Category Archives: Steamy romantic suspense

Aussie romantic thriller

 

april 3dSummer 1985

 

She kissed him. It was a closed-mouth kiss — mwa mwa mwa, without the sound. Shouldn’t I be kissing her? It didn’t matter. Her essence was flooding into him, warming him, making his legs tingle.

She put his right hand on her left breast. “This doesn’t mean we’re on together.”

Jason nodded and shook his head in quick succession. Yes, I mean no. She was kissing him again. He moved his fingers, squeezing gently. She had a bra on under her uniform. Of course she’s got a bra on, idiot. She was still a junior, her uniform the maroon chequered dress, and on such a warm afternoon, she wasn’t wearing a jumper. Her breast felt soft but firm. She pushed that side of her chest forward. Jason was kissing her back, mwa mwa.

Her essence flooding into him smelled sweet. It was different going into his mouth. He had smelt it in her hair whilst waiting in line behind her at the school canteen, but he was tasting it now. More than sweet, it was exciting and fruity and girl-tender. Jason would never be going back to where he was before that moment. His life meant something else now.

“Me and Michael will probably get back together,” she said.

Michael was Jason’s best friend, a senior. He had dropped out of school. When April became a senior next year, she would wear a grey skirt and white blouse to match the senior boys’ uniform. You could see girls’ bras through their white blouses.

Jason still had his hand on her breast. He didn’t really know what to do about that. He squeezed again, kind of exploring. Mwa, mwa. He had been watching kissing in movies lately, in anticipation of trying it. He had been thinking about it a lot since April started going with Michael.

She removed his hand from her breast and got up from the couch. “I have to go. Don’t say anything, alright?”

Jason did the yes/no head shake thing again. He found his voice. “That was nice, April.” He liked saying her name just then.

She blushed a little, pointed to the door. “Have to go.”

She opened the door and vanished, leaving a sunny void that Jason sat staring into. April lived two houses down. Jason’s family had moved from the other side of Everly Cove the previous summer, and he had been infatuated with her the first day he had seen her walking by his house. He had been too shy to do anything much about it, other than spending a lot of time in the front yard hoping for her to walk by, then failing to say anything when she did.

His friend Michael always had one girlfriend or another and had gotten around to April at New Years. It was weird because it gave Jason the chance to be closer to her, whilst the pang of jealousy, watching Michael kiss her and walk with his arm around her, stung. Jason was a boy, though, Michael, a young man.

There was dust and tiny fibres floating in the sunlight where April had disappeared. It was after-school Thursday. Jason was going to remember Thursday, February 17th, 1985 for ever. It was how it felt right then. Time had not stopped, it had started. Boyhood with its skateboards and fishing books was over. You can’t taste her like that and just forget about it. He had moved to the open door and leaned with his head rocking against the frame. April stood there at her post box talking with her mother. The sun was warm against his skin, stinging a little as a moment passed. He listened to her laughter, watched her raking at her long dark hair and holding it in the breeze. He slid down and sat on the doorstep. She walked inside with her mother, and he looked up at the doorframe, seeing cracks in the paintwork. What if she doesn’t get back with Michael? What did she kiss me for if she wants to be with him? He remembered the feel of her breast, rubbing at the palm of his hand where he had held it. He could still sense her sweet essence, but he didn’t know whether he was tasting or smelling it. Or feeling it. “Yahoo!” he hollered, pumping the air with his fists and making Mr Barrett from across the road look over.

“Hi, Mr Barrett. Hi, David. Hi, Mandy!” David and Mandy were the Barrett children, playing shuttlecock in their front yard. They waved back.

Jason had chores. That night he had to pack for the weekend. He had an orthodontist appointment in Melbourne. It was a six hour drive, and his parents had decided to make a weekend of it in the city.

*

On Monday morning he claimed the bench seat next to the school gate where April would have to pass by. It was almost nine o’clock when she finally arrived with some girlfriends. She glanced, smiled and did a small four-finger wave, making Jason beam with excitement. He had bought Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell tape in Melbourne. April had said she loved it. He had it in his shirt pocket but resisted the urge to hold it up and show her.

He saw her at recess and lunch, but she was with her friends again. The big question was whether or not Michael would be waiting at the gate after school. As a high school drop-out he wasn’t allowed on the grounds, but being unemployed meant he would have nothing better to do than wait for April if they were going together again.

Jason collected his bag and hurried from the gym change room. Rounding the corner of the school administration building, his heart was thumping with a mixture of fear, dread, hope and urgency. It exploded with glee when he saw April standing by the same bench he had been sitting on that morning. There was no sign of Michael, and she waved excitedly when she saw Jason.

He got to her without running. He had managed to give the impression of coolness.

“Tracy said you’ve got Bat out of Hell.

Jason extracted the cassette from his pocket and flashed it.

She took it off him. “Is anyone home at your place?”

Jason shook his head. “Nope.”

She smiled. She actually bit down on her lip and tossed the smile over her shoulder as she led off toward home. Jason wanted to kiss her again. He couldn’t wait.

Home was three houses along from the school, on the same side of the street. He fumbled the key into the door with her still smiling at him. She pushed him into the house, the feel of her hands against his back sending a rush of tingles swarming all over his skin. He was beyond apprehension, though, and he turned, grabbed her and pressed his closed lips to hers.

Her body softened and relaxed as her lips parted, and he tasted her essence again.

“Wait. Put it on first,” she mumbled through their kiss.

