“Pull up here please, Will?” Lester Barrett asked his son. “Give me a few minutes.”
Lester got out of the car and ambled across to the white steel rail at the edge of the concrete walkway. The sound of the ocean filled his head. He drew a deep salt-air breath and took it in. The power of nature’s magnificence rushed through his veins and lit him up like he had been dead for the past twenty years. He held out his arms and lifted his head. His mind whirled and he collapsed backward onto the ground.
Someone grabbed his arm. His son was there. “Dad! Dad! Are you okay?”
Lester laughed. He was helped to sit up. “What a rush,” he said, smiling at his son.
“Are you okay, Dad? What happened?”
“I don’t know. It’s so wonderful.”
“You’re not hurt?”
“I’m fine. I’m fine, son. Help me up?”
“Is he alright? A woman asked.”
“He’s good,” Wilfred told her. “He just lost balance.”
Lester kept a firm grip on his son’s arm as he was taken back to the car. “Where’s the police station? I’m supposed to check in.”
“That’s tomorrow. I’ll take you in the morning.”
“So, that’s the new market, huh?” Lester asked, seeing the Woolworths complex. They turned into his street. It seemed the same as he remembered. It looked tidier somehow. There were concrete footpaths and everything was mown.
“Fuck!” his son spat as Lester’s house came into view. The word murderer was splashed across the front in bold red letters.
Lester’s heart sank. Fear welled within him. Wilfred pulled into the driveway. He took out his mobile phone and typed a number into the keypad.
“Sergeant Harris, please?”
“You don’t need to do that, son.”
“Yes I do, Dad.
“Hello, Sergeant, it’s Wilfred Barrett. We need someone at my father’s house right away, please? It’s been vandalised.
“Yes, he’s here now. We just arrived.
“Okay. Thank you.”
Wilfred got out of the car. Lester was afraid to. He waited while his son looked around. A police vehicle pulled up on the street and two officers got out. They examined the graffiti. Wilfred argued with the older one, pointing his finger and threatening. He had always been a hot headed boy.
Wilfred let the officers into the house and returned to the car. “They’re checking it out, Dad. It was probably just kids.”
“Probably, son… I hope so.”
The two policemen came from the house. The older one drove off. The younger one approached. Lester had gotten from the car. The young man offered his hand. “Constable Brent Cooper, sir. Welcome home… Sorry about this. I’m going to paint over it for now. We’ll try to track down the culprit and keep a closer eye on things here for you from now on.”
“Thank you,” Lester replied. “Brent Cooper, huh? The same one my granddaughter’s been mooning over lately?”
“I hope so, sir.”
Lester nodded. He liked the look of the fellow. “Is it safe to go inside?”
Lester went into the house with his son. He stood in his lounge room and looked around at precisely what he had been picturing all twenty years.
“It’s exactly how you left it, Dad.”
“That it is, son…”
Lester touched the back of his lounge chair, looked at his television. His photos were in place around the walls.
The police car pulled up again. “I’ll keep an eye on things out here, Dad.”
“Fine, son. I’ll be fine.”
Lester stood in his kitchen doorway and remembered Grace McKenna’s body lying there on the floor. It was one of the flashes of memory he often had of the night of her death. He had a mental picture of her face—her eyes glazed in death—her cheek pressed to the chequered pattern on his floor. The image was up close, as if he was lying on the floor beside her looking at her face. What he was doing down there, he had no idea—that night nothing other than a series of disjointed images in his head.
He edged around the part of the floor his girl had lain dead, doubting he’d ever be able to step there again. He checked his laundry and opened the door to the hallway leading to the bedrooms. The beds were made up in his two spare rooms, which smelled stuffy.
Lester closed his bedroom door and checked out the window to see the young police officer with a can of paint. Wilfred and the sergeant were on the front footpath talking.
Lester opened his wardrobe to the musty smell of old clothes. He reached up to a hidden ledge and found the two packets of photos he had survived the past twenty years so he could see again. He double-checked the window then sat on the bed with them clutched in his shaking old hand.
The two packets were simple white envelopes. One was yellowing with age, the other completely brown. He steeled himself and extracted the four photographs from the yellowing envelope. “My beautiful girl,” he muttered as he spread them out on his bed, adjusting them carefully into a line. He then measured a deep breath to quell his thumping old heart, and he took the four photographs from the brown-with-age envelope and lined them neatly beneath the others. “My love,” he whispered, his voice a dry croak. “My sweet, sweet love…”
Jason watched April sleeping. They had stopped for the night at a motel on the southern outskirts of Sydney. This would be their last night on the road together.
He smoothed a wisp of hair from her face without disturbing her. He was lying in bed facing her. He was in love with her.
This girl was his first love. That feeling had remained inside of him over the years as something fanciful—nostalgic. The moment he had lain eyes on her again, it flared back to life.
For the past week, Jason had been telling April whatever lies were necessary to avoid scaring her off. He had been talking himself up as some cool, easy going dude who knew how to have a good time without letting any kind of meaning get in the way.
What a crock of shit. I’ve got it bad for you, lady—real bad!
He turned onto his back to stare at the ceiling. She stirred enough to shift closer and place her arm on him, her soft little hand upon his chest. Her pretty hair had tumbled across his neck. He kissed her forehead. She hummed a little sound of contentment.
How was he going to break the news he wanted her to leave her husband and move to Melbourne with him? In Jason’s befuddled calculations, if he had managed to get April pregnant, the husband would be superseded. There was no blood relation between him and April. They had no children. Surely if she was carrying Jason’s child, he would have a strong claim on her.
It hadn’t actually been any kind of calculation—more so a primal urge. Jason found himself trying to reason it out as he lay there in the predawn light twirling April’s dark curls.
They were on the road by six. They had called ahead and arranged to meet the couple from Goran Vale at seven. The Clock Tower café was in the centre of the small town. Ben and Kate were waiting for them, the business being owned by Kate’s mother, Gwen, who joined them for the chat over breakfast.
