The young priest approached the reception. He was the springy, athletic type, the type you could picture after hours in a Souths or Randwick jersey, with a clipboard and a whistle dangling from his neck. Along with a wink, he flashed a cheeky, practised grin at the young woman behind the counter, who clearly relished a safe flirt of this sort. Where would the old code work better than here, in St. Vincent’s Private? The masons have their handshakes, the micks have their boyishness.
“Good evening, Father, how may I help you?”
“When I look at you, I ask myself why I wasn’t born Anglican. Aren’t they the mob with married priests?”
“Oh, cut it out! I’ll tell the Cardinal next time he’s in here for surgery.”
“I’ll deny everything! Say you led me on! Now, I know it’s out of hours, and you don’t know me, but I’ve been asked by Father Maher to look in on Clive McGroder.”
The woman grew grave.
“Oh, but Father Maher is here every day to see him. He was in today and…(voice dropping)…I think he gave Last Rites. Mr. McGroder is heavily medicated right now, probably dozing.”
“I know, I know. It’s just that the two were close, and Father Maher has asked me as a favour to, you know, stay with Mr. McGroder for a bit. If it’s possible, of course. You know, old Father Maher can be a bit of a tiger, even when exhausted. I could beg you to ring him at the presbytery to explain, though it’s very late…”
“Well, I really don’t know. Maybe if I ring the sister on the floor…”
“Let me go up and talk to her. If there’s the slightest problem, I’ll go away. I don’t fancy explaining to Father Maher tomorrow, but I appreciate you have a hospital to run.”
“All right, Father…
“Conner. Eamon Conner.”
“All right, Father Conner. He’s in his own suite, up on level…”
“I know where he is. Father Maher gave me instructions. Father Maher does nothing but give instructions.”
“I’ve noticed. Elevator is…”
“I know where it is. Now don’t you go marrying some other bloke till I’m sure I want to stay a priest.”
As he strode to the elevator, he left her blushing and beaming.
The young priest exited the lift and headed, with the soft aplomb of a person familiar with hospital wards, to the desk where an older, stocky-bodied sister sat at her paperwork. She looked up, but without a smile.
“Can I help you, er…Father?”
“Yes, Sister…(examining her badge)…Donnelly, but only if it’s appropriate. My name’s Father Conner, Eamon Conner. I think you know Father Rex Maher. He’s, well, a bit worried. Senses his old friend, Clive McGroder, is slipping away. If you know what I mean.”
“Yes, it’s getting close. But not that close. He’ll be all right to see Father Maher tomorrow.”
“It’s just that Father Maher is exhausted, but won’t take advice about these things.”
“Don’t I know!”
“If I could just stay by Mr. McGroder for a bit, just so I can say I was here, without fibbing…”
The sister, undecided, still looked severe.
“In my experience, a senior sister at St. Vincent’s is going to know more about these things than anybody – doctors included. I’ll be advised, Sister. If you don’t think it’s a good idea, I can always explain to Father Maher, or at least try…”
A pause while the woman digested the delicate politics and delicate flattery.
“Normally, in these circumstances, we limit…I suppose if you’re very, very quiet, and only talk to the patient a little if he’s awake. No long rosaries, or anything like that.”
“Of course not, of course not.”
“Third suite on your left, Father.”
He entered without knocking; the door closed soundlessly. The patient was motionless, apparently asleep, as the priest drew near to the bed.
Instead of sitting, the visitor drew out a small tube of super-glue. He looked over the equipment near and above the bed, and applied little dabs to certain points.
Then he sat down and waited.
After a while he checked his watch, then went to the sink. Taking a hand towel, he soaked it, and returned to the bedside. He began tenderly to dab the face and forehead of the elderly man.
After a while, the patient twitched slightly then opened his eyes. There was a moment to focus on the priest’s face, then a second moment for surprised recognition. The voice, usually soft, was now just an exhalation.
“Dressed like a priest. That’s how you got in. A priest. A flaming priest…”
“Clive, I wanted to see you, before…I just wanted to see you. Couldn’t come any time near normal hours, obviously.”
“I suppose I should thank you for coming. Quinlivin visiting, eh? The hare popping in to see the dying hound. Or are you the Road Runner? You’re certainly no ordinary crook, Quin – though you’re still a bloody crook.”
“You’re not a common copper, Clive. Somebody must think a lot of you. Your own suite in St. Vincent’s Private! All these years I thought you were straight, and you were someone’s bagman.”