She had the cassette out of its box. Jason slotted it into the player and waited for the sound so he could adjust it. He watched April sit on the lounge. Her cheeks were flushed and her dark eyes were sparkling. She was chewing on her lip and staring.

“Up,” she said about the volume. “A bit more.”

The intro to the title track, Bat out of Hell, surged through Jason’s body as he approached April, with her eyes following his and her chin lifting. The music was coursing through his veins as he lowered over her and kissed her again. I’m doing the kissing now. Mwa, mwa, mwa, until he accidentally touched her tongue with his and was startled by the warm, wet contact.

He looked at her lips and saw they were glistening. They were slightly parted and inviting.

“Do you know how to tongue kiss?”

He shook his head.

“Do you want to try?”

“Yep.”

“Poke your tongue out.”

He poked out his tongue.

“Not that far. Just to your lips.”

She was doing it, and he copied, resting the tip of his tongue on his bottom lip.

“Now we just touch a little bit,” she uttered, lifting to meet his lips as he instinctively lowered to her, and that time there was less fish mouth and a softer, wetter, more fluent connection. Their tongues also caressed, with Jason mimicking what April did with hers, and with her magic essence whooshing through every inch of his body.

“See, it’s easy,” she said at some point.

The song had changed. Jason had been pushed back to be sitting beside her with his arm around her. She had taken over, which he didn’t mind, except he had heard it usually happened the other way around. He wondered if he should touch her breast again. He moved his free hand to her waist and was about to do it when she suddenly flopped back against the arm of the lounge, huffing and wiping her mouth on the back of her hand.

“This doesn’t mean anything, you know?”

“What? Why?”

Her eyes rolled. “Because it doesn’t. That’s why!”

“Are you going to get back with Michael?”

“Pfft. Who cares about him?”

“I don’t care about him.” Jason grinned all the way down to his belly. So, no Michael, hey?

April had picked up the cassette cover and pulled the jacket out to have a look. “Is there anything to eat?”

Jason hurried to the kitchen and brought back two ice-filled glasses of Coke and the biscuit jar. There was no more kissing to be done for the time being, but April kept pushing his thigh with her feet, absently but playfully. She still rested back against the arm of the lounge. Jason’s thighs were thin. He hadn’t filled out at all like Michael had. He had gangly teenage boy legs and knew it, but he liked April’s feet touching them.

Bat out of Hell had run through to the end and clicked off. Jason returned from the kitchen after tidying away the glasses and biscuit jar. He didn’t usually tidy stuff away. He stood there wondering about more kissing, and was about to kneel on the floor and move in when she spoke.

“Do you want to go for a swim?”

“Yep. Where?” Swimming means a bikini – hell yes!

“My granddad’s place. We swim there all the time.”

*

Jason waited at April’s post box while she quickly got changed. He had pulled on board shorts. He really hated his skinny legs, but the shorts looked better than his Speedos. He had to wear Speedos for swimming practice and competitions. He would have to take off his t-shirt in a minute, and his arms and chest were as undeveloped as his legs.

April came out with only a breezy little skirt over her bikini bottoms. Her top was tied on with strings around her neck and back. It was white against her golden brown skin. Jason gulped and followed.

Granddad’s place was two blocks over, across from the police station. He lived alone in the house, with April’s grandmother having passed away some years earlier. He wasn’t home but that didn’t matter. The man who lived down the back yard in a small caravan was there skimming the pool.

“Hi, Pastor!”

He wasn’t really a pastor. It was a nickname he had earned by carrying a small leather Bible around everywhere and quoting stuff from it all the time.

“Hi, Pastor,” Jason said as well. He had met the man a few times before. Jason’s father sold boats and was often down at the wharf. The Pastor worked at the local fish market and helped out with maintenance of the trawlers.

“Are you kids swimming? I’ll get out of your way.”

He had been cleaning the pool wearing long trousers and a buttoned up shirt. Apart from the always-handy Bible, he looked like a pastor. He set up in the shade of his caravan awning with a glass of lemonade and opened the Good Book to read.

“Don’t worry about him,” April said, floating over to caress her body against Jason’s.

Jason was worried about The Pastor, or conscious of him there. He kissed April back, though, and they spent an hour splashing around and sometimes cuddling and kissing.

The Pastor suddenly rushed by the pool and toward the street. April and Jason watched him. He stopped and called out to April’s granddad. He yelled urgently. April wrapped a towel around herself and followed. Jason was by her side as they saw The Pastor pulling her granddad along and speaking harshly to him. They were in an alleyway across the street. The older man appeared drunk, stumbling and trying to get back to the fence The Pastor had pulled him away from.

*

The next day, Jason learned that beyond the fence a girl had been sunbathing, a young nurse who had only just moved to town, and April’s granddad had already been warned by the police to stop trying to peep at her. There was talk around that the matter had escalated to the point of a complaint, with the police considering formal charges.

The incident had ended the enchanted afternoon for Jason. April was extremely close to her grandfather and having none of it. Her granddad was no peeping Tom, merely a drunk who got distracted or something.

She was waiting for Jason after school again the following day, and they spent an hour at his house before his mother got home from work. They did so most afternoons over the next few weeks before Jason received the shocking news that his father had gotten a transfer to Melbourne and they would be moving immediately.

“Of course I’ll write to you,” April assured him. It was their last afternoon together.

