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LIGHTS

AND

SIRENS

LISA HENRY

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. All person(s) depicted on the cover are model(s) used for illustrative purposes only.


Lights and Sirens
Copyright © 2018 by Lisa Henry


Cover art: Natasha Snow, natashasnowdesigns.com


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the copyright owner, and where permitted by law. Reviewers may quote brief passages in a review.

Smashwords edition September 2018



ABOUT

LIGHTS AND SIRENS


Paramedic Hayden Kinsella is single and the life of the party. He likes driving fast and saving lives, and he doesn’t do relationships—he does hookups. Except he wouldn’t hook up with copper Matt Deakin if he were the last guy on the planet. Hayden thinks the feeling is mutual . . . until clearing the air leads to a drunken one-night stand, which leads to something neither of them was expecting: a genuine connection.


Police officer Matt Deakin moved to Townsville to take care of his elderly grandfather. In between keeping an eye on Grandad, renovating his house, and the demands of his job, he somehow finds himself in a tentative relationship with Hayden and very slowly gets to know the damaged guy beneath the happy-go-lucky persona.


But the stressors of shift work, fatigue, and constant exposure to trauma threaten to tear Hayden and Matt apart before they’ve even found their footing together. In the high-pressure lives of emergency services, it turns out it’s not the getting together part that’s hard, it’s the staying together.





DEDICATION



To all the people I’ve worked with whose stories have inspired many of the incidents in this book, and throughout the series. And especially to Sal the ambo, for helping me get some things right. The things I still managed to get wrong are, as always, my own fault.


Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You might want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic.

— Anais Nin


TABLE OF

CONTENTS



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23







CHAPTER

ONE

“Okay, who wants to tell me what happened here?”

Hayden Kinsella snapped his head up at the sound of that familiar, stern voice. Great. No, not great. Typical. It was fucking typical. He raised his eyebrows and met Kate’s gaze. “Watch out,” he said. “Constable Dickhead’s here.”

Kate looked down pointedly at the patient lying in the sand between them. The guy’s face was scrunched up with pain, but even he was side-eying Hayden right now.

Hayden grimaced as he checked the patient’s neck brace.

Okay, so he wasn’t being very professional, but it wasn’t like it mattered. The guy’s dirt bike was lying ten metres further down the beach; he had a fractured wrist, abrasions all over him, possible spinal injuries, and his breath stank of alcohol. He had problems of his own. It wasn’t like the first thing he was going to do was dob Hayden in for calling one of the coppers Constable Dickhead.

Still, Hayden’s bravado withered a little under Kate’s frank stare.

Yeah, it was unprofessional and he shouldn’t have said it. The copper just got under Hayden’s skin, and not in a good way. He glanced the short distance along the beach to where Constable Dickhead was trying to get information out of the patient’s clearly unwilling friends. There was a lot of foot shuffling and head shaking going on in response to his questions.

Kate finished bandaging the guy’s wrist and positioned it across his chest. “Can you keep that there for me?”

The guy tried to nod, discovered he couldn’t do it with the neck brace, and so grunted his assent instead.

“Okay,” Hayden said. “I’ll get the stretcher.”

He rose to his feet, sand raining out of the creases in his pants, and left Kate with the patient. Bloody beaches. His boots were full of sand as well. The ambulance was parked up on the road, on the other side of the grassy dunes. Getting the patient out was going to be a pain in the arse, and he was going to have to ask for help. He was going to have to ask Constable Dickhead.

Hayden headed up towards the ambulance, his boots slipping in the sand. A small interested crowd had gathered at the top of the dunes: dog walkers, sunbathers and perverts. The usual Pallarenda types. Between Hayden and the dunes, the patient’s unhappy friends were still being questioned by Constable Dickhead.

Hayden sighed as the copper turned around and saw him. He forced out a smile. It was nothing at all approaching the range of friendly, but more of a ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ type of smile.

Constable Dickhead—shit, he had to stop thinking that. Deakin, Constable Matt Deakin—returned the smile with a curt nod, and that was it.

Hayden looked away, fixing his eyes on the ambulance and fighting down his irritation. A nod. A curt fucking nod. Deakin was just a tool. And good luck to him. Hayden wouldn’t give a shit except it felt like Deakin had been stalking him for weeks now. Somehow their shifts had synced up lately and their respective Comms were sending them to a lot of the same jobs. That was the problem working somewhere the size of Townsville. It was a good-sized regional city, but it was too small to avoid the people you didn’t want to see. Particularly in the narrow field of emergency services.

Hayden climbed the dunes heading for the road, his boots finally hitting the wooden rungs that had been laid down as a path through the beach spinifex and finding some traction again. He quickened his pace and made it to the car park at a jog, then opened the back doors of the ambulance and hauled the stretcher out. It was light enough now, but it would be a different matter when their patient was strapped to it. He closed the doors again.

The assembled onlookers watched him curiously as he headed back to the shore. His boots sank in the sand, slowing him down enough to give him a moment to appreciate the view.

The white beach glimmered like a thread of ribbon under the afternoon sun. The water shone. It was as smooth as glass this afternoon, reflecting the brilliant blue sky above it. In front of him, in the bay, lay hilly, green Magnetic Island. To the north, following the sweep of the beach, smaller islands dotted the water on the way to the horizon. To the south, Castle Hill rose out of the centre of the city. It was only a ten-minute drive away, but it seemed almost distant in the shimmering light.

The salt air filled his lungs as he made his way back towards Kate and the patient.

Would be nice, Hayden thought, to come and spend some time here when he wasn’t lugging a stretcher. Maybe he could even come back here after his shift, and just sit for a while. Soak it all in and enjoy the salt air and the sand without being in the middle of a job.

Things had livened up a little while Hayden had been collecting the stretcher. All of the patient’s friends were talking now, all of them at once, all of them with a different, strident story, and Hayden hid a smile. Sucks to be you, Deakin.

