Chapter 2
From 'The Girl In The Lagoon' by Joan Lane

Abbey Day did not arrive at work on Tuesday morning; instead she was dressed in a track suit when she heard a vehicle coming up her drive. She moved to the window, smiled and then walked over to her front door.

"Come on in". She said as the man got out of the car and stepped onto the narrow veranda.

" Evening Abbey".

"Hi, is everything O.K.?"

"Yes". He stepped inside.

"Good. Do you want a drink, lemonade, coffee?"

"Thanks, I'll have a lemonade ". He followed her into the small kitchen and watched her prepare the drink.

Abbey carried the tall glasses, tinkling with ice cubes, into the front room. She sat down inviting him to do the same.

Her visitor stayed for some time and as it was getting dark Abbey asked if he would like to have a meal with her.

"I was on my way up to the Ridge, it's going to be a beautiful night would you like to come? We could make a camp fire and cook some sausages " .

The girl hesitated a moment but then said "That sounds great, I wasn't doing anything special tonight".

"Do you get lonely up here by yourself?"

"Not really, I like my own company".

"Would you like some of my company Abbey?" The man said moving to sit close to her, his face intent.

"Well if we go up to the ridge I will have your company won't I?" She laughed and stood, she went to the next room to a small freezer. "I'll get out some sausages. What will we take to drink? "

"I've got a bottle of wine in the car"

"Good. I'll cut up some salad vegs. Have you got a lantern or something?"

"Yes I brought all that".

The first part of Abbey's evening was very pleasant, the view from the mountain ridge was magnificent in the early moonlight. Her companion was good company and the evening stillness was complimented by soft music coming from the small battery radio her friend had brought.

She felt completely at ease and quite sleepy as the hours passed. It had begun to get cooler and they spread a travel rug over their legs.

A while later as Abbey was about to suggest they go down her companion opened a flask of coffee. He poured the steaming liquid into two plastic mugs.

It tasted a bit tart but as neither of them had remembered to bring sugar Abbey gave it little thought.

She didn't notice that the man didn't drink his.

****

The bright sunlight creeping through a tear in the old blind brought Abbey to a sitting position. Where am I? Her head throbbed. There was no noise except early morning birds outside.

She was laying on an old single iron bed the picnic rug over her. She tried to remember how she got here. she remembered feeling sick, being helped down the mountain track to the car. she remembered a voice, a mans voice, repeating over and over-- I love you Abbey, you must know that, you must have seen it, I love you Abbey let me love you Abbey -- The girl shivered remembering his voice, his hands.

She looked around where was he, what was this place.

She must have slept again for when she woke the sun had gone, she heard a door creaking open. she sat up her mouth was dry and sore.

"I'm here Abbey, I'm back. Sorry I've been so long" His tone bright and friendly.

" What time is it?" She croaked.

" Almost midday, I've brought you some food".

She looked at him, his image came and went in irregular flashes He sat on an old stool by the bed.

"Why am I here what happened?"

"What happened, - er- you had a fall. I carried you down". He passed her a glass of milk.

She gulped it down avidly.

Her head was still fuzzy, his words came in and out like a broken communication line.

"I must go home".

"Oh not yet, you're not well enough yet. I love you Abbey". There it was again.

"I love you more than anything, anyone in the whole world".

"You do-o". She swayed and fell back onto the bed.

The man straightened her out put the rug over her again, placed a cushion under her head, then moved back into one corner of the room and sat looking at her.

The room was in an old cabin in the mountain range it was owned by a family in the city and because they never came up here any more one of the Real Estate Agents had it on his books to be Leased. It was usually rented by hikers or mountain climbers or even fishermen who took a boat up to the early reaches of the river which wound down to the plains and pasture lands below Colbreeth. The present Leasee had had it for over six months now.

*****

Abbey stirred, her bladder screaming for relief, she shook herself awake and carefully put her two feet onto the floor. She didn't see the sleeping figure in the corner of the room.

She staggered out , the half moon giving some light she found herself in a living-room-kichen. She looked for another door it was on the back wall, on tiptoe she walked unsteadily to it.

It led onto a small porch, frowning and looking about she saw what she wanted. A tiny outbuilding stood a few feet away it had a broken and rickety trellis surrounding three sides of it.

She had to steel herself not to think about cobwebs and spiders as she approached. She left the door open.

While she sat she tried to put the jagged pieces together but nothing would fit. What had happened, why was she here, why did she feel so sick.

When she came out she looked around unsure of what to do. she sat on the edge of the wooden porch. Her head in her hands, she heard a movement behind her, she turned abruptly to see a tall shadowy -figure above, it swooped her up and carried her back into the house.

Her protesting struggle was ineffectual.

"You shouldn't be out here in the cold you'll get a chill". He muttered gruffly. He placed her on the bed again went out, Abbey heard a key turn in the door.

Tears came to her eyes fear overcoming her for the first time

"Let me out of here at once". She called desolately, the last words were lost as she lapsed back into slumber.

She woke again to the rays of sun entering the room. she felt cold she tugged the rug about her and as she did so she found she had on only her underwear

She screamed and heard no reply

"Let me out of here. Where are my clothes. You can't do this, are you mad?" Her voice was streaky and thin.

No reply came.

"He's gone again damn him" She got up and hammered on the door, her small fist making little impression or sound either.

Then she heard footsteps ,the old wooden floor seemed to bounce as he walked. He must be at the other side of the door now the steps had stopped, her breathing was heavy as she waited.

He laughed "Your clothes are out here. you won't run away without your gear will you". He laughed again, opening the door a foot or two. "If I let you out will you be good?"