They had played Meatloaf every day. She would be keeping the cassette. It wasn’t much, but something Jason had bought especially for her, and he hoped it would hold them together somehow.

He was trying not to cry. “Promise you’ll write to me?”

“Yeah, it’s not like you’re moving to another planet. It’s only Melbourne.”

She was smiling. He didn’t get how she could be so relaxed about it all.

“Do you know I love you?”

She blushed. “Don’t say that, Jason.”

“But why? It’s true.”

She disappeared into the sunlight in the doorway again. Jason’s chest ached. It shuddered and he started to cry. He watched April walk up the steps to her door. She was looking at a flyer she must have found in her post box. She had it open, reading it. She never looked back.

 

Chapter 1

“Take the friggin’ door off its hinges and chuck it out the back,” Jason’s co-worker said, rocking back in her chair and grinning at him over her coffee cup.

Natasha Royal was new to Baine & Associates Investigations. She had fired the place up and was attempting to fire Jason up.

Jason had been sleeping in the spare room for two weeks. He and his spouse of eight years were at a stalemate.

“Well, at least open the damn thing. You don’t have to knock on your own bedroom door for chrissake. Barge in, and if she has kittens, just tell her it stays open or you’ll be putting a boot through it.”

Jason chuckled. “Thanks, Nat. She would have kittens.”

“She’d probably friggin’ wet herself and have to crawl into bed with you anyway,” Natasha shot back at him as she took a phone call.

Jason nodded a goodbye and loosened his tie as he headed for the stairs and car park. He had to hurry if he was going to be in time to pick up his boy from after-school hockey training.

“Jason!” Nick Finlay, another of his colleagues, called to him. He was also on a phone call, but he hung up as Jason approached.

“Boss want’s someone to do a cold case over in Everly Cove. That’s where you’re from, isn’t it?”

“What sort of cold case?”

“Bones at a soccer field… Young female, about 20 years cold.”

“Shit!”

Jason sat down. He checked his watch. “Boss want’s you, hey, Nick?”

“He won’t care. Get in, put a file together, and get out. You got anyone you want to visit back there?”

“I guess. And I’m good here,” Jason liked the idea of getting away from home for a few days. His case load was fairly light, nothing that couldn’t be put on hold. He had no family in Everly Cove, but it would be interesting to see the place again.

“I’ll tell Boss to pencil you in?” Nick asked. His phone was ringing.

“Yeah, good. Thanks, Nick.”

Jason hurried to his car and made the school in time to see the boys finish up their team talk after training. He had two children: Micky was twelve and his girl, Chelsea, almost fourteen. He tossed Micky’s gear in the back seat, and they stopped at McDonalds on the way home for an ice cream cone and a drink.

The house was quiet, with Chelsea next door and Raelene in the kitchen. “Hey,” Jason offered, leaning around the edge of the wall and nodding his spouse a greeting.

Raelene didn’t quite nod, just a quick glance and lift of an eyebrow. She was peeling potatoes over the sink. “I won’t be able to make it on Saturday – work. Say hello to your parents for me?”

Jason patted the wall trim as he turned away. “I might not make it myself,” he said in parting. “Job’s come up and I could be away for a week.”

Jason and Raelene had been avoiding the same room at any time, let alone bedtime. Jason was responsible for it. The sound of Raelene’s voice annoyed him. Her face annoyed him. It was a weird situation, though. He loved the children. They were not actually his, but that didn’t mean anything. He wasn’t their father but he was their dad, with Micky only four and Chelsea six when he and Raelene had gotten together.

Gotten together… Jason chuckled at the notion as he caught the tennis ball he was tossing up at the ceiling while lying on his spare room bed.

There was a gentle knock on the door. “We need to talk.” Raelene’s face was red.

“About what?”

She shook her head, huffing slightly. “About this. Everything!”

“We have talked. What else is there to say?”

Raelene looked down, picking at the paintwork of the door frame. Jason waited.

She half giggled, sardonically. “We can’t go on like this, Jason.” She giggled some more. “I can’t believe I said it like that. What a cliché.”

“Do you want to break up?” There was a knot in Jason’s throat as those words squeaked out. It was the obvious next move, but it still hurt. He suddenly remembered how it used to be when they first met. His mind flashed to it.

“Yes,” Raelene said. “I want to break up.”

“What about the kids?” Jason tossed back.

“I know. It’s complicated.”

“I might move into the apartment. The tenants will be out in a couple of weeks. If we don’t re-let it, I could crash there.”

Raelene nodded. “I’d thought of that. We have about the same amount of equity there as here. It’s pretty simple, really. We’ll have to see a lawyer, but…” She shrugged.

She rested back against the door frame. Jason tossed his ball.

“The kids could visit me. They could stay on weekends sometimes.” He hated the idea of leaving Micky and Chelsea.

“I’ve met someone,” Raelene declared, her face reddening again. Her eyes were tearing up.

Jason’s gut tightened. His skin tingled as a wave of nausea rushed through him. The mental picture was not of Raelene with another man, rather of another man with his children. He thumbed the tennis ball, squashing it in his fist.

“The kids can stay with you anytime you like,” Raelene said, reading his mind, it seemed. “Leon won’t be moving in here.”

Leon. Jason remembered a Leon from Raelene’s work party last Christmas. He was divorced with children of his own. That was good. Kids of his own is good.

 

Chapter 2

 

April rolled over to face away from her husband, hoping he would not want to snuggle. They usually had sex one night a week, but rarely more than once, and never at any time other than at night, and never anywhere other than in their bed.