“You know I was straight, Quinlivin. After that bag you offered me to go off your track.”
“Just joking, Clive. I kid a lot. But how did you afford all this?”
The patient started to move his head sideways and up.
“Clive, don’t bother looking for a button to push. I’ve put super-glue around. Just relax and be good company…Now, who’s paying for all this?”
“I dunno, mate. Anonymous donor. Money’s been paid into Rex Maher’s account by someone who likes me. Rex told the Cardinal. It’s all on the up-and-up. Any funds left after I pop off go to the hospice. But who do you think you are, sticking super-glue on hospital property?”
“I think I’m a crim who’s been tracked half my life by the bloke I’m talking to. You press one button, and I could spend the rest of my life in supermax. Hardly seems fair.”
“It’d be very fair. It’d be justice, Quin.”
“Even if I was a certain anonymous donor? Just saying?”
“You! Quinlivin! I might have known. I’ll give it all back somehow…”
“Clive, there’s nobody to give the money back to. And I didn’t say I was definitely the anonymous donor. Maybe the money’s coming from everybody’s favourite Sydney business identity…who owes me a favour for finding and talking persuasively to a certain extortionist. And, let me tell, you, that extortionist is nobody’s favourite. Some of my best work. Nah, just relax and enjoy the accommodation. The money’s clean, the hospice will get a good whack later.”
McGroder sighed, shook his head and calmed a little.
“So, Clive, there’s a fair bit of pain?”
“A bit. A lot.”
“Don’t strain. I’ll leave soon. Just had to see you. I…”
“Quin, the girl! The one who covered for you at the credit union. Are you doing the right thing by her?”
Quinlivin could not hold back a laugh.
“Clive, we’re both major felons, and you’re asking me if I’m doing the right thing by her? Only you, Clive. Only you.”
“Well…they said she seemed nice enough. And you’re sort of a bastard son to me, I suppose. A son I want to see locked up for life.”
“We get on all right, me and the girl. We’re hardly Ozzie and Harriet, but we’re okay together.”
“I always liked that about you, Quin. No bad stuff with sheilas. Most of the crims I chased…well, you know what they’re like. No standards. None.”
“Too true. That car thief I left trussed up for you? The one who topped the professor? Talk about a cheap mug. I came so close to culling that one – had the rope around his neck.”
“Thanks for wrapping that particular parcel, Quin. If I was feeling livelier I’d ask for more details.”
McGroder emitted a weak cough.
“I can’t talk for much longer, Quin.”
“I’ll go now. Just wanted to to see you, and make sure the accommodation is what we…what a certain business identity paid for…”
“And you wanted to show off a bit, didn’t you, Quin? Visit the dying copper who’s been tracking you? Extend the legend of Quinlivin?”
“Maybe a bit of that, Clive. It’s the way I am. Theatrical.”
A tap at the door, which then opened slightly. Sister Donnelly’s voice:
The door closed again.
“Clive, that’s a hint to me, I presume. Looks like I’ll have to freeze the door on the way out. I’ve brought something for that. Unless you’ll agree not to raise an alert for ten minutes? No? Not even to save some more damage to hospital property? Oh well, it’ll only take a few minutes to bust the lock after I’m gone. Best be off now, old mate. I just want you to know that I may be a show-off – okay, I’m definitely a show-off – but I wouldn’t have risked this for anybody else. You’re the tops, Clive.”
“Quin, before you go…remember what I said, the last time we spoke?”
“You said a fair bit. That was the idea: I needed to stretch out that chat till I reached Queensland.”
“No, I said I’d get you…and you said…”
“I said if anyone does catch me, I hope it’s you.”
“I’ve been a struggler all my life, Quin. I’m not smart like you. I just use what I’ve got. Patience, sticking power, commonsense…simple stuff.”
“You did all you could, Clive. You never did let up. I should know.”
“There was more I could do…”
“No, Clive. You just ran out of time. You’ve done everything, you went to the limit.”
“You don’t understand, Quin. Not everything. I had one thing more. This dying business, all this pain…I had this…”
“Clive, rest now. Rest and…”
“I know you, Quin. My bastard son. After so long, I know you.”
From under the bed covers, a wasted hand emerged, feebly, so feebly. It held a small black device that was blinking red. In the corridor, there was a rumble of booted feet, the distinctive clack of readied guns. The door moved.
“Quin, I knew you’d come.”