’s footsteps or some such bullshit—and they were now scattered all over the country. Only one had a fixed address, and he lived in Perth, so was probably out of the picture. Robinson’s men had been compiling data on the other three brothers, trying to track them down. But this was a very reclusive family, that kept their identities and secrets close to their chests. And now the police might have an inkling as to why. At least two of them, and perhaps more, had been snipers in the army, with links to organized crime. A whole family of guns for hire, it seemed.

Someone was bound to talk, sooner or later. But that wasn’t going to help him now.

What would help him was finding out what the gunman had planned.

Carefully, he placed Skylar on the bed, untangling her limbs and rolling her onto her side. She groaned, which was a goodsign, but didn’t open her eyes, even when he stroked her hair away from her face.

The gunman was watching him from the doorway, eyes glittering in a beam of sunlight streaming through the open door.

He needed to engage this guy, to see if he could glean any information. He sat on the edge of the bed, hand placed protectively on Skylar’s hip, and adopted what he hoped was an unthreatening tone.

“You’re a pretty smart guy. Even with all that police protection, you got to us in the end.” If this fellow’s ego was half as big as his fat head, then stroking it with barely disguised flattery might work.