Authors: Honey Brown
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense
e slept in. The sun was high when he got up. He made toast and a cup of tea, took it in to his father. The bedroom smelled of urine. His father didn’t wake. He’d closed his mouth and stopped wheezing, though.
By evening his father still hadn’t woken. His breaths were so light Adam had to lean close to hear them. Adam went out and opened the front gate. It was evening. He stood on the footpath. Cars drove by. A man and a woman ran side by side down the road. Adam raised his hand to them.
‘Hello,’ they called and kept on running.
Jerry and Monty had come out too. They were sitting by the station wagon. Adam stepped up to the edge of the road. He watched the people in the cars as they passed. He knew that they could see him but they didn’t want to stop. A child in a back seat poked his tongue out. It was getting dark. Adam stopped trying to wave down vehicles and walked along the footpath. He stood in the front of the neighbour’s house. Monty and Jerry had come too. The house was double-storeyed and square like a castle. It had a footbridge to the front door. The owners had built a high brick fence to block out Adam’s father’s house.
Because no one in this street wants to know anyone else’s business, no one in this street cares about anybody else, least of all a boy like you. Do you know that, Adam? No one wants you. There’s no place in the world for you.
Adam walked over the footbridge to the castle house. Sweat trickled down his back. The front door of the house swung open and a woman in a long white dress and dark glasses stormed out. Adam stopped on the bridge.
‘Get those dogs off my lawn!’
Jerry was cocking his leg on a row of bushes by the path. Monty wasn’t doing anything. She was just standing on the grass.
‘Get them off! Off!’
‘Go,’ Adam said to the dogs.
‘Take them away!’ The woman’s lips were pressed into a thin line. Her hands fluttered each time she spoke. Behind her glasses Adam could see her gaze drilling into him. ‘I will not have that man’s dogs on my lawn.’
Adam pointed to make them leave. Monty and Jerry ran as far as the footpath. They stopped there.
‘What do you want?’ the woman said.
‘Can you please come and see my father?’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Will you come and see him? He’s not waking up.’
‘What are you talking about? Who are you?’
‘Your father?’ She pointed towards the house. ‘There?’
She lifted up her sunglasses and stared out from beneath them. Her eyes were small and hard, her nose wrinkled. ‘Why on earth are you on my path, in my yard, near my door? Go away. If I see those dogs anywhere on the street I’ll call the pound. If you come here again I’ll call the police. Don’t think I won’t. I’ve called them before on you boys.’ She peered up and down the street, at the parked cars, at the trees along the footpath. After a moment she said, ‘If you’re walking his dogs, they should be on a lead.’ She lowered her sunglasses, went inside and closed the door.
The curtain in the window moved.
Adam could feel her watching him as he turned and walked away.
If not for Monty and Jerry getting out, Adam would have left the front gates open, in case the woman changed her mind. He sat out on the decking. He gave it time, time enough for the woman’s anger to switch to something else. Adam took off his socks and shirt and sat with his feet dangling in the pool. It got darker. The woman didn’t come. It seemed too late then to try other houses. The ripples his feet made in the water had Adam thinking of waves on the beach, like on TV. It made him think of rivers. He picked up his shirt and left wet footprints through the billiards room and down the short hallway into the lounge room.
he moment Adam heard laughter, he knew. It was on hot afternoons that they came. Monty and Jerry lifted their heads. They didn’t shift from their cushions. Adam sat up on the couch. The laughter got louder. Those times they’d come and Adam hadn’t been locked in the backroom – with no time to put him there – his father had hidden him in the bedroom beside the laundry. Ear pressed to the gap at the bottom of the door, Adam had heard the boys laughing and swimming. He’d heard the stumble of their footsteps after they’d drunk too much and the slur of their voices when they’d wandered from the billiards room into the front rooms
Slurred voices only, never clear, not like the voice calling now . . .
‘Joe! Up, up, up, old rooster!’
It came with a heavy heel-toe stride. Adam moved to hide; too late. He pressed back into the couch as a tall shape appeared in the doorway. The boy was big, not a boy at all. He was wearing tight red shorts and a blue tank top. Between his fingers was a lit cigarette. His hair was dark. His skin was brown. He took a drag of the cigarette. As he spoke he sucked the smoke deeper into him.
‘Who are you?’
When Adam said nothing, the man walked in. Monty and Jerry didn’t move. They eyed the man and, for a moment, the man eyed them back. He walked past them into the kitchen.
‘This year would be good,’ he said, walking back out. ‘Name? Got one? Where’s Joe? Stand up.’
