“If his friend hadn’t been behind him, he’d have been a goner now for sure.” He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a phone. It was Johnnie’s. “I was going through the incoming calls to see if I could find a lead, see who’d called him in the last 24 hours. It might’ve given us an idea on who the perp might have been. That’s how I knew you’d called.”
“My god, where did this happen?”
He looked at me, I’d never seen him this grim. “In his house, by an unknown assailant”
“But, Johnnie, he’s so fit, he’s strong. What kind of person could do that to him? With all his police training, his self-defence, his martial arts?” My mind couldn’t comprehend how this could happen. “Was it a burglar?”
He hesitated and with dawning dread, I knew what he was going to say. “Was it something to do with Frederick?”
He took a sip of coffee. “It’s early in the investigation, but it is a possibility. Have you had anything else happen recently? Anything at all?”
“No, nothing. And I know no-one’s been around cos I’ve been setting my traps every time I leave. Tell me what happened. How badly hurt is he?”
“He’s not gained consciousness yet. But if his mate hadn’t been there we wouldn’t have known what had happened. Like you, we would probably have assumed a burglary gone wrong. They’d been to his martial arts practise and he was putting one of the guys up for the night. His mate had had a domestic argument, nowhere to sleep the night, so he was going to stay with Johnnie until he found temporary accommodation. Just for your information, his name’s Greg and he’s going to stay on at Johnnie’s place. Johnnie usually returns home on his own, so we can safely assume that whoever it was, has been watching him and expected him to be alone. Apparently, Greg walked into the room to find the man standing over Johnnie, his arms raised for the final blow. He turned and ran when he saw Greg. Out the back door, which was unlocked and open. Johnnie’s house hadn’t been broken into.”
“Is he going to be all right? He was so badly hurt before, I can’t believe that this can happen to him again. And not by my intruder. Why would he do that? Is he going to be alright?”
“We don’t know how much damage has been done. He’s had a severe blow to the back of his head and head injuries are always unpredictable. The guy was waiting for him and, as Johnnie walked in, he took a real whack at him. Greg said that the guy was lifting the bar he hit him with, apparently to finish him off, when he walked in. It could very well have been a murder investigation but for Greg. There’s reward for doing something for a mate, for you.”
I was having trouble breathing, let alone trying to think. “That would have been cold-blooded murder. Did his friend see what he looked like?”
“Yep. We’ve got a sketch happening even as we speak.” He looked like he was going to say something, but sipped his coffee instead. He knew more than he was letting on. “The sketch will be useful, we’ve something we want to follow up and this might be the breakthrough for us.”
“Follow up? Are you saying that this does have to do with Frederick?” The horror of what he was telling me was sinking in. “Are you telling me that Johnnie was attacked because of me? Or because of this house?” I still wasn’t sure which was the catalyst for all this, me or the house.
“It’s a possibility that we’re investigating.”
I couldn’t stand the thought of being responsible for Johnnie getting hurt. He’d already been through so much. But for someone to be able to fell him like that, he must be physically strong and have a murderous intent. I’d read that phrase in a book once, and now it seemed appropriate. “What is it you’re not telling me? Am I next?”
“I don’t know.” He ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t think so, but I just don’t know. This whole thing is moving too slowly. We’re being bogged down with red tape. It’s bad enough trying to communicate between departments, but between countries is a nightmare. I have a theory, but at the moment, it’s still only that, a theory. It there’s anything to it, I’ll tell you as soon as I have verification. ” He stood up and I walked him to the door. “Just do me a favour and be careful. Okay?”
I nodded, beyond words.
“Try and stick to your routine, don’t take any risks and be vigilant. Call me if you see anything unusual, anything at all. Even a call from an Indian telemarketer, anything, I need to know about anything different or unusual.”
“Can I go and see Johnnie?”
He took out his notepad and wrote down the name of the hospital and handed it to me. “But he’s still unconscious and I doubt they’ll let you in to see him just yet. Give them a call and I’m sure they’ll give you an update. I’ll let them know you’re going to call.”
“Thanks.” I looked down at the paper in my hand, and realised how helpful he was being. “I mean it, thanks. I know you’re doing everything you can to help me solve this mystery. Maybe, do you think it all might stop now?”
“We can hope.”