"Good?" Her voice broke. She got off the bed wrapping the rug about her.

"Yes, if you're not I'll have to put you on a leash".

Abbey swayed and put a hand on the wall for support, he was mad he had to be.

He opened the door fully he looked down at her and smiled.

"I had a lovely big red setter once I used to keep her on a leash".

"I am not a dog. you can't do this". She followed him into the next room .

"Want something to eat?"

"No I want to go home NOW" She said . She was feeling better she would argue her way out of this. she knew this man he wasn't at all bad why would he do her any harm.

"I want you to stay here with me".

"I'll stay for a while then". If she humoured him she would be all right He was like unstable gelignite, if handled the wrong way it he would blow-up. She was sure of that.

"I'm cold".

"Here put this on". He took a duffle jacket from a peg on the wall by the door. It was too big but it covered her, it came down to her thighs. She felt less vulnerable.

She sat at the table "What are you going to eat?" I'm making bacon and fried bread. You like that?"

"Yes I'll have some then. you live up here?"

"No, you know where I live"

"I mean when you're not at home"

"Yes, I suppose I do"

He was uncertain.

The silence was broken by a light plane flying overhead. "Some more lads off to launch their gliders" Abbey said

"Crazy people, one of them will kill himself one day, those things go down as soon as the wind drops".

"Er- yes I suppose they do. Where did you learn to cook?"

"Ah-h now that's my secret, that's a surprise for you, Yes?" He turned to look at her.

"Yes it is"

"I'm full of surprises".

That's the understatement of the year the girl thought." Have you got a comb or brush around somewhere?"

"There's a bathroom of a kind through there". He nodded to a door at the opposite end of the cabin and returned to his cooking.

Abbey found her own handbag hanging on a hook there. She took out a comb and stretched up to see in the small mirror. She must try and keep him talking, keep him calm and to do that she had to keep calm.

'Keep things normal, keep your cool' She whispered softly to herself before going back.

He was mixing two milk drinks and there were two plates of food on the table.

He sat down opposite her and gazed at her across the narrow table leaning forward he said earnestly.

" This is how it should be Abbey, this is how I want our days to start for the rest of our lives". His eyes fixed on hers intently.

"Er" She drew back at a loss for something to reply, she lowered her eyes to the food.

"Well I'm not ready for domestic bliss just yet. I'm too busy enjoying my youth". She tried to laugh but it collapsed into a choking cough. They ate in silence for a few minutes.

"Is it because I have a wife?"

"No, - well yes but..."

"Then I'll get rid of her".

"You'll what?" Abbey choked on a mouthful of food, and stared at him in dismay.

"Have you taken leave of your senses man?"

"No if she's stopping me from having you..."

"She's not".

"You would stay up here with me if she wasn't down there".

"No I wouldn't". He said nothing.

Abbey had lost her appetite but she drank the mug full of hot chocolate. She hoped he would not hear her heart pounding against her ribs. If he thought she was afraid of him he might be worse. She began to feel hot then dizzy. She pushed back her chair and stood, the ceiling rotated several fast circles and the floor came up to meet her face. Her night fell in mid morning that day.

This time when she woke she remained silent, she listened, she heard the radio. It was dark outside. She realized now what was happening this time he wouldn't trick her into drinking anything. He had left the door open , he sat in front of the fireplace.

She could see his figure in shadow, she wondered if he was asleep. The duffle coat was gone, she would need something else and some shoes. She looked about the room peering into the half-light, she spotted a tall cabinet in one corner. Easing herself slowly off the bed and trying to ignore the throbbing headache she crept across to it. The door was stiff, she feared it would squeak. She tugged it open half an inch at a time.

There were clothes in it, she smiled in the dimness. She found some trousers a thick shirt and a jacket and pulled them on.

She looked out into the other room he was still and silent, perhaps he was sleeping.

She looked for something for her feet. old Gym boots smelly and too large but they would protect her feet, she had no idea how far she had to go.

She checked the window, if she could go that way she would avoid having to pass him. No, it was stuck firmly.

She'd have to risk it, she crept out into the next room.

Stepping as lightly as possible she made her way. she chose the back door and was out before he stirred.

She took a moment to get her bearings and run round to the front hoping there would be a lane or drive going past. she was thankful that the moon had risen early. She saw his car hesitated and then dismissed the thought and ran. she headed along the track trying to keep the wheel marks in sight through the tall shadows of the bush. An owl hooted somewhere above her and she gasped in fear before realizing what it was. There were some cloud about and it was cold . She ran until she was out of breath then she walked. She didn't take time to sit and rest.

Just as she was beginning to think she was safe she heard a car motor. She pushed herself through some scrub at the side of the track and waited.

It was him, he had followed her, but could she still elude him in the bush.

He drove past, quite slowly, the car bouncing about on the irregular surface.

Abbey stepped back onto the track and began to run again. The noise of the car had faded now.

She continued to run. she was hot and dizzy now it was days since she had eaten anything substantial. Her chest hurt she had a stitch and she felt like sitting in a heap and crying her eyes dry.

Around the next bend she almost fell into his arms. "Oh no". She gasped.

"Why did you go?"

"How did you know I was back here, you went past me?"

"That's a trick I learned overseas Abbey, it's helped me out of a hole more than once". He grinned at her.

She struggled momentarily but he was stronger, bigger, older and very determined.

He pinioned her arms behind her back and hustled her forward to his car.

He pushed her into the rear seat. As she tried to open one of the doors he said "That catch has been broken for months".

Abbey reached for the other one, she found there was no handle for either window or door on the interior of the car. she threw herself into a heap on the long back seat and punched the leather with a clenched fist.

