Spring had stopped and started a number of times. One day Ellie was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, the next she was back in her jeans and woolly jumpers. This was now the third warm day in a row. It was beginning to feel like winter had departed. She had the day off but Nick was working, so she met Sylvia at the morning market held in the Kadina Park.
A light breeze made the rows of colourful clothing sway, and it also carried the smells of cooking sausages and baked bread. In the gazebo an old crooner was singing country songs, the sound punctuated with squeals from the children on the playground.
Ellie had purchased a few pot plants; herbs, petunias and an ivy bush, while Sylvia had been enthralled with the scented oils and dream-catchers. Elle joined her as she flicked through a rack of tie-died skirts.
‘You really are a hippy Sylv,’ Ellie jibed.
‘Yes, and I’m unapologetic. Oh look Ellie! The ice cream truck.’
‘That sounds good.’
They walked to the open window of a pink van. Sylvia chose a cone dipped in chocolate and rolled in crushed peanuts. Ellie had hers smothered in sherbet. They sat on the lawn away from the crowds and ate.
‘So how’s the new job going?’ Ellie asked.
‘Not bad. The work is easy, no hands-on nursing, just coordinating the in-home care, but it makes a nice change. I’ll certainly stick it out for a while. There are a few weirdos working there.’
‘Working with you?’
‘No, the other admin staff are okay. Some of the carers are strange though.’
‘I guess it’s not an easy job.’
‘No, you’re right, it takes a special kind of person.’
‘So why are the strange ones strange?’
Sylvia laughed and said, ‘well there is one carer who despises her client’s little dog. I guess the feeling is mutual because she’s been bitten by it at least four times.’
‘It bites her without warning?’
‘No. Its protective of its owner but the carer has no patience. She gets attacked when she tries to turf it off his lap.’
‘That is a bit stupid.’
‘Mm, we have another carer who is convinced that her client, who’s been in a wheelchair since birth, can in fact walk.’
‘Why would she think that?’
‘I don’t know. She also believes in aliens.’
Ellie had been about to take a bite of her ice cream but she laughed so hard she created a spray of sherbet. Sylvia laughed too as she wiped the pink dust off her sleave. After a moment her face grew serious.
‘There’s this big guy too. He looks like he was a bike gang member, or maybe White Power, he never says much, he’s really creepy. It’s like he observes everyone. Every time I glance in his direction he’s watching, and not just me, he watches every body. He scares me.’
‘Wow. Has he worked there long?’
‘No, he started a few weeks before me. His qualifications are impeccable, he has aged care and psych nursing experience, so…I guess never judge a book.’
‘Is he good with the clients?’
‘From what I’ve heard, yeah, they don’t complain.’
‘That’s the most important thing. One person’s creep could be another person’s saviour.’
‘That’s really corny Ellie, don’t ever repeat it.’
‘I won’t. I promise. Say, do you want to come and have dinner with Nick and me tonight? I know you’ve met him before, but it would be our first official function as a couple.’
‘Official function? Who are you, the Queen of England?’
‘Stop teasing. Do you want to come or not?’
‘I’d love to your majesty. I’d be honoured.’
‘Keep it up and I’ll give that big guy you work with your mobile number. I’ll tell him you fancy him.’
Sylvia’s face lost all colour. ’Not funny Ellie. When I say he scares me, I mean he really scares me.’
‘Okay, okay.’ Ellie stared at Sylvia; she was trembling. ‘Are you alright?’
But Sylvia was on her feet and straightening her skirt. ‘I’m fine. It’s just getting a bit cold.’ She strode back toward the market stalls and Ellie ran to catch her.
‘Sorry I mentioned him,’ she said.
But Sylvia held up a silencing hand. Her mouth was a clenched line while her eyes were bright with fear. It took more than an hour for her snap out of her distressed state.
Two days later and Ellie and Erica were waiting to take a patient from the Moonta medical clinic to the emergency department of the hospital in Wallaroo. The case wasn’t an emergency, but the man could not be transported in a car. His severe back pain meant he had to lie flat and be given analgesia for the trip. There was a hold up finding his medical records so the two ambos sat in the corridor lined with chairs for waiting patients.
