Instalment 15: pages 62-65 [Elliot speaks to Marina's colleague Jenny at the Thursday Night Dinner houseparty]
While we were on the topic, I took the chance to press Jenny about Marina: “You two hang out a lot?”
Jenny laughed: “Staffers don’t have a lot of choice. You live at the Hill. Still working for the boss makes it worthwhile.”
“He always seems pretty gruff on the telly,” said Sarah.
Up ‘til now I’d almost forgotten Sarah-the-housemate was part of the conversation. In the dark her tumbling hair was almost indistinguishable from the outline of yet another of her mousy-brown woollen jumpers.
“He’s a sweetie to his team,” answered Jenny, holding Sarah’s gaze unreproachfully. “Throws barbeques for us at his Canberra house sometimes.”
I nodded, thinking again about the photograph from Marina’s room, the house with the pool.
“Ooh, swanky,” Sarah said, “Do you ever get to take guests?”
Sarah was so often, like her clothes, an unmemorable piece of the scenery. Yet now she suddenly seemed to be pushing. I just didn’t know for what – then.
“Sadly, no,” said Jenny, her smile taking on an edge I couldn’t for the moment decipher.
“I’ve invited Jenny to brunch,” declared Eva, turning towards me. “She’s going to bring berries and cream.”
“Excellent! Well, I’ve just invited Danielle. She hasn’t declared her hand on the food stakes, but is promising to be half-way punctual.”
“Is this what you two do at parties?” laughed Jenny. “Recruit people for brunch?”
“Something like that,” Eva replied.
“Well,” said Jenny, “I haven’t tried cycling from Kingston to Curtin before. That should be an adventure.”
“Longish ride,” said Danielle, “I could give you a lift, if you like.”
“Well, it might save me getting lost or being late.”
“So,” said Eva, perhaps a little belatedly including Sarah, “if Jenny’s coming, and Danielle’s coming you absolutely have to!”
Sarah glanced away into the dark: “Sorry,” she said. “I’d love to, really. But I’ve got a Saturday night shift I really need and it won’t finish until early Sunday. I’d have to come straight from work which would just be - really ugly.” She pulled a face. She clearly thought the way I did: her job was just a way of getting rent money. However, at least she could tell herself it was only until uni finished. I really needed to start looking for a better job with my work-free days, once this business with Marina was finished.
“Sorry to hear it,” said Jenny with something like genuine disappointment. Sarah shot her an answering glance, then shrugged at Eva helplessly.
“No trouble,” Eva answered. “I remember weekend work. I still do too much of it.”
“Anything I should bring?” asked Danielle.
“Bring what you like,” I told her. “But if you’re collecting Jenny in Kingston, fresh pain au chocolate and croissants never go amiss.”
“Sounds like a plan,” she replied.
“I think they’re serving dessert,” said Sarah, glancing at a commotion through the window. “I should go help. There was a hot apple pie if anyone wanted some.”
“I’ll give you a hand,” said Danielle heading off after her. Eva volunteered to fetch me something and dexterously left me with Jenny.
“Sorry about earlier,” I said vaguely.
She waved my apology away: “So, you used to go out with Marina?” she countered.
“Two years of law school,” I answered.
“That’s quite a while. She still seems fond of you.”
“She talks about me?” I asked, a little surprised.
“Not a lot, but you know, not with any malice,” her lips smiled behind her cigarette-smoke veil. “Can’t have been a bitter break-up.”
“It was circumstances, really. Mine, not hers.”
“Then she left town, and you stayed,” I had the uncomfortable feeling Jenny was completely in control of what was going on, and that I was being toyed with. She regarded me with her head to one side, flicking her hair back slightly as she took a final drag.
“She came back though,” I said, “back to Canberra. Fell in with this nutty crowd rather than finding a nice little flat in Kingston for herself.”
Jenny bent down to grind out her cigarette stub in the lank grass and then tossed it with a stone-skipping twist of her white wrist into the tangled shrubbery.
“Kingston eats money, especially if you live alone and don’t bother cooking. She’s onto a good thing here: affordable, cooking roster, and she seems to like the company.”
“Yeah, although Ted seemed pretty cagey on the subject of Marina,” I said, leaning in towards Jenny. “He hasn’t returned to his bad old ways since she moved in has he?”
The wire-screen door banged behind me, Eva returning.
“He hasn’t made a pass at Marina,” replied Jenny archly. “I should go get myself some dessert.”
I stood glumly and took the plate Eva proffered. Chunks of apple and pie-crust steamed through an avalanche-in-motion of ice-cream. The apple was sliced thin and seemed dusted with cinnamon – home-made. I wondered who was the baker.
“What’s got you thinking?” asked Eva.
“Something’s up with Ted,” I answered.
“You always think something’s up with Ted. You can’t stand him being more successful with women.”
“No, he bridled when I suggested he’d ventured beyond monogamy’s bounds, and I think Jenny just told me he’d made a pass at her.”
“Ever the optimist. What’s Ted’s doomed affections got to do with Marina vanishing?”
“If Marina doesn’t trust Ted because he’s trying to get at her best friend, even though she’s gay, it might explain why her flatmates don’t know what’s going on.”
Eva thought about it, nodding and puffing on forkfuls of hot apple: “Right, she wouldn’t speak to Ted because she can’t trust him. And she wouldn’t want to share her own problems with Trish, but then not tell her about Ted’s flirtations – honesty’s all or nothing for her, right? And Sarah?”
“Maybe Marina thinks if she’s keeping the others in the dark she’d be putting Sarah in a bad position to let her be the one person who knows. Or maybe they just don’t get along?”
“Hmm. Does Jenny know where Marina is?” Eva asked.
“She hasn’t said anything yet. I was trying to work around to it, but I think I was miserably outflanked.”
“Want me to have a go?”
Eva gave me a Delphic smile: “Leave the next cigarette break to me.”