Jason Torrance had always been a loner, but not in the way most people thought. He was quite popular with the rest of the kids in his class and even more so as he moved into high school. But it was the things outside of his school life that just seemed to follow him and so, he kept to himself.
His mother was a voracious alcoholic since the death of his father during the onset of WW2. He’d been part of one of the first battles involving Australian troops, falling in North Africa in January of 1940. She took it hard and although Jason had only been a five-year old kid at the time, still held on to some vague memories of the father he would only know through letters and old photographs.
Despite remembering a doting mother from the same era, things changed drastically as she fell into a deep depression after receiving the news of her sweetheart’s death. That was when the bottle appeared and everything changed. At first the alcohol seemed to have a positive effect on her, Jason remembering a mum that laughed a lot, joining in games with him and his friends. But soon the laughter faded, replaced by a bitterness that eventually pushed his friends away. It was his own choice to no longer invite them around, instead visiting their homes instead. But with his mother constantly asking where he spent his time and why his friends no longer came around, Jason figured it was just too hard.
If anyone had asked the kid whether he felt isolated or alone, he may have just looked at them curiously, because as far as he was concerned, he just preferred to do things alone. It helped with the questions at home. That was until the summer of 1946 and the first meeting with the kid he would eventually call the brother he never had.
Lewis Cruikshank moved to Daylesford with his father during the summer holidays of 46, taking up residence just two doors down from Jason and his mum. Jason had a habit of sitting in the front yard of his home reading books. He’d once found a copy of Gulliver’s Travels in an old trunk that had belonged to his father and after finding out the man loved Jules Verne, decided to try it out, more of a way to connect with a man he wanted to understand.
Lewis happened to walk past one afternoon and saw the kid lying back on the lawn, book held in a way that shielded his face from the sun.
“Is that 20, 000 Leagues Under the Sea?” he asked, briefly pausing by the fence. Jason shifted the book aside and peered between his folded legs. The kid staring back at him looked of a similar age, although quite a bit taller, sporting a wild hairdo as bright as the sunshine Jason was trying to block himself from.
“Yes, it is,” Jason replied, feeling the twitch he always had when nervous. It felt as if his eye was winking, embarrassing him more as he wondered whether it was visible. The kid held up what he’d been holding and Jason grinned back instantly. “From the Earth to the Moon? I still need to read that one.” He stood, excited by the prospect of reading the one book that had eluded him the past year.
“Lewis,” the red-headed kid said, grinning as Jason approached, his hand held out. The pair shook and ten minutes later had exchanged books. That was the first meeting of the two boys that would eventually be linked to one of the biggest robberies in the country’s history.
The boys became the best of friends from the very beginning, often spending time at each other’s houses whilst imagining the wild adventures they would go on once old enough. Jules Verne had filled their minds with the endless possibilities life had to offer and they wanted to explore as many worlds as possible.
They weren’t always alone, a couple of other boys sometimes joining in. Jason’s second cousin, Tom Kosinski, would often drop by if he was around. His family, from Jason’s father’s side, owned a farm outside of town and would listen to the boys exchange Verne stories, changing them to include the sorts of things teenage boys needed in their tales. Bruce Thompson would also join in at times, the others calling the kid from the end of the street “Brewster”.
But as time passed, Jason’s mother continued to drink heavily until she eventually died from alcohol poisoning when Jason was 15. This was around 1949 and not a great period of time. Despite having his cousins living on the farm just a few miles from town, the family refused to take him in, their own debts too great to take on another mouth to feed.
And so, Jason was moved to the home of his mother’s sister, a woman he hadn’t seen since before the war. She lived a strict Catholic lifestyle and had refused to accept her sister’s alcoholic choices with the passing of Jason’s father, preferring instead to separate herself.
Once Jason was under her roof, she enforced strict house rules on the boy, denying him any chance at a somewhat normal upbringing for what remained of his time as a teenager. He was sent to a boys school in Cabramatta, a place where he quickly learnt to protect himself. The school was notorious for the many disciplinary issues it had, the teachers often ordering replacement canes on a weekly basis with which to deal out capital punishment.
But while Jason often thought of running away and returning to the only real friends he’d ever known, it was the meeting with the Asian kid that changed everything for him. Duc Lee moved into the apartment above his auntie’s one weekend in 1951 and although the pair didn’t officially meet until the following month, had seen each other in the stairwell several times.
