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Authors: Honey Brown

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense

Through the Cracks (10 page)

BOOK: Through the Cracks
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‘T
hat’s Wade Park. The train station is over that way, always crawling with cops. If you’re in any kind of trouble, don’t use the trains.’

Across the street was a sweeping brick entrance into a green, tree-filled city block. A wide path wound through the trees. Cool air swept across the road. Birds made a chattering, monkey-like racket. The park was fenced in. Adam could see another gate at the next corner. White writing had been sprayed on the brick fence.

They had walked all afternoon, at a measured pace, lots of stops for Adam. Trees lined the street they now walked along. Flowers grew around letterboxes. Houses were two-storeyed. Adam got the feeling Billy was hungry. Starving. It made him smoke more. With the butt of one cigarette he lit the next. His stomach looked more sunken than when they’d first met. Adam noticed that the cigarette packet wasn’t such a squeeze to get in under the waistband of his shorts.

‘How long was I in hospital for?’

‘You went in Friday.’

‘When was that?’

‘It’s Sunday, kid.’

If Adam had to guess, he believed Billy had found it difficult to make money the hard way with the hope of easy money turning in his mind.

It wasn’t until they were one house down from the castle house that Adam recognised the street. Up ahead was the tall corrugated iron fence, the wooden gates. Adam stopped on the footpath. He forgot for a moment why they’d come. Saliva filled his mouth. His vision narrowed. Joe’s car was gone. There was a dead patch of grass where it had been. No chain or padlock on the gate.

‘So . . .’ Billy took a final drag on his smoke and flicked it away, ‘I came yesterday. Just to see if anyone was here. It looks like someone has been, but no one has moved in or nothing.’

‘He’s not inside?’

‘Who, kid? He’s
dead
.’

Adam nodded.

‘Perhaps you better stay out here.’ Billy pointed up the street. ‘Wait up there. Don’t let that woman from next door see you hanging round. You’ll have to tell me where the key is.’

If not for the tiger, Adam might have been tempted to let Billy go in alone. But since thinking about the toy, Adam couldn’t believe he’d left it in the house. Leaving it behind had been like abandoning Monty or Jerry, or not freeing the chickens; all the times the tiger had jumped the fence for Adam, and he wouldn’t go in and bring it out?

‘I’ll come in.’

‘Don’t you go fainting on me or anything like that?’

Billy opened the gates and went through onto the concrete, closed the gates behind them. He took two glass bottles from the grass and balanced them on the top inside beams of each gate wing. On the way around to the decking and steps, Adam went off into the grass and leaned forward, dry retched. The blackberries had been in him long enough to stay down. Billy came to stand beside him. His hand hovered by Adam’s arm. Adam gave the fear and sickness time to pass. It wasn’t that the yard and house felt too real, it was how unreal it felt. Strange that this had been his home, where he’d lived.

Adam knew then that Joe hadn’t been his father. Seeing the place again showed it to him. Being away, coming back, Adam was able to perceive it the way other people might. This was not Adam’s house. Joe had not been his family. This was not a home. Already Adam felt as though he’d lived more and lived for longer outside the place. What had happened – the way Joe had treated him, the things he’d done to him – other people might think it was all Adam was, it might be all they saw, but to Adam it was one thing, a single thing, a dark, flat, squashed memory. Billy was right, it was a good thing that Joe had taught him nothing.

A towel had blown into the pool and sunk to the bottom. It lay alongside the length of rope Adam had pitched into the water. Possum poo was in a pile by the sliding door. The door was locked.

‘You’ve hidden it inside, right? I suppose we’ll smash the door. I tried the windows yesterday, whoever’s been has locked them all.’

‘I know a way in.’

Adam took Billy down the steps and around the front. They walked along the other side of the house. Adam got on all fours and crawled between the stumps. Old wire cages were stored under there, some planter pots. Adam went around them. Billy crawled in after him. At the safe, Billy tried to open it, checking just in case. It was locked. Adam began to dislodge the floorboards above it. Billy helped. From below they removed the boards and then rolled the carpet away. They climbed up into the room.