Hayden positioned the stretcher in the sand beside the patient, took a moment longer to enjoy the stony-faced expression on Deakin’s face as the patient’s friends jabbered at him, and then braced himself mentally. He had to ask Constable Dickhead—the living, breathing definition of the fun police—for help.

He walked over to where Deakin and his partner were listening, unmoved, to the friends’ litanies of excuses. Well, Deakin appeared unmoved. His partner was new, and at every job Hayden had seen him he’d been wearing a slightly panicked look like he was barely managing to keep himself together.

“Hey,” Hayden said. “Can you fellas give us a hand with the stretcher?”

Deakin gave another curt nod and closed his notebook. He eyed the rider’s friends. “Stay right here. Understood?”

They mumbled their assurances.

Deakin turned to Hayden. “Where do you want me?”

Holy hell. Wasn’t that the loaded question? And the image that had shot into Hayden’s head the second Constable Deakin had asked it was unprofessional, inappropriate, and filthy as fuck. Hayden shook it off. There was no point fantasising about the cop, or even flirting with him. Jesus, there was no point even being friendly. He’d tried that once, and Deakin had shot him down in flames.

He’d been speeding at the time. Not by much—he’d been doing seventy-one in a sixty zone down Hugh Street. And it had been the middle of the night, and there had been no other traffic on the road, but Hayden had still been prepared to cop it sweet when he’d seen the flash of red and blue lights behind him.

Cop it sweet, hell yes. The cop who’d approached the window was cute. And cute plus uniform equalled smoking hot—that was simple maths. He was slightly taller than Hayden, pushing about six foot, and he was lean. Not ripped, not thin, but lean. The fine light hairs on his arm had gleamed in the streetlight as he’d gestured for Hayden to put the window down. Hayden had caught a glimpse of a tattoo poking out from under his shirt sleeve, just curling down towards his elbow, and he’d wanted to follow it all the way up the cop’s arm to his shoulder and throat.

The copper had light brown hair and blue eyes, full lips, and a smattering of faint freckles on his nose. Too damn cute.

Cuff me, I’m yours.

“Hey,” Hayden had said, handing the cop his licence. God, he was nice. “You new in town?”

A flicker of something had passed through the copper’s eyes. Mistrust? Disgust? Hayden hadn’t been sure.

I haven’t see you around before,” Hayden had said, flashing him a friendly smile.

The cop had raised an eyebrow and stared back at him.

Which was when Hayden had realised he’d just given him what sounded like a completely cheesy pick-up line, and had tried to laugh it off. “I know most of the coppers in town,” he’d said. “I’m an ambo.”

He hadn’t been asking for a favour or special treatment or anything. There was a line, and Hayden was always careful not to cross it. Dropping where he worked into conversation wasn’t a hint or a demand; it was just making sure the cop had all the relevant information at hand if he wanted to use his discretionary powers. They were all on the same team, right? Generally speaking.

There had been no reaction from…from—Hayden had tried not to appear too obvious as he looked for the cop’s nametag—from Constable Deakin.

Deakin had studied his licence for a moment longer and then eyed him again. There hadn’t been even a flicker of a smile on his face when he’d said: “Then you’re well aware of the dangers of speeding, Mr. Kinsella.”

Hayden had almost choked. Was he fucking serious? Jesus, give me the ticket, arsehole, not the fucking lecture.

Sure,” he’d managed. “I, ah, lost track, I guess.”

Deakin hadn’t said anything in response to that. He’d written out the ticket in complete silence, and then torn it from the ticket book. He’d handed it over to Hayden along with his licence. “Have a pleasant evening, sir.”

And he’d left Hayden sitting in his car, holding his licence and his speeding ticket and wondering what the hell had just happened.

So when Constable Deakin asked Hayden now, ‘Where do you want me?’ the correct answer was rotting in a shallow grave. Or in lieu of that, living in a cockroach-infested hovel with asbestos in the walls. There was no possible reason in hell he should have suddenly—vividly—imagined Matthew Deakin lying underneath him while he kissed and licked a path along that tattoo he hoped swirled all the way down his shoulders and chest.

Come on,” Hayden managed, walking back to the patient.

The newbie copper followed at Deakin’s heels like an anxious puppy.

Hayden caught Kate’s gaze. Her lips were curved into a tiny smile, held a fraction away from impassive. The smile was for Hayden alone, because she knew exactly how much the bloody cop got under his skin. Humourless fucking prick. Hot, humourless fucking prick who’d cost Hayden $168 and a demerit point off his licence.

Hayden crouched down beside the patient, his boots squeaking in the sand, and risked a sneaky glance at Deakin.

Deakin was standing back, waiting for instructions. He was resting his hands on his utility belt. One on his Glock, one on his radio. Hayden couldn’t help eying the way the utility belt hung off his slim hips. He also couldn’t help noticing how good the man looked standing in the sunlight with the gleaming ocean at his back. And how the uniform shirt he wore was almost—almost—thin enough to let Hayden see the lean shape of his body in the brilliant light.

Hayden tore his gaze away before his imagination helpfully filled in all the blanks for him.

How are you doing, mate?” he asked the patient, needing the distraction. And also trying to preserve some level of professionalism at this late stage of the game.

Good,” the guy wheezed. “Aw, shit, I’m in big trouble with the coppers, aren’t I?”

Hayden smiled at that. “Let’s get you up to the hospital and you can worry about that later, hey?”

Yeah,” the guy said, squinting at the sky. “What about my bike? Oh fuck, I had my phone in my pocket! Where’s my phone?”

His phone? The guy was lucky they weren’t extracting it out of some bodily orifice during his autopsy.

You’ll be okay, mate.” Hayden stood up. Yep. No serious injuries here. The neck brace and the back board were a precaution. No doubt this idiot would be up and about again in no time.

He nodded at Deakin’s partner as the guy moved closer. He’d been introduced before, not that it mattered. The newbie took his lead from Deakin and was just as standoffish as his dickhead of a partner.

