Installment 53: pages 222 - 224 [Elliot arrives in Jervis Bay with Danielle and Eva, they are being followed by an associate of Ryder's.]
We wound our way down onto the peninsula. A winter's Monday night is not a big night in the Jervis Bay hamlets. The tourist cafes and restaurants were all shut. Theirs weren't the lights we were looking for. I'd explained my plan to Eva and Danielle and been greeted with mutiny. It was time to drive to a police station, they'd agreed. We could sit out front and wait for the Slab to give up and drive off, then ask the police to check out Marina's place. We could have our little reunion in the safety of the station foyer.
I had thought it all sounded a little unlikely, but worth a go. I wasn't entirely surprised with what we found when we'd passed the station though. The blue and white lettered sign out front was on, but it was fairly clear no-one was home. No night duty in a small quiet town, just someone with the station number forwarded to their mobile if you're lucky.
Danielle slowed the car. "We could see if there's an after-hours number posted on the door," she suggested.
"Pull up and stop with him sitting on our tail? Then what?" I asked. "Look, if we lose him, we're fine."
"If," said Eva edgily. "If."
The police station might not have been open, but the pub down by the waterfront was. The eucalypt canopy in the parkland behind it knotted together against the sodium-bright glare of the streetlights. We pulled into the little carpark and left the car with deliberate slowness. The glinting blue Beemer stopped in the darkness at the edge of the park.
We walked across the tarmac towards the wooden tap-room door. Behind us in the dark, I heard a car door slam.
"Easy," I said.
The three of us pressed up against the door together. The barman looked up from the counter. A couple of locals looked up from the schooners at the out-of-season tourists with studied neutrality. I managed a strained smile. We picked up speed, heading together directly for the door marked 'toilets'.
"Hey, customers only!" called the barman.
We were jogging as we hit the door, trying not to jostle each other in the narrow, tiled hallway beyond, passing the men?s and ladies? and heading straight for the rear door. We burst out onto a little apron of concrete lit by one bulb above the doorway.
I'd hoped to slip out into the dark, circle the pub and make off through the parkland. If Marina was at the cottage we'd once rented it was ten minutes away at a run. It hadn?t been much of a plan, I realised now. The girls had been right to doubt me.
I stumbled, pain ripping through my sides. It was no good. I was never going to make the parkland darkness before the slab caught up with us.
"Here," hissed Eva from the half-shadow.
Nearby loomed the silhouette of a huge rubbish skip, its wheels obscured from view by some stacked crates. It stood at a slight angle to the wall. Eva darted around it.
Shit, I thought. Cornered out the back again. We'd have been better off staying in the bar.
Danielle pulled me after her. There was a little wedge of empty concrete behind the skip. We squeezed in as the rear door opened, then slammed back on its hinges against the inner wall. Heavy boots clattered onto ringing concrete. They stopped.
We tried to stifle the sound of our own breathing, three children who'd all chosen the one stupid place in hide and seek.
Grit and stone scratched under a solid sole as the figure we couldn't see, not three meters away, turned casting about in the night. A silence stretched towards forever, an endless space measured in three hearts' hammerings.
Then, solid bootsteps clattered off towards the park.
I slumped against the wall, and made to move.
"Not yet," said Eva.
We waited. The sound came: a car engine turning over in the night-quiet, a spray of shoulder gravel as tires slid onto the road.
"He'll only look nearby," said Eva, "and he'll circle back to check we haven't taken the car."
We moved cautiously off towards the main street. If we could get across it unseen, and into the leafy, lightless side streets with their gutterless roads and wide unpaved nature strips, we could make it to Marina's with only a little luck.
That seemed a very foolish thing to be counting on, but other options had just about run out.