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?”
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.”
“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.”