The man sucked on his cigarette and stood in the centre of the room with his feet wide apart. Adam wouldn’t have been able to get up even if he wanted to. The man’s chest was wide and the muscles in his legs bulged. He had thick wrists and forearms. His eyelashes were short and black. His eyes were brown. As weak as Adam’s father had become was as weak as Adam was going to be against this man. If he pushed, Adam would topple; if he kicked, Adam would be sent sprawling; if he hit, Adam would be knocked out. If this man moved, took another step, put out his cigarette, reached for Adam, Adam would wet himself. The pressure was there, in his groin, about to give. Adam’s mouth grew heavy. His eyes stung with building tears.
A smile broke across the man’s face. He smacked his chest. ‘I’m scaring the crap outta you, aren’t I?’
Adam brushed away a tear.
The man stopped smiling and narrowed his eyes. Between puffs on his smoke he opened his mouth, the tip of his tongue touched his top lip and then ran back and forth along his bottom lip.
‘What’s your name?’
He closed one eye and rubbed it. ‘What’re you doing here?’
‘I live here.’
‘It’s my father’s house.’
‘Joe? Don’t be calling him your father, kiddo, no one’s gonna believe that crap. Why haven’t I seen you round before?’
‘I’ve been here.’
‘Oh really. Have you just?’
Adam looked at his shirt on the coffee table. It felt like a terrible mistake to have left it off. If he could somehow reach across, get it, put it on, that might make all the difference. The man looked at the shirt too, and then at Adam. He leaned down, picked the shirt up and tossed it to him. He sucked on the cigarette while Adam put it on.
‘I came the other day and he weren’t here then, neither. You squatting?’
Confused, Adam looked down at his lap, concerned he had wet himself.
Adam jerked his head back up.
‘Tell me who you are and where the fuck Joe is.’
‘He’s . . .’
‘Is he dead? He been abducted by aliens? What’s going on?’
‘He has heart problems.’
The man reached over his shoulder and scratched between his shoulder blades. ‘Really? He’s in hospital? He’s sick?’
He leaned into one hip and smoked. For a few moments he watched the TV. Ash from his smoke dropped onto the carpet.
‘So where’d he find you?’
‘He’s my father.’
‘Just ’cause they tell you to call them daddy doesn’t mean they’re your father, kiddo. We’re swimming for a bit, you wanna come?’
Adam shook his head.
The man sniffed. ‘You’ve got to put those ferrets outside. It stinks like piss in here.’
Fear drained away once the man was gone. Adam got up and walked down the hallway. Monty and Jerry didn’t follow. Lights in the billiards room were on. The outside lights were shining on the pool and the decking. One man was in the pool and another one was playing billiards. Adam couldn’t see the one that had come up into the lounge room. A smoke haze hung below the tasselled lampshade. No breeze to move it. Adam’s skin itched beneath his clothes. Sticky sweat covered him. Out by the pool, the man swimming was leaping into the air, curling into a tight ball, crashing into the water. He climbed out and threw himself in again and again. The first man, who’d come into the lounge room, walked out from the backroom hallway. Adam crouched lower at the sight of him, hiding in the shadows. The man was frowning, looking down, not looking up, even when one of billiard balls bounced off the table and landed with a loud crack on the tiled floor. He didn’t answer when the others asked him questions.
‘He here? What’s going on?’
‘What’s happening?’ The man from the pool walked in, wet. He stood dripping on the tiles. ‘We hanging round or what?’
‘Billy, what’re we doing?’
He remained silent. He kept glancing in the direction of the backroom. Adam began to shuffle away, returning to the lounge room. The man must have seen the movement; he turned his head and looked right at Adam, stared at him. He then snapped his gaze away, clapped his hands and walked towards the sliding doors.
‘Nup, we’ll pack it in. We’ll grab some food, smokes, and fuck off.’
The wet man grabbed a towel and began to dry himself. ‘Maybe we should do the place over? If he’s not here? Didn’t get much outta him last time.’
‘Nup, we’re going.’
Adam turned and walked quickly down the hallway. He went back into the lounge room and sat. Monty and Jerry hadn’t moved. That was the problem. It was hard to know what to do. Running and hiding didn’t feel right. Asking for help didn’t feel right. On the TV was an ad for shampoo. Adam stared at it. He wanted the men to leave but it also tightened his throat to know that they would.
, Adam thought.
Outside the window he could hear their voices as they left, too muffled to understand, only the swearwords standing out.
The words were on his tongue, so close to being spoken.
Adam twitched in fright, looked up.
The first man, Billy, was standing in the doorway. ‘Just a hunch, but do you reckon you’d be better off outta here? Splitting might be the best thing for you to do.’
‘I don’t know where to go.’
