After the enormous strain on his nerves over the weekend, and the devastation of Geoff just dumping him like that, the only way Ian could get a grip on his emotions was to bury them. He threw himself back into his work. He found it was the easiest way to drive away the thoughts which nagged him over what had happened. He began to put in longer and longer hours, powering through the work he was assigned. His secretary certainly noticed, and did not approve. It was not the extra work he was generating; in fact, if anything he was giving her less because he seemed to be doing most of it himself; but rather because he was there all the time. She was concerned for his health, and his state of mind. Yet whenever she tried to bring up the subject, he simply dismissed her with a shrug and put his head back down.
Jill wasn't the only one to notice Ian's sudden increase in productivity. The partner who had nominal oversight of young Mr Sterling, Maggie Jones, also spotted the dramatic rise in his output. She did a couple of spot checks, but found nothing to complain about with the work he was doing, and no reason to chastise him since there did not appear to be any mistakes or errors in his files. Yet she also firmly believed that a happy employee was a good employee, and she wondered at the sudden changes in one of her favourite solicitors. Whenever she had spotted Ian around the offices in the last week or so he seemed to be pre-occupied and even a little down, not the usual smiling young man she knew.
Maggie Jones was a brilliant woman who had earned her partnership with the firm by sheer hard work and determination, getting her name on the letterhead by the time she was 37 - not a small achievement! She had liked Ian Sterling from the moment she first met him while interviewing for junior solicitors a few years ago, and he had proved her instincts right, earning a reputation as hard working yet unassuming amongst the staff, and impressing more than a few clients with his winning smile and easy manner. She considered him her protégé in many ways, and was concerned that he may have been having some kind of personal difficulties which led to his long hours. Privately, she wondered for not the first time if Ian was gay - all the evidence, what little of it there was - suggested he might be. He was 28 years old and strikingly handsome, yet she knew he lived alone in Erskineville, and never brought any female company to any of the office functions. She had also heard on the grapevine that more than one of the women with whom he worked had attempted to flirt with him, yet Ian had ignored any such advances, seemed almost oblivious to them. And Maggie just had a feeling about him, a hunch, if you like, that he could be gay.
She would never mention it, or ask him outright - that was inappropriate, but she sometimes felt that if Ian were homosexual, and it caused him problems, that she would like him to know that she would be there to back him up. Her own son had come out to her when he was seventeen, some four years ago, and through him she had met a number of his friends, had seen for herself the heartache, and the problems that young gay men still faced despite the anti-discrimination laws and the supposed tolerance of modern society. But she would never pry into Ian's personal life to such an extent as to ask without very good reason, so she simply tried to be around for him whenever he had anything to ask.
With the recent jump in Ian's output, Maggie began to do a little checking. She quickly learned that he was working extraordinarily long hours, and that several other staff members had noticed his changed demeanour. His secretary, Jill, confided in response to Maggie's innocent query concerning Ian's mood, that for some months he had seemed exceptionally happy and carefree, but that his manner had altered dramatically from one week to the next, and that he now seemed almost dull in spirit. It was this change which had coincided with his sudden high workload. Maggie confirmed that Ian was not facing any unusual or difficult cases at the moment, and deduced that he was showing all the classic symptoms of a personal crisis.
She arranged to just happen by his office one evening, after most of the staff had gone home, and knocked quietly at his open door. As he looked up at her with a surprised expression, she smiled and wandered in, taking a seat opposite him at his desk.
"Working late again? You know you don't have to do this to impress me?" she said in a tone of light-hearted teasing.
Ian forced a smile, although it stretched his face thin and fooled neither of them. "Only trying to keep up, Ms Jones," he said.
"Oh, you've been doing much more than that lately!" she replied. "You're billings are up and your output is sky-high!"
Ian looked at her uncertainly. "Is there a problem, ma'am?" he asked with concern creeping into his voice.
"No, Ian, and please, at this time of night there's no need for the formality. Call me Maggie. I just wanted to remind you that we're much more concerned with quality than quantity "
"Uhh, have I missed something? Ms Jones, I'm sorry if I've messed up somewhere " Ian began to worry.
"No, Ian, not at all. Your work is always up to the highest standard. But 'quality' comes not just in the work you do. It includes the way you feel, the way you act as well. You seem to have been a little down lately is there anything you'd like to talk about?"
"Er, no, ma'am," he stammered a little. "I, uh, thought I was doing my job the best I could."
"Please, call me Maggie!" she said quietly, putting on her best motherly smile of concern. "You are working very well. I just thought something, or someone, around the office may have been bothering you?"
"No, Ms no, Maggie," he said cautiously. "Everything around here is just fine." His tone belied his statement, the confusion in his mind obvious.