She sat up looking about they had not turned back, he had driven on the way she had been running.

"Where are we going?"

"To your place, you might want some things, lipstick, a nightie, a toothbrush".

"What? "

"You'll be staying with me for a while". He was calm and cheerful, he whistled to himself as they drove down the range.

When they got to her place as he opened the door she broke away and ran.

She heard him swear but kept running. The dogs were barking in their enclosure. She wished they were out maybe one of them would have attacked him. she ran away from the cottage the moon had gone behind a cloud and she couldn't see where she was going. She tumbled a couple of times and then went down with a thud, she felt a sharp pain in one leg and cried out.

She saw his shadow over her and tried to stand she struggled and he hit her, she toppled backwards and lay still.

The man bent over her shaking her and calling her name. When there was no response he stood up and still as stone he looked at the immobile figure on the ground . Tears ran down his face as he trod back to his car. He drove frantically. He knew where he'd go. He knew who would help him, even perhaps bring his Abbey back. He drove desperately.

******

Consciousness came back to Abbey slowly, she hurt all over, head throbbing, one ankle smarting, pains shooting up one arm. she scrambled to her feet. she was down by the Lagoon she must get back to her cottage, she could ring someone. Where was he now?. She stumbled back up the track, there was a light on in her cottage but his car wasn't there. She tripped up the steps and pushed open the door. She was greeted with a barrage of abuse. "Where the hell have you been?" She stared open mouthed. "Don't you know the risks I take coming up here and then you're off with someone else. I saw those two glasses in there, I heard his car. I waited all damn day. Where the hell were you? Look at you, you look like a harlot"

Abbeys head reeled, she turned and ran out again. The dogs still yapped and barked . This time she was caught up with very smartly. In the struggle she smelt the alcohol on his breath, she tried to reason with him her words coming out in snatches and gasps, then she fainted.

The man staggered as he carried her inert body. As he neared the cottage he heard the dogs and went in that direction he stopped and threw his human burden into the water tank by the dogs enclosure.

"That'll cool down your ardour you little bitch. How dare you double time me. What do you think I am some sort of fool. No one double times me". He sat down on a log gasping for breath .

The cold water revived Abbey and she thrashed about trying to get out of the tank. Although it had no top on it the sides were slippery and wet and too smooth for her to grip she gasped

"Get me out of here, help me get me out".

"Why should I ?" He laughed. "Stay in there for a while it'll cool you down".

The dogs were barking furiously now and her voice was lost in the noise. She gurgled and gasped for air as she tried to stand but the tank was almost full from the recent rain and she was too short.

Her scream split the calm autumn night as she surfaced for the last time.

The dogs fell silent.

The man lit a cigarette and sat on the log smoking, his body swaying to and fro unsteadily.

Eventually he stirred and went to the tank 'I'd better let her out of there, damn woman he mumbled as he went to the tank .

He reached in to drag her out but his hand found nothing. He stood on a brick work around the tank and leaned over further. Still there was nothing. 'Where the hell is she?'.

The dogs started again

"Shut up you mangy mongrels".

He leant over the edge of the tank wall his body denting the top rim. she was definitely not in there.

He went back to the cottage, she wasn't there either.

The alcoholic haze began to clear he gasped and ran back to the tank. Again unable to find her he shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

Most water tanks are made in two shapes one is a squat tank wide and low the other is an upright tank taller and more narrow.

If Abbeys tank had been of that the first design she would never have drowned in it. This moonlight murderer would have been able to reach to the bottom and find her body, perhaps revive her.

Instead of that he shrugged his shoulders and went to the back of the long green house. He had fallen into the habit of parking his car round there to prevent it being noticed by any visitor who may drive into the place unannounced.

He drove back to town still wondering where the hell his young friend was.

******

The two men sat opposite one and other their voices low there was a wife asleep in the next room. Mervyn Briggs looked at his brother, the man sat hunched, head bent, tears were on his cheeks. His story came out in disjointed phrases. When Mervyn heard it all, he cursed he took his brother roughly by one elbow and steered him out of the house.

"You bloody fool". He said as he reversed the 4 wheel drive into the street and headed out of town. "Yes I am, I've lost my darling little Abbey ". "Will you shut up, don't ever say her name, no one must know about this".

They reached the place by the lagoon and with the aid of Mervyn's torch they found the place where Malcolm thought he had left her.

"But she was here."

"She's damn well not here now".

"She couldn't have got up, I couldn't rouse her".

"No, well she's roused herself it seems. We'd better get up to the cottage, I'll have to sort this out. I only hope she understands. You're a fool Malcolm".

"Yes I know". The man had lost all focus.

The two men went to the cottage, the dogs again barking and jumping frantically about in the pen. When they found Abbey was not there they were about to go back to the lagoon area when Mervyn said "Do those dogs know you, would they attack?"

"No" "Go and let them out".

His brother looked at him a moment then shrugged his shoulders and did as he asked.

The two hounds bounded about and began to follow them but after a short distance they went back.

"I thought they may led us to her".

They looked around the area again and then Mervyn said

"We'll have to leave it until daylight. It's possible she wandered off in the wrong direction, if she had a head injury.

I'll take you home and you be out here again at daybreak you understand ". He warned Malcolm as they drove back into the town. "And don't say a word to anyone if I'm putting my neck on the chopping block for you, you keep that blabbering mouth shut". He glared at his brother as they parted.

"I will, I will".

* * * * * *

It was just after dark the following evening that a motor vehicle drove slowly up the track to Abbey's cottage. It's wide wheels making little sound and it's motor running smoothly, if the driver could have put a blanket over it to silence it further he would have.

He was concerned about the dogs too, they came bounding out to meet him.

