Instalment 52: pages 218 - 221 [Elliot is driving to Jervis Bay with Danielle and Eva to find his ex Marina.]
We drove on in silence for some time. Bateman’s Bay was behind us, we had turned North into the darkness, small roadside towns and fishing villages streaming by in the night.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you Elliot,” said Danielle, eventually, “I hope it doesn’t have to be a big deal.”
Right, I thought, here it comes. The gentle let down.
“I might be moving to Melbourne.”
Even in my current incoherent haze of pain, I felt a stabbing. I kept quiet, shifting in my seat, waiting for whatever was to follow.
“You know my field,” she began. “As an English academic you have to go where the jobs are. The ANU faculty has been good to me. They can keep me on in my fractional position until the end of the year … but it’s not clear they’re going to need me next year. I mean, they made it pretty clear that if something comes up, they’d really want me to apply but … well, it’s a no guarantees situation.”
I kept my eyes on the road, scattered tail-lights stretching like two rows of marching torches before us: the angry villagers about to besiege the castle.
“Anyway, one of the people I worked with during my PhD is based in Melbourne. She’s an amazing figure in post-colonial literature. As of January she’s going on a year’s sabbatical as a visiting fellow to Cambridge. So, they need someone to fill in for her subjects for the year. It’s the English Faculty at Melbourne Uni, Elliot. She encouraged me to apply – and the interview is next week. I was hoping you might come down for a bit of a long weekend with me …”
“So,” I said. “you’re saying you might be gone in six months.”
Danielle said nothing. She put the blinker on.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“We need petrol,” she said stiffly. “I’m pulling over.”
We drifted into the clinical fluorescent light under the roadside petrol station’s long awning. It was mercifully still open, mostly for passing trucks. Entering the bright luminescence from the night it felt as if we’d arrived in some singularly disappointing afterlife, a heaven of oil smeared concrete and flickering vending machines.
Danielle pulled up, got out and shut her door forcefully.
“Well, you handled that brilliantly,” said Eva from the back seat.
My eyes were drawn to the rear-view mirror where I could see Eva stirring from her posture of feigned sleep.
“She said she was probably leaving,” I said, turning in the seat and keeping my voice low as Danielle circled the car.
“No, she said she might be,” said Eva. “And the way I heard it, she wants you to think about going with her.”
“Wake up. If someone is going for an interview in an other city and invites you along for the trip, it’s a pretty clear signal she wants to check out how you feel about Melbourne. Whether you both like it. She’s at least hinting if she moved she’d want you to visit – if in six months it’s still going OK. She’s warning you Elliot, breaking you in to the idea that if this is serious, after six months you might need to think about whether you want to move with her. She’s being honest.”
“Right,” I said, not for the first time feeling a dolt. “I’m just not up to dealing with much at the moment, I’ve not really felt that good since – ”
“You got beaten up,” finished Eva. “You don’t need to remind anyone, your face is still a mess, remember?”
I glanced behind her, through the rear window and felt my stomach tighten.
“I should get out there,” I said.
“I think that it’d be a move in the right direction.”
“No, it’s not that,” I said. “Eva, that car at the other pump. It’s Ryder’s BMW.”
I got out and walked across to Danielle.
“I think you should get back in the car,” I said. “I’ll go pay.”
“You could just say sorry, you know,” she retorted.
“Please get in the car, Eva will explain.”
I looked over her shoulder. I could see the driver now, a huge piece of humanity, alone.
“That car,” I said, nodding, “is being driven by the man I think Ryder sent to rough up Jenny.”
“Please get in the car, I’ll go pay. We can think about what we do next once we’re moving.”
“But what if he hurts you?”
“He’s beaten me up once already,” I replied grimly. “I don’t think he can make things significantly worse. It’s a warning.”
I went inside and ignored the cashier’s congenial enquiries. I kept my eyes on the Beemer, and Danielle’s bubble-gum coloured hatchback. The Slab didn’t stir from behind the wheel. He didn’t even appear to be looking at me.
Ryder must have sent him back to move the car he’d left outside Marina’s house. He would have seen me leaving and followed. I hadn’t even glanced at the blue BMW as we’d pulled out of Gorton Place, he could have been sitting there the whole time, watching the house for Ryder.
“Funny that guy just sitting there,” said the cashier, passing me my change.
“Hysterical,” I muttered.
I got back into the car, closed my door and drew down my seatbelt. We sat, not looking at each other.
“What do we do?” asked Danielle after a moment.
“We keep driving,” I said. I took out Detective Sergeant Cole’s card and opened David’s mobile.
“What are you doing?” asked Eva.
“Just making sure I’ve got all my friends in the memory,” I said, and began composing a text.