Salvage, страница 10
‘Nonsense? Is that what I am to you?’
‘Not you, obviously. I love you. You’re my wife. I just don’t get this stuff.’ He walked over to the bed and picked up her novel. ‘I mean, for Christ’s sake, Mel; you’re a grown woman. Why do you read this trash?’
‘It’s imagination, Richard. It’s entertaining. It takes me away.’
‘Takes you away from what? Me? Am I really that bad?’
‘Of course not from you. Just from everything … all the crap.’
‘Jesus, Mel, the doctor said you’d get better. It happens all the time.’
‘Not everything is about the stillbirth, Richard.’
‘Isn’t it? Well, would it really kill you to come to the pub tonight and have a decent dinner, maybe some adult conversation?’
‘What am I—some kind of child?’
She pushed past him, heading for the front door.
He reached after her. ‘Mel, wait. I’m sorry. Come on, let’s talk this out.’
‘Like adults?’ She yanked the door open and ran outside, desperate to just get away, to be by herself.
‘Mel, where are you going?’ Richard shouted as he followed her onto the deck.
‘To grow up, apparently.’ She ran down the steps, hugging herself, only to stop dead and scream.
‘It’s Friday,’ Richard said.
Melanie struggled with his words, knowing it was only Wednesday, and then realised what he meant. The dog lay on the bonnet of the Jeep, his matted coat covered in sand like some kind of gross shell. Something blue shone in the gory mess of his mouth, next to the pale pink tongue sticking out through the canines. Dried guts spilled over the bonnet and bullbar like withered offal.
‘What happened to him?’ Melanie asked, hugging herself, taking sidelong glances at the corpse as she fought the urge to heave.
‘Looks like he died, got buried and then dug up again,’ Richard said, poking at the corpse with a gnarled branch. ‘The blood’s all dry. And there’s something in his mouth. Maybe he choked on it.’
‘Leave it for God’s sake. Just bury him.’
Richard prodded the stiff head, then teased the material from the dog’s jaws. Melanie’s stomach did a flip.
‘Knickers.’ He held them up towards her. ‘Don’t you have a pair like these?’
‘I do,’ she whispered. ‘I don’t know if those are them, though. I mean, they can’t be. How would someone have got them?’
But she knew. They were the ones she’d left at Helena’s.
‘This is weird shit.’ Richard dangled the material up by thumb and finger. ‘Why the fuck would someone kill Friday and then do this?’
‘Tourists, maybe? Students? No headstones to desecrate so taking it out on a dumb animal?’
‘I think I should call the cops.’
‘Do you have to? Let’s tell Jack first, see what he wants to do.’
‘Mel, if these are yours, then someone’s been in the hut. Someone’s been through our things.’
‘Or just taken them off the line. But I don’t think they’re mine. I didn’t bring them, I don’t think.’
‘You don’t think? Surely you know what you packed.’
‘I don’t know, Richard! I can’t remember. I was in a rush.’
‘Yeah, in a rush to get back from Shelley’s with your latest trash collection. Too much of a rush to even get milk.’
‘I can’t believe you’re bringing that up again at a time like this.’
‘Well, if these aren’t yours, I guess it doesn’t matter.’ He dropped them, took a good scan of the surrounding scrub, then set about getting the dog off the bonnet. ‘They must’ve only just left him here.’
‘You mean someone might still be watching?’
‘Maybe.’ He gingerly picked at the dog’s legs. ‘I wonder why they dug him up to do this.’
‘What makes you think he’s been buried?’
‘The sand. It’s all over him. And in his guts. Jesus. I’ll have to bury him. Get the shovel out the back, will you?’
She walked to the back of the Jeep and retrieved his fold-up shovel from the toolbox.
‘You don’t think you should ask Jack what he wants to do with him?’ she said as she handed it over.
‘Yeah, I guess I should. I’ll go ring him.’
He went inside and she gingerly retrieved the soiled underwear. Paul must’ve done this. He must’ve found out and left her this warning to stay away. But why kill Friday? What did the dog have to do with it? Her heart thundered with the thought that he might’ve hurt Helena. How could she go check?