Billy made Adam pause and listen.

In stops and starts they went down the hallway, opening doors, leaving them open. Adam walked close to Billy, fought the urge to reach out and take a hold of his friend’s hand or grab a fistful of his T-shirt.

The plastic tumblers from the bar were gone. Someone had taken the stools. Other things were missing too – the hall table, a lamp, the mantle clock, the coffee table, and . . . the TV. Adam stood staring at the empty spot.

‘You haven’t forgotten where you put it, have you?’

‘It was in the TV.’

‘Hey?’

‘I hid it in there.’

‘What do you mean, you hid it in the TV?’

‘That’s where I put it.’

Billy walked over and began looking around on the floor.

‘It was in the back.’

‘Why would you hide it in the TV? What’s the key look like?’

‘It’s heavy and brass.’

‘Could it have fell out?’

‘I’m not sure.’

‘Well, could it have fell out or not?’

‘It could have.’

Billy crouched and scanned the ground. ‘Shoulda fucken known . . .’ He shook his head and searched.

‘Will it be gone?’

‘What does it look like to you? Can you see a fucking TV?’

‘Will we be able to find it?’

‘Jesus, kid.’ Billy’s shoulders dropped and he looked away. A snarl lifted his lip and a look of hate hardened his features, not hatred for Adam, Adam didn’t think, but dislike of something bigger, all the things that couldn’t be controlled, perhaps. He got up. ‘I’ll do a circuit of the rooms and make sure the gear’s not been packed up somewhere. Wait here.’

Billy returned, unsmiling.

He jerked his head in the direction of the kitchen. ‘Suppose we might as well eat while we’re here.’

*

A pot of beans heated on the stove. They ate dry crackers from the packet. Billy dipped a cracker in the warming beans, used it as a spoon.

‘Look . . . after this, I’m going.’ He swallowed and wiped his lips. ‘I don’t think you should come. You’re not cut out for what I do. Wait till I go, then . . . ring the cops, I guess. You won’t get in trouble. Tell them Joe kept you down in that room. Tell them you don’t know who you are. They’ll work it out for you. Don’t talk about me or the stolen car or nothing. Don’t mention my name. There’s nothing here, so . . .’ He shrugged, didn’t finish the sentence. Billy loaded another cracker and took a big mouthful, hopped from foot to foot while chewing. ‘Gotta piss.’ He skipped off to the bathroom.

The remaining beans in the pot began to bubble. In his search for the can opener Billy had left the cutlery draw open. From where Adam stood he could see the knife he’d taken after escaping the backroom. He stared at it. His gaze moved to other things in the kitchen, the jug of utensils by the stove, the blackened potholder hanging on the nail, the grimy glasses on the windowsill where Adam’s baby teeth had, one by one, been left to soak and rot. Would he tell the police that too? Would the police want to know what cola, a potholder, a spatula, a stirring spoon, a jug cord could be used for, what they could do? Adam left the kitchen, went across the hallway, into his old bedroom beside the laundry. He knelt on the bed and reached for the tiger.

Adam took the toy and sat down against the wall in the hallway. He listened to Billy finishing up in the bathroom.

Billy came out, saw Adam and slid down against the wall opposite.

He lit a cigarette, sucked in and held the smoke deep, blew it out.

‘Still think you’re gonna get in trouble?’

Adam didn’t answer.

‘Just scared?’

Adam nodded.

‘People are gonna help you.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘You’re the sort of kid they help.’

‘What if I don’t want to tell them?’

‘Well . . . that’s the thing, ain’t it?’ Billy puffed and thought. ‘Just tell them stuff from before Joe.’

‘There is nothing before him.’

‘Come on, you know that’s not true. What’s the earliest thing you remember?’