"Okay, then, how about at home? No problems with your personal life that you just need someone to talk to about? Financial problems, car worries, relationship difficulties?"
Maggie clearly saw Ian's startled eyes at the last words, but he covered up quickly. "No, Maggie," he reassured her, "Nothing like that. Just plain old, quiet Ian Sterling!" he tried to laugh, but it sounded hollow in the still office.
"Okay, Ian, I trust your judgment," she said smoothly, as she reached across the desk and rested her hand on his, lowering her voice. "But remember - if there's ever anything you want to talk about - whether it has to do with work or not - I'm here. Sometimes it helps enormously to simply talk things out with another person, and I can be a great listener. I guarantee you it would be person to person, no employer/employee stuff, and anything you say to me would be completely confidential. Keep it in mind, will you?"
Ian nodded, lost for words. His boss stood to leave, smiling again. Just as she passed through the office door, she turned and grinned at him. "Go home, Ian! Leave this behind you and get some rest! A young man like you should be out and about, not stuck in an office 12 hours a day! And that's official!"
He stared for a while at the space where she had stood. How did she know he was having relationship problems? Was it written all over his face? Or was she just guessing? Ian had always admired and respected Maggie, and now he was worried about what she thought of him. He told himself he would try to spend less time working, and follow her advice, as he sighed and lowered his head into his hands. Unbidden and unwelcome, thoughts of Geoff surfaced again. What would Maggie Jones think if she knew her employee was queer? And that he had been sleeping with a known criminal? Ian shuddered once more.
Ian had tried to take Maggie's advice. He had cut down on his hours at work, but he hadn't really shaken off the constant fear of being discovered, or the sense of betrayal that he felt whenever his mind was drawn back to Geoff Carruthers. He had tried to resume his life the way it was before Geoff, but somehow things were not the same. He no longer felt the sense of control and satisfaction he had once known. Sorting and cataloguing his collection of movies seemed like so much wasted time. Keeping the house spotlessly clean passed the hours but did little to ease his sense of loss.
One evening, early, he was startled from his self-absorption by the clanging of the telephone. He jumped to pick it up, fearing the worst.
"Mr Sterling, it's Detective Sciutta here."
A sinking feeling clawed at his gut. The cop who had brought the whole business with Geoff to a head! "Yes, Detective?"
"I just thought you'd like to be kept up to date - we've issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr Carruthers on suspicion of supplying and distributing narcotics. We have more than enough information to convict him when he's found, although I'm hoping he will co-operate with us, and help us to apprehend a number of his own suppliers."
"That's good," responded Ian, feeling it was the right thing to say. He wanted nothing more to do with Geoff Carruthers, or the memories he evoked, and this policeman was just stirring his already jangled brain. Why couldn't this whole thing just go away?
"Unfortunately, I couldn't keep your name out of it altogether," the cop went on, "but I have managed to bury it in the file. You are simply one of a number of people who were interviewed about the matter, but who could not provide any real assistance, so I'm sure you have no reason to be concerned about your, uh, involvement."
Ian blushed at the implications of the words, but he was also grateful for the efforts of the detective, and pleased to know he wouldn't be dragged any deeper into the morass of Geoff's criminal activities than was necessary. He brightened a little as he answered. "Thanks," he said sincerely. "I appreciate your help, officer."
"Please, call me Michael," replied the detective. "And one more thing, Mr Sterling?"
"You will let me know if Mr Carruthers tries to contact you, won't you?"
Ian bit his lip, hard. He winced at the thought of Geoff contacting him again, and the ache in his gut became a shooting, stabbing pain. Struggling to retain control of his emotions, he almost hissed into the phone. "Yes, Detective, I am well aware of my obligations! But I'm quite sure I won't be hearing from Mr Carruthers again."
He barely noticed the surprise and suddenly impersonal attitude of the answer. "Good! Well, I'll be in touch with you if we need anything else. Goodbye."
Ian wanted nothing more at that moment than to wipe the entire 'Geoff' episode from his life and his memory. Everything that Geoff had done or said, everything that he was associated with, was anathema to Ian, including the police investigating his case. The less that Ian had to speak to Detective Michael Sciutta, or anyone else who reminded him of his relationship with Geoff, the better!
Michael couldn't see Ian's wince, but he certainly heard the ice in his voice. "Yes, Detective, I am well aware of my obligations! But I'm quite sure I won't be hearing from Mr Carruthers again."
The cop was surprised at the coldness of Ian's answer, but matched it with his own. "Good! Well, I'll be in touch with you if we need anything else. Goodbye."