“So, that’s about as far as I can go,” Jason concluded. “I’m guessing you guys will be all over it,” he said to the police officer Ben. “I’d be surprised if anything turns up about Petrov post 1988. I have a feeling he failed to survive beyond that.”
Gwen huffed. “And just as well if he didn’t.” She covered April’s hand with her own and gave a little squeeze. “I hope it all works out for your grandfather, sweetheart… Things are often not as they seem.”
“I like that woman,” April said as they drove out of town, having promised to keep in touch. “We’ll have to come back and visit again sometime. It’s not that far, and Sydney would be fun for a weekend.”
We? Jason let that entirely casual yet immensely exciting reference wash over him. He wanted to press for an explanation, but he loved how offhandedly April had said it. He just claimed her hand and kissed it, keeping hold of it as he drove on into the morning mist.
They were through Canberra city and stopped to refuel and buy lunch at the same service station they had visited a week earlier when embarking on their road trip adventure. From there it was only three hours to The Cove.
Jason pulled into April’s driveway and turned off the Land Cruiser. They sat for a moment. “We’re back,” April said, turning to look at him.
He got what she was feeling—the fairy tale was over.
He nodded a little, holding her gaze. “I guess I’ll try for a room at the B&B.”
She chewed a lip. “I’d like to come with you, but it would be all over town by morning.”
Jason wanted to confess being in love, but it felt like too much to say. He glanced at April’s belly then back up, grinning a little. “I hope you’re pregnant.”
She blushed and fought off a smile. “I don’t think so… I can feel something starting this afternoon. I think it’s going to be right on time.”
Jason did a little half shrug. “Unless we try again next month.”
April’s smile broke out, her blush rising again. She looked away, shaking her head. When she turned back to face Jason, her eyes were without mirth. “I’d like to think about that.”
“Okay,” Jason replied instantly. He held her gaze steadily. He really didn’t want to say too much—to put her under pressure. He glanced down then met her eyes again. “I’m yours if you want me, April.” He smiled. “Twenty years and nothing’s changed.”
Her eyes narrowed. Perhaps that was too much, he wondered. “Come on—I had better get my room before I miss out,” he said, getting out of the car.
He carried April’s bag to her veranda. She opened the door and turned back to face him, her eyes still penetrative and a little frown indicating potentially deep thought.
Jason changed the subject. “So—pick you up at ten in the morning to go see Sergeant Harris?”
“Yep,” April said, claiming his shirt front and leaning close. She peered up at him. “I really need to think about this, Jason… We’ve been carrying on kind of silly, don’t you think?”
“A bit silly—not entirely.”
She tugged him, gripping his shirt and frowning.
“I’ve not been kidding, April. You’re beautiful. You’re everything I want.”
She said nothing in response—just more narrow-eyed glare.
“10 o’clock,” he said, prying her hands from his shirt and turning away. “See you tomorrow.”
Jason got in the car and started it. He was parked facing the house. April was still standing there in the doorway looking at him. He held her gaze steadily for another moment then backed out and drove away, his heart thumping, love coursing through his entire body.
April ran a bath and soaked in it. It was still two weeks until Eric was due home. She had time. She looked down at herself—at her flat belly. She had taken two Panadol for the menstrual cramp. Something welled up inside of her and heated her face, drawing tears to her eyes. A pang of disappointment struck her. It had been a crazy idea—totally irresponsible.
She thought of her first pregnancy and remembered her love letters. It hadn’t been so much about the boy who wrote them. It was the fact that she had been pregnant with the child of a boy who wrote her no such thing. It was the starkly empty comparison that had hurt back then. It wasn’t about Jason.
He’s just the guy filling the gap.
April sponged her face and wrung out her hair. She wasn’t in love with Jason, she decided. She still wondered what love even was. It seemed to be just part of a fairy tale. It had been a fun week. Her husband deserved to be cheated on. They were equal now.
After soaking for a full hour, April dressed and drove around to visit her granddad. She pulled up in front of his house to find a man banging on his door.
“Come on you old pervert, open the fucking door!” the guy demanded.
“Hey! Get away from there!” April screamed, rushing toward him. “What do you think you’re doing?”
He was a big man, round bellied and red-bearded. April recognised him as the man from across the street. He had only recently moved to town. She didn’t know his name.
“The old freak’s been perving on my wife,” he growled. “Who are you?”
“I’m his granddaughter… What are you talking about—perving on your wife?”
“He’s been peeping over my fence, scaring her. I’m calling the cops. He can’t fucking stay here!”
The man strode off and slammed his door shut. April knocked on her grandfather’s door but there was no response. She peeped through the window and saw her granddad slumped in his lounge chair. The door was locked. She ran around back and found that door ajar. She rushed to the old man, landing on her knees beside him.
She shook him. “Granddad!” she cried. He reeked of alcohol. There was a glass in his hand. It tumbled to the floor as he stirred a little. There was an empty bottle of bourbon on the coffee table beside his chair. “Granddad—wake up!”
His eyes half opened. They were bloodshot and watery. They rolled past April and closed again.
April grabbed her phone. “Come quick, Uncle Will, it’s Granddad…”
She propped the old man upright in his chair and picked up the glass. There was another half glass of bourbon on the sink in the kitchen. There were eight photographs neatly laid out on the dining table. April covered her mouth in horror.
A car screeched to a halt, and her uncle flashed past the front window. She ran to let him in. He went to his father.
“I think he’s just drunk,” April said.
Wilfred slapped his father’s face, trying to wake him. The old man stirred again, his eyes rolling around. “What? Get off me,” he mumbled, pushing at hands.
April looked out the window. “The man from across the street was here, Uncle Will. He was banging on the door screaming about Granddad spying on his wife. He said he was going to call the police… Oh my god, here they are now!”
A police car pulled up in the driveway. Sergeant Harris emerged from it. He was accosted by the red-bearded man. A woman stood at the open front door of the house across the street with her arms folded, watching. Two small children clung to her skirt.
The sergeant sent the bearded man home and approached the house. April opened the door before he knocked.
“April, is your grandfather here?”
