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Aussie Romantic Thriller

kangaroo-3d

Kangaroo review 1

Chapter 1

 Blake Malone’s house was right over the road from The Ascot bar. On the corner of James and Pendington, it was a place he frequented almost as often as his house. It was Saturday night, just after eleven, he was leaning on the bar looking over his half full beer glass at three women sitting at a table. The blond one glanced and returned his smile. It wasn’t the first time she had done it. She shook her head, giggling and blushing as her eyes rolled away.

Blake had a permanent smile. At twenty-eight he easily passed for a 35-year-old, due to his laugh lines and a smattering of grey in his short dark hair. But his smile had a boyish quality. It was game in the face of adversity and cheeky on a Saturday night out hunting skirt.

He didn’t know the blond, had never seen her before. He had slept with both of her girlfriends separately, on just one occasion about a year apart. He wondered whether they had conferred with one another on the matter. They each glanced his way a few times and may well have referred to him in their discussion. There was a dance floor and music. He was seated too far away to hear what they were talking about.

Blake’s phone buzzed, a text from his boss. He read it and put the phone back in his pants pocket.

Checking the girls again, he saw Jolene take Elle by the hand and lead her to the dance floor. It was the first time in the half hour the blond had been left alone. He took his beer and strolled over, her gaze flashing past him then returning to meet his. Her smile lit up.

“I’m Blake. How ya going?”

“Fine, thanks.”

Blake cocked an ear questioningly.

The woman’s blush deepened. “Lisa.”

“Hey, Lisa. I’ve been trying not to stare. Sorry.”

“That’s okay. Stare all you want.”

Blake leaned on the back of a chair. “I’ve actually gotta go but didn’t want to leave without saying hi. I noticed you smile a few times. Maybe if I see you here again we could have a drink?”

She frowned. “Oh. You have to go?”

“I do, well, in a minute, anyway. How do you know Jolene and Elle, from work?”

“Yeah. I just started this week. We’re having a get-to-know-each-other night.” Lisa tilted her head, her eyebrows rising. “They called you a shark.”

“Who, me?” Blake chuckled, feigning innocence. “They must have me confused.”

“No, I don’t think so. You look kind of sharky.”

Blake looked down at himself, arms spread. He wasn’t properly dressed for a Saturday night out, cargo pants and a t-shirt. His hair was ruffled and he hadn’t shaved that morning. He looked back up, grinning. “How’s this sharky? I’ve got nothing on all the other guys here, fine cut and slick looking. I just stopped in for a beer before bedtime.”

“Bedtime? Really?”

“Yeah, I’ve gotta work in the morning, a Sunday ‘n’ all, conscientious as I am.”

“Your work isn’t even open on Sundays.”

“How do you know where I work, Lisa?” Blake edged onto a seat. “Do you mind, just for a minute?”

“That’s fine. They told me where you work. We were just talking about you.”

“Aahh, all good, I bet.”

“That’s hard to say. The difference isn’t always clear.”

Blake nodded. “I agree.” He had a sip of beer. “So, you’re in accounts as well? Is Jolene still working on her law course, she going ok with it?”

Lisa smiled a little with a blush. “She just finished.”

“Cool. And Elle, did she ever break away from that dickhead ex? I remember she said he was hassling her online. I hope she had him dealt with.”

“I don’t know. She hasn’t said anything.”

“Well, that was six months ago. Hopefully all sorted,” Blake said.

“Yeah, but you remember. They said you um, well, that you weren’t exactly a good listener.”

“Jolene has a brother, Parker, and sister…” Blake clicked his fingers, thinking. “Mary! And Mary was pregnant and pissed off with her husband about his gambling. Elle is from down south, a small town near Tamworth. She moved here to Brisbane when she was twelve. Her parents divorced not long after, and she hasn’t seen her dad since. As I recall, those were the main things going on a while ago. But what about you, Lisa? Did you grow up here in Brisbane?”