A chance run-in at the corner store brought the two teens together, with Jason caught short buying some cigarettes. Duc had been in line behind Jason, watching as the kid rifled through his pockets for the penny he was short. Duc stepped forward with a £1 note in hand, set his bottle of coke beside the smokes and waved the bill at the shop keeper.
“I got this,” Duc said. Jason looked at him surprised, recognizing the face from his building.
“Thanks, man,” he offered, taking the cigarettes. He waited outside for his generous donor, introducing himself as Duc walked outside.
“Jase,” he said, offering his hand.
“Duc,” the kid replied, shaking firmly.
“Yeah, Duc. Problem?” He sounded a little annoyed, but Jase set him straight immediately, not wanting to insult the man after he’d paid for his cigarettes.
“No, sorry. Just making sure I got it right.”
While the relationship with Duc would never be as strong as the one he’d had with Lou, it took a sharp upturn during the spring of 52, when Duc came knocking on Jason’s door.
“You looking for work?” Duc asked when he finally opened the door. Jason looked at him for a moment, the words taking longer than usual to properly absorb.
“Yeah, sure.” His auntie was becoming more and more restless with his lack of employment prospects, never hopeful of her nephew finding a reputable career.
“My uncle works for one of the stables down at Warwick Farm and they’re looking for a stable-hand. Know anything about horses?” Jason shook his head, vaguely recalling his aunt talking about a racecourse nearby, the kind that only allowed racing of the four-legged variety.
“Probably won’t matter,” Duc said, waving the question away. “Interested?”
“Definitely,” he replied, more anxious to finally have an excuse to leave the house and the ever-watchful eye of his aunt.
“Drop by my joint around four tomorrow. Try not to be late.” Jason considered, knew he’d only be sitting in his room at that time of the afternoon and nodded. Duc acknowledged with a nod of his own and turned to go. Just as Jason was about to close the door, Duc stopped and turned back. “That’s four in the morning.”
He didn’t know how he managed to drag his ass out of bed, but by the time Duc answered the door early the next morning, the fog was finally lifting from Jason’s brain. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, the temperature already quite warm for the season. Duc wore a similar get-up, his uncle in grey overalls.
When he introduced his uncle, Bo, the man shook with Jason, but didn’t speak. His smile was a little on the unwelcoming side and as they shook hands, Jason felt the lack of enthusiasm in his grip.
“Did I do something wrong?” he whispered to Duc later as they descended the stairs.
“Nah,” Duc replied quietly. “He doesn’t speak much English and isn’t a fan of new people. He’ll be fine once he gets to know you.”
They drove in Bo’s old GM, with Jason sitting in the back seat. They picked up a fourth person along the way, Duc introducing the newcomer as Hunter. The new Asian man sat in the back with Jason as they continued on to the racecourse.
The job was a mixture of stable hand, shit sweeper and errand boy. While Bo set off for his own duties with Hunter each morning, Duc and Jason remained around the dozens of stables, with workers and horses turning the site into a small town of activity. The track was given a real workout with an endless lineup of horses using the time to train for that weekend’s race meeting.
Several stables were set aside for a horse trainer named Jimmy Telford, who’d gotten a number of horses over the line in some pretty big-name races. But what many in the industry didn’t know, particularly the horse owners paying for the man to train their animals, was that Jimmy Telford trained a lot more than just horses.
“Hey kid,” a voice called to Jason one morning in early April the following year. This had been around seven or eight months after the he started working with Duc and his uncle. He turned to see where the voice had come from and saw Jimmy standing by an open stable door, leaning against the frame as he smoked a cigar.
“Me?” Jason called back, unsure if it was he he’d meant as his eye began its ritualistic twitch. Jimmy nodded, then waved Jason over. The man looked him up and down through the cloud of smoke that hovered around his head like the morning fog. Jason could smell the rank cigar smoke as he neared, his own cigarette weakly held between his fingers as he felt the irony wash over him.
“You’re that kid that comes here with that gook and his nephew, yeah?” Jason nodded meekly, unsure of what he’d done to attract the attention of one of the leading trainers, a man considered far above mere mortals.
“Even a sir.” He began to chuckle as he puffed on the cigar, releasing a fresh layer of cloud. “Kid, you’ll go far.” He briefly looked from side to side, then waved for Jason to come a little closer, lowering his voice as he spoke.
