The Heat: eighth Wyatt novel
The Wyatt novels are increasingly popular in Australia, Germany and the USA.
Six were published in the 1990s, the seventh, Wyatt, in 2010 (crime novel of the year in Australia), and the latest is The Heat (Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2015), which has received rave reviews.
Here is chapter one:
ALREADY IT WAS GOING WRONG.
Wyatt watched Stefan Vidovic complete the call, slip the phone into his shirt pocket, finally screw an apology onto his face.
‘That was Jack.’
Wyatt waited. He knew that people edged around bad news and setbacks. It wasted time, but what could he do about it? His friend would get to the point in the next few seconds or years.
‘Jack Pepper,’ Vidovic explained.
Seeing no alteration in Wyatt’s granite features, he elaborated. ‘He asked if we could meet at some motel instead.’
‘He say why?’
They were in a dingy rented van in a dismal caravan park in the hills outside Melbourne – Wyatt’s choice, for the simple reason that people come and go at caravan parks. You stay a short time and move on, and you choose a caravan park because it’s cheaper than a motel. Those around you are guided by the same thinking, so no one takes any notice of you. And this caravan park was far from the city and any armoured car collection or delivery location.
Wyatt checked his watch: 8p.m. ‘He give you an address?’
Vidovic named a Budget motel in Highett, a beachside suburb forty-five minutes away. Wyatt almost said no, but he’d returned from France with almost nothing beyond satisfaction. The satisfaction had come from killing a man. It hadn’t placed many dollars in his pocket.
On the way down to the flat stretches of streets and tiled roofs that defined bayside Melbourne, Vidovic talked. Wyatt didn’t stop him. He didn’t really listen, either, except to learn that Vidovic was dead broke and really needed this job.
Well, so did Wyatt. But Wyatt would never say so. He didn’t chat; he didn’t reveal his needs or even necessarily recognise that he had them.
But he did think. Two brothers, Jack and Leon Pepper, had approached Vidovic with a job, and Vidovic, liking what he’d heard, had approached Wyatt. Vidovic had worked with the Pepper brothers before, just as he’d worked with Wyatt. That’s how it went. For the moment, Wyatt neither trusted nor distrusted the Pepper brothers. He didn’t know them, but Vidovic did.
Who the fifth member was, Wyatt didn’t know. But he did know that five men was about right for an armoured car heist. Whether a straight ambush, a hold-up, a traffic diversion or an intercept outside a bank, the job would require a driver, a lookout to monitor the radio and eyeball the street, two gunmen, and a guy handy with cutting tools, electronics or Semtex. So far, Vidovic and Wyatt knew only that the Pepper brothers were claiming to be on to a sure thing.
DOWN TO THE NEPEAN HIGHWAY where, faintly above the toxins, was the briny odour of the sea. The motel was one block back from the beach, ground down by years of sunlight and salt. In bygone days, families had come for a desperate week in January, that’s all you could say about it. Not that Wyatt had anything to say about it. He simply parked two blocks away and switched off.
Vidovic gave him a look. ‘You could just drive in, mate.’
Wyatt’s return gaze was calm but so loaded that Vidovic put his palms up in capitulation. ‘Okay, okay, ever vigilant. One day I’ll see the laid-back Wyatt.’
One day I’ll be dead, Wyatt thought.
He settled a baseball cap over his eyes, shrugged into a zippered wool jacket and flipped up the collar. It was for the cameras. The cameras would show a hint of bony nose and cheekbone, not enough for an identifiable face.
Grumbling about it, Vidovic followed suit, and they walked along the footpath, passing a noodle shop, a launderette, a 7-Eleven. They passed unnoticed, for people were about, in jackets with their collars up on this cool evening in mid-September.
The motel units were in an L shape, the office at one end, near the street entrance. A solitary camera covered the office, as if management believed nothing ever happened in the units, no overdoses, rapes, murders or heist planning. Wyatt and Vidovic slipped onto the property where the shadows were deepest, then around the edge of a cyclone fence that divided the motel from a block of flats. The lighting was dim, barely illuminating the sea mist. Water dripped. Droplets fell onto Wyatt’s sleeves from a couple of miserable shrubs.
Unit 18, and a white Camry was nose-up to it. Wyatt paced around the rear half of the car and, sure enough, there was a rental company sticker on the window.
He stared at the unit, unwilling to go in. The situation had been going to hell anyway. But maybe the Pepper brothers had had the sense to use false names when they rented the car and booked the room?
Vidovic, reading Wyatt’s mind, said, ‘Mate, they know what they’re doing.’ And he walked up to the door and knocked.
So Wyatt slid his hand into his jacket pocket, where his little .32 was almost warm from the heat of his body. Comforting, and he stood back in the shadows, seeking more comfort. Instinct, but Wyatt might call it good sense if he was pressed to explain himself.
