Tag Archives: Australia

Ever Since April: Part 5 of 5

april 3d
R-Rated 18+ Amazon Paperback

Chapter 18

“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?”

“Yes, sir.”

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…”

 

Chapter 19

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.”

“Oh. Drats.”

“Drats?”

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.

 

Chapter 20

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.”

“Okay. Hurry!”

“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?”

“You heard?”

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?”

 

Chapter 21

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.

 

Chapter 22

“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.

“Oh, nothing.”

“That’s Sleepless in Seattle again.”

“So? I like it.”

“April…”

“What?”

“When are you going to call him?”

“Call who?”

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.

“I don’t!”

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.

“I know…”

“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?”

“Why?”

“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 who?”

“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.

“Call him!”

“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.”

“What?”

“The market.”

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.

 

Chapter 23

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?”

Jason nodded.

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?”

“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…

 

Chapter 24

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?”

“Go away!”

“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!”

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”

April sobbed.

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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!”

“Well?”

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?”

“Tomorrow.”

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.”

 

Chapter 25

“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?”

“Better!”

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.”

“I am?”

“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?”

“Of course.”

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!

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Ever Since April: Part 4 of 5

april 3d
R-Rated 18+ Amazon Paperback

Chapter 16

This is crazy! What the hell am I doing?

April didn’t care. She had broken free from her life and was feeling no pain. If a wild fling with a guy from her high school ended in pregnancy, her marriage would be over, her choices removed. She had done it as a teen and could do it again easily. She was well equipped to raise a child alone if need be. She had a secure, well-paying job and plenty of savings. Last time, she’d done it with nothing.

These thoughts were streaming through April’s mind as she clung to her lover’s hand all morning. They passed a town every now and then. The country had flattened. The mountains were left behind, and fields of green rolled either side of the road as far as the horizon. It was wheat and barley, according to Jason. He hadn’t stopped smiling since they had sex and was chattering non-stop.

They arrived in Moree about lunchtime. The address Jason’s firm had given them for Petrov’s place of work was an empty service station. The proprietor of a café across the road told them it had been a vacant site for years. The residential address they had was for a caravan park, with new management.

They pulled up in front of the police station. “It can’t hurt to ask,” Jason suggested.

He held the glass door for April, touching her back as she walked through. She liked that a lot, she decided. He seemed to have a habit of doing it.

A young female police officer attended them at the enquiries counter. “Good afternoon, Officer. My name is Jason Ford, of Baine & Associates Investigations…” Jason offered his ID. “This is my partner, April Anderson. We’re hoping to speak with the officer in charge here today.”

The woman handed back Jason’s wallet. “Regarding?”

“We’re investigating a cold case murder. A man we believe to have been involved resided here in Moree for about a year in the late 1980s. We’re interested to know if you have any record of his activities here.”

“And the man’s name?”

“Clive Petrov.”

The young constable jotted that down and went into an office at the back of the large open room full of desks and people on computers or phones. She returned after a few minutes accompanied by a tall greying man in a plain suit.

“We have record of one minor incident involving your guy,” the man offered. “It was a simple domestic argument between neighbours at a caravan park where he resided. The issue was resolved.”

Jason opened his notebook. “May I ask when, exactly?”

“June 1987.”

“Thanks. By any chance do you have any open files on murdered or missing women from around June 1987?”

The policeman’s face hardened, his eyes narrowed. “Sorry—you are?”

“Jason Ford—private investigator.”

“Come through,” the policeman said, lifting a fold-down section of the counter. “Ma’am…” He ushered Jason and April through to his office. “Have a seat.”

They sat and waited while he addressed his computer for a moment. He took a breath and expelled, leaning back with his hands behind his head. “What makes you think this man you’re investigating would have any involvement in the disappearance of a woman?”

“You have one?” Jason asked.

The policeman nodded slowly.

“Was she a nurse?” April asked. The words leapt from her throat.

The policeman nodded slowly again. “She was.”

April looked to Jason. Her excitement reflected in his eyes.

“We don’t have a lot… The remains of a young nurse have been unearthed in a field at Everly Cove on the far south coast. She was murdered in 1985. The facts are: she lived across the road from where Clive Petrov was staying in a caravan, that he knew her, and that an elderly woman residing nearby gave us his name and insisted we track him down. She appears to have some history with him. We don’t know what that is… The police in Everly Cove have no interest in Petrov. We hope to find something to link him to the murder and to learn what became of him. There are no records of his existence beyond 1988, as far as we can see.”

“Can I have a copy of your notes?” the detective asked.

He offered Jason and April cards with his name and contact information.

“This is scribble. I’ve got a folder in the car,” Jason said. “Back in a minute.”

Jason left. The detective smiled at April. “Can I get you a coffee?”

“No, thanks… I’m not really a private investigator. He is, but I’m just trying to clear my granddad. I’m just helping.”

“That’s fine. This is encouraging. It’s the first lead in this case in a long time.”

“So, you’ll follow it up? Is that what you call it?”

The detective smiled. “We’ll certainly be following it up. It might take some time, but we’ll learn what there is to know about Clive Petrov’s stay here in Moree.”

Jason returned with his folder of information. He and the detective photocopied the contents. April and Jason were back on the road shortly after. Their next destination was about nine hours’ drive according to April’s navigation.

It was after dark and about four hours into the journey when they pulled into a new looking motel in the main street of a large agricultural town. They had their evening meal in the motel restaurant. Jason showered first. April took her time shampooing her hair and shaving her legs. She had no sexy sleepwear, but what she wore to bed was soon pulled off her, anyway.

She and her lover slept nude that night. They made love wildly the first time then sensually after an hour talking and cuddling.

Another four hours of straight open road and plains of dry grass and red dirt the following morning brought them to the town of Augathella. They ate lunch and took a walk to stretch and exercise. The workplace of Petrov was another service station. This one still operated, but ownership had changed hands a few times over the years, and there were no employment records to be found. His work address was also his home address. It seemed he had stayed onsite.

“This storage room used to be living quarters,” the young service station manager explained, showing Jason and April around the workshop where Petrov would have spent his time repairing trucks. His taxation records listed him as a diesel mechanic.

The local police station was considerably smaller than the one in Moree. The sergeant in charge had a look at his records but found nothing of note. He had no record at all of Clive Petrov.

“So, it’s west from here and no more highway,” April said, studying their map book. “This is going to be fun.”

“Fun, huh?” Jason checked around. They had just fuelled up and were parked away from other vehicles. He leaned across and lifted April’s chin with his finger. He kissed her.

She responded, meeting his tongue and touching his shirt. He cupped her breast, squeezing and thumbing her nipple, making it hard.

“Not here,” she said. “We’ll get arrested.”

“Yeah, and that cop didn’t look like the humorous type,” Jason agreed. “You’re just so damn sexy. I can’t keep my hands to myself.”

“You can wait until tonight.”

“Barely.” Jason started the Land Cruiser and drove off.

“The wait will do you good,” April told him, tugging her skirt up to sun her legs. She gathered it as high as she modestly could.

Jason did a double take then shook his head. “That’s not going to help.”

“It isn’t meant to.”

They backtracked south for half an hour to where the road they needed branched off the highway. The map indicated it was another 400 kilometres to the town of Cooper’s Crossing, and there wasn’t much in the way of civilisation to be encountered.

They stocked up with food and water then headed west toward the desert. The road was narrow but good enough to keep to a good speed. The country all looked the same to April and, flashing by her window, it soon had her hypnotised into a trance then sleep.

It was dusk when she woke, the sky orange—a beautiful sunset on the horizon. There were too many kangaroos to keep the speed Jason had set all afternoon. The last hundred kilometres took forever.

“Well, here we are… Cooper’s Crossing.” Jason gave April’s leg an affectionate squeeze. “What’s first—food or lodgings?”

“A toilet.”

“Yeah—good idea. This is the main road in. There’s got to be a motel.”

There were quite a few houses either side of the road, which gave way to parkland on the left, then the town began with businesses on the right. They drove over a broad arched bridge with moonlight glistening off water beneath. The road then wound into more parkland and a brightly lit main street.

“There!” April said. “There’s the motel.”

It was quite large, maybe 30 rooms in two levels. There weren’t many cars. Reception was attended by a thin old man with Coke bottle glasses. He gave them the key to an upper level room and took their order for breakfast.

April hurried upstairs leaving Jason to park the car. She needed the toilet badly.

“Hey, this is nice,” Jason called to her. The room was an apartment. It had a kitchenette and a separate bedroom. There were open doors, and April found Jason on a balcony overlooking the river.

He took her into his arms. “I say we stay two nights and have a rest.”

“Definitely! This is beautiful and I’m sick of driving.”

He left her to use the toilet. She undressed and got into bed. When he came back, she had the covers pulled up to her chin. He tossed his clothes as he stripped them.

Jason slipped beneath the covers and pressed close to April’s body, pulling her to him and kissing her lips. He was already erect. She captured him, hooking a leg around his and rolling on top as their kissing deepened and their tongues lashed and explored. She positioned herself, mashing her sex against the underside of his shaft until she was wet enough that it slipped inside. She then rode him, grinding firmly as he tried to remain latched to one nipple or the other, sucking on her and driving her crazy with the kind of lust that quashed any restraint. April gripped Jason’s head and thrust her breasts forward. He was sitting, and she gyrated lewdly on his powerfully erect member.

Her orgasm hit so hard that she cried out. He held her tight while her body convulsed and her belly twisted in delicious knots of pleasure. He then bucked her off his lap and flipped her over.

“Like this?” she teased, wagging her bottom at him.

He mounted her. She reached beneath and guided him back in. He gripped her hips and immediately lost control, thumping against her—surging and grinding until his head shot back and he cried out as she had, his body pressed firmly against her with his big fingers digging into her thighs to hold her in place.

When finished, Jason bent over and kissed April’s back. She held his head, lifting to her knees with him. He felt her breasts as they kissed over her shoulder.

“I’m hungry,” April said.

“Me too…”

They dressed and strolled hand-in-hand along the main street of the small outback town. There were several clothing stores, barber and hair dressing businesses, furniture and electronics stores, the full range of health, legal and financial services, and a huge saddlery that stood as the centrepiece of the town at the main intersection with the only set of traffic lights. There were several restaurants and a couple of pubs.

April and Jason ate alfresco at a café. It was a cool evening. The air seemed different. It was crisp and dry. There were plenty of others out strolling. April noticed the cowboy hats amusingly. Lots of guys were wearing them and some of the girls too.

“We should walk back along the other side,” she said to Jason after they had finished their meals.

The other side of the street was busier. They stopped in at one of the pubs and had a beer at the bar. There was country and western music as background and a small dance floor. Jason led April over and they swayed through a few slow songs. They were the only dancers but April didn’t care. She didn’t care about anything on this road trip. She could do whatever she wanted, and unlike with her real life, the man she was with could do whatever he wanted with her.

April never relinquished control, but this felt different. This guy was sure of himself. She sensed it in him, and it gave her confidence—the confidence to let go and not need control. Jason was not the boy she played with twenty years ago.

They had finished dancing and bought a six-pack of beers for their balcony. There were two seats but he pulled her onto his lap.

“This feels right to me, April… It feels real.”

“Oh yeah? I’m having trouble with real at the moment.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning life is complicated, but I can’t seem to get worried about that here.” April waved her beer at the silver swishing river. “This is a fairy tale come true.”

Jason nodded. “But it will have an end, right?”

She shrugged. “I don’t want to think about that.”

He nodded some more. He seemed to be thinking, maybe getting all serious. He suddenly smiled. “Okay—a fairy tale… I can deal with that.”

“You can?”

“Sure. I can do real, and I can do pretend.”

April blushed a little. It only worked—being this far over the line—if she didn’t analyse.

“I like that we’re not dealing with what comes next, Jason. I think I stopped worrying about that when we left The Cove. It’s way too complicated to think about and be this free at the same time.”

“I get that,” Jason assured instantly. “It’s not quite like that for me, but I appreciate how you feel… I didn’t have it clear in my mind a minute ago, but I get it now.”

April leaned against the guy, fiddling with his shirt and undoing a button. “Are you sure?”

His hand was resting above her knee. He stroked upward with his fingertips—up and slowly back. “Right now, I just want to keep screwing you every chance I get.”

April’s blush fired up. “Okay.”

Jason met her lips. “And kissing you.”

She nodded. “I like kisses.”

He grinned. “You’re frigging hot for a fairy tale princess.”

She giggled into his next kiss. Seriousness kindly faded away, and they laughed and chatted while drinking the six-pack. April claimed the first shower but was joined in there by her make-believe lover. She held his head while he was on his knees kissing and licking and sucking on her. She had to grip the glass shower screen when her orgasm hit and her legs gave way completely. She was then taken to bed and made love to, and she clung to Jason’s body while he screwed her for over an hour.

She ended up with her head resting upon his chest as he slept. She absently twirled his chest hair while thinking about leaving her husband and doing this for real—imagining what it would be like to be with Jason and start a new family.

She kissed his cheek. I’m a girl—I’m allowed to think about it…

 

Chapter 17

Jason opened the door to find a lady with their breakfast on a big tray. He took it. “Thank you.” April was finishing up in the bathroom. They were ready to see what was what in Cooper’s Crossing.

They set up at the small dining table. April brought coffees from the kitchenette. “So, what first, Sherlock?”

“It looks like the address for Petrov is out of town. I say we try the cops first.”

“It was only a small station. I hope the boss copper is friendlier than the last one.”

The police station was along a little from the motel. They had strolled past the previous night. After breakfast, they found what looked like an unattended counter until a young female officer came from a back room.

“Good morning,” she greeted with a natural smile.

“Hello. Who do we see about cold case murder mysteries?” Jason asked. He was feeling good.

The girl—she looked only about twenty—cocked an eyebrow. She pointed to herself with the index fingers of both hands. “That would be me.”

Jason produced his ID. “This is my partner, April Anderson. We’re on the trail of a man named Clive Petrov.”

“I’m Juliette—Officer Cole.” The girl opened a half door and ushered Jason and April into the room. There was a single desk where they sat across from her.

“Who’s in charge here?” Jason asked. She looked so young.

“Sergeant Hoffman is out all morning… Who is Clive Petrov? Who has hired you to search for him?”

Officer Cole opened a big notepad to a new page. She looked up with her pen ready.

“I’m investigating for the Barrett family of Everly Cove.”

Officer Cole wrote the names Barrett and Everly Cove. “And you, ma’am?”

“I’m one of the Barrett family,” April answered. “My uncle employed Mr Ford.”

“Thank you.” That was noted. “Now, you were saying, Mr Ford?”

“Um…” Jason swallowed. “Yeah—Clive Petrov… There have been human remains unearthed at a field in Everly Cove. They are a murder victim from 1985—a young female nurse Grace McKenna. April’s grandfather has served a life sentence for the murder. We believe Petrov to be the actual killer.”

More notes were jotted down. The young officer looked up. “What makes you think this Clive Petrov is the killer?”

“Are you sure there’s not a more senior officer we should be speaking with?” Jason asked. “I mean respectfully…”

“I’m it for now, sir… What about Petrov?”

April giggled. “Sorry,” she said to the officer. “You tell him!”

“Call me Juliette,” the girl replied. “Is he always this stuffy?”

“I think he’s used to being in charge,” April explained.

Juliette turned back to Jason. “Oh! Wait until you meet the sergeant.”

Jason frowned. They were both smiling at him. “Okay… Sorry… I’m just usually the one asking the questions.”

“You’ll get your turn. Me first,” Juliette said. “What makes you think Petrov did it?”

“We don’t have a lot to go on, but he was at the scene, and he was also at the scene of the disappearance of a young nurse in Moree a year later.”

Juliette glanced up from her notepad again. “What year was Moree, exactly?”

“1987”

“We have two from 1988—both nurses.”

“Oh my god,” April cried, her hand covering her mouth.

“Yes,” Juliette agreed. “This Clive Petrov was here, I gather?”

Jason nodded. “Yes, in ’88. We’ve got no information about him beyond ’88.”

“Do you have a local address or something?”

“Warburton Station.”

The young officer’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“Yes, really… What does that mean?” Jason asked.

“One of the victims was from Warburton Station.”

This kid was impressive. Jason was taken aback by her. “You seem to know a fair bit about this?”

She shrugged. “It’s a special interest. I like the old unsolved cases. I want to be a detective when I grow up,” she added with a half smirk.

April giggled again. Jason scratched his head.

“So, should we take a run out to Warburton?” Juliette asked, getting up and buckling on her utility belt.

Jason and April followed. They were taken to the back of the station and a big 4WD police wagon.

“So, the owners of Warburton have been here for a while?” Jason enquired.

“Since forever. It’s a family business—the Thompsons. Madeline Thompson is a girlfriend of mine. It’s her mother who was murdered, when Madeline was a young child. Her grandparents, Ron and Beth, are cool. They won’t mind us dropping by and asking a few questions. You mustn’t mention anything about suspecting Petrov of murder. The Thompsons may have an idea of where he went after leaving their employ if we’re lucky… Better leave it for my boss to bring up the idea of him possibly being the murderer of their daughter.”

“Got it,” Jason agreed. “How old are you, Juliette?”

The young officer glanced and checked with April in the back seat. “How rude!”

“I know… He used to be sweet once—years ago.”

Jason shook his head. “I just meant you seem so mature,” he mumbled. “Geez Louise.”

Both girls giggled.

“I’m 23,” Juliette announced. “Thanks. I like to be seen as mature.”

“And are you from here?” April asked. “I can’t imagine living all the way out here.”

“Tell me about it… I shout myself a flight to the city every now and then. But yes, I’m from here. My parents have a property out the other side of town. You would have driven past just before you got to the river coming in.”

“Do they breed Kangaroos?” Jason asked, straight-faced.

Juliette laughed. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”

The conversation meandered from all about Cooper’s Crossing to Everly Cove and Brisbane and Melbourne cities. Warburton Station was huge. They were driving on it for half an hour before reaching the homestead.

A party of people greeted their arrival. Juliette got hugs from everyone. She introduced Jason and April to the elderly owners of the property, Ronald and Bethany Thompson and their pretty, golden-haired granddaughter Madeline. Tea and cake were served on a broad, insect screened veranda.

“Sure, I remember him,” Ronald replied in answer to Jason’s question. “He was an arsehole.”

Bethany frowned.

“Well, he was,” Ronald went on.

“Language, Ron.”

“In what way?” Jason asked the old man.

Ronald coughed. It was deep—chesty. He opened a packet of cigarettes with shaking hands and lit up a smoke. He shouldn’t have been smoking, Jason thought.

“He wasn’t what he seemed with that Bible toting rot. He worked here for three months—as long as I could put up with him and his preaching. You could see in his eyes he was an evil bastard. No surprise you coppers are chasing after him… What did he do, anyway?”

“We’re not at liberty to say,” Juliette answered curtly. “Do you have the exact dates of his employment, Mr Thompson?”

“I’ll look it up,” the granddaughter, Madeline, said and went inside.

“Did the guy leave anything here by any chance, sir?” Jason asked.

The old man took a long pull on his cigarette. He shook his head. “He left nothing here. Nothing at all.”

“Oh… Well, where did he actually live? Can we see his old room?”

“It doesn’t exist anymore, son. I bulldozed it and built new stockman’s quarters some years ago.”

“Thank you, Mr Thompson.” Juliette glanced at Jason, giving him a look that told him to back off. “This has been very helpful… One final question—do you have any idea where this man might have gone after he left here?”

The old man took a moment before looking up with clear blue eyes. “No idea, Officer. Sorry.”

That statement struck Jason as a lie. The granddaughter returned and handed Juliette a folded piece of paper. Jason and April finished their tea and waited by the police wagon while Juliette chatted with her girlfriend.

“That was interesting,” April said.

“It was… The old man didn’t like Petrov much. He knows more than he’s saying too.”

April sat on the edge of a water trough. Jason looked around at the expanse of grey and green shrubbery that carpeted the red earth. There was a lawn surrounding the homestead but no other grass in sight. It was hard to imagine how they raised cattle. There were men working in a set of timber yards in the distance. Beyond the homestead was a grove of trees, and there were more buildings back there. Cows were mooing, a massive dust cloud slowly drifting away on the gentle breeze. Apart from the cows, there was a ringing silence, the sky perfectly blue and absolutely enormous.

“But it’s obvious this guy was a killer,” April went on. “Surely they will reopen the case now, and Granddad will be cleared.”

Jason sat beside April. “Wait until I get all of this to my boss. We’ll fax it from town. He’ll make sure the right people are informed. There’ll definitely be a new investigation.”

April smiled. She glanced away then back again. “Thank you, Jason… Thank you so much for this.”

“You’re welcome. And you helped… You’re a very cool PI slash navigator.”

“Uh oh!” Juliette cried, suddenly rounding the police wagon and catching the staring contest. “Are you two on together?”

“Yes,” April replied simply.

“Do you want another minute? I could go for a walk… Or you could sit together in back. I have handcuffs if you need them.”

They all laughed. Once in the vehicle, Jason got serious.

“So, the old guy didn’t say as much as he knew.”

“No, he didn’t,” Juliette agreed. “We have the dates and a general character assessment that fits, though. Except the murder of the Thompson woman occurred a month after Petrov was fired… I’m guessing Ronald Thompson at the very least suspects Petrov murdered his daughter, and possibly knows what became of him.”

“That could be why there’s no record of him existing afterwards,” Jason suggested.

“Could be, Mr PI. It could well be, which is why it was best we keep that from getting too heavy and leave it to the experts at extracting information. I’m sure the boss will bring in someone from the city.”

“So, you think there will be an investigation here?” April asked.

“Oh yes, there certainly will. This has been a very productive few hours. Thank you both for your help.”

“Is there a fax machine I can use back at the station?” Jason asked.

“Sure… Of course…”

***

April took another stroll around town while Jason finished up with the police. The sergeant was back and wanted to speak with him. It seemed to April that they had achieved what they had set out to do. No doubt the police had ways of digging a lot deeper than Jason could. She felt hopeful to the point of belief that her granddad would eventually be cleared of suspicion. It was obvious Petrov was the murderer.

That afternoon, April and Jason slept fully clothed and cuddled up together on the bed. They found the pub they had been to the night before had come to life. It was crowded with cowboys and cowgirls dancing to a very loud country and western band. It was perfect to celebrate the end of formalities with the investigation and to switch the mood to total fun and adventure.

They partied into the early hours and made love halfway drunk from too many beers and Cherry Kisses.

“Can you drive for a bit, please? My head’s killing me,” Jason asked pleadingly after breakfast.

There were still lots of Kangaroos mid-morning but nowhere near as many as there had been coming in at night. April enjoyed the first couple of hours of her drive, but the red dirt outback road kept on going and going, and she was happy to take her turn in the wound-back passenger seat with her eyes closed.