“Yes, Sergeant. He’s out of it, though.”
“He’s drunk,” Wilfred added. “Come in, Sergeant.”
“So—straight back at it, eh?” the sergeant said, shaking his head. “Not back in town 48 hours and he’s peeping on people again.”
April went into the kitchen and sought her phone.
“Hi, Jason. Can you come to Granddad’s house, please? The police are here…”
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
“I don’t know what the hell to do,” Wilfred demanded. “I’ll have to get him psychiatric help, I suppose.”
“I can’t have him harassing folks,” Sergeant Harris said. “If you can’t control him, he’ll end up back in prison… Perhaps if you try starting him somewhere fresh.”
April collected the photos from the table. There were two envelopes. She stuffed everything into one of them. Jason pulled up outside, and she hurried to meet him at the door.
“Is he okay?”
“He’s drunk, and he’s been peeping at the lady across the street.”
“Will, Sergeant,” Jason greeted the two men.
April clung to Jason’s arm. She slipped her hand into his, and he squeezed.
“Was he drunk when he was peeping?” Jason asked.
Wilfred answered. “We don’t know—probably. I didn’t even know he had alcohol here. He must have gone and bought it.”
“It has to be a shock for him, being here after all these years,” Jason went on mildly. “What, was he looking over the fence? He wasn’t peeping in windows, was he?”
“He was looking over the fence,” the sergeant said. “There’s no law against that, but given his past, it’s not good.”
“I’ll stay with him until we work out what to do,” Wilfred announced. “I can stay here this week. I’ll see about getting him to a psychiatrist and moving him back to Melbourne.”
April took Jason into the kitchen. “Look,” she said, handing him the envelope of photos. “These were laid out on the table… He must be seriously obsessed with her.”
Jason looked through the eight photos. Several were of the girl sitting on the front steps of the house across the street, posing with a smile. There were another two of her washing a car in cut-off shorts and a tee-shirt. The other four were of her sleeping on a bed half naked.
“It’s hard to say if she knew he was taking these ones,” Jason commented. He singled out one. “Is that from inside the room or from the window?”
“I know… I thought the same thing when I saw them there on the table. It’s a bit freaky.”
The sergeant poked his head in the door. “How did you get on with your investigation of Petrov, son?”
Jason closed the envelope. April took it and slipped it into a bureau drawer. The sergeant took a seat. April and Jason sat across from him. April slipped her hand back into Jason’s under the table. He squeezed.
“Petrov was a serial killer,” Jason announced simply. “There were murders in Moree and a town out in the desert called Cooper’s Crossing.”
“Yeah, I heard… Anything else?”
The sergeant looked from Jason to April. “I’ve been in touch with a task force being set up in Sydney. There was one years ago trying to solve these murders, but it came up empty. There are three other missing young women around New South Wales they are hoping to progress with. There are gaps in Petrov’s time line—enough that he could have been in the vicinity of those as well.”
“So, this is going to clear Granddad?” April asked, thrilled at the prospect.
“No, love. I’m sorry.” The sergeant shook his head grimly. “This makes no difference to the case against Lester. That’s solid. There’s no suspected victims prior to young Grace McKenna. It looks likely that Petrov had some involvement here, but from what I can see, Lester Barrett showed him how it was done. He set the monster loose with a taste of blood.”
April’s heart sank.
“But how do you know that?” Jason demanded.
“Because Lester was harassing the girl before Petrov even arrived here in The Cove—and he’s still trying to do it obviously. And he confessed to killing her.” The sergeant looked to April. “Sorry, love, but your granddad obviously has mental problems. He needs help.”
“How long had he been harassing the girl?” April asked, her voice failing a little.
“Well, I’ve looked into the case since this all flared up. It seems to have started out as a friendly neighbouring thing. Her statements say he was a nice man who she befriended, and since he was an amateur photographer around town, she allowed him to take some photos of her. Then she reports him getting persistent and creepy—always watching her. She had us warn him off a few times, but he persisted, and the magistrate here issued a restraining order against him… Do you remember him spending time in the lock-up here, April?”
“Yes, I remember…”
“Well, that was for breaching that restraining order… He was facing criminal charges when he murdered the girl.”
April sobbed. Jason held her.
“Sorry,” the sergeant said, offering a handkerchief.
“So, what about Petrov?” Jason asked the old policeman.
“An accomplice, most likely. Maybe not even that. He may have been so intrigued by what happened under his nose that he needed to experience it himself. I guess the task force will dig into his upbringing—see if that fits at all.”
“It does,” April said, sniffling. “It fits exactly.”
“Yeah, apparently his half-brother is a killer as well. Their father exposed them to violence as children… We met their sister, who was a victim. It all sounds about right.”
April swallowed at a lump in her throat. For the first time ever, she could see her grandfather was indeed a killer. She didn’t know the man slumped in the other room. She had smothered the memory of him like that and replaced it with one of the gentle old man she had been visiting in the prison garden the past years. He changed when he drank. She remembered that now. And he was a pervert. He harassed a young woman until she had the police stop him, then he killed her.
April needed to vomit. She rushed to the back door and did it out on the grass. Jason was by her side. “Take me home, please?” she asked, and she led the way to his car and waited at the passenger door.
She stared out the window as they drove, her stomach still twisted with nausea at thought of that young woman in the photographs being murdered by her grandfather. The image was horrifying. It shut out the rest of the world right then. Jason said something as he waited for her to move. They were parked in front of her house.
“Sorry,” she said to him, meaning sorry for everything. She got out of the car and closed the door. She then lifted her head and saw her husband standing on her front step smiling.
“Hello, darling! Guess what?”
Jason rested with folded arms on the steering wheel. He recognised the husband from the photographs he had seen in the house. The shock of what he had just witnessed April going through was instantly replaced with gut-wrenching desolation. April glanced back, her face blank. She then trudged forward and was collected around the waist by the man waiting for her. He stroked her hair and cuddled her—her arms folded across her body as she leaned her head against his shoulder, facing Jason.