Richard came out and she stuffed the knickers in her pocket. ‘Jack’s on his way. Going to bury the old fella up at his cabin.’
‘Poor Jack,’ Melanie said. ‘He loved that dog.’
‘I’ll get a bucket and wash this off.’
‘I think I’d like to go to the pub after all. Maybe we could drive over to Helena’s and ask them, too?’
‘Really? After this?’
‘Especially after this. Besides, I’d like to see how she’s feeling.’
‘You’re a strange chick, Mel.’
‘Part of the charm,’ she said.
He walked to her, caressed her cheek. ‘You okay?’
‘Sure. I just don’t want to hang around here just now.’
‘You want to go back to Brissie?’
‘No! No. I’m just a bit shaken, but I need this break. I need the peace. We need it. I felt we were getting somewhere, didn’t you?’
‘I did. I’m sorry about the Mackenzie shit. I’m doing my best.’
‘I know you are.’ She kissed his cheek. ‘Please, let’s just get the car cleaned and do what we can for Jack. Maybe ask him to join us for dinner.’
‘Yeah, we should do that. I don’t know why anyone would want to do this to an animal. If I ever find the guys who did it, I’ll make them sorry.’
‘I’m sure they’re long gone.’
‘Well, someone put him here, and not long ago. Maybe I should head down to the barge and see who’s leaving.’
‘You can’t prove anything, Richard. Just let it go. A stupid prank. Let’s have dinner and try to take our minds off it, okay?’ She squeezed his hand.
‘Yeah, you’re right. Poor fucking Friday.’
If he noticed the underwear was missing, he didn’t comment. While he cleaned the truck, she threw the knickers in the bin. She hoped Jack would arrive soon. Helena’s comment about not letting Paul hurt her looped through her mind. But who would stop Paul from hurting Helena?
Jack was devastated to see Friday sprawled out on the ground. By the time they’d drunk tea and bourbon and the old man, looking older by the minute, had wrapped the dog in a sack and driven off with a ‘thanks but no thanks’ to their dinner invitation, it was almost sundown.
Melanie had bitten the inside of her mouth so much it was bleeding. She could taste the saltiness, feel the twinge of pain. How was Helena? Paul could’ve done anything and been on the last barge to the mainland by now. She had to fight down the image of Friday, his guts out, his eyes glassy and unseeing, that tip of tongue protruding from his jaws. There wasn’t enough chardonnay in the world to wash that away, or drown the rising fear that something horrible had happened to Helena.
Her nails had scribed dark crescents in her palms by the time they’d finally got in the Jeep. The drive through the scrub to Helena’s hut was interminable. Trees crowded the road; the headlights seemed feeble. She wasn’t sure they were going anywhere at all, just stuck in the same spot or going around in circles.
‘You seem uptight,’ Richard said.
‘I’m fine,’ she snapped.
‘Maybe we shouldn’t go if you’re this upset.’
‘I want to go.’
He grunted and upped the volume of the stereo, flooding the cabin with bloody Cold Chisel and their bloody flame trees.
Finally, they reached the hut. The rental was still parked outside, the lights on behind the curtains throwing the palest rectangles of light on the patchy lawn.
Paul appeared on the deck, carefully shutting the door behind him.
‘Hello again,’ he said from the top of the stairs as Melanie and Richard approached.
‘Hi there,’ Richard replied with a wave. ‘Looks like the girls are going to get their wish, hey?’
‘What’s that?’ Paul stared at Melanie.
‘Another storm on the way, I’d reckon,’ Richard explained.
Paul glanced towards the eastern sky, where lightning flashed inside the distant clouds. ‘Perhaps. What brings you here?’
‘We were hoping you and your wife might like to have dinner with us at the pub,’ Richard said. ‘Take two.’
‘I’m sorry, Helena’s still not well.’
‘Oh no,’ Melanie said. ‘I’m sorry to hear that. Can I see her?’
He glanced at the door, then back at her, and crossed his arms. ‘She’s sleeping.’
‘I just need to know she’s all right. If there’s anything I can do.’
‘I need to see her.’ She walked up the stairs. Paul blocked her.
Richard stepped up behind her, reaching for her wrist. ‘Mel?’