Adam shook his head. He took a breath and fiddled with the tiger. ‘I remember he used to let me stay out of the backroom more when I was little. Sometimes he’d let me play outside. He’d only lock me up as punishment or if someone came. The older I got the more he put me down there.’

‘You’ve really only ever known Joe?’

Adam nodded, switched the toy from hand to hand.

‘No one else came and saw you?’

‘A man in a cap came once, he bought chickens.’

Billy fell quiet. He was looking at the tiger. He frowned at it.

‘What’s that?’

Adam balanced the toy on his palm. Billy eyed the tiger in a way Adam found familiar. It was as though Billy was wary of it.

He blew a stream of smoke out through his nostrils. ‘Where’d you get it?’

‘I don’t remember.’

‘Give it here.’

Adam passed it over.

On one of the tiger’s legs there was a slight discolouration, a small dot of dark orange that didn’t belong, only something a person would know about if they’d studied the toy up close. Billy turned the tiger upside down and looked directly at the mark. He turned it back over. ‘You didn’t have this on you before.’

‘I took it from in the bedroom just then.’

‘Where did you find it?’

‘I had it down by the bed.’

‘No, where did you
find
this, you first found it somewhere. Where?’

‘I don’t know.’

Billy placed the toy down on the carpet, a distance from him. ‘You reckon you went and got that now for no reason? Just because you felt like it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Who gave it to you?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Why did you want to show it to me?’

‘I didn’t.’

‘Bullshit.’

‘I don’t . . . I don’t know what you mean.’

Billy laid two fingers across his lips, the cigarette between them, and he inhaled, hard, no smoke escaping, sucked directly into his chest. Billy let the smoke seep slowly out. He squinted off down the hallway. The tendons in his temple and in his jaw were tight and stood out.

It was then Adam saw it. Instantly he knew. The boy in the photograph, the dark-skinned boy holding the puppies, had been Billy. Now that Billy’s face was motionless it was possible to see it – the same boy in the picture. The same sadness remained. The reason Billy smoked and swore, licked his lips, talked and laughed, to hide it, so people couldn’t see it . . . the same boy.

‘It’s yours.’

‘What?’

‘The tiger is yours.’

‘And why would you say that?’

‘You were here when you were little.’

So hard not to stare then, and not because of shock or because of wonder (why would he come back? why was he still here?), the opposite of that. Suddenly there were fewer questions, less confusion. In front of Adam was proof – even with the ability to come and go, with all the doors unlocked, even with someone as strong and smart as Billy – it
was
hard to get away.

‘I saw a picture of you.’

Billy’s gaze shifted. Something in his face tightened further. Tension was creeping down his neck and into his shoulders. His lips barely moved when he spoke. ‘He showed you pictures of me?’

‘No, I found one.’ Adam touched his chest. Beneath his fingers his heart was pounding. ‘You were here with Monty and Jerry, when they were puppies. I was here too. I remember when they were first here.’

‘You saw them dogs come?’

‘They were here the next time he let me out. But I think . . . Did I see them come?’

‘Why the fuck are you asking me that?’

‘Did you bring them? When I found the picture it was like I’d seen you before.’ A wave of grief washed through Adam. It pulled wide his insides, dragged on his muscles, stretched his organs, it opened up his heart and parted his lips; it was heavy, raw and sore. ‘I think I do remember you. We were here together, weren’t we?’

Billy sneered and drew in on his smoke. ‘What the fuck are you trying to get me to say?’

‘Nothing.’

‘I didn’t know anyone was down there.’

‘You don’t remember me? You didn’t . . . give me the tiger?’

Billy leaned forward, real spite in his eyes, a dark, liquid quality to his movements. ‘I’m
telling you
I didn’t know you were down there. I’m
telling you
I would have done something if I knew. But you can wipe that look off your face like you know it all now. You don’t know shit.’

