The Sleeping Ground

by Lynette Willoughby

   Jade Daly checked her watch. 8.00 am. The trial was due to start at nine o'clock. She was about to leave her office when her mobile rang. She glanced at the screen. Broadbent -- the Editor-in-chief. Shit. He never usually made direct contact with the court reporters. 'Jade speaking.'

   'It's Hugh Broadbent. I need to see you in my office.'

   His voice was measured. She couldn't read anything into it. 'I'm just leaving for trial. It's a key-witness day. Can I see you when I get back?'

   'I need to see you now. Forget about the trial.' The phone disconnected.

   Jade stood still, staring at her phone. Forget about the trial? She'd spent hundreds of hours on research, checking and cross-checking all the facts. It's what they paid her for. It didn't make sense. But he knew that. There was no point arguing. She left her office and caught the elevator to the sixth floor.

   Hugh Broadbent pointed to a lime tub chair opposite his desk. 'Have a seat, Jade.' He surveyed her through his silver framed bi-focals. They complemented the silver streaks above his temples and behind his ears. He cleared his throat. 'Have you been listening to the news this morning?'

   Jade shook her head. 'I don't generally get time. What's happened?

   'That police officer Trudy Renshaw. She's dead.'

   Jade stared in disbelief. 'Dead?'

   'Dead. Murdered last night. I've been speaking with the Chief Commissioner. It was obviously a hit by the bikie gang she'd been dealing with.' He pressed his fingers together. 'That's why the police wanted her identity suppressed.'

   The penny dropped. Jade's stomach contracted into a tight ball. She'd applied to get the suppression order lifted. Cop or no cop, the public had a right to know. She tried to swallow but there was not enough saliva. 'I'm sorry sir. I did what I thought was right.'

   Broadbent sighed. 'I've always admired your passion for the job, Jade. You've been an asset to the paper. I want you to know that. But you've crossed the line.' He paused as if searching for the right words. 'The Commissioner is furious. It's imperative that we have a good working relationship with the Force, and while you're in our employ we can't possibly repair the damage.'

   'You, you're firing me?' The heat rose up inside her. This was totally unfair. 'With all respect, just because she's a cop doesn't mean she should be a protected species. She was a drug dealer and she was working with the Comancheros. The fact she was a corrupt police officer doesn't give her the right to anonymity.'

   Broadbent stood up and opened the office door, leaving a trail of aftershave in the air. 'Collect your things. Payroll will calculate your termination payment this week and it will be in your account the following week. Why don't you stay with your family for a while? It'll be better for you and everyone concerned if you're out of Adelaide.'

   Jade walked down King William Street, holding a Coles bag with a few odds and ends from her desk. Over and over she replayed the conversation with Broadbent. He wasn't angry, maybe underneath he even agreed with her? But he had to find a sacrificial lamb. She was now the criminal, on the run. Fuck.

   It was usually a 10-minute walk to the apartment block, but it took an extra five minutes to Jade detour around Victoria Square through the Central Market. The last thing she wanted to do was to bump into a media colleague walking to the Adelaide Magistrates Court.

   She caught the elevator up to her bed-sitter. It wasn't a home, just somewhere to park her head for a few hours each night, hoping for a chance to switch off. She sat down on the bed. Was it a bad dream? Her watch told the truth. Quarter past nine. She'd be sitting in the press gallery by now if nothing had happened. She put an apple and chocolate bar in her backpack and then turned the fridge off. Broadbent was right. Working here in the courts would be suicide, the cops would eat her alive, and so would the media.

   She ripped open a packet of Aspirin and threw two tablets into her mouth. She'd work out her finances later, she couldn't add two plus two at the moment. At least she had plenty of annual leave accrued, it would last a few months. And Mum would love it. Her only daughter who never had time to come and visit, now arriving for an extended stay. Mum couldn't understand why she never had time off work or didn't have a boyfriend. Because she loved her job, it was her life, that's why. And now the last 8 years of slog were for nothing, all because a cop couldn't resist the temptation for some easy money. And because she'd had the guts to name and shame.

   Jade stuffed her clothes into a suitcase and slung her backpack over her shoulder. If it wasn't for Mum, there was no way she'd go back to Cooringie. Apart from the fact that she'd be bored witless, there was something else. Another complication.

   She locked the door and leaned against it, her head throbbing. The dead cop's husband had grown up in Cooringie too. And his brother Brett was now the local Sergeant there. Trudy Renshaw had kept her maiden name. Would it have made any difference if she'd made the connection earlier? She threw her bags in the back of her Suzuki Vitara and slammed the rear door. No. This was why she got out of bed every morning. To fight the culture of secrecy and cover-ups that had spread like a virus through institutions and bureaucracies in this State. And to champion the right for the public to know. It was war. And she'd been a fool to think that she could win the war. She had lost. Big time.

 

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