Jason drove. He didn’t know what to do or think, but he drove. He had been given the same room at the B&B. He flopped on the bed to stare at the ceiling.
The sun set. The room became dark. He hadn’t eaten and didn’t want to. He was all kinds of empty inside, and the ache felt good. He closed his eyes at some point, the thought of April being cuddled in bed by her husband relenting a little—enough for his mind to shut down and for sleep to overcome him.
In the morning he parked outside April’s house and waited. After a while she came out in track pants and a big cardigan wrapped around her. She approached his window with her arms folded. Her eyes were red and puffy. She sniffled and said nothing.
Jason expelled a breath. He wanted to talk about what he wanted, but that would be unfair. April needed comfort. All that mattered right then was where she wanted to get it—from whom.
“Should I stay in town for a while?” he asked her. It was all he could think to say.
She shook her head. “I don’t know, Jason. I don’t know anything at the moment.”
Jason nodded. He swallowed at the ache rising in his gut again. “You know you can call me anytime, April?” That had come out strong. It changed the expression on her face—lit up her eyes a bit.
She nodded. “I know…”
“Okay,” he said. “That’s good.”
She looked away, watching a car pass.
“I’ll keep up with what the police are doing—help out in any way I can,” he told her.
April’s gaze lifted from the ground. “Thank you… I um—” Her voice ended in a sob. She rubbed at tears. “I just don’t—” She shook her head. “Goodbye, Jason.”
She walked around the car and to her front door without looking back.
Jason drove. He collected his things and checked out of the B&B, and he drove out of Everly Cove on the highway to Melbourne. The distance signs flashed by unnoticed. By nightfall he reached the suburbs of the city.
He checked into a hotel near home for the night and woke the next morning with the thought of April tucked away like the old photo in his wallet. He hoped she would call. His deliberations as he had driven all the previous day had brought him to the conclusion that for her to call would require a change of heart, not just a change of mind. He believed his opposition was more so her independence than her husband. In spite of the tears over her grandfather, she was tough. She hadn’t changed a bit from the girl in the photograph.
Jason rented a van and cleared his belongings from his house while the kids were at school. Raelene had done most of the packing while he was away. He gave her a hug. She was tearing up. “Bye, Rae… I’ll come see the kids tonight.”
His apartment was in the city, not far from work. The tenants had just moved out. He unloaded the van and returned it then called in and gave the Petrov file to his boss.
“See you Monday, kid,” Baine said, waving him off.
It was Thursday. Jason went furniture shopping, and within a few hours had a lounge, a bedroom suite and two singles, a fridge, washing machine and a television ordered for delivery the next day. He took the kids to their favourite pancake shop for dinner.
Chelsea wouldn’t let go of the hug goodbye. “When can we come and stay, Dad?”
“Next weekend, sweetheart… Call me or text anytime you want, and I’ll see you on Wednesday after school. I’ll be there to pick you up, okay?”
Jason picked up a six pack of beers and stood out on his balcony, leaning on the rail and watching the city below. His mind drifted back to the nights on the road with April.
“Well, I didn’t tell you to come home early, Eric. You could have stayed as long as you liked.”
“I missed you.”
April huffed. That was not what she wanted to hear. She was angry and didn’t wish to cool off. “What do you mean—you missed me? We haven’t been together in years… What did you miss about me?”
“Our life isn’t that bad, April. We get on better than plenty of other married couples.”
“We get on? I get on with the guy next door.”
Eric sipped his tea. “Not the same.”
“It’s almost the same,” April shot back. Her arms were folded, her head tilted, an eyebrow cocked as she glared across the dining table. “A roll between the sheets once in a while and it would be exactly the same.”
Eric scoffed. “Still with the recriminations, eh?”
“No, Eric. Your affair never entered my mind. I was being completely facetious.”
Plus I’ve just had one of my own a couple of weeks ago, so there!
April almost said that. She had picked this argument. She had been picking them a lot since Eric got home. If she was at all fair minded she would have to admit he had been making an effort to be more accessible and to work on improving their relationship.
She didn’t wish to improve it. The silly attempt to get pregnant the other week had resulted in a seed being planted. It wasn’t exactly a new life baby seed, but it was bound to lead to that, one way or another.
Eric was vasectomised and past rearing children, anyway. He didn’t have what she needed.
“Eric,” she said, calmly now, even sweetly as she reached for his hand. “I’m going to move out… I need something else.”
He met her gaze steadily. He was not a stupid man. “Children?”
April blushed. “Have I mentioned that?”
“Once or twice.”
“Well, I’m not sure, but I think I might,” she explained. “I’m not angry with you. I have feelings for you… It’s confusing.”
Eric nodded, taking a breath and relaxing back in his chair. “I guess I’ve thought about this before. I’ve been expecting it. This life is perfect for me. If you were happy, it would be perfect.”
“But I’m not,” April stated emphatically. Her decision set itself in stone right then.
She left her husband to his breakfast and drove around to her grandfather’s house. She needed to water the gardens. He had been committed to a psychiatric institution in Melbourne after only two days of freedom. Wilfred had committed him. He was organising a place for his father to live where he could keep an eye on him. The house there in Everly Cove was probably going to be sold, but April didn’t like to see the gardens deteriorate.
She had charge of the keys and opened the house to air it out while she was there. The thought of staying there herself occurred to her, but it was a creepy idea with the kitchen being a murder scene and the humpy of a serial killer down the back yard.
Within a week of the decision to move out of her own house being made, she had moved in with her cousin. She was alone watching a late night movie when Mandy came home from a date with her fiancé and plopped down beside her.
“Hi. How was it?” April asked without looking. It was the good bit of the movie.
Mandy waved a hand in front of her face. April swiped at it. Her cousin got up on her knees facing her and stuck her hand right in front of April’s eyes.
“What?” April demanded impatiently. The girl was smiling her head off. “Oh my god! Is that?”
“Yes!” Mandy squealed.
“Oh my god—how? Did he get down on one knee? Was it in front of everyone at the restaurant?”
“No, and yes. Not on one knee, but, yes, in front of everyone.”