These were simply facts. April didn’t rationalise them and had no need to, as the infrequency and predictability of sex with her husband suited her. It meant that such was a chore ticked off the to-do list, that a duty had been performed…..

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Remains of a Local Girl: Part 1

beauty-3d

Aussie cold case murder mystery. Steamy romance.

 

Chapter 1

 

“Chocolate!” Kate poked her girlfriend’s foot with a toe. “We need chocolate.”

Leanne glanced from the television. “We don’t need chocolate. We need men.”

“Nope, chocolate!” Kate sat up facing Leanne on the other end of the lounge. “Someone has to go to the shop.”

Leanne huffed and hugged her pillow.

“So, get a man, Lea. Call Tommy.”

Leanne’s eyes rolled. “I mean like that.”

A movie love scene was on the television.

Kate glanced then smiled at her friend. She ran her nails along the sole of Leanne’s foot, making her jump and giggle. Leanne kicked out and Kate straddled her, tickling her ribs. Leanne shrieked and squirmed, laughing out loud and complaining until Kate let up and returned to sitting on her end of the lounge.

“We need chocolate.”

Leanne was still puffing. “Okay, chocolate. Who’s going to the shop?” She reached to the floor for the remaining two DVDs. “What’s next?”

“Mathew McConaughey.” Kate leaned across and took the How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days DVD from Leanne’s grasp, glaring a mock challenge. “But chocolate first, and ice cream. Do you have any ice cream?”

Leanne sat up cross-legged. “What about chocolate coated ice creams, Triple Treats?”

“Okay. Rock-paper-scissors!”

The girls played the game with Kate picking the rock and losing. Leanne laughed. “You’d better put on a bra.”

Kate was in track pants and a tank top. She had stayed over at Leanne’s house and hadn’t dressed from bed as yet. She raked back her hair and retied it with a scrunchie. The shop was just across the road. “Give me your shirt?” she said, getting up. Leanne’s flip-flops were by the door. A car pulled into the driveway, prompting Kate to peer through the blinds. Her face flushed, her chest tingling. “Shit!”

“What?” Leanne cried, rushing to her side.

“What the hell’s he doing here?”

The car belonged to Kate’s ex-fiancé. He approached the front door. She wanted to run and hide but grabbed her pillow, huddled on the edge of the lounge, and pretended to be watching television instead.

“What are you doing here, Stephen? Why aren’t you at work?” Leanne demanded as he walked in.

“Hey, sis, what’s up?” he replied cheerily, his eyes flashing to Kate and his smile ending. “Kate. Hey.”

Kate glanced without turning her head. “Hi, Stephen.”

“I just need my golf clubs,” Stephen told his sister, his face red as he edged past her and went up the hall to his old bedroom. Leanne lived with their mother in the family home. Stephen was married now and lived in the city.

Kate glared at Leanne, who shrugged helplessly, holding her hands out. Kate folded her arms tighter at the sound of the man returning. The movie had restarted. She fixed her eyes upon the screen, her brows lowered.

“Sorry,” Stephen said as he rushed through the room with his golf bag over his shoulder. His gaze had flashed to Kate, his comment seemingly directed at her as well as Leanne.

Leanne closed the door and slumped back against it. Kate glared at her again.

“You two have to get over this, Kate. It’s been two years.”

“I am over it.”

“Oh, yeah, it really looks like it too.”

Kate swallowed at the lump in her throat, sniffling. “It’s not so much him. It’s just that I feel like shit lately. We’re going to be thirty soon, Lea.” Kate wiped at a stray tear. “He’s the last person I wanted to see today. We’re supposed to be hiding, aren’t we?”

Leanne flopped on the lounge, cuddling her pillow. “We could go shopping instead.”

“What?”

“Let’s go on that dinner cruise. Take me as your plus-one.”

The nervous tingles from earlier resurged as defiance, filling Kate’s belly. “Really? You’ll come?”

“Yep. But you’re not allowed to tell anyone I’m not corporate. Let me pretend, okay?”

“Corporate’s crap, Lea. It’s all superficial posturing at these functions. Just have fun but don’t trust any of the men and you’ll be fine.”

Leanne smiled. “Okay! So, let’s go shopping!”

 

Chapter 2

 

“Shit!”

Kate slapped her hand over her mouth to prevent any other sound escaping until the pain subsided. She had trodden on her shoe with the heel digging into the arch of her bare foot.  The man she had spent the night with was still sleeping and she was desperate to sneak away without waking him.

She found her panties on the floor and pulled them on then wriggled into her little black party dress then scooped her shoes. Her hair was matted at the back of her head, but she couldn’t risk the light from the bathroom, so she slipped out the door cringing at the clunk of the latch as she pulled it closed.

She was out of there. Phew. That was lucky.

Kate hurried along to the elevator with that familiar feeling of relief warming her chest and making her feel the euphoria of a successful escape. There was a line-up of cabs waiting, and fifteen minutes later she was again on noise alert as she attempted to sneak into her apartment.

Her big brother, Bobby, was crashed out on the lounge with his neck kinked and his head twisted to one side, jammed against the arm. He couldn’t be left like that, so Kate prodded his shoulder.

“Bobby, what are you doing out here?”

His eyes shot open and his jaw flapped. “Katie, there you are! I was waiting, but I went to sleep.”

The television was still on the movie channel, showing an old black and white movie.