I noticed he glanced over at the garden for a moment before he turned and walked down the path. I walked back inside, locking the door behind me. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I thought of Johnnie, beautiful, fit, damaged Johnnie lying in a hospital bed, unconscious, hurt and bleeding. He could have been murdered. But thinking of what could have happened was unbearable.
There was no point in trying to sleep. What could I do? I had to do something. I picked up my notebook lying on the table and flicked through my notes. It was all here, everything that had happened since I got the first phone call. Maybe I could go through it again and see if I can pick up a pattern, create a time frame. I had never gone through to see if the things happened with any regularity.
For the rest of the night, I scoured the notebook, noting times and dates. After hours of searching, I had a series of disconnected facts. No pattern, no help, no more clues. But at least I felt that I had done something. Finally, I dropped onto the couch and sleep finally stopped my spinning brain. I woke early and immediately called Anita on her landline to tell her what had happened. The phone rang then clicked over to answer phone. I left a message wondering where she could be this early in the morning. My next call was to the hospital, where predictably, they wouldn’t give me any information other than he was resting comfortably but had not regained consciousness.
I went to work but to say I was distracted, was an understatement. My mind kept drifting and I couldn’t stay focused or concentrate on what I was doing. I confided in Sara, telling her that my neighbour had been attacked. Even telling her, it still sounded unreal. And that was without the background story before the attack. At her suggestion, I spent a large part of the day, tidying the books and dusting. This could be done without much concentration and I looked as if I was doing something. She did much of the serving and handling customers and I got the shop in order. After work, I stopped at the coffee shop, hoping that a nice cup of coffee would lift my spirits a bit. But, walking out of the shop, I felt exactly the same as when I walked in. I was confused, frightened and not knowing what I could or should do. I phoned Anita again and left another message on her machine. I asked her to call me tonight when she got home from Uni.
As I walked past the community notice board, on my way back to my car, a flier caught my eye and I went back to have a read. There were fliers on a range of community services but the one which caught my eye, was a readers’ group who were looking for more members. You had to be approved by the group, but standing there reading the notice, I felt so alone. To have one evening a month with a group of intelligent women, discussing something as beloved as a book, seemed like paradise to me. I reached out and tore the little strip off the bottom. Three had already been removed, and I wondered if there was still a vacancy. I was still looking for a way to get my life back or rather to create a new one.
I was deep in thought as I walked past the local real estate office. I glanced at the posters advertising the houses for sale and for rent and stopped. A woman walking behind me walked straight into me. “Watch out! What are ya doing?”
I turned to find a young Maori woman with a familiar angry expression. It may well have been acceptable in the Haka, but it was damn scary face to face. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’ve just thought….”
“Yea, well, just be a bit more careful next time.” She threw the words back over her shoulder. “Crazy pakehas! The world doesn’t revolve around you, you know!”
I pretended to look in the window, glancing around to make sure she had gone. That was the last thing I needed, angry locals taking me on. I’m not that street smart or confident enough to hold my own. But she kept going and disappeared into the car park.
I turned back to the window and what had literally stopped me in my tracks. I could sell the house. I stood there thinking about it. I wasn’t attached to it particularly and I was enjoying my independence. But I didn’t need this house for that. I didn’t particularly like the place, and I hated the garden. It had a great neighbour but a wave of sadness washed over me as remembered Johnnie was in hospital. I could sell the house and buy one I liked, one I could choose for myself. I could get a house with a fabulous garden, or one where I could create a great garden with trees to attract birds for Marmaduke. He never caught any, but he would spend hours watching and stalking them. But he was a bit too chubby and I smiled as I remembered all the birds which had flown off in his clumsy little run before the pounce. We could make a happy place.
I took out my mobile phone and rang DS Martin. I put the idea to him and followed with a question. “If everything that has happened has to do with Frederick or someone connected with Frederick, what do you think would happen if I put the house up for sale?”
There was silence and I could imagine him thinking through the possibilities. “There is a strong possibility that putting the house up for sale could trigger a reaction. My gut feel says it may trigger someone to take action.”
“Do you think we might get some answers? And do you think I could be in danger?”
“Again, I have to say that I don’t know at this stage. But I would be concerned for your safety if you put it on the market. Everything seems to revolve around the house and I’m now convinced it definitely has something to do with you personally. I think you’re the catalyst. And hopefully, I can explain why by the end of the week.”
“I know you’re waiting on information.” I was tired of hearing that. “Can’t you give me just a small clue what you’re waiting for?”
