Read Care Factor Zero Online

Authors: Margaret Clark

Care Factor Zero

About the book

Larceny Leyton is a wild child - tough, smart, willful and proud. Like so many others, she wears her attitude like armour.

‘Trust’ isn’t a word in Larceny’s dictionary. It means opening up and taking the risk that you’ll be hurt. Truth and dare.

Nobody gets close enough to earn her trust. Larceny makes sure of that. Yet deep down, she’s afraid of the voices that bring with them a wild consuming rage, a killing rage that drove her to the streets in the first place. She’s afraid of being betrayed by the only person she’s been able to trust - herself.

Written with the help of Kerry Ford who provided much of the research material for this novel
Care Factor Zero

Dedicated to Kerry Ford, who works so tirelessly with young people, to Claire Carmichael, who suggested the title, and to Mark Macleod, who always has faith in my writing.


The baby cried, a pitiful sound in the small flat.

‘What’s wrong with the kid now?’ groaned Danny, his head splitting and his tongue feeling like he’d chewed the neighbour’s cat.

‘I dunno. Probably hungry.’

Tess snuggled further into the pillow, pulling the covers over her head. Danny opened one eye and looked at her, or rather at the red tufts of spiky hair sticking out like a scrubbing brush.

I’m sleepin’ with a scrubber, he thought fleetingly, then winced, because he and Tess were an item. They had Larceny, their beautiful baby who was now bawling her eyes out. He poked Tess hard in the ribs.

‘Fix her up.’

. It’s your kid too.’

‘Do it!’

He gave her a harder jab and then pushed her violently in the back as she curled away from him. The baby yelled louder as Tess swore and landed on the floor with a thump.

‘Pig! I don’t feel well.’

‘Just feed the kid, will ya?’

Tess staggered over to the carry cot and lifted Larceny out.

‘God, she stinks.’

Roughly she took the screaming baby through to the kitchen table, pushing a load of empty takeaway boxes, stubbies and overflowing ashtrays out of the way as she dumped the baby down.

‘Where’s her nappies, Danny?’

‘I dunno. In the corner.’

‘The packet’s empty. There’s none left.’

‘Okay, so there’s none left. Use a towel or somethin’. Only feed her first, will ya?’

Holding the baby under one arm, Tess staggered across the kitchen, opened the fridge, found a half-empty bottle of formula and shoved it in Larceny’s mouth. There was almost silence as the hungry baby sucked greedily at the cold milk. Danny propped himself on an elbow and focussed on the pair.

‘Aren’t you s’posed to warm that milk?’

‘Yeah, well, she’s drinking it, isn’t she?’

The baby finished in record time. Tess thumped her on the back vigorously, nodded with satisfaction when there was a loud burp, put her down on the table and took off the soiled nappy.

‘Yuck. She’s all red.’

‘Put on some powder, then, fix her up and come back to bed.’ Danny’s voice had deepened with desire as he watched Tess moving round dressed only in a rather grubby t-shirt that just covered her bum.

‘Don’t get ideas,’ she said, putting the baby, now swaddled in a towel, back into the carry basket. ‘I’m not in the mood. I’ve got a pain in my gut and in my head.’

‘You’ve always got a pain in your gut. Or a headache. Or you’re too tired.’

‘I wasn’t too tired last night.’

‘Yeah? I was too wasted to remember. Come on, over here.’

‘No. I’m going in to Emergency. I feel bad, Danny. You’ll have to mind the kid.’ Her green eyes had clouded over.

Danny fell back against the pillows and sighed. Tess was always moaning about some part of her
anatomy. She was still wearing a dirty bandage around her wrist because she was sure she’d sprained it when she fell down a flight of steps coming out of JoJo’s, and she was sure she had some terminal disease: cancer, leprosy, you name it.

At first when she’d got pregnant it had been a big mess. Her old man had gone psycho, said she’d behaved like a slut, belted her up and chucked her out. They couldn’t go to her mother because she was living somewhere in Sydney and didn’t want to know Tess anyway. Or so Tess said. They couldn’t go to his old man’s because he liked little kids too much, which was why Danny had done a runner five years ago. So they’d rocked on in to Social Security and spun some shit.

Welfare had found them this flat, the kid had popped out and everything had been great. For a while. Donations of the carry cot, pram, baby clothes, food, and furniture had rolled in from the Salvos. The flat looked grouse. People in the street would stop and admire Larceny in her bright baby gear.