Okay,” Kate said. “Hayden will take his head. You guys take his body.” She fixed them with a careful stare. “We’re going to do a log roll. Possible spinal injuries, remember. Take it easy.”

Hayden knelt down in the sand, placing his hands to support the patient’s head and neck. Kate made sure the coppers were positioned correctly, and got the stretcher ready to shove under the guy. “On three, you roll him towards you, onto his side. Ready?” She waited for their nods. “One, two, three.”

Kate slid the stretcher into place and they eased the patient back down onto it.

Hayden stood up. He picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder.

“Hayden and I will take his head,” Kate said. “You guys take his feet.”

They hefted the stretcher up smoothly.

It took a long time to reach the road, up through the dunes and the grass. And Deakin, to his scant credit, didn’t take the opportunity to give the rider a lecture on stupidity. Or drag him off the stretcher and cuff him.

Jesus though, Deakin was uptight as well as arrogant. He kept his shoulders stiff as he carried the stretcher, and that would cost him in the morning. His jaw was also so tightly clenched that it was surprising he didn’t crack a few teeth.

When his boots finally hit bitumen again, Hayden was probably more relieved than the patient to see the back of the coppers. They loaded him into the ambulance, and Kate tossed Hayden the keys.

“Don’t drive too fast, honey,” she said with a wink the coppers couldn’t see.

Hayden smiled. “I wouldn’t dream of it, dear.”

Kate climbed into the back with the patient, and Hayden flashed a grin at a stone-faced Deakin as he swung himself up into the driver’s seat of the ambulance.

He reversed out of the parking bay, and headed for the road. In the rear-view mirror, he watched as Deakin and Newbie trudged down to the beach again to deal with their unwilling witnesses.



Hayden and Kate were already in the ambulance bay when the police car arrived at the hospital. They’d handed their patient over to the nurses in A&E, and were sweeping sand out of the back of the ambulance while they waited for their next call. The police car drove slowly past them looking for a park.

Hayden caught a glimpse of Deakin’s serious profile, and wondered if he was still clenching his jaw.

“Here’s Constable Dickhead,” he said, brushing sand into the bay.

Kate sat down on the stretcher in the back of the ambulance. She’d been ferreting around for a discarded bandage wrapper, but given up the fight. She rested her folder on her knees, and her chin in her hands. “You have got to learn to shut your mouth sometimes, Hayden.”

Hayden scowled, and then relented. “Yeah, I know.”

Kate narrowed her gaze, and winkles appeared around her dark eyes. “I mean, I’ll help you take the piss out of him for the speeding ticket, but you’ve got to stop that ‘dickhead’ stuff where someone could hear it. He could make a complaint against you.”

Hayden considered that. “Yeah, he seems like that type, doesn’t he?”

Kate ran a hand through her short hair. “He does. And you don’t need the grief, my love.”

Hayden couldn’t remember when they’d started all the loves, dears, and honeys. Was it when Kate’s husband had made some comment about her spending her nights with a man young enough to be her son? Probably. Their flirting was all in fun. Jimmy knew he had absolutely nothing to worry about on that front. Hayden and Kate had been working together for two years now. Kate was very, very married, and Hayden was very, very gay. Kate was also old enough to be his mother, but she’d never once treated him like she treated her kids, thank Christ.

Oh, honey,” she’d told him when he’d been deliberating about whether to text some guy who’d given him his number, “I get enough of this soap opera shit at home. Harden the fuck up. If you want to get laid, text him. If you don’t, shut up about it.”

Hayden doubted she gave her kids the same advice.

“How’s Sam going?” he asked as worked the brush around Kate’s boots.

Kate sighed. “Oh, you know. He doesn’t want to finish school. He wants to do an apprenticeship instead. But I know what will happen. The lazy little shit won’t do anything about it, and end up living in my house until he’s thirty-five, playing World of Warcraft and getting into flame wars on the internet about crap that actual adults don’t care about.”

Hayden snorted with laughter.

Kate lifted her feet for him. “I swear I need to put a bomb under that kid. I keep telling him nobody wants to hire a grotty teenager who can only communicate by using a system of grunts, and he just stares at me.” She rolled her eyes. “God give me strength!”

Hayden smiled. Kate didn’t mean a word of it. “And Heather?”

Kate sighed. “Don’t get me started on Heather. She’s got this boyfriend now, did I tell you? And she wants to change from Medicine to Performing Arts, because that’s what he does. That’s all well and good for now, I told her, but what happens six weeks down the track when you realise he’s not the love of your life? I thought I’d skipped all the teenage drama with Heather, but I think she’s just a late bloomer.”

Hayden hauled himself up into the back of the ambulance. “Are we stocked up for everything?”

We’re okay. We need to fuel up though. Any plans for days off?”

Not really.” Hayden rolled his shoulders. “Sleep, I guess. Catch up on some TV.”

And he’d probably end up hitting a few of the clubs in town at some point, slinking home before dawn and spending the next day sleeping off his hangover and avoiding the judgement of his flatmate, Monique. Monique was a third-year Marine Biology student at JCU, and knew way more about sea lice than Hayden cared to think about. Thanks to her study habits and Hayden’s shiftwork, they could usually go days without running into one another. It suited both of them.

Kate chewed on the end of her pen. “We’re having a barbeque tomorrow night. Come over about six.”

“Want me to bring anything?”

Just yourself, dearest,” Kate told him. “And whatever you’re drinking. You can crash in the spare room.”

Sounds like a plan,” Hayden said. The clubs would still be there the next time he had a weekend off. Besides, he could always bump and grind with Jimmy.

If you’re leaving me for a man, Jimmy, I’m not breaking it to your mother!” Kate had told them one night when they’d drunk just a bit too much and had been holding one another up as they sang along to Lady Gaga.