He parked some distance down the track

He was pale and tense. He had spent the day in a frenzy of anxiety. Several thoughts chasing themselves like blind mice around his brain. He had to be sure, he hoped, even prayed he was wrong.

He went straight to the water tank the dogs bounded about him. He let them jump on him refraining from yelling them to order.

He turned on the tap of the tank, the water flowed swiftly into the low narrow trough which extended in the dog pen. It soon filled and overflowed.

He paid no heed to the water pouring its way down past the enclosure fence and by the garage wall into the scrub . He paced about smoking one cigarette after another. Then taking a deep breath he climbed onto the brick base of the tank and peered over. He took a torch out of his pocket, he stiffened and leaned forward. He stumbled down and threw himself against the garage wall, he punched it relentlessly.

The dogs were nowhere in sight, they were enjoying their long freedom. They were usually penned while Abbey was at work but they had had all day to play this day.

The desperate figure walked to his vehicle and brought it up.

He wrenched away the downpipe which ran from the garage roof to the tank, then pushed the tank over.

He loaded it and its grizzly contents onto the tray of his vehicle, and tied it firmly.

He drove out of the place just as the first rays of moonlight came through the clouds.

******

"Don't bloody lie to me you idiot" Mervyn Briggs shouted at his brother.

"I didn't, I swear I never put her in any tank, I never put her in that lagoon either".

Mervyn Briggs looked at his brother in disgust. "Why the hell lie to me? You told me most of it in the first place, why back track now, why hide half of it?"

Malcolm broke down again.

"Oh shut up".

"All right then, I'll a take the blame. I probably killed her she must have been hurt badly and wandered off, she's fallen into the lagoon or blacked out or something. Go you might as well charge me". He raised red-rimmed eyes to look at his brother. The pristine uniform reminding him of the his precarious position.

" You know I won't do that.. " Mervyn Briggs sat down. What a wreck his brother looked. His hands were unsteady, his eyes haunted, his face as white as a bed sheet beneath the growth of at least three days.

That damn war how many normal Australian boys had been ruined by it.

Damn America, they use every country they associate with. Damn our government heads too for that matter. All the hullabaloo and hogwash and then they came out without winning anything. Thousands of men still paying the price.

He remembered his brother before he went away. Young, carefree daring, a dark bright eyed boy with the world in his hands.

The same boy came home from the Vietnam conflict a disillusioned aging man. The years multiplied by participating in atrocities, battles, raids and dubious strategy .

Mervyn had from then on felt obliged to stand behind him.

Doreen Emery a local girl married Malcolm before any of them knew the long term damage he had suffered. A plain looking sensible girl she had been loyal through the years.

The fact that Malcolm would never father a child was also not discovered until later.

Doreen had been most patient tolerating his moods and verbal abuse and irresponsibility. Every penny went out as quickly as he earned it. Then he began quitting jobs one after the other for one petty reason or another. Now Doreen worked and handled the money, paying the monthly accounts and generally looking after them both.

He knew she had taken Counselling, probably referred by the GP and he thought she still attended discussion groups on occasions.

"You know what we have to do Mal don't you?" Mervyn said now his tone milder.

"What will we have to do?" His voice flat and dull. "We'll have to get that damn tank out of there".

"Why? "

"Because it will confuse things, that's why. I'm trying to save your neck here man, now I want you to be ready about 10 this evening, you'd better met me at the Pub".

"We're going out there? "

"Yes . Once the city lads get up here they may put on a night watch and we won't be able to get it out, so it's now or never".

"Where we going to put it?"

"We'll take it to the tip. No one will think of looking there it's too obvious".

"It'll be locked at night".

"So it will little brother, so it will. you just be there. Right?"

" Yeah, O.K"

"And bring some rope to tie the confounded thing on my ute". "Right. What will I tell Doreen?"

"Is she home tonight?" Mervyn stood up.

"Yes".

"Tell you're going to the Pub, which you are". He laughed, jamming his cap onto his head.

Malcolm sat and listened to the Police car start and move on and out of the street.

Why wouldn't his brother believe him.

"I'm not sure there is much more I can do for you, I've uncovered all these facts, well we think they are the facts, maybe I would be taking your money under false pretences if I continue". Ben looked from Maggie to Martin and paused.

Martin put down his cup. "There's still a couple of things I would like to know, he said slowly. "Such things as where the hell is that tank, who took it out of the water and why?"

"It may just be that the storm did wash it away into another area of the lagoon, as Briggs says." Milly ventured.

"I don't think so Milly. There's another thing that concerns me too and I've been meaning to ask you both about this. If we take this evidence to the Coronial inquiry will it mean that you Milly will have to be there and if so will this have a detrimental effect on your position at Uni. or with the relationship with Mrs Dawson and the other volunteers. I wouldn't like you to be seen as a snitch."

"Which is what I am, eh?" She laughed "Yes Martin we all have to be prepared for a bit of flack when we get into these things."

"We come out smelling of roses or manure, depending on the outcome of the case usually. " Ben added.

"I see. So you're not going to be kicked out of Uni or have lots of black crosses on your resume ?" Martin said smiling at her.

"No. "

"Well if you two know what you're doing and if you agree Mother", he turned to Mrs Day. "I'd like you to stay on the inquiry a bit longer. "

"Right, well this is the photo I took from Briggs place, this is the photo that was in Abbey's house."

He passed one the Martin "Do you know who this is?"

"My it's blurry."

"Yes that's the problem, do you think it's Malcolm Briggs?"

"I don't know."

"Have you seen Briggs in recent years?"

"I'm not sure, I was thinking about that the other day, I'm not sure I know what the bastard looks like."