“But I told you I’d be late, and what about work tomorrow?” Kate scolded as she turned the television off and started pushing Bobby toward his bedroom. He was too sleepy, rubbing his huge face and clinging to his pyjama pants, trying to hold them up. “Look, it’s nearly time for you to wake up, anyway,” she went on, scolding a little more.

Kate’s manner with him was authoritarian. Bobby’s intellectual maturity was equivalent to that of a young teen, while he was actually approaching forty years-of-age and was the size of a refrigerator.

“But where were you tonight, Katie? I already went to bed, but then I woke up and you still weren’t home!”

Kate was in no mood to explain. “I was out, okay? Just go to bed.” With that she left Bobby and went to her own room where she pulled off her dress and fell into bed. It was already after five, though, and two hours later the alarm on her mobile was vibrating and jingling away on the bedside cabinet.

It was Friday and, following her RDO yesterday, it was the last workday before a month-long summer vacation. The day was clear and sunny, and the crowded ferry ride to work offered another twenty minutes nap time. The morning passed in a rush, tidying up loose ends that would prepare her workstation for a temporary handover. At about 1pm, Kate ended up sitting with her chin propped on her hand, nonchalantly gazing out at her multimillion dollar lunchtime view of Sydney Harbour. Her thoughts meandered from the steady stream of runabouts and water taxis zipping in and out of the shadows of the Harbour Bridge to the yachts and small fishing boats bobbing on the white-tipped swell around Fort Dennison. She watched a large yacht in full sail cut its way through the crowd and dash toward the ocean. Her gaze lingered on the shimmering horizon for a few moments then swept back to the ant-like community of tourists milling around the Opera House forecourt.

From the ninth floor cafeteria of her work office building on George Street, Kate took to pondering the way the faded old yellow and green ferries docked at Circular Quay seemed to remain motionless while the water swelled beneath them. Perhaps they were moving a little, she surmised, concentrating on the alignment from the top of one ferry to the roof of the passenger terminal, and the hazy numbness in her brain then wandered back out to the horizon while her mind separated and drifted off into the lingering hot flush of embarrassment at the idea of Lance Emerson.

Lance was a guy Kate had thrown herself at on the dinner cruise the previous night, someone she had arranged to meet at the Gold Coast after he had finished his work commitments in Australia.

God, I hope I didn’t come across too desperately, she mused horribly.

After partying her way through university, Kate had spent five years peering over the partition of a tiny office cubicle down on the second floor. She had spent five long years calculating and mailing off insurance payouts and basking in the view from the cafeteria at lunchtime.

She covered her mouth and yawned as she turned from the window, and she looked up to meet the incredibly blue eyes of her supervisor, Paul Rissman. He was standing with a tray of food in his hands, grinning down at her. She felt his gaze had just lifted from her cleavage.

“Hey, Paul. What’s up?”

“Do you mind?” He motioned with his tray.

“No. Please. I’m on my way back, anyway.” Kate stood to leave. She wasn’t really in the mood for Paul.

“I might call around tonight,” he suggested as he placed his tray and took a seat.

Kate forced a smile. “I’m probably going to be a bit busy helping Bobby pack and get organized.”

Paul nodded, and Kate felt the heat from his gaze as she stood straightening her skirt. She didn’t mind the way he and the other men in her department would always watch her. She dressed for it. However, she did sometimes regret the one occasion after a work party when she had responded to Paul’s advances and spent the night with him. It had been in her first week in his department, the week she had broken up with her fiancé. Since then Paul had taken to dropping by her place quite frequently. Without offering any real commitment, he had adopted the role of alternate boyfriend. He would subtly fade into the background when she was seeing someone, but between times he would casually resurface. Her regret over having encouraged him didn’t extend to discouraging him, though. It was all too easy for Kate, and it meant she was never totally alone.

His gaze remained focused on her legs as she fixed her hair. “I might be up the coast myself next weekend. Do you wanna hook up?”

Kate shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

She left Paul and returned to her work station for two excruciatingly slow hours in anticipation of her holiday. Finishing work at three, she cleared her desk and said her goodbyes. It was cool and breezy in the shadow of the buildings, but the sun was baking the paved walkway around the quay. Kate checked the time for her ferry, finding she had just missed one and had forty minutes to wait for the next. She strolled around the foreshore to a small grassy park where she found a spot on a bench-seat facing the water, and sat to enjoy the warmth of the mid-afternoon sun.

She took a book from her bag and opened it, but she often sat there in the park on a sunny morning or afternoon and just watched people. There was the usual variety of walkers: tourists strolling along gazing at the boats in the harbour or up at the towering office buildings and hotels, business people on leisurely meal breaks or rushing from one appointment to another, commuters spilling out of trains and ferries or clambering to refill them, and both morning and afternoon there would be a scattering of joggers and power walkers weaving amongst the slow mass moving around the foreshore.

If only Paul wasn’t such a dickhead, Kate suggested to herself quite seriously. Otherwise, he’s actually perfect. He’s divorced with teenage children. He’s got a great apartment. And he’s loaded!

Kate watched a group of young businessmen stroll past. They were accosted by old Gladys, a homeless woman dressed in a floral head-scarf and a tattered grey poncho carrying a large nylon shopping bag—someone Kate had seen many times over the years she had been working there at the Quay. She appeared to be running her usual routine of begging for money, and Kate watched as she approached another man and extended a shaking, twisted little hand from beneath the poncho.

