The deepest, darkest depths of space are just as desolate as being on your own.
Travis felt that way about his surroundings for the last 46 years. Every night his prison cell found him alone in a different type of void. Labeled a violent criminal with no remorse he had no cellmates; his only companions were pen and paper that he used to sketch memories from the days before he found himself locked away forever. So much time had passed, and he wondered if he had imagined them and if what they had said about him was the truth.
His night-time routine had not changed noticeably in those 46 years. He would have dinner and then be taken to his cell; it would lock behind him, lights would go out and nobody would come into his cell before breakfast. That was until last night.
He had fallen asleep, and he guessed it was close to 11 pm when he heard a commotion. At first, he assumed it was some of the other prisoners fighting, there had been a level of discontentment between rival gangs for a while now. Then Travis realized it was his cell door that was being unlocked, he sat up with a jolt but made sure not to seem too animated. He had seen too many prisoners move fast at the wrong time, resulting in a spray of mace or a shock from a taser.
The two guards were apologetic but said “We’ve got to go Travis there are people waiting for you”. It was an unusual reaction, he tried to find out what was going on, but was ushered down the corridors of the cell block, to the reception area.
When Travis arrived, there were two uniformed police officers who looked like they were in their early 20s, they were engaged in a heated conversation with the guard at the desk. They stopped their conversation briefly to look at Travis, but quickly returned to their discussion. He heard one of the officers say, “Look mate, I’ve never dealt with one of these either, but it’s signed by the Attorney-General so I’m not leaving without him”.
It took a few more minutes of debating, while Travis stood there still unaware of the reason for his late-night awakening. Eventually, the warden appeared, looking as sleepy as Travis felt. He looked at the paperwork from the police officers, then gave Travis another cursory glance before handing the paperwork back to the guard and giving an approving nod.
From there a flurry of activity erupted. A guard ran back towards the cell blocks carrying a cheap rainbow-colored bag. They returned minutes later with it packed full. Travis could see some of his drawings from his cell wall, they were shoved in, and some appeared crumpled, he was annoyed that they hadn’t treated his art with care.
Another guard emerged with a clear plastic bag and an old Akubra hat. Travis recognized the hat; he’d worn it the day he was arrested. It seemed dustier than he remembered, but then as he looked at his wrinkled black hands, he thought that he was probably dustier than he had been when he came in here too.
From there Travis was handcuffed and bundled in the back of the police sedan. He’d abandoned the thought of asking questions and hoped that answers would come soon enough. The police officers didn’t talk to Travis, instead having conversations about him as if he wasn’t there or maybe they thought the Perspex screen between the front and rear seats was soundproof.
“Man, you think someone that killed two police officers would look like a monster? But he’s just a frail old man” Travis heard one say. The other replied, “Nearly 50 years ago he wasn’t a frail old man, and he’s never said what he did with their bodies, people don’t just wake up one day and decide not to be evil”.
Travis debated on whether to interject to the conversation, but he thought better of it. He’d received enough beatings over the years because of his smart mouth at the hands of police and prison officers. Being known as a double cop killer certainly didn’t qualify you as a friend of law enforcement.
Over the years people had called him many names. His favorite was the Min Min Man. He’d earned that name after the Min Min lights that were known to appear in the area of Boulia near where Travis was found walking along the Diamantina Development Road.
The police drove Travis to the airport, they were let in at a side gate to a small hangar. A jet was waiting, and two other men side beside the car and opened the door, they weren’t in uniform, but Travis knew police when he saw them. They wore suits, but they weren’t detectives, detectives were much nicer suits. One had a pistol on his belt, the other had a machine gun not very well concealed under his jacket. Their eyes darted from looking at Travis to looking off at the horizon. He wasn’t sure how he should feel that such apparently well-trained and well-armed men seemed so anxious.
They removed the uniform officer’s handcuffs from Travis’ wrists and replaced them with a pair from the suit-wearing officer with the pistol. Travis’ belongings were removed from the boot of the car and taken to the jet. There were few other sounds, as Travis stood there inhaling the cool night air, one of the suited officers said, “Do you want a smoke? It’s going to be a long flight.” The suit-wearing officer with the machine gun held out a packet.
Travis was a little taken aback, he’d never started smoking, but it was strange for him to receive a moment of kindness from a police officer he didn’t know. Or maybe they just picked up that Travis was nervous about getting on a plane and were trying to settle him before the flight. Travis shook his head and replied, “No, thank you, boss”. The officer took a cigarette from the packet and lit it. At that point, Travis wondered if he was smoking because he was nervous about getting on the plane, or maybe something else.
When the officer finished his cigarette, he stubbed it out on the tarmac and began to walk Travis toward the jet. Travis walked in front up the stairs, holding onto the guard rail. He ducked his head as he got inside the plane. Then he realized there were four more people inside, three men and a woman. They weren’t cops. They were wearing professional clothes, but they all seemed to have gotten dressed in a hurry.
Travis settled down in the seat he was directed towards, at the rear of the plane next to the window, the officer sat next to him. The smell of cigarette smoke clung to his suit, in the confined space, accompanied by his tiredness it made Travis feel a little sick. He leaned forward and placed his head in his hands. Soon the other officer boarded the plane, as did the pilot and co-pilot. They closed the doors, gave a quick safety briefing, and before long were taxiing down the runway.