As he hung up the phone, Michael grunted to himself. 'Typical bloody lawyer' he thought. 'I help keep him out of trouble, and now I'm not good enough to even speak to. I should have known better than to even try!' He might have felt differently if he had seen the look on Ian's face, or the cold sweat on Ian's brow, at the very thought of having to deal with Geoff Carruthers or anything that he represented.
True to his promise, Detective Michael Sciutta had been able to obtain the warrant and gain entry to Geoff Carruthers' flat without needing to include Ian's name in the proceedings. At the apartment the police found the documents, computer and discs that Ian had told them would be there, and an analysis of that information soon gave them full details of all of Geoff's business dealings - the income from the brothel, details of his legitimate investments, names and contact numbers for other 'jobs' that he did for various shady figures in the Sydney underworld. But the major prize for Michael was the information on the supply of drugs to Neale Simpson - dates, places, quantities and types of drugs and money paid. Most of it was in code, but a fairly simple code that was easily broken once a couple of assumptions about identities were made.
The stuff was dynamite, and more than enough to convict Carruthers of supplying and distributing. But it went deeper than that. It soon became apparent that if they could get Geoff's co-operation, they could tie up Habibi and several other major players. So Michael, with the help of his superiors, kept the whole thing under close wraps, issuing a warrant for the arrest of Geoff Carruthers, but leaving both his suppliers and his customers untouched for now. Geoff's description was forwarded to all regional centres as well as the counterpart agencies at the Police Forces in other states, and the Federal Police, as a 'person of interest', with a request that if found he be held and Michael notified immediately.
Satisfied with his efforts thus far, Michael had indulged himself in a little gloating, tinged with the pleasing prospect of having an excuse to maintain some contact with Ian Sterling. He had called the lawyer at his home one evening, a few weeks after the day of Ian's 'interview'. It was that very phone call, which he just finished, which left him feeling angry and bitter. He had expected some reaction from Ian - maybe gratitude, possibly even pleasantries, but not the icy brush-off he had received. But Michael was not one to brood on perceived slights, or worry about what might have been. He was disappointed, certainly, that his news hadn't elicited a more amicable response from Sterling, but told himself that such attitudes went with the job. No one felt very disposed towards liking a cop, especially a lawyer.
He sat back in his chair and stretched his arms up, then looked at his watch. 8.00 p.m. and here he was still at the office. He was tired, as usual, and feeling just a little sorry for himself. He wearily packed up the files he was working on, placing them in the appropriate cabinet, before casting one more look around the cubicle he laughingly referred to as his office. With a shrug of resignation, Detective Sciutta signed himself out of the Police Centre and stepped into the brisk night air. He quickly walked up to the bright neon lights and strolling crowds that was Oxford Street, then down the hill past several of the gay bars without even a glance, toward Museum Station. At this time of night the ancient underground platform was all but deserted, yet Michael barely noticed. He felt no fear riding the system alone at night - it was the way he was, the way he always was - alone.
A few short stops on an empty carriage, and he stepped out again at McDonaldtown - the station without a suburb, sandwiched into the triangle of Redfern, Newtown and Erskineville. No one else left the train at his stop, and the bare, open platform offered no shelter whatsoever, raised above the streets and the roofs of the surrounding buildings. He flipped his collar up against the chill of the evening and trudged down the stairs to road-level, then up the hill to his tiny flat - a third floor walk up with a postage stamp sized balcony and a fantastic view of the other postage stamp sized balconies surrounding a brown and unkempt courtyard.
Michael breathed heavily as he finished the climb to his door, and let himself in, throwing his bag and coat over the cheap and rarely used sofa in his miniature loungeroom. He surveyed his domain with unseeing eyes - the kitchenette off to one side was too small to swing a cat in, but spotlessly clean, and so it should be since he rarely used it to cook in. The main living room could best be described as 'spartan', containing only the sofa, a narrow bookcase against one wall, a small television set that was seldom switched on, and an even smaller sound system flanked on either side by his meagre collection of CD's. Detective Sciutta wasn't penny-pinching, but simply failed to see the need to spend money on possessions he didn't use, and a cop's salary wasn't all that great anyway.
Quickly he checked for messages on his answering machine - there were none - and ambled into his bedroom, inhabited by a large double bed attended to by small tables on either side, and an open rack of suits and other clothes. He stripped and changed into a comfortable pair of sweat pants and a sloppy-joe, deciding that he'd get something home delivered. He didn't feel like facing yet another solo table at one of the many cafés just up the hill in Newtown, not tonight.