‘Let me see her, Paul!’
He stared at them both, then said with a shrug, ‘As you wish.’
Infuriated, she shouldered past him and wrenched the door open. ‘Helena?’
The room was lit by candles, enough to illuminate a cathedral, and the glare of the muted television. Incense coiled thick in the humid air.
Helena lay on the sofa, wearing white, one arm out to the side, the other across her chest. Sleeping. Sleeping or dead.
Melanie ran across the room. ‘Helena!’
The woman stirred. Blinked. Took ages to focus. ‘Melanie?’ A smile slowly blossomed. ‘My beautiful Melanie, you’ve come back to me.’ She tried to sit, to reach, but could barely rise. Melanie leaned next to her, stroking her cheeks. Helena felt incredibly cold.
‘What’s he done to you?’
Helena shook her head.
Melanie examined her. A dark spot on the inside of Helena’s arm didn’t move under the rubbing of her spit-wet thumb. She glared at Paul, standing near the door with Richard. ‘What have you done to her?’
‘She’s medicated, that’s all. Too much sun. She needs rest.’
‘She’s drugged to the eyeballs!’
‘The medicine is powerful.’
‘She needs a doctor. Richard, I think she’s really sick.’
‘You should listen to Paul, hon.’
He held out his hands in a gesture of helplessness. ‘There’s no barge. Not till morning.’
‘Then a helicopter, a boat. We have to do something.’
Paul stalked over to stand between her and Helena. ‘Honestly, she’s fine. This is what happens. She has too much excitement, then she must rest. I know it must appear scary to strangers, but this is the way it is.’
‘I understand.’ Richard came over and took Melanie’s hand. ‘We can take a raincheck on dinner.’
‘I don’t think we’ll be able to see you again,’ Paul said. ‘We’ll be leaving soon.’
A wave of disappointment crashed over Melanie. She yanked her hand from Richard’s. ‘You’re going? Why? When?’
‘Soon,’ Paul said, brutally. ‘We need to go home.’
‘But Helena doesn’t want to. She likes it here.’
‘Helena’s condition is getting worse. We have doctors who can help.’
‘Surely we have doctors here who are just as good.’
‘Her condition is quite rare and we have people who understand it. Believe me, it’s for the best.’
Helena struggled up on to her elbows and called Melanie. Richard said something to Paul about hospitals as Melanie crouched by the stricken woman, aware of Paul’s gaze fixed on her. She felt as if she was a target, as though a little red laser dot was burning into her back with a bullet set to follow.
Helena pulled her down close, her whisper hissing through her teeth with sudden desperation. ‘I can’t go back. You have to come get me. Tomorrow. Please. Don’t let him take me away.’
Her fingertips dug into Melanie, robbing her of breath.
‘Helena!’ Paul loomed behind Melanie’s shoulder, reaching as though to pull her away.
Helena fell back, eyes fluttering, breath soft and irregular.
Melanie gripped the woman’s shoulders. ‘Helena, are you okay?’ She turned to Richard. ‘This isn’t right. We have to do something!’
‘It’s not up to us,’ he said. ‘Paul and Helena know what’s best.’
‘Listen to your husband,’ Paul told her, pushing past to lay a hand on Helena’s brow. ‘You can see she needs to rest, how tired she is.’
Richard led Melanie away with a gentle but determined grip on her arm. ‘I’m sure we’ll see them before they go. Even if it’s at the ferry. You don’t know when yet, hey, Paul?’
‘Soon, but no, I haven’t got the final details. I’ll let you know so the ladies can say goodbye.’
Melanie glared, angered by his smug tone, but let Richard draw her outside. She felt as if she was emerging from a cave, it was so bright and airy after the dim, incense-choked cabin. Her thoughts whirled. How could she get Helena away?
Melanie was so concerned about Helena that she barely touched the dinner that Richard cooked. He got the shits and retired to his laptop, more an excuse to sit away from her and drink bourbon than actually do any work.
She pretended to read, her senses alert for any sign of Helena, and fended off his groping hands when he finally stumbled to bed. It rained, and she lay there, listening to the percussion on the roof and Richard’s snores until sleep finally overwhelmed her agitated mind.