‘What’s her name?’ everyone would ask.



‘Felonious taking away of another’s personal goods
with intent to convert them into one’s own use,’ Danny and Tess would recite with a grin. They’d both heard the phrase often enough in juvenile court. It had a nice ring to it. Larceny. Original. They were both sure that there wasn’t another kid in the country called Larceny.

At first Tess had been rapt to have the kid to care for: she said it made her feel important. But lately she’d been moaning about feeling bad, her head always ached, her gut ached, the place was a dump because she never cleaned it, the baby kept bawling, and life was one big bummer. Last night they’d taken Larceny to a party in her carry cot and both got pissed out of their brains. They’d smoked a lot of dope, too. It always seemed to make Tess morbid. Danny could vaguely remember his manic mate Farri driving them home.

He blinked and looked round the flat. Clothes were piled in the corners, shoes were scattered everywhere, and the three cats which Tess had adopted and kept feeding scraps were asleep on the clothes. It had looked great when they’d first moved in, with the two fat armchairs and a sofa, a small tv, the double bed with its bright floral cover in their bedroom, and the kitchen with their teak laminex
table, black vinyl-covered chairs with the tubular legs, fridge, and stove. Playing house, that’s what they’d been doing. But it hadn’t lasted long. Carting a baby all over the place was boring, and the time they’d left it at home the neighbours had called the cops because Larceny had bawled and bawled, and the cops had called Welfare, and Welfare had said, ‘One more chance.’

‘No appropriate role models,’ Danny had heard the social worker say to the cop. ‘What can you expect?’

‘What’s all this crap about role models?’ he’d said to Tess later on, when they were watching tv. ‘We’ve got the kid, we’re looking after her, she’s guzzling milk by the litre and growing like a weed on Gro Plus. What do they want?’

‘I dunno.’

Tess had stared at the tv screen with a fixed expression on her face. She always seemed to do a runner into her own brain whenever things got too hard. And lately she’d been getting worse.

‘Right, I’m outa here,’ Tess announced suddenly, jolting him from his yesterday-thoughts back into the harsh reality of the moment.

She’d dragged on some jeans and running shoes
and was heading for the door. Danny threw back the covers and leapt out of bed.

‘Hang on, where do you think you’re goin’?’

‘Told ya. Hospital. I’m feelin’ real crook. I’ve gotta go, Danny.’

Her strange green eyes were huge pools in her white face. She looked real spacey. Danny felt a coil of fear in his guts. He had to do something. She wasn’t allowed to run away, put herself in hospital and leave him with this mess.

‘Yeah? That’s what
think,’ he snarled.

He grabbed her arm and shoved her roughly back against the wall. Her head banged on the plaster with a dull clunk.

‘You’re stayin’ here!’

‘Danny,’ she whined. ‘I gotta go to hospital. I told ya, I don’t feel well. I —’

‘Stop ya moanin’. There’s nothin’ wrong with you!’ yelled Danny, feeling angry and frustrated. Somehow he felt responsible for her and the kid, and when she acted like this he couldn’t cope. She was letting him down. He slammed his fist into her face and blood spurted all over his hand.

She screamed, flaying out with her arms, trying to protect herself, and the sight triggered off something
in Danny, something deep, like a movie being replayed: his mum cowering against the wall while his old man laid into her, and it all got mixed up as he punched Tess in the stomach and the head. She crumpled at his feet in a small ball. He gave her a kick for good measure. The baby wailed loudly.

‘Get out, then, and take this little shit with ya. Go on.’

He grabbed up the squalling baby and threw her hard at the blubbering heap of Tess on the floor. She clutched the baby as she staggered to her feet, wrenched at the door handle, and lurched through the door, slamming it behind her.

‘Good riddance,’ muttered Danny, going to the table and draining the last drops from a stubbie. ‘Who needs you anyway, you stupid slag!’

Tess ran from the flat, clutching the baby. Blood dripped from her nose onto Larceny’s feathery head, but Tess was unaware of it. She hailed a taxi.

‘Are you all right, love?’ asked the elderly driver, when he saw the blood. He handed her a wad of tissues.

‘I need to go to the hospital,’ she said woodenly, as Larceny bellowed her lungs out. ‘Oh, shut up. SHUT UP!’