“I need a driver. You lookin to make a little extra coin?” The scar that ran down the side of his face flinched slightly as he spoke and Jason wondered just how he got it.
The thought that the job may have been illegal wasn’t something that initially crossed Jason’s mind, the mere mention of money piquing his interest enough to push all other thoughts aside.
“Yeah, I’m interested.” Jimmy looked impressed and nodded his head appreciatively.
“OK. See that man standing by Stable 14? His name’s Bob. Go and tell him you’re the driver for the Kitchener job. He’ll point you in the right direction.” As if an afterthought, the man held his hand out and Jason shook with him, feeling the confidence through his grasp.
“Yes, Sir. Thank you.” Jimmy laughed again, puffed on his cigar and walked back into the building behind him. That was the first time Jason met Jimmy Telford, the man that would eventually end the reign of one of the worst criminal gangs in Sydney, the infamous Kowalski brothers. Unbeknownst to him, it was a first meeting that would influence the rest of his life in a way no-one else would and steer him on a course that would lead all the way to King’s Court Prison.
The job was simple and one a naive kid accepted with open arms. He was to head down to a specific address on the following Sunday night at precisely 10:30 and pick up a pick-up with the keys hidden under the passenger seat. He was to drive to the rear of number 244 Montgomery Way in Mascot and park right beside the second window along the back wall at precisely 11. If he was early, he was to wait around the corner until the right time. If he was late, he’d better continue driving and hope none of Jimmy’s boys caught up with him.
Once there, he was to wait until some packages were dropped off to him and once he was in possession of them, return to the house, carry the bags inside and lock the door. For the job, he would be paid £100, the equivalent of well more than a month’s wages for him.
The instructions were clear and Jason had to memorize them, then repeat the words precisely back to Bob twice before he was satisfied. The job, although slightly unusual with the time it was scheduled for, never raised a red flag with a dewy-eyed Jason, unaware there was anything afoul about to happen.
The pick-up was parked exactly where it was supposed to be and once he found the keys, climbed in and started the car, feeling a flush of excitement at sitting behind the wheel of the first car he’d driven since getting his license a year earlier. Although he stalled the car twice in the driveway, once it was out on the open road, it drove like a dream, Jason carefully working his way along the almost deserted streets.
After ten minutes of driving, Jason flicked on the radio, played with the dials until he found the Four Aces bellowing out “Tell Me Why”. He sat back, gripped the wheel a little more confidently and sang along, feeling like the world was lying at his feet. Doris Day followed with “A Guy is a Guy”, with Jason giving his own best performance.
As the pick-up turned onto Montgomery Way and Jason began looking for house numbers, he flicked the radio off, checked his watch and saw he was a little early. The road wasn’t a major thoroughfare, nor a quiet suburban backlot. There were still occasional vehicles passing him, even at that hour and so he carefully pulled alongside number 228 and waited for the time to get a little closer to 11.
The night was warm and he’d driven with his window down the entire way, but now as he sat waiting, it creeped him out a little. Questions began to surface for the first time, wondering what the hell he was doing this close to midnight on a Sunday out in the middle of Mascot. It had been Duc that had told him to watch himself, saying that Jimmy wasn’t the kind of man he’d want to cross.
His friend’s words repeated themselves as he slowly wound the window back up, wondering just what the cigar-chomping James Patrick Telford was really up to. Jason knew he had money, that fact was obvious by the watch he wore, a thick chunk of gold Rolex. He always had women hanging from his arms as well and ones that definitely weren’t looking for a marriage proposal. Duc had told him that money attracted all sorts of people and those women were the types he called gold diggers.
He checked his watch, the minute hand now two minutes shy of 11. A car passed him as he started the pick-up again, made sure the road was clear, then slowly began to roll along, counting off the buildings as he went.
The businesses along the road weren’t anything mainstream. They were the plumber’s yards, auto repair shops and storage places that wanted to pay minimal rent for a bit of space, regardless of location. It wasn’t exposure they were looking for and so a few of the street numbers didn’t exist. The lighting wasn’t the best either, with a street lamp only every fifty yards or so.
Thankfully, one of the lights hung right in front of number 238. 242 was a vacant lot and 244 was a large two-story brick building that looked a perfect cube. The driveway looped around both sides and Jason first passed the building, then pulled in via the far driveway, the headlights illuminating the long path.