‘Fair enough, but you might want to go all the same. I think you’re in more shit than you know. Does Joe put you down in that room?’
Adam nodded. Tears blurred his vision. Ringing sounded in his ears. There was softness in Billy’s voice and it only made Adam’s chest burn hotter and his throat close tighter.
‘Yeah, you gotta get out of here.’
‘But I don’t know where to go.’
‘Out the door would be a start.’ He tipped his head towards the window. ‘Just wait till we’re gone. Those two aren’t any good. Might see you round, hey? Catch ya.’ He turned to leave.
‘He’s in the bedroom.’
Billy stopped. ‘Hey?’
‘He’s in the bedroom.’
Billy looked over his shoulder. He stepped backwards into the hallway, out of Adam’s sight. Adam listened to him opening the bedroom door. He listened to the silence.
Billy reappeared. His lips were rolled in.
‘Ah . . . you should’ve said he was dead.’
‘Well, yeah, he is.’
‘Who beat him up?’
Billy scratched his forehead, frowning. He glanced over his shoulder. ‘Did you kill him?’
‘I . . . I don’t know?’
‘Who put him in the bed?’
‘I . . . I . . .’
‘I didn’t mean to kill him. He was alive before. I went next door, the woman wouldn’t come. I didn’t . . . I didn’t know he’d die?’
‘Are you saying he’s died while we’ve been here?’
‘He was breathing before.’
‘Well, he’s not breathing now.’
There was a sudden rap on the window. ‘Billy!’ It was one of the other men. His hand slapped the glass. ‘Bitch from next door called the cops. They’re pulling up!’
Billy turned one way and then the other. His hands opened wide in front of him.
‘They’re here!’ the man outside called.
Branches scratched against the side of the house and squeaked on the windowpane as he left. Billy ran a short way down the hall. He stopped, returned.
‘You can’t say I was here. Don’t tell them, will you? Don’t say anything about me.’ He spoke so fast it was hard to understand him.
‘Please don’t leave me.’
‘No, listen – don’t tell them I was here. If you have to, tell them some boys swam but you didn’t see none of them or what they looked like. They swam and they went. Okay?’
‘I’ll get in trouble.’
‘Don’t describe me or nothing, will you?’
‘They’ll put me away.’
‘He said they would put me away.’
‘I don’t know what to do.’
Billy rushed forwards, grabbed Adam by the arm and yanked him to his feet. Not until Adam was halfway down the hallway did he realise he was being taken. Billy pulled him along, his hand clamped tight above Adam’s elbow.
They went out through the billiards room, down the steps, across the lawn. Dry ground thudded beneath the soles of Adam’s feet. A low branch skimmed the top of his head. Leaves brushed against his arms. Billy’s grip eased as they approached the back fence. He crouched and tugged Adam down beside him.
‘Shh . . .’
They were under the lemon tree in the far corner of the yard. The sheds were nearby. Between the tree trunks the house was lit up. Two policemen were walking up the decking steps. They had flashlights and had come in through the unlocked gate. Monty and Jerry came out, barking and growling. The police ignored them.
‘Rat dogs,’ Billy muttered as he watched. ‘If they come over here, I’ll strangle them.’
Billy wasn’t out of breath like Adam was. His shoulder was pressed up against Adam’s. It felt solid and warm. His coarse leg hairs brushed against Adam’s skin. Adam continued to gasp for breath.
‘We’ll sneak out in a tick.’
One of the policemen knocked on the sliding door and called into the house.
‘Mr Vander? Joe Vander – it’s the police.’
The other policeman was at the pool edge, looking down at the wet footprints and the towel dropped on the decking.
‘Have a wank over that, why don’t you?’ Billy murmured. ‘Aw, look,’ he said in a slower, different voice, ‘I detect there’s been some poolside activity here. If I didn’t know better, I’d say there’ve been people swimming here. Fuck me, really, constable? Jeez, how do you work this shit out?’ He spoke normally again, ‘Such losers.’
The policeman picked up the wet towel with the toe of his boot and kicked it away. He said something over his shoulder. Both policemen laughed.
‘They’ll go down and see that room.’ Billy spoke in the other voice again, ‘Hmm, here’s an interesting thing, a funny place for a bedroom, no windows, but peaceful, and nice how it’s got a shower.’ Billy snorted. ‘Better off steering clear of them altogether. Cops aren’t gonna wanna out a perv in this street.’
The police went inside. Billy rose.
‘When will we come back?’
‘What are you – fourteen? Fifteen? They’ll place you somewhere. If they don’t try and swing it around on you. Come on, we’ve gotta move.’
A policeman walked back out and stood on the deck. He shone a torch into the trees and around the yard.
Billy crouched again. ‘