In her dream, sunlight slanted through the clear water, painting patterns on the white sand floor of the lake. She dived through the sunbeams, her naked body slicing through the water with all the speed and grace of a seal. The tea-tree oil tinted the shore an iodine brown and made her skin so very smooth. As she swam, the scar on her stomach washed away with the barest hint of bloodstain. Her cunt closed over. She didn’t miss it.
Below, she saw Helena, lying still against the bottom, her eyes glassy, bubbles escaping from her nostrils. She swam down, the water getting darker. Shapes appeared: the rusted hulks of cars.
‘She’s over there,’ Helena said, pointing.
Infant Claudia sat buckled into the baby seat of a ruined car, her long blonde hair undulating like weeds. The car was slowly sinking.
Melanie stroked through the viscous water, feeling it press against her. Her lungs burned. And then strands of wire erupted like tentacles, whipping through the water like sea snakes. They wrapped around her arms and legs. Barbs caught her flesh, ripping inky clouds from her skin. She screamed but the wire wrapped her tighter and tighter until she could only sink. Claudia waved from the empty window as the car disappeared from sight.
Melanie lay gasping on a beach. There was no sign of the barbed wire, no wounds in her flesh. She had her period, the blood leaking vividly across the sand and staining the water with crimson swirls. Claudia, she knew, was gone.
‘We can’t drive,’ Helena said. ‘We’ll have to walk.’
Helena sat cross-legged on the bonnet of a truck, plucking at the strings of a guitar. ‘Do you know how to make this work?’
Richard held out a mobile phone. ‘I’ll ring Leanne,’ he said. ‘She’ll know.’
Helena opened her legs and Richard moved between them. Helena played a song that sounded familiar but Melanie couldn’t identify.
‘I guess that just leaves you and me,’ Paul said. He held a gory knife.
Melanie ran. And ran.
Melanie, exhausted by worry and nightmares, slid out from under the bedclothes, careful not to jag Richard where a sheet twisted around his legs. He snuffled, reached for her, found the empty space and fell back into sleep. Her heart rate accelerated as she dressed, hauling on knee-length cargo pants and a shirt. She pulled her hair back into a stumpy ponytail, pushed her purse into the button-down pocket of her pants, and wrote Richard a note to say she’d gone walking. She eyed the kettle, her mouth dry for tea, but, afraid of making any further noise that might wake Richard, she settled for a glass of milk.
Melanie collected her hat and serape and slid the door open as quietly as she could. Outside, the chill early-morning air prickled her cheeks and nose. Grains of sand rubbed at her soles as she slipped her sandals on. The sun glowed round and brassy at the end of a golden path rippling across the sea, its arrival greeted by the trill of magpies and the raucous cry of seagulls. A few shrinking puddles were the only sign of last night’s downpour.
She contemplated taking the Jeep, but knew the noise would wake Richard and alert Paul when she arrived. She could do without facing either of them. Besides, she wasn’t really that confident about driving on the island’s sandy tracks. She didn’t have a plan; just knew that she wanted—needed—to help Helena. The details could wait until she got there.
Melanie trudged along the track. A line of sweat had formed on her spine and forehead by the time she reached Elysium. The cabin appeared quiet, the curtains drawn, the SUV still parked out the front. She sneaked up to the nearest window and listened.
She took off her sandals and tiptoed up the stairs. The curtains were drawn against the door. Her reflection looked back at her, as insubstantial as she felt. She tried the handle. Locked.
Her pulse thundered in her ears as she stood for a long moment, wondering what to do next, expecting at any moment for Paul to yank the door open. Or to step up from behind her, a hand clamping on her shoulder.
Melanie headed around to the side of the building, picking her way across patches of hot earth and spiky grass, her sandals in her left hand. She reached the side door, the one that opened on to the laundry, the one Helena had mentioned wouldn’t close properly. She pulled on the handle. The door didn’t budge. She put her sandals down and, using both hands, pulled harder, desperation charging her muscles. The whole hut seemed to shake as the door jerked open, almost throwing her off her feet. The doorway into the bathroom was shut; maybe the sound hadn’t carried.