They made it back to civilisation and found a nice motel for the night. “I think we should go straight to the coast,” Jason was saying as April came from her shower. He had the map book open on the bed. “We could be in Brisbane tomorrow night, then two easy days to drive home. How does that sound?”

“I don’t want to go home,” April replied, straddling his bottom.

He was in boxer shorts and a tee-shirt, she wrapped in a towel. She massaged his shoulders.

He rolled over and sat up, keeping her upon his lap. She kissed him and peeled off his tee-shirt. Her towel unravelled. He lifted her and pulled down his shorts.

April took him inside, guiding him and lowering onto him slowly until she had him all the way in. She began moving, squirming back and forth as they continued kissing. “Still happy to keep screwing me?” she whispered into his ear…………..

Part 5 coming soon – full novel will be 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

Ever Since April: Part 3 of 5

april 3d
R-Rated 18+ Amazon Paperback

Chapter 12

Jason lay staring at the ceiling. This was another man’s house. He would be moving back to the B&B tomorrow. He was the one in the wrong here, taking advantage of April—her vulnerability.

That’s not good enough!

He had a job to do. He should have been doing it that evening and checking out the old van.

He was essentially angry with himself, but still the taste of April’s lips filled his mind as sleep overpowered him. During the night he woke several times to the sound of rain lashing the window. The morning was heavily overcast and grey, squalls of lighter rain sweeping over the house intermittently.

April had on old faded jeans and a loose fitting sweater. She still looked damn good. Jason reprimanded himself for the tenth time since she got up and came into the kitchen smiling but refusing to look at him for the most part.

“I think I should move back to the B&B,” Jason said, sipping the coffee April had topped up for him.

She nodded. “Probably a good idea. I think I might be moving out before long myself, but that’s got nothing to do with…” She ended that announcement with an awkward shrug. “This was Eric’s house before we got together.”

“So, it’s that bad between you guys?” It was none of Jason’s business. Worse—he shouldn’t have been interfering.

“We just don’t have anything in common anymore. We are at completely different stages in our lives… We were just talking about it on the phone this morning. He feels the same way. He wants to start travelling more—seeing the world. It’s perfectly reasonable, but I want something different.”

That made good sense. April, in her faded jeans, was suddenly the girl next door again. Jason’s romantic notions about her were replaced, seeing her simply as a friend. “I know what you mean. This is a weird age. I’ve been feeling on edge about something for a couple of years and haven’t been able to work out what it is. It’s like the last chance is here. In ten years’ time I’m going to be staring down the barrel at fifty, and it’s out to pasture from there.”

April laughed. “Oh, it is not!”

“But you start going grey. You get a seniors card.”

“But that’s ages away. We’re only mid-thirties… And fifty is not old.”

“It’s too old for what I have in mind.”

“Which is?”

“Nothing,” Jason lied. It wouldn’t be appropriate to say he had children of his own in mind. He wanted to say that. He had hinted at it because he wanted April to know. She had almost hinted as much herself, hadn’t she?

She was blushing. She had always been quick to pick up on things. He met her eyes and confessed with a blush of his own.

“It’s no big deal or anything. I just wouldn’t mind one I could keep—maybe share my name with.”

She nodded acknowledgment. “That makes sense.”

He huffed. “But whinging about getting older isn’t doing anything to help clear Granddad’s name, is it? I think we should brave the rain and go check out this old van.”

“I agree. But Brent just called and said he can take us to the grave site this morning—except, I don’t want to go. I was close enough the other day at the sports carnival, and that was plenty creepy.”

“Oh okay—that’s fine. Did he say what time?”

“Now. He’s coming right over.” A car pulled into the driveway as April spoke. “That will be him.”

“Okay—back soon,” Jason said, rinsing his coffee cup.

April sent him off with a cute little four-finger wave he remembered from school. He held her gaze, looking back over his shoulder from the kitchen door. He just wanted to grab her and kiss her. He tore himself away and met Brent at the front door.

“Do you have a rain coat?” the young cop asked. “You’ll need one.”

Jason had a slicker in the Land Cruiser. He got wet getting it and pulling it on. Brent was in a police 4WD. A lightning bolt and clap of thunder struck almost simultaneously as Jason jumped into the passenger seat and slammed the door.

“Shit!”

Brent chuckled. “Close, huh?”

They crawled along the street—water gushing across and filling the gutters, Brent hunched over the steering wheel trying to see through the windscreen—the wipers on full speed but unable to keep up with the teaming rain.

They pulled into the car park of the soccer field, quite close to the sectioned-off grave site. Brent turned off the motor. “Give this a minute until it settles down?”

“Yeah, it’s lightening up now.” Jason had gotten to know the young policeman a little playing pool the previous night. He was a shy type but seemed like a good guy. “So, when are you going to ask Mandy, dude? Better hurry up before she asks you.”

Brent grinned. “I know… I’ve been saving for the ring.”

“Yeah? That’s great… You guys look good together.”

“Thanks. So do you and April… You used to go to school here together, Mandy was saying.”

“I used to live in the green house over there. Not for long, though. My old man got transferred back to Melbourne soon after April moved in—which sucked. Just got my hands on her and got taken away…”

“Unlucky! But a second chance, huh?”

“I don’t know, man. She’s married… Probably should respect that and keep my distance.”

“Yeah, probably,” the younger man agreed with a shrug. “Good luck with that.”

“With what?”

“Keeping your distance. Keeping any sort of control over April… Good luck with that, man. You’ve got less chance than I have.”

Jason laughed. “Yeah, I guess…”

Brent moved the conversation on. “So, this was all scrub twenty years ago, was it?”

“Yeah, we used to cut through here and cross the creek to get to the pool.” Jason motioned from the back gate of the school to the tree line of the creek in the distance. The Everly Cove Public Baths were on the far side of the creek, the seating stand visible through the trees.

“So, this car park wasn’t here… Do you remember what this area between the grave site and the road looked like? I can’t remember. I was pretty young when we moved away too.”

“There was a dirt track for cars through some scrub and prickly bushes. There were no tall trees. It was thick bush, though. We used to ride bikes down to the creek and along the bank on this side. It looks completely different with this field here. It’s amazing how they’ve cleaned it up.”

The rain eased to a drizzle. The two men approached the grave site, slipping under the chequered tape and braving the muddy ground around the excavated hole between the new and old amenities buildings. The hole had been dug longer and broader but was the shape of a grave and about waist depth. It was flooded with about six inches of water.

“It’s freaky to think of the poor girl lying dead here so close to the school and houses,” Jason commented. “Just lying here all these years with the world going on all around.”

“She was wearing a ring,” Brent said.

Jason looked at him.

“Like, a friendship ring—on her right ring finger. It was engraved—probably from some guy…”

Jason nodded. “Yeah, what a waste, eh? Her whole life stolen…” He looked around. “This isn’t very far from the car track that used to be here—just the other side of the old toilets there. Our walking track was further over. There was a sort of clearing around here, though… Whoever did this would have been able to drive in and be out of sight of the road easily enough.”

“She was lying on her back. Her head was here.” Brent said, indicating the end of the grave where they were standing.

“And not very deep, eh?”

“A couple of feet….”

Jason looked around again. “I’m going for a stroll.”

He traversed the perimeter fence of the soccer field and headed into the scrub beyond, where he found a walking track in the same place he remembered from his school years. It seemed kids still went this way to get to the pool. There was a small timber slatted bridge over the creek. Underneath lay the wreck of a car, rusted and adorned with graffiti. The creek was a series of ponds with a strong current of water winding through. It had always been perennial—the stormy morning responsible for the flow.

Jason was fifteen again as he stood on the bridge watching the swirling water. From there, town looked the same as it had back when his world was simple—when the biggest worry he had was whether or not he could get another kiss from April.

So, what’s changed?

He returned to find Brent fixing the chequered tape around the grave site and adding a new strand. “We all good?”

“Yeah. It looks the same down at the creek. Hasn’t changed at all… This spot would have been quite secluded from the walking trail too, with all this scrub.”

The rain started up again. They hurried to the police vehicle, and Brent dropped Jason off with a wave and promise to catch up for another beer and game of pool sometime soon.

April was in the kitchen washing dishes. Jason nearly cuddled her from behind but stopped short, just touching her hips and peering over her shoulder. “I need more coffee.”

“You’re drenched.”

“I know. It’s pouring down out there.”

“Alright—give me a minute.” April left him and came back from the laundry shortly after in a cute little raincoat with a hood.

Jason gave her a smile. “What kind of sleuth wears a red raincoat?”

“This kind, Sherlock.” She took his cup after he guzzled the last of his coffee down. “Come on, then,” she said, pushing him out of the kitchen.

They hurried to the Land Cruiser parked in the driveway, the rain still pelting down. It was only a short drive around to Granddad’s house. That particular downpour let up slightly. They had both worn leather hiking boots, which helped with the mud puddles everywhere.

“It’s a mess, isn’t it?” April commented about the end of the yard.

The concrete swimming pool they had played in as kids was a foot deep in mud and slush with tree branches and a big spool of rusty wire netting. There was a single timber garage with a dead tree leaning on the roof. The double doors in front were padlocked, a small wooden door at the back wedged open with a 44 gallon oil drum full of twisted star-posts. Jason peered through a grimy, cracked window to see Granddad’s old station wagon parked in the garage. It was covered in bird droppings and caked in a thick layer of dust. Twenty years ago there had been a mown section of lawn around the swimming pool. That had grown wild with dry stems of grass and weeds a metre tall lying over, soaked in the rain of the day. The little old round-topped caravan was obscured behind a collapsed corrugated iron awning, beneath which a colony of spiders seemed to be quite happily residing.

Jason cleared some of the webbing with a stick so he could get at the caravan. The small press-button handle wouldn’t budge, so he used the crowbar he had brought with him and wedged it in to jimmy the door open. It creaked and popped, squealing as it swung back on rusted hinges.

The air inside the dark little metal box was cool and heavy with the musty waft of the years. Jason climbed in. April gripped the sleeve of his slicker and stepped up into the van beside him. She covered her nose with her arm. “Yuck!”

There was an enamel plate in the sink with the petrified remains of a meal stuck to it. It looked like beans and sausages. There was a shrivelled grey rubbery substance that could have once been a fried egg.

The interior of the van consisted of a tiny sink and bench top, a single bunk bed, a fold-away table and a single wooden chair, a small closet with the door seemingly missing completely, and about enough vacant floor space for one person to move around comfortably or for two people to squeeze past one another. Upon the bench were a gas burner and an old fold-down toaster with a cooling rack on top. There were clothes hanging in the closet: two white shirts, a brown sports coat and a pair of grey woollen trousers, and a leather bag with white underwear folded neatly. There was a pair of black leather shoes beside the bed and another pair of long pants next to them on the floor.

April was looking in a cupboard under the sink. Jason picked up the trousers and found coins in one of the side pockets, a single key on a piece of string in the other, and a wallet in the back pocket. He opened the wallet to find a folded page that was a printed driver’s licence for Clive Petrov, dated to expire January, 1989. There were several notes of old paper currency totalling nine dollars. There were more folded pieces of paper in a clipped compartment, along with a silver chain and tiny crucifix.

“Is this him?” April asked. She had a page from a newspaper. It was a photograph of a group of hippies in front of a sandstone building with the words Vale Court visible on the wall behind them. “Goran Vale,” April said, reading the top corner of the page. “September fifteenth, nineteen sixty-nine.”

“Some sort of protest rally,” Jason added, browsing the news article below the picture. “Yeah, I think that’s him,” he agreed about the figure on the extreme left of the happy looking group. He had long hair and a headband, but no doubt it was the man they had known as The Pastor. “We’d better take that.”

April pulled the grey blanket and white sheet back from the bed to reveal a black stain.

“That looks like blood,” Jason said. “Don’t touch it, okay?”

“Eww! Don’t worry—I won’t be touching it.”

Jason checked the other papers from the wallet. There was a receipt for a motel room rental in Dubbo from 1987 and a grocery shopping list scribbled untidily in pencil.

“There’s his Bible,” April said.

It was under the corner of the mattress. She took it out and opened it where an envelope protruded. There appeared nothing significant about the open page, as far as Jason could see—no hand writing or any kind of markings. April found two photographs of young women in the envelope. She looked to Jason. He shrugged.

“I’ll send them to my boss—see if they turn up anything.”

He leaned over the bed for a closer look at black marks on the wall. “That looks like blood too—splattered blood, in fact.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning someone might have been belted with something here in this bed lots of years ago.” He checked the floor and saw more black marks there, smeared as if the victim of a beating had been dragged to the door. “See there? That’s blood too… I’d say this here is a crime scene, April.”

“Should we tell someone?”

“Yes, we’ll tell Sergeant Harris. He should check it out at least.”

“What about this stuff?” she asked.

“We’ll take copies then hand them over when we tell him. Do you have a photocopier at home?”

April owned an all-in-one printer. They ran to the Cruiser and returned to her house. Jason faxed the photos to Baine, and April printed copies of them and the newspaper. They found the sergeant on duty at the police station.

“Yes, we’ll have a look,” he agreed.

“Will you let me know if you find anything interesting, please?” Jason asked.

“If I can,” the sergeant returned sincerely enough.

They jumped back into the Cruiser, slamming the doors on the rain teaming down again.

“What now, Sherlock?”

“Well, Marcy said not to expect anything about Petrov until this afternoon. I was thinking we should go and see Mrs Mulvane. He used to work for the Mulvanes, so maybe she remembers him.”

“Ooh the widow… She’s scary.”

“Why? You big chicken.”

“But she became all strange and mysterious after her husband was murdered… Hey, maybe The Pastor killed him too.”

Jason drove toward the main street. The gates to the Mulvane mansion were at the base of the southern headland, the far end of town from where they were.

“I thought the story around town was that the widow and her lover killed the husband?”

“Yeah, but that just makes her even more scary. What if she kills us too?”

Jason chuckled, joining in with April. He had heard the legend of the widow Mulvane. Her husband was apparently killed by an intruder in their mansion back in 1986. The case remained open, the last Jason had heard when he was on the force.

“Clair knows her,” April was saying. “Her grandparents used to live in the abandoned house next door, and she used to visit when she was a child. She gets on well with her—visits all the time… Mandy works here housekeeping and minding the daughter, who’s been locked up for years and never leaves the house.”

“Well, how scary can an old lady and her daughter be? Though these gates are scary enough. We used to dare each other to come up here and press the intercom when we were kids?”

“No way I’d come up here,” April declared. “No frigging way!”

Jason pressed the button and held it in to talk. “Hello! Mrs Mulvane, please?”

A soft voice replied immediately. “Yes?” The audio was crackly.

“Jason Ford from Baine Investigations of Melbourne—may I speak with you for a moment, ma’am?”

There was a short period of silence then a loud clunk and the big wrought iron, spike-topped gates swung slowly back.

“Okay—that was easy,” April muttered, peering at the huge sandstone house as they rolled up the driveway. The rain still poured steadily. Mrs Mulvane stood waiting on her veranda with her arms folded against the cold. She was a woman of fifty or so with long dark hair greying a little.

Jason and April hurried up the steps to the shelter of the veranda awning. It was a broad timber deck with a cushioned steel outdoor setting in a vined alcove at one end, sheltered from the wind. After Jason showed the woman his credentials, she offered them a seat. A younger woman appeared backing from the front door of the house with a tray of tea cups and a steaming pot. There were slices of what looked like carrot cake. Jason ogled them as the tray was placed on the table. The three women were saying hello and talking between themselves. They all knew of each other, although it seemed the daughter of the widow was only actually meeting April for the first time. Jason had read reports of the girl’s reclusion during the years following her father’s murder. He had subscribed to the local Everly Cove paper and kept up with events in his old home town until he forgot to renew one year and lost interest.

“That’s what we’re investigating,” Jason managed to squeeze into the conversation when the human remains at the soccer field were mentioned. “You are probably aware April’s grandfather was convicted of the murder… We’re hoping to disprove that finding.”

“I never believed Lester was guilty,” Susan stated simply.

Mrs Mulvane had asked to be called Susan. She wasn’t scary in the slightest. She seemed a kind-hearted, down to earth type. If she had been in years of reclusion with her daughter, they were both making up for it.

Jason got another word in. “Do you remember a man named Clive Petrov? He used to call himself The Pastor.”

“Oh yes, I remember The Pastor,” Susan replied. She offered Jason a second slice of carrot cake. Her daughter topped up his tea. She hadn’t spoken a word to him yet, but she was blushing and grinning like she wanted to.

“Thank you, Nell… Did you bake this?” He motioned with the cake, ready to take a bite.

“Yes.” Her blush fired up.

“It’s good.” Jason took that bite and rolled his eyes in mock ecstasy—only slightly exaggerating. The cake was damn good.

“I just remember the guy always reading his Bible,” Susan went on. “He worked for my husband at the fish market for a while. I don’t remember ever actually meeting him.”

“I see… What about employment records? Would you have them dating back that far?”

“Oh yes, I’m sure we would… Not me personally. I don’t have any day to day involvement in the business. You could speak with John Phillips, though. He manages the market.”

Jason wrote down the name John Phillips in his notebook. Nell was craning her neck to see. He showed her. “I can call to ask if he’s busy,” she offered.

“Thank you.”

She checked that was okay with her mother and hurried inside.

Jason met her smile back over her shoulder as she disappeared. “Why don’t you believe Lester Barrett is guilty, Susan?”

“Because he was a nice man. A long time before that, he once did something for me that you don’t do unless your heart is in the right place.”

“Which was?” April asked with interest. “What did Granddad do?”

“I was just married, about twenty-three at the time. There was an incident at the market late one night. My husband was angry and taking it out on me. He had me by the hair, pulling me along. Lester was the only other person around, and he stood up to my husband. He tried to protect me and got punched for his efforts. He was small and thin, and my husband was a big bully… For the next few years, before Lester was sent to prison, he always asked how I was—the only person who knew anything of what I was going through back then. He was a kind-hearted man. He didn’t kill Grace McKenna.”

April was tearing up.

“Did you know Grace McKenna?” Jason asked.

“I kind of knew her mother because she was friends with my mother.”

“What was her mother’s name, please?”

“Elizabeth Farrell.”

Jason wrote that down. The name twigged. “Not Liz Farrell—the politician?”

“Yes, she was local council back then. She moved to Canberra when she was elected as our federal member of parliament… That would have been in the early seventies. I was in high school. I remember Grace as a primary school girl. She would have been about twelve, I think. She came back to live in her grandparents’ house when she got the job at the hospital. She was just finished her nursing degree. She was here for a year or so before she went missing one night after work.”

“She lived there alone?” Jason checked.

“Yes, she was there alone… There was a boyfriend away with the army. Ashley Morrison. He was a local boy—very nice. He wouldn’t fish with his father. He used to restore classic cars, and went on to race them, I believe.”

Nell returned from inside. “John is in his office. He said he has a meeting in half an hour.”

Jason finished jotting down all that Susan had said. He gulped his tea. “That was really delicious, he said to both women. Thank you so much for your time, Susan.”

“Come and visit again?” Nell asked.

“Of course,” April replied, squeezing her hands. “You can come to work with me and teach me how to bake that cake.”

Nell smiled huge. “I’d like to see your work.”

“That would be so wonderful,” Susan added.

Jason left the women and waited in the Cruiser. April joined him, glowing. “Oh my gosh, I just met the widow! She’s so cool.”

“They seem really nice.”

“They are. I wonder why they locked themselves up all those years—and why come out now?”

“I don’t think it has anything to do with what we’re investigating. Susan just remembers The Pastor like we do—a weird but peaceful enough character.”

“It was interesting, what she said about Granddad. That was him alright. She knew him!”

“Yep. Stepping up to try and protect her could have been anything, but to continually ask after her… She knows as well as you do your granddad’s innocent.”

April placed her hand within Jason’s and squeezed his fingers. “And so do you now, huh?”

“Yes, I do.”

He squeezed her hand back and held it until he parked in front of the fish market. They exchanged a glance as their hands parted. April was biting a lip and smiling with her eyes.

Behave yourself, Jason.

The market was crawling with plastic booted and aproned men and women. The office was on a mezzanine floor up a narrow metal staircase. They were met by a husky fellow with a weathered face and a shock of blond/grey hair. Jason accepted his powerful handshake. He beamed at April.

“Hello, April. Now, aren’t you a Godsend?”

“Me?” April was blushing as her two hands were squeezed by the big man.

“I just had a call from Nell. You’ve offered to take her for work experience—wonderful of you!”

“Oh that? That’s nothing. There are some nice ladies on my staff. I know she’s very shy about venturing away from the house. She’ll be taken care of.”

April got hugged. The guy was tearing up.

“Well, what can I do for you? Name it,” he declared, motioning to seats and sitting on his desk.

Jason produced his ID. “We’re investigating the murder of the young nurse Grace McKenna, attempting to clear the name of April’s grandfather. We have a lead regarding a man apparently employed here around the mid-eighties—a man named Clive Petrov. We’re wondering if you would have employee records? Any information about him at all?”

“Let’s see, huh?” The guy opened the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet and, after a moment, extracted a dog-eared yellow folder. He opened it. “There’s not much here: a basic work history, an address and home phone number, his original job application and a note about his voluntary termination, wage payment records.”

He handed Jason the folder. “Next of kin—Olga Petrov. 26 High Street, Goran Vale. New South Wales… Looks like we’re going for a drive.”

“Goran Vale’s just south of Sydney. It’s not far,” the fish market manager informed.

Jason nodded. April was peering over his shoulder—her hair smelling nice. He shook that off and focused on what he was reading. It seemed Clive Petrov had picked fruit in the Riverina and worked at several mines in that area during the 1970s, and had worked on a farm near Perth on the west coast of the country in the early 1960s. It appeared he had been unemployed for long stretches of time.

“So, he finished up here in 1984… I remember he worked for Mr Andrews fixing boats after that,” Jason stated, glancing up. “Do you recall seeing him around after 1985, John?”

“No, I vaguely remember him as The Pastor. I was away in the Navy when he worked here. I remember him working for Andrews. I think he left town but came back once or twice.”

“Yes, he did,” April confirmed. “I remember him at his caravan, but that was way back then as well.”

“Yes, I’ve not seen him around since maybe 1987 or 88,” John agreed.

A man appeared in the office doorway. “You ready, John?”

“I’ll be there in a minute… I have a meeting about to begin. You can hold onto the file.”

“Do you mind if we use your photocopy machine there?” Jason asked.

“Fine. Help yourself… And thank you so much, once again, April.”

April got a big hug. Jason accepted another iron-grip handshake. They made copies of the pages from the file and returned to the Land Cruiser in driving rain. They had left their raincoats in the car.