If any of his straight colleagues could have seen him at that moment they would have laughed out loud. Most of them pictured him as the stereotypical gay man, living in a fabulously well decorated and richly appointed home, partying constantly and surrounded by glamorous friends, his biggest decisions in the time away from work being where to eat and which designer outfit to wear. Michael let them perpetuate the myth because it was easier than trying to convince them otherwise, but in truth he was a quiet, unassuming man in his private life, who told himself he simply didn't have the time for night clubs and boisterous parties. Of course, every now and then, he felt the need for something more - for someone special to share the quiet times and to listen to his confidences. But that wasn't going to happen - a gay cop! Who would want him for a partner?
Michael allowed himself the indulgence of ruminating over the differences between his own life and that of the people he observed from time to time. As he chewed on the soggy, lukewarm pizza that had been delivered to his door, his thoughts went to the stunningly beautiful home that Geoff Carruthers had maintained high up in the Elan Tower in Kings Cross. When Michael had gone to the apartment to conduct his search, he had concentrated on finding the things he needed to pull together a case against Carruthers, but now he could let himself remember the opulence of that home, the incredible views over the city and harbour, the frighteningly expensive fittings, the state of the art entertainment centre, and the massive king sized bed. That made him think again of Geoff and Ian Sterling rolling around on that very bed, making love.
Ian Sterling! He didn't imagine that Sterling had anywhere near as luxurious a home as Carruthers, but he nevertheless assumed that the solicitor's dwelling would be well appointed, no doubt reflecting his social standing, and filled with the mementos of what Michael imagined would have been an easy and open lifestyle. He pictured Ian Sterling as a confident young man who had probably enjoyed a string of boyfriends before Geoff Carruthers, and it was the sudden problems that had arisen as a result of this one relationship which Michael guessed were causing Ian such difficulty now. I'll bet none of his previous lovers have been in trouble with the law! Michael surmised, trying to put a reason on the lawyer's apparent desire to forget about Carruthers, and by extension, Michael himself, as soon as possible.
Michael felt himself slipping into a bout of self-pity, but he was helpless, here in his tiny flat all alone, to resist the thoughts which clouded his better judgment. He dreamed of the very notion of a happy, long-term relationship, wondering briefly what it would be like to have someone, someone like Ian Sterling perhaps, waiting for him to come home, someone to share his thoughts and his problems, his victories and his happy times. That of course led him into the bitter memories of the past. Michael had certainly had his share of one-night-stands, although even then he had to be extra careful, being a cop. But he had also once believed he had found the elusive joy of permanency. David. That had been the name of the man Michael had called his lover.
But David had seen their relationship with different eyes. They had both been very young - Michael only recently graduated from the Police Academy and David just starting a career in advertising. They met and moved in together almost instantly, yet things were difficult right from the start. David wanted to go out drinking and dancing every night, to party hard until the dawn and beyond on weekends. Michael wanted to spend the time away from work relaxing, and while he enjoyed dancing and an occasional night out, he also wanted time at home, taking it easy. He used his job as an excuse to avoid the clubs and pubs David liked, and told himself when David stayed out all night that part of a successful relationship was giving your partner his own space when he needed it.
For almost six months, Michael and David had told themselves they were a couple, despite the fact that they did very little together socially. Even so, it came as a complete shock to Michael when David declared, quite simply, that they weren't suited. He announced that he was moving in with someone more 'his type', and that Michael was too quiet for him. Michael was stunned, never having seen the coming split. When he tried to reason it out with David, his partner had stated that it was impossible to live with a policeman; that Michael was married to the job instead of to his lover, and that in his opinion, no one was ever likely to be able to maintain a relationship with Michael as long as Michael remained so dedicated and so 'old fashioned'.
And so Michael had let his man go. The years since then had been long and without anyone else, but Michael had accepted that he was destined to stay single. He had no reason to doubt David's words, and had convinced himself that his was the kind of personality which just did not allow him to form and maintain a long term relationship. He was gay alright, he had no problem with that. But what he wanted; a quiet, shared life with someone, just wasn't available to him because of who he was and what he did.
Eventually, Michael shook himself out of his morose mood, and shrugged his shoulders. No point in wishing for what was never going to happen! The detective climbed into bed alone with his thoughts and drifted off into an uneasy sleep. He knew it was impossible, but he still could dream of one day finding someone who could love him. And if that someone could be like Ian Sterling, then what a bonus it would be!
As time passed, Michael began to think that Geoff Carruthers had disappeared on them. There had been a rumoured sighting in Brisbane, and a couple of reports he may be in Melbourne, but nothing confirmed, and other matters had driven him from Michael's immediate thoughts for some weeks now. The worst of the winter had passed, but the evenings were still cold, and as he made the usual trip home that evening he felt himself longing for some 'company' yet again.