Good times. Hayden smiled broadly at the memory as he began to take inventory of the supplies in his kit. In fact, didn’t he have some Lady Gaga on his phone? He drew it out of his pocket and flicked through his music catalogue. Hell yeah, Bad Romance. That’s what he and Jimmy had been singing.

He turned it on, and turned it up.

Kate laughed and began to move from side to side with the beat. She raised her arms and sang along.

There wasn’t much room in the back of an ambulance for an impromptu lap dance, but Hayden gave it his best shot anyway. Kate threw her head back and roared with laughter.

A flash of movement in the periphery of Hayden’s vision made him realise he had more of an audience than he’d intended.

It was Constable Dickhead and the newbie. They were both staring at Hayden and Kate. The newbie looked like he was trying not to laugh, but Deakin was as stony-faced as ever.

Well, Hayden thought after the initial burn of embarrassment had worn off, if Constable Dickhead can’t see the funny side of having a middle-aged woman smack your arse in the back of an ambulance to the beat of Bad Romance, he needs to get out more.




CHAPTER

TWO


Day shifts bled into afternoon shifts bled into night shifts. Days off passed in the blink of an eye, and before Matt Deakin knew it he was facing another week of 6 a.m. starts. Morning shifts always seemed to drag. More corro and less excitement than on an afternoon or a night shift, particularly at the beginning of the week. And all shifts dragged with a First Year stuck to his side like a wet tissue. Sean Foster was only in his third week of the job, and painfully new. He was trying Matt’s patience, but no more than any other First Year he’d ever had. The first few weeks were always torture, and all the newbies walked around with slightly panicked looks on their faces that said: Holy crap, they gave me a gun. What if they expect me to use it?

But Sean was okay, if a little shell-shocked. Not because of any particular jobs they’d been to, but because he’d just spent six months slogging it out at the academy and was now facing the horrible realisation that he still knew next to nothing about operational policing.

At just past 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, the 610 job appeared on the Q-Tasks list, and Matt winced as he read it. A woman was reporting she hadn’t seen her elderly neighbour in days, and there was a bad smell coming from his house. There were a few other crews on who could take the job, but nobody would be tripping over themselves in their hurry to grab this one.

He tapped the screen of his device, accepting the job.

“Let’s go,” he said to Sean, and they left the station together.

The address was in West End, only a few minutes’ drive from the station. It was a nice neighbourhood. The street was right at the base of Castle Hill, and full of old railway cottages. Most had been renovated, but some hadn’t. Some, like this one and the old lady’s next door, had probably housed the same people for the past sixty years. No fancy architraves and latticework on them. The bull-nosed windows were the originals. It was a lot like Grandad’s place, which was an association Matt could do without right about now.

“I haven’t seen him since last week,” the elderly neighbour who came out to meet them fretted. “He has a heart condition, you know.”

Had, Matt thought, staring at the cottage. He had a heart condition.

Okay,” he told her. “Why don’t you go and make a cuppa, and we’ll take a look.”

“How do you have it, dear?” she asked him.

“I’m okay,” he said, patting her arm. “You just make one for yourself.”

He watched as she tottered back down the footpath and turned into her own neat garden.

Matt exchanged a dubious glance with Sean.

The old fibro cottage was locked up. From the footpath Matt could see the cloud of flies against the windows inside. It turned his stomach, and he hadn’t even smelled it yet.

Let’s get it over with,” he said almost unwillingly.

Sean nodded grimly.

The little front gate squeaked open as Matt pushed it. He took a few steps onto the cracked concrete path, and then looked back as an ambulance rumbled into the street. It pulled to a stop behind the police car, and the doors opened. The guy who climbed out of the driver’s seat was tall, lean, and had short-cropped red hair that immediately drew the eye. There was no mistaking him.

Great.

Hayden Kinsella, of fucking course.

Hey,” Matt said, forcing himself to keep his tone conversational as Hayden and his partner Kate met them at the gate. “Looks like it could be a bad one.”

Kate nodded, her mouth a grim line as she took in the flies that pinged lazily against the windows.

“Super,” Hayden muttered.

“Okay,” Matt said to Sean. “This one’s yours.”

Sean squared his shoulders and approached the house. He climbed the three low steps that led to the front door, and turned the knob. The door was locked. Sean’s shoulders slumped in relief. Sean was new, but he wasn’t stupid. He wasn’t eager to get inside.

Matt tried not to think about exactly what it would smell like the moment the door was opened. Sights, he could handle. Smells usually did him in. It took a lot of washes to get the stench of a really bad dead body out of his uniform, and a lot of hot showers to get it off his skin, his hair, and out of his throat and lungs.

It would be like something out of a horror movie in there.

“I’ll go check around the back,” Matt said, and headed down the side of the house.

“That was harsh,” Hayden said, his voice travelling.

Matt stopped.

“What?” Sean asked.

“Your mate there,” Hayden said. “Flicking this job to you.”

“I need a dead body,” Sean said, sounding colder than Matt had ever heard him. “For my competencies.”

Matt hoped that Hayden’s sudden silence was an awkward one. He continued on towards the back of the house. The back door was locked as well.

Sean popped up at his side, looking uncomfortable. Matt wondered how much of that was to do with what was waiting inside for them, and how much was Hayden Kinsella. “Locked?” he asked.

Yeah.” Matt exhaled heavily. “Which leaves us with a few options. We can try and track down a relative with a key, but you have to factor in long that could take. And the last thing we need is family turning up to see this, and that’s supposing they even live locally.” He unhooked his baton from his belt and extended it. “We’ll smash a window. It’s an old house, no security screens.”

Sean nodded.

“You ready?” Matt asked.

Sean took a breath and held it.

Smart bloke.

Matt smashed the window.

The glass shattered and then the cloud of flies was free. It dissipated quickly on the breeze, and Matt gagged as the stench followed it out of the broken window.

“Here,” a voice beside him said.

It was Hayden, and he was pressing a mask into Matt’s hand. Not that it would do much against the smell, but at least it would keep the remaining flies away. Hayden passed one to Sean as well.