Erica picked up a copy of Cosmopolitan but Ellie just stared at the notice board. There was one vacant seat remaining beside her, and a man carrying a young child sat heavily onto it. The girl looked to be about six years old. She had an olive complexion, just like her dad. She hugged him tight and occasionally sobbed into his shoulder.
‘Is she is pain?’ Ellie asked. ‘I can get someone to see you sooner if she is.’
The man turned to speak to Ellie. Something about his face was familiar.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘She isn’t in pain. She keeps having bad dreams. It’s happened every night since we moved here a month ago. She’s so tired but she fights off sleep. She’s scared of the dreams.’
‘Poor little love.’ Ellie tried to lighten the conversation. ‘So where have you moved from?’
‘Wow, that would be a culture shock.’
The man gave a sad smile. ‘We thought it would be great for the kids, living in the country, and by the beach, but it hasn’t worked out so far.’
‘Oh, I’m sure it will. Are you close by the beach?’
‘Yes, not far from the jetty. We have a huge cedar tree with a swing hanging from it in our front yard. It seemed like a perfect family home.’
‘Was that Morris’s house?’
‘Um…yes, he is, was, my father.’
‘Oh! I’m so sorry. I knew him a little. He seemed like a lovely old fellow.’ Ellie remembered the photograph that appeared so out of place.
‘I didn’t know him at all. My mother moved us to Syria when I was only one year old.’
‘That’s sad. I bet Morris would have loved to have had you in his life.’ Ellie remembered all the pictures of his wife. She may not have been too keen about the situation. Perhaps that was why it was kept secret.
‘The doctor has been reluctant to give Lilith sleeping tablets, but that is now the last resort, well, the second to last resort. The last will be to move out.’
‘Oh dear! I hope it doesn’t have to come to that.’
Erica was on her feet and receiving the handover details from the nurse.
‘Anyway, I’d better go. It was lovely to meet you. Good luck with Lilith, I hope she settles quickly.’
He gave a half-hearted smile and nodded.
Ellie and Erica wheeled their patient down the hallway to the waiting ambulance. Ellie was pleased she had bumped into Morris’ son. She hadn’t dwelt on the photograph that had seemed so out of place very often, but to have a satisfactory explanation quelled a tiny worry, and Ellie was a worrier, in fact she even worried about how much she worried over the smallest of things.
‘What are you grinning about?’ Erica asked as she shut the back doors of the ambulance.
‘Nothing. I’m just happy that’s all.’
Erica eyed her with suspicion but said nothing.
Angus left his apartment that overlooked the small marina in Wallaroo. He encountered no one on the walk to his car, but he did see the curtain twitch in number eight. He gave a shudder. Angus met the resident a few nights ago in the tavern next door. As he had sat on the patio sipping a bourbon and coke she’d eased herself into the chair opposite. He had stifled a groan and let her talk. She banged on about her job, her ex-husband and her plans to travel around South America. In one of the rare pauses he’d made a point of looking at his watch.
‘Heavens!’ he exclaimed. ‘I have a date tonight. If I’m late Richard will be furious.’ He gave her a conspiratorial wink. ‘I accidentally stood him up last week so I’m surprised he’s persevering.’ He then smiled and added in a camp voice, ‘It must be love!’
He left the woman with her barely sipped wine and sour expression, and fled for the exit. Since then he practically bolted to his car whenever he went out. It wasn’t that the woman was not attractive, she was, but this job required no attached strings, so the last thing he needed was someone delving into his life; past or present. Better for her to think of him as not available.
But the coast was clear today.
The drive to Moonta Bay, and then on to Sims Cove was uneventful. The sun was shining but the wind off the water was bitterly cold. He adjusted his scarf and pulled up his hood. It was eight o’clock on the dot. The wind buffeted the cliff face but the view was wonderful. Today he only glanced at it briefly.
In less than ten minutes he saw Jarrod walking from the opposite direction. He’d started his walk from Port Hughes. They met at a bench situated roughly in the middle and sat after a quiet “hello.” The area was secluded, screened from the houses on the cliff top behind them by salt bush and coastal rosemary, and people walking the pathway could be seen for a hundred meters or more in both directions. It was a perfect meeting place on all but rainy days.
Angus handed Jarrod a USB.