April’s knitted sweater was soaked and clinging to her. Jason noticed her nipples. He couldn’t help it. He swallowed hard and, as he drove, tried to keep his eyes up and ahead. She raked back her hair with both arms lifted, and he weakened and took a good long look, his face heating guiltily as her eyes flashed upon him and her sweet lips curved upward slightly.

Jason was busted. He figured it best to come clean. “That’s a good sweater,” he said, grinning himself. “Did you knit that?”

She pushed his shoulder.

“Sorry,” he said.

“That’s alright—I like your shirt too,” she tossed back at him. “Especially wet like that.”

Jason had another look, meeting her eyes first then taking a tour down slowly and back up again. She plucked at the waistband of her sweater, glancing down then meeting his eyes forthrightly.

“I remember like it was yesterday when you put my hand on your boob,” he said, smiling.

April stifled a giggle and looked away. “As if you were ever going to make a move if I didn’t.”

Jason’s sense of decorum abandoned him and he reached across and gave her left breast a quick squeeze. She slapped his wrist and glared, eyes and mouth open wide in mock horror. He just watched the road and kept smiling. He refused to turn back to face her. She ended up shaking her head and saying nothing.

He pulled into her driveway and turned off the car. They sat quietly for a moment. He noticed that she hadn’t turned to look at him again. He turned his head and she did too—their eyes locking. He wanted to kiss her. He glanced at her lips. She continued gazing steadily at him.

“Are you sure you want to come on this road trip? I could keep in touch—let you know anything I find out.”

“I want to come,” she said softly and emphatically.

Jason nodded. “Good.”

She smiled a little.

He shook his head. “You’re dangerous.”

She opened his map book and turned a few pages. “Goran Vale,” she said, pointing to a tiny town in the mountains south of Sydney. “We should be able to make Canberra by tonight. It looks like about two hours from there.”

Jason’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He found an email from Marcy. “Looks like Petrov worked in Moree in 1986, Augathella Queensland in 1987, and later that year he worked at a cattle station in some place called Cooper’s Crossing.”

Moree and Augathella were commonly known locations a day or so north of Sydney. April looked up the index in the back of the road atlas then turned to a map, showing Jason a tiny dot on the edge of the Strzelecki Desert, a further days’ drive west.

“I could see if the boss will spring for a flight,” Jason suggested.

April just smiled. “Or we pack for a week.”

“Are you up for a week on the road?”

“Definitely! Let’s go.”

 

Chapter 13

April stripped off her sweater and hung it over the back of her dressing table chair to dry. She opened a big suitcase on her bed and set about packing for her adventure. It was an easy pack—comfy clothes for the drive and warm but sexy for the motel evenings.

I won’t be sleeping with him, so no need for lingerie.

She usually wore a sleep-tee to bed, and packed a bunch of those. She had several frumpy ankle-length skirts that would do for the long days sitting in the car. She packed more sweaters and tops that offered plenty of cleavage.

Doesn’t mean I can’t tease the guy.

She dressed in her favourite skirt and a tight fitting knitted top. Jason was packed and waiting in the kitchen.

He looked up from his phone. “I’ve got some info here about the old lady on the island… She’s from Perth and shared an address there until the late ‘60s with a group of folks known as the Daisy Meadow Commune. She has two children listed as missing from back then. She’s resided there on Lorton Island since 1969 according to her tax records, which are secure. Baine couldn’t get access to those, only to the registered address.”

“What does that mean? What about her children?”

“The tax thing means she’s not stupid. She’s gone to some trouble keeping her affairs secret, which is fine—nothing necessarily suspicious in that. The children are interesting. They were a boy and girl, 4 and 2 years of age. The case file is still open.”

“So, they were abducted?”

“Probably.”

“Hmm—and she wants us to find this Petrov guy.”

“Yeah—two and two—he was probably involved.”

The notion of a manhunt thrilled April. “Come on, then, let’s go find him.”

Jason yawned. “Can you drive an eight seater cow truck?”

“Easy!”

April took the keys. They loaded their luggage, and by the time they had reached the top of the rim overlooking Everly Cove, Jason was asleep. He slept through the first three hours of the journey, waking on dusk when April had pulled into a roadside café for some coffee. She had spent the whole time daydreaming and frequently looking across at him. He sat up rubbing his face and eyes. He was so damned cute with his ruffled hair, she thought.

“Hey, sleepy head.”

“Where are we?”

“Not far from my granddad’s prison. We can’t visit now, though, it’s outside of hours.”

“Okay. We’ll talk to him as soon as we get back. He’ll probably be out by then.”

“Sure! Except the old bugger won’t talk about any of this, anyway.” April yawned and stretched. “It’s good coffee here.”

“Perfect.” Jason pulled out his wallet. “From here on, everything goes on account.”

“Oh good. Will we be staying five star in Canberra? I know a nice hotel.”

Jason chuckled. “Do you want me to get into trouble?” He touched April’s lower back to guide her through the screen door he held open for her, the feel of his warm hand setting a swarm of tingles a-rush.

April deliberately slowed so he would bump into her. His hand remained upon her waist. His other hand clutched as well, so that he held her hips. She was being a horrible tease, and she knew it as she peered back up at him, biting a lip. “What about four star?”

He didn’t answer that question but responded to her tease by cuddling her. His hands moved to her belly, and she claimed them, intertwining fingers. She tilted her head as he nuzzled. “I thought we were going to stop this,” he said, his deep whisper reverberating through her and making her press her bum back against him.

“I can’t help it,” she told him. It was true—she couldn’t.

He kissed her neck, and she took hold of his head with one hand, keeping her other hand pressed over his where they were still holding her stomach, his thumb stroking there. His warm lips upon her neck parted, softly sucking her skin with his tongue pressing. The magical sensation tingled through her chest and belly. She wanted to push his hands lower to meet up with where it was tickling her—to soothe the desire being created within.

They were alone in the shop, but a man and young boy entered and approached the counter, and a woman came from the kitchen in the back to serve them. April kept Jason’s hand and led him to the counter. She clutched it behind her back, squeezing it with both of hers and holding on as something strange and exciting continued to course through her. She ordered their coffee, speaking the necessary words, but her head was spinning, her mind kind of numb.

She didn’t let go of Jason’s hand. He opened his wallet on the counter and negotiated the credit card transaction with his left. She was still squeezing his right. She was plying his big fingers as he stroked with his thumb. She eventually had to let go a little to pick up her coffee cup, and ended up clinging to his arm as he led back out to where they were parked. He leaned against the car. She nestled against his side, claiming his hand again and intertwining her fingers once more.

“I don’t know what’s happening,” she said to him.

“There’s no need to know, April. You just feel however you want to feel. I’ll try to be respectful.”

Jason sipped his coffee.

“Respectful, huh?” April sipped hers too.

He nodded. “I was thinking about it when I was dozing off in the car. It doesn’t feel right being alone with another man’s wife. But it doesn’t feel entirely wrong either.” He met April’s eyes. His were tinged with sincerity but also with something that touched the sense of excitement she was feeling. “I’m going to try to refrain from kissing you too much,” he said.

“Oh? You’re going to try, are you?”

He nodded some more. “Yep—going to do my best.”

April smiled. “So, we’re going to have rules?”

He shrugged a little.

“Alright—I’ll try to refrain from kissing you too… That’s a good rule… What about cuddling?” She released his hand and slipped her arm around his waist. “Is this allowed?”

She had snuggled beneath his arm, which naturally ended up around her. He squeezed her boob.

“Hey!” she cried, giggling and squirming away from his big, naughty paw.

He was just grinning. “Oops.”

“Oops, my foot. That’s twice you’ve copped a feel, and I thought you were a nice guy.”

“Felt kinda nice to me,” he tossed back and took another sip of his coffee.

“Hmm—for me too,” she returned, snuggling back to his side.

Where they had stopped was at altitude. They were in the foothills of Alps, which were still capped with snow in early spring. A crisp breeze had April pulling her cardigan around tight as she huddled close to Jason, drinking her coffee. His naughty hand had come to rest upon her arm, holding her. She was suddenly a teenager again, Jason the boy from two houses down.

He took over the driving while she found herself dozing in the warmth of the car and the soft luxury of the leather seat. She woke to the feel of the vehicle stopping. Jason had found a motel on the outskirts of Canberra city. It was three star, new and clean. They checked into their rooms, agreeing to meet in half an hour at the motel restaurant for a meal.

April quickly showered, changed and dispensed with her husband over a short call, in which she failed to mention she was on a road-trip with a guy she was going to try not to kiss too often. She found Jason waiting at a table by a window. There were a dozen other motel guests seated in the small, brightly lit dining area.

“So, the boss just said he couldn’t find any record of Petrov ever applying for a passport, and the only police records seem to be protest demonstrations, over in Perth in the early ‘60s and in Goran Vale around 1970.”

“That wouldn’t be unusual for a killer, though, would it?” April suggested.

“No—I guess not. Nor would the Bible carrying… Maybe he knew he was evil and was trying to draw strength to stop himself.”

April ordered a light seafood meal. Jason put away a large steak and a couple of potatoes smothered in gravy. They chatted about their children.

“So, what exactly are we going to do tomorrow?” April asked as she was being left at her door.

“We’ll try the address of his next of kin and call in at the local police station.”

“Oh okay… Goodnight, Jason.”

He moved his hand, just softly touching her side. “Goodnight, April.”

April pulled on a sleep-tee and jumped into bed, cuddling herself with a big feather quilt. She was still simmering inside from the feel of the guy’s touch. She curled up in a little ball with her hands wedged between her thighs, smiling gleefully at her life all of a sudden.

Oh my god—this is so amazing!

 

Chapter 14

The road between Canberra and Sydney was a dual lane expressway. Jason opened the Land Cruiser up and had them at the turn-off to Goran Vale within a couple of hours. They drove through the historic township of Moss Vale, where the streets were lined with quaint little buildings and blossoming flower gardens. Twenty minutes later they rolled into a tiny township in a meandering valley of small farms. The GPS navigator had them turn at a clock tower in the middle of town and drive up into the side of a mountain. Their destination turned out to be a little timber cottage almost completely overgrown by trees and shrubs.

Jason and April stood together on a broad veranda waiting for a response to their knock at the door. Jason knocked a second time. He had heard a noise from within the cottage.

A curtain moved. A moment later the door cracked open and the face of an old woman appeared. “Yes?”

“Good morning, ma’am. We’re hoping to speak with Olga Petrov,” Jason announced cheerily.

“Yes…” The door opened a little more. The woman looked to April.

“Hello. Are you Olga?” April said, offering a smile.

“Yes, I am… What do you want?”

April edged in front of Jason and shuffled him back from the door. “Olga, we’re hoping you can help us. Do you know of a man named Clive Petrov—a member of your family?”

“That’s my brother’s name,” the woman said. There was a light of interest in her eyes.

“Would you know the current whereabouts of your brother, ma’am?”

The old woman eyed Jason as he spoke. Her jaw was set. She offered no response.

“Olga, your brother lived with my granddad years ago in a town called Everly Cove,” April went on. “Something happened, and we need to find him.”

“I haven’t heard from my brother in many years,” Olga Petrov replied softly. “He left here when he was very young. He returned for a short time then left again. I’ve not heard from him since.”

“Oh, I see,” April said.

She looked back at Jason and motioned for him to go for a walk or something. He stepped down from the veranda and waited out of sight of the old woman but close enough that he could hear what was being said.

“I don’t mean to bother you, but it’s very important… Can you tell me about your brother, please, Olga? Anything at all about him…”

It took a moment for the old woman to respond. Her voice was rich with sorrow as she spoke. “I believe my brother is dead. I’ve prayed for it—for the Lord to forgive him.”

“Forgive him for what?”

“For what he became… Clive was a weak child with the way of his father. He became an evil man.”

“I’m sorry,” April offered. “He hurt you—others?”

The woman didn’t verbalise a response to that.

“I’m sorry,” April said again.

“It was a long time ago… I hope he didn’t hurt you, miss.”

“No, he was nice to me. We fear he may have attacked another woman, though. A nurse was murdered 20 years ago. My granddad is in prison but he didn’t do it… Do you think your brother would have been capable of murder?”

“Yes, he would have. I’m sure he would have,” the old woman answered emphatically.

“But you believe he’s dead now. How do you know?”

“I can feel it… I’ve felt safe from him for a long time now.”

Jason strolled back up the garden path and waited in the car. He dozed in the warmth of the sun. It was another half an hour before April joined him.

“Hey, sleuth, what did you get?”

“Oh my god, you should see her rose garden out the back—all white—absolutely beautiful.”

“Yeah, the front here looks lovely too. Must be some gardener,” Jason suggested.

“She is, and she’s an amazing woman too. I think her brother abused her, probably her father did too. I’m only guessing, but that would make sense.”

“Yeah, I figured as much from what she said and the way she looked at me… Any clues to what became of Clive?”

“She knows less than we do. She hasn’t seen or heard of him since that protest rally thing here in the early ‘70s—way before he was in The Cove…. She said to ask her neighbour. He’s a local cop and has done some investigating into what become of him apparently.”

“Which neighbour?”

“We have to drive back around to the main road. It’s the cottage directly in front of this one. I saw the guy in his yard, but I thought it best to come and get you.”

Jason drove back down the hill to the clock tower and along to a small stone cottage overgrown with vines. There was an old black and grey dog sitting on the front step beating its tail. They gave him a pat while waiting.

The door opened. “Morning,” a tall, dark featured man greeted them.

“Hello, Ben McEwen?” Jason asked.

“Yep.”

“I’m Jason Ford.”

“April Anderson,” April announced with a smile.

“We were just talking with your neighbour Olga Petrov. She suggested we speak with you.” Jason produced his ID. “You’re a police officer?”

“Senior Constable… How can I help you? What do you want with Olga?”

A woman appeared cuddling up to the guy. She was a stunningly attractive brunette. Jason nodded in response to her smile. “We’re investigating a man named Clive Petrov, Olga’s brother. In 1985 there was a young woman murdered in our home town down south. April’s grandfather—” Jason included April by drawing her forward. “He has all but completed a life sentence for the murder, which we believe he is innocent of. Clive Petrov lived in a caravan in his backyard at the time. We suspect he was, in fact, the murderer. We have leads to several places he resided in the years following. We’re looking for any information we can find about him.”

“Oh my gosh,” the brunette woman exclaimed. “Hi, I’m Kate,” she said. “That’s terrible, about your grandfather.”

“Thanks. It’s been hard, but we just want to clear his name,” April replied.

“Of course… Come in,” the woman went on. “Sorry, we just got back from our honeymoon and the place is a mess.”

“Oh my god—that was your dress?” April cried. There was a white wedding gown adorning a headless mannequin.

The man, Ben, rolled eyes toward the kitchen where Jason joined him at a table. “Coffee?” he offered. There was a pot brewed, the aroma filling the small room.

Jason took a sip from the cup he was poured, relishing the strong hit of caffeine. “So, do you know anything of this Petrov character, Ben?”

“I know a bit. I can’t help you with anything current, but I did some research and know quite a lot about him… He was basically a victim of child abuse. His stepfather was a cruel bastard who beat him and taught him to abuse women. I think he was made to participate in sexually abusing his sister, Olga. I’m assuming he didn’t do it willingly. I don’t know that… There was another brother involved—a half-brother to Petrov—who went on to become a serial rapist and killer.”

“Hell… Really?”

“Yeah. James Ray. He abducted 6 girls from around here and over the coast around the mid-80s.”

The women came in from the lounge room. They sat with their coffees.

Kate sliced fruit cake. “That half-brother, James Ray, was a monster. He got what he deserved,” she declared.

“What happened to him?” April asked.

“He was attacked by a man who he forced to be involved, and he ended up with serious brain damage. Then, years later, when it was found out what he had done, the old police sergeant here shot him dead.”

Jason looked up from writing in his notebook. “Any chance Clive Petrov was involved in those murders—with his half-brother?”

Everyone looked to Ben. He scratched his chin. “Good question… It’s not something that was canvased during the investigation. There’s nothing in the evidence to suggest Petrov was involved or even in the vicinity.”

“But who knows—maybe, eh?”

“It’s possible,” Ben agreed with a shrug.

Jason nodded—pen at the ready. “Anything else? What about when he was back here in the early ‘70s—anything from then?”

“He was involved in that religious sect thing back then, wasn’t he?” Kate confirmed with her husband.

“He apparently left here when he was about 20 years old and went across to Perth where he got involved with a hippie commune called Daisy Meadow.”

“Yes, I’ve got him working at a farm by that name in the early ‘60s,” Jason concurred.

“Yes, then he left and came back to the east coast where he started another commune on Lorton Island.”

“Oh wow! We were there the other day,” April exclaimed. “That must be those old people in the little houses,” she said to Jason.

“Yeah—it seems there is still some of those commune members on the island. They have a tiny community separate from this big flashy holiday resort.”

“Why were you there?” Ben asked.

“That’s where we got the name Petrov. There’s an old woman there who desperately wants to know what became of him. We think it’s to do with her children being abducted.”

Ben grunted. “Figures.”

“Yes, it does,” Kate agreed sombrely. “That’s when he came back here… He brought some of the members of that commune here, and they set up on a farm just out of town. But Petrov didn’t stay long apparently, and they all ended up committing suicide in some stupid religious pact or something.”

“And he wasn’t known to be involved in that?” Jason checked. “Did the group have a name?”

“No, he wasn’t… They called themselves The Trelor Sect,” Ben dictated as Jason wrote.

“And that’s about all we found out about the guy,” Kate added.

“Excellent. Thank you both very much,” Jason replied and took a bite of cake. “This is good.”

“Wedding reception left-overs,” Ben explained, taking a bite of his slice. “An old biddy down the street made it.”

Jason enjoyed the friendly chat over the next hour or so. The business of the moment was set aside, and what developed felt like two everyday couples meeting and getting to know one another. Jason found April’s hand under the table and held it while they talked about Goran Vale and Everly Cove—comparing and discussing which was the least modern and the most backward. Ben was from a farm out west, Kate a city girl. Goran Vale seemed to offer them a bit of country with access to the city only an hour away.

Kate returned the conversation to where it started when Jason and April were leaving. “Please come back and tell us everything you learn about Petrov?” she asked. “It’s very important to some friends of ours here in town.”

As Jason backed out of the driveway, the friendly couple waved, cuddling together in their doorway.

“Well, they were nice,” April said.

Jason glanced. He wanted to say how much he felt like a boyfriend right then. He glanced again. “You’re frigging hot,” he said.

April’s eyes rolled. She bit her smile, turning away. “I think I’ve got the hots!”

Jason laughed. “You can’t say that… No one says they’ve got the hots anymore.”

“I do… I’ve got them.”

April’s phone rang.

“Hi, Mandy.

“No, I skipped town.

“Bad things.

“Uh huh—very bad.

“Of course.” She glanced at Jason. “Who do you think?”

There was a pause before she added, kind of hiding behind her hair and speaking secretively this time, “No, not exactly… It’s worse than that. It’s what we were talking about the other day… I’ll tell you when I see you, okay?

“About the end of the week. I’m not sure…

“Okay, bye.”

Jason didn’t enquire. He just drove along quietly, winding around a bluff and back down to the expressway into Sydney. April seemed pensive as she gazed out the window. He left her with that. She tucked her legs up on the seat, her peasant skirt folding between them, and she touched his hand, gathering it to intertwine her long, thin fingers. Her hand was cold. He wormed his way in between her thighs, making her smile out her window while he enjoyed the feel of her through the thin cotton fabric, stroking occasionally with his thumb.

There were expressway conditions right through the sprawling city of Sydney. It took only an hour and a half to reach the northern extremity, and the dual lane highway continued through an hour of national park before there was a turn-off that took them onto the New England Highway and up into the Great Dividing Range. They picked up lunch while refuelling. It was already mid-afternoon, the mountain air cold.

April was about to get back in the car when Jason pulled her to him and took her into his arms. He bent to her and kissed her parted lips. He met her tongue with his, caressing softly and tasting before breaking off and releasing her. “Sorry—couldn’t resist,” he explained. “Been thinking about that all day.”

She just held his gaze steadily, nodding slightly in apparent agreement. He could have easily kissed her again. He didn’t, though. He closed her door and got into the driver’s seat. She sat with her hands clasped in her lap, looking ahead and smiling lightly.

“I don’t have strong will power,” he said.

“Hmm—apparently not,” she replied, still just looking forward, smiling a little bigger.

Another three hours of travel along a quite busy secondary highway brought them to a tiny provincial township with a motel light displaying a vacancy. It was a single level fibro building painted in gaudy lime-green. White painted rocks bordered the driveway.

“Maybe two stars?” Jason suggested. He had pulled up. They were both looking at the place.

“There’s plenty of cars—must be okay,” April said, yawning.

There were eight rooms and seven cars, in fact. The reception counter was attended by a buxom woman with a friendly, round face and big glasses.

“One room will be fine,” April said to her. Jason had just asked for two.

Jason looked to her. “Are you sure? We could drive a bit further.”

“You won’t get anything in Gunnedah. You usually need to book in Narrabri,” the little woman informed. “I have a fold-up cot here you could use.”

“Okay—thank you,” Jason replied.

April claimed the key and left him to sign in and bring the cot. The little round woman wheeled it from her room beyond the reception area. It was a light-weight sprung frame with a thin foam mattress. It would do.

He found April lugging her suitcase into room 6—a simple rectangular shaped space with a double bed, a bench and two chairs with a bar fridge and small television, and a white-tiled bathroom sectioned off at the end.

“It smells clean,” April commented.

Jason shrugged. “Looks fine to me.” He unfolded his bed under the single window. “Do you want first shower? I’ll go across to the servo and see if they’ve got some burgers or something.”

“I’ll shower later… A burger sounds good… I need to call my daughter, and I’d better check in with Eric. He’s probably trying to call me at home.”

Jason tossed his bag on his bed and went across to a small service station with a neon hot food sign alight on the roof. He waited for the burgers, pondering the fact April was probably talking to her husband right then.

Jason had put the inconvenient fact of April being married aside and convinced himself a certain level of contact was okay. As long as he didn’t go beyond some playful touching and friendly chat, he was only picking up where he left off twenty years ago. He had ridiculously justified it to himself as harmless fun, even if there was a bit of kissing.

Deeper down, he didn’t want to ruin a marriage. He had known April since before she met her husband, though, and he had further justified that their relationship was somehow immune to the normal rules of fidelity and proprietary.

The whole idea seemed less than solid while out of sight of the woman. He found her sitting back on the bed texting, all smiles. His doubts and reservations vanished.

They ate their burgers. Jason showered first and got into the small bed April had made up for him. She took ages in her shower. He couldn’t resist watching her get into her bed. She had on a big tee-shirt, her slender legs bare, white panties flashing. She turned off the lamp attached to the bedhead.

“Goodnight, April.”

“Night, Jason.”

Jason lay staring at the ceiling for a long while. April was continually turning one way and the other.

“Are you okay up there?”