“Yeah, pretty much, the north side.”

“Cool. A local girl. Local boy,” Blake said, tipping his beer in salute. She met his smile. He looked left and right. “It seems local girls are usually the prettiest around here.”

She blushed. “Thanks, Sharky.”

Blake chuckled. Elle returned and sat beside him. “Hey, Blake.”

“Hey, Elle, how’s it going?”

“Fine. What are you doing, trying to chat up Lisa, are you?”

“I was but wasn’t getting anywhere, unfortunately. Someone tipped her off.”

“What’s he want?” Jolene asked. “That’s my chair!”

Blake leaned back, smiling up. “Sorry. I just saw you left poor Lisa sitting here all alone and thought I should offer to keep her company until you got back.”

Jolene scoffed. “Yeah, right. That’s okay, don’t get up.” She slipped onto Blake’s lap.

“He doesn’t seem so bad,” Lisa said.

“Huh! Of course he doesn’t seem bad.” Jolene squeezed his cheeks. “He seems like a nice guy. Don’t you, Mr Slick?”

“But I’m not—” Blake started.

He was cut off by Elle. “Yes, he seems all sweet and innocent, but he has a lair.”

“A lair?” Blake looked from one smiling face to another. “Sharks don’t have lairs, do they?”

They all laughed at him.

“Alright, that’s it, I’m not gonna sit around here being insulted.”

“Aaw, poor Blakey,” Jolene cooed, squeezing his cheeks again as he slipped from beneath her.

“You ladies have a nice night, Good to see you again, Jolene, Elle, looking fine. Hope you got rid of your stalker. Lisa, lovely to meet you.” Blake offered his hand. When she accepted it he lifted hers and kissed it. “Truly lovely,” he added, holding her eyes as she blushed.

“Oh my god!” Jolene cried.

Elle was mouth agape, shaking her head.

Blake bowed to them and departed, resisting a glance back as he left the bar.

He crossed the street and entered his building. He was on the fifteenth floor. The elevator was waiting. Aside from the message from his boss to show up at work in the morning, he was quite tired and not up for a lady visitor, anyway.

He stripped off and had a quick shower. It was a balmy late spring evening. He poured a dash of Cognac and took it out onto his balcony overlooking the city. He rocked back in his favourite chair and spread his toes on the cool chrome rail, the sounds of traffic and voices of people filling the air with a familiar buzz that was relaxing to Blake.

He turned on his phone and scrolled back through his texts. He didn’t have a number for either Jolene or Elle but eventually found an old text from Elle. He smiled to himself and typed: u girls r hot… He pressed send and turned off his phone, rocking back again with his Cognac.

*

The next morning, a little after ten, Blake strolled into his work building three blocks away. The executive offices of The Brisbane Mail were all but empty. He found his boss at her desk talking on a headset. She waved for him to sit.

Blake took out his phone and checked for emails. He wondered how Sandy was going. Sandy was a brunette he had seen a few times lately, nothing serious, but he was feeling rested now and up for some fun on his day off.

His boss put her headset aside. “Morning, Blake. Thanks for coming in.”

“That’s alright, Amanda. What’s up?”

Amanda Stone was a career news magazine editor. She had a narrow face and hard features. She ruffled her long red hair, it was sweaty. She wore a white tennis uniform. After fixing her curls in a band, she leaned down to a bag on the floor and pulled out an envelope. She tossed it across the desk to Blake.

He used his smile. “What, am I fired?”

“You wish, or you will shortly.”

Blake extracted a folded page from the envelope. It was faintly ruled notebook paper. The writing was by hand: Who is buried on Warburton Station?

He looked to his boss. “I give up, who?”

She rested back in her chair and folded her arms. “About twenty years ago, I did a story about the murder of a woman from Warburton Station. Have you heard of Clive Petrov?”

Blake thought for a moment. “I remember reading something about him, something recent.”