After being denied repeatedly, she appeared to give up, and shuffled over to a garbage bin and started searching through it. She found something to eat and took it to a bench along the wharf a little. It appeared to be the crust of a sandwich, and from her shopping bag she produced a bottle wrapped in newspaper.

A woman sitting on the other end of the bench got up and stepped into the steady stream of walkers. People were eyeing the old woman and making a wide berth as they passed. Her poncho had hiked up to reveal her lower legs and thick, salmon coloured stockings. There were holes in the stockings, through which there appeared to be several other layers of fabric. From beneath her head-scarf, Kate recognized her gnarled yet kindly face, and wondered if the woman had found her teeth, as she seemed to be chewing quite easily on the crust of bread.

Kate strolled back around to the ferry terminal where she bought two packaged salad sandwiches and a bottle of apple juice. She took the food back to the old woman and sat down beside her.

“Hi, Gladys,” she started, and the old woman smiled, an intelligence shimmering within her eyes that always startled Kate a little. Kate offered the sandwiches and drink, and Gladys clasped her hands as she accepted them. Kate smiled and nodded, acknowledging the old woman’s gratitude.

Or maybe I should just accept that I’ve turned into a gold-digging little bitch who’s destined to be single, Kate mused, giggling within herself as she watched another young businessman stroll by. Maybe I should be thinking about how to consolidate my life alone after Bobby moves out. I could find a cheaper apartment. I could dump this stupid job and find a small accounting firm, maybe down the south coast or somewhere.

Kate often envisaged herself growing old alone. She saw herself as a powerfully self-assured woman who had traveled the world. She would be the eccentric aunt to her friends’ children, the one they would come to with their dreams and wide-eyed fancies. She even saw a little of herself in Gladys—at least in the old woman’s gumption.

After eating one of the sandwiches, Gladys packed the other one and the drink in her bag and waddled along. Kate strolled back around to the terminal, and when her ferry docked, she sat out on the deck and lost her thoughts in the excited faces of a group of school children, returning from an excursion into the city. They were wriggling in their seats, anxious to get to the edge of the ferry and look over the side, but there were two teachers with stern faces and folded arms, one either side of the giggling, squealing little cluster of energy.

Kate dozed in the warmth of the sun. It was a little after four by the time she stepped off onto Manly Wharf on the far side of the harbour. She called into a childcare centre for her daily chat with Leanne.

“Can you do that one?” Leanne asked, pointing to a toddler with a nappy sagging between its chubby legs. “In the blue bag,” she said before Kate had a chance to ask where to find a fresh nappy. Kate grabbed the nappy and put a pair of disposable gloves on.

“What’s his name?” Kate asked, having never seen that particular child before. He was a dark-skinned little fellow with huge, brown eyes and a gummy grin. He claimed a handful of her hair, and she kissed his belly and remained there for a moment while he explored her face with his wet fingers.

She ended up spending an hour there in the baby room, which was not an unusual occurrence, as Leanne always seemed to be flat out when she stopped by. She changed nappies mostly, going through a pile of rubber gloves. What a disgusting waste, two pairs per child, that’s 20 gloves I’ve just contributed to the environment.

“So, I’ll pick you up on Wednesday, and we can take my car to the airport, okay?”

“Okay. Have fun up in the hills. And don’t worry about Bobby. He’ll be fine on his own.”

With still a good two hours before dinnertime, Kate slipped up to her apartment and changed out of her work clothes. It was only a short walk to the beach where she laid her mat, and discarding her skirt and bikini top, she settled back with her book. It was a good book, a somewhat gruesome psychological thriller. She began reading, but her mind soon drifted to a conversation she’d had earlier that day with her mother.

Her mother was forty-nine and having problems with her third marriage. It seemed to Kate she would burn herself out with the intensity of a new romance, and after a few years there would be nothing left. Kate never knew her father, but she could recall a handful of daddies before her mother brought Bobby Ray home.

Her mother was a psychiatric nurse with over twenty years’ service at a facility for the intellectually disadvantaged. Bobby was an in-patient who, upon being discharged, needed some help settling into a normal life.

When her mother had first offered Bobby Ray a home, Kate was eleven and very territorial. Bobby was twenty-three, and he was like an oversized boy, who soon evolved into the big brother Kate had always wanted. He became a long term boarder, taking residence in the refurbished garage, and Kate and Bobby set up house together after her mother moved out with a new man. After Kate finished university and began working, they moved to an apartment closer to her work. What developed was an odd sort of relationship that was difficult to explain to new acquaintances, so they agreed to unofficially adopt one another as brother and sister.

My soon-to-be long distance big brother, Kate soliloquized. She would certainly miss Bobby. She would miss his big, jolly hugs and his slow beaming smile, and she would miss his company watching movies at night. But she knew it was time for them both to start something. Though, just what the hell I’m supposed to start I’m not so sure about, she groaned, and she consciously abandoned that frustrating train of thought.

She sat up to stretch. There weren’t many other sunbathers, and she had chosen a secluded spot, but since she had been lying there, two older men had set up close by. They were both looking over, and she waited a few minutes, arching her back and enjoying the attention, then she rolled over and lay back down to deny them any further entertainment.

Then again he is so comfortable, Kate sighed as her thoughts drifted back to Paul Rissman. He doesn’t challenge me or demand anything… Of course, I could never love the guy, but he always seems to be there when I need him, and if I don’t feel like it, he usually takes the hint and leaves me alone. He’s probably my perfect match in a practical sense, she concluded for the moment, although the argument was far from settled.