“This bed’s weird,” she said, huffing. “The sheet’s too stiff and the blanket’s too heavy.”

Jason chuckled. “Baby bear’s bed is just right.”

“Well, how fair is that? I’m the girl. I’m supposed to get the good bed.”

“We can swap if you want.”

“No, thanks… I just can’t decide which side to sleep on.”

“Sleep in the middle.”

April huffed again. “Do you want to come up here?”

Jason’s entire body tingled. He took too long to answer.

“Bring your pillows. We can put them in the middle.”

“Okay,” he said, immediately this time.

He got up and approached the bed. April scooted across to the far side and pulled back the covers. She took his pillows, placing them lengthways in the middle. He could see her gleeful smile as he got into his side and pulled up the covers.

“That’s better already,” she said, padding the blankets down either side of her body.

Jason could smell her hair on his pillow. He remained on his side, facing the middle of the bed. He was sporting an erection.

“I still think it’s just learned behaviour and a bit of family susceptibility,” he started, wishing to change the subject on his mind. They had been discussing the two half-brother, possible killers earlier. “If you went back another generation, there’s probably something in their father’s upbringing that started it all.”

“Yeah, but where does it start? Does it start with the father, or the grandfather, or another generation back, or with other influences? How come Petrov and the other brother can be evil while the sister is just a victim? Why isn’t she evil too? She seems really nice.”

“Well, I suppose it comes back to personality traits,” Jason mused. “Some kids are more susceptible. You often see siblings grow up to be totally different kinds of people, I guess.”

April rolled over, facing away from the middle. “So, you’re saying I’m right?”

Her feet touched Jason’s leg. They were icy. He didn’t move away, rather, he crossed his other leg to cover them.

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” he said, yawning.

“Hmm. You’ll get used to that… Night, Jason.”

“Night, icicle.”

“I know—but your feet are so warm.”

 

Chapter 15

April opened her eyes to sunlight and an unfamiliar wall. Her mind quickly caught up with reality as she rolled her eyes to look around. She was snug and warm, the air she was breathing rather cold. Jason was spooned behind cuddling her, his arm between her breasts, his hand resting in front of her shoulder with his thumb touching her neck. His knees were bent behind hers, and she could feel his quite prominent erection pressing against her lower back.

She measured breaths, afraid to move. Her tee-shirt was up around her middle, Jason’s arm inside it. Where his penis was pressing, her skin was bare. She wondered if it was inside his shorts. It felt like it may have been poking free of them.

Her hands were beneath her chin. She was cuddling his arm. His deep, steady breaths were caressing the back of her neck. She lifted her head to see the two pillows on the floor in front of her. It seemed she had removed them, but she didn’t remember doing so.

Her husband had been apologetic on the phone the previous night. He had confessed to being distant and neglectful in recent years and spoken of how he missed her and couldn’t wait to get home to her.

April had explained where she was and what she was doing, but had withheld any information about the man with her. She had basically lied and let Eric believe her to be travelling with someone her uncle knew and trusted. She had fostered the impression of Jason being a much older man.

She couldn’t see how she was going to slip out of bed while his arm was up her shirt. She closed her eyes, deciding to just enjoy the cuddle.

Shortly after dozing off to sleep again, April woke to the sound of a deep voice against her neck, “Oops.”

“Yes—oops,” she agreed. She still didn’t move.

“Um…”

“Yes—um is right,” she went on. “I believe our barrier has been compromised.”

“You could say that… You have warm feet now, though.”

“I do have warm feet.”

“Um—sorry about—um…”

April giggled. “Is it a compliment or just a usual morning one?”

Jason chuckled. “I think it’s been up all night.”

“Wow. It must be tired.”

“Not really.”

April giggled some more. “But that’s not even the biggest compromise… Well, not so much biggest—it’s not the trickiest.”

The penis pressing against her back flexed.

“Hey, you!” she scolded.

“Sorry… Um—what’s so tricky, exactly?”

“This is,” April explained, tapping his hand. “How did this get in here?”

“I can’t remember,” Jason answered innocently. “Naughty hand.”

“Hmm… Is it going to behave itself on the way out?”

Jason’s other arm was beneath April’s pillow. He extracted it and propped his head up to meet her eyes. She returned his smile.

“You’ve got warm boobs too,” he said.

“You have a hairy arm.”

He stroked her neck with his thumb. She looked at his lips, meeting them as he kissed her. He ground against her. She squirmed her bottom back against him. Their kiss deepened as his hand closed over her breast. She rolled onto her back, parting her legs as he moved on top of her. He cupped her head in his hands, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs. He kissed her again, deeply, searchingly. His erection split her as she ground against it. If not for her panties it would have been too late to talk about what was happening.

“What are we doing, April?”

“I don’t know… What comes naturally, I guess.”

“A hundred percent, but that’s no excuse, is it?”

“No, it’s not.” They continued kissing, breathlessly now. “It’s no excuse at all,” April confessed as she gathered Jason’s penis and guided it in through the edge of her underwear.

“Oh, April,” he groaned, gripping her head and surging with his hips.

She was ready. He entered her easily, and she clung to his taut body as he withdrew then plunged into her again. She buried her face against his neck. He held her there with one hand over the back of her head. His other hand gripped her bottom as he continued thrusting.

April’s orgasm hit quickly and hard. It thumped through her belly, with the man on top of her beyond any kind of control. He was driving and grinding against her, still gripping her head and clenching her bottom. He let out a loud groan and surged one last time, pressing deeply into her as his own passion climaxed.

Jason sought her face, kissing her mouth and her eyes. He got to stroking and playing with her hair. He had lifted his upper body, relieving her of his weight, but they remained coupled together—his penis still firm and moving inside of her, keeping her on the verge of another peak.

April couldn’t recall the last time she had been so aroused. She felt him firm even more. “Don’t stop,” she told him, breathing the words into his mouth.

He remained propped on his elbows, servicing her desire with a fluid, rolling motion of his pelvis. He kept it up steadily and drove her through her second orgasm. He then crushed her to his body and took what he needed, pounding into her wildly until her belly clenched again, and he pressed deeply into her once more and ejaculated.

The guy collapsed afterward. April held his head, stroking his hair.

“Oops,” he said into the pillow.

“No, not oops…”

“No?” he asked, lifting to meet her eyes.

She shook her head.

He stroked hair from her forehead. “Were we safe at least?”

April bit her lip. “Um…”

Jason’s expression didn’t change. He had moved to her side. His fingers trailed from her face to her neck and down to her breast. “Oops,” he said, grinning a little.

“Why—have you had partners?”

“Nope—just the one.”

“Me too,” April said.

“Yeah, so, disease safe—but what about other safe?”

“I should be.”

“Not on the pill or anything?”

April shook her head. “No need. Eric’s vasectomised.” She felt her face heat as she shared her next thought. “Plus I don’t care about that kind of oops, Jason.”

Jason’s face reddened too. “You don’t?”

She shook her head again. “No.”

He kissed her. “That’s bad… That’s a very naughty idea.”

“So?”

“So nothing, April Anderson. You’re not exactly discouraging me.”

“Good.” April kissed him back. “It’s only natural, right?”

“Perfectly natural,” Jason said, smiling broadly now……………

Part 4 coming soon – full novel will be 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

Ever Since April: Part 2 of 5

april 3d

Chapter 7

“Ahhh!” Mandy screamed in excitement, gripping both of April’s hands and jigging a little happy dance with her. Jason had just driven away to go and pack his things. Mandy turned April around to face the open door. “See that guy?”

“What guy?”

“The one who just drove away and will be back soon to stay with you while cheater what’s-his-face is away. That guy…”

“Yes. What about him?” April asked, playing along.

“Three things about him,” Mandy declared. “One: he once wrote you love letters… Two: he’s smoking hot, and don’t bother denying it… And three: he isn’t wearing a wedding ring.”

“But I’m wearing one, and he must have a girlfriend,” April replied, moping a little.

“Pft! Details… There was sparks flying! That guy is more like it. That’s what you need, April. You need a man who walks in and takes control like that. Plus with that dreamy smile and ruffled hair—one like that too.”

“I want to kiss him again,” April said. What, am I a frigging teenager? She was blushing like one, her belly doing flip-flops. “I can’t believe he said he would stay—no questions asked.”

Mandy had an arm around her, her head upon April’s shoulder. “This is all kinds of wonderful,” she said dreamily. “How perfect that your ex is overseas right now. If that’s not fate…”

“He’s not an ex, Mandy.”

“I know. But tell me he’s going to be?”

“It’s not that simple. You don’t just end things without even discussing it. Eric deserves better than that.”

Mandy sighed. “I guess… I suppose that’s something only you could know.”

“That’s right,” April said, smiling. She tickled Mandy’s ribs, making her squeal. “You naughty little matchmaker!” She had hold of her cousin, digging her fingers into her sides and rubbing her bones until she was curled up in a ball on the floor begging for no more. “Alright… Come and help me make up his room, then,” she said, pulling the girl to her feet. “I bet you anything he’s in a happy, long-term relationship, anyway.”

“Oh, no he’s not—judging by the way he was looking at you, he’s not,” Mandy said, and she ran squealing before April could grab her again.

They made up the spare room next to April’s own. Mandy had to leave. April waited at the dining table, watching out the window for the big gold car.  She had no idea what she was doing. Eric would freak if he knew she had invited a man to stay in their home, but she decided it was more information than he needed. The car pulled into the driveway. Jason had taken less than half an hour to return.

“Hi,” April said, holding the door open while he carried a big sports bag in. She led the way, wringing her hands. “Just through here.”

He didn’t seem interested in his room. He dropped his bag on the floor at the end of the bed and turned to meet April’s eyes. She was trying not to blush but her heart thumped. Mandy was right—he did have a nice smile and sexy ruffled hair. He also needed a shave and his eyes were intelligent. She remembered that from when they were kids. His eyes were the reason she liked him.

He shrugged. “Do we catch up first or go look at your granddad’s stuff?”

“Let’s catch up later.” April was wearing a wedding ring. There were photos around the house. She wasn’t overly keen to get into all of that. She wondered if Jason knew about Heather. She had received his love letters when she was pregnant and alone, and had not answered because she didn’t want him to know.

Jason opened the passenger door of his big car for April. She climbed in and got comfy pretty easily in the soft leather seat.

“We just have to pick up my eight kids and hitch on the cow trailer I parked out of town,” he said.

“That’s fine,” she tossed back instantly. “I like kids and cows.”

Jason chuckled. April smiled without meeting his glance.

“You can’t see a damn thing trying to drive these days with all these big buses everywhere. They’re so huge and you can’t see over or through them. Have to risk your life pulling out if one parks next to you.”

“I’ve got a Mazda 3. It’s the same size as your car,” he returned easily. “This belongs to my boss.”

He didn’t meet her glance that time. “Good,” she said. “Can I also tell you what I think about our government’s approach to addressing climate change, or maybe what I think of the Japanese whale hunting in the Antarctic?”

She really liked his smile.

“Maybe after we catch up,” he offered. “But I get to tell you all about my vintage model car collection… Did you know that’s a 1976 XB Falcon ute right there? It’s got the old 250 cubic inch engine—4.1 litre.”

“Oh really?” April asked, mocking excited interest. “And the transmission?”

“I’m guessing 3 speed column shift.”

“Hmm—and I’m guessing it pre-dates any pollution control equipment.”

“Afraid so…”

They had stopped in front of her grandfather’s house. April turned to address Jason, without the banter. “Sorry I screamed at you before. I’d just gotten off the phone with someone and was fired up.”

“It’s alright, April. I used to like that about you back in school—the way you never took any crap from anyone. I’m glad you haven’t changed.”

April nodded. “I’m glad you haven’t changed either, Jason.”

She got out of the car and waited for him. He was looking back across the road as he approached.

“That’s the house where Grace McKenna lived. It looks different.”

“Yes. The people who live there now did it up recently. They built on there in front and repainted. We should do something with Granddad’s house. It looks old now. The rest of the street is more modern.”

“How old do you think the area is, April? How long has your granddad lived here?”

“He built his house when he and Grandma got married. It was apparently a new subdivision in the ‘50s.” April opened the door to thick, stale air. “Yuck! Let’s open everything! What are we looking for, anyway?”

“We want to know why your granddad was so interested in that particular woman. We’re looking for anything to do with that. Photos are usually a good place to start.”

There were framed photos all over the walls. A lot were of boats and ocean views.

“Hey, that’s you,” Jason said, checking out a huge portrait above the mantle in the dining room. “I remember you,” he added, grinning back at April as she approached.

“I was fourteen there.”

“It’s black and white… They’re all black and white.”

“Yeah, Granddad never used colour. There was no such thing when he started, and he didn’t want to change—so he always said.”

“And this is where the girl was apparently killed.” Jason walked into the kitchen. It was a simple three bedroom suburban home. Built before open-plan, the rooms were all separate and small, the kitchen cramped. There were timber cupboards and a single stainless steel sink with an old fashioned brass tap that only supplied cold water, the floor an ugly green linoleum.

“Uncle had it professionally cleaned after the police were finished,” April explained. “It still creeps me out, but Granddad wants to come back here. He wouldn’t let us sell the place or even rent it out for him.”

They opened the kitchen window and the back door then worked their way through the house opening it up completely.

“I wonder if that was her bedroom there,” Jason mused, peering out the main bedroom window.

“Here’s a whole suitcase full of old photos,” April said. She knew of the big leather case under the bed. She had sifted through it plenty of times as a kid. She thumbed the latches, making them spring back with a familiar clack that would hurt if you got your finger in the way of it. She opened the warped lid to the smell of her childhood.

“That’s a lot of photos,” Jason suggested. “All black and white too.”

“Every one of them,” April said, picking one off the top of an elastic bound stack. “That was my grandmother. She looks nothing like Grace McKenna.”

“True. Not similar at all. How old was she when she died?”

“Twenty-seven… Sad, huh?”

“It is… And Granddad never remarried?”

“No. He never even dated that I know of. He just fished and drank. He always had men staying in these other rooms. Sometimes for the night, other times they’d live here for a while… The next bedroom window looks across at that house too.”

“No, I wasn’t thinking of Granddad perving on her through her bedroom window. I was thinking of her teasing him—flirting—flashing… A lonely old man being toyed with.”

“Oh… That’s possible,” April replied. Had she ever considered that? She couldn’t recall. “Would that explain spying on her over her fence?”

“Sure—if he was drunk.”

“Okay. But how would we prove that?”

“I don’t know about proving it to the police, but if it was the case, we could prove it to the town if we could find a photo with her posing for him. Would he often carry his camera around?”

“Yes. Often!” April declared. It was true—her granddad always had his camera handy. He would be distracted by a bird or a boat or something and start snapping shot after shot.

“Okay, so we’re looking for a picture of Grace McKenna posing or for one of a woman who looks like her. That’s two possible motives for Granddad’s fascination with her—so far.”

“So far?” April enquired. She loved that they were investigating like this. It was about time someone did. She noticed Jason had begun referring to her grandfather as simply Granddad. The notion of that was nice.

“Yes—so far,” Jason said. “We need to keep an open mind, but those two possibilities are a good start… I’m going to check out the spare bedrooms where those drifters used to stay.”

He left April with the photographs. There were thousands of them, all bound in stacks with a random assortment. She found some she recognised from her youth with others taken years before she was born. She remembered the photos used to be loose in the case. It was as if Granddad had just bought a box of elastic bands and bound them in stacks as he picked them up. By the time Jason returned, April had found a few with women in them who slightly resembled Grace McKenna.

“Anything?” Jason asked, leaning on the door frame.

“Nope. Not really… Are you getting hungry?”

He nodded. “I was just thinking that.”

“Feel like a meat pie?”

He nodded again. “Or two.”

“These are big.” April led the way. “Come on.”

“Should we lock the house?”

“No—it’s only down the street.”

They strolled side-by-side. April felt radiant.

“What’s the go with the neighbours?” Jason asked. “That’s the third one looking out a window at us.”

April chuckled. “Well, since you’re a strange man in town, it could be my teenage reputation as a slut coming to the fore. Or it could be that we just came from the house of the town murderer who will be released from prison soon—much to everyone’s dismay.”

The ‘slut’ reference had been overly blunt, April realised too late. Jason didn’t respond.

“Did you know I had a baby when I was sixteen?” she blurted. He said he liked me as I am.

“I didn’t know,” he replied quietly.

“Do you remember Michael?”

“Yeah. You guys were together.”

“He skipped town when I told him. I never saw or heard from him again.”

“Humph—figures.”

“It does… Heather, by the way. I never had a regret once she was born. She’s studying medicine in Melbourne now.”

Jason chuckled. “So, she got your brains.”

April laughed. “She’s smarter than me. She’d never fall for a Michael.”

“He matured early—had stubble and muscles. That’s all you teen girls wanted back then.”

“That’s true,” April admitted. “Shallow, huh?”

“Not at all. Us guys were all about short uniforms and boobs… And nothing has changed with the times. My boy Micky is only twelve but he’s started to notice girls. He’s already teasing his older sister.”

April blushed. “So—two children? Or was it eight?”

“Just two. But that’s complicated.” There was a pause. April waited for the guy to continue. “They are my children in as much as I have raised them and love them, but I’m actually a stepdad.”

“Makes no difference, Jason. I know plenty of patchwork families around town. Kids just need to be loved.”

“Yes, but I’ve just now become the ex-stepdad, which puts me under a different roof and feels weird. Plus there’s another guy, and that’s just complicated… Not that I’m stressed about him and her—just about how the kids are going to handle it.”

Jason had blurted all of that out, seemingly as reluctant as April felt about mentioning Eric. She didn’t have any worthwhile advice to offer. They had arrived at the bakery in the shopping centre. “These are good,” she said, indicating the meat pies behind the glass. “My shout… Coffee?”

“Flat white, no sugar, please?”

“Grab the table before someone else does,” April told Jason. It was difficult to get a spot there in the food court at lunchtime. She ordered and waited for the coffees. She needed to change the subject. Telling him about being married could wait. The fact he was just ending a relationship was interesting. She had no idea what she wanted to do with it, but it was an exciting piece of information.

No! Forget it, April. You’re not getting any rebound sex. He’s the one likely to be rebounding, and you’re not available.

April felt like she was entitled to be rebounding. She had argued with Eric on the phone that morning. She had done it deliberately because she felt like being angry with him after telling Mandy he had cheated that time. She couldn’t genuinely feel angry because it never hurt… She needed some form of passion in her day.

 

Chapter 8

Anastasia Fontaine finished weeding the begonias and moved on to the boxed pink and orange petunias she had bordering the length of the children’s playground. She was using her gardening fork to aerate the sandy soil after all the rain lately. The timber box the flowers were planted in afforded her a seat while she worked. At seventy-two years of age she couldn’t spend too long bent over anymore. She loved her garden, though, and the squeals of the children climbing, swinging and running around—like the rumble of the waves onto the beach beyond the playground—soothed her.

Anastasia had arrived on Lorton Island in the summer of 1969 after hitchhiking across Australia from the far west coast with her girlfriend Veronica Lehman. Veronica had remained in Sydney with the Trelor Sect members, and was killed in 1972. Anastasia had avoided the group and sought the small community on Lorton Island in an attempt to locate her children.

That was 40 years ago—her life now her garden and her shell trinkets. She made and sold the trinkets out of her home on the far side of the island. For a few hours each day, she tended her garden at the Lorton Island Resort. It was a full service four star holiday destination off the south-east coast of Australia. Her nephew worked in customer service. He sat down beside her. It wasn’t time for him to drive her home yet.

“These have come up bright after the rain, Aunty.”

“It’s the spring sun, Alec. Winter’s passed again.”

“Again? Yeah, I guess it does about this time every year, Aunty.” Alec had a cheeky grin. It was his natural disposition. He still looked like the teenage boy sent to the island ten years ago. He had been getting into drugs, and his mother, Anastasia’s niece, had hoped the change would straighten him out. He was a nice boy at heart, Anastasia found. He took good care of her, running her back and forth to the other side of the island since her legs were too weary to make the long walk these days.

“I was just thinking about all the winters I’ve been here on the island, Alec. I had a dream about Veronica Lehman last night—the young girl I came across the desert with back in the 1960s.”

Alec was poking the sand with a stick. “And I know why, Aunty. Like you always say about the spirits watching for us and that… I heard some news from the mainland today, about that nurse who was killed down in Everly Cove—the one you wanted to know about.”

“Grace McKenna?” Anastasia turned from her gardening to face her young nephew.

“Yep… They found her remains. She was buried at a soccer field.”

“And her killer?”

“Don’t know.” Alec was being called by his boss. He checked his watch. “That’s all I heard, Aunty. Back in half an hour, okay?”

Anastasia left her gardening and walked across the grass to the beach. She looked out at the expanse of ocean, in the direction of the mainland just beyond the horizon. It was an hour ferry ride across, then a two hour journey down the coast to Everly Cove. Anastasia had travelled there once, twenty years ago. She had read a name in a newspaper that made her skin crawl, but she had been compelled to go there—to do anything that might lead her to knowledge of what had happened to her children. She had lost her babies to the religious sect she had been involved with when she was young. The best information she had was that they were buried somewhere there on Lorton Island.

For the half hour until her nephew returned, she stood staring out at the ocean—at the past. Alec drove her in an open Jeep belonging to the resort. He was on his afternoon break, it being only a ten minute run over the forested hill in the centre of the small island. He dropped Anastasia at the top of a long trail down to her house on an old pier. The trail had been carved out of rock, with mossy steps that required her to cling to a handrail and negotiate sideways.

Sand Maxwell, her neighbour of forty years, was puffing his pipe on his veranda. Ethel James lifted her head and waved a hello. She was even more weathered and sun-browned than Anastasia, and perhaps ten years older, though she would never say. There were six small timber shacks amongst the trees, all housing aged residents who were the remnants of a peaceful nature group that dated back to the early 1960s and had links with the Daisy Meadow commune on the far west coast, where Anastasia had come from.

Anastasia’s house was open. She had no locks on her doors. She walked in through her shopfront to her rooms in back. She only had the one photograph of her children: Clay at four cuddling Summer, aged two. She picked up the picture from the mantle above the fireplace and wiped the glass window with her apron. A tear rolled down her cheek as she took a breath.

On the floor beside her blanketed lounge chair was a polished wooden box, which she opened as she sat down. She removed a folded baby blanket. It was yellow and blue, knitted by her own hands. She held it to her face and drew in the scent she believed it still held. She rested back, her hand dropping into the box, her gnarled old fingers clutching a scrolled sheet of paper tied with a pink satin ribbon. She placed the blanket on her lap and pulled the tie, opening the page to reveal two sets of footprints, one from each of her children, marked in pink and blue paint and taken from the day of each child’s first steps.