“Did you cry?”
Mandy nodded. She was tearing up right then, and that was having the same effect on April.
April sniffled as she hugged her cousin. “About time!” she declared.
“I know… We’re getting married in November. I’m not waiting any longer than that… I don’t want Christmas and I’m not waiting until next year.”
“November’s good. It’s a few months to plan… Am I invited?”
“Of course… I want you and Clair to be my bridesmaids… Will you?”
“Oh, I’d love to,” April cried. “I can’t wait already.”
Mandy’s fiancé came in. “Hi, Brent,” April called to him. “About time!”
“I had to save up for the rock,” he explained, and he left the girls giggling together.
“What’s this you’re watching?” Mandy asked.
“That’s Sleepless in Seattle again.”
“So? I like it.”
“When are you going to call him?”
Mandy just glared. April knew to whom she was referring perfectly well.
“I don’t know when. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”
“Tell him you just watched Sleepless for the sixth time in a week.”
“It hasn’t been six,” April argued. It was more like three.
Her cousin sat cross legged on the lounge facing her. She just waited for April to continue.
“I don’t know what I want, Mandy. Really, I don’t.”
Mandy checked around. “Bullshit,” she whispered.
Mandy pointed to the television. “That’s called romance. It happens when you love some guy and he loves you back.”
“It’s not that simple. He lives in Melbourne. He’s got kids there.”
“Oh really? A long distance guy with kids… Hmm—where have I seen that before?” Mandy asked, nodding toward the final scene on the television. “Plus they’re not his kids, don’t forget,” she added.
“And he tried to give you one,” the girl went on, giggling. “That was so bad!”
“I know,” April agreed, giggling too. “I can’t believe we did that.”
“Yes, but you did, didn’t you?” Mandy went on, taking April’s hands. “And what did you do five minutes after?”
“What?” April wanted to be led here. She loved how romantic her young cousin always was.
“You left your husband—that’s what. And why did you do that?”
“Because you had a taste of what you really want.”
“Yes, that’s true.” It was true, April understood well enough. “But I don’t know if I want that with… You know…”
“With Jason.” April felt her blush rise as she said his name.
Mandy smiled. “Oh, you want him alright… I knew that way before you jumped into bed with him. Plus you wouldn’t jump into bed with just anyone, April. The problem is you’ve got crocodile skin.”
“What? Crocodile skin?”
“Yes. It’s thick as! You’re so damned strong… Just call the guy, and when he gets here let him be in charge. You don’t have to do anything or plan anything.” She thumbed toward the bedroom where Brent had gone. “They eventually get around to doing what you want.”
“I don’t have crocodile skin,” April sulked.
“No! I’ll think about it.”
“What—you haven’t been thinking about it already?”
“I’ll think some more.”
“Hmm.” Mandy relented. “Okay, but I think you guys looked good together when he was here. You looked so happy.”
“I know. He’s a lot of fun.”
“Yeah…” Mandy yawned and stretched. “Of course there’s that to think about too.”
April frowned. “What market?”
“The one he’s on right now… You know—single, successful, fun, cute guy interested in making babies… I wonder how long he’s going to be on the market, crocodile girl?” April’s incorrigible young cousin said and left her with the Sleepless in Seattle credits.
Jason was leaning back in his office chair eating chips, waiting for Natasha, who was on the phone. Jack Baine walked past and clipped him across the back of the head.
“Come with me, kid.”
Jason met the mock horror look of his partner. He jumped up and followed the boss into his office. This didn’t seem good.
Baine spun at his desk and faced him. “Shut the door.”
Jason closed the door.
“What the hell do you think this is? We don’t do half-arsed work here, kid.”
Jason swallowed hard. “What work, Boss?”
Baine took a file from his filing cabinet and slammed it down on his desk. It was Jason’s Petrov file.
“Who was the girl? The one you toted around the country side?”
Jason’s face heated. “April Anderson—Barrett’s niece.”
“Huh! Well, Barrett won’t mind the added expenses, then… Now, what’s this shit?” He picked up a photograph and placed it on the edge of the desk then placed another one next to it. “What’s wrong with these pictures?”
Jason leaned close for a look. They were the ones of Grace McKenna in her backyard. Baine pointed to a tree in the background of one of them.
“How old would you say that tree is?”
“I don’t know—years?”
“It’s not a young sapling, is it? It’s like an adult tree, wouldn’t you say?”
Baine pointed to the other picture. “How old would you say that tree is?”
It was in the same spot relative to the backyard fence. It was the same kind of tree.
“Looks young,” Jason muttered.
Baine’s brows raised. “A baby tree, yeah?”
“Now look at the discolouration of the photo paper. What’s the difference?”
“That one’s older,” Jason said, indicating the photo with the baby tree. Excitement welled within him.
“Now look at the girls,” Baine went on mercilessly. “Forget about the car. It’s easy to keep a car looking new for twenty years. What would you say about the girls—considering the tree and the photo paper?”
“That they’re not the same person,” Jason answered meekly.
“Your report says they are, kid.”
Jason looked closely again. Baine gave him a magnifying glass. He realized who he was looking at with another rush of excitement and the implications. “That’s mother and daughter.”
Baine just glared.
“The mother was a federal politician.”
“That much is in your report,” Baine said, putting on glasses and picking up a page to read. “Retired M.P. What do you figure from that, kid?”
“She posed for pics… Maybe an affair.”
“And?” Baine pressed. “Your big unanswered question here is why… Why was Lester Barrett infatuated with the young nurse from across the road, unless he was a pervert?”
“Because she was his daughter,” Jason replied, a cold chill filtering through him. “Jesus!”
“Indeed,” Baine agreed. “Bit of a long-shot, though, right?”
“I need to go back to The Cove,” Jason declared. “I need to check something there… How long would it take to get a DNA match done between Lester Barrett and Grace McKenna?”
Baine folded his arms. “Well, kid, it would take about three days, but since Barrett’s here in Melbourne and I got his sample on Friday, we should have a result by tomorrow.”
“What? You’ve got it already?”
