Installment 47: pages 197 - 200 [Desperate for leads, Elliot returns to Marina's share-house to confront her flatmate (and he suspects her lover) Ted. He hopes Eva and Danielle can distract Ted's girlfriend Trish.]
The door opened on a view of as much concern as could be expected to occupy a woman’s face.
“Elliot,” Trish began, “are you alright?”
“Doing fine,” I said, smiling unconvincingly. At least she hadn’t tried to tell me she was sorry, like it was her goddamn fault I’d found a corpse. Life seemed to have become rather more complicated since then, and explaining it to Trish was something I was glad to be spared.
It had been a quiet and relatively uneventful ride over. Eva hadn’t tried to talk me into calling Detective Cole again, Danielle had not reapplied pressure to tell her about the trial. The atmosphere in the car, however, had not risen above a certain mortuary jovialness. The one event of the trip had been my almost falling asleep in the passenger seat, if falling asleep can encompass passing out with the pain of what I was beginning to suspect was internal bruising. I was jolted into sharp and painful consciousness when Danielle almost overshot the turn and braked suddenly.
“Sorry,” she had said in a strained tone, putting on the indicator for the turn into the cul-de-sac, “my mind wasn’t on the road, I guess.”
“Lucky this guy behind us was on his toes,” Eva had said, waving to the shirt-sleeved driver of the passing white Ford Falcon. He had waved back with suburban cheerfulness, oblivious to our little drama.
We’d driven down the narrow street between the cars parked on either nature strip, two parallel rows of metal, to park in front of Marina’s. One of the cars we’d passed, I noted vaguely, blinking in the rear-view mirror, had been a blue BMW. The model Ryder drove.
“Just thought I’d stop by for your copy of Oscar and Lucinda,” put in Eva helpfully. “We’re just on our way to dinner – and dinner on Thursday was great, by the way. Really enjoyed it.”
“Thanks,” smiled Trish, her face still apprehensive.
“Everything OK here?” asked Danielle, “Marina’s still not back?”
“Marina,” sighed Trish, “haven’t had time to think about her today. Look, come in. I’d feel safer with some people about.”
“Safer?” I asked. “Isn’t Ted at home?”
“No, it’s all been a bit of a disaster. Some man showed up, politely asking to see Sarah. I called her down, kind of keeping him half in and out the door, and as soon as she caught sight of him it was just a screaming match. This bloke basically made a lunge at Sarah and Ted had to pull them apart. Then he chased Sarah’s visitor off.”
“Jesus. When was this?” I asked. “Have you called the police?”
“Only a few minutes ago, if Ted isn’t back in a moment, I guess I’ll have to. Didn’t look like the guy wanted to put up a fight though.”
“But he attacked Sarah?” asked Danielle.
One of my knees buckled a little. I made a show of grabbing Trish’s elbow, steadying myself.
“What were they arguing about?” I asked.
“How should I know. He said something like, ‘Who else did your bitch tell about me?’ He was just screaming abuse at Sarah, basically. It was really frightening.”
She twisted a little uncomfortably in my grip, not knowing what to make of my sudden intensity. Explaining that it was the only way I could connect two carriages of one train of thought amidst the competing signals of pain and codeine in my system was going to take too long.
“What did this man look like?” I asked.
“Tall, orange hair. Beard stubble. Built, actually. I thought he was going to take Ted on, he looked as though he works out at least as much as Ted does.”
My heart-rate leapt back to its now familiar pace, an endless tattoo of oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit ….
“Where’s Sarah?” I demanded.
“Sarah?” replied Trish. “She’s upstairs, in her room. Where are you going?”
I left the women. I was sure Eva and Danielle could cover for me, if that was remotely needed at this stage. I could deal with only one thought at a time at present.
The first fifteen of those thoughts were individual stairs.
Leaning heavy on the frame, I poked my head into Sarah’s disastrous room. Piles of get-lucky lacy underwear, old tee-shirts and uni papers. The same frantic clutter, reaching up in piles from the floor to drag her futon and bedding down; same gorgeous matte-black stereo standing in contrast to the slightly shabby surrounds. Sarah wasn’t in. She’d done a runner.
I turned back to the stairs, then stopped again in Marina’s room. I couldn’t say why. Perhaps I expected to see Sarah cowering under the bed. Instead I looked up to Marina’s wall, blu-tacked with a thicket of photos, the same wall from which I had so recently purloined the snapshot of her and Jenny at the Minister’s house.
Just next to that little space was the other photo I’d looked at as recently as Wednesday, handling the corresponding memory – but not it. The green-eyed girl on the beach at Jervis, our one holiday together north of Bateman’s Bay, away from Danielle and her coast-house crowd.
The one place Marina might have headed that I had not checked. Her one nearby holiday bolthole that was without a phone, and very probably still without mobile coverage.
I almost lost my balance spilling out of her room. Righting myself brought me round to face the bathroom door. It was a fraction ajar.
The horrible sense of a recurring dream, the vision of Jenny’s body lying against enamel, the filter of my own pain-addled thinking lent a detached apprehension to my pushing out with a hand and brushing the door open.
The bathtub was not occupied. The toilet seat was.
Good manners would have propelled me back out, closing the door hurriedly. The knife in Sarah’s right hand, its point grazing her left wrist, kept me where I was.