“Thanks,” Matt said, pressing the mask over his mouth and nose.

Hayden Kinsella might be a prick, but they were still on the same team. In theory, at least.

Matt edged into the house. It was disgusting. The place crawled with flies and insects, and the stench was enough to turn his guts. He fought against the nausea, pushing it back down. He was not going to vomit.

Not in front of Hayden. The last thing Hayden needed was more ammunition in this weird little feud they had going on.

Matt was used to people hating him just for doing his job, but he wasn’t used to getting it from other emergency service workers. And all over a speeding ticket. Jury fuckers, he’d heard them called once, and wasn’t that the truth? It didn’t mean he was allowed to stop giving them out though, and if anyone knew what speeding could do it should have been an ambo.

But, no. Hayden Kinsella had taken the whole thing personally apparently. Maybe he’d really thought Matt was dumb enough to fall for his attempt to talk his way out of the ticket by saying where he worked, or flirt his way out of it, but Matt wasn’t putting up with that shit from anyone, colleague, ambo or Joe Public. It was the insult behind it. The assumption that all it would take would be a pretty face and a friendly smile to weasel out of a ticket. Attractive guys like Hayden probably got away with that shit all the time.

The worst part was that everyone else seemed to like Hayden. Matt had never heard anyone say a bad word about him. Why he’d taken such an intense dislike to Matt over a bloody speeding ticket, he had no idea. Most of Matt’s colleagues at the station had met Hayden, and most of them thought he was a barrel of laughs. It didn’t hurt that he was a good-looking guy a well, with a confident swagger and an easy smile.

Although, Matt thought as he tried not to choke on the stench, he wasn’t so hot now. He glanced back at Hayden. He was pale, the mask shifting as he grimaced, and he appeared like he was trying very hard to keep the contents of his stomach where they belonged. He frowned when he saw Matt watching him.

Matt turned his attention back to the job at hand.

They found the body in the bedroom. The room was crawling with insects, and the air was thick with black flies. Matt forced his nausea back, and crossed to the window to open it. The mask Hayden had handed him was no real protection against the stench.

The man had been there for some time. His flesh had started to melt into the bed. It was grotesque, and Matt threw a worried glance at Sean.

“Oh, Jesus.” Sean spun around and headed for the door.

“I’ve got him,” Kate said, following.

In the gloom, the man appeared to be moving. Maggots.

Matt closed his eyes as his nausea threatened to overwhelm him. He forced it down, holding his breath and trying not to hear the buzz of insects in the air. Trying not to give in to the stench that crawled down his throat to his churning stomach. Trying not to vomit.

A fly crawled over his cheek. Matt brushed it away and opened his eyes again.

It had been a long while since he’d seen a body as bad as this one. Strange, but it was still the fresh ones that affected him worst on a visual level. The traffic accidents and the violent, sudden deaths. This would have been almost tolerable except for the smell that threatened to gag him, because it didn’t look quite real. As long as Matt didn’t stare too closely, it didn’t look much like a human being at all.

I’m calling it.” Hayden’s voice was muffled by his mask. “And we’re out of here.”

Alright for him, Matt thought as Hayden left the bedroom. Come in, pronounce it, and sail off again. The job was just beginning for Matt and Sean.

He glanced around the bedroom, taking note of the name of the medication on the bedside table. Then he headed into the bathroom and did the same there.

He rattled through the cabinet above the sink. The cap was still off the toothpaste. There was a set of dentures in a glass on the sink. Mosquito larvae twisted in the cloudy water.

God, the whole house was putrid. The poor old guy must have been here for days, and nobody deserved to end up like that. It was bad enough that he’d died alone, but it was far worse that it had taken this long for anybody to notice.

Matt looked at his face in the bathroom mirror, obscured by the mask. His eyes told the whole story though. He saw scenes like this and wondered if that was what would happen to him. His pity wasn’t reserved for the old man alone. A lot of it was self-pity, and it was pathetic.

He was twenty-eight years old. He was healthy. He had a good job. And he had plenty of time, didn’t he, to find someone?

Twenty-eight wasn’t old. He’d said something similar to that last night.

Oh, you think you’ve got all the time in the world,” Grandad had said. “One minute you’re living the life of Riley, then before you know it you’re eighty-one and your hip shatters like a bloody light bulb.”

Good pep talk, Grandad,” Matt had said. “Thanks.”

He needed air. He left the bathroom. Desperate to get out of the house, he collected what he hoped was an address book from beside the telephone in the hall, and headed back outside into the yard.

He cleared the steps quickly, tearing his mask off as he reached the safety of the footpath. He could still smell it though. He would for days.

Sean was braced against the front fence, and Kate was patting him on the back. He’d obviously been sick.

“You okay?” Matt asked.

Sean managed a nod. His face was grey.

Okay.” Matt could still feel his skin crawling, and couldn’t tell if there were insects inside his shirt, or if it was just the power of his imagination. “There’s water in the car.”

Sean nodded again.

Matt crossed the road to the car and opened his notebook on the bonnet. He listened to the radio for the moment. One of the other crews booked off for a meal. Another one was given a break and enter at a business in Currajong. Matt envied them for that.

He switched over to the enquiry channel and contacted Comms, putting in his request for the detectives, for Scenes of Crime, for the duty officer, and for the undertakers to attend. There were so many boxes to tick with a sudden death, and they’d only just started.

It was going to be a long day.

Matt watched as Hayden climbed out of the front seat of the ambulance. Hayden had his back to the street, and Matt let his gaze slide over him. The ambulance uniform—bluish-green trousers and a matching shirt with red epaulettes—suited him, but Hayden Kinsella didn’t need a uniform to enhance his looks. He braced his arms against the side of the ambulance and leaned into it, stretching his back. Matt tried not to imagine the way the muscles moved under his uniform.

It was getting more and more difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.

A moment later Kate headed back to join Hayden by the ambulance.

