Authors: Honey Brown
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense
osquito bites tingled and itched on Adam’s arms and legs. His eyes were burning. After every couple of blinks he kept them closed a second. He swayed. Billy didn’t seem tired at all. Beneath the smell of sweat there was something else, not shampoo or soap, something nice like that, though. His tongue was always moving – licking his teeth, wetting his lips. Like his body, his face was never still. Monty and Jerry had caught their scent. Billy hissed at them to get back. Another police car had arrived, and an ambulance. Both gates had been opened and the vehicles had driven in and parked around near the decking steps. Headlights shone across the grass and down towards the empty chicken cages. Adam sat with his knees up against his chest. Billy was squatting, bouncing on his haunches. He seemed unable to stop moving. He also seemed unable to stop talking.
‘I said to him once – what have you got stashed down there? And you know what he said to me, you wanna know? He said some joke about having a little something put aside for later. He said that. See? It’s always right in front of your face. It’s always looking you right in the eye.’ Billy knocked his knuckles on his chest. ‘In there too, a feeling. You feel like shit when shit comes out, because you knew it was always going to be shit.’ Billy put his hand on Adam’s head, gave Adam’s skull a squeeze. ‘So what’s your name?’
‘Billy. I’ll look after you, don’t worry. It’s good I found you.’
Jerry barked, once, high and piercing. Billy began feeling around in the grass. He picked up a stick and snapped it into smaller pieces. He threw the bits at Jerry.
‘Fuck off, ferret.’
Jerry dodged the bits of stick and barked again. Billy gave up throwing things at him.
‘We gotta go.’
He took hold of Adam’s arm above the elbow again, pulled him close to his side. His grip was strong, but there was no curl to his fingers, no biting pressure that might have made Adam’s heart stall. They began to edge along beneath the trees, the fence at their backs. They passed by the rubbish trailer. The smell of rotting chickens had Billy groaning.
‘Why are sickos always grots? I mean, fuck me, ever think of taking your rubbish to the tip, arsehole? It’s pretty weird to think he’s dead, yeah? It was like that fucker was never gonna die.’
Monty and Jerry followed. Near the gates, with the stretch of concrete to cross, Billy and Adam squatted behind a mound of gravel. Monty and Jerry stopped too. The dogs sat in the grass.
‘How will we stop these rats following us out the gates? They can’t trot along behind us. I suppose we could leg it and outrun them?’
Billy let go of Adam. He looked at his watch, pushed a button on the side of it. The watch face glowed green. Over at the house one of the ambulance officers walked out. Billy grabbed Adam and yanked him lower. The man came down the steps and opened the driver’s side door of the ambulance. He coughed, took out a hanky and blew his nose. He fiddled around, unwrapping a packet of lollies. He popped a lolly in his mouth then put the packet on the dash. He stood there, sucking and rolling the sweet on his tongue, staring up at the stars.
Billy sighed. ‘Have a fucking moment, why don’t you? Don’t mind us.’
Monty came closer and wagged her tail. She lowered her chest to the ground.
‘Monty’s about to bark,’ Adam whispered.
‘Monty’s about to bark.’
‘Well, stop her.’
‘Can you let go of me?’
Billy thought about it a moment. He released Adam’s arm.
‘Monty, here.’ Adam spoke as quietly as he could. He patted his leg. ‘Here.’
Both dogs rushed up. They licked his face, excited about not being growled at anymore. Adam picked them up, one under each arm. Monty didn’t mind being held. Jerry didn’t like it as much. He didn’t fight it, though.
‘They won’t bark now.’
‘You better bloody hope not.’
Billy peered over the top of the gravel. The ambulance driver had gone inside. Billy straightened and listened for sounds in the street. He beckoned Adam with his hand.
‘Walk, don’t run, keep it cool.’
They crossed the concrete. Billy strolled as though there was no problem, nothing at all to be afraid of. The lights in the front rooms of the house were on – lounge room, kitchen, short hallway, Adam’s father’s bedroom. Lace dimmed the brightness. The awnings blocked it further. It was possible to see the shapes of the men inside, though. They were standing in the lounge room. One stretched his arms above his head, yawned. Adam realised that anyone walking past the open gates would be able to see the men’s outlines. Adam came to a standstill. Looking at the men made him wonder what people would have thought had they ever been able to see Adam’s outline in the lounge room. Would he have looked like he belonged? Did he belong there?
Billy’s hand swiped in front of Adam’s face. ‘In a bit of a hurry? Remember?’
he balls of Adam’s feet were raw and the bones in his heels felt bruised. When he could, he walked on the grass beside the footpath. Road surfaces were the worst. Adam hobbled across them. Dizzy spells swept over him. His arms ached from holding the dogs. He worried they’d run away if he put them down. Billy’s stride had not changed. When walking he didn’t talk as much. They passed darkened houses and went down dark roads. Whenever there was a car up ahead or coming from behind, Billy turned down a smaller street or stepped into a yard. Adam followed, and they waited until the car passed.