“Yes, there has been a body found down the south coast somewhere, linked to him. There’s a task force looking into the guy right now.”

“Okay…” Blake held up the note. “So, where did you get this?”

“I found it in my post box yesterday. There’s no post mark. Looks like it was hand delivered.”

Blake checked the envelope. “So, twenty years ago you did a story, now you get a note. What’s it mean?”

“I don’t know. I’ve not had reason to think about the case since the story was published. It was left open, a strangled nurse and an unknown perpetrator. It’s only this recent information that has linked Petrov. I suspected him at the time but there was no proof. I never actually mentioned him in the story, just in my notes, which I can’t find now. I searched half the night. You’ll have to start from scratch, Blake.”

“I will? Me?”

“Yes, you. Consider yourself assigned. Here are the keys to the new Jeep.” Amanda slid them across the desk.

Blake caught them. He chuckled. “Cool. I like the Jeep.” He twirled the keys. “Where am I going, boss? What’s this, a railway station somewhere? Warburton. Where’s that?”

Amanda Stone smiled, her lined face smoothing somewhat as her eyes sparkled with mirth. “No, playboy, Warburton is no railway station. It’s an outback cattle station. Waaaay outback,” she said with a sweep of her arms. “Better pack your big suitcase and a sandwich.”

“Oh, shit!”

READ ON

Aussie romantic thriller

 

april 3dSummer 1985

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

Jason extracted the cassette from his pocket and flashed it.

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

Jason shook his head. “Nope.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know how to tongue kiss?”

He shook his head.

“Do you want to try?”

“Yep.”

“Poke your tongue out.”

He poked out his tongue.

“Not that far. Just to your lips.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Why?”

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

“Are you going to get back with Michael?”

“Pfft. Who cares about him?”

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

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

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

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

“Do you want to go for a swim?”

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

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

*

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

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

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

“Hi, Pastor!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know I love you?”

She blushed. “Don’t say that, Jason.”

“But why? It’s true.”

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

 

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What sort of cold case?”

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

“Shit!”

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, good. Thanks, Nick.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“About what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about the kids?” Jason tossed back.

“I know. It’s complicated.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter 2

 

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

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

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April 1985

9c

They called them the soccer field bones:

Her head bumped across the corrugations in the floor of the late sixties Valliant station wagon. The corrugations were two inches apart, with the aperture about a quarter of an inch deep. It was enough to make her head bounce over each ridge as she was being pulled from the open tail-gate of the rusty old vehicle, her body still warm from life and, as yet, soft and pliable.

Her long brown hair left streaks of blood on the cold metal surface. Her head clunked over the hinged gap where the tail-gate joined the corrugated floor. It slid more quickly as her body slumped, and her head then landed in the mud with a wet thud.

She was dragged along steadily. She was fairly light—a slight girl. She was only twenty-three, and would always be.

Her white uniform was stained with brown grime from a grubby kitchen floor and watered down blood. She had been left outside in the rain for a while before being dragged up into the back of the Valliant wagon. It was still raining, lightly yet steadily, the drops washing her young white skin. The skirt of her uniform was bunched up her back and above her waist, exposing her thighs and hips. Her underpants were around her waist with the crotch slashed. Two buttons from the front of her uniform were still lying in the grime on that kitchen floor. Her bra was cut in the middle in front. Her uniform covered her right breast, the light, steady rain washing saliva from her left.

Her hair slithered through the mud as she was dragged along by her bare ankles: Her shoes and stockings were back on that grubby kitchen floor, one shoe resting on its side against the stove, the other right-side-up in the doorway to the lounge. Her stockings were on a round cane mat in front of the sink, but one leg was protruding onto the polished wooden floor surface and was, right then, soaking up a trickle from a pool of her blood.

