installment 54: pages 225 - 229 [Elliot arrives with Danielle and Eva at the cottage where he hopes to find his missing ex, Marina.]
Getting to the cottage, it seemed further than I’d thought, but the streets were as quiet and poorly lit as I’d recalled. We had crossed the main street without incident, and quickly gotten into the reserve and followed the paths back towards the houses away from the township’s bright-lit main drag. We hadn’t seen the BMW.
Number nine Grevillea Street was as I recalled it: a short driveway, a tidy and pleasant garden with a view out towards the reserve over a short fence and hedges, a homey building with a pleasantly haphazard, added-on-to look. Lights shone out through tall lounge-room windows.
One of the two cars in the driveway was Marina’s. No-one was visible through the windows, but I could hear a familiar male voice from the direction of the kitchen. Less anxious now, we walked briskly out of the gloom, towards the light.
As we came up onto the veranda I flicked open the Motorolla. Two bars of reception showed black against the luminous green display. Coverage had improved since I was last down here. I keyed open the SMS outbox and brought up the note I’d composed, ready to send. I closed the phone, while Eva rapped on the door.
A moment later a man with a bright commercial smile opened it. It was a jolt seeing him out of a suit. It was virtually naked for a corporate lawyer, but if he wasn’t embarrassed, I wasn’t. I’d seen him in jeans, polo shirt and boat shoes before at law school. Besides, I was furious. If I hadn’t felt like I was coming up for half-past dead I might have taken a crack at manually adjusting his grin.
“Elliot, mate,” said Stephen Carmichael, “what the hell are you doing here?”
“Me?” I asked. “What the fuck are you doing here? Mister, ‘Oh, Marina must be in Melbourne, Queensland or the Blue Mountains?’”
“Well, the sis needed a breather. Someone had to stall you,” his smile continued to throw out a hundred watts of stubborn good humour.
I’m not sure if I did make a lunge at him, or my knees just temporarily suspended service, but suddenly I had Danielle propping me up by one arm and leading me through the door. Once we were in the lounge room, we saw her.
There she stood, in the doorway to the kitchen, one shoulder to the frame, ankles crossed, wine glass dangling from one hand, from the other a pale green bottle the colour of her eyes. Tawny hair wound over the familiar curve of her shoulder. Almost casual in a black twin-set and marmalade skirt. Definitely Marina.
“Hello Elliot,” she said, “good to see you, and you Danielle and … Eva, lovely. Drink anyone?”
“We’re driving soon,” said Eva. “Came to give you a message really, then hit the road.”
“Shame, what’s the rush?”
“For someone with dead friends, you don’t seem very concerned,” remarked Eva.
Marina let the silence hang long enough to highlight the accusation’s indecorum.
“Jenny,” she said sadly. “It’s awful, isn’t it? I’ll be going back for the funeral, as soon as it’s announced. I’ve been keeping an eye on the papers.”
“Come on, Marina,” I said. “I know what you found out, I know why you’re hiding out down here. It’s no use playing tough, just tell me.”
She gestured to Stephen who disappeared past her into the kitchen to make glassware clink. Marina frowned a little as Danielle moved skittishly to draw the lounge room curtains, but shrugged and poured herself a liberal drink. She stepped forward to set the bottle down on a table a little too firmly. Tossing much of her glass back in a gulp, she sat side-saddle on the arm of a chair and looked into the bowl of the glass.
On the coffee-table next to her Marina had laid out an improvised cheese platter on a deeply gouged chopping board. She had the dinner-party trifecta of a wedge of soft white cheese (probably King Island brie), a small blue-veined wheel and a stolid yellow block of extra-mature cheddar. They were presented in a workmanlike fashion on the scarred board, crackers on the side, and one had the inelegant choice of a table or carving knife to hew oneself a piece.
Realising I was hungry, I took the smaller knife and a piece of the soft cheese. Camembert, but I was still silently backing Tasmanian origins. By the time I swallowed the silence had grown uncomfortable.
“Marina,” I prompted.
“It’s awful,” she repeated. “I suppose it helps that you know. I can’t believe Dad would do it.”
“It’s not all his fault surely –” I started.
Marina cut me off viciously: “I doubt that little slut Sharon did much to beat him off!”
I was completely bewildered.
“Sharon?” I asked.
“The receptionist! You said you knew! It was awful. Dad wasn’t going to tell Mum, and I certainly wasn’t going to break it to her – so I said I’d give him some time to think. I gave him a reason as well,” she smirked.
“You took the Tall Trees environmental impact statement, the one he wanted to bury,” I said.
“Well, he hadn’t told Mum he still had investments with Bob Mitchell, either.”
Danielle shook her head: “But why did you leave the Minister’s office without telling anyone?”
Marina laughed. “Left? Darling, I’d resigned. I’d had quite enough. The Minister’s a spent force. The taskforce was a nice little project for him to finish up on, but whether he realises it or not, he’s out of political capital. He’s never going to make Attorney-General. He’s advanced my career as much as he can. Besides, Peepers’ Sydney office has been holding something open for me for ages – they offered to up my pay if I came back.”
“Substantially above mine,” said Stephen ruefully, coming back with wine glasses. “And put her in some airy-fairy position working to the Executive Partner on strategies for increasing staff retention rates and stopping people running off to other careers after three years.”
“But the Minister told me you were missing,” I said.
“Overstatement,” she said. “Deliberately uncontactable. He’s holding my job open for me while I take my accumulated leave. You never know, he might be able to offer me something better.”
“He told me to tell you that you have your job, no matter what.”
“Those were his exact words, Elliot?” she asked pointedly.
“Sounds like he can’t make you a better offer, doesn’t it?” said Stephen. “He’s certainly not upping the bidding any.”
“And why were you speaking to the Minister?” asked Marina, ignoring her brother.
I was beginning to wonder myself, things were unravelling fast.
“Why haven’t you answered your Mum’s calls?” I countered. “You’ve got reception down here, don’t you?”
“I can’t speak to her until Dad has! I’m dying to call her, but I haven’t even cleared my voicemail. If I hear her voice I know I’ll just give in and call and –”
“You didn’t even know she was worried? That she thought you were missing?”
“Well,” she said, “Stephen had told me that Dad said something about me being missing, but I can’t believe he’d get her too worried over me when he knows what’s going on …”
“Your father knows your down here?” put in Danielle, exasperated. “Then why would he pay Elliot to find you?”
“He knows I'm on holiday, not where I am,” retorted Marina. She turned to me, appraising: “He’s paying you? How much?”
“Two fifty a day for up to a week,” I said wearily.
“Huh,” she said.
“You don’t seem very surprised,” I remarked.
“Well, think of it his point of view,” she said. “I’ve got him over a barrel, but he doesn’t want to have to talk to my mother about Sharon. Wouldn’t you pay up to two thousand in his position for a chance to try and talk me down?”
I was still trying to pull the threads together, hoping there was something behind Marina’s obsession with he pathetic middle-class family drama of infidelity and grandstanding.
“The name Jeremy Ryder means nothing at all to you, does it Marina?”
“Who?” she asked.
I looked at her. I hadn’t set eyes on her in a long time, but I realized it had been a lot longer than that since I’d really seen her. The change must have started while we were still going out, the growth of this hard, ambitious carapace.