The apartment seemed even bleaker and less inviting than usual, so Michael changed quickly into casual clothes and wandered up the street to the Newtown Hotel - his local gay bar. The restaurant attached to the pub was reasonably quiet, and he decided to grab a meal first, then have a drink in the bar, and hopefully connect with someone for a little physical release.
"Linda's Backstage" declared the sign on the understated entrance. Michael had eaten here often enough, and felt very comfortable with it. The staff were either gay or gay friendly, not surprising since it was part of a gay pub, and he knew he would enjoy the food. He was shown to a small table for one near the back of the dining room. There were a couple of other tables occupied by male couples, and one on the far side of the place where a rowdy group of six women appeared to be celebrating a birthday. The sensitive maitre'd had tried to isolate the larger group, and Michael found himself sitting with his back to a table of three - two men whose backs were to him and a woman sitting opposite them.
He took little notice of the trio as he seated himself and chose his meal, trying not to listen in to what was obviously a private conversation. As his order was given and a drink poured, he looked around the restaurant disinterestedly.
" but this place is gay!" said a male voice which sounded vaguely familiar, right behind him.
"Don't be ridiculous. How can a restaurant be gay? Maybe the patrons, even the staff, are gay, but that doesn't mean everyone who ever eats here is gay. Besides, what does it matter?" reasoned the woman at the same table. Michael hadn't intended to listen in, but he was absorbed by this. Probably a group of straights out for some sight-seeing, he told himself.
The other man spoke now. "You need to get out, anyway, mate. You need to get back into circulation if you're ever going to find yourself another man. They ain't gonna come knocking on your door, you know!"
'This is getting interesting! Michael thought. He knew he shouldnt be eavesdropping, but he was fascinated now.
The first guy responded. Michael was sure he knew that voice, but just couldn't identify its owner.
"Who said I want to find another man?" he said. "I think my last experience has turned me off that whole idea."
"But Ian, that was a one-off situation. You can't let one bad experience scare you away from any chance at happiness!" Tina said.
Michael almost choked on his beer as realisation struck him. Ian? Ian Sterling! This was Sterling sitting right behind him, not two metres away. Part of him wanted to get up and move right then, but he couldn't. He was rooted to the spot, concentrating now as he strained to hear the words at the adjacent table.
" and I could never trust anyone again," Ian was saying in a soft voice. Michael was so intent on the nearby conversation he didn't notice the waiter approaching, and mumbled a vague 'thank you' as his meal was placed before him.
"But Geoff wasn't just any guy," the other man said now. Michael dredged the inner recesses of his memory. Nick - something - that was him, Sterling's friend.
"He had this whole other side, a hidden, criminal side that he kept hidden, that you knew nothing about," Nick was saying. "You didn't have all the facts, so you can't blame yourself for what happened, and you can't believe that everyone is so shady. You've got to learn to trust people again."
"Nick's right," Tina said, as Michael listened carefully, trying not to be obvious. "Besides, you may not want to hear this, but maybe we have something to thank him for. If it wasn't for Geoff, you may never have come out to us. We might still be dancing around each other, trying to pretend you were straight!"
"That doesn't help much, Tina," Ian said bitterly. "The first man I ever fall in love with, and he almost gets me arrested for drug dealing! That's not a good basis for me having any confidence in the future. Right now I feel as if my first time may well have been my last time!"
Michael was stunned. He was so amazed by what he heard that he very nearly forgot he had a plate of food in front of him. So Carruthers had been Sterling's first ever lover! Incredible! That went a long way to explaining the lawyer's reactions, including his response to any contact Michael had tried to make with him. A wave of guilt washed over him, he shouldn't be listening in like this. Suddenly he felt dirty, like some kind of voyeur. He hurriedly finished his meal and nodded to the waiter for the bill.
As he threw some notes onto the table and made his way out, hoping neither Ian nor Nick would turn around and recognise him, Tina was saying,
" the kind of man you need has to be discreet, he has to like nights at home and just lounging around, but he has to be confident enough to take you out when you need it "
But Michael didn't take any notice of her words. He had initially felt sorry for Ian Sterling, and the feelings he had for the young lawyer blossomed into an anger: that he could have been treated so badly. And the focus of that anger had a name and a face - Geoff Carruthers. If Michael ever got his hands on Carruthers, he swore he'd make him pay for what he'd done to Ian!
Geoff Carruthers had more or less settled for the time being in Melbourne. He had rented a tiny bed-sitter above a shop on Commercial Road, Prahran and had arranged to get regular deliveries of cash from his businesses in Sydney by courier. He was surprised to find that the police had not stepped in to close down his operations, although the word was that they were after him, yet none of his friends or associates had been touched or even questioned. Obviously, they had very little to go on, and Ian hadn't been able to help them at all. The only break he had made was with Neale Simpson. After the night he fled Sydney, Geoff had called Neale and told him that he was being watched, that the cops were after Geoff, and that Neale should be watching his own back. He had told him to get out of the area, and that there would be no more supplies available through Geoff. He had been fairly certain that the phone call with Neale that day had been what sparked the police questioning of Ian, and Geoff was cutting the other man off completely.
