Installment 44: pages 184 - 187 [Elliot, having been warned of trouble by Dave Pritchard, calls the women in his life, flatmate Eva and almost-definately girlfriend Danielle.]
It had grown dark outside, and colder than I’d bothered dressing for. Between me and my car was the thin four-lane strip of London circuit that separated the Sydney building and the open-air car-park next to the ACT museum and theatre centre. I had to jog across to avoid approaching headlights. The exertion did not agree with me. I was left clutching at my nausea and the car-park railing. Things were rippling under my hands and across my vision. I held my beer down, but it was making a determined bid for fresh air. If it wasn’t a panic attack, then the recent reshuffling of my viscera had agreed with me even less than previously suspected.
Still supporting myself on the railing, traffic grinding still in one ear, I called Eva.
“Elliot, where are you?” she demanded, her tone tight-wound, almost frantic.
“I’ve just been speaking to Pritchard. Are you OK? Look, I’m not sure it’ll be safe to stay in the house overnight, you might want to go to your parents - ”
“No shit,” she snapped. “There’re a few police officers here who’d like to talk with you about where you’ve been this afternoon.”
“Look Elliot, just before I got home, someone trashed the empty flat next door. You’d better get back here and do some explaining.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“First off the blocks, someone swapped our apartment number with the one next door; and coming a close second in the incredulity sweepstakes is the fact that your wallet was found on the floor next door. If you went in to check it out, you could have at least warned me I’d be coming home to another police interview.”
“Eva, I didn’t go in. I got roughed up in Fyshwick this afternoon and I think a fairly efficient employee of Jeremy Ryder’s has – had – my wallet.”
“Are you alright?”
“I’m rather beginning to suspect that I might not be. But I’ll get home and sort this out.”
“How? It’s dark. They’re not keen on me leaving – and, frankly, you sound like shit, my dear. You could drop into the Civic cop shop and ask for a lift?”
“I’ll try and catch Danielle at the office, see you soon.”
I rang off. Even if I had once already broken my night-driving taboo, Eva was right. If she could hear in my tight-strained syntax and doubled-over sentences how hard it was for me to hold my thoughts together, I was not fit to drive. I looked out into the car-park. Between the shadowy undulation of the tarmac and the shivering street-light outline of each vehicle, I couldn’t even hold my gaze steady long enough to tell which small white car was mine.
“Fuck,” I said conclusively, and repeated it without feeling a few times to test out the syllable for size. At five goes it still fitted the situation without actually fixing anything. It was time to call Danielle.
She picked up on the second ring.
“It’s me,” I said, to tired to be anything but blunt. “I’m in another mess.”
“Well, there goes my plan to ask you to dinner.”
“Sorry, you deserve better.”
“You can stop saying that. You’ve had a shock. Several by the sounds of it. Do you need me to pick you up?”
“The car-park near the Phoenix, off London Circuit near the lights. There’s a problem at home.”
“Give me ten minutes.”
It took her less than eight, but I wasn’t entirely sure how I stayed standing. I was shivering, but too tired to try moving to keep warm. I sank into her car like a warm bath, scarcely noting that it smelled of potpourri. The interior was at least as ancient as that of my moldering heap, but was spotlessly neat.
“Hey,” she said, casting an appraising glance over my face. She looked about to say something, but settled for resting a hand briefly on my thigh before sliding the car into gear.
“You’re a goddess. I’d give you flowers, but I left them on the back-passenger seat of my other life. The one where I’m sane, punctual and freshly shaven.”
“You’re sounding kind of delirious, Elliot.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me in the least.”
“I have the feeling I should be taking you to hospital.”
“I’m not sure the constabulary would appreciate that.”
She absorbed that detail in silence.
“You never did tell me about your parents,” she said.
The implicit question did not cause the pain I would have expected. It seemed my capacity to deal with pain had already hit its tolerance limit. No room at the inn, I thought, randomly.
“Other things first. Bed rest. Hugs. Tea,” I said. “I don’t much mind the order. But I imagine the police might have other ideas. And I need to call Pop. Remind me to remember why.”
“You love him?”
“There’s something more specific as well. Just can’t remember what it is …”
The motion of her car vehicle slowed, curved, stopped.