Hey,” Hayden called to her as she approached. “Is Constable Dickhead still inside?”

Matt didn’t hear what Kate said, but Hayden slowly turned and saw him standing by the police car. Hayden’s eyes were wide with shock.

Matt glanced away, fighting against the sudden stab of humiliation. He forced himself to study at his notebook, to stare at the words he’d written there until they coalesced into something that made sense.

Fuck him. Fuck Hayden Kinsella. He was the one with the fucking problem.

Matt pressed his lips together tightly, and waited until the sting of humiliation receded. He could put it out of his mind. He’d been called worse, hadn’t he? Jesus, it happened on a daily fucking basis. What the hell did it matter where the insult came from?

He sighed again, and wondered how many hours it would be until he could get back to the station and change his uniform.

This was going to be a long day.



The showers were in the basement of the station. Matt showered and changed and bagged his uniform in a bright blue garbage bag he begged off the cleaner. Even then, he still felt like the stench of decay was clinging to him. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to take his uniform home to wash it or burn it.

He trudged up the steps again, holding the bag at arm’s length.

Sean was at the back of the station, fiddling with the lock on his bike chain.

“You okay?” Matt asked him.

Yeah.” Sean made a face. “About, um, about throwing up…”

“It happens to everyone at least once,” Matt assured him.

Yeah?” Sean looked like he didn’t know whether to be comforted by that or not.

“Absolutely.”

A car rolled to a stop. The officer in the passenger seat got out and opened the back door. A woman and a teenager got out. The girl was sullen, her face blotchy and tear-stained. Her mother was flustered, distressed, ready to break down.

Matt recognised the police officer as one of the blokes from Mundingburra. He was holding a shopping bag from Myers. He tucked it under his arm as he ushered the teenager and her mother toward the back of the station.

Matt held the door open for them.

The driver parked the car in a space further up in the car park.

“…what you were thinking!” the mother hissed under her breath she passed Matt.

Matt exchanged a wry look with the officer from Mundingburra.

Not the worst thing, he wanted to tell the mother. A little shoplifting is so, so far away from being the worst thing your kid can do.

Matt had seen kids at that age who’d done things there was no coming back from. Kids who’d raped, and kids who’d killed. When he’d started in the job, he’d thought the worst thing would be talking to kids who’d been victims of unspeakable crimes. Turns out the worst thing had been talking to the kids who’d been the perpetrators.

A part of him wanted to say something like that to Sean now. To tell him that there were worse things than seeing a body that was so rancid it wasn’t even a body anymore. That there was something much, much worse in seeing something fresh. Something stark and blood-stained and violent. At least the guy today had been old. At least he’d lived a life. But what sort of pep talk would that be?

“Do you want to grab a beer?” he asked instead.

“Nah.” Sean rolled his shoulders. “I’ve got a couple of mates coming over.”

That was good. Sean was new to the job, and he’d had a bad day, and he was single and lived alone. And Matt could remember when he could tick all of those boxes. He knew what it felt like to go home and have nothing to do except replay every damn detail of a shitty job over and over again. Talking it out, even if it meant a gentle ribbing from his mates over a couple of beers, was better than sitting in silence and letting it build.

How about tomorrow night?” Matt asked.

“I was thinking about it,” Sean said, shrugging his backpack on and fastening the clips across his chest. “City Lane, right?”

“Yeah. I think Linda said at seven.”

It was a regular thing. The team met up for drinks every time they knocked over a week of morning starts, and every time they finished night work. A combination of morale building and the week’s debriefing, Matt supposed. It kept everyone working well together. They’d pushed it back to tomorrow instead of tonight because it was Rawiri’s birthday.

Sean looked hesitant.

Come tomorrow night,” Matt said. “I’ll shout the first round.”

Sean nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Okay. I’ll see you there at seven.”

Matt headed for the street, still holding his blue garbage bag at arm’s length. He could use some beers tomorrow himself.

CHAPTER

THREE


Hayden hoped he still didn’t stink like decay when he entered the club on Thursday night, moving easily between the patrons in the now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t flash of strobe lights. It had been a few weeks since he had been here but it looked like nothing much had changed: the guys were on the dance floor and the girls were in the beer garden, and all was right with the world. He squeezed in at the bar, ordering a vodka and Coke to start the night. He wanted someone sickly sweet to chase the smell of death out of his throat, just like he wanted to be surrounded by people tonight—people that were alive, sweaty, loud, and exuberant—to chase the memory of that maggot-ridden corpse out of his mind.

Getting laid had always been Hayden’s go-to pick-me-up in the past.

He stepped away from the bar, and found a wall to lean against where he could watch the guys on the dance floor. There were a few faces that seemed familiar. The regulars. And it didn’t take long for somebody to approach him.

“Hey,” the guy said, and looked him up and down.

“Hey,” Hayden said.

Thank God for sure things, because Hayden had work tomorrow, and he didn’t want to be out all night. He wasn’t on the road tomorrow at least, but he still needed to be reasonably alert. He was technically on a day off, but he’d agreed months ago to fill in for Jocelyn, who was on one of those river cruises in Europe with her husband. Hell if Hayden knew why. Jocelyn didn’t seem to like spending time with her husband. There was a bet going around the station that she was probably going to push him overboard and collect his superannuation money. Hayden wasn’t sure if they were joking or not.

Fucking relationships. They made no sense to Hayden. Never had, really. Because on one hand, sure, there was Kate and Jimmy, but on the other hand there was Jocelyn and whatever her husband’s name was. Did people not notice when they started to hate their partner, or did they just want to stick it out to the bitter end? It made no sense to him. Then again, he hadn’t exactly grown up surrounded by examples of healthy relationships, had he?

I’m saying this as kindly as I can,” Kate had told him once, “but you, my love, are fucked in the head.”

Jesus. I’d hate to hear what it sounds like when you’re being blunt then.”

Though she’d had a point.