Geoff had even ventured out a few times to some of the gay clubs. His life was certainly not as comfortable or as enjoyable as it had been, but he wasn't a hermit. He did however, find the night life in Melbourne a little disconcerting. In Sydney, there were distinctly 'gay' areas - Darlinghurst and Newtown, parts of Surry Hills; yet in Melbourne the gay venues were widely distributed and generally co-existed with their straight counterparts. There was no gay 'ghetto' as such, although some parts of Prahran and Fitzroy had a decidedly gay flavour to them.
When he felt the need for physical relief, Geoff had found little difficulty in picking up men for a night of sexual gratification. But he never stayed until the morning, and invariably neglected to call or contact them again afterwards. Somehow, although he enjoyed the fucking, he felt something was missing, something he couldn't find. He wanted to know again the feeling of waking up next to someone, of sharing more than just his bed, but his time and his thoughts. And whenever he felt that way, his mind would turn to Ian Sterling. He had wanted so much to make the relationship with Ian work, and had failed. He often wondered what Ian was doing, who he was seeing, whether there was any possibility at all that one day they might get together again and put all of this behind them. When he pushed Ian away, Geoff had been giving up far more than he had realised at the time.
He was miserable. Abjectly miserable. It was almost four in the morning, and he had just hauled himself out of the bed of his latest fling, a young blond who had seemed innocent and harmless enough, if a little camp, until they had begun their coupling. The things that boy had done suggested in no uncertain terms that he was anything but inexperienced! Normally Geoff would have been delighted and enthusiastic with the athletic union they had made, but tonight he couldn't finish quickly enough, and hurriedly dressed and left without so much as a 'thank you' when they were done. And why? Because the guy's name was 'Ian'. Nothing but a coincidence, yet the whole time that he had been sweating and huffing, fucking the eager kid with a ferocious fury, all he could think of was another Ian in another city, a lifetime away.
It had been almost three months now since Geoff had left Sydney, left his home and his businesses, left Ian Sterling. It seemed like three years. Life in Melbourne wasn't the fun and excitement that he had remembered when he'd holidayed here. Living in exile, constantly watching over his shoulder, changing address every few weeks with a myriad of false names, Geoff hated it. He reflected on the life he had left behind, and thought of Ian every day, wondering idly what might have been if he'd only been honest. Money wasn't a problem for him, but being 'on the run' had more than its share of disadvantages, and not having Ian Sterling was one of the biggest. Geoff began to tell himself that he could have made it work with Ian, that he still might. After all, hadn't Ian said that he loved him? He convinced himself that if only he could get Ian to listen to his story, that Ian would love him again, would come to him and be with him, and that everything would be okay.
As he lay awake that night, thinking of what might have been, he decided that no matter what happened he had to have Ian back. Hopefully he could talk him into coming with him and making a new life together, in another country perhaps, somewhere where they wouldn't need to constantly watch every move. But if necessary, Geoff admitted the real possibility that he might have to face his past, take the punishment. If he knew Ian would wait for him, then he could do it, he was sure he could.
The next morning, his resolve had not wavered. He braced himself for the inevitable anger and recrimination, and dialled Ian's number, listening apprehensively as the tone began to ring.
Geoff ached as he heard Ian's voice. He had to do this, had to know.
"Hello? Is anyone there?"
"Ian, it's Geoff!"
Silence roared out of the machine. A deafening, condemning silence.
"Ian, can you hear me?"
"I heard you." The voice was deadly quiet, cool and distant. "What do you want?"
"I need to talk to you."
Geoff shuddered at the dismissal in Ian's tone. "Ian, I'm so, so sorry. I stuffed up badly. I, I miss you!"
"Hah!" Ian cried, his tongue finally loosed. "Miss me? Why? Can't you find someone else's life to destroy? Or did you enjoy fucking me around so much that you want to come back and finish off the job? Oh yeah, that would be it! Good ole' Ian Sterling, always guaranteed to come running whenever you click your fingers. You screwed my mind and my body. What else do you want from me Geoff? You wanna fuck up my career as well? Let me tell you, you almost did that before. There's not a lot left!"
Geoff sat and listened to Ian's outburst in silence. He deserved all of it and more, and he knew it. When Ian finally slowed down, he butted in.
