Authors: Garry Disher
* * * *
By Garry Disher
Scanned & Proofed By MadMaxAU
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work was dirty, the little town a joke, but Wyatt was interested only in the
advantagesthey didnt know who he was, there were no cops, and no one was expecting
a payroll snatch.
He was up to his elbows in grease
when the money arrived. The Steelgard security van appeared at the cemetery
corner in a cloud of dust, crept past the bowling green clubhouse, and slowed
for the gate in the temporary fence that separated the construction camp from
the town. He watched the van lurch through the gate into the camp and stop
outside Brava Constructions site office, fifty metres from where he was
getting his hands dirty. He checked the time: midday. He saw two men get out.
They began to haul cash-boxes into the site office. When one of them glanced in
his direction, Wyatt bent over his work again and got some more dirt on
He was in the Brava Construction repair
shop, servicing gearboxes. On previous Thursdays hed been with the crews
laying pipes across the wheat flats north of the town, but this time hed paid
one of the Chileans fifty bucks to swap with him and now he was up to his
elbows in grease, watching the money arrive.
Normally Wyatt never pulled a job
from the inside. If he was in a city hed base himself in some distant suburb
and strike out of nowhere. But this wasnt a city, this was Belcowie,
population two hundred, a dusty farming town three hours drive north of
Adelaide. It had a Four Square store, a post office, four massive grain silos,
a garage with a solitary petrol pump, a bank open two afternoons a week, fifty
houses, no police station, and a long, low pub that had never had it so good.
Brava Construction had hired one
hundred and fifty men when it got the contract to lay the gas pipeline. All of
them had a big thirst. Oddly, a third of them came from South and Central
America. The boss was an Argentinian called Jorge Figueras, and hed tell
anyone who listened that it was his duty to help others whod fled from
poverty, death squads, generals and communists. It was a ten-month contract so
the wages were high. One hundred and fifty men at $1500 a week, a further $50
000 in managers wages and expenses$275 000. But the Steelgard van also did a
bank run, servicing ten banks in a hundred-kilometre radius. Given that the run
finished in Belcowie, Wyatt figured the total snatch could be worth as much as
It had to be worked from the inside.
He needed to plan and watch, and that took time, so posing as a tourist or
salesman was outno tourist or salesman ever stayed in Belcowie for long. This
way, as one of the grimy hundred and fifty, Wyatt wouldnt be noticed. And by
the time the cops had got through interviewing a few hundred residents and
construction workers next payday, hed be long gone.
The siren sounded for lunch. Wyatt
straightened the kinks in his back. He was tall and fluid-looking, with a hard
edge that kept him out of trouble when the South Americans got rowdy. They were
friendly, quick and sentimental, and he liked them, but some thought they had
something to prove, and he could sense them watching him sometimes, looking
side-on at his narrow, hooked face and loose, strong arms.
He crossed the shed and joined the
Chilean mechanics at the stainless steel sinks. He measured hand cleanser into
his palms from the dispenser and slapped it up and down his forearms and over
his hands. Just then one of Leahs girls walked past the shed on her way to her
caravan. The Chileans began to whoop and whistle, and one of them nudged Wyatt,
but the woman didnt interest Wyatt. He was watching the Steelgard van,
memorising all he could. When he hit next Thursday he wanted it to go like
Steelgard had got slack, that was
clear. They were based in Goyder, a rural city seventy kilometres away, and in
all the years theyd been servicing the banks there had never been an incident
to sharpen them. The van was a small, short wheelbase Isuzu with external
rear-door hinges and ordinary locks. But the van wasnt important. Wyatt wasnt
interested in the van, only in the slack security.
First, there were no cops keeping an
eye on things. Sometimes a patrol car from Goyder showed at pub-closing time,
but only for thirty minutes and usually on the weekend. There was no guarantee
that cops wouldnt show next Thursday, but they hadnt come for todays
delivery, and Leah had never seen them come, so Wyatt was betting they wouldnt
Second, the camp was almost
deserted. The only people populating the wasteland of concrete pipes, fuel
drums, earthmoving equipment and temporary buildings were Leahs girls and a
handful of clerks and mechanics. Everything would change at two-thirty, when
the crews came in to clean up and collect their pay packets, but Wyatt intended
to be a hundred kilometres away by that time next Thursday.
Third, the guards looked easy. Only
two men, and they lacked that edge Wyatt had seen on his other hits. He noticed
other lapses. Instead of one man unloading while the other stood guard, both unloaded.
And Brava hadnt assigned anyone to help them.
Then, as Wyatt watched, the guards
shut the van, lit cigarettes and strolled across to the canteen. Theyd have
lunch and come back to supervise while the pay packets were made up, but right
now the money was in the care of just one man, the pay clerk.
Wyatt would have hit then and there
if hed had a gun, a partner and a fast car.
* * * *
set-up was exactly as Leah had described it.
Wyatt had turned up on her doorstep
six weeks earlier, on the run from a Melbourne job that had gone sour. His
cover had been blown, he was wanted for murder, hed had to leave the state. A
few addresses and a wad of cash were all he had in the world.
Her home in the Adelaide Hills had been
in darkness the night he arrived. He prowled around it warily, looking at the
doors and windows. The ground-floor curtains were drawn, but there was a window
open in one of the two upper-level rooms that had been built into the steeply
pitched roof. He knocked and waited. No lights came on but after a while hed
sensed that she was behind the door. Leah, he said softly.
Her voice came low and hard. Yeah?
She had opened the door, noted his
hunted look and his paleness, and stood aside to let him in. She didnt say
anything, not even as he took out his .38 and prowled with it through her
house. It was something he had to do, an instinctive thing, so she waited until
he was finished.