“Unofficial…” Baine said, winking. “We’ll go through channels if it turns out to be true.”
“He wouldn’t have murdered his own daughter,” Jason declared. “There’s no way he would have.”
“I’m guessing he only ever suspected, kid. The mother would have had to avoid the scandal. The guy was a drunk and probably out of his head wondering… We may never be able to prove Petrov set him up.”
“Maybe not to a court,” Jason said. “We can prove it to his family, though.”
“We can if you’d do your fucking job properly,” Baine growled.
“I’m onto it, Boss.”
“Try keeping your dick in your pants this time, eh? Your brain works better when you do.”
“Got it… Dick in pants… Zipped up.”
“Go on—piss off.”
Jason flashed past his partner. “Later, Nat.”
She flung her arms up at the stack of paperwork they had organized to get started on together. Jason was only a day away from his vacation time and was needed to sort out a few things.
“Sorry… See the boss.”
It was already mid-afternoon. Jason camped in his car about halfway to The Cove. He was in his little Mazda this time. He woke up cramped and cold. The exhilarating thought of being able to tell April her granddad was not a pervert powered within him as he travelled on into the morning. He stopped for fuel and ate as he drove. He reached the rim above The Cove by midday.
He stopped there looking out at the ocean to collect his thoughts one final time. There was every chance he would be seeing April together with her husband. He felt ready for that but still needed to psych himself up.
Jason had tossed and turned for a week, agonising over what had nearly happened between him and April. He hadn’t been able to figure it out, as he didn’t really understand her. He was no schoolboy anymore, though, and was capable of accepting that a woman might need time, or that she perhaps didn’t share his feelings deep down. He could live with that.
The main street was busy, the walkway around the cove crowded with people enjoying a warm sunny day. Jason turned into the housing area and pulled up in front of April’s house. There were no cars in the driveway and car-port. He didn’t bother to knock. The next street over was her grandfather’s house. It too was closed and had no vehicles parked. He drove on and booked in at the B&B. He needed a shower and a nap.
That evening, Jason got back into his little car and drove down to the takeaway for some fish and chips. He figured if April was still in town and hadn’t gone away for her vacation, she would likely be home around dinner time. He sat and watched the sun setting over the rim of mountains that crowded his little hometown almost into the ocean. The warmth of the day ended with the final rays of sunlight.
He got back into his car and took a deep calming breath. Come on, man, just go and knock on her door…
April often suffered migraine headaches. One had come on during the day, and she had taken a few pain-killers and gone to bed.
“April?” The voice came as a whisper. There was the weight of someone on her bed. “April, are you awake?”
“But guess who’s here?”
“Leave me alone, Mandy. Let me die in peace.”
“Okay—you’re too sick. I’ll tell him.”
April opened an eye. Her Cousin was cuddled up behind her, her face pressed close. Mandy felt her forehead.
“Tell who?” April asked. “If it’s Eric, tell him I’ll call later.”
“It’s not Eric,” Mandy said. She had a huge smile. “But you’re too sick.”
April rolled over onto her back. Her head still ached. “I’m not that sick. Who’s here?”
“A certain private investigator from Melbourne.”
“What? Oww!” April had tried to sit up. Her head throbbed. “Is Jason here?”
Mandy nodded, her eyes alight. “He’s at the door.”
“At the door? Invite him in for Christ’s sake.”
“I’m not going to invite your boyfriend in unless you say,” Mandy shot back. “You need to brush your hair.”
April let the boyfriend remark slide. There was no point going there with Mandy. The girl was relentless. “Alright, I’ll be there in a minute. Go and let him in!”
April’s hair was matted in knots. She was pale and looked terrible. She raked at her curls and quickly brushed her teeth. She was in pyjamas, so she pulled on her robe and slippers. Jason stood in the middle of the lounge room. He met her with a smile. Her entire body tingled with warmth and excitement.
“Hi, Jason. How are you?”
“Hi, April. I’m fine. You’re not well?”
“Just a silly headache…” April was beside the man she wanted. The question in her mind of whether she did or not had just evaporated. Mandy was right—this was her boyfriend. The only question remaining: am I still his girlfriend?
He kissed her cheek. She slipped her hands up his sides and to his back. He returned a hug. It had all happened in a second or two. April rolled her eyes at Mandy. She was sitting on the lounge clinging to Brent’s hand, smiling gleefully.
“So, there have been some developments in your grandfather’s case.” Jason virtually put April aside. She had been up for a cuddle, not just a hug. She sat on the arm of the lounge. Jason wrung his hands together and continued. “April, I need to see that envelope of photographs you found on Lester’s table. Are they still there at his house?”
“Yes, they’re in the bureau drawer where I put them… Why? What’s going on?”
“I really need to see them again before I explain… Please?” Jason implored.
“I’ll go and get them,” Brent offered.
“Okay,” April agreed. “The keys are by the phone… What’s happening? I’m so nervous now,” she cried. Her heart was thumping—her head too, but she didn’t care about that.
“Be quick, eh?” Jason said to Brent, giving him a wink. “I have to get this out. It’s great news.”
Brent took off. April glared at Jason.
“You just come here and say that. What the hell?”
Jason looked from April to Mandy. “We—my boss actually—worked out why your granddad was so obsessed with Grace McKenna, and I’m pretty sure those photos will show it was not sexual.”
“Those are explicit photos,” Mandy said.
Jason nodded. “Some of them… Let’s just wait and see… So, what else is news?”
April glared in horror. “No! There’s no other news. What’s going on, Jason?”
“I got engaged,” Mandy announced.
“Oh, wow—congratulations,” Jason gushed.
“And April split with her ex. She lives here now,” Mandy went on casually.
Mandy giggled. “Yeah, you’re right—that’s not news, it’s history.”
“Oww!” April giggled too but it hurt her head.
Jason approached beside her. He placed a hand upon her forehead and held her around the shoulders with his other. “You’re a bit hot,” he said.
“Your hand’s cold. It’s nice,” April said, swooning against him.
“Do you have a cold pack, Mandy? A packet of peas or something?”