"Ian, I'm sorry! Truly I am! I never meant to do anything to hurt you "
"NO? Well that's not how I remember our last conversation! A handy fuck, a useful little boy for you to teach the ways of the world, something like that am I right?"
"I might have said something like that, but I didn't mean it. I'm sorry!"
"So you keep saying!" Ian snapped, his voice turning cold again. "Well after three months of nothing, three months of me torturing myself, 'sorry' just doesn't cut it!"
"But Ian I love you!" Geoff spoke quietly into the phone.
There was a strangled gulp from Ian, followed by an unintelligible cry, and the receiver was slammed down hard, the crash ringing in Geoff's ear.
Immediately, Geoff hit the re-dial button. As soon as Ian answered, he spoke quickly, not giving the young lawyer a chance to say anything.
"Ian, please, please don't hang up. Just hear me out. I know I don't deserve it, but I want you to hear my side of the story. Please?"
Nothing but silence. At least he hadn't cut the line again.
"Okay, I'm listening," came the icy response.
Geoff drew another deep breath. It was make or break time for him. "What I said - last time - it hurt. I had to break away from you. I had just gotten away from the cops and I had to cut all contact. I wish I could say I did it to protect you, but the truth is I was only thinking of myself. I'm so very sorry, honestly. But I realise how big a mistake I made. I haven't stopped thinking about you all this time. I love you. It took me a while to understand it, but I do. I love you and I need you."
"Need me for what?" Ian asked bitterly. "To use again, to try to get you out of trouble? I don't do that, Geoff. There seems to be a minor issue with drugs and criminal activity that you've overlooked!"
"No, I haven't overlooked it. What the cops said to you, it's true, most of it. I do have some illegitimate businesses. And I was involved - as a middle man - in hooking up suppliers with a dealer. I won't deny it. But I would give all of that up, I'd walk away from it, from everything, to be with you again."
"It's not as simple as just walking away from it!" Ian reminded him. "Even if I thought I could ever trust you again, which I don't!"
"Ian, please " Geoff whined. "I need to talk to you. I love you. You said you loved me ?"
"Yes, I said that once. And when I said it I was telling the truth. But I don't love you now. How could I, when you've done nothing but lie to me?"
The lawyer could hear the desperation in Geoff's voice this time, and something else. Was that pain?
"Please. I'm staying in Melbourne at the moment. Will you at least come down here and meet me face to face, let me try to explain, to show you how I really feel?"
Ian chuckled this time. "No way!" he said with emphasis. "I can't believe you have the nerve to even ask!"
"Do you hate me then?"
Once again there was silence for a long while before Ian answered. "No, I don't think so," he said, and his voice was full of sadness now. "I don't love you, but I don't hate you. I'm angry with you and with what you did to me. Just leave me alone!"
"Please, come to Melbourne," Geoff agonised one more time. "You can reach me by leaving a message with Tony, the barman at the Laird Hotel in Abbotsford! Please Ian?"
"No! And don't call me again. If you do, I'll go straight to the police with all the information I have! Goodbye, Geoff!" Ian said firmly as he cut the line.
"Can you believe his hide?" Ian asked incredulously. "To think that all he had to do was phone up and say 'I'm sorry' a couple of times, tell me he loves me, and I'd welcome him back with open arms?"
Nick shook his head, while Tina simply sat there, holding Ian's hand for reassurance. He had arrived on their doorstep, almost apoplectic with rage, and repeated the entire conversation without a break. It was as though he had to get it out of his system, and they were the only ones he could tell. Neither had had a chance to even comment yet or ask any questions. For fully half an hour, Ian had railed against Geoff, had ranted on about how much he had been hurt and insulted, about how unfeeling and stupid Geoff was, while Nick and Tina had remained silent and let him speak. Slowly the anger began to dissipate, replaced by exhaustion.
Finally, Tina broke her silence. "So he told you he loved you?" she said musing.
"Yeah, like I'm gonna believe that!" Ian lashed out again.
"And you said you didn't love him, but you didn't hate him either?"
"I told him I was angry at him, at what he had done."
"But he didn't say where exactly he was staying in Melbourne?" asked Nick now.
"No, just some drivel about contacting him by leaving a message " Ian's eyes were red, his voice quieter, his entire body shrunken with the effort he had expended in his ire at the telephone call from Geoff.
"Then it's over!" said Tina. "You just need to forget him and get on with your life."
"No," said Nick softly, and both Tina and Ian turned to him with looks of amazed surprise. "Look at yourself, mate," he went on. "It's been three months, and with one phone call he's gotten you all riled up and absolutely furious again, as if it had happened just yesterday. I think you should go and see him."
"What?" exclaimed Tina.
"Are you mad?" burst out Ian. "I never want to have anything to do with him again. I feel as if I could kill him, honestly!"