She wriggled her bikini top into place and sat up. There were children playing in the small waves rolling ashore, and Kate found herself watching them and wondering what it would be like to be the mother who was playing with them, but that only led her to the irksome and frustrating memory of the end of her relationship with Stephen. She could see herself suffocating him with her insecurities quite plainly in hindsight, and the thought always made her cringe inwardly, sheer idiocy.

Kate dressed and strolled along the cafés and clothing boutiques, finding a new bikini for her holiday. Bobby was cooking dinner when she arrived home.

“How was your last day?” she asked, stepping beside him and reaching up to give his massive shoulder an affectionate squeeze while leaning in to sniff at what he was stirring in a small pot.

“Good. They gave me them.” Bobby smiled and motioned to an open set of tools on the dining table.

“Is that all? For their best worker!”

Bobby’s smile broadened, and Kate kissed his big, whiskery cheek. “I’ll go have my shower.”

Kate got to thinking of her mother again while she showered, about how much they were alike. Since Stephen, Kate hadn’t held a man for more than three months. And like her mother’s relationships, hers always began wild and passionate and burned out quickly.

Perhaps she needed to go to cocktail bars instead of dance-clubs, she mused, but she again pushed the question of men and her future from her mind. Her thoughts settled on Bobby and his move to the house his recently deceased mother had willed to him. It was in a small town not far from the city, and he was planning to work at the timber mill where he was apparently employed as a youth. Kate hoped there would be a position available for him. She also hoped the house was in reasonable condition, as it had been empty for a few years according to the real estate agent.

The removal truck was to arrive to pick up Bobby’s few furnishings at 7am. They would be there by lunch.

Chapter 3

 

Ben McEwen placed aside the memory of his wife’s smile and sat up in his seat. Edna Simms and Margaret Worthington had appeared at the doorway of the Camden bowling club, and after saying goodbye to their friends they approached. They were two ladies in their sixties whom Ben always taxied to town on his social dance nights. They preferred to ride in the back, to be chauffeured, which left him alone with his thoughts for the hour drive back to Goran Vale.

Ben was over the homesickness that had plagued him for a few years after leaving his parents’ sheep station out west. It had been difficult to adjust to life without the security of home and the familiarity of a small outback community. The city had at first seemed a massive jumble of chaotic lives, crammed together and intertwined but somehow cold and detached from each other. However, within a few years he had built friendships and formed his own community again, and although he had taken a semi-rural posting, he had grown to depend on the city to break the monotony of small town life.

At twenty-eight, Ben was settled and happy in a practical, day to day sense, though touching the empty passenger seat he again thought of Sylvia. He remembered her perfume and her knee-length, floral sundresses, and her scarred shins and worn leather work boots. He remembered her constant travel chatter and out-of-pitch singing whenever one of her songs would come on the car radio. His heart lifted, but there was an ache in the base of his throat as he saw her there rocking to her music and drumming the dashboard. He thought of how her hands had been a little too coarse and bony for a woman, and remembering her touch, a twinge of loneliness pulsed within his chest. He fought it off, though, and swallowed the ache away, smiling inwardly, as he always did in honor of her memory.

Camden had faded in the rearview, and the expressway swept onward, cutting between jagged monuments, black against the mantle of stars and the moonless night. Twenty minutes beyond the edge of the city was the turnoff to Goran Vale where the road, narrow and broken, wound up into the reaches of trees and sandstone. Levy’s Bluff offered the final view of the city lights. From there the horizon was a shimmering, white line against the Pacific, and beyond the bluff time retreated as even in summer the mist from the earth rose to shroud the valley below.

The Catholic Church steeple pierced the shroud, as did the defunct concrete grain silos, and winding down from the bluff, the mist thinned to a damp haze that seemed to haunt a small town lost in the eighties.

Ben took the ladies home and waited for Edna to bring his obligatory casserole. He thanked her for it and slowly rolled up the main street to the top end where he lived in his old English-looking cottage roped in ivy.

He fed his dog, Rex, a black and grey mongrel he had bought as a pup when he took the posting in Goran Vale, five years previously. He fed his three cats, all strays that repaid his nightly dinner scrap offerings with undying loyalty and by keeping the mice situation under control. He took the rubbish bag from beneath the kitchen sink and strolled out to the furnace where he stood for a moment watching a commotion down the street. The only business with lights on was the pub, and he watched a drunk being dragged across to the police station house. It was only a short walk, so Ben wandered down to see what was happening.

“Evening, Barry,” he announced, stepping into the foyer.

Constable Barry Fitzgerald was a round-faced, round-bellied man in his early fifties. He had been stationed in Goran Vale for twenty-two years.

“Hey, Ben,” he replied, shuffling from the lock-up stairwell and fixing his shirt. He had obviously been in a scuffle. “Toby fuckin’ Miller again,” he declared, thumbing back over his shoulder.

“Under control, mate?” Ben had stepped in to see what was on his desk. There was a file sitting there he didn’t remember leaving.

“Sarge wants you to look that over. Apparently Bobby Ray’s moving back to town tomorrow.”

Ben opened the file. “Melanie Rose. That’s the young girl who went missing back in the eighties?”

“Yeah, and Bobby Ray’s the retard who was last seen with her.”

Ben tucked the file under his arm. “Are you okay here, then?”

“Yeah, fine!” Barry was sniffing the air. “Is that perfume?”