Before each corner Adam glanced over his shoulder, back the way they’d come. How would he ever find his way back to his father’s house? He knew he wouldn’t, not without Billy guiding him. The world might not seem as big or overwhelming at night, but it was no less maze-like.
Billy lit a cigarette. A cat darted across the road and Monty and Jerry pricked their ears and wriggled in Adam’s arms. The pain of holding them spiked, before fading again into an overall discomfort. They came to the edge of a large grassy area and started across it. No trees. The grass was short. Billy walked ahead and stopped by a long building. In the shadows was a large steel container. It was as tall as Billy’s shoulder. He put out his cigarette on the side of it and let the butt drop to the ground.
‘Those rat dogs have come as far as they’re going to come. I can either kill them and drop them in the bin, or you can chuck them over someone’s fence.’ He opened the top of the metal container. ‘Dead is the best pick, if you ask me, not that I’m trying to sway you or nothing, but I am. Joe’s death could be made into a big deal. If the cops do crack a fat over it, then these dogs, alive and kicking, might be a hassle. If they’re a pair of stinking carcasses in the bottom of a bin, good chance no one will fish them out and find them. No dogs, nothing to go on. Yeah?’
The dogs were quiet in Adam’s arms.
‘I’ll do it quick. I’ll snap their necks and they’ll be in doggie heaven before they can say bow-wow.’
Adam tucked the dogs tighter into him. ‘We’ll put them over a fence.’
Billy kept on walking. ‘Your choice. Stupid one, but your choice.’
Adam followed him off the grass and back onto the footpath. They stopped in front of a long weatherboard fence. Billy looked up and down the street.
‘All right, chuck them over.’
Adam stepped around Billy and continued further up the footpath. He heard Billy scoff and mutter.
‘What about this one?’ Adam said.
He’d stopped in front of a low picket fence lined by a garden with flowers. The house was hard to see in the dark. It was small, though. The lawn was mowed. He felt the gate latch. No chain or lock. Adam went inside the yard and shut the gate behind him.
,’ Billy hissed.
Adam crouched on the path and put Monty and Jerry down. They shook their bodies and stretched their legs. Monty wagged her tail. Jerry wasn’t as easily fooled; his tail was still and his eyes were shining. It was as though one dog held on to the hope things would always be okay, and the other didn’t. An invisible weight pressed on Adam’s chest. His heart wavered. He’d never played with the dogs, had never been allowed, and they cowered now when he stroked them. For Adam, though, the dogs had been a constant. They’d never pretended to be something they were not, they never lured, never tricked or lied, never said one thing and done another. Even when it came down to bad things, the dogs were honest: Monty and Jerry had never promised not to kill the chickens. If anything they’d glanced guiltily at the birds every chance they’d had, warning that they
capable of it. Adam could trust them because of that.
‘I have to leave you,’ he said. ‘I think these people will be nice to you.’
Adam had to go before he cried. Billy was waiting on the footpath. It wasn’t until Adam reached the street corner that Jerry began to bark. Monty too. Adam could hear the dogs’ confusion. As much as they knew, they also didn’t know. That was how it was. If the things you were meant to understand were bad, it was hard to understand them.
aven’t you ever been to a van park before?’
They’d walked a long time. To keep on going took concentration. It had caused a dull ache in Adam’s head. The sky was getting light. Magpies warbled from the tops of trees. Caravans were parked under the lower branches.
Billy began pointing to each van.
‘Bitch . . . okay sheila . . . loser . . . scumbag . . . don’t know . . . drugbag.’
The track between the vans was gravel. Adam stepped gingerly across it. He’d come to envy Billy’s sneakers. He envied Billy’s body. Billy skipped along the grass and danced from foot to foot while waiting for Adam to catch up. He threw punches in the half-light.
‘The important thing is keeping low. Down like this.’ He ducked and jabbed the air. ‘Seen
‘You keep low, you keep it in, until you need it, then you explode.’
Billy peppered the air with hits and wheeled around, landed one final pretend punch. Watching him, Adam wasn’t so sure anymore that Billy was as old as he’d first thought.
They went to the only weatherboard building in the caravan park. It was beside a boundary fence. Billy pulled Adam into the carport next to the house. As the sun rose, the day came alive with colours, sounds and smells. Adam’s nostrils filled with the scent of dry gum leaves and engine oil. Under the carport were two cars, up on bricks. The tyres were missing and the bonnets were open. Kookaburras started laughing. Their noise drowned out the magpies.