Anastasia’s head rocked back to rest against her pillow. Forty years of torment welled up within her as tears streamed down her deeply lined face. The image of a young man haunted her. He used to pass himself off as a man of God, but he was evil, she knew. His name: Clive Petrov.

 

Chapter 9

April held the screen door open while Jason lugged the heavy suitcase into the house. He placed it on the lounge room floor, laid it on its base and opened it. He guessed there would have been a couple of thousand photos. He again looked through the ones April had separated. She returned from the kitchen with a beer for each of them. She was sipping hers. He twisted the top off his and gulped thirstily. It was a warm spring afternoon.

“I don’t know about any of these,” Jason said. “Maybe this one. It looks a bit like her.”

“I know… I’ve only looked through these,” April replied, taking four packages from the edge of the case.

She started on another stack. Jason did also. He was sitting with his back against a recliner. April sat in front of the lounge with her bare legs swayed to one side. She had on denim shorts. Her legs were toned and tanned, her body slender and in good physical shape, he noticed. He had been noticing all day.

She held up another photograph.

“In the looks like pile,” he suggested.

“Here’s one from when they were building the new marina.” She held up another, passing it to Jason as he leaned across the case. It was difficult to date the photos. They were all printed on the same paper and had no markings on them. There had been a darkroom at the back of the house where Lester developed his own prints. It seemed he had taken all the photos between about 1950 and 1985, but the only way to distinguish the approximate year was to identify landmarks. The new marina was built between ‘84 and ‘86.

“Is that you?” Jason asked, flashing a photo of two girls walking along a pier.

“Yes, that’s me and my girlfriend Lainy. We would have been about 13, I guess.”

Jason looked from the photo to April. “What happened to your hair?”

“What? I was trying a new style.”

She tried to grab the photo. Jason held it away.

“Is that spiked?”

“No! That’s the wind.”

“It looks spiked. Was this at Halloween?”

She laughed. “What happened to your hair? Looks like you just woke up.”

Jason patted down his scruffy mane.

“Plus you need a shave,” she added, resuming her search through the photos.

Jason hadn’t shaved that morning and had a stubbly growth he was rubbing as he watched April’s face. She glanced and grinned subtly. He wondered what was going on right then and how long ago he had kissed those lips—been kissed by them… It was like he could still remember the taste of her.

She held up another photo. He squinted to focus from the metre distance. “That’s interesting. Is that her house?”

“Yes. It’s the laneway beside her fence, but she’s not posing. She’s looking over the other fence—possibly talking to someone.”

Jason crawled around for a closer look. It was definitely Grace McKenna. “Is there any more in that pile?”

They looked through the rest together but found no others. Jason remained there beside April. He noticed her legs swaying toward him now. She had shifted when he moved closer. He could smell the fragrance of her hair, the scent of her skin. They sorted through more stacks of photos, putting a few others in the looks like pile.

“Are you getting hungry?” April asked.

Jason nodded.

“I’m a lousy cook… Pizza do?”

“I love pizza.”

She smiled. “Another beer?”

“Yes, please.”

She tossed him the phone on the way to the kitchen. “Number three on speed dial. I like Hawaiian.”

“What’s the address?” he called out to her when she had disappeared. The phone was ringing.

“They get it off your number. Just tell them what we want,” she called back.

Jason ordered a Hawaiian and a meat lover’s. April handed him his fresh beer, and when he had twisted the cap off, she took it from him and gave him the other one. Their fingers brushed. He was lying propped on an elbow. She sat, extending her legs that time, with one scissored across the other. He put down the phone.

She was blushing slightly. She spoke without looking at him. “It doesn’t feel right to talk about Eric. Not with you.”

Jason took that in. Eric had not yet been mentioned, but there was a photo on the bureau across the room and April was wearing a wedding ring. “Your husband?” Jason asked quietly.

April nodded. “He’s in France, visiting his family.”

A rush of tingles attacked Jason, heating his neck and face. He suddenly didn’t care, though. “Seems there’s always another dude when I bump into you, April.”

Her mouth opened but she didn’t speak. She half smiled, shaking her head. Her eyes turned upon him. “I wish there wasn’t.”

Jason nodded, biting his grin. “Hmm—that’s um… That’s…” He couldn’t find a word to describe what that was.

“Too much information?” April asked.

He shook his head. “No…”

Her smile broadened. She almost said something but seemed to change her mind. “So, you and your wife were married how long?”

“We never married. We were together ten years.”

“And you’ve always been a private investigator? How did you get into that?”

“No, I was a cop for a while, then a security guard—which was boring as… Then I got into this through my boss, Jack Baine, who I worked with in the force. This is mostly pretty mundane work too, but occasionally something interesting pops up.”

“This is interesting?” April asked, sipping her beer.

“Very much so. If this was a police investigation I wouldn’t get anywhere near it. I’d be sitting on a speed trap or doing crowd control or something… How about you, April—what do you do for a living?”

“Pastry cook. I manage the Woolworths bakery at the centre.”

“Oh cool! Thought you said you couldn’t cook?”

“I can’t. Not regular food. Chinese is number four on speed dial, and I virtually have my own table at the Bar & Grill.”

“Yeah, I had a few beers and watched karaoke there last night.” Jason looked up deliberately. “Thanks for inviting me to stay, April. It was nice of you.”

Her blush fired up. “I wasn’t being nice. I don’t know what I was being.”

Jason again looked up from peeling his beer bottle label. “I had it pretty bad for you, you know?”

April nodded. “It was lovely—those few times together.”

“Did you really keep my letters?”

“They’re here somewhere. I’d have to search for them.”

Jason chuckled. “No! Please don’t!”

“Why? They were cute.”

He took out his wallet and handed her the photograph he had kept. She just looked at it. “It’s silly—I know,” he said. “I was thinking about this driving here yesterday—wondering if I might be able to find out what became of you… We were kids. I was a kid! It couldn’t have been real, but I honestly can’t get there again.”

“Get where?” She peered at him intently.

“Was that love? Was I in love with you? I haven’t felt that rush of absolute fear and excitement with anyone since then… That’s crazy, right? That’s just silly.”

April shook her head. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt that. My ditsy cousin—the one from earlier…”

“Mandy?” Jason asked.

“Yes—Mandy. Looking at her right now—in love with this new guy—I’ve never been like that. I’ve never been head over heels.”

April looked at the photo again, shaking her head. She peered up with her eyes watering. “I can’t believe you kept this,” she said, chuckling, a little painfully, it seemed. “What happened to Michael? You cut him out.”

Jason grinned.

“It’s a terrible photo. I hated that bikini.”

He stuck out his hand for her to return it. “I like it.”

She gave it back. “There’s plenty here for you to choose from.”

“I like this one…” He returned it to his wallet, holding her calculating gaze. He didn’t know what was going through her mind, but she was figuring out something.

“I lied,” she stated simply.

“About what?”

She continued to study him, not answering immediately. “I know exactly where your letters are, Jason.”

His neck and face heated again. That swarm of tingles was back.

“They’re in my jewellery box, in a secret compartment… It would be testing my memory now, but during those first few years, I could easily recite them.” She glanced away, her eyes watering up to the point of tears. “I received them when I was pregnant with Heather.” She rubbed at her cheeks, sniffling. “It was silly… We were just fun to me at the time. I wasn’t even sad when you left—which is a horrible thing to say, I know. But it’s true. I was a shallow little bitch and got what I deserved… And I realized that when I was sitting there pregnant and alone, and bawling my frigging eyes out reading your stupid love letters.”

April finished up giggling. Jason had a laugh too.

“I told you they were stupid.”

“No, they’re corny,” she corrected herself. “Corny and cute and really sweet. And you have less chance of getting them back than I do of getting back that picture and burning it.”

Jason lay back on the floor looking up at the ceiling and resting his beer on his chest. “So, what happened to Meatloaf?”

April got up and went to the entertainment unit. “I lost the cassette.” She put a CD in the player, and as she sat back down, the intro to Bat Out of Hell blasted from the surround speakers. She pointed the remote and reduced the volume.

Jason turned his head to face her. He had another moment of abandon. “We kissed to this music last time.”

April’s eyebrows lifted. She held up her left hand and jiggled her wedding rings.

Jason rolled his eyes. “Sorry!”

She lay down on the floor too, propped on her elbows, her face—her lips—dangerously close. “After we do this private eye thingy, you’re not going to disappear on me again, are you?”

Jason shook his head.

“Good,” she went on, and she touched his chin with a finger, turning his face away as she softly kissed his cheek. “It’s nice to see you again, Jason.”

He wanted to stroke her hair. The compulsion to touch her face right then was almost overwhelming. He looked at her lips, her eyes. He took a breath. Her teeth raked her lower lip, her eyes sparkling with the remnants of her tears from a moment ago—or were there new ones welling up? He touched her arm, stroking with a finger.

There was a loud knock at the door. Jason lingered. April held his gaze. He went and paid for the pizzas. When he turned back, April was standing, wringing her hands and just looking at him. “Let’s eat,” he suggested. She nodded.

They pushed the case of photos aside and pulled a small glass-top coffee table in front of the lounge, sitting either side of it on the floor.

“I probably shouldn’t be here,” Jason admitted. He knew he shouldn’t be in another man’s house, feeling the way he did about the wife.

“I don’t want you to go,” April said.

“But I might grab you if I stay much longer.”

“Don’t do that,” she uttered, picking at a slice of pizza.

“That wasn’t very convincing.”

She glanced up, blushing a little.

He chuckled. “So, I have to maintain self-control, eh?”

She grinned, nodding some more. “I need what you want but I’m not allowed to have it.” Her sideways look was full of tease.

“So, if I do grab you after pizza, you won’t be able to resist?” He could tease too.

She shook her head.

He nodded acknowledgment. For all her fire she struck him as sweetly feminine right then. This was an irresistible combination of traits in a woman. Not only was Jason’s heart feeling light and alive, he also sported an erection as she continued to toss demure little glances across at him.

He had a trait or two himself. One was cutting through bullshit and asking the inappropriate yet pertinent question. “Why didn’t you go to France too?”

She grinned. “Good question… I don’t think you would need three guesses.”

Jason chuckled. “Good answer… Why was Mandy so keen to dob you in over keeping my letters?”

“No way! It’s my turn… When did you first realize I was married—before or after you decided to stay here with me?”

That was an easy one. “To be honest, I was shocked to get invited. I noticed your wedding rings when you were yelling at me in the car park.”

She laughed. “You noticed I was married when I was yelling at you?”

“I noticed your butt too, when you were walking away.”

Her pretty eyes widened. “Scumbag! I was angry with you!”

“You’re hot when you’re angry. You always were.”

“Hmm—Mr Smooth… Maybe no girl would be safe inviting you home to stay.” She took a bite of a sagging slice of pizza, eating it and washing it down with a swig of beer. “I checked for a wedding ring when I first saw you at the house.”

Jason smiled at that little piece of information. “I remember Mandy as a little kid. She seems to have not changed at all—very sweet and genuine.”

“Yes, she is that,” April agreed quietly. “Another beer?”

“I’ll get it,” Jason offered. “Where’s the gent’s?”

“Past your room, next on the left.”

The few minutes of sobering chat had alleviated the erection issue, enabling Jason to stand without risk of embarrassment. He freshened up his face in the bathroom—ruffled his hair, feeling cheeky. He needed to calm down, though. He had to restrain himself here. The prompting from Mandy had told him April was probably unhappy. The absence of the husband, overseas alone while she was on holidays from work, said that her marriage was likely not going well. She had skilfully brushed his question about that, her integrity making her even more alluring. Jason knew if he grabbed her he could taste her lips again. He wanted to do that badly but needed to resist the urge.

He twisted the top off April’s beer and handed it to her, meeting her smile. “I’m just going to sit over here and behave myself,” he announced.

“Me too,” she replied. “Over here where it’s safe.”

She was a horrible tease. She hadn’t changed a bit since high school.

“I’m going to check some more photos,” he said, pointing.

“I need to wash my hands first.” She took the pizza boxes and stepped across Jason’s legs, flashing more tease back over her shoulder as she went into the kitchen.

***

April put the boxes on the counter and wiped her greasy fingers with a tea towel. She tugged at her top and brushed her shorts down. Oh my god—what am I doing?

She rinsed her hands in the sink and plucked at her hair, using her reflection in the window. It was almost dark out.

“Hey, April, have a look at these!” Jason called out.

April took a breath, glaring at her guilty self, admonishing her wickedness. Jason waved a handful of photos as she returned to him sitting there on her floor. She sat beside him. She was the worst kind of flirt.

“Look—she’s in all of these,” he said. “Here sitting on her steps. Here posing on a car.” The girl was lying across the hood, bare legs swished together, head tossed back.

“That’s some pose,” April pointed out. “That’s sexy!”

“And here hanging towels in a bikini. She’s definitely looking at the camera, and she isn’t unhappy.”

“That car’s an older style. Are you sure that one is her?”

“Yes, that’s the back of that car there where she’s hanging the towels. It’s a 1954 FJ Holden. I’ve got a model of the 56 utility. It’s a popular classic. Looks immaculate there. Maybe the boyfriend’s project.” He sorted through the pile. The girl was in all of them. “Here’s one at the pier with a Valliant wagon. That was the one Granddad drove back then, and she’s leaning against it. She’s definitely there with him.”

“Yes, but apparently she did accept his friendship initially, and later she reported him for peeping and stalking her. Some of these could have been taken before she changed her mind about him.”

“Oh, I see… Never the less, we’ll keep these aside. We can look for more later if we need them.”

Bat Out of Hell was still playing. April bound the small stack of photos they were keeping separate. She put that aside and closed the lid of the old suitcase.

“Eric cheated on me last time he was in France. I think I’m hoping he does it again,” she blurted. “But it isn’t his fault. It’s pretty chilly here. It has been for a long time. And that’s not him—it’s me.”

Jason nodded. “I know what you mean. It has been like that between Raelene and me these past few years. I’ve only been hanging in because of the kids. I was happy for her when I noticed she started dressing differently and doing herself up, obviously for another guy. That’s when we split rooms. It was only a matter of time from there.”

April toyed with the hair on Jason’s shin. “I don’t want to cheat on him.”

There was no response forthcoming. She glanced to find Jason rubbing at the label on his beer bottle. “I wouldn’t want to play around with you, April. I don’t think I could take it so lightly.”

She blushed.

He glanced up, meeting her eyes. “I don’t want to be the other guy again. That hurt too much last time.”

She nodded, accepting that. “So, what do you want?”

He shrugged, offering a grin. “To work out who killed this nurse chick and clear your granddad’s name.”

April smiled.

“With you,” Jason added.

She lay down on the floor on her back with her head resting upon his thigh. “As old school friends?”

“Yep—old school friends… We can do that.”

“Perfect,” April agreed.

 

Chapter 10

Jason tossed and turned a bit through the night. He had a grip, but this woman, whom the mere idea of all these years had made him suddenly want to star gaze—well, she was asleep just the other side of the wall. He had caught a glimpse of her in pyjamas when she popped her head in to say goodnight. They were short summer ones and looked cute.

He rolled over, pulling the pillow around his head. Sleep eventually came.

Breakfast the following morning was a stack of pancakes with lemon and sugar. Jason kept eating them as fast as they were being fried up.

“So, you’re a big-shot private eye and you don’t even have a boat license. What if you have to go investigate something on one of the zillion islands off the coast and there’s no public transport? Do you tell your client—sorry, can’t help ya?”

Jason folded a pancake in half then folded it again. He stabbed it with his fork and opened wide to fit the whole thing in his mouth. “These are good,” he mumbled.

April’s eyes rolled. She cut a small slice off the one she was eating. “Do you want more?”

“Yes, please.”

She poured another batch of three into the pan. “We need to take sandwiches. It’s about a three hour trip each way. The resort on the island is only open to guests.”

“I can make sandwiches.”

“Well, go on, then. There’s shaved ham and tomatoes in the fridge.”

April had been to the bakery that morning while Jason showered and shaved. She had on a short floral print skirt and leather sandals. Her lace-trim tank top offered cleavage that Jason’s eyes kept wandering to as he worked on the other side of the counter. There was the string of a pink and white bikini top haltered around her neck. He wondered if swimmers were needed—perhaps they would get wet from the sea spray on the boat April had organized. He had on dress shorts and a polo shirt with a pair of leather loafers. He needed to maintain at least a smart casual appearance while working.

They drove to the marina in his 4WD. It was a small half cabin sports cruiser they were to be sailing in. The cove looked choppy. Jason had never been much for boating. His stomach didn’t handle the swell of the ocean so well when he was a kid. It had been that long, though, and as April took them out between the towering headlands that sheltered the cove, the ocean calmed, and Jason felt fine.

He had a seat beside his old school friend. The wind was blowing her long dark curls back, exposing a slender, soft looking neck. “So, tell me about some of your other cases?” she asked, and the conversation to follow filled a couple of hours, in which they told each other everything about their respective jobs, places they had been on holidays and about their families, and April brought Jason up to date with all the gossip about friends they’d had in school.

Lorton Island loomed on the horizon a short while after the mainland sank away completely. April guided their boat in close to shore where there were jet skiers and board riders, and parasails up in the sky. Rounding a small rocky outcrop brought them to a marina and large glass and chrome building sprawling back into the trees.

“We’re around the other side of the island,” April informed.

“It looks nice here, though… We can’t stop in for a swim and an umbrella drink?”

“Maybe next time, if we book.”

Jason held up his phone, turning it this way and that.

“Good luck getting service over here.” April sped the boat back up again when they had cleared the traffic around the marina. Ten minutes later they arrived at a tiny wooden jetty with a shack built on the end of it.

An old woman was rocking in a chair, watching them as they moored the boat to a post. Jason stepped onto the jetty and took April’s hand. She smiled at him and stepped up beside. He held her hand for maybe a second longer than he needed to and got a flash of curiosity from her eyes.

The old woman had knitting. Her silver hair was in a plait that was so long it rested upon her lap. She squinted at them and offered something of a smile.

Jason didn’t know the name of the woman they were looking for. “G’day, ma’am. My name is Jason Ford. This is April Anderson. We’re making enquiries relating to the death some years ago of a woman named Grace McKenna.” He opened his wallet to show his P.I. registration card.

The woman put on half frame silver glasses and looked closely at it. “You’re not with the cops?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Who you working for?”

“My uncle,” April said. “My grandfather is Lester Barrett. We’re trying to clear his name.”

The old woman nodded, taking them both in. She stood and motioned for them to follow, leading through a rustic gift shop with glass cases filled with shell ornaments and trinkets. Jason was taken aback by what he saw. “Wow, that’s an impressive display, ma’am.”

April’s mouth was hanging open, her eyes wide as she peered around. Jason joined her looking in one cabinet at several necklaces made from the tiniest shells threaded like beads. “Oh my god, look at those. That’s amazing,” she cried.

“Look at the fisherman,” Jason commented. There was a polished slice of tree trunk with a scene mounted on it of a man fishing in a pond. The water was crushed glass, the man made from shells. He had a sad face. The piece stood waist height.

“Would you young folks like a cup of tea?” the old woman asked.

“Yes, please,” April replied.

“That would be nice,” Jason added.

“Wait… Can I have that, please?” April asked, pointing to one of the shell necklaces. “Do you have a twenty on you?” she asked Jason. “I’ll pay you back.”

The old woman took the necklace from the cabinet and gave it to April. Jason paid her then helped April clip the necklace on. April modelled it in a mirror on the wall.

“Please, come in?” The old woman held back a beaded curtain for them to enter her home. She took them through a cluttered sitting room with a huge lounge chair and into a small kitchen where she had the makings of tea ready on a wooden table.

Jason sat with April, facing the old woman. She poured them a cup each. “I heard tell of them finding the girl’s body… My young fellow said they dug her up in a field.”

Jason sipped his tea. It was strong—twanged in his throat. “That’s right, ma’am.”

“They said she was buried at sea back when it happened,” the woman went on, her old eyes sharp and focused intently. “Are the cops going to open their investigation again—figure out what really happened this time?”

“I don’t think they will… Do you have any idea what really happened?” Jason asked. “I’m sorry, ma’am, may I ask your name, please?”

“Anastasia Fontaine. You can call me Anastasia since we’re going to be having business dealings you and I.”

“Business dealings?”

She nodded. “You want something. I want something.”

“What do you want?” April asked curiously. “You were at my grandfather’s house once… That was you?”

“Yes. I travelled there once… I needed something but didn’t find it. There was a name in the newspaper: Clive Petrov.”

April cleared her throat. “Who is Clive Petrov, Anastasia? That name is not familiar to me.”

“How about The Pastor—that one ring any bells?” the old woman asked in reply.

They both nodded. “What about him?” Jason asked. He had jotted the name in his notebook.

Anastasia Fontaine sighed. “What about him indeed…” She stirred her tea and took a moment before going on. “What about him is what I would like you to tell me,” she went on resolutely. “You have channels? You have ways of finding people?”

“Yes, ma’am. I have ways of finding almost anyone.”

“Good. Then, when you’ve finished that cup of tea—you go find him.” She was poking the table with a gnarled old finger, the long nail tapping the surface loudly. “You go find him and come back and tell me where he is or that he’s burning in hell, and I’ll tell you what you want to know about your granddaddy not killing that young nurse.”

“You know he didn’t do it?” April implored, her eyes welling with tears.

“Of course he didn’t do it… Find Petrov!”

“Who is Petrov?” Jason asked quietly. “What did he do, ma’am?”

The old woman looked from one of them to the other. Her sharp old eyes settled on Jason. “I’ll answer whatever questions you have about him after you do as I have asked… If you find him you will probably find everything you need to know, anyway…” Her face softened. Anger turned to sorrow and her voice broke from venom to a plea. “Please come back and tell me anything you find? Please?”

“We will, ma’am,” Jason assured, covering her hand with his. “Do you have any idea what became of him after the murder of that nurse?”

She shook her head. The sharpness in her eyes had given way to pain.

Jason drank the last of his syrupy tea and motioned to April that they should leave. “We’ll be in touch,” he said to the old woman in parting. He left her a business card. “Have your young fellow call me if you need to, or if you can think of anything to help.”

*

They cruised from the small inlet, with an old man having joined Anastasia to watch from the jetty. “What do you think he did to her?” April asked. “I thought he was nice.”

“I don’t want to imagine. That was painful for her. I felt so sorry.”

April looked at Jason. “We have to help her.”

“Of course! We’ll do what we can. We’ll soon track that preacher guy down… Can you take us into the resort marina?”

“Sure, but why?”

“I want to give my boss a call. He has contacts. He’ll have everything there is on Petrov within 24 hours—any criminal record and any address he’s ever had. That’s where we’ll pick up tomorrow. When we get back to The Cove we need to have a look what’s in his old caravan. When was the last time he was there, do you think?”

“I’m not sure… He came back a few times. I think the last time I saw him was only a couple of years after Granddad went to prison.”