“Yep.” She hurried, and returned to hand Jason a packet of frozen peas.
“And a tea towel, please?”
She returned with a tea towel, beaming.
Jason crushed the peas to loosen them and wrapped the packet in the tea towel. “I get bad headaches too. This helps,” he said and held the cool pack to April’s forehead. After a moment he moved it to the back of her neck. She allowed her head to rock forward, and he pressed behind her ears and to her temples, spreading the wonderfully soothing sensation all around.
“That’s so nice,” April cooed.
“I have a headache too,” Mandy said. “When’s my turn?”
Jason left April to continue with the cold compress treatment. She applied it to the back of her neck where it felt the most effective in numbing the ache. He checked his phone, going to the door and turning his back.
Mandy gave April an oh-my-god-he’s-gorgeous look, mouthing the oh-my-god bit. April just bit down on her smile.
Brent’s car pulled up. He rushed in, handing Jason the envelope of photographs. Jason quickly perused them, his smile broadening. “Yes, just what I thought,” he said excitedly. “Look…” He laid the photos out on the coffee table. “See these four taken in the bedroom? See how old the paper is? And these four—just casual snaps—they’re a lot newer.”
“So?” Brent asked.
“So, the happy snaps are Grace McKenna, and the half nude sleeping woman is her mother,” Jason declared emphatically, and April’s skin tingled as a flush of excitement overcame her. “Your granddad had an affair with the mother, the result of which…” he held up a snap shot of the girl sitting on the step smiling for the camera, “One Grace McKenna, your granddad’s daughter.”
“His daughter?” April squeaked.
Jason waved his phone. “DNA tests prove it.”
“And that’s why he was obsessed with her?” Brent said. “Bloody hell.”
“We don’t think he knew for sure. It looks like there was cause to cover it up with the mother being a high profile local politician. Maybe she wouldn’t admit to the affair. Maybe your granddad loved her and wouldn’t go public. He didn’t know the girl was his daughter, but he thought she might have been. My boss got that much out of him the other day.”
“Oh my god,” April cried. Mandy was squeezing her arm. “Granddad didn’t kill her, did he?”
“No,” Jason replied simply. “I don’t see how we can prove it in court, but no, he didn’t”
“What do you think happened?” Brent asked Jason.
“I think Clive Petrov was a psychopath. The preacher man bit was a front. I think he had it in him from his childhood, and as he watched Lester coveting the girl, he worked himself up to attacking her. I think he staged the whole thing to frame Lester. He probably drugged him and fed him alcohol on the night. Lester was in a stupor, in and out of consciousness. Petrov dragged him around with the dead girl—took them out to sea, letting witnesses get a look at him dressed as Lester and using Lester’s boat, dragging around a body. Then he brought them both back and buried the girl… I don’t understand that bit. Maybe the burial is part of his ritual or something. His psycho brother buried his victims too.”
Brent nodded in apparent agreement. “It all adds up, but it would be hard to prove without getting hold of Petrov.”
“Yeah, well, I think someone did get hold of Petrov. The blood in his caravan is his. It’s apparently from back then. I’d say he was murdered as he slept and dragged away.”
“Good,” April said. “What a monster.”
“Yeah, but I don’t see how we’re going to disprove the case against Lester,” Brent said again. “What you conjured up there makes good sense, Jason. I’ll bet you’re pretty close to the mark, but proving it?”
“We don’t need to prove it,” April told them all. She didn’t need anything more. She had always believed in her granddad, and she hated herself right then for ever doubting him. “We don’t need a court to say he’s innocent. We know it, and that’s what counts.”
“That’s right,” Mandy added. “Plus he’s already been to prison. There’s nothing more they can do to him.”
Jason was smiling. “That’s what I figured when the boss showed me this. Who cares what the cops think?” He winked at Brent. “As long as the people who love him can rest easily, and more importantly—the relief it might be for your granddad to know Grace was his daughter… The boss is telling your uncle tonight.”
“Plus the town needs to know,” April announced, capturing everyone’s interest. “Are you staying at the B&B, Jason?”
“Are you going to be there at Mrs Reeves’ breakfast table tomorrow morning?”
He nodded. “I guess.”
April smiled. “Would you mind telling Mrs Reeves everything, please?”
Mandy giggled. April joined her. Brent frowned.
“I don’t get it,” Jason said.
Mandy informed him, “If you tell Mrs Reeves everything at breakfast, the town will know everything by lunchtime. She’s way quicker than the newspaper.”
“Yeah, and it will make no difference what we cops say,” Brent added. “Rumours are far more influential on public opinion than anything we can come up with.”
“Well then, I can spin a hell of a good fact based yarn,” Jason declared. “Just watch me.”
April’s belly was doing flip-flops as they all sat around chatting and laughing over coffee. She hadn’t eaten all day, but Mandy had a dinner for her in the oven. Jason was watching her eat. “Are you hungry?” she checked with him.
“I had fish and chips.”
They were sitting in chairs, Mandy and Brent together on the lounge. Jason shifted forward and touched April’s knee. “If you’re feeling better tomorrow, would you like to come with me to see the old lady on the island?”
“I’ll be fine by tomorrow,” April replied quickly.
“Good. Can we get that boat again?”
“I’m sure we can.”
This was thrilling. April continued eating, intensely aware of Jason glancing at her as the conversation rambled on. She saw him to the door when he decided to leave.
“I guess I’m sorry to hear about you and your ex,” he mumbled.
“Don’t be,” April replied. She checked behind herself. Mandy was dragging Brent up the hall. She turned back to face Jason. “Mandy’s right—that’s history.”
Jason nodded. There was a grin there, which April liked. “Okay… Tomorrow morning…”
April tugged him close and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Jason. This means a lot to all of us.”
“You’re welcome, April. Thank my boss, but you’re welcome.” He had remained close. He stroked April’s hair from her forehead. She snuggled his hand. “You know I’m in love with you?” he said, his voice soft and deep.
April’s skin lit up with tingles. “I wish I knew what that was,” were the words that came out.