Ben had danced with a dozen different women in class that night. “Linda always wears perfume for me, Barry. It’s just that she probably doesn’t put it on until after you go to work.”

Barry laughed. “Yeah, well, she’d eat ya ‘live, son. But that young Grieves girl was lookin’ over ya fence again this afternoon. She’d fix ya up.”

Ben strolled home and tossed the missing person’s file on the lounge and had a shower. He collected a beer and opened the file. Sergeant Edwards had a policy of preempting community conflict, so Ben would need to be up on whatever the scenario might be. He browsed through the details of the night of the 1986 Tulip Festival when a young girl went missing, and reports on the boy last seen with her, Bobby Ray. He had been interviewed four times in the seventeen years since the incident, the last of which had been five years previously, in association with an assault allegation in Sydney, June 1998.

Ben yawned as he closed the file and picked up the envelope from Police Headquarters he had left sitting on his lounge that morning. It was notification of a transfer opportunity for the posting he had originally requested when graduating from the academy. He had two weeks to respond to the senior constable position in his old home town, and he again read through the letter, then folded it back into its envelope and turned on the television. He flicked past the golf and the late night news and settled on Frankenstein in black and white.

 

Chapter 4

 

Alyssa Lloyd stood staring at her face in the mirror. It was oval in shape, and her features were plain and non-distinct, apart from her lips, or more specifically her smile, which she liked because it revealed her perfect teeth. Her hair was silk, pure, white silk, but without body, so again she tucked it behind her ears.

“Just wait a minute!” she screamed as her younger sister pounded on the bathroom door.

Alyssa was nineteen, four years out of school, and a prisoner of Goran Vale. She worked six mornings a week at Mr Barlow’s general store, and on weekday evenings she had to care for her younger brother and sister while her parents were at work in the city.

She turned side on to the mirror and tugged her work-shirt down. “Come on, grow girls!” she almost sobbed, arching her back and trying to enhance the slight distortion in the heavily woven cotton fabric.

“But I have to go!” came the voice from beyond the door, pleading that time.

Alyssa brushed past her sister, collected her shoulder bag, and strode out into the eucalyptus tinged silence of a Goran Vale Saturday morning.

She lived on Mill Road, which ran parallel to the main street, one block above it. She walked along the row of Goran Vale’s elite houses, all owned by city workers who had formed an exclusive clique that barbecued on Sunday afternoons, then past the back of the school where she had spent her childhood years from five to fifteen, and where she sometimes took a short cut, but only if she was running late. Next to the school was the Catholic Church, a red-brick building with white bordered windows and doors and a peaked roof shaping to a steeple that pierced a canopy of towering ghost gums. The church was on the corner of Mill Road and High Street. Both roads ended there at the old iron gates of the timber mill where piles of logs and stacks of cut timber gave the impression of a working mill, while the wild growth of fern and myrtle claiming the administration building and clumps of woodruff and bugle flowering purple and white all over the driveway were testimony to years of disuse.

From the top of High Street there was a short, steep hill to the main intersection in town where two closed banks lay dormant with faded For Rent signs in the windows. At the centre of the intersection was a clock tower, the clock about to chime 10am as Alyssa stood waiting for a vehicle to pass, a furniture removal truck. It rattled by, followed by a sleek, deep-blue car with tinted windows, too classy to belong to anyone from Goran Vale, Alyssa decided, and she stood watching where the truck was going as the clock began its ten chimes.

Along the left side of the main street, past the front of the Goran Vale State School, was the police station house, outstanding with its brilliant-white weatherboard facing. Next to the station house was a small electronics dealer selling televisions and computers and the like, and the last business along that side of the main street was Tebbit’s Garage where Henry Tebbit, a lanky, balding man with a narrow, sloping forehead that shaped into a nose, was busy hosing fuel stains from the driveway. Along the right side of the main street, next to the abandoned National Bank, was another vacant building that Alyssa remembered as a café. Beyond that and directly across from the police station was the Goran Vale pub with its mildewed-green tiled facing and thick frosted-glass windows. There was a gravel laneway beside that, which led to a car park that Alyssa recalled frequenting as a child in the back seat of her father’s car when her grandfather needed to be carried from the back door of the pub. The laneway separated the pub from the Town Hall, which was a white sandstone structure with towering pillars and a marble slab beneath an arched vestibule that was the coolest place in Goran Vale when the breeze failed on a hot February afternoon. Beyond the Town Hall were houses, some vacant, some abandoned, and a few with occupants who dabbled in vegetable growing.

The truck had stopped on the left side of the main street, five houses down from Tebbit’s garage. It was backing into the house that was directly below Alyssa’s, old Isabel Ray’s house, which had been vacant over the five or so years since Isabel had moved to the city. Alyssa remembered the old woman as the witch who poisoned her husband, or at least that’s what legend had her believe as a child. Her husband had been the school principal and manager of Glenview home for boys, which was an abandoned dairy farm beyond the edge of town. He was found unconscious and severely brain damaged at the base of the farm windmill after eating his lunch, and legend had him toppling off the ladder when the effect of the poison kicked in.

“Anytime you’re ready,” a caustic voice echoed from the corner diagonally opposite, beyond the clock tower, where Mr Barlow was wringing his hands in his white grocer’s apron and scowling from beneath grey, shaggy brows. It was five past ten, and Alyssa stepped out of her daze to walk across the road to work.

More coming soon…

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