‘All the details for this job are on there. The file name is “Mary.” Basically this target needs to be dealt with tonight. She has quite a few health issues according to her medical files. The doctor wants her admitted into residential care because of her worsening dementia. He’s concerned about her safety. That will happen over the next couple of days so we need to intervene ASAP. Are you okay with that?’
‘Sure, piece of cake.’
‘I’ve scoped out her house and the neighbourhood. The location is perfect for privacy. There is a house two doors down occupied by lads who like to party, but they don’t tend to kick on during the week, so tonight should be perfect. In the house on the other side, the dog barks at anything that moves. If you flick stones against the fence it will set it off. I’ve provoked it a few times and the owner took it indoors after the third or fourth outburst.’
‘No problemo, I’ll aim for three o’clock and sort the dog out first.’
‘Oh, by the way, you won’t need to work for “Senior Care” anymore. Lawrence says the files you put in their system have worked perfectly and they can access whatever information they need now.’
Jarrod shrugged. ‘They were a bunch of snobs anyway, no one was friendly, snobby arseholes.’
‘Oh well, you don’t have to see them any more.’
‘I didn’t make a single friend there.’
‘Well man,’ Angus coughed and cleared his throat. ‘That was probably a good thing. We need to distance ourselves from people don’t we? I mean we can’t have people finding out what we do.’
Jarrod’s bottom lip jutted out but after a moment he mumbled, ‘I guess.’
Angus quickly changed the subject. ‘The notes on your target say she became combative with her district nurse last week.’
Jarrod smiled and shrugged. ‘She’ll be good for me. I’ll make her behave.’
The comment conjured the memory of the old lady trying to sing as she died. Angus swallowed bitter tasting bile and looked away at the surf. He lifted his cap and let the cold breeze dry his sweating brow. When he looked back Jarrod was frowning at him and asked, ‘what’s wrong?’
‘Nothing man, nothing.’
‘How about we get together for a beer one night?’ Jarrod asked.
Angus forced a smile. ‘That sounds great, but I don’t think Lawrence or Jackie intended us to be seen together.’ He gestured to the empty cliff top. ‘Hence the secluded meeting place.’
Jarrod’s brow crinkled with what Angus could only hope was realisation.
‘You’re right, best keep it secret.’
‘Sadly, yes,’ Angus said as he got to his feet. ‘Good luck tonight. See you here next Wednesday.’
‘Sure.’ But Jarrod hesitated. ‘Maybe during the move to the next location we could have few drinks? You know, party hard.’
‘Sounds awesome man,’ Angus said as he nodded enthusiastically, ‘We could really do that.’
‘Absolutely. See you Jarrod.’
Angus tightened his coat as he walked away. He wondered if Jarrod could see though his fake eagerness. The bloke was a bit thick but perhaps he picked up on the closed body language. Lawrence had called him a necessary evil and it made Angus shudder. Jarrod was a psychopath, a needy, friendless psychopath, and Angus had no intentions of filling the emotional void for the freak. The sooner this job was finished, the better.
The television was still on. Jarrod could hear the canned laughter and ridiculous voices from where he stood outside the back door. That was the only noise. It seemed the rest of the town was in a deep slumber. He snapped on his gloves and stepped into the small laundry. Immediately he was hit by the smell of faeces. In the sink by the window was a pair of stained white bloomers, and something floated on the water. He swore quietly in revulsion.
From the hallway he could hear two other sounds. The first was someone humming from the within the house, and the second a hissing noise from closer by. He froze, only moving his eyes to the left. Under an old telephone table stood a black cat, back arched, tail pointed skyward, teeth bared and poised to strike at him. Jarrod dipped his hand slowly into his jacket pocket. The cat was beginning to growl loudly. With one fluid movement Jarrod took a step back and spun to face the animal. He hit the switch on the small torch and shone it into the cat’s eyes. The angry beast was momentarily stunned, but then turned and fled into a room down the passage.
Jarrod turned off the light and continued to the lounge room. He peered from the darkness into the dimly lit space. The old lady was sitting on the couch with a blanket across her knees. She was mixing a milky substance with a spoon; porridge or some sort of cereal by the look of it. She hummed an unrecognisable tune and licked at the utensil.