He chuckled. “I’d like to, but I could be completely wrong and, if that’s the case, I don’t want you to think me an idiot.”
“I would never think that, Detective Sargeant Martin. Goodness, you maintain law and order for all us good citizens.” I suddenly realised we were flirting. I know I was smiling and when he answered, I could hear the smile in his voice too. What was it with me and men these days?
“Well, I don’t know about order. Law yes, but order, perhaps not. But seriously, if you put your house on the market, it could trigger off a chain of things or nothing might happen.”
“Except I could end up with a house of my choosing that I enjoy living in.”
“Yes, then there’s that. Do you dislike that house so much?”
“It’s not the house, it’s the feeling of someone else being there. I sometimes feel like I’m living with an invisible and menacing flatmate. I can feel their presence but I can’t see who they are.”
“I know, it must be tough, and you’ve got no family backup either.”
Suddenly, I felt a little uncomfortable. This was leading in a direction I didn’t want to go. I was enjoying my independence and I didn’t want to feel like I needed someone to look after me. I made a decision. “You know what?”
“I’m going to put it on the market and let’s see what happens.” I felt in control once again. I was in the driver’s seat, and I would take whatever consequences arose from my action. “Let’s take it head on, and see what he does about it. If he doesn’t like it, maybe he’ll come out in the open and we’ll find out what this is all about.”
“It’s your decision of course, but….”
I didn’t want to hear any of his advice, any warnings. It wanted this all over. Now. I wanted my life back, my safety and my peace of mind back. “If this creates a response, I say, bring it on.”
“Sam, you don’t know what you are dealing with here. The consequences may be more than you bargained for.”
“Well, they certainly were for Johnnie. You know, I don’t care any more. I want it over and if this will trigger an ending, so be it. See yah.” And I walked into the agency to see what you had to do to start the process of selling your house.
I sang along with the radio all the way home. I was back in the driver’s seat and I had control. Amazing how we fool ourselves. It wasn’t until I arrived home, walked up the path and stopped to look over at the garden, that the enormity of what I had done really hit home. I walked inside, put the jug on, then dropped into the chair at the table, all strength suddenly drained from my legs. What was going to happen? Why hadn’t I learned self-defence? Would I need it? Would I come face to face with whoever was behind all this? He had been truly violent with Johnnie, what the hell would he do to me? And then I looked at the garden. Surely not. Anyone who would make a garden for me, would they really want to hurt me? It simply didn’t make sense. I took the card of the real estate agent out of my bag and put it on the bench. As I made a cup of coffee, I thought it through once again. I could either go on living with this hanging over my head or, I could activate a plan, which might bring the thing to a head. It could be dangerous, no doubt about it. I stood looking over at the garden, sipping my coffee. I remembered the night he had been in the house. I thought about Johnnie in hospital. But for his friend, he would have been murdered. And I looked at the flowers in the garden. None of it made sense that was for sure. If this were a TV show, one cop would have suggested two partners in crime, one violent and impulsive, one calm and organised. I worked my way round in a complete circle and arrived back at the decision to sell. The worst was that I would bring it all out in the open, the best was that I truly started a new life free of fear. Looking back now, I can’t believe I was that naïve that I thought it would be that simple.
My phone rang and I saw it was DS Martin. My heart lurched. Was there something he now knew? Was Johnnie okay? I pushed the answer button. “DS Martin?’
“Sam, have you seen or heard from Anita in the last couple of days?”
I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t even breath.
“Yes, I’m here,” I croaked. I cleared my throat. “I’ve been trying to reach her for a couple of days now but she hasn’t returned my calls. I called her early this morning but it went to answer machine and I couldn’t understand where she would be at that time of the morning.” My voice was toneless, and I didn’t want to hear what might be coming next.
“Her mother has reported her missing. She hasn’t been to her Uni classes for a couple of days, and that’s not like her according to her mother and her lecturer at Uni.”
I said nothing. There was simply nothing to say. Tears blurred my sight and a solitary tear spilled over and trickled down my cheek. That said it all. I dropped onto a chair, not sure my trembling legs would support me any longer.
“Sam, I have to tell you, that during our investigations, the bookshop Manager, saw Anita talking to a man in the bookshop. Nothing strange there, but the man’s body language caught Moira’s attention. It looked as if the man didn’t want to talk to her and when Anita reached out and put her hand on his arm, he pulled away. She talked to him quite earnestly for a few minutes and he turned and left. Apparently, Anita followed him out and Moira thought that she was going to try to go after him.”