She was dragged through leaves and twigs, and her body slumped into a hole in the ground. The hole was about three feet in depth, the bottom a few inches deep with rain water. She was on her right side with her left leg crossed forward and her left arm slung back. A leather boot pressed against her hip, rolling her onto her back. Her head remained to the right with her mouth and eyes open. Raindrops went into her mouth, and they splashed off her glazed eyeballs. A shovel full of mud, gritty with tiny pebbles, landed on her belly—on her white uniform. The next shovel full of mud and twigs and leaves landed on her upper chest and neck.

Her torso was covered first, then her mouth and eyes. Her long brown hair was still strewn above her head as it was slopped with mud. Her left leg was still bent up slightly as her thighs were buried. Her right arm was wedged beneath her body. Her left arm was above her head, and her left hand was the last part of her young body to be covered, the leather boot pressing down, forcing it into the mud less than two feet from the ground surface.

Over the next half hour the hole was steadily filled, then patted down and covered with wet leaves, an arrangement of eight small rocks and a dead tree branch. The leather boots then trudged off through the mud toward the Valliant wagon. Then the engine roared and the rusty old vehicle rolled away into the night.

It was well into the night, close to dawn of the 17th of April 1985. The air was cool, yet the rain clouds had kept the temperature mild for a southern autumn. As the sun lightened the clouds, the rain eased and left a mist hanging in the air above the grave site. The ground was soaked, and with the clouds dissipating that afternoon a short burst of sunlight made the air steamy.

The day was short, though, and it rained again that night, but on into the winter months the soggy earth covering the young woman’s body gradually compacted and leached of water. The dead tree branch remained in place, although it was essentially out of place. There were no trees nearby, and it had been dragged there purposefully.

There were shrubs and vines. There was a thicket of prickles that kept children well away as they walked from the back of the school, across the creek to the local swimming pool. The dead branch was from a gum tree a hundred yards distant. It took several years to lose its leaves and for those leaves to blow away or disintegrate into the mat of undergrowth that had covered the grave.

In September 1990 an eleven year old boy picked up the stick that was the remains of the gum tree branch and took it with him. He snapped twigs off it to fashion a spear and chased after his little sister, trying to poke her with it before tossing it at a magpie that swooped from the tree line along the creek. In July of 1992 a man stood by the gravesite and urinated into the thicket of prickles. He then walked off, kicking one of the small stones and treading on the ground directly above the pelvis of the young woman buried there. Her flesh had blended into the earth by then, and the fabric of her uniform was rotten and brittle. It had all but dissolved. Her hair was fossilised into the leached clay. Her bones were intact. The remaining three plastic buttons from her uniform were inside her abdominal cavity where the clay had caved in. There was a gold friendship ring on the bone of her right ring finger.

In April 1994, the thicket and the remaining seven small rocks were swept away by the blade of a bulldozer, clearing the area for the development of a sporting field. The following summer the ground was cultivated and fertilized, a healthy coverage of grass nurtured along. It was a local council project that struggled for funding, though, and another two years passed before a three foot high mesh fence was erected about ten yards away from the gravesite. Beyond the fence was a soccer field with children training weekday afternoons and games on weekends.

The gravesite was close to the corner of the field, away from the seating area. A tin amenities building had been constructed where the thicket used to be, which protected the ground above the young woman’s remains to some extent. Occasionally someone would walk around behind the building but not often. In the summer of 2004 a new brick amenities building was constructed, though. It was to upgrade and replace the tin structure, and a machine was brought in one Monday morning to dig a trench to run a water line to the new building.

The water line was to run directly through the grave site. The PVC pipe was to be buried at a depth of two feet. The small machine roared into place. The trenching blade sunk into the earth, digging its way down to the required depth. The young operator flicked his smoke away and guided the machine forward. He dug from the wall of the old amenities building straight toward the corner of the new one. The blade of the machine churned the damp clay, spewing it aside as it crawled directly through the length of the gravesite. It missed bone completely. It unearthed it, though. It exposed a part of Grace McKenna’s skull, her ribs and pelvis, and her right leg……

From the Mystery loves Romance novel Ever Since April