Cairns Leagues Club parking lot. Three A.M.
He stood face pressed against the side of the van, hands cuffed behind his back. The female cop was patting him down. She was about 25, cute with blonde hair, so he didn’t mind the patting. In fact, he was sure she copped an extra feel around the seat of his cargo shorts there.
Maybe, just maybe, he could salvage something out of this mess. One minute he and the two Hennessy brothers had been quietly going about their usual business, loading the contents of someone else’s safe into their van. Specifically, the long-weekend’s takings from the club’s poker machines. Next minute the cop car had appeared. One cop had run after the fleeing brothers, while the other slapped the cuffs on him. A bad mess.
“What’s your name,” she barked.
“Big? Why do they call you that? You don’t look very big to me.”
“You haven’t patted down the front of my shorts yet.” He gave her that smile he knew they never could resist.
Her flashlight came up hard between his legs and slammed into his groin. A police-issue Maglite. Hardened aluminium body, weighted with four D-cell batteries. His eyes watered. He wanted to vomit. His knees went weak.
“Try again, smartarse.”
“Richard Millhouse Little.” He almost kept the tremor out of his voice and managed not to throw up.
“But your nickname is Big Little?”
“Yes. It’s a joke. Y’know?”
“Huh. What’s your two comedian mates’ names, the ones who legged it down into the swamp?”
“The Larsen brothers,” he said. “Rob and Steele Larsen. They are a pair of bad bastards. Your partner wants to be careful chasing those two. Men have gone into the swamp with the Larsen brothers and never come out. “
“It was them who locked the club’s night manager inside the safe after we emptied it. I don’t know how long she will last in there. It’s only a small safe in behind that big door. I don’t reckon the oxygen will last too long.”
“What?” the cop said. “You arseholes left her there to die?”
“Not me. I was too scared to argue with the Larsen brothers. I didn’t even want to do this job with them. But I owed them money so I had no choice. I hope that old lady is still OK inside that safe. It’s pretty tiny in there – she only just fitted. Like a coffin.”
He watched the cop step away and have a heated conversation with someone on her two-way. Calling for back up. But with the Elton John concert just getting out, most of the patrol cars would be gridlocked in that mess.
“OK, she snapped at him. “Show me where this safe is before it’s too late.”
* * *
“You got in here before,” the cop said. “So tell me the combination and I’ll open it. I’m not hearing any noise from behind that door so we need to make it quick.”
“I don’t know it,” he said. “I don’t look at the numbers. I just listen to the tumblers while I turn the dial until I hear them drop into place. But I can’t do it while my hands are cuffed behind my back.”
She gave him a hard stare and unclipped the pepper spray from her belt.
“OK, I’ll take the cuffs off. But one dodgy move and I’ll spray you and then give you another dose of the Maglite.”
His eyes watered at the thought.
Uncuffed, he worked the dial, ear pressed to the door. The door was thick steel, as big as a house door.
“Hurry up,” the cop said. “She’ll suffocate.” The pepper spray pointed right at his head.
“It’s a delicate art,” he said. “You can’t rush it.” He heard the final tumbler fall into place. He yanked the door partly open.
“Oh shit!” he said, peering inside.
The cop jerked the door fully open. She stepped past him and blinked at the large, empty safe room. A momentary realisation, too late.
He grabbed the pepper spray out of her hand as she went past. Shoved her hard so she continued into the middle of the empty safe room. She turned to face him, fumbling at the Glock 9mm on her hip. He gave her a full blast of the spray. It knocked her to her knees, gasping and clawing at her eyes.
“You fucking lied to me, you sack of shit,” she rasped.
Before he swung the door fully shut on her, he stuck his face in the gap.
“Actually, my name, Big Little,” he said. “It comes from that TV series. The one starring Nicole Kidman. You know the one: Big Little Lies, baby. Big Little lies.”