As the plane lifted towards the heavens, Travis spotted the moon, it was full, and its light illuminated the cabin. He took a deep breath, still no wiser on why he’d been awakened, but he decided that if he wasn’t going to get answers he may as well get some rest. His face pressed against the window, and he fell asleep.
It was the sun that woke him, mere seconds before he heard the officer next to him say, we’re coming in for landing. Looking out the window, Travis saw nothing but red dirt below, but as the plane banked, he saw buildings and roads. Then he saw the smokestacks, they hadn’t changed and at that point, he knew for the first time since his trial, Travis was flying back into Mount Isa.
The plane came in for a landing, and in no time it had come to a stop well away from the airport terminal. Travis looked in amazement through his tiny window, at what Mount Isa airport had become. It was no longer the corrugated iron shed that Travis remembered, it was a proper airport now.
As the airplane door opened, he felt that blast of hot dry air rush through the cabin and hit him. He was back on Kalkadoon land, the home of his ancestors. He felt that connection with country that he had not felt for a large part of his life.
Two white four-wheel drive vehicles drove and stopped near the aircraft. The other passengers disembarked first, before Travis was out of his seat they were already in their vehicle and on their way. Travis struggled to stand up, but his traveling companion police officer helped him up.
Stepping onto the tarmac he felt the sun warm on his face, he inhaled that dry desert air, before he felt a slight push from his escort. He was placed in the rear passenger seat of the car, as one of the officers sat behind the driver and the other officer collected Travis’ belongings and put them in the back of the four-wheel-drive. He glanced back at his old hat, hoping that it wouldn’t be too bent out of shape, he’d paid $28.50 for it when he’d bought it new, and had only worn it for about a month before it was taken from him.
When the other officer got into the vehicle, the driver began accelerating before the front seat passenger had buckled his seatbelt. They drove to a gate down the far end of the runway and were let through by a security guard. The conversation amongst the police was minimal, except for a brief exchange with the front seat passenger to the driver, “Head straight to the station”.
There was an air of familiarity as Travis looked at the buildings. That was where the old Hotel Boyd, which housed the “Snake pit” had stood, but now it said Red Earth. The Isa Hotel where Travis had drunk and fought in his younger days was still there, but it didn’t look like the rough and ready place he remembered.
As the four-wheel drive rounded the corner, he saw a three-story concrete building with a Police sign out the front, this was not the Mount Isa Police Station where he’d been interrogated for days, where he’d been subjected to some beatings by old-school detectives, and it wasn’t the old squalid watchhouse that he’d been forced to stay in for a month while his trial dragged on through the heat of summer. This building looked new, it looked clean, it looked sanitized.
Travis’ escorts took him through the back door of the station and led him to an elevator that went to the top floor. As the doors opened, he saw people everywhere, police in uniform, plain clothes, military personnel, and a bunch of others that gave the impression they assumed they were important. He was taken to a small room with a table, four chairs, and a camera in the top corner, he assumed it was an interview room. Travis sat in one of the chairs, and his escorts left the room.
Although it was only a matter of minutes, Travis felt as though he’d been there for hours. He hadn’t been given the chance to get changed from when he was awoken, to be rushed across the country via various modes. He was still wearing prison shorts and his prison t-shirt. He was tired, but also anxious and he just wanted a drink of water, brush his teeth, and have some rest.
The door opened and a man dressed in a suit walked in. He wasn’t a cop either, but he wasn’t used to the desert heat, he was clearly sweating. With him was the woman from the flight. The man looked at the handcuffs on Travis’ wrists, he turned back to the doorway nearly knocking the woman over, and said, “Why is he in handcuffs? Take them off now”. There was a brief, “but…” from the officer outside the door, before he could finish his thought the man in the suit repeated, louder this time “Now!”. Travis’ traveling companion came back into the room, he unlocked the handcuffs, slipped them into a pouch at his back, and left the room.
The man and woman sat down in the chairs opposite Travis, the man put a pile of papers on the desk and outstretched his hand to shake Travis’, he said, “Mr. Kelso, I’m Walter Pike, I’m the Attorney-General”. Travis rubbed his wrists where the handcuffs had been, then he shook the stranger’s hand, it felt as sweaty as the rest of him looked. Pointing to the woman next to him, Pike continued, “And this is Miss Spalding, she’s with the State Solicitor’s office”. She nodded at Travis, he smiled and replied, “We caught the same flight here, nice to meet you, Miss Spalding”. Pike was momentarily caught off guard, he fumbled through with “Oh, yes, of course”.