The music in the club was loud. Too loud for conversation, and that was fine. Sure Thing was stocky, clean-shaven, maybe in his thirties. Yeah, he’d do—and by the look he was giving Hayden, he obviously thought the same.

Sure Thing leaned into his space. He smelled like aftershave. “Do you want to dance?”

“Not here for that,” Hayden said, downing the rest of his drink.

His head throbbed a little with the music, or maybe it was because of the way he’d pretty much inhaled his vodka and coke. Whatever. Hayden needed that buzz to distract himself from the memory of that body, half-melted into the bed, with larvae spewing out of it. And that smell…there was nothing in the world quite like that smell. Hayden almost felt bad for Constable Dickhead and Newbie for having to stick around and deal with it. Almost.

A jolt of guilt—or maybe it was shame—went through him when he thought of how Constable Dickhead had heard him call him that. Hayden could get in a lot of shit if Constable Di—Deakin, Constable Deakin—complained, but that didn’t explain his guilt. It had been a prick of a thing to say, however much Deakin deserved it. Hayden shouldn’t have sunk to his levels of arseholery. He was better than that. Well, he should have pretended to be better than that, which was almost the same thing.

Hayden forced a flirty smile and pushed himself off the wall, and then set his empty glass down on a nearby table and headed for the toilets. Didn’t even have to look back to see if Sure Thing was following him.

Of course he was.

Hayden knew he was an attractive guy. Which was what he deserved, frankly, after a childhood of being teased as a skinny, freckled ranga—and he fucking hated that word—and while the red hair and freckles weren’t going anywhere, at least he’d grown into them, and he’d filled out. He also had a great arse. No doubt Sure Thing’s gaze was stuck to it right now.

The warmth coiling in Hayden’s gut, the buzzing just under his skin; it had just as much to do with knowing how much the guy wanted to fuck him than the drink he’d thrown back. It was a powerful, heady thing to be wanted, and it made him feel alive. It was hardwired into him, and into everyone—that primal urge when confronted with death to push back. To prove something. To scream at the universe: I’m alive! And in Hayden’s experience there was nothing more life affirming than getting laid.

Hayden pushed the door to the toilets open. There was a guy at the trough, and he looked Hayden up and down, dick in hand. Hayden flashed him a smile and headed for one of the stalls. Sure Thing followed him in.

“Michael,” the guy said.

“Hayden,” Hayden replied, although it didn’t matter, and then Michael was pushing him up against the wall and shoving his tongue down his throat. He tasted like bourbon and sickly-sweet post-mix Coke. His tongue was slimy, and Hayden fought against a rush of revulsion as he thought of wet decay. He tugged Michael’s head back for a moment, sucking in a breath before leaning back against the wall and letting Michael in for another go. As long as Hayden got someone else’s hand on his dick at some point he could overlook the fact that Michael couldn’t kiss for shit.

Michael slobbered into his mouth for a moment, and Hayden saw melting flesh. He pushed Michael away.

Michael was panting, wide-eyed. “What?”

Hayden slid a hand up between Michael’s jean-clad thighs. “Want me to blow you?”

“Fuck yeah.”

Like anyone would turn a blowjob down.

There was a sudden burst of noise as the door to the toilets opened, letting in all the sound from the dance floor. It was a bit early in the night for It’s Raining Men, wasn’t it? The door swung shut again, muffling the sound, but only a second later it was back, and this time accompanied by someone making a high-pitched whine of distress.

Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck!”

“Let me see! Let me see it!” A gasp. “Oh, fuck! That’s blood!”

Of course it’s fucking blood! What did you expect? Fucking glitter?”

Hayden slid out from between Michael and the wall. “Sorry, mate.”

He tugged the door open and stepped out of the stall.

And yes, that was blood alright. Two guys stood in front of the sinks. One of them was waving his hand around, and blood was dripping down his wrist, his elbow, all over his tight shirt and his jeans, splatters of it hitting the floor. His friend was pale and swaying, his eyes wide at the sight.

Hayden moved forward. “I’m a paramedic. What happened?”

The injured guy—too drunk to be panicking yet—flapped his bloody hand in Hayden’s direction. “I put my hand through a glass.”

Okay.” Hayden stepped over to the paper towel dispenser, and grabbed a wad of them. “Sit down,” he said to the swaying friend. “Now. And call an ambulance.”

The last thing he needed was a second casualty.

And so much for forgetting about work tonight, right? Hayden hardly noticed as Michael left the toilets.

“Omigod,” the injured guy said, staring past Hayden at his friend. “I can’t believe I’m the one hurt, and you’re the one having a breakdown!”

“Oh, fuck you, seriously,” his friend said, holding his phone up to his ear. “Um, yes. Ambulance.”

You don’t get to be a drama queen about this,” the injured guy said. “This is my drama-queen moment!” He waved his hand again, blood splattering.

Hayden caught his wrist. “Don’t do that.”

The guy looked chastened.

There didn’t appear to be any glass still in the wound that Hayden could see, so he pressed the wad of paper towels into the guy’s hand and curled his fingers around it. “Keep your fist closed on that. As much pressure as you can, okay?”

The guy nodded.

Hayden grabbed more paper towels.

The door to the toilets swung open, and one of the bouncers appeared. “What’s going on in here?”

“Put my hand through a glass,” the guy volunteered happily, lifting his hand to show him.

The bouncer glanced between him and Hayden.

“I’m a paramedic,” Hayden said. “Can you get me a clean towel or something?”

The bouncer nodded and left again. Behind Hayden, the injured guy’s friend was talking to Comms.

“Tell them there’s an off-duty paramedic here,” Hayden said. “And tell them the bleeding isn’t stopping.”

In the few minutes since Hayden had applied the paper towels, they’d already bled through. He replaced them and curled the guy’s fist tighter. He was pale now, his smile vanished. The combination of alcohol and blood loss meant that he might not have been feeling any pain, but he was going to get very shaky on his feet very fast.