There were two cars parked along the street in front of the house and two on the opposite side. The ground floor windows were dark, but a number of lights were on upstairs, although Jason didn’t pause long enough to check them in detail. By the time he was rolling down the drive, he was more focused on where he was heading than what was going on around him.
The rear of the building was as deserted as the rest of the place and he saw the row of windows along the wall as he carefully turned the wheel. The creepiness of the job came back much stronger as he neared the second one, slowed the car and lined himself up. He looked around as he stopped, keeping the engine running as instructed, Bob specifically repeating himself on the matter.
He wasn’t sure whether he should wind the window down as he sat waiting, a shiver suddenly gripping him as it rolled down his spine. Apart from himself, it appeared there wasn’t another soul around.
Something suddenly crashed right behind the cabin of the pick-up, loud enough to make him jump. He whipped around as a second explosion went off, instantly aware of his pulse beating much too fast as he spotted what looked like two suitcases lying in the tray of the car. He couldn’t quite make out their color, but knew they was dark, positioned near the back. He wasn’t sure whether that was the only cargo and so carefully opened his door and stepped out.
He peered around, but couldn’t see anyone, the only sound the still-idling engine. A voice suddenly spoke to him, coming from somewhere above.
“What the fuck are you waiting for, kid? Get out of here.” He didn’t recognize the voice, but followed it up to a second-floor window. A face was peering back at him, but before that face had a chance to repeat itself, Jason swung himself back into the driver’s seat, closed the door and slowly rolled down the other side of the driveway.
This time as he drove, the radio remained off, the kid more focused on making sure his cargo remained exactly where it was. If he didn’t have any thoughts about the dealings of the night being shady before he headed out, they were all but erased when the suitcases crashed into his lap. He didn’t know why, but something told him that Jimmy Telford wasn’t a man to mess with. If he fucked this up, there was a very good chance they would fuck him up.
The drive back to the house took a lot longer on the return journey, Jason desperate to get the cargo back to where it belonged as quick as possible, but without attracting unwanted attention. He wanted to be free of the responsibility, rid himself of whatever had been bestowed on him.
A sigh of relief hissed out of him as he finally turned the pick-up back into the driveway of the house. It looked as abandoned as when he first arrived and didn’t hesitate to do what was required of him. After stopping the pick-up and killing the engine, he hopped out, walked to the back of the car and grabbed the handles of the suitcases. They were a lot heavier than he’d expected and it took an effort to lift them up and over the side of the pick-up’s tray. They almost fell to the ground as he finally slid them free.
Carrying each on either side of his legs, Jason walked the cases up the short stairs, then set them down to open the door. He suddenly realized he hadn’t been told about a key to unlock the door and he stared at the handle for a brief moment. But as he slowly gripped it and began to turn, felt relief as the door creaked open.
Griping the case handles as tight as possible, Jason lifted them and carried both into the darkness of the front room of the vacant home. There was no light and the shadows seemed to pull him in more.
“Walk ‘em inside, then lock the door as you get the hell out of there,” Bob had said, enunciating the word ‘out’ as if to make sure there was no doubt about its meaning.
Jason set his cargo down near where a doorway led into a narrow hallway, the darkness absolute down that hole. He was about to turn and leave when he stopped, his eyes drawn down to where the mystery contents sat just a foot away from him.
“What had been so important that it needed a late-night mission to collect?” he thought to himself. But before he had a chance to bend down and give in to his curiosity, a lowly voice crept from where the ghosts and monsters hid in the darkness.
“Beat it,” it said and Jason took a moment to realize the voice was as real as the room around him.
He turned and walked back out without hesitation, the familiar thumping in his chest back with a vengeance. That second voice hadn’t just surprised him the way someone might be caught off guard by an unexpected visitor. That voice had scared the absolute shit out of him, because he knew what it stood for. There wasn’t a single doubt in his mind that whomever that voice had belonged to, also carried their own cargo, a pistol or a knife, something that would end him and make him disappear for good.
Once he locked the door and pulled it shut, Jason walked back out into the night without so much as a single peak over his shoulder. He knew the eyes were watching him through the window, ensuring that the only real witness to the cargo’s delivery, was going to finish his job.
Once Jason had crossed the street and was making his way back to the main road, he broke into a jog, his heart already pounding as if he had been running the whole time. And nothing he would go on to do in his life would ever compare to the overwhelming sense of excitement he felt as he ran from his very first job. Not until the day of the robbery that would make headlines around the world.