Jarrod stepped into the room and said, ‘hello love. I’m your nurse. I’ve come to give you your medications.’
The woman crossed her arms over her chest, the bowl balanced precariously on her lap. ‘No!’ she said.
Jarrod smiled and drew closer. He showed her the plastic cup filled with tablets. ‘I don’t want any trouble old girl. If you eat these down I’m going to give you a chocolate bar.’
He produced a Snickers bar from his back pocket and waved it in front of her nose. She cocked her head and seemed as though she might acquiesce, but as Jarrod took one step closer she began to scream and run. Jarrod had no time to grasp her but he stuck out his foot and she stumbled over it, hitting the floor hard. She uttered strange sounds as she crawled swiftly down the hallway and into her room. Jarrod giggled at her babble and her futile attempts to hide from him.
She put her head under the old wooden bed, struggling to hide beneath it. Her hands flapped about like the flippers on a giant turtle. She slid on the tiled floor and moved a few centimetres at a time. Jarrod walked to the corner of the bed and lifted it. Her movements became desperate and she gained ground, the top of her chest now hidden from view. Jarrod lowered the bed end and she wailed, the weight pinning her to the spot. She drew in noisy breaths and exhaled with a thin cry. Her feet tapped at the ground and occasionally she would use her toes to try to push forward. She was stuck fast, her hands drumming the floor in panic.
Jarrod left her and went to the kitchen. From the fridge he found an unopened can of lemonade. He drank half and emptied the rest down the sink. He stuffed the can in his pocket and returned to the bedroom.
A puddle of urine radiated out from the woman’s trembling legs, glistening on the dark floor. Her breaths sounded like exaggerated snores, and along with her movements, they were slowing. Jarrod flicked through a magazine on the bedside table. He read an article about Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, and another about the death of a superbike racer who’d been killed whilst riding a bicycle in Europe. He was about to read his horoscope when he noticed the old lady was now silent.
He knelt down on the floor and peered under the bed. Her eyes and mouth were open. He shone his penlight into her eyes but there was no reaction. He reached closer and felt for her carotid pulse, again, nothing.
He continued to read the magazine. Another ten minutes passed and he checked her again. She was certainly dead.
Jarrod walked through the house checking to make sure he had left no sign of a disturbance. Once he was content the house was clean, he departed by the back door.
As he drove away he wondered if Angus would be impressed by this job. No drugs had been used. It was highly unlikely any of their targets would be subjected to a post mortem, but even if this old lady was, he hadn’t intervened in her death at all. Apart from scaring her, he had not harmed a hair on her head. Maybe Angus would try to be a bit friendlier. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the man didn’t really like him, and he had no idea why. But maybe Angus was just shy? Yes that was probably it. Jarrod would just have to try a bit harder to win him over.
Yalda shook Ahmed roughly. ‘Wake up Ahmed,’ she hissed. ‘It’s your turn!’
Ahmed slid from the bed, rubbed his eyes against the harsh light, and for a moment forgot where he was. Lilith’s shrill cries soon cleared the fog in his head. He ran to her room. She was sitting on the bed with her knees drawn up to her chest. Her tearstained face was pale. When she saw her father she pointed to the old wardrobe.
‘He’s still watching me!’ she squealed.
Ahmed sat on the side of her bed and took her in his arms. He glanced at the cupboard. This was the second one they had moved to this room. At first he thought the shape or the reflection from the mirror made Lilith imagine she was seeing someone. But this replacement wardrobe had the same affect, and was minus a mirror.
‘Make him stop daddy! He scares me,’ she broke into tears.
Yalda was standing in the doorway. ‘This has to end,’ she said.
‘It is going to. We are moving,’ Ahmed said. ‘We will find somewhere to rent until this place sells.’
Lilith pulled back and looked at him with huge wet eyes. ‘Really daddy? Can we really go from here?’
He hugged her again. ‘Yes my girl. We will leave today.’
She didn’t reply but broke into tears.
‘Are you sure about this Ahmed?’ Yalda asked. ‘This could just be a phase, something she will get over.’
‘I don’t think so. It has gone on for too long now. We aren’t getting any sleep and Lilith is traumatised. You were right, it has to end.’
Yalda pursed her lips and looked away.