Ben continued ignoring Martins rising anger "We need to establish if these were taken at the same time or were from the same roll of film and if the processing was done here or elsewhere. If so was the processing material alike or totally different."

"But Briggs took this one of Abbey, someone else must have taken the one of them both."

"If it is him." Reilly commented.

"And if so there are cameras on the market that allow seconds for the subject to get into the picture, Pentax make one for starters".

"I don't think Abbey would have been posing with Malcolm Briggs." Maggie said defiantly. "I don't think this person is Briggs, either one of them. "

"What did you say? "

"We might be blaming the wrong Briggs."

Three pairs of eyes rested on her face. "Mother what are you suggesting?"

"Mervyn Briggs could be the married man, if she was seeing a married man. "

No one spoke but looked from one to the other.

Ben was first to shake his head "No I don't think that theory holds water Maggie."

"No-o I agree with Ben, Mother."

Milly said sympathetically "You really don't like that man do you Mrs Day?"

"Mervyn the monster, Daine Forrest calls him." she laughed.

Ben gave a smothered cough and said briskly " Yes well in any case we need to know who this person is. I'll be in the city for the next day or two so don't worry if I don't answer my phone."

"Don't you have a mobile yet Ben. " It was a dry remark from Martin.

"No-o I don't need these new flimfan things to do my job." Milly and Martin exchanged smiles.

"There is another line I want to follow up, apart from your tank Martin, I'd like to have a look at the list of volunteers who worked with Abbey, Milly could you get that? " .

"Yep."

They continued to talk of the case for a couple of hours and then the telephone disturbed them. Maggie answered it

Although they did not intentionally wish to listen they had to pause in their conversation to allow her to hear The one sided conversation they heard was -----

--"What?

--Really.

--You're joking aren't you?

--No of course you wouldn't. My goodness I wonder who would do such a thing.

--Yes. Yes that's right.

--Mm-m - yes I'll do that.

--Yes bye for now Daine, thanks for ringing."

Maggie put the phone piece down and turned to the others.

Ben thought he discerned a smirk on her lips as she said casually "That was Daine Forrest, it seems Briggs was allowed out of hospital this afternoon and when he got home he found someone had dug a grave in his front lawn."

"A what ?"

"They did what ?"

"What did you say ?" Then Milly giggled.

Ben glared at her.

Martin frowned.

Maggie hastily left the room offering to make another pot of tea.

"Was it filled in Mrs D?" Milly called after her.

"Duno, the earth was piled up in front of the bedroom window." Maggie answered from the kitchen. A heavy silence hung in the room.

"I'll bet the other Briggs wasn't pleased with that either." Martin said as he stood and followed his mother.

Ben imagined he heard tittering a minute or so later.

When the tray was brought in Mrs Day's face was sombre but she said "I think it serves him right."

"Now Mother that's not very nice". Martin chided half-heartedly.

"He wasn't nice to my lovely daughter and your sister, he deserves all he gets. It seems there is no justice to be found by the law in this land."

"But who's doing this?" Milly spoke to Ben. "Goodness knows." Maggie remarked.

Martin about to add milk to his cup turned sharply to look at his mother, something in her tone struck him as odd.

"How did Daine Forrest know about this Maggie? " Ben grunted.

"Her husband was down at the hotel, he heard it there. Very strange isn't it?" She looked up and met his eye squarely not a twinkle in sight.

Ben took another biscuit he must be getting paranoia.

How could he possibly even think of this dear old soul Organising a vendetta - of sorts. He gulped down his tea turning his mind to other aspects of this ever baffling case.

******

Martin had a small flat in a fashionable suburb just a few minutes from the city centre. A large recreational park was opposite the units and apartments on this busy road. It was very necessary to have private car parking for it would be foolish to leave ones car on this Commuter road. The units in which he lived provided this.

He pulled into his designated square and took his briefcase and jacket from the car. Pressing his ignition key holder to set the alarm he strolled slowly over to the entry doors.

Martin enjoyed the city, the noise, the lifestyle, the opportunity to do things and go places appealed to a young man in his late twenties. He took time out to play squash with his friends or go out to dinner occasionally. Over recent months however he had had little time to think about any of that. His whole being seemed to be concentrated on one target, his body, soul and mind aimed in the one direction.

The haunting dreams were occurring less often now, the disturbing thoughts of what his sister may have endured before her death were presenting themselves less frequently in his waking moments. He was feeling tired and somewhat dejectedly this evening.

The telephone was ringing as he entered his flat.

"Yes." He said briefly as he picked up the receiving piece.

"Martin, it's Ben".

"Hi, is everything all right?"

"Yes, I was wondering if you'd know that tank if you saw it again?"

"We-ll I'm not sure I would, but Noel or Alan might . Did you find it?" He added in surprise.

"I think I have, I went around to the tip this afternoon, on the off chance, sure enough there are a couple of old tanks thrown in a pile of hard garbage in one corner, away from the rest of the stuff, don't ask me why. "

"They probably sell it to the scrap metal merchants on the side." Martin remarked. "If it is the same tank will it help?"

" I may be able to speak with one of the men who work there, he may remember who brought it in or when."

"Hell that's a long shot, it was weeks ago."

"Yes I know but first we need to know if it's it, or be 90% sure at least."

"I'll ring Alan, he won't be home from work yet I'll ring you back tonight."

"Can you get them up here ?" "I can ask."

They spoke only a minute or so longer and disconnected.

Ben went to his coat took out his wallet and frowned he had better go to the A.T.M. at the bank before he went across to the hotel for his meal this evening.

He'd better speak to Martin about his fee too, his bank balance was getting low again.