Adam stared at the halfway point on the floor between them. He didn’t think he knew it all, he just believed he knew enough – it wasn’t only locked doors that trapped you.

‘Where are these photos?’

‘He burned them.’

‘You sure of that?’

‘I saw him do it.’

From the kitchen came the smell of the beans catching in the pot. Billy got up and left the hallway. There was silence, a few long minutes of it, then it sounded like Billy took the pot off the stove and threw it through the window. It sounded like he picked up a chair and threw it at the window also. Going by the racket, he ripped out the cutlery drawer, threw the drawer into the lounge room. He kicked the cupboard doors, tipped the kitchen table upside down and pulled things from the walls, plates and bowls from the shelves. He moved into the lounge room and began tipping up the furniture, flipping it. Adam sensed he was looking for the key again, not logically, not with any chance of finding it, but looking all the same. He lifted things and hurled them.

Adam went across to the tiger. Collected it, put it in his pocket.

He sat against the wall, closed his eyes, waited for Billy’s shame to pass.

B
illy was in the hallway, pacing. A layer of sweat shined on his forehead. He looked at the phone, went across and reefed out the table drawer. He dropped the drawer onto the floor and kicked it, scattering the contents. In amongst the mess was a small green book. It had gold letters on the front. Billy picked up the phone handpiece and listened, ran his eye along the cord fixed to the top of the skirting. He followed the cord along to where it was plugged into a socket, shoved the plug in firmer, returned to the phone, listened again. From where he stood, Adam could hear that the phone now worked.

Billy hung up and sat down on the seat connected to the hall table. He drew in steadying breaths. He rubbed the corners of his eyes.

‘I didn’t know you were down there. I thought it was where he kept the money, and that’s why he wouldn’t let me down there. He’d buy me things. Give me cash. Whenever I came he’d give me money.’

‘Did he lock you up?’

‘I came and went. All right? That’s how it happened. I came, and I went. You had it worse than me, is that what you want me to fucking say?’

‘No.’

They were silent for a while.

‘The stuff hasn’t been nicked,’ Billy said. He motioned around. ‘Someone’s come and packed it up. It’s gotta be somewhere. Right? Someone’s got to have it. It can’t be that hard to track down a TV. What else are we gonna do?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Well, that’s what
I’m
gonna do.’

Billy picked up the green book and turned the pages. His mouth moved but made no sound. He folded the top of the page, cleared his throat.

‘If you wanna say you don’t remember any other men, fine. But don’t go losing it if it’s pretty clear we’re suddenly talking to one of these men you don’t remember. All right?’

Billy ran his finger along the numbers and turned the dial. He put the phone to his ear and looked up at the ceiling. He took a final calming breath, exhaled smoothly.

Adam could hear the ringing tone.

Someone answered.

‘Yeah, hi,’ Billy said. ‘How’s it going? I was given your number by a guy who said you sell puppies . . .’

Adam listened to the soft bursts of sound on the other end of the line.

‘Oh, okay,’ Billy said. ‘Yeah. Maybe. I guess. Whereabouts?’ He was quiet for a moment. ‘Is that out past Dandy? What side? Oh yeah.’ He reached out, picked at a piece of vinyl that had peeled back from the table edge. ‘Next litter, perhaps. Yeah. Actually . . . if he’s there, would you put him on? I reckon he might already know me.’

Billy left the vinyl alone and laid his hand flat on the table, tapped his fingers.

‘Kovac,’ he said after a moment. ‘I reckon we might know each other. You know who this is? . . . Nah, bit further back than that. We lived next door to you in Harp Street. You paid me to help with the dogs after school. How’s that jog your memory, arsehole?’ Billy fell silent. He put the phone handpiece back. ‘Yeah, he remembers real good.’

Billy rang back.