How long this time? she said.
Not long. A week, two weeks.
Its been five years, Wyatt.
He nodded. He had no use for this,
then realised a beat too late that it was mostly a joke. He smiled at her
briefly, a sharkish twist of the mouth.
Are you broke? she said.
She nodded. Youre on the run, she
said. This isnt a job.
Wyatt watched her for a moment. Shed
been sleeping and was wearing a thigh-length black T-shirt. She had black hair,
cropped short so that it spiked. She was small and compact-looking, and he
remembered her round brown belly and how quick and elastic she could be. He
felt calm and safe now. He put the gun away and placed his hands on her upper
arms. Instantly her ironical expression disappeared. She closed her eyes and
breathed out. She opened them again. Well, come on, she said, almost
It was the next morning when they
were in bed, which was a mess, that shed told him about the Belcowie payroll.
Godforsaken little place, she
said, in the middle of nowhere. Nothing ever happens there, except one day the
government decides to put a gas pipeline through and the locals wake up to find
a hundred and fifty randy construction workers living on their doorstep.
Thats where you come in, Wyatt
Exactly. Fifteen hundred bucks a
week and nothing to spend it on except beer and poker. I made Jorge an offerI
put a few girls in, you get ten per cent and a contented workforce.
Wyatt leaned on his elbow and
touched her. It was absent-minded, but she looked down her body, watching his
hand. The money, he said.
She flopped back. I stayed on for a
couple of weeks, helping the girls get settled, laying the ground rules, kind
of thing, so I was there twice when the payroll came in.
Details, Wyatt said.
Payday is each Thursday. The van
arrives just before lunch. The securitys not very good.
Wyatt nodded, beginning to shape the
job in his mind. Cops?
The nearest cop shop is an hour
away. I never saw a single jack the time I was there.
What about the camp? Whos around
when the money arrives?
Hardly anyone. The crews knock off
about two-thirty on Thursdays to come in and pick up their pay, but the place
is quiet until then.
How many guards?
I only saw two, same ones each
time. They stay until the pay packets are made up, and leave about three oclock.
The town? Wyatt said. Witnesses?
The camps along one edge of the
town, in an empty paddock. From memory theres a bowling club and a few
backyards opposite, thats all. Its a pretty dead place.
Wyatt began to pay attention to her
again. She laughed and wriggled. You like it, huh?
Ill check it out.
I can ask Jorge to give you a job
His face had been tired-looking and
distant, but now she saw it sharpen. No! No links.
Suit yourself, she said,
stretching, closing her eyes.
A few days later she drove him down
from the hills to the bus station in the centre of Adelaide. Buses going
through to Broken Hill passed within twenty kilometres of Belcowie, so he
caught one of those. He got off at a crossroads on a mallee scrub plain and
started walking. A mail driver picked him up after an hour and dropped him on
the outskirts of Belcowie. It was early afternoon. Wyatt knew motors and he
looked strong and he could drive a truck. By four oclock Jorge Figueras had
given him a job laying pipes for $1500 a week.
* * * *
drying his hands and watching the camp dog cock its leg on the Steelgard van,
Wyatt knew how the snatch would go. He would hit as soon as the money was
unloaded and the pay office more or less unattended. Any later and hed be
dealing with armed men and a hundred and fifty pay packets. He had seven days
to put a good team together and stash some cars between Belcowie and Adelaide.
It was the repair shop foreman. His
name was Carlos and he was standing with the other Chileans, waiting for Wyatt.
But Wyatt was concentrating. He
stared at the Chileans as if they werent there. The Chileans shrugged and
turned away and set out across the dusty yard to the canteen.
Wyatt looked at his watch. Fifteen
minutes later he left the shed and took a roundabout route past the site office
and the front gate. He was still concentrating, fixing in his mind the timing
and the geography of the town and the camp. Leahs girls worked from caravans a
few hundred metres from the mens dormitories, in a corner of the camp screened
from the town by peeling gum trees. The boundary fence went along the eastern
edge of the town and the town itself straggled north and south for three
kilometres. After that it was nothing but dry farmland and distant hills.
His attention was caught by a
movement in a dusty lot opposite the camp. A month ago the lot had been vacant,
and it would be vacant again when the camp moved on, but now it was a branch of
Trigg Motors, a struggling car dealership based in Goyder. Half a dozen used
Holdens were gathering dust under a string of sun-faded plastic flags, and a
caravan annexe bellied in the wind. Trigg himself was there today, a short,
ferrety man dressed like a grazier, pasting a sale sticker to the windscreen of
a 1973 Kingswood. Trigg was always there on payday, when the South Americans
had money in their pockets. Apparently he enjoyed haggling with them. Wyatt
turned away. Trigg would see the snatch next week but he was no hassle.
Wyatts next step was to get a fix
on the driver and the guard. Just as he was approaching the canteen the driver
emerged. Wyatt saw a big, soft, fleshy man, with large worried features crammed
together on a small head. The name tag on the uniform said Venables. Wyatt
turned, watching him go. Venables grunted as he walked. He looked tight and
knock-kneed, his vast behind stretching his trousers.
Wyatt had no interest in Venables,
beyond the mans potential to foil a holdup, but then Venables did a curious
thing: he didnt go to the pay office but out the front gate, across the gravel
road and into Triggs yard. He conferred with Trigg for a few seconds, then
both men left the lot and walked along the road to the pub on the corner.
Wyatt heard a clatter behind him.
Carlos emerged from the canteen. He tapped his watch and grinned when he saw
Wyatt. Fifteen minutes, okay,