When Ben pushed through the swing doors the place was buzzing. He usually came into the bar first, had a couple of drinks and then went through into the Bistro. Tonight as Ben sat sipping his drink he faced the crowded bar. He glimpsed the Briggs brothers in earnest conversation at one end. He wished he had a bionic ear. If he could hear what they were saying he'd be hallway home. two other familiar figures caught his eye. Ken Taylor and Dr Oxley were seated a few tables from the bar, talking animatedly, occasionally one or other leaned across the table to say something more quietly.

Because Ben was late in he had sat near the door, Officer Briggs went out without looking right or left so didn't see the Investigator. Malcolm however after another drink came out the same way . When he saw Ben he turned ,approached the table, he leaned over it menacingly.

"You Brady are a parasite, you just keep your bleeding nose out of local folks bars, you hear me, if you don't I'll deal with you." His voice low and threatening, his breath heavy with alcoholic fumes. He thumped his fist on the small table and glared at Ben. The little round table shuddered and vibrated under the mans pounding.

Ben leaned back in his chair but returned Briggs glare. "I don't know what you're on about fella, what's your problem?"

Briggs picked him up by the shirt collar and held him face to face. " There will be another bloody murder if you keep goin' round asking questions."

People were looking now.

Brady tried to pull out of the grip but kept his cool. Someone nearby stood up.

"Hey mate settle down. That guy's a visitor in town put him down."

"Come on Briggsie , let it go." Another voice. Ben couldn't see the body belonging to the voice.

Malcolm turned to them and back to Ben, then pushed him back in his seat and stamped out.

Ben straightened his clothing and turned to the men at the other table. "Thanks. I don't know what he's so riled up about I'm sure."

"Aa-h take no notice, he gets fired up every now and then, he'll cool down later". The man sat down again.

"Doreen'll give him a hard time when he gets home." The second man said.

"Na-y-, she's all right, she's put up with old Mat for years now. She's a tough old turkey is our Doreen. " He remarked with a grin. They nodded to Ben and returned to their drinks.

Brady hesitated should he get into a conversation and try and find out more about Briggs. But that would draw suspicion he must endeavour to remain anonymous.

No doubt Briggs, Mervyn would have by now informed Malcolm that he had been to the Police station. He wondered again just how deeply in was the Det. Sergeant himself. He had put Maggie off when she had suggested the idea but he too had his doubts about the lawman. Was he just covering for his brother or was there a deeper furrow in this field. He was a married man, he had thwarted the Police inquiry, he'd put off the search for days.

The younger Briggs was certainly getting mighty nervous anyway whichever was the case.

Ben finished his drink, he thought about ordering a stiff whisky but pushed back his chair and went into the Bistro instead.

Colbreeth wasn't a big town and country folk chatter a lot, if Ben but knew it almost everyone knew who he was. Even if they hadn't seen him they knew of him and why he was here.

The two men who had come to his aid were no exception, but they wouldn't have been any help to him had he asked them anything. Their loyalty lay with Mal Briggs they'd fought with him and knew of his periodic episodes of irrational behaviour. They could understand it.

******

"Thanks Theresa and could you tell Michael that Ben is in Unit 5 it's the last one on the right. Perhaps he should ring first Ben maybe out, he spends some time across at the hotel in the evenings." Maggie Day hung up.

She sat down in her favourite chair by the window and watched the half-moon suspended, it hung so peacefully in the sky. she sighed. Although it was virtually only late afternoon it was clearly visible, as waiting for the sun to set. Remote and untouchable, as a fledgling Ballerina, waiting in the wings for the curtain to rise, thus revealing her true beauty and prowess. The drifting cotton clouds were the moon's curtain.

Perhaps things were on the improve though, Michael Derwent would keep the tank in his work-shed until they needed it.- if they needed it. It may all be a waste of time.

Maggie sat still, her mind a long way from this scene in Colbreeth, a long way from the present time and surroundings.

* * * * * *

Ben was in as the phone rang. He spoke to Michael for a few minutes, then took his pen and note pad outside. He was quite comfortable at the small motel, although never truly comfortable away from his own place, his won familiar rooms and favourite belongings, but this wasn't bad. The young couple who managed the motel -no doubt for a big company- were affable and obliging.

Because Ben had asked that there be no daily room service they left clean linen, coffee and milk on a mini-trolley outside his door regularly. There was a good size fridge provided and a small mini oven-grill as well as the standard electric jug. Obviously the room was fitted out for the longer staying guest. Company Reps, insurance or real estate agents and the like, he presumed. There were two rows of 5 units they were separated by two driveways and a garden strip. Because his unit was the last of the line he had a nice view, from his side window, of a small but tidy garden which ran to the boundary fence. There was an outdoor garden setting there. He noticed the unit directly opposite also had one and there were several other sets about . One up on the front lawn near Reception, a couple in the garden strip which divided the driveways. Ben sometimes took the opportunity to avail himself of the spot of sun and fresh air, the environment was conducive to thinking. Here he would sit pen poised or in his mouth and toss everything over and about like a Chinese dish in a wok. Sometimes he arrived at his solutions in this manner.

Right now he had to bring his notes up to date. He would photocopy them tomorrow and send them off. He did not wish to lose any, he would ask his friend to send back a copy of the missing pages perhaps that would point him in another direction.

Someone took only certain pages for a reason. There could be a clue there. He sat for some time occasionally straightening up and gazing off at nothing for a moment or sitting still as a statue, except for the thin fingers that repeatedly rolled the pen about.

The days were getting shorter now and the sun weaker toward the end of the day. Soon he noticed the chill breeze, he gathered his things and moved into his unit.