The bouncer reappeared with a stack of folded bar towels.

“Help me get him outside for the ambulance,” Hayden said. He and the bouncer escorted the guy outside, through the crush of people dancing, and out into the sudden strange silence of the street. The music was muffled from here, a dull and distant beat.

A group of women stood some distance away, puffing on cigarettes.

A curlew scuttled across the street.

A car with a whining transmission roared down the street.

Hayden heard sirens in the distance, and hoped they were on their way here.

He and the bouncer sat the guy down on the edge of the footpath, his feet in the gutter. Hayden sat next to him, making sure he kept his injured hand elevated. His friend hovered around anxiously.

“Have you been drinking tonight?” Hayden asked him.

The guy nodded.

“Did you take anything else?”

A guilty look.

What’d you take?” Hayden asked, and sighed when the guy hesitated. “Mate, I’m not a cop. I don’t care, except some drugs interact badly with others, and it’s important that the doctors at the hospital know exactly what they’re dealing with.”

“I, um…”

“I don’t care,” Hayden repeated. “And nobody is going to dob you in to the cops if you took something else, okay?”

“Okay,” the guy said. “Ah, I took an eccy.”

That certainly explained why he wasn’t feeling the pain.

The sirens grew louder, and the flashing red and blue lights heralded the ambulance as it turned the corner and pulled up in front of the club.

Hayden rose to his feet and waved them down. It was Becky and Brian. Hayden called them the B-Team, but only because they both had senses of humour and thought it was hilarious. He was glad it was them who’d got the call, and not Greg, who Hayden knew was also working. Hayden didn’t get on with Greg, and he knew Greg would have made some comment about how unsurprising it was to find Hayden at a gay club.

Because of course it was unsurprising. Hayden was gay and liked to get laid. Where the fuck else would he go?

The patient’s twenty,” Hayden said. “Conscious and breathing. He’s affected by alcohol and MDMA. Got a laceration to his palm, about four centimetres. It’s still bleeding pretty badly. I couldn’t see any glass in it, but I didn’t have a close look.”

“Thanks, Hayden,” Brian said.

“So much for your night out, huh?” Becky raised her eyebrows.

Hayden glanced down at his blood-spattered shirt. “Yeah, so much for that.”

He left the patient in the care of Becky and Brian, and then went back inside to scrub his hands clean. He looked around once for Michael before deciding he didn’t really care enough to pick things up again, and exited the club.

The night was a bust.

He headed home.

A stray cat followed him furtively for about half a block, darting from shadow to shadow, but it vanished long before Hayden got home.





Hayden flicked through all the channels on the TV, and then flicked through them again. Monique was out, so the apartment was his, but the freedom to wander to the kitchen and back naked wasn’t really doing it for him right now. He was tired, but he was also restless. So much for getting laid to remind himself that he was alive, when instead he was lying on the couch in his track pants watching reruns of fucking Masterchef. He thought of Kate, and how she sometimes complained about having to go home to Jimmy and the kids after a shitty shift and have them dump their problems on her as well. And yeah, that sounded annoying, but less lonely and pathetic than what Hayden currently had going on.

He glared at the TV, and at the open packet of Barbecue Shapes on the coffee table in front of him.

Masterchef and Barbecue Shapes.

Living the dream.

It was late—close to midnight—and Hayden was too tired to sleep. Too aware that whenever he closed his eyes he’d just find himself looking at the decaying body of that old man on the bed. And the smell…Jesus, but there was nothing worse than the stench of a rotting corpse. It got right into his skin, into his throat and lungs, until he couldn’t be sure if it was really there or if it was only the memory of it, visceral, stomach-churning, still clinging to him.

He’d washed his uniform twice, and then thrown some more detergent into the machine and run it empty.

That poor old bastard, living and dying alone like that. Those were always the worst jobs to deal with, because they always left that question in the back of Hayden’s mind, that fear: What if that’s how I end up? And it wasn’t so much the living alone that scared him—Hayden had done that before and he’d do it again—but the dying alone. The thought that he had made so little impact on the lives of the people around him that maybe one day he’d just drop out of their thoughts, and nobody would even realise they hadn’t heard from him until the neighbours complained about the smell.

Hayden was more than that, wasn’t he? More than a footnote in someone else’s life? More than an anecdote: Did you hear what happened to our neighbour?

He rubbed the heel of his hand over his eyes.

Of course he mattered to people.

To Kate and Jimmy.

To Monique, who would at least notice if the rent wasn’t paid.

And people liked Hayden. He was likeable. He was popular. He was the life of the fucking party. But he didn’t have a large circle of close friends. He didn’t have anyone who badgered him about the unimportant shit in their lives after a horrible shift.

It was a strange thing to be jealous of.

Thoughts like these were night time’s specialty, weren’t they? Dark and insidious, but the sunlight killed them. Hayden just needed a good night’s sleep, provided he could trust himself to close his eyes.

It was midnight, and he hadn’t even looked over his lesson plan for tomorrow. Not that he needed to—Hayden knew that shit backwards. Then, tomorrow night, he had Heather’s birthday dinner. Hayden had been invited because somewhere along the way he’d been unofficially adopted by Kate and Jimmy, and he got corralled into all their family events.

And then he had a weekend off, and he’d hit the club again and find someone to hook up with. Finally work this restlessness out of his system with a good hard fuck.

He thought about Constable Matt Deakin, and that tattoo that climbed up his arm, and the way it drew Hayden’s gaze unerringly every damn time. He thought about how the muscles in Deakin’s forearms had corded when he’d put his hands on Hayden’s car that night and leaned in. The guy was an arrogant dick, but, well, Hayden would by lying to himself if he didn’t find him hotter for it. Hotter in an ‘I want to suck this guy’s brains out through his dick and make him beg for mercy’ sort of way.

Hayden slid his hand under the loose elastic waistband of his track pants and rubbed his fingers over his abdomen, teasing himself by not going any lower.


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