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Of Blood: The Detective DeLuca Greyson Thriller Series, #1
Of Blood: The Detective DeLuca Greyson Thriller Series, #1
Of Blood: The Detective DeLuca Greyson Thriller Series, #1
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Of Blood: The Detective DeLuca Greyson Thriller Series, #1

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A line of blood. A trail of deceit.

Returning home for her father's funeral, Marnie learns a shocking revelation about her and her family. As she pieces together secrets an entire town wants to forget, it becomes clear that a dangerous legacy lives on, and she is the only one willing to stop it.
Meanwhile, Detective DeLuca Greyson, a man haunted by his own past, is investigating a series of brutal murders. When he connects them to a twenty-eight-year-old mass murder in a remote rural town, his and Marnie's paths cross. Though both seek the same killer, neither entirely trusts the other – especially since one wants justice and the other vengeance. But it is not long before the tables turn, and, as the extent of the killer's depravity is revealed, both will stop at nothing to track down a predator whose crimes have become personal.

Release dateAug 15, 2022
Of Blood: The Detective DeLuca Greyson Thriller Series, #1

C A Rin

C A Rin is a writer of thrillers: psychological, crime, and the supernatural. She lives on the Gold Coast of Australia, where many of her stories take place and where local knowledge fuels inspiration in characters and settings.

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    Of Blood - C A Rin

    Copyright © 2022 by C A Rin


    All rights reserved.

    This is a work of fiction. The characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

    First published by the BEAR | the DOGS Publishing 2022

    No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, without the publisher’s express written permission.

    It is illegal to copy this novel, post it to a website, or distribute it by any other means without the publisher’s express written permission.

    ISBN: 978-0-6453872-1-6


    Cover Page

    Title Page

    Copyright Page

    Chapter One

    Chapter Two

    Chapter Three

    Chapter Four

    Chapter Five

    Chapter Six

    Chapter Seven

    Chapter Eight

    Chapter Nine

    Chapter Ten

    Chapter Eleven

    Chapter Twelve

    Chapter Thirteen

    Chapter Fourteen

    Chapter Fifteen

    Chapter Sixteen

    Chapter Seventeen

    Chapter Eighteen

    Chapter Nineteen

    Chapter Twenty

    Chapter Twenty-One

    Chapter Twenty-Two

    Chapter Twenty-Three

    Chapter Twenty-Four

    Chapter Twenty-Five

    Chapter Twenty-Six

    Chapter Twenty-Seven

    Chapter Twenty-Eight

    Chapter Twenty-Nine

    Chapter Thirty

    Chapter Thirty-One

    Chapter Thirty-Two

    Chapter Thirty-Three

    Chapter Thirty-Four

    Chapter Thirty-Five

    Chapter Thirty-Six

    Chapter Thirty-Seven

    Chapter Thirty-Eight

    Chapter Thirty-Nine

    Chapter Forty

    Chapter Forty-One

    Chapter Forty-Two

    Chapter Forty-Three

    Chapter Forty-Four

    Chapter Forty-Five

    Chapter Forty-Six

    Chapter Forty-Seven

    Chapter Forty-Eight

    Chapter Forty-Nine

    Chapter Fifty

    Chapter Fifty-One

    Chapter Fifty-Two

    Chapter Fifty-Three

    Chapter Fifty-Four

    Chapter Fifty-Five

    Chapter Fifty-Six

    Chapter Fifty-Seven

    Chapter Fifty-Eight

    Chapter Fifty-Nine

    Chapter Sixty

    Chapter Sixty-One

    Chapter Sixty-Two

    Chapter Sixty-Three

    Chapter Sixty-Four

    Chapter Sixty-Five

    Chapter Sixty-Six

    Chapter Sixty-Seven

    Chapter Sixty-Eight

    Chapter Sixty-Nine

    Chapter Seventy

    Chapter Seventy-One

    Chapter Seventy-Two

    Chapter Seventy-Three

    Chapter Seventy-Four

    Chapter Seventy-Five

    Chapter Seventy-Six

    Chapter Seventy-Seven

    Chapter Seventy-Eight

    Chapter Seventy-Nine

    Chapter Eighty

    Chapter Eighty-One

    Chapter Eighty-Two

    Chapter Eighty-Three

    Chapter Eighty-Four


    Dear Reader

    Also by C A Rin