“And what does that have to do with anything? Who was he?” I was tired now. So tired, I couldn’t think.
“I had a hunch and went and saw Moira this morning. I took the sketch of the man who attacked Johnnie. Moira confirmed that it was the man she’d seen talking to Anita.”
“What does that mean? I don’t understand. Why would he be in the bookshop?”
“That’s the point. The reason that Moira remembered was because he was the man who had asked if you were coming back to work there. It was just after you’d left and she offered to take his details and pass them on to you. But Moira said he backed off real fast and this made her a bit suspicious. “
“He was asking for me at the bookshop? How long have you had that piece of information?” I realised I was rubbing my forehead as if I could rub understanding into it.
“Sam, I’d like you not to put the house on the market for a bit longer. Give us a bit more time….”
“No! He’s tried to starve Marmaduke, he’s attacked Johnnie and now you think he’s done something to Anita? And you still haven’t been able to find him. You still don’t know what this is all about, This just might bring him out! I want to stop the bastard!”
“No! I’ve had enough! Enough. It’s time it stopped. I don’t care about me any more. I want it to be over. I’ve put the house on the market and they’re coming out tomorrow to put up the sign. Please let me know if you hear anything about Anita.” I hung up.
Strangely, I slept well that night. I didn’t think about Anita or what might have happened to her. I didn’t think about Johnnie lying in his hospital bed, still unconscious according to the nurse when I called. I felt calm, I’d made my decision and I believed I was prepared for any consequences from that decision. I would handle whatever came up and I slept soundly. Anything was better than being unsure and not knowing what was going to happen next. I woke early, had some breakfast and waited for the real estate agent who turned up at 9am as promised. By 9.15am, there was a For Sale sign in the ground at the end of my drive. It was large, you couldn’t miss it and it was there for all to see.
I walked back up the drive and put the jug on and waited. By lunchtime, I was starting to think it was all for nothing. By this time, I was spring cleaning, preparing the house for prospective buyers. I cleaned the windows both inside and outside which hadn’t been done since I moved in. I moved furniture so I could vacuum under couches and behind drawers. I was cleaning the bath when I heard the knock on the door. I sat back on my heels and listened. The second knock was louder and more insistent. I dropped the sponge in the bath, got to my feet and walked to the door.
It was Anita. I was about to step forward and give her a hug, when I noticed the bruising on the side of her face. “Anita! What ….”
She stepped aside and I saw him. He’d been standing behind her. He said nothing, he just stood looking at me. I looked at him, I knew nothing about him and yet he was so familiar. He was a nondescript, ordinary middle-aged man, and I knew him to be painfully shy. I’d never noticed before how thin he was, his clothes hung loosely on him. But what caught and held my attention were his piercing blue eyes. I simply said, “Hello Walter,” and waited. All those times I had spoken to him at the bookshop, and never suspected what was behind our chats.
“I have something of yours. You need to come with me. You will be very happy.”
Something stirred in my memory. For once he didn’t mumble and he had quite a strong accent.
“Walter, what are ……”
“Come wid me, you will see. You will remember. It is a very special thing I have for you. You won’t believe your eyes.”
His tone was strangely flat, that while the words sounded excited, he seemed to be missing the emotion of excitement. His face had the right expression, but something was wrong. “Go with you, where?” For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine Walter wanting to hurt me. Strange yes, but dangerous? I didn’t think so.
“Just down the road. Don’t be afraid, I wouldn’t hurt you.”
“He won’t hurt you. It’s okay, I know where he wants you to go and it’s okay, Sam.” Anita leaned forward and took my arm and gently pulled me out the door closing the door behind me. “It’s important you come.”
“Come.” Walter walked away from me down the path, opened the gate and stood holding it open for me. I walked forward, through the gate and stopped. “Where are we going?”
Anita pointed down the road, “It’s not far. Behind those trees.” Her car was parked in the driveway and I went to get in the back seat, but Walter stood holding the front door open for me to get in beside Anita. She stood and waited while he walked around and got in the backseat. None of us said anything as we backed down the drive, and, as we drove through the gateway I saw the ‘For Sale’ sign lying in the long grass, a shovel across it. I wasn’t the only one to look at the sign.