“I might have to follow his trail. If he had other addresses registered, I’ll need to go check them out.”

“You? You mean we will have to go check them out… You’re not getting rid of me that easily, partner.”

Jason chuckled. “You remind me of my partner. You two would get on well.”

“You have a female partner?”

“Yep. She’s great.”

“Humph—now I’m jealous.”

“You should be… She’s hot.”

April pouted. “So, this is nothing special for you, while for me it’s like the biggest excitement I’ve had in forever?”

Jason shrugged. “She’s even married like you are. And her husband’s this big wrestler dude who’d squash me if I got too cheeky with his woman.”

“Oh… Well, that’s alright, then,” April said.

Jason just smiled while meeting her teasing eyes that time. “Plus I haven’t got it near as bad for her, so that’s different too,” he said.

April took that bit of banter without flinching also. “So, you’ve got it bad for me, huh?”

Jason gave her a quick up and down. “Aw yeah—getting worse by the hour.”

She smiled. “Good.”

“Bet there’s half a dozen guys at your work and another bunch around town I could get in line with on having it bad for you, April.”

She steered into the marina. “I don’t know, Jason. I’m having difficulty thinking of any other guys today.” She tossed him a glance. “I find myself quite distracted.”

She powered back and pulled the boat gently to rest. An attendant tied it to the mooring and moved on to another boat pulling in. Jason swivelled his seat to face April. She slipped from hers and approached him, her gaze lowered, but she lifted her head and tossed her hair back. He smoothed it from her face. She snuggled his hand, taking hold of his arm and tugging him from his seat as she turned to walk away. He pulled her back and caught her around the waist. She was facing him again, her eyes lowered. He looked down at her face. “Can I kiss you?” Why am I asking her?

She shook her head, no—her eyes still downcast.

“Do you want me to kiss you?”

She peered up, her lips slightly parted. He met them, pressing his to them and insisting her mouth open more. It did, and her eyes closed as he drew in her sweet essence, their lips mashing together, the kiss becoming moist and vocal as she moaned into his mouth.

Her arms went around his neck. She leaned into him and he cuddled her. A long moment passed. She lifted her head again, her eyes soft, her lips opening to meet his more willingly that time. His heart thumped. His skin tingled. He met her tongue with his, crushing her to his body as he made love to her mouth.

She submitted to him, her body relaxed as he took more kisses. He lowered her to a soft cushioned bench seat on the side of the boat and had her head tilted back while he stroked her hair and ravaged her lips. He relented when he had taken his fill for the moment.

She was plucking at his shirt, her eyes again downcast. “This is bad,” she uttered. “This is worse than sex—this level of cheating.” She peered up. “Kissing is bad.”

Jason nodded. He kissed her lips again, softly.

She frowned. It seemed she had woken from the trance of a moment ago. She poked his chest. “You’re bad,” she said.

He rolled his eyes, grinning. “I don’t see how kisses are worse than sex… They feel very nice.”

“Really?” she asked. “How long since you last had sex with your ex?”

“Um… About six months ago.”

“And how long since you kissed her like you just kissed me?”

Jason’s face heated guiltily. When had he last kissed Raelene like that?

“See—you can’t even remember, can you?”

“No. Maybe earlier on.”

“Same here,” April said. “That kind of kissing is very bad.” She was smiling now. She took Jason’s hand and pulled him up.

“Bad, but good too,” he tried as he followed her.

She tossed a frown back over her shoulder. He caught up and tried to grab her hand but she pushed him away, giggling. “Cut it out, you!”

Jason cut it out. He couldn’t get the grin off his face, though, and he was brimming with power and pride—not any kind of guilt or regret. April smoothed her hand down over her bottom, glancing back from her shoulder and catching him checking her out. There was still the little frown, but a grin too—in her eyes.

There was a bank of payphones in the foyer of the resort. April headed to the ladies room. Jason called Jack Baine.

“G’day, Jack, it’s Jason. I’ve got a couple of names… Need criminal records and any past addresses you can find.”

“Shoot.”

Jason read from his notebook. “Clive Petrov—Everly Cove 1985. He was in his 30s or 40s at that time. And Anastasia Fontaine of Lorton Island. That’s current. She’d be around 70, I guess.”

“Got it. How soon?”

“Tomorrow will do… If Marcy could email what you find?”

“Sure. We’ll get onto it… How’s it going? Getting any golf in?”

Jason chuckled. “No, Boss. Turns out they want a new investigation… Not as simple as you thought, eh?”

“Nah—I had a feeling… You’ll do alright though, kid. Keep at it. Call if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Boss. Catch you later.”

There was a man working the front desk. He smiled over. Jason approached.

“Good afternoon, sir.”

“G’day,” Jason returned, his mind ticking over the fact he had a fair bit of annual leave to use up. The boss had been on his case about it lately, but life had been so depressing, work was the best place to be. Maybe not so now… “We were just passing and pulled in to use the phone,” he told the maroon coated service manager. He had a gold name tag with his title on it. “So, it doesn’t look so busy here… Would you have any vacancies over the next few weeks? I’d like to book a holiday.”

“Certainly, sir.” The hotelier scrolled with his mouse. “A standard room?”

“Yes. Just for myself.”

“We have a standard room available from the 17th of next month. How long would you like to stay, sir?”

April approached beside Jason. “What’s happening?”

“I’m booking a holiday… How about two weeks?” he asked in reply to the service manager’s question.

The man nodded agreeably. “Name, address?”

Jason produced his driver’s licence and credit card. The booking was complete within a few minutes. “Thanks, Peter,” he said to the guy, reading off his name tag. “So, like I said, we were just passing… We have a picnic lunch. Would it be okay if we used one of the tables out by the pools?”

“Of course, Mr Ford. You and your lady friend are most welcome to spend the afternoon. We look forward to welcoming you properly next time.”

“Oh my god!” April cried excitedly as they strolled back outside. “You scumbag. You can’t do that!”

“What? I deserve a holiday.”

She pouted. “But it’s cruel telling me about it. Now I’m going to know you’re here.”

They collected their lunch from the boat. Jason checked around and quickly dropped his shorts. He had swimmers bundled up in the Australian flag beach towel they had brought.

“What are you doing?” April asked, glaring at him and checking around also.

He had his back to her, pulling his board shorts up and tying them. “I’m going for a swim. Aren’t you?”

“But are we supposed to?”

“That guy said we were welcome. It’s not exactly crowded in the pools. I don’t see the problem.”

“Okay, but before we eat. You’re not supposed to swim after eating.”

They set up at a table beside the largest of the pools. There were a dozen people around, a couple swimming and others sunbathing. There was another pool with a diving tower and spring board, and another with kids playing.

Jason dived in and surfaced to watch April undress. He was right in his suspicions. She had a fantastic body. She was slender and well-toned from her painted toenails to her wavy brunette hair. Her hips were womanly, her breasts filling her string bikini top and swaying gently as she applied suntan lotion then walked to the edge of the pool. She dived in and surfaced a good distance from where Jason stood chest deep in the cool water. It was a good thing she didn’t pop up within his reach.

They swam for a while. April pulled one of the floating chairs from the edge of the pool and got in that, paddling around with her feet dangling and her bottom in the water, her pretty hair strewn over the side of her inflated headrest. Jason floated leisurely. He spun April around a couple of times when they were passing and exchanging smiles. She splashed him when he did it.

She got out first and used their towel to dry off before handing it to him. They sat opposite sides of the table and started on lunch. April poured the cola they had brought into plastic cups. “So, what did your boss say?”

“Nothing much yet. I gave him the names of the old lady and that preacher dude. He’ll get back to us by tomorrow with any info.”

“What kind of info—previous addresses and that, like you said?”

“Police records, any criminal convictions… He’ll check their previous work and home addresses with the tax office. He’s got a contact there. I don’t know how he does it. He’ll email us everything there is to know about them—easy as.”

“That old woman made it sound like The Pastor was either a killer or a rapist. She seemed shattered by something he had done.”

“Yeah—she obviously thinks he killed the nurse.”

“What do you think that would mean for Granddad? Would the police do anything if we found enough evidence about the guy?”

“I think the best we could hope for is his conviction overturned and his record cleared. I don’t think there would be much point going after them for a wrongful conviction and incarceration. It would go back to his confession, which would be a false statement and his own fault.”

“We only want the truth known,” April said. “We want to know what really happened, and for Granddad’s name to be cleared if he didn’t do it… He just wants to come home.”

Jason took that in. He detected the tiny bit of doubt in April. She didn’t know whether her grandfather was innocent—not for certain. This investigation was first about establishing the facts for her, and no doubt for the guy’s son.

“Let’s assume this preacher dude is the killer,” Jason started in reply to April’s plea. “We will need to find enough evidence for the police to become interested. They will if we make a compelling enough argument. As much as they don’t want to waste resources on an old case, they also don’t like killers running around the countryside.”

“Okay… Good,” April said. “If we track the guy down, we might find something—right?”

“Yep. That’s what we’re going to try for… But the other thing we need is for Granddad to take back his confession. We need to work on him—find out what his issue is here—why he’s been happy to sit in prison for twenty years if he’s not guilty… That’s where I think the real mystery lies. I’ve a feeling there’s more to those photos than a girl changing her mind and suddenly rejecting his interest.”

“Well, what do you think happened with her?”

“I don’t know, April. I just have a hunch what you and your uncle need to know is right there in that suitcase full of photos.” Jason brushed off his sandwich crumbs. “But let’s start with The Pastor,” he said grinning and getting up to face the pool.

“You can’t dive in with a full stomach!” April scolded.

Jason slipped easily into the water and swished back from the edge to float in the middle. “Come on, you can dangle your legs, or get back in your bum chair.”

April frowned at him. “It’s not a bum chair.”

“Sure it is. You get a wet bum sitting in it, don’t you?”

She shook her head, blushing, and sat on the edge of the pool dangling her legs. He restrained himself from commenting on how good her bum looked, and how he thought about pinching it once or twice earlier. Maybe such was being transmitted telepathically, as she kept smiling yet glaring at him. He gave her a splash.

“Wait till I get you back in that boat… See how many waves I can find to test out your queasy stomach.”

Jason chuckled. “Will you take care of me if I get sea sick?”

“No.”

“Make me lie down? Stroke my head upon your lap?” he tried, grinning cheekily. “I think I’m feeling unwell already.”

“I’ll drop you off at the hospital,” April tossed back at him. “Then I’ll go down to The Grill for band night tonight and see if there’s any real men who want to dance with me.”

“Band night?”

“Uh huh… But if you’re going to be sick in the tummy…”

Jason was at April’s knees. She pressed her feet against his chest as he held her legs. “I’m actually feeling fine,” he said. “What kind of band?”

“It’s a local rock band. They’re pretty good.”

He nodded, holding her gaze. “You coming back in?”

She shook her head. “It’s not safe.”

“After eating?”

She shook her head again. “It just isn’t.”

He smiled. “That’s true.”

“Come on, let’s go. It’s getting late, and I want to get back before dark.”

 

Chapter 11

April steered the little cruiser in through the headlands just on dusk. The cove was quiet. The fleet of fishing boats were all moored for the night—a few whiskered, leathery-skinned men finishing up their final jobs ready to head over to the pub or home to their families.

April pulled back on the throttle, and Jason jumped onto the pier and tied down their boat. He still had on board shorts and no shirt. His lithe body, six-pack and muscular shoulders made April feel even more guilty than she deserved. Eric had aged kind of flabby and soft, not at all athletic. He was also plain featured with a receding hairline and burgeoning double chin, while Jason was cute and square jawed—his stubble yesterday had made him look rugged, not untidy. April wasn’t going to say anything next time he forgot to shave. He had even felt whiskery when he kissed her earlier—whiskery and strong.

“What?” he asked, grinning down at her and offering a hand to help her up onto the pier.

She peeled her eyes off his torso and took his hand. “Nothing! Are you sure you don’t want to check that old caravan? It’s still light enough.”

“There’s no rush. It’s been abandoned for fifteen years. The morning will do… Feels like knock-off time today.”

“Knock-off time? Like you’d know what it’s like to do a real day’s work.”

Jason chuckled. “Yeah, that’s quite true. It’s been a while since I had to punch a time card.”

He pulled on his shirt. April didn’t. She was still in her bikini top and shorts. His eyes were all over her, and she didn’t feel inclined to discourage him. She worked hard to maintain her shape and was proud of it, in spite of the few kilos she couldn’t seem to work off her bum and thighs lately, which her shorts hid quite effectively.

April always dressed for a bit of attention when she went out at night, which was often with Mandy and her brother, David, who was a great character and a lot of fun to party with. She called her cousin as soon as she got home.

“What are you doing tonight, Mandy? Are you going down for band night?”

“I don’t know. David and Clair will be. We’re undecided.”

“Well, you have to,” April commanded. “I’m bringing Jason, and I don’t know Clair well enough yet. You have to come.”

“Oh really? Who are you bringing?”

“Jason.”

“Who?” Mandy giggled.

“Shut up! It’s not like that.”

“What are you wearing?” her inexorable cousin asked.

“A potato sack. See you in an hour. You’d better be there!”

“Oh, I wouldn’t miss this. I’ll be there waiting for you both.”

April just shook her head. She blushed into the phone. “He kissed me, by the way.”

There was a short pause before, “Oh boy!”

Oh boy is right.”

“What kind of kiss? Just one?”

“Um… I don’t remember if it was just one or more than one. It kind of went for a while, and I’m not sure I didn’t dream some of it.”

“Oh—one of those kind of kisses.”

“Yes. And I’m married. And going to hell,” April declared.

“Hmm… Actually, that’s true on paper, but I don’t believe it necessarily stacks up in time.”

“Meaning?”

“Well, it depends on what happens next—whether or not you got kissed by your future husband.”

“Future husband? Are you mad, woman? He’s been here 24 hours. We’re virtual strangers.”

“No, you’re not. You were his first love. You were together before you even met Eric.”

April flopped in a lounge chair. Jason was in the shower. She would have a quick one and put on something in a minute.

“You shouldn’t be kissing him if it’s not going to amount to anything, April. That would be wrong, if you did that.”

“So, you’re saying that if it turns into a relationship, it’s not wrong?”

“Not just any relationship,” Mandy corrected. “It’s hard to say getting with another guy when you’re married is not a ticket to hell, but what if you end up happily ever after with the other guy? What if it’s not just a relationship but a loving relationship? Which you can’t have two of at one time—so, if you can start a new one, you weren’t in one.”

“I’m not in one,” April said emphatically. “If I didn’t know that yesterday, I certainly know it today.”

“Oh really?” her cousin sang. “And how is it that you suddenly know all about being in love? You didn’t have a clue the other morning when I was asking you about it.”

That was a good question—one April had no ready answer for.

“I see,” her cousin went on. “We’ll talk about that later… Now, what are you wearing tonight?”

Jason’s shower had been turned off. April dispensed with Mandy’s matchmaking antics for the moment and had a quick shower herself. She double-checked her bum in a new pair of jeans and chose a short lacy top that showed her toned belly but no cleavage—a smear of lipstick and a wisp of perfume, and she was ready.

She suddenly liked the big, exorbitant car, enjoying the thrill of being driven around in luxury. Jason was also in jeans, with a dark collared shirt. His hair was tussled sexily, and he hadn’t shaved again, that whiskery shade to his face making him look just a little bit rugged.

They were chatting about the changes to town over the years. April’s mouth was watering as she watched Jason’s lips. Was she going to be kissed again tonight? She shouldn’t be wanting that, but as they strolled through the car park, the thought swirled around her. She edged close, their arms brushing and lighting her skin with tingles. He could have stopped and pulled her into his arms right then. Instead, he ushered her through the door of the Bar & Grill with his hand touching her lower back, and it remained lightly resting upon her hip as he asked for a table.

Jason pulled April’s chair and waited while she sat. His head was at her shoulder right then. She wasn’t game to look at him and give herself away. He took his seat and met her eyes. “I’m thinking, a big, juicy steak.”

“The steak is good.”

He nodded slowly, his eyes lifting. “You have pretty hair.”

“Thanks.”

He glanced down at her mouth. She bit her lip.

“I might try the baked potato.”

“Those are good too,” she said.

April never noticed what the waiter taking their order looked like. She introduced Mandy’s boyfriend, Brent, and her cousin David and his girlfriend, Clair, when they stopped by, but she did so in a bit of a daze, just watching Jason eat and smile up at everyone.

Later, she was dragged onto the dance floor by the other girls while the guys shot some pool. The band only played a few sets of rock before quietening down and blending into the background quite early on a weeknight.

The girls ended up at a table together. It looked like the guys were involved in a competition with some other men. April was caught looking over again.

“Looks like she has it bad,” Clair suggested to Mandy. Clair was new in town, having recently opened a florist business. She was between Mandy’s and April’s age and very pretty with blond hair she had just trimmed quite short.

April shook her head. “I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I can’t keep my frigging eyes off him.”

“So, you used to know him in school?” Clair asked.

“Yeah—we hung out a couple of times. Then he moved away. But he wasn’t this cute back then.”

“He is that,” Clair agreed, looking over.

“I’ve been thinking about having his babies all afternoon,” April blurted.

Mandy’s mouth opened but no sound came out.

“I know! You were only joking about that the other day, but I’ve seriously been thinking about it for ages. It’s that stupid empty nest syndrome. Ever since Heather moved away it’s like—okay, what now? What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life when I’m only thirty-five?”

Mandy was blushing now, her smile in her eyes, which were misting up. “I think you should have babies,” she said simply.

“What does Eric think?” Clair asked. The little April knew about her was her tendency to be straight forward and practical.

“He’d think I was nuts if I tried to tell him. He had children before we met, who are all grown up now, and with Heather moving away, it’s like he has his long awaited freedom… He’s forty-five. That’s reasonable.”

“So, if you wanted to have a family, you would have to leave him,” Clair pointed out, and sipped her drink. “Do you love him?”

“Who—Eric?”

Both other girls giggled. “Yes—Eric,” Mandy clarified, squeezing April’s hand under the table.

April huffed. “I don’t know. What is that, anyway?”

“It’s when you’re sitting there staring at some guy with the dumb look you’ve had on your face all night,” Mandy explained.

April frowned at her young cousin. “And what are you wearing, anyway? Where’d you get that dress? Careful your boobs don’t fall out the top.”

Mandy was sipping from her straw. She pointed at Clair. “She made me buy it.”

“Made you?” Clair scoffed. “She said Brent goes crazy when she wears boob dresses. She bought like, four of them.”

Mandy giggled. “Well, he does! He gets jealous of other guys looking and goes all macho when we get home. But he gave me the money to go shopping, and he knew I was going with Clair, so…”

They all laughed. Clair’s dress was cut as low as Mandy’s, but hers always were. She had been a stripper in her previous job and seemed quite relaxed about showing skin. She had certainly changed Mandy’s attitude toward her choice of fashion, but they both looked classy, and April usually showed a bit more than she was tonight. She would rarely wear jeans out with the girls.

Brent came back and took Mandy for a slow dance. Clair had had a difficult life and impressed April with her maturity and plain common sense in conversation. There was an affinity building in the new friendship, which April liked.

“I don’t even know if it’s Jason or just someone—anyone!” she shared quietly.

Clair shook her head. “Well, I had no idea what being in love was until I met David. And even then I didn’t know what I was feeling until later… I’ve always had all my own answers. He has made me realize I was the only one asking questions… His questions are much more exciting than my own.”

“So, you lost control—to him?”

“Yep. In a nutshell. I’m feeling stuff way out of control. He just kind of gathers it in and makes me feel safe… It’s the being out of control that is so exciting.”

April frowned. She got that. It made sense. “But wouldn’t you feel like that with any new and exciting guy—that ‘out-of-control’ thing? I think I’ve been tempted to go there a lot lately, just more so with Jason because… I don’t know—because the opportunity is right here in front of me.”

“Hey, I’m no expert,” Clair said, chuckling. “If you had have asked me what being in love was a couple of months ago I would have said, ‘no such thing’.” She paused, pondering more of that thought, it seemed. “But you’re right. I’ve had that exciting rush with guys before, feeling all out of control and that. But it’s different this time. It was different afterward—after I kind of pushed David away, I realized this wasn’t the same as with anyone else… I needed him.”

April huffed. “This isn’t helping.” She giggled. “I feel like a frigging teenager again.”

“Do you want another drink?” Clair asked.

“No—I want one of those slow dances Mandy’s getting. I can at least have one of those, can’t I?”

“We can do that,” Clair said, and she got up and walked over to the guys. April watched her grab David’s hand. He was dancing with her whether he wanted to or not, it seemed. She led him past where Jason stood chatting with another guy, and April blushed as Clair lifted close and whispered in Jason’s ear.

April turned away as Jason immediately looked over. She refused to turn back until he was right there beside her, grinning.

“That girl called me a Wally and said I should be asking you to dance.”

April shrugged innocently. “Maybe she’s right.”

Jason extended a hand. “May I have the pleasure?”

April blushed some more. She almost called him smooth again, but words didn’t feel appropriate. She placed her hand in his and allowed him to lead her to the dance floor. Mandy was smiling her head off. Clair was peering up into David’s eyes, looking just like April felt. April was taken into Jason’s arms and held close as they swayed to the soft music. She dared not look up at him, rather kept her head against his shoulder. There were others dancing and watching who knew her and knew she was married. She didn’t care.

The next song was the last for the night. April was held and gently cuddled through it. A half hour later she was unlocking her front door, with Jason at her shoulder, closer than he was supposed to be. She fumbled the door open and he followed inside. She closed the door and turned to take hold of his shirt with both hands. He pulled her to him. She looked up into his eyes. “I can’t, Jason.”

He looked at her lips then met her eyes again. He held her hips, their bodies pressed together. He glanced down, then his gaze returned to hers. He nodded. A little grin curved his lips. “That just makes you the more attractive.”

She laid her head upon his shoulder again. He touched her hair. He had done that while dancing too. “Sorry,” she said.

“Don’t be… You’re a beautiful, married woman, April. I’m going to be more respectful… Starting tomorrow,” he added with a chuckle.

April giggled. “And I’ll behave myself too… Starting tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Jason said. He was still holding her. He rested back on the arm of the lounge, keeping her hands. Their fingers intertwined.

April leaned forward between his thighs, her resolve not very strong. He looked up at her. She chewed on her lower lip, rocking forward, closer still. He lifted his chin, his lips parting as she pressed hers to them softly, his jaw moving and her heart fluttering as the kiss deepened and reached down inside of her.

She broke it off. With a final look into his eyes, she turned and left him there, closing her bedroom door and slumping back against it.