* * * * * *

The committee which had not given itself a name met again at Maggie's place. They had talked about this and Dr Oxley had suggested the Colbreeth Justice Committee, some of the others around the table replied rudely that he was going overboard, one said he'd been watching too much American TV , another said that this was not a Ludlum novel and the last loud objection had been this is the last years of the 20th century in Australia not the last decade of 18th. in the wild west of America.

Today Dr Oxley felt chirpy he would defy the mob, he tapped his teaspoon on the table and said firmly "I now declare this session of the Colbreeth Justice Committee open"

His words were met with derisive remarks and it took him a few minutes to get everyone settled down enough to get to the point of the meeting.

He looked around the table, Daine Forrest, Theresa Derwent the Taylors, Mrs Bolley and Simone Flinders and Maggie were now quiet and looking at him attentively.

"Apologies? I see we have some not with us today." He exclaimed. "My neighbour is away." Maggie replied.

"That's Beth Healy." Oxley made a note on a large foolscap pad.

"Dan Ferguson is working, D and D can't spare him this morning." Daine Forrest said.

"Right then what have we got today?"

"Some satisfaction not much progress. "

"Yes I agree."

"We're making his life unpleasant but we haven't proven anything."

"I think we should write out a confession and make him sign it." Theresa said.

"I don't think we could go that far my dear." Oxley frowned. "How would we make him sign it anyway?"

"Go around there ,two or three of us and give him a bad time. He's probably pretty nervous by now, one more little incident and he would crack."

"Theresa I hope Michael never crosses you his life won't be worth living

She laughed "Neither would mine then I suppose but he's the true and loyal type. "

"He'd better be."

There was laughter and some more idle banter and then they all fell into a gloomy silence.

"There's one thing that's worrying me. "

"What's that?"

"What if Ben Brady is wrong, what if Briggs isn't the killer at all." Daine Forrest looked at each of them in turn her eyes wide and concerned.

"Malcolm you mean?" Maggie asked

"Yes."

"If only we could go to the Police with the information we have. I must admit I've had the same thoughts as Daine." Dorothy Taylor commented.

"I wonder if we could go across to Pemberdale. It's a pretty big town providing they are not in Cohorts with Briggs they might do something about this."

"Isn't there a District Inspector or something, someone over Briggs?"

"Probably, but how do we find him, who is he, where is he?" Briggs sure as hell isn't going to tell us". Ken Taylor growled the reply. '

"How far is Pemberdale?" "About 150 Ks. "

"At least they may be impartial, at least they'd listen."

"Yes but if we have no proof."

"We have the clothes. Ben has found the tank and we have that photo." Maggie said.

"What happened about that, did he find out who it was?"

"He's in the city at present, I'm hoping he'll know when he comes back. There is one other thing I want to mention today I've written a letter to the Commissioner of Police in the city."

"Have you, do you know him?"

"Bob did, they used to be in the Reserve Army Corps together, some years ago of course." She smiled, the memory of their youth coming across her mind for a moment.

"Have you met him yourself?"

"Yes, once or twice at city functions he's a nice person, was then. Of course he too could have changed his ways over the years and of course the letter may never get to him. All these men in high places have secretaries for their secretaries, so it may get put in a no action basket somewhere. If I don't hear back in a week or so I will assume that's what happened, if so I may take a different track."

They were all looking at Maggie now hope in their eyes. Her voice was strong and decisive the broken woman of a few weeks ago appeared to be gone. Anger and the need for revenge had gradually taken over. Or was it simply justice that Maggie was working for? "That's great Maggie now there is one thing worrying me."

"Does Brady know about our committee Maggie? "

" I think he suspects something, he even suspects the er-accidents but it doesn't matter."

"He won't interfere?"

"No, we're all working for the one end in this, aren't we?"

"Yes-s."

"And the clothes, you said he thought he may be able to find out something from the labels."

"They told him very little it seems he did a round of the shops here but they are such ordinary things that every second shop has them.

"So we're still running around in circles then?"

"I'm afraid so. "

"Right, well now I want suggestions for the next week operations". Oxley said as he took up his pen and cast a glance at each one sitting at the table.

******

"How strict is Mrs Dawson, does she do some sort of check on these people before she puts them on as volunteers Milly?"

Ben had bought takeaway food and they sat in his room the TV was flashing news pictures but they were not paying attention.

"You seemed to get on the volunteer list remarkably easily."

"I had a reference from 'uncle Ken' remember and I have my Uni papers, and my own referees."

"I suppose so . How many volunteers are there?" Ben flicked through the pile of papers beside him with one hand as he ate with the other.

"I've taken out girls my own age, housewives and grandmothers, there must be a dozen or so there. These chairs new?"

"what? Oh yes, I put the hard word on the manager, told him I needed a decent chair in here if I was to stay on a while." "So he put in two?"

"Yes, it's a bit cramped now but at least I haven't got to prop on the bed or sit straight as a jackal in that upright wooden."

"I guess he knows who you are by now."

"Yes I suppose. More fried rice?"

"Mm-m it's a funny town, quite large if you take it by population but still has the small town air about it."

"Everyone knows everyone you mean? "

"Yes perhaps they do, although with our inquiries one would say they didn't. "

One of the main sports is exchanging local gossip but by the same token they won't divulge much to an outsider. This is what is so frustrating I can't find out anything much at all about Briggs."

"Malcolm? "

"Yes well both of them really."

"What about Mrs Days comment the other afternoon."

"She's just floundering for leads to end the nightmare, Detective Sergeants don't kill young women Milly, not in real life." He looked away and frowned.