“This was a mistake. You mustn’t do that. Did he tell you to do that? I know, they were going to try to take you away from me again.” Walter’s voice was expressionless, which made it chilling.
“What do you mean take me away again?”
“Wait till we get there, you will understand everything.”
Anita was looking straight ahead and from this angle, I couldn’t see the bruises on her face.
“You will see. You will be very happy.”
“Anita?” I turned to her putting my hand on her shoulder. “What are you doing with him? Did he make you go with him?” She seemed to be concentrating on the road and didn’t answer. “Are you alright?”
Walter snorted in the back seat. “I didn’t make her go with me, she wouldn’t leave me alone. She’s here. She said it is good for you that she is here. It’s all right now, you will be happy when you see. I have something very precious for you.”
As we headed down the road. I looked around to see if I could let someone know where I was going but there wasn’t a soul in sight. Johnnie’s place looked deserted and I realised my mobile phone was back in the house. No one would know where I had gone. At least I was about to find out what this was all about. And if Anita was with me, surely we’d be okay as long as we stayed together. We drive further down the road and turned into a gateway and drove up the long driveway of the house I had come to and knocked on the door. The house couldn’t be seen from the road and, even if it had been closer to the road, it was surrounded by hedges and trees. Getting out of the car, I followed him. I needed to know what this was about.
We walked around the back of the dilapidated fibreboard house and he disappeared through the back door. I hesitated on the step, toying with the idea of racing back down the drive and calling the police. But I wanted to see and he just didn’t seem to be threatening to me. What was it that that would make me happy? I walked through the door and found myself in an old farm kitchen. Tongue and groove cupboards painted pale green with formica bench top. The door was open into the next room and I walked forward, pushed the door back and stepped through.
What I saw absolutely stunned me. In a corner of the room, arranged immaculately on a couch sat three dolls. The words were torn from me. “Claudia.” I breathed out the name I had loved. Next to her was a beautiful blonde doll. “Maria.” I moved forward and knelt in front of the precious trio. “And Sanso. My babies. My babies.” I dropped to my knees, reached out and smoothed the clothing of my precious baby doll, adjusted one of Maria’s blonde curls and couldn’t resist leaning forward and hugging Claudia. Tears were tracking down my cheeks. “But how?”
I sat back and turned. He was standing across the room watching me and, looking up at him from the floor, something tugged at a distant memory. “How do you have them?” I sat there on the floor, looking at up at him and knew I had done this before, sat on the floor looking up at him. “I know you.”
He moved across the room and crouched down in front of me. “Of course you know me. You’ve have always known me. Better than they did. They didn’t understand, but we know each other perfectly.”
I’ve heard about déjà vu, where you have a memory of something which has happened before. I felt trapped in a play that was repeating itself. And I remembered. “You were with my Mother! You were with Mutti!.” Funny how my name for Mummy came out of nowhere.
“Yes,” he nodded, satisfied, “and I made gardens for her, too. She loved her flowers and I knew you would like them, too. I knew you would understand as soon as you saw the flowers. You would know we would be together again.”
“You used to bring my mother flowers. I remember, in the kitchen.”
He nodded. “I was your gardener. Do you remember when we used to play together? You would be head gardener and I would plant the flowers for you. You would dig the hole and I would put the plant in. Together, we did it.”
It was the strangest feeling of familiarity and separation. I knew him and I didn’t know him at the same time. He was my childhood and he had been my threat. He knew more about my childhood and my life than I did. And, he knew my mother.
“Mutti. You were Mutti’s friend.” I saw the first real expression flash across his face. Disgust. It knocked me backwards and I fell off my heels and slid back from him as he spoke, clutching my baby in my arms between us.
“She got it wrong. At first, she was wonderful. She was carefree and different from the rest. I had never met anyone like her before. She taught me so much about …..” he seemed to come back to the present and realised I was listening to something intensely private. He looked directly at me, piercing me with cold blue eyes. “She didn’t understand, she told me I was to stay away from you. She thought bad things, it made her a bad person. We were always meant to be together you and I, even when they took you away the first time. But I found you then and I found you again. And I have found you now.”
Took me away the first time? What was he saying? It didn’t make any sense and a growing sense of dread stopped me from asking more. The floorboard creaked behind us and as he turned, his body tensed and I could almost feel the menace around him. I wriggled back further, the couch hard against my back.