Her hand was over her mouth. Oh boy!……………………

Part 3 coming soon – full novel will be 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

Ever Since April: Part 1 of 5

april 3d
R-Rated 18+ Amazon Paperback

Summer 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 on a bra 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 smelled it in her hair while waiting in line behind her at the school canteen, but it was like tasting it now. More than sweet, it was exciting and fruity and tender like a girl. Jason would never be going back to where he was before that moment. His life meant something else now.
“Me and Michael will probably be getting back together,” she said.
Michael was Jason’s best friend. He had dropped out of school. Jason was a senior. He had on his grey trousers and white shirt. When April became a senior next year, she would wear a grey skirt and white blouse. You could see that girls were wearing bras through 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 then found his voice. “That was nice, April.” He liked saying her name just then.
She blushed a little—pointed to the door. “I 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 over the other side of Everly Cove the previous summer, and he had been infatuated with her from that first day when 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 the next time she would 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 Year. It was weird because it gave Jason the chance to be closer to her, while 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 top of the doorframe—at the 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.
April took it off him. “Is anyone home at your place?”
Jason shook his head. “Nope.”
April 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. Jason fumbled the key into the door with April 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.”
Jason poked out his tongue.
“Not that far. Just to your lips.”
April 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 April 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?”
“Pft—who cares about him?”
“I don’t care about him.” Jason grinned all the way down to his belly. So, no Michael, eh?
April had picked up the cassette cover and pulled the jacket out to have a look at it. “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, kind of 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 teenaged 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 April 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 tee-shirt in a minute, and his arms and chest were as underdeveloped 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 just 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 absolutely 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 was 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.”
April was smiling. Jason 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 frigging door off its hinges and chuck it out the back,” Jason’s partner 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 stalemate.
“Well, at least open the damn thing. You don’t have to knock on your own bedroom door for Christ’s sake. 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 frigging 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, eh, 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 little 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… Can you 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—got a flash of that.
“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.
He rolled over the other way. “Good night, darling.”
“Night,” April replied, and she closed her eyes and slept late the next morning until she woke to the feel of someone cuddling up behind her.
“You have to get up,” Mandy, her cousin from down the street, said into her ear. “What are you doing still in bed?”
April opened an eye and groaned. “Leave me alone.”
“Eric said he had to go get the sausages. He’ll see you there.”
“Where are the kids?” April opened an eye again and saw that it was after nine. Kristen’s soccer game was at ten.
“Watching TV. I think they’re ready.”
They were minding Eric’s sister’s two children for the week.
Mandy rolled away from cuddling up behind April and rested on her back. April rolled onto her back as well, kicking off the covers. It was too hot for them. After a while, with both women staring up at the ceiling, Mandy spoke.
“How do you know when you’re in love?”
April looked at her younger cousin. “Are you?” She hadn’t managed much excitement in the question.
“How do you know?” Mandy repeated, looking at April that time. Her eyes were glazed and her smile dreamy.
“I don’t remember,” April said. It was true, she didn’t. “I think falling in love is different to being in love… I think the magic gets burned off… It’s like you get this burst of romantic energy and little by little you use it up.”
“But don’t you renew it?” Mandy asked. “Don’t you get more when you do stuff? When you have kids and that, doesn’t it feel romantic again?”
“I guess… How would I know?”
There was probably some truth in that, but April had fallen pregnant as a teen. Her only child’s father had been a high-school dropout and total loser. She couldn’t remember how she felt about Eric when she met him. She could remember none of what she felt before he had cheated on her—though Mandy was not aware of Eric’s affair.
“I think you know you’re in love when you look in the mirror and see that look on your face,” April said, manufacturing some enthusiasm. “Can you stop thinking about him?”
“No.”
“Do you want to have his babies?”
“Yes.”
“Okay, then—sit up.”
Mandy sat up. It meant she was looking at the dressing-table. April looked at her face in the mirror.
“See?” she said. “Stop smiling if you’re not in love.”
Mandy laughed, and April tickled her, making her squeal and squirm back onto the bed. She had her best girlfriend shrieking and rolling around, eventually relenting and leaving her there. “I’ll have a quick shower. Check on the brats, would you please, sweetie?”
Eric managed the Everly Cove Woolworths supermarket and always did the sausage sizzle at the school sports carnival. April never usually went, but had to with the children. Mandy sat with her watching the games. They chatted. The guy Mandy had it bad for was one of the local police officers. April had seen him around. “Yes, he’s very cute, sweetie.” He looked a bit stiff actually, but… whatever.
“I thought I might come with you tomorrow,” Mandy said, changing the subject at last. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah—of course.” April would be taking Eric to the airport in Canberra. It was a five hour drive and totally boring to do alone. The children would be returned to their parents that night. April was looking forward to six weeks of freedom. She had organized holidays from work.
“Can we call in and see Granddad?” Mandy went on. Their grandfather was up for parole, nineteen years into a life sentence for murder.
“Of course we can see Granddad. Duh! Like, as if we’re going to drive right by and not see him.”
“I know. It’s just weird to think he’ll be coming home soon.”
“Weird?”
“No—I mean, it’s great, but it will be so different seeing him not at the prison. I can’t even remember him from before.”
April sat quietly for a while, churning inside, as she always did when she thought about it, and more so now her grandfather would be coming home.
“He didn’t do it, you know?” How many times had she said that? “I don’t care what anyone thinks around here when he comes home—he did not kill that girl… Granddad wasn’t like that. He isn’t some monster. He was just a drunk and really sad after Grandma.”
Mandy squeezed April’s hand, intertwining fingers. She was just smiling warmly, supportively. She always did when April huffed and puffed about something.
“Dad’s waiting for what the cops find with the remains they dug up over there,” Mandy said. “He’s always going on about there never even being a body – about how his dad’s locked up when the girl could have been a runaway or something and not murdered at all.”
“Except they found blood and hair, and the silly old fool confessed,” a deep voice resonated from behind. It was Morgan Oldfield, a retired fisherman who had spent his life there in Everly Cove. He once worked with the girls’ grandfather, back when it had happened.
Across the field there was a police tent and taped exclusion zone around the site of the gruesome find a few weeks earlier. The remains of a young woman had been exposed by plumbers working in a trench between the new and old amenities buildings. There were a line of porta-loos set up for use. The grave site was being guarded by two police officers so the kids could have their soccer games.
“Wonder if it turns out to be her,” old Morgan muttered as he looked across at the site.
“When do you think they’ll know?” Mandy asked him. Both girls turned and welcomed him to sit down. He was the grandfather of Mandy’s new boyfriend.
“What, young Brent not keeping you informed?” There was a cheeky grin and cocked eyebrow. The old man’s brows were white and overgrown. He had a funny face all in all. “You probably don’t have time for such talk… Too busy kissing, I expect.”
Mandy giggled through a blush. “That’s not all we do!”
“Oh? I see…” Two eyebrows were raised that time.
Mandy went bright red. “No, that’s not what I mean. I mean we talk lots, and we go out and walk on the pier. We’re not always kissing!”
The old man chuckled. April joined him. She was curious, though. “So, when do you think the police will have an identity, Mr Oldfield?”
“Any day now, love. Brent said the results are back. They’re just not ready to release them yet… It’s all a big hush-hush secret.”
“Well, even if it is the remains of Grace McKenna, Granddad has already done his time. It won’t make any difference, will it?”
“No, love. Lester was tried, convicted and sentenced. He’s done his time.”
“I think Dad knows something,” Mandy said. “He was looking up investigating firms the other day. He was trying to find some guy from back then—a detective, I think—Baine or something or other. He found that he’s set up a private investigating firm in Melbourne. He said he doesn’t trust the police.”
“Interesting,” old Morgan muttered, rubbing a whiskery chin. He had thick white whiskers. “I’d reckon your dad does know something. He used to get into a fight at least once a week down the pub—never believed his father was guilty.”
“Me either,” April said emphatically. “I don’t care if it does turn out to be that young nurse. Granddad didn’t kill anyone.”

Chapter 3

“Jason! Come in.”
Jason took the seat across the desk from Jack Baine. He had first worked with Baine when he was in the police force. Jason had spent six years in the service before getting out to start up a security business with a friend. That had turned out okay—he still had an investment there—but it was totally boring. Baine was a senior detective out of the South Melbourne station where Jason had been based. He had also bumped into the huge, square-headed man when he was a youth.
“You know what this is about, right?” Baine asked, picking at something in his teeth. “I didn’t toss it your way because you might be a bit close.”
Jason frowned. He couldn’t imagine. “What are you going on about, Boss—too close to what?”
“The remains have been identified as that young nurse Grace McKenna.” A look was being sent over the top of silver framed glasses. The question in it: can you handle it?
Grace McKenna. Shit. Jason never said that—rather, he just returned a look of manufactured nonchalance.
His boss chuckled. “That’s the look you gave me back then, kid.” He closed a blue folder and pushed it across the desk. It was a polished mahogany desk—always shiny and clear. Baine had a computer on a bench along the wall. He had no electronics in front of him, just an empty inbox and a silver trophy mug with pens and pencils. “What the hell, being a local, you might get special treatment from the boys over there, anyway. Sergeant Harris knows to expect you. We go back a ways. He said he’ll give you what he can.”
“Who are we working for?” Jason lifted the cover of the file—pages of notes and a photograph of the girl he remembered seeing around town as a youth in Everly Cove. He hadn’t taken much notice of her, but when she was reported murdered he was visited in his home in Melbourne and interviewed. Baine was the detective. He’d shown him that same photo.
“The old man’s son,” Baine answered, resting back in his creaky leather chair. “It’s all there… Wilfred Barrett is the guy’s name. Cops are fed up with him whining about wrongful convictions, so he wants us to liaise with enforcement. Just keep an eye on the investigation and let him know what’s going on… It’s all cleared with the sergeant. They’re more than pleased to not have to deal with the guy.”
“Sounds easy,” Jason said, shrugging. “That’s it—just keep the guy informed?”
“Yep. Take your golf clubs if you like.”
Baine’s secretary, Marcy, came in. She was a buxom woman, always immaculately presented and wearing bright red lipstick. “I’ve got you in the only bed and breakfast in town. You’ll have to find somewhere for evening meals.”
“Yeah, I know the B&B.” Jason took the sheet of paper she offered and slipped it into the folder. Marcy used a cloth and rubbed at a mark on the boss’s desk. She was the reason it was always so shiny. Everyone wondered if the two of them were on together. They looked a well matched couple.
“So, what actually happened with this girl, Boss? The old man abducted her and what—murdered and buried her?” Jason checked what he had read on the first page of the file. “At the soccer field?”
“There was no soccer field back then. It was scrub and a creek running through, as I recall,” Baine pointed out.
“There was a soccer field—or sort of one. We used to play sometimes, but it wasn’t full size. It was just a vacant block there in the middle of town.”
“No, this is a new one—near the high school. The grave is older than the field.”
“And they caught the man?” Marcy asked. “The girl was a young nurse, wasn’t she? A good Samaritan helping sick people…”
“Yeah, we got the perp. Jason here used to swim in his pool. He’s lucky he and his girlfriend weren’t murdered and buried in the scrub too.”
“I swam there once,” Jason clarified for Marcy. “And it was hardly my girlfriend. Just some girl from school.”
Baine and Marcy continued talking. Jason zoned out and drifted off into the memory of that girl from school. He hadn’t been down that lane in years. It smelled the same. It always had. It was kind of a cool lilac. It must have been her soap. It wasn’t a perfume or a shampoo. It was in her skin and had absolutely filled him when he kissed her. The thrill of those first kisses still resonated within Jason’s soul. He believed they were the most intense of his life so far. Which is ridiculous… Of course a first kiss is going to be intense. But why hadn’t his first time making love with a woman measured up? That had been a few years later with his then girlfriend Sarah Pickard. They were together for two years in college. There had been other women too, before meeting Raelene. But no, April Anderson was the one he remembered most fondly—even though she had merely toyed with him for a time or two—April Anderson, soft skin and lilac.
“You with us there, kid?”
“What? Er… Yes.”
“Take my Cruiser. I’ve already got the trade-in valuation. Might as well put some kilometres on it.”
“Your Cruiser? Seriously?”
Jason liked the boss’s Land Cruiser. He’d driven it a few times around the city. The idea of taking it on a road trip was appealing.
“But don’t bust it up,” Baine shot at him as he was leaving. Then he chuckled. “Or if you do, make sure you write it off completely. The insurance is worth more than the trade-in.”
Jason shared an office with Natasha Royal. He plopped down in the chair across her desk. She was typing on her laptop, focused, it seemed. She glanced once then again. “What?”
“We split up.”
She stopped typing, looking over the screen. “You split up. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Good,” Jason answered emphatically. “All good, except with the kids.”
His partner joined him in a frown. “But now you can find a girl and make more kids.” Her eyes lit up with the tease. “You’re not bad looking for a white guy. Someone will have you.”
“You’re not bad looking yourself, Nat. What are you doing when I get back from this job?”
“Huh. Wait till I tell my man you’re getting fresh with me.”
Jason chuckled. “Tony? No, me and him are buddies. I’ll sort Tony out. I’ll tell him you’ve decided to move on up, shall I?”
Natasha laughed and resumed typing. “The way your last woman walked all over you—you’d be my bitch by the end of a week.”
“Yeah, probably would, Nat… You all good here, then? The boss reckons a week, maybe ten days.”
She waved him off. “Go and have fun. Get laid. Come back happy.”
Jason stopped at the door. “Hey, Nat?”
“What?”
“You’re a cool partner…”
She smiled sincerely. “Come back happy, Jason. You’re cool too when you’re happy.”
*
After giving his children an extra-long hug that night, Jason was on the highway headed east out of the Melbourne suburbs. The Land Cruiser was leather appointed luxury—silent and powerful. I need to update the Mazda. He drove for only a few hours before his eyes were threatening to close, and he pulled into a truck parking bay and wound his seat back for a short nap.
It was verging dawn when Jason opened his eyes to a sign post pointing toward Ninety Mile Beach. There was good coffee at the take away shop there, he recalled. That small local road wound through farmland and patches of forest before ending dead-stop at a tiny township and the brilliantly blue Tasman Sea. The morning was crisp and glaringly bright with the sun glistening off the calm water.
Jason parked and strolled out onto the sand, working his cramped muscles. The 90 miles of beach were a gentle arc in the island continent, scrubby trees crowding over a narrow strip of lightly golden sand stretching to the horizon in the east and west. There was little development along the coastline there—a natural paradise.
The coffee was as Jason remembered. He gobbled down a meat pie in a couple of bites then sat on a log rail in front of his car, sipping the strong caffeine and letting it filter through his veins. The expanse of ocean drew his gaze and his mind. It would take a few hours to pack once he returned home, but he would be buying all new furniture for the apartment. He had no idea what the future would hold for him and his children. Would he become their mother’s ex in their eyes? He would have no formal authority over them—no opportunity to guide them beyond giving advice and hoping to influence their choices in schooling and the youthful relationships they would be getting into soon.
Jason had a chuckle at thought of his own youthful relationships again. He took his wallet from his pocket and checked his secret compartment. There was a note he had written to a girl in college—a love note that she had screwed up and tossed back at him. It was still creased but had ironed quite well over the years of being sat on. He opened it and read: Sweet Tracy I can’t captain a debating team with you in it because I love you. It was written on ruled notepad paper, browning a little. Tracy was a girl he had been infatuated with, but she never allowed him beyond friend status. It had felt like love to him at the time. There was a receipt for a bracelet he had bought another girl once. He wasn’t sure why he still had that. The other item in the secret compartment was the one he was looking for: a photo of April Anderson in a bikini. It was actually half a photo. Jason’s school buddy Michael had been trimmed out of the picture—surplus to requirements.
I wonder what ever became of you, April. I was probably silly to write you those few times. Some stupid, dreamy teenager rubbish—I can’t even remember what I wrote.
Jason grinned to himself. It felt nice remembering April.
Must look you up when I get to town. Bet you ended up modelling in frigging Europe or something, but I wonder…

Chapter 4

April woke and lay staring at the ceiling. Eric was finishing off his packing for his trip to Paris. His family were English but lived in France. April had wriggled out of the invitation. She didn’t get on with them.
She was driving, so she took her little car, picking up Mandy on the way past her house. By lunchtime the girls were waving goodbye from the terminal drop-off zone. Eric gave a wave back and disappeared into the building.
“You know, last time he went over there he cheated on me,” April announced.
Mandy’s mouth hung open.
“It’s no big deal. I didn’t want to say anything—have it all over town.”
“No big deal? Oh my gosh, April!”
“Oh, don’t carry on. It was three years ago now. We’re over it.” April thought about that for a few seconds. “Actually, it never really bothered me.”
“It never bothered you?”
“Nope. Might even do it myself next chance I get.” She giggled.
“Oh, you would not,” Mandy cried. “Hussy!”
“Well, why the hell not? You know, I was thinking about what you asked the other morning… I don’t think I’ve ever been in love. I don’t even know what that is.”
“You’ve never felt in need and on fire—completely distracted by a guy?”
April glanced. She was negotiating merging lanes of traffic. She had been distracted by guys before, but ‘in need’ or ‘on fire’? Maybe during sex.
“That doesn’t sound so amazing, Mandy. Sounds like horny to me.”
Mandy blushed. “No, not just horny. I mean you just can’t get the guy out of your mind. You spend half your time day dreaming and the other half dreaming at night. When you wake up in the morning, you just smile.”
“You’ve been smiling a lot lately,” April pointed out.
“I know. I can’t help it… I want him to ask me to marry him. Already!”
“You’ve been wanting him to ask you to marry him since you were ten, Mandy.”
Mandy laughed. “Yes, I suppose I have… But I can’t believe Eric. How am I supposed to look at him now? It’s going to be weird.”
“It’s been weird for me too,” April agreed. “Weird that I don’t even care.”
A few moments passed in silence as they drove along an expressway headed out of Canberra city. Mandy suddenly spoke what had obviously been on her mind.
“You’re so tough, April. You always handle stuff so well.”
That was true, although April had to suppress a rise of emotion right then. She rarely cried. She sometimes did when alone but never in front of anyone.
April was sixteen when she became pregnant with her daughter, Heather. She had moved out of home and raised her child alone on the single mother’s pension. It had been a tough first few years. She refused to leave her baby with childcare and wouldn’t burden her mother or aunties, so she spent that first five years on the minimum income. There had been boyfriends but only passing interests. When Heather started school, April began work in a bakery, serving at the counter. She was offered an apprenticeship and qualified as a pastry cook. A position became available when the new supermarket opened, and she secured that, soon becoming the bakery manager. She had achieved that without any influence from Eric. He was the assistant store manager at that time. They started seeing each other after staff meetings and kind of gravitated toward moving in together and marriage. It had been a slow progression. Not a lot of fire at all, April considered as she drove.
When Heather finished high school with one of the highest rankings in the state, April used her savings to set her up at university in Melbourne, where she was right then in her second year of a medical degree.
“Heather doesn’t know about Eric either. I’d prefer she didn’t find out, okay, Mandy?”
“Of course. I won’t say a word.” Mandy intertwined fingers. “I still think he’s a creep now, though—even if you don’t care.”
“I do care,” April replied. “I do, Mandy. I just… I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m thirty-five and I might as well be seventy. I feel like I’m wasting time.”
“Well, do something. Shake your life up!”
“How? Do what? I’m not having an affair. If I was going to do that I’d be doing it properly and booting Eric out.”
“Now there’s a thought… The arsehole cheater!”
April glared at her cousin in mock horror. Mandy never swore.
“Well, he is. That’s the lowest thing, to cheat. Like you said—if you’re going to do it, leave properly.”
“You think I should leave Eric?”
“No… Well, I don’t know. He’s just an a’hole now that I know what he did.” Mandy glanced and smiled. She had an idea. April knew her looks.
“What? What are you scheming, Mandy?”
The younger woman shrugged. “Nothing. I just realised what you need.”
April frowned. “And what would that be?”
The smile broadened. A blush appeared, making Mandy very pretty—adorable in fact, April thought. The girl bit her lip, raking it with her teeth. Her eyes were alight. “Find a new man and have a baby.”
April peered over her sunglasses. She wanted to scoff but she would be lying if she did, since the same idea had occurred to her plenty of times lately. There was a new owner of the news agency at her shopping centre, a single man who had been making her think twice about how her hair was done in the mornings. She used to pin her hair up. Lately she had been wearing it down, letting her long dark curls bounce about her shoulders. She had to pin it up for work but not until she got there.
“Well, why not?” Mandy challenged. “Find a nice guy and fall in love… It’s the best feeling!”
“And have babies?”
“Yeah—but with a guy this time. Like, fall in love first, then get married, then have a baby… How hard would that be? Guys would be all over you if you were single. You’re really hot.”
April couldn’t help smiling. She loved being around Mandy with her absolute positivity. The girl wanted her fairy tale and would have it. Nothing else even mattered.
“I think you like that idea, April—to have a real man to take care of you… You’re not really so tough, are you?”
April tried to suppress another rise of emotion but couldn’t contain it that time. Tears welled. “No, I’m not so tough,” she replied, sniffling. “I’d like to be taken care of.”
“Okay. I’m going to find you a real man. Eric the cheater is history. Let’s cancel his plane ticket. They can keep him over there.”
April giggled a little painfully. “Okay…” She was about halfway serious.
The expressway narrowed to a highway skirting the eastern edge of the New South Wales Alps. They crossed the border back into Victoria. The prison that held their grandfather was a minimum security facility. It had farming enterprises that the prisoners worked, the visiting area in parkland with bench seats and gardens.
“Hello, Granddad,” both women cried in unison, getting hugs and taking a hand each to hold while they sat talking.

