Instalment 11: pages 45-47 [Elliot has coffee with Marina's brother Stephen]
Stephen lead me back out through the building’s foyer and across the road to a café that had a certain mortuary charm: all wipe-down tiles, stainless steel and bare white surfaces.
“Mate,” he said again, as two children’s-tea-set-sized cups were put before us, “what can I do for you?”
His grin was indulgent, wolfish. I ignored it as best I could, tried to land a blow.
“Marina’s gone,” I said. “People are getting worried. She’s nearly a week overdue from her holiday now.”
“So?” he asked.
I was disappointed. The bald, unvarnished facts hadn’t got so much as a flicker.
“No-one’s heard,” I tried again, “Not her housemates, your parents – not even the Minister’s office. I’m beginning to get worried myself.”
“Bloody hell,” he said, his smile ratcheting down a notch. “Mum called, but I just thought she was over-reacting. I mean, I’d thought Marina was likely to blow a fuse sometime, she had a lot of leave accumulated. Thought she might just have been laying low somewhere …”
Nice, I thought. Still competitive. Just slip that in, the way you always knew little sister couldn’t take the stress like you, the all ocker sportsman.
“Any idea where she’d go?” I asked. “I’ve chased right up the south coast after her now.”
“Geez, Elly,” he said. “Could be any number of places, especially if she’s got a new bloke – but she’s always played her cards close on that front. No offence, mate, I mean, old wounds and all that.”
Taking a little jab at my pride now? You bastard.
I ignored his jibe with a tight smile: “If Marina was in trouble, if she wanted to feel safe, she’d go somewhere she knew. No bells ringing?”
“Why are you so keen on this?”
“Look, between you and me and the coffee dregs, your Dad has asked me to try and find her. I mean, I know she dumped me – but it doesn’t mean I’m not concerned. And besides, I’ve had some time on my hands since, you know …”
“Yeah, mate. I do. Bastard of a thing to have happen to you at an admission ceremony.” He courteously removed the smile for a moment, perhaps even genuinely unsettled by the presence of my misfortune. Nothing like another’s poverty to make your riches sit uncomfortably. Besides, you never know, bad luck might be contagious.
“Thanks,” I said. “So, hit me with your best three bets.”
“My top slide on her options? Her best mate Angela is down in Melbourne these days, that’d get her out of Dad’s line of sight. There’s the place in the Blue Mountains we went as kids, all time-share cottages now outside Blackheath. Other than that, I don’t know, she might have bunked off to another ex-boyfriend. There was that guy who dropped out of law and took that rural doctor’s scholarship to study up in Queensland, what was his name?”
“John Vetheuil,” I said.
“No, not really.”
“Oh, right, sorry mate. Stupid of me.”
I smiled thinly. His repetition of the one tactic didn’t warrant much more.
“Last thought: do you think she was seeing someone? I know you said she played her cards close …”
“Look mate, honestly couldn’t say.”
“But you brought it up, did anything trigger that in your mind? The way she was acting, how she sounded …”
“Mate, she loved her job. That’s all I could say for certain. Are you sure you’re not just coming on the jealous old flame, here?”
“Trying not to,” I said, rising. “Thanks.”
A look of genuine concern spasmed onto his face. It looked uncomfortable, as though it belonged to someone else. He waited a moment before speaking again.
“You’ll let me know if you find anything? I mean, I fully expect her to turn up with a smile and a tan in three days and wonder what all the fuss was about.”
“I hope so too. If you hear from her, or anything else comes to mind give me a call.” I scrawled the number of Carmichael’s mobile across a piece of paper, took the address of the old holiday cottage, and left Stephen to worry in his nice crisp suit.