She shook the baby roughly, which made her yell
even louder. The taxi driver bit his lip and planted his foot on the accelerator. He didn’t want any trouble, and this was trouble with a capital T. He screeched through the streets, pulling up with a squeal of brakes as they reached the hospital.

‘Hey. What about my fare?’ he yelled, as Tess flung the door open and hurled herself out, still clutching Larceny. She didn’t answer as she lunged through the doors of Emergency. The taxi driver shrugged. You win some, you lose some.

‘Help me,’ whimpered Tess as she reached the counter.

‘Name?’ asked the woman, glancing at her, then back at her paperwork.

‘Tess Leyton.’

‘Have you been here before?’

‘Oh, for shit’s sake. Can’t you see I’m
?’ cried Tess dramatically.


Tess flung the baby onto a nearby seat. Whirling, she ran for the stairs.

‘Hey. Come back. You can’t —’

Tess raced up the stairs, two at a time, her heart pumping madly. She wanted to find a nice, white-sheeted bed to lie down on, and have a nice, kind
doctor give her some pain-killing injections, get rid of the pain in her gut and her head, and send her into quiet oblivion. She didn’t want any major grief.

Two orderlies got her at the top of the second flight of stairs.

‘Don’t touch me,’ she hissed at them, baring her teeth like a cornered animal, as they grabbed her. She’d always hated being grabbed, held down … the bad memories replayed in her head. Dad grabbing her, belting the shit out of her, kicking her when she was down. Only now Dad and Danny seemed to be one and the same confused image, and these two men were going to hurt her, too. With the slipperiness of an eel she broke free, raced along a passage and through some doors that led onto the balcony. Like a cat she climbed up onto the railing.

‘Come near me and I’ll jump,’ she screamed.

The taller of the two men grinned. ‘We hear that every day, girlie. You won’t jump.’

She did.

Larceny Leyton strode down the street, head high, hips swinging suggestively in her tight 501s. Freedom.
Jigging school was the only way to go. Age fifteen and her thirteenth school, nothing different. Same desks, same types of teachers, same types of kids, same old routine, only in different suburbs or different towns. Eight foster families plus ten stays in residential care and two in an adolescent psych hospital had left their mark on Larceny. So had the knowledge that her mother had committed suicide by flinging herself off a hospital balcony in Melbourne. Wimped out. Couldn’t hack it. Well, there was no way Larceny Leyton was going to top herself: there was too much living to do. That was how she felt today. The demons hadn’t come into her head for weeks, the ones that told her to kill. Kill other people. Kill herself. They’d gone, she was in a new residential that wasn’t a total shithole, and everything felt good. Larceny Leyton was alive and well. The rest of the world could go to hell.

A number of welfare people and foster families had tried to change her name. They’d said Larceny wasn’t a proper name! It was

!’ Larceny had been adamant. It was the only legacy she had from her mum and dad. No photos, no mementos, nothing. Only the long red hair, green eyes and swarthy skin, a most unusual
combination. Slim body, long legs, and an attitude.

She’d finally tracked down her dad, an alcoholic, living with the woman who was now her stepmother. There were two small stepsisters whom Larceny hated with a frightening intensity. Feelings of absolute rage engulfed her when she looked at them. She wanted to kill them. Staying there had been horrible. She’d wanted Dad to herself, but he was a weak man. She despised him for this and the fact that her stepmother was a controlling, manipulative martyr who saw Larceny as an unwanted intrusion, a reminder of a past life in which she had played no part. And she was a misfit there. Too bright. The shrinks had given her IQ tests, and she was way above average, in the gifted bracket, they said. Not that it had done much good, being gifted with a high IQ.

‘Hey! Larce!’

It was Emma, a twelve-year-old street kid she’d become friendly with. Emma was totally off her face on goony juice, the cheap cask wine which she downed in copious amounts. Larceny frowned. Emma didn’t look good. There was stale vomit down the front of her denim jacket and her eyes looked spacey. There was more goony juice in her gut.

‘What are you on, kid?’


Emma’s eyes rolled in her head. Her skin was pale and clammy and her short dark hair was matted and damp with sweat. This was
good. Larceny dragged Emma over to a bench and went through her pockets. An empty Avil packet was crammed in one of them.

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