Chapter 5

Lester Barrett was seventy-six years old. He had battled the first fifty plus in the real world. The past twenty, he had spent in the relative ease and security of the Victorian prison system.
This was Lester’s garden. When he had been transferred from high security to the Winton Park facility, the visitor’s area was in an open grassy yard with a couple of shade trees. Lester had gained the privilege of upgrading and maintaining the facility through several years of good behaviour. The prison warden often took his meal breaks in Lester’s garden. He would offer Lester a cup of his herbal tea occasionally.
“But you can’t just stay here,” his sweet young granddaughter was saying. “You have to come home, Granddad. We all love you and miss you so much.”
“I know, sweetheart. It’s just daunting to think of having to think! There’s a lot to be said for being without a choice. You get your meals. There’s exact time limits on any activity. There’s a bedtime and a wake up buzzer.”
“So, we’ll get you a buzzer,” April went on, fussing with his shirt collar. “Plus you can wear whatever shirt you want instead of these boring grey things.”
“But I like grey.”
Lester adored April. She was his favourite, though he would never say. She reminded him of her grandmother—Lester’s wife, who had died of cancer in her early thirties. April was not the image of Eileen but she had her personality.
Mandy squeezed his hand. He looked to her. She was smiling gaily, with a twinkle he noticed differently. “Dad’s been taking care of your house, Granddad. It’s really nice.”
He nodded his appreciation.
“Except the back is full of junk,” April added. “We didn’t want to sort through your old shed and that because who knows what treasures there are in amongst the trash.”
“Have you decided if you’re going to stay in The Cove?” Mandy asked tentatively.
Lester had been avoiding thinking about that. His son, Mandy’s father, had offered him a place in Melbourne—a fresh start where no one would know him.
“I think I want to give it a try at The Cove. I hope people will let me.”
“They have to let you!” April demanded. “Anyone complains and they’ll be getting poison bread. I’ll slip a few drops of arsenic into the mix. Give them something real to complain about instead of this bullshit.”
Lester smiled. April flared up as easily as Eileen used to.
“Then I’ll set their houses on fire,” she went on. “Anyone who even dares make you feel unwelcome—see what happens to them.”
“Plus the police have to help you settle in,” Mandy added softly. “My Brent said they have to, and he’s going to make sure no one bothers you.”
Lester cocked a bushy brow. “Your Brent?”
Mandy blushed. “My boyfriend.”
April added to that. “Who she wants to marry and have babies with.”
Lester pulled little Mandy close. “Well, I’d best get home in time for the wedding, I suppose.” She was blushing bright red, but that twinkle in her pretty eyes outshone any of that.
Lester’s two girls spent the visiting hour there with him talking about all the changes at The Cove, things he had heard over and over but never tired of listening to. His mental picture of the small town was from the nineteen eighties. Apparently you didn’t even use money these days, all of that had gone electronic. His bank had moved from the main building in the centre of town to a small shop in some new mall complex. You did your banking on-line—using a computer or something or other. There were computers in the prison library, but Lester had yet to investigate what they were for or how to use one.
His girls had all of that sorted. He would be getting lessons from each of them.
Their hugs were what he had been living on over the years. The ones today were extra-long and cuddly. They left him with tears welling in his eyes.
The garden was emptying out. He nodded to Roger, the guard on duty, and returned to his rake and wheel barrow and the pile of leaves he had gathered before visiting hour.
The parole board meeting next week was apparently a mere formality. Lester would miss his garden, but he was ready to face the real world outside. He had some time left. He was fit and healthy—set to live well into his eighties, he hoped. And one thing he wanted in that final chapter of life—one thing he had been missing desperately these past twenty years—was the smell and sound of his beloved Pacific Ocean.
A garden is no damned place for a fisherman. Neither is Melbourne city.

Chapter 6

The two headlands were an eerily welcome sight for Jason. He had parked at the lookout before negotiating the windy road down the cliff-face into the sleepy little fishing village of Everly Cove. The town was nestled around a pebbly beach between two massive sandstone rock formations jutting out into the ocean. Atop the northern headland towered the defunct lighthouse, which closed down when Jason was a child. The southern pillar of rock was covered in lawns and gardens and adorned by a huge sandstone mansion, built by the Mulvane family, who founded the fish markets. It was now the residence of the town widow.
The road down the cliff-face brought Jason into the southern end of town where there seemed to be more houses than he remembered. There were new developments—gated communities it seemed, or at least sectioned off and with a decorated stone wall entrance. No doubt there were rent-a-cops circling the streets in small black and white security cars, Jason considered. Well, ain’t The Cove a big city now?
The main road found the shoreline, where he rolled along peering up the side streets. This all looked as he had last seen it. There were more businesses and taller buildings back a ways, but along the waterfront everything looked the same. The fisherman’s bar still needed a coat of paint. There were bearded men with beers leaning on the window ledges looking out at the docks—nothing new. Jason’s old takeaway shop was still there. He would be good for burgers and fish & chips—dinners were covered. He hoped they still did the same battered savs and maybe the malted milkshakes. There were people strolling along the foreshore. It was a nice, warm early spring evening.
Jason turned left and drove up and down the streets. He found a new shopping centre and that the hospital had been expanded. His old high school had huge sail like structures he imagined were shade for the students while outdoors—perhaps an advancement in health and safety for the hot summer months. The orange brick buildings were kind of overgrown with trees. It was all still there, but time had moved on. The police station had been converted to a boys scout hall. There was a new station and court house over near the bed and breakfast. He slowed as he passed. It looked big—all glass and chrome. The landscaped gardens were impressive. There was a utility and trailer parked, with the name David Barrett on the side. The Barrett’s had lived across from Jason’s house. There had been a boy named David. Jason’s contact was the father, Wilfred. Better get settled and have a chat with the sergeant before reporting in with him.
There was parking out front of the B&B, an old style timber house surrounded by more beautiful flower gardens, overlooking the bay and lines of fishing boats. There was a new marina on this northern end of the bay, populated with sporty looking pleasure craft.
“Hello… Mrs Reeves? I’m Jason Ford. I have a booking.”
The elderly woman who had answered Jason’s knock on the open door was squinting up at him. Her eyes suddenly shot open. “Oh, of course! Mr Ford… Linda and George’s boy come to see us. Come in. Come in.”
“You remember me?” Jason was following.
“Oh no. Well, yes, now that I have a close look I can see your young self in there. Oh yes, the town’s expecting you.”
“The town’s expecting me?”
The busy old woman chuckled. “Of course, dear. You’d be here to poke into the whats and wherefores of that body they dug up over by the school. Big time police officer and all… Now, I’ve got you out back here. You don’t want one of these frilly rooms I give to my honeymooners, do you? You want something basic and functional, yes?”
“Yes, ma’am. Basic is fine. I’m not with the police anymore, though. I’m a private investigator.”
“Oh yes, that’s what I meant… Here at the behest of Wilfred Barrett. His private police, hmm?”
“Yes, that’s it. A private cop… You know an awful lot about this, Mrs Reeves.”
She smiled. “Well, we talk around town and…” she whispered behind her hand, “Sergeant Harris? He can’t keep a secret.”
“Oh, I see. Well, that makes my job easier.” Jason dropped his bag on the floor and looked out the window at the roof-tops of the town centre and the few tall buildings amongst them. “Yes, this will do fine, Mrs Reeves. Perfect.”
He had a single bed, a desk and a chair. A bathroom across the hall was labelled Gents. Presumably the ladies’ bathroom resided elsewhere in the rambling old house.
“Fine. Now, breakfast is in the main dining room we passed there, between seven and eight. You will be eating with us?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be there at seven.”
“Lovely! Enjoy your stay, Mr Ford.”
Jason kicked off his shoes and flopped on the bed. It was firm yet soft, just about right. He closed his eyes and, sometime later, opened them to darkness and slight confusion until his mind quickly came to terms with where he was. Someone had closed his door. He peeped out. All was quiet in the house.
A quick shower to freshen up had Jason ready to go find food. He strolled down the hill to the takeaway shop across from the beach. Mrs Keno still ran the place, he noticed. She was a large Greek woman who hadn’t changed a lot in twenty years. The menu hadn’t changed much either—still offering a range of greasy battered seafood snacks.
“Two pieces of fish and a bag of chips, please?” Jason requested, putting a bottle of Coke on the high-top laminated counter next to a stand of football cards.
Mrs Keno placed his fish in the boiling oil and scooped a serve of chips into the deep fry basket. “And how is big city life treating you, Jason?” she asked, wiping her hands in her apron.
“Well enough thanks, Mrs Keno. It’s home now, I suppose. I hardly remember The Cove.”
“Well, you were only a boy… Town’s changed a lot over the years.”
“I can’t believe you remember me.”
“Ha! Skinny legged thing you were.”
“How’s Anthony going these days?” Anthony Keno was a boy Jason used to hang around with a bit. It had been good having a friend whose parents owned the milkshake shop.
“He’s in Sydney with a young family—three boys,” Mrs Keno replied, huffing unhappily.
Jason learned of what became of a few other kids he went to school with while his fish and chips were cooking. He took his paper-wrapped meal across the road and set up at a bench facing the cove to watch the few fishermen still cleaning up or working on their boats. The oily, salty meal tasted good—like biting into 1985. He scolded his fingers digging it out of the paper wrapping to eat it, as he always used to do. It wasn’t easy to find a traditional fish & chip shop anymore, everything being healthy and served in Styrofoam these days. You got a plastic knife and fork. Where was the fun in that?
Along the walkway was a bar with music playing and a generally young looking crowd. Jason went in for a couple of beers. The music was karaoke with a range of talents on display over the hour he sat and watched, clapping and laughing along. In spite of the afternoon nap, he began tiring, though, and soon returned to his rented room for a nights’ sleep.
*
“Ah yes—Mr Ford. Come on through,” a huge bellied sergeant greeted him at the front counter of the police station the next morning.
He took a proffered chair across the sergeant’s desk. A file was produced from a drawer, and the sergeant put on glasses and opened it. He rubbed his chin. Jason waited for him to speak.
“Son, the remains have been positively identified as those of the nurse Grace McKenna.” He peered over his glasses. “What are your instructions from Barrett?”
“I haven’t met with him yet. As far as I know I’m to liaise with you on his behalf—report on any progress in the case.”
“The case won’t be re-opened. This development is not entirely unexpected. There was never a body found. The original file concluded the method of disposal had not been definitively established. Melbourne are having a look, but there is no great interest in pursuing this with the perpetrator having served his sentence. They’re going to add a passage or two and return the file to the archives. There are more pressing matters, you understand?”
Jason did understand. He nodded. “I can pass that information on. Seems I’ve wasted a trip.”
“Ah no,” the sergeant said with a grin. “It was well worth the trip to save me having to explain that to Barrett.” He handed Jason the file. “There’s a summary in there. If Barrett won’t accept this, bring him in. I’ve a feeling it won’t go down well.”
Jason accepted the sergeant’s handshake. He nodded his thanks for the file and left. It was a cardboard folder with a few pages of information: a crime scene report, charge sheet and judgment summary.
It was only a few blocks to the Barrett house where he had arranged to meet Wilfred Barrett at ten. There was an hour to kill, so he drove to the new shopping mall for a look around and to find a coffee and slice or something. There was a bakery and a food court. Jason sat watching the morning shoppers and had a browse through a local paper, taking in the prices of properties that were not a lot cheaper than Melbourne.
He gave Baine a call. “That’s all he said, Boss. They’re not interested. It’s not worth wasting assets on something that amounts to nothing.”
“Figures,” Baine replied. “I warned this Barrett fellow that might happen. Just give him what you’ve got and see what he wants to do.”
“Fine, Boss. Will do,” Jason said and pocketed his phone.
He strolled outside into the warm sunny day and had a stretch, then he got in the Cruiser and almost hit a car, backing out of his spot. It was a little blue thing that had flashed past, doing considerably more than the 10kph speed limit, he reasoned. The driver had slammed on brakes, screeching to a halt and nearly hitting another car. It was a woman with a mop of dark curls tumbling around her shoulders. She had parked her car and approached Jason’s window with an awfully angry expression on what was otherwise a pretty face.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.
Jason opened his mouth but she cut him off.
“What’s this frigging great truck? No wonder you can’t see where you’re driving. Where’s your eight children or your trailer full of cows—or is this all for you?”
“Sorry…” Jason offered. “I looked. I didn’t see you.” He wanted to mention that she had come out of nowhere but thought better of it. “Sorry,” he repeated and turned to continue backing out of the rather tight parking spot.
The woman stormed off, heels clacking on the pavement, hair fluttering out behind. Jason was checking out her bottom when she flashed a look back over her shoulder and caught him. He shrugged and smiled guiltily and drove away before she had a chance to attack him again.
He still had fifteen minutes to waste, so he meandered along the small pebbly beach and parked for a last, nostalgic look out at the cove. If the meeting went well he would be on the road in an hour, but it was nice to see his old home town again.
He pulled up in front of the Barrett house and was walking into the yard when the little blue car from the shopping centre flashed into the driveway. The curly-haired woman got out carrying a loaf of bread. She looked him up and down. “You’re the private investigator from Melbourne?”
“That would be me,” Jason replied amicably.
Her eyes rolled in a follow me motion. She opened the front door of the house and went in. “Uncle Will, the investigator guy’s here.”
Jason poked his head in the door. A tall, thin man greeted him with a firm handshake. “Will Barrett… You’d be Jason Ford?”
“Yes, sir.”
Jason was ushered in and to a seat in a tidy lounge room. It was a small, older style house, just like the one across the road where he used to live.
The angry woman returned and sat on the lounge next to her uncle. They both looked to Jason expectantly. Another woman came in with a tray of teacups and a teapot. She placed it on a low stained timber table in the middle of the room.
“So, I had a meeting with Sergeant Harris this morning,” Jason started.
“Yes—and?” the angry woman asked. Her uncle patted her knee, giving a small hand gesture to be quiet and let Jason talk.
“Well, the remains have been identified as those of Grace McKenna. The police are satisfied these findings are consistent with the original conviction against Lester Barrett. It’s unlikely they will be doing anything more than adding a note to the file.”
The older man was nodding. The angry woman appeared ready to let fly.
“Hey, I’m just passing on information here, lady.”
“Information that’s bullshit,” she said, still with an aggressive edge to her tone, but her brown eyes softened a little as she held Jason’s gaze.
He experienced a jolt of interest in the matter. He often had to process the mundane—track down people to serve papers on or sift through file after file to find evidence of one company ripping off another company. It was rare to be assigned anything exciting to actually investigate. “Well, if you think it’s bullshit, why not investigate the matter privately? The cops don’t care much for what you think. They have a crime, a perpetrator, and now they have the victim… They’re happy.”
“That’s why you’re here, Mr Ford,” the thin man said calmly.
Everyone looked at him—both women and Jason had the same blank expression.
Wilfred Barrett went on, addressing Jason. “My father never murdered that young nurse. As far as I can see it—and I’m no legal expert—the prosecution could not prove he did and we couldn’t prove he didn’t. He was convicted because of his confession.” He glanced either side at the two women, including them as he continued. “We know he didn’t do it, sir. We want you to do what the police were never motivated to do. We want you to investigate who actually did kill the girl. We want you to assume Granddad…” He checked again with the two women, obviously granddaughters. “…didn’t do it”
The woman who had brought the tea was crying. The angry woman had tears welling too. The man appeared resolute.
Jason felt alive. He suddenly wanted this.
“Tell me what you can, please?” He had addressed the man but looked to the two women as well. “I was here back then. I was a kid. I met your grandfather a couple of times—used to know April Anderson. She must be—”
The man and tea woman turned to the angry woman. She was blushing. “I’m April Anderson,” she mumbled.
Jason gulped. “You’re April?” He suddenly saw the teen girl in her eyes. “You’re April.”
“And you are?”
“Jason… Jason Ford.”
“Oh boy, it’s Bat out of Hell,” the other woman exclaimed, smiling.
“Hi, Jason. How have you been?” April asked. She had changed, the anger gone. There was warmth in her eyes, and a small smile accompanied the remnants of her blush.
“Bat out of Hell?” Wilfred asked in confusion.
The tea woman squeezed his arm. “Private joke, Dad. Don’t worry.” She met Jason’s glance. “I’m Mandy. We’re cousins. This is my dad. April used to talk about you all the time.”
April was blushing again. Jason found his voice. “I’m good. I’ve been going fine, thanks… You look good. You grew up.”
“You did too.”
“We tried to find you once,” Mandy announced.
“Mandy!” April scolded.
“She’s still got your letters,” the girl added defiantly.
“Cut it out, Mandy. Seriously!” angry April shot at her wide-eyed, grinning cousin.
“Yes—enough with the fun and games. You can catch up later,” Wilfred commanded. “How much do you know of what happened back then, Jason?”
“I know quite a bit. I was interviewed by the police at the time and took an interest in all the news reports I could find. Jack Baine, my boss, was a detective involved in the investigation. I know that basically, Lester Barrett was found asleep in his boat the morning after the girl went missing. He was still drunk. There was a shoe belonging to the girl in the boat, along with her blood. Witnesses stated that he had carried and dragged what could have been a body into his boat the previous night and set out to sea. Back at his house, police found more of her clothing and blood on the kitchen floor, also hair and blood in the back of his station wagon. Then there was the previous charge for peeping on the girl. He was facing a court appearance over that after being warned several times and continuing to harass her. And then there was his confession—that he had abducted and killed the girl and dumped her body at sea.”
The three listeners were just staring.
Jason went on. “But let’s say all of that, which seems pretty clear-cut, is untrue. It’s circumstantial and pointing to a wrong conclusion… I think the key question would be: why did your grandfather confess? Why would he do that?”
“Because he was too drunk to remember what happened, and he believed the evidence like everyone else,” April replied.
“He doesn’t remember,” Wilfred added. “He talks about flashes of memory. He saw the girl dead. He was on the boat. I’ve asked him why he was so obsessed with that girl, and he brushes the question off. That she was killed, hurts him deeply. I don’t think he actually knows whether or not he did it… Not to this day.”
Jason accepted the cup of tea Mandy poured him. He sipped the strong brew. “My first question is still why… Why was he obsessed with the girl?”
“He wasn’t a pervert,” April declared emphatically.
“That’s good. So, he never bothered any other women or girls back then? I don’t remember hearing anything at the time.”
“No, he never did,” Wilfred assured. “But he did sneak around spying on that nurse,” he added grimly.
“Well, that’s one angle we need to approach this investigation from. And one I’m sure the police never bothered much with, given the confession.” Jason drank down the last of his tea and motioned to the pot, requesting permission to get a refill. “What else do we have? Is there anything else you can think of that you believe the police never looked into? Do you have a suspect?”
“There were a lot of men coming and going from Granddad’s house back then—fishermen types—drifters,” April said, pouring more tea for Jason and herself. “The house was never locked. Anyone could have murdered that girl and used Granddad’s car when he was drunk. He was always drunk.”
“There’s one thing I’ve always wondered about,” Wilfred offered ponderingly. “There’s an old woman who has lived on Lorton Island for forty odd years and has never been seen over here on the mainland—never, other than one day back then I saw her across the road staring at Dad’s house.”
Jason had his notebook out and a pen ready. “Her name?”
“I don’t know. I approached her once but she wouldn’t speak to me.”
“She seems friendly enough now,” Mandy suggested. “We saw her when we were over at Lorton Island last week.”
“People call her The Witch… It’s cruel,” April added. “We can go and see her.”
We? Jason let that slide for the moment, though it thrilled him. “What about that preacher guy who lived down the back?”
April acknowledged that question. “The Pastor? No, he was really nice. There were other men hanging around who used to creep me out, but he was different. He tried to help Granddad and stop him from watching that nurse all the time. He used to help me steal Granddad’s wine and pour it down the sink.”
“The police cleared him,” Wilfred added. “He was the one person they did at least interrogate—since he lived there with my father. He came and went a few times afterward. His old van is still there in the junk down the back yard.”
“What was his name?” Jason enquired.
No one knew.
“I heard it mentioned but can’t recall,” Wilfred said, peering over the top of Jason’s notebook.
“So, we need to figure out why your granddad was so interested in Grace McKenna, and we need to have a chat with the lady on Lorton Island… That’s a good start… What are the chances Lester will simply tell us why? How long has it been since you last asked him?”
“He brushes you off,” April said. “If you mention anything at all about it, he just brushes you. And he’s good at it.”
“Did she look like anyone?” Jason asked, showing the photograph from his file. They all studied it. Heads were shaking slowly. “Does she look anything like his wife?” Jason tossed out there.
April picked up the photograph to study it more closely. “Not really.”
“What about someone from before he married? Could she resemble a girlfriend from his youth? Are there photo albums we could check?” Jason reviewed his information. “When did he marry?”
“He and Mum married in 1955. Mum died in 1960,” Wilfred said. “There are stacks of photos from all through the years. Dad was an amateur photographer.”
“Did he ever photograph women?” Jason asked.
Wilfred shook his head. “Not as in models. He often photographed people around the wharfs—anyone strolling around were fair game.”
Jason noted that. He scratched his head. They were all just staring at him. April had a beautiful light in her eyes, and a tiny smile was tugging at her full lips. “I think we go see your granddad’s house first thing—look through his stuff for any clues about why he might have been infatuated with the nurse. Would that be okay?”
“Certainly!” Wilfred declared. “Anything you need, Mr Ford. Better get it done before the old bugger comes home, though.”
“Jason will be fine, sir,” Jason offered with a smile.
“Then I’m Will,” the older man returned. He was smiling too. They all were.
“Then we’ll have to go and see this lady on the island… Is there a ferry or something. I think there used to be one from up the coast somewhere.”
“We can get a boat,” April said. “When? I’m ready anytime.”
Jason’s skin tingled. “The house now. The island in the morning?”
“That works.”
Wilfred stood. “Where are you staying, Jason?”
“With me,” April answered before Jason could. She held his gaze steadily.
Mandy squeaked. She was blushing and smiling her head off.
“Guess I’m staying at April’s house,” Jason said to her uncle.
His eyes rolled. “On second thoughts, I don’t want to know.” He shook Jason’s hand and crushed it. “You fill me with hope, Jason.” His eyes were watery.
“Me too,” April said. “We’re going to do this, aren’t we?”
It was more so a statement than a question.
“We’re going to give it a shot,” Jason replied, taking in all three faces. “We’ll give it a damn good shot………..”

Full novel to be posted in 5 parts over the next week or so.

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

Flawed characters – great drama…

sojh

 

BOOK REVIEW: Julia’s life is not extraordinary, but it is fascinating. She steps off a plane, returning from an unplanned trip away, and is faced with a whole bunch of problems that have sprung up in her absence. It’s a scene easily related to – everything falling apart at the same time. Everyone who has lived a bit of a life has experienced this… What are the decisions and incidents that shaped your life and brought you to that point? Well, in this story, Julia is a flawed character. Reading through the chapters of her life, there were times I didn’t particularly like her. But she is human – brilliantly depicted as such. And I found myself cheering for her in the end. The real heroine in this story, to me, is her best friend. Raz is mysterious… strong. We don’t spend much time inside her head, but that adds to the story, lending a depth of dimension that exist in all of our lives… This is a captivating read. Authentic.

Preview The Secrets of Julia Hawke on Amazon

tbh

 

BOOK REVIEW: Actually, I’ve been to the beach house, metaphorically. Any place with important personal history is the beach house. It’s horrible when you drive past somewhere you remember fondly from some life event years ago and find it’s been re-developed. It’s gone… This is a wonderfully uplifting read. The many stories, brilliantly intertwined, are so real and inspiring… If you’re an Aussie you will probably like this book. If you’re not an Aussie you will probably like this book.

Preview The Beach House on Amazon

icws

 

BOOK REVIEW: True to life characters and an outback Aussie road trip… this is a touching and shocking human drama, the telling of which begins in turmoil and takes us on two journeys. One is the road trip – onward into discovery and hurt. The other is a series of flashbacks that lead us to our starting point and an expertly crafted reveal. Wonderfully written – mesmerizing… this is a terrific novel.

Preview In Conversation With Strangers on Amazon