The girl made no reply for the moment but ate her food absently. "Maybe not, well I expect we'd better get on with this then,"

she put her empty containers into the bin and picked up the bundle of papers. "What exactly are we looking for here.?"

"I'm just checking really, I want to confirm for myself that I'm right about Briggs, also I still can't locate this boy friend, Simone is sure she was seeing someone. "

He went through the papers slowly. It seemed Milly had included all the male volunteers between 18 and 66.

"He must be fit, reaching out to help others at that age." He commented as he added the paper to one pile.

"A retired sea captain or something I believe. Hey Ben there's Lindsay Kellow." Milly looked up suddenly.

"Who's he?"

"He's 2 IC to Mrs Dawson, I think he's a Social Welfare officer or something, I think they have a new title now though.

If it wasn't a patient and it wasn't a volunteer that leaves only Dawson and Kellow, unless of course you're going to consider Mervyn Briggs as Maggie was suggesting the other day. Or one of the other local police officers."

"Don't be silly. Does this Kellow live up here?"

"Yes."

"Married? "

"Yes."

"Happily?"

" I don't know."

"Hm-mm. How old is he?"

"About 30, something, I'd say."

"He's not here?" He flicked through the pages in front of him. "No. He's not a volunteer, he and Mrs Dawson are paid by the government, administration personnel."

"Been up here long?"

"I don't really know. I think I'll make a coffee, OK?"

"Good idea, I think better with a coffee mug in my hand. What's the set up, does Dawson write up reports for the main city office and that sort of thing ? "

"Probably. Kellow is part time, she's full time, that I know at least."

"What does he do when he's not a CSPS?"

"I wouldn't know Ben."

"But you'd know where he lives, I think I'd better follow this up. "

"This Fallon , Nathan is it?" He asked a few minutes later his head bent again over the sheaf of papers.

"Yes. "

"Have you met him?"

" I've seen him."

"What's he like?"

"Biggish, fair."

"He's a lawyer."

"Is he?"

"He must have a practise up here, I wonder if Bolley knows him."

"Bolley?"

"Mrs Days solicitor, finance manager, she called him."

"Ah-h. Lawyer embezzles all mothers cash, daughter finds out lawyer drowns her." "Milly!" Ben said raising his head. She stood with her back to the small bench and grinned wickedly at him.

He grimaced and lowered his eyes. "Dennis Wickam, he's been retrenched, he'd have a lot of spare time on his hands, maybe she rebuffed him."

"I thought we were looking for a current boy friend, not a lover scorned!"

"Yea-h if she ever had one - as such."

******

Ben stopped at the corner store near the motel for a bottle of drink, he picked up the local newspaper. The front page headline seemed to jump out at him --INJURED MAN'S TYRES SLASHED, It seems run of bad luck is dogging Malcolm Briggs, still recovering from an injury sustained from a wild chance bullet in his street recently Briggs had his car tyres slashed to ribbons overnight His brother Det. Sgt Mervyn Briggs is making urgent inquiries into the matter. Anyone who may have seen someone lurking about in that area late yesterday should contact the Police Station-

Brady read the article again. He shook his head, not too badly injured to have a go at me in the Pub he muttered. There's some mighty murky water flowing down the river right now though. It was clear that someone or several someones were trying to intimidate Malcolm Briggs. He had been singled out for 'treatment' by a vigilanty-like group he was certain.

When he got back into his car he did a U turn and drove a few blocks across town.

Maggie did you see this paper?"

"Today's? No I haven't. "

He had planted himself on the edge of one chair at her invitation to sit but he was staring at her accusingly.

"Have a look at this. "

"My, my, oh dear." she mumbled as she read.

"Maggie what are you up to? "

"Me? " Innocent bright eyes gazed at him over the printed sheet.

"Well you or your morning tea party friends . You're playing with fire, you'll end up being severely burnt I'm telling you."

"Ben Brady I did intend to offer you a cup of tea but after that I won't. " Her chin was up again, her tone indignant.

"Never mind the tea, leave it alone Maggie, take my advice as a friend if you won't any other way, leave it alone for heavens sake."

"Mervyn Briggs may be very angry at this?" She said looking at the paper again.

"He sure as hell will be and there will be dire consequences so put a stop on it now, for everyone's sake."

She met his eyes again, they clouded uncertainly then she smiled

"Ben Brady what do you think I am some village matriarch who can tell all and sundry what to do when. This is a big town I'm not responsible for the actions of everyone in it."

"No but I have a feeling you're responsible for some of them and some of the things happening in it, you don't fool me for one minute Maggie Day ,the helpless little old lady image everyone has of you in not one percent accurate. I've learned that over recent weeks."

"I'm not sure whether I should be insulted or feel complimented, but in any case I want to ask you a question."

"What is that?"

"How did you and Milly get on with the volunteer list?"

Ben's lower jaw dropped ... 'how did she -- ah yes we mentioned that up here didn't we--'

"We're still working on it."

"I probably know some of them, if you want information, I've lived here quite a while, I know a lot of people, as you've pointed out."

'Yes. " He answered. Thinking 'I'm sure you have a lot of gossip to share with me but you also want those names, you're as sharp as a tack Maggie Day'.

"I could make you a cup of coffee --if you're not still too cross to drink it. " Again their eyes met in silent battle and he gave in.

"Very well then, I suppose you're lonely, I suppose I should take the time to brighten up your day a little." He stretched out his legs and leaned back in the chair. It was Maggie's turn to drop her lower jaw and then she laughed for a moment, a soft tingling sound that he'd not heard before. He'd never heard her laugh in all the weeks gone by .

« NEXT » « The Girl In The Lagoon » « Australian Fiction » « Library » « Our Civilization »