"Exactly," replied Nick. "And you will keep on feeling like that until you get some closure, until you make it utterly clear to him how you feel."
"I thought I just did that!" Ian said with some bitterness.
"No, I think you need to do it face to face. I think you need to be able to see him, watch his reactions," Nick finished.
"Tina, I love your husband, but I think he's gone looney," Ian chuckled, expecting a similar reaction from her.
Tina sat in silent thought for a minute. "I love him too," she said, "and I think he might be right!"
"What?" said Ian wondering if they were conspiring against him in some twisted joke.
"You need to finish this, for yourself, in your own mind," she continued. "Nick has a point. Unless you can see Geoff's eyes, know he has truly heard you, you'll never have any real closure. It will hurt, and it will take a huge effort, but I think you should see him and tell him in person."
"I'll come with you if you like?" Nick offered.
"No need!" spat Ian, "Because it's not going to happen! There's no way I'm going all the way to Melbourne just to make sure Geoff knows how I really feel!"
"But it's not for his sake," Tina said softly. "It's for your own!"
"Exactly. And I don't need to do it!" he said without hesitation.
All that day, and well into the following week, Ian fumed. He fumed at Geoff for calling him. He fumed at Nick and Tina for suggesting something so ludicrous as caving into Geoff's demands and going to Melbourne. He fumed at himself for being so shaken by the contact after all this time.
On Wednesday evening, around 5.30, his secretary, Jill stuck her head into his office.
"I'm going now if that's okay, Ian," she said quietly. She and everyone around him had been walking on eggshells all week, unable to understand what had him so furious, and doing their best to keep out of his way.
"Whatever," he muttered as he scribbled madly, making notes in the margin of a document he was working on.
Jill shook her head to herself. This was not the Ian Sterling she knew. I'm probably going to regret this, she thought as she coughed again to get his attention.
"Mr Sterling, I don't know what I've done to upset you, but whatever it is I'm sorry. I wish you would just tell me what I've done and let us get back to working properly again."
Ian looked up then, stunned at the formality of her address and at her words. The document in front of him was forgotten. "But you haven't done anything wrong, Jill! I'm not angry with you at all!"
She breathed a sigh of relief. This was the most reasonable he had been in three days. "Okay then, boss," she said, reverting to her usual casualness. "Then for pity's sake, go and bawl out whoever you are mad with, and give the rest of the world a break!"
With that, she smiled at him, turned on her heel, and left. Ian sat there, his mouth open, as he digested her words. Was he really that bad? Had Geoff annoyed him so much that everyone could see how upset he was? He sat there, alone at his desk, for a long while, thinking over what Jill had said, what Nick and Tina had said, what Geoff had said, and trying to explore his own emotions.
On Friday evening, Geoff called in for a drink at the Laird Hotel. It had become one of his favourite drinking holes recently, and since the previous weekend's phone conversation with Ian, he had done little more than drink, going from one place to another. As he walked into the bar, Tony, the barman, looked up and nodded to him. Tony had made it quite obvious to Geoff that he was interested, but Geoff had so far declined to accept the implied invitation. Tony was quite good looking, but Geoff wanted to keep him as a friend, rather than complicate things with sex.
"The usual?" Tony smiled as he poured a beer.
"Thanks," said Geoff with a sigh.
Geoff grinned wryly. "Tough month!" he answered. "I seem to be having a real problem settling down here," he added.
"Sounds like you need a good man!" Tony smirked.
"Ha, as if! I had a good man once, but he's not talking to me anymore!"
"Well, it might be your lucky day," Tony said with a wink. "Some guy rang here yesterday morning left a message. Hang on - " he rummaged beneath the bar for a few seconds before standing up triumphantly with a scrap of paper covered in beer stains. "Here it is - Ian Sterling - he said to meet him under the clocks at 11 on Saturday."
Geoff's heart skipped a beat. A huge grin broke out on his face, and he leaned across the bar and planted an enthusiastic kiss on Tony's lips. "Thanks, handsome," he said with a laugh. 'Under the clocks!' Anyone who had ever been to Melbourne knew what that meant - the traditional meeting place for the entire city, the clocks above the main entrance to Flinders Street Railway Station.
"Hey," said Tony. "If I keep passing on messages like that, do I get more than just a kiss?"
Geoff grinned widely. "Sorry, mate. If my luck is in, then there's only one man I'll be kissing from now on!"
"Damn!" replied the barman good-naturedly, with a smile and a click of his fingers. Geoff retreated to a stool at the end of the bar to finish his beer, and to ponder his next move. He felt elated, thrilled. Ian was going to be here tomorrow morning!
To be continued