November 7, 1983

Elijah is taken on a Monday.

See his kidnappers on the freeway. Holden Kingswood, old and brown. Two men with ponytails and tense expressions. It’s half past three. The road is teeming with cars. The cars are absolutely gleaming.

The ringleader’s name is Simon. He’s blue-eyed and blonde-haired, thirty-three years old, the same age as Jesus when he was crucified, and everything he says has an exclamation point at the end, especially when he’s off his medication, like right now for instance.

Simon lifts his index finger. ‘Left!’ he says.

They take a slip lane onto Strathpine Road. The timber wall shutters away, unveiling a bare landscape. Dead creek beds. Meadows brown from drought. Barbed wire dividing dehydrated livestock from the highway. Plastic bags flapping along the fence like jellyfish trapped in a shark net.

Simon snatches a Gideon bible from the dashboard and flicks to Deuteronomy. He speaks in a voice you can believe in.

‘…then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the land the LORD is giving you!’

The driver is a nineteen-year-old hitchhiker named Bradley. He hasn’t slept or done a shit since Friday. The only miracle he’s praying for is an exodus from the ass.

‘Yeah,’ he says eventually. ‘It’s bloody dry.’

Strathpine, Queensland: a subdivided slice of paradise.

Pretty soon they’re on the main street, an infinite strip of fast food drive-throughs and second-hand car dealerships. The men concentrate so hard they can’t speak. Left after Westfields. The sign is a guiding star on the horizon, red and white against a blue sky, climbing high like directions to heaven.

Now they’re on the home stretch. The estate has a European classical music theme. Beethoven Road.Chopin Street. Danube Court. Brick shithouses with jet skis in the driveways. They park three houses down and leave the motor running. The lawn is a fake shade of green. The front door is unlocked. Elijah lies on his stomach in the lounge room, three years old, peering into the TV. His foster sister Annie is sixteen. She sees two strangers in the doorway.

‘Who are you?’ she asks.

No reply. Simon lifts Elijah off the carpet like a parcel. Brad stands guard, ready to block any attempt to stop him.

Debbie streaks outside into the heat. Alien number plates. NEW SOUTH WALES – THE FIRST STATE. Black script on a lemon panel. She chases the car, shrieking the inscription – three letters, three digits – like something she’s seen in a kidnapping documentary.

Brad settles into a premeditated speed, not too fast or slow, trying to go unnoticed. Simon keeps a hand over Elijah’s mouth. Outside the heat gives way to a southeasterly breeze. They drive west. The getaway is an unmitigated success. Shirtless men wave at them, aiming hydraulic hoses at their four–wheel drives, friendly smiles on their stupid faces.