As Pike lifted the papers back off the desk, his eyes remained on the paper, he didn’t look at Travis. He began to speak “Mister Kelso, some things have happened, and we are going to be releasing you today. I want to apologize for all of this, but Miss Spalding here is going to walk you through the terms of a settlement the government would like to offer you as recompense for your time in jail. We have already spoken to Aboriginal Legal Aid, and I have had a copy of the settlement provided to them. Once that is sorted, we can…”
Travis lifted his right hand to interrupt Pike. He felt himself taking deeper breaths, he had waited for this, and he wanted to make sure he understood what was happening. “So, you’re saying that today, after 46 years in jail you are just going to let me walk out?” Travis asked. Without waiting, he continued, “You’re going to let a convicted double cop killer just walk out of this police station, and you want to pay me a tonne of money for my inconvenience?”. Before Pike could respond, Miss Spalding answered, “I know this is a lot, but as Mr. Pike said, some things have happened and…”
Again, Travis lifted his hand, a little bit higher this time, he looked and noticed it was shaking, so he put both hands on his lap, and he leaned forward, and asked, “Where is he?” Pike and Miss Spalding looked at each other, then back at Travis. Before they could give him another non-apology, Travis spoke again, but this time it was the voice of a confident man.
“Look Mr Pike and Miss Spalding, I’ve been locked in jail for 46 years for a crime that I never committed. I got beaten by guys that assumed I killed two cops. I have never caused headaches for the government. But last night I got woken up in the middle of the night, driven to the airport, flown out here, I haven’t eaten, I haven’t had a change of clothes, and nobody has had the decency to tell me exactly what is going on. Then you tell me that I’m being let go because some things have happened. Now, as dumb as you may think this black fella is, the only reason you would be letting me go is because he’s come back, so I am going to ask you one more time, where is he?”
Pike swallowed hard; the sweat seemed to multiply across his face even though the air conditioning had cooled the room nicely. Miss Spalding also seemed to be flustered, she looked at the table, then back at Pike. They had clearly expected Travis to embrace his freedom and just walk out. Before they could say anything else, there was a brief knock at the door, and it opened. All three sets of eyes turned to the man walking in, he looked to be about as old as the uniformed police that had collected Travis from the prison. He had short brown hair and wore a dark blue tracksuit; the jacket had the Queensland Police Force insignia on it. Over thirty years ago, it had been renamed the Queensland Police Service.
Travis pushed his chair back and leaped to his feet. He stood there, shocked, breathing heavily. He looked this man up and down, and asked, “Pat? Is that really you?” The stranger smiled, and he replied, “Yeah Trav, it’s me”. The two men strode towards each other and embraced in a hug. Tears began to stream down Travis’ cheeks, and before long he was crying uncontrollably. Between the tears, Travis managed to push out the words in an almost whisper, “I didn’t think you would ever make it back”. The other man gripped Travis tighter and replied, “I finally got home, but I didn’t think they would lock you up, I’m so sorry”. The two held each other for a few moments, when they pulled apart the stranger said, “Jesus Trav, you have not aged well”. They both shared a laugh.
Pike and Miss Spalding had sat there watching the display of affection between the two men. Finally, Pike spoke and said, “So Mr. Kelso, obviously you know Constable O’Keefe here, he’s told us what happened as well as what happened to Sergeant Dempsey”. Travis looked at Pike and queried, “You mean how I didn’t murder Sergeant Dempsey, or Patrick here like I’ve been sitting in jail for the last 46 years?” Again, Pike looked flustered, but this time he fired back, “But Mr. Kelso not once did you ever tell someone what really happened, why is that?”
Over time, Travis had learned to deal with all the anger he had about being locked up, but in that instant, he felt it bubbling back up to the surface again. He breathed deep for a second, and then replied, “Mr. Pike, in 1976 I was a 22-year-old black man in the Queensland outback. The Police didn’t believe me when I said that I didn’t kill my friend and his boss when they thought it was a straight-up murder. They beat me, they beat me hard trying to get me to say that I did. Do you think they would have believed me more if I had said that we had run into aliens, who killed my friends’ boss, and then after my friend and I fought them off, my friend took off in a spaceship?”
The room was silent except for Patrick who let out a chuckle, he said “Actually Trav, it is called a Vitarin Cruiser, once you get the hang of them, they’re really quite easy to fly”.
Travis looked at Patrick, tilting his head slightly to the side. He queried, “But, you still couldn’t fly your Vitarin Cruiser back here 46 years sooner?”
Pike interjected, “Mr. Kelso, we know you’re angry. But we need your help, we need to find where you and Constable O’Keefe fought the aliens off last time”.
Travis turned and looked at Pike, then back at Patrick. Their expression gave away that there was something more serious, Travis picked up on that and said, “What’s going on? What do you mean last time?”
Patrick put his hand on Travis’ shoulder and responded, “Trav, there’s a war coming. If we don’t find that spot and try to use more of their weapons, the World is going to be wiped out”.
The room fell silent. Travis looked down at the floor and let out a low slow sigh of despair. Then his head snapped back up, and said, “Well let’s get moving. I didn’t get out of jail after 46 years to only be killed by the fucking aliens that had me end up there in the first place”.
TO BE CONTINUED
About the Creator
Amateur storyteller, LEGO fanatic, leader, ex-Detective and human. All sorts of stories: some funny, some sad, some a little risqué all of them told from the heart.
Thank you all for your support.
Ohhh this is great, I just loved it. Looking forward to the next part!
Hurry up and do the next part!
Good story. Well done