“I could teach you…”
April met his lips. “You could?”
“Yep. It’s a two week course.”
She giggled into another kiss. “What?”
“Seriously. You would need to sign on tomorrow. Do you think we could get your uncle’s boat for that long?”
April suddenly remembered the time at the island resort—Jason booking a stay there. “Really? Two weeks at Lorton Island? Oh my god!”
She cuddled close—two hands full of shirt. “You’re very smooth, Jason. How much of this did you plan?”
He chuckled. “Is that a yes?”
“Yes, it’s a yes.” April winced. “Oww!”
“Head still aching?”
“Yes, any movement does it.”
He kissed her forehead. “Go to bed.”
“Are you going to be bossy? Mandy says that’s good.”
“I like Mandy,” Jason said and walked away.
“Everyone does,” April called after him. “Hey—where’s the eight people cow car?”
“I know… I’m missing the power.”
She waved as he drove off. Her head was pulsing with pain, but that didn’t dampen the thrill coursing through her. She took another two tablets and pulled the covers up in bed. Mandy poked her head in the door. “Come on, then,” April said to her.
Mandy was in her nightgown. She got into bed and propped herself on an elbow, grinning at April. “Well?”
“Well, I need to borrow your dad’s boat for two weeks because I have to go away on a course about what being in love is.”
“Cool… What’s the boat for?”
“The school is at Lorton Island.”
“Hmm—good place for a love lesson. When?”
Mandy had tears. “Did he say he loves you?”
April nodded, her blush firing up, tears welling for her too.
“I think you’re in love with him,” her cousin said. “It’s not like it’s something you can put into words. It might even be a little bit different for each person. It’s about how you feel, and we are individuals.”
“Plus you were only asking me what it was to be in love a couple of weeks ago,” April concurred.
“It’s like you really need the guy but in a totally positive way,” Mandy went on dreamily. “It’s almost like how you feel about wanting him—not so much how you feel about him… It’s kind of about you, don’t you think?”
“He makes me feel alive,” April told her best friend. “I want more of it. I want my future filled up with it.”
Mandy turned from peering up at the ceiling. “Next time he says he loves you, tell him that.”
“Oh, my! Poor Lester,” Marion Reeves exclaimed. “And he never knew she was his daughter?”
“Never knew,” Jason declared, shaking his head.
“And that monster killed her… Oh, that poor man.”
“I know. It’s a tragedy, isn’t it?” Jason went on, gazing around the breakfast table at the other captivated faces. There were two middle-aged travelling couples and an elderly woman, as well as their shocked and horrified hostess.
Jason bade them good morning and thanked Mrs Reeves for her hospitality once again. He drove down to the marina and booked his car into the long-term parking enclosure. April was already there, sunning herself on the bow of the boat.
“How are you feeling today, sexy?”
There was little chance to talk over the sound of the engine and the wind and the sea. Jason spent most of the three hour trip beside April, holding her and taking a few kisses every now and then. Her suitcases were there beside his. This created a wonderfully warm sense of contentment within him, as it had on their road trip a few weeks ago. The difference here, though: permanency. This was no fairy tale. This didn’t have to end.
They found the old woman on her jetty, rocking in her chair with her knitting. “So, Petrov’s dead,” she repeated at the conclusion of Jason’s narration of events. “I suspected as much. I was hoping he might be alive.”
“What did he do to you, ma’am?” Jason asked as kindly as he could.
She gazed beyond—out to sea. Her clear green eyes were watery, they returned to address the present. “I lost my children… Petrov and two other people took them—brought them here, many years ago. Warren Trelor is dead. He was killed in a massacre in 1972. His sister, May, lost her mind. Clive Petrov would have known what become of my babies.” She swept an arm at the island. “Where they buried them…”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Jason offered.
The old woman resumed knitting.
“Is there anything we can do?” April asked.
The woman sniffled. “Nothing, dear… Thank you.”
They left Anastasia Fontaine to her thoughts and were soon checked into the resort for a two week stay. It took Jason a while to get over the sombre mood. He would ask Baine if there was anything the firm could do to help the woman.
“We make a good team,” April teased, tickling him and pushing him back on the bed. “We could be the Everly Cove Investigators. There must be someone from the old hippies who knows. We’ll track them down.”
Jason wasn’t ticklish, but apparently April was. She shrieked when he flipped her over and grabbed her ribs. She squirmed and thrashed about, laughing hysterically.
He ended up with her legs wrapped around him. He pinned her hands above her head and kissed her mouth. “Twenty years you’ve been on my mind, April.” He kissed her again, tenderly that time, drawing her beautiful essence. “You’re absolutely worth every minute of the wait.”
“Oh yeah…” He took another kiss, lying beside her and releasing her hands as she turned to face him.
“So, what now?” she asked, biting a lip. Her eyes were tantalising right then. She took Jason’s hand and placed it upon her breast. “What now, schoolboy?”
Jason felt her nipple. “Did you bring Bat out of Hell?”
He kissed her and met her eyes. “I say we put it on and see what happens……..”
Happily ever after – this full novel will remain available to read free through January.
From the back cover:
Jason Ford is back in town after twenty years to investigate remains of a young woman unearthed at the local soccer field. April Anderson still has his unanswered schoolboy love letters hidden in the bottom of her jewellery box. Her hubby is overseas visiting his parents. Surely it’s okay to offer an old friend the spare room… Nothing problematic in that, right?
Wrong! All kinds of wrong. All levels of it… But will it ultimately be wrong if it turns out to be a new happily-ever-after?
Both times Jason has encountered April there’s been another dude with a claim. This one is overseas and out of the picture for the next few weeks. And April isn’t happy in her relationship. Not that that should be any of Jason’s business… Except there’s the tiny detail that Jason actually did see and develop feelings for April before this current guy did – back when they were at high school together… Surely that gives him some small level of entitlement, doesn’t it?
Happy reading, G.S.Bailey
Oh and stay tuned for the completely original Time Travel Romance “Memory Span” showing Feb 2018. Hit the follow button for updates!