‘Are you sad that we are leaving?’ Ahmed asked. ‘It’s not as though we have real ties with this house.’
Yalda came and sat beside him. ‘I just hate the thought of moving again. I’m so tired.’
Ahmed kissed her cheek and said, ‘we won’t move any of the stuff out. We can find a place that is already furnished. We’ll take whatever we brought here and nothing more.’ He looked around the room. They had put Lilith’s Frozen and Happy Feet and posters on the walls, and her toys on the shelves, but it still looked like an old man’s room. ‘We will leave it the way it was.’
Yalda moved closer into his embrace. ‘I think that is a good idea.’
It was almost ten o’clock by the time Ahmed arrived at the real estate agent’s office. Of the three realtors in town, this was the only business that advertised rental properties as well as house sales.
‘Hello Mister Homsi, pleased to meet you. I am Kathy Knowles. May I ask, are you new in town?’
‘Yes, we are. My father passed away and I have inherited his property. It is a nice place but…it is too emotional to live there.’
She nodded sagely. ‘You’d be surprised how often that happens. Do you have the papers for your property?’ She took the file he handed her and leafed through them. ‘Lovely, surveyors report as well. I can get a contract started today if you have time. I can get out to the property this afternoon if you have the keys. Once I take some photos we can start advertising. How does that sound?’
‘That sounds excellent. I wonder, do you have any rental properties in the area?’
‘Mm, that’s Felicity’s department but she’s at the hairdressers having foils. She’ll be at least another hour.’
Ahmed shrugged. He had no idea what she was talking about.
‘Ah, let’s see,’ Kathy went to a storage cupboard behind the reception desk and came back with a thick folder. ‘You can have a look through here while I start the contract. Flick gets a bit funny about people seeing her files when she’s not around, but, well, what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.’
Kathy grinned but Ahmed wasn’t sure what to say so he just nodded. She led him to a sofa in the corner of the room and laid the tome on the coffee table.
‘Knock yourself out,’ she said. ‘The ones with red lines through them have already been rented but all the rest are available. You can photocopy any that you are interested in, copier is just over there.’ She said pointing, ‘and I have printed maps if you want to go and see any of them.’
Ahmed studied the pages briefly first and then went back over them thoroughly. He selected six properties, all were furnished, four seemed ideal and two more that were not quite right, but still adequate. He flicked through one last time and stopped at one of the rented properties. As well as a red line drawn across it, the page had a date written in red. It was dated two days before Morris Harrop’s death.
He grimaced as an unpalatable thought crossed his mind. What if this house was rented to the person who was sent to kill Morris? He took the page from the file and put it with his chosen property information for photocopying. He had a last glance through but none of the others had a date anywhere near that time.
Ahmed copied the files and returned the folder to the receptionist at the counter.
It was almost two in the afternoon by the time he picked up Yalda to go house hunting. They were to view the vacant properties from the outside, and perhaps peer through the windows, and then Kathy would take them through any that interested them. Both Ahmed and Yalda favoured a cream brick house only two blocks north of Moonta Bay. The kids would love the close proximity to the beach. It was one of the things they loved about their current place.
On the drive back to the realtor’s office Ahmed stopped outside the rented property.
‘What are we doing here? This one is no longer available,’ Yalda said as she looked at the pages in her lap.
‘Yes I know that, I just wanted to see it as a cost comparison. Stay here, I want a quick look at the size of the yard.’
Ahmed didn’t give her time to argue. He loped across the road, staying out of view of the main windows, and hurried down the back laneway. There wasn’t much to see. The back lawn was cut short but there was no outdoor furniture. A faded beach towel hung on the washing line and all the blinds were drawn. The house looked uninhabited. It seemed strange that someone would rent a place in a seaside town during the colder months, unless they had a good reason. Ahmed felt sure this was where the killer stayed. Which warranted a new question, was he still here?
Ahmed returned to the car ready to answer a barrage of questions, but Yalda was too busy comparing the prices of rent.
‘I can’t believe they are asking fifty dollars a week more for this place when it has one less bedroom. And look at the kitchen! That stove is so old.’
‘Yes, yes,’ he said as they drove away.
That night and the next they stayed at a nearby motel, and two days later they moved into their favoured house by the beach.