‘Okay, here’s the thing, Scotty’s a good guy. I’ve got to go for a bit. I’ve brought you here because Scotty isn’t going to say nothing and he’s not going to do nothing, you know? I won’t be long. I’ve got to make sure the other two got away okay and aren’t mouthing off like a pair of dickheads. I’ll come straight back.’
‘Can’t I come with you?’
‘You can hardly walk, kid. Your eyes are hanging outta your head.’ Billy messed up Adam’s hair. ‘It’s okay. You’re with me now. When I say Scotty is okay, he’s okay. I’ll always tell you the truth about a guy. What’s the time now . . .?’ He checked his watch. ‘It’s six now. I’ll be back about eleven.’ A car drove past on the track. Billy lowered his head and his voice. ‘Until we work out what’s going on, we’ll need to keep it low. You understand? You’ve gotta say nothing. Gotta do nothing. You can do that – say nothing – can’t you?’
‘That’s all you gotta do.’
‘Will we go back to my father’s place after that?’
‘Stop calling him your father, it’s fucking creepy. Anyway, he’s dead.’ Billy put his hand on Adam’s shoulder and gently pushed him around the bonnets of the cars. ‘Remember, Scotty’s good. I won’t be gone long. Then we’ll get you some clothes, get you some shoes, get you a haircut – you’re not going to know yourself.’
‘Billy . . . ’
He paused on the steps. ‘Yeah?’
‘I need to go to the toilet.’
He leaned close, said in Adam’s ear, ‘You’ll never guess what, Scotty’s got a dunny. Fucking amazing, I know.’
n the back of Scotty’s toilet door was a picture of a naked woman. She was lying on the bonnet of a car, resting a grease-smeared spanner between her breasts. There were grease marks down her thighs and her hair fanned over the windscreen. Adam frowned at the picture. Without the head pain his gaze might not have been as locked. Beneath the headache his curiosity was perhaps gentler. On the floor beneath the toilet roll was a stack of car magazines. Spots of mould dotted the ceiling. Yellowed newspaper pages were on the windowsill. Adam could hear the murmur of Billy talking in the hallway. The voice of the other man was louder. He had a high, shrill voice.
‘How do you know he’s not going to pinch something. If he does, you’re paying for it. I got no idea why you think it’s all right to bring some loser kid into my house. I don’t want him wandering around. What am I meant to do with him? I got shit to do today. I don’t need this bullshit.’
A door across the hallway slammed.
The floor outside the toilet squeaked. There was a knock.
‘Scotty’s all good,’ Billy said from the other side of the door. ‘I’m heading off.’
It wasn’t the other man’s angry words or the slammed door that made Adam’s heart pound; it had been pounding before that. His skin had already felt slimy. He’d felt ill before sitting down, like he might be sick. He leaned forward on his knees.
‘Kid? You right? Don’t worry about Scotty. He gets overexcited.’
There was a pause and the soft sound of Billy inhaling. He was smoking again. He breathed out smoothly.
‘Hang tight. Be good. Don’t shit yourself.’
Laughing, Billy left.
Beside the toilet was a bathroom. Adam washed his hands. He dried them on his shorts. A black spider was in the tub. The shower curtain had pictures of umbrellas on it. Adam went into the hallway. The floor creaked with every step. He walked through the kitchen. On a board on the wall were rows of hooks with keys on them. Above each set of keys was a number. On the kitchen bench was a bowl of green apples. Adam went through into the lounge room and eased down in the only armchair, sank low into it. Instead of a curtain, a stripy bedsheet was strung up over the window. From down the hallway came the sound of a door opening, and then the shower being turned on. Adam leaned back and closed his eyes.
What were the chances of him falling asleep? Was he more afraid now than he had been with his father? It was a different kind of fear. His father wasn’t here. Adam rested his eyes and listened. It took a few seconds for him to realise he was checking for his father all the same. A further few seconds for Adam to remember that his father was dead. Adam’s eyes reopened. How could he be dead? Could a person like his father even die, when the fear he caused had been so much a part of who he’d been? He was a smell, a feeling, a taste, a sound, a chill, a sweat; he was any footstep, any creaky floor, the rattle of any door handle, the slide of any latch. He was there now in Adam’s own shaky breathing. The things he’d been didn’t disappear just because his body had.
Adam said, beneath his breath, ‘He’s dead.’
It wasn’t until he’d chanted it in a whisper that he was able to close his eyes again. Repeating the words didn’t block all the new fears, though. Adam calculated: the walls in Scotty’s house were thin, cars passed so close he could hear the crunch of the tyres on the gravel, someone had turned on a radio a few vans down, he could hear the drumbeat of the song playing. If Adam could hear all that, people would be able to hear him if he had to scream.