‘Don’t hang up again if you know what’s good for you. Got your address right here in front of me, you can thank your wife for that  . . . No, you listen to me. Joe Vander died and you’re going to find out where the stuff from his house went. You’re going to want to find out because —’

Billy stopped and listened. His face had lost its roundness. His shoulders had gathered in. Adam could hear the man’s voice on the other end, fast and in bursts. Billy spoke through his teeth.

‘I’m not threatening you, not yet. Just you listen – there was furniture in his house, and it’s not there any more. Someone’s been and you’re going to find out — I know for a fucking fact you kept in touch, don’t bullshit me. Yeah? And how do you figure that? . . .  Yeah, well, I don’t give a fuck what you think I am.’ Billy turned away. He said, his back to Adam, ‘You might wanna worry about the things he didn’t get rid of . . . Is that right? . . . You know what happens to people like you? One day, answering their door, they get shot in the fucking face, one day, going out for the paper, they get their head caved in with a hammer. And no one can work out why. Except those who know. That’s going to be you, Kovac. That’s what’s waiting for you. If it doesn’t happen next week, it’ll happen the week after. Don’t leave your doors unlocked or walk anywhere on your own,
boy
. You’re already dead.’ Billy slammed the phone into the cradle. He took a few shaky breaths.

‘Yeah,’ he said after a moment, ‘that cunt’s not going to find out nothing for us.’

Billy read through the green phone book. He squinted at the numbers and rubbed his eyes. Daylight faded. He moved his lips silently around the names. There were tiny creaks and faint electrical hums in the house. Sounds Adam knew. He thought back, trying to recall if there’d ever been any hints of another child. A voice Adam had heard. A cry? Lighter footsteps? The dimensions of the house seemed to change now that Adam knew Billy had been here. Another child within the walls. It was like a dropped chunk of truth, pushing out the walls, lifting the roof, shining light in all the darkened rooms. Billy here? As a boy? Sleeping in Adam’s bed beside the laundry on the nights Adam had been locked in the backroom? Billy sitting at the kitchen table? Billy watching TV?

‘Did Joe give you tablets?’

‘What?’

‘Maybe you saw me but don’t remember. He put things in my food and drink that made me tired.’

‘No, kid.’

Billy finished scanning the phone book and folded the top of a page.

‘I’m gonna try this number, it’s the only one under V. Worth a try.’

In the last of the light Billy dialled the number.

The voice on the other end of the line, when it answered, was a woman’s. She sounded old.

‘Good evening,’ Billy said in a smooth, pretend voice, ‘this is Brother Hayden from the True Life Mission, is this . . .’ he squinted at the page and stumbled over the first name, ‘Mar-ta . . . We’re ringing about the recent loss of your . . .’ he left it hanging. Billy nodded across at Adam, gave a confirming look. Whenever the woman spoke it sounded, from where Adam was, like she was shouting. Billy’s voice remained calm.

‘That’s fine. The Mission simply likes to pass on our condolences and offer you a service where we come and pick up any items you might have for our charity stores. We pay cash for larger items – furniture . . .’ Billy’s eyes narrowed with concentration as he listened. ‘You might need help shifting it . . . any heavy items? We’re happy to assist in any way . . . I see. Perhaps you would be interested in our clean-up service. We send our boys to mow lawns and tidy gardens. It’s all free of charge. Yes. We can do that. Whereabouts is the property? Your address?’ Billy moved his mouth as she spoke. ‘We’ve got a few busy days ahead,’ he said quickly, his voice more like his own, ‘but I’ll ring and let you know.’ He hung up. ‘She’s gotta have it. She reckons she’s his sister. She said she’s got the trailer. 178 Munro Street, Clarence – remember that. Say it to me.’

‘178 Munro Street, Clarence.’

‘Say it again.’

Adam did.

‘You got it?’

‘178 Munro Street, Clarence.’

Billy tore the page from the phone book, folded it and put it in his pocket. ‘What’s that address again?’

‘178 Munro Street, Clarence.’

‘Don’t forget it.’

BOOK: Through the Cracks
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