He watched Vidovic. Watched the door open and spill light. Watched Vidovic turn and gesture to him: It’s okay, pal, come in.
VIDOVIC AND WYATT WERE CUT FROM THE SAME SLAB: tall men, angular, wary—but with a hint of desperation in Vidovic these days. The Pepper brothers on the other hand were formed from softer stuff. Young masters-of-the-universe types, they were barely thirty, with earrings and designer stubble on pink, inexperienced faces, dressed in costly suits over open-necked shirts. Jack Pepper stood in the centre of the room, his younger brother Leon sprawled on the bed. They were consultants when they weren’t staging holdups. Consultants in what? Vidovic had admitted to Wyatt on the way down from the hills that he didn’t know.
After the introductions, each brother waving a languid hand in favour of shaking, Jack Pepper poured four glasses of scotch – pouring for Wyatt even as Wyatt said no. The man was hyper, the little eyes in his round face giving off sparks of glee.
‘Cheers,’ he toasted Wyatt. ‘You come recommended.’
Wyatt said nothing.
‘By Stefan here,’ Pepper continued, indicating Vidovic, as if Wyatt were dim.
Wyatt nodded. He assessed the room: queen-size bed, bedside cabinet on either side of the headboard, a bench with a massive TV on it, a tiny table and two chairs, an en-suite bathroom. Apart from a blotch of art on the wall above the bed, that was it. He took one of the chairs, positioned it between the door and the only window, and sat. If trouble came through the door he’d tackle it. Or escape from it through the glass. Either way. He waited, still and silent.
A snort from the man stretched out on the bed. ‘Get this guy.’
Leon Pepper was a mouth breather and not immediately the clever one.
‘We’re one short,’ Wyatt said.
Jack Pepper looked at his watch.
‘Yeah, well, Syed’s a bit time-challenged sometimes, right, Leah?’
Leon sniggered. He wriggled until his back was propped against the bedhead, his meaty thighs distorting the fine woollen fabric that enclosed them. His shoes had left streaks on the bedspread.
‘Syed?’ Wyatt said.
‘Syed Ijaz,’ Jack Pepper said. ‘He knows cars and that. How to pinch them, how to drive them.’
And how to take a taxi to a planning session: Wyatt heard the rumble of tyres outside the window, a door slamming, and he peered through the glass in time to see the taxi back away from number 18, the driver turning on his ‘for hire’ light.
A skinhead shuffled past the Avis Camry and Wyatt went immediately to the door. He jerked it open it before the man named Ijaz could knock and snarled, ‘Get in here.’
‘Who the fuck are you?’
Before re-joining the others, Wyatt ran his gaze over the blighted parking lot, the street at the other end, the misty cars passing in the night. A dim, dank, peaceful, hopeless evening. He shut the door and returned to his chair, watching the newcomer bump fists with the Pepper brothers and say a wary hello to Stefan Vidovic, who eyed Wyatt nervously, knowing Wyatt.
Jack Pepper said, ‘Wyatt, meet Syed.’
Wyatt said, ‘How did you hail the taxi?’
Ijaz blinked. ‘Hail it? I didn’t hail it. Phoned for it.’
‘Tell me you used a pay phone.’
‘Do they even exist anymore? Mum’s phone.’
Wyatt closed and opened his eyes. ‘How did you pay for it?’
That was something. ‘The taxi came to your mother’s door?’
Ijaz shook his head. ‘End of the street. It’s like a cul de sac where we live, so it’s easier if you tell them to pick you up on the corner.’ He rubbed his hands together. ‘So, where we at?’
‘Just started,’ said the brother on the bed genially.
‘Like, guys, I really need this,’ Ijaz said.
For Wyatt’s benefit, Leon Pepper explained, a chortle in his voice, ‘Old Syed owes a bit of money.’
‘Ten grand,’ grinned Ijaz. ‘Crime compensation.’
He was about nineteen, dark, underfed, his nostrils raw and his skin crawling. He couldn’t keep still but he was having the time of his life, which would be short.
Wyatt lifted his chin at Vidovic. ‘Coming?’
Vidovic nodded. He was weary and reluctant but he knew he couldn’t stay here, either. Too many mistakes. Fucked from the start. He joined Wyatt at the door.
‘What the hell? Come on, guys,’ said Jack Pepper in disgust.
Wyatt didn’t bother to spell it out: the motel, the hire car, the taxi, the idiot who’d come in it. He said, ‘Tell me this: what armoured car, and what route?’
Jack Pepper was encouraged that Wyatt had asked. He grinned and gestured at the world a short distance from the motel. ‘A SecureCor van, and it runs past here two mornings a week, collecting the Monday-to-Thursday takings on Friday mornings and the weekend takings on Monday mornings, picking up the weekend takings of every supermarket between Sandringham and Chelsea.’
He waited for surprise or greed or at least a flicker of interest, but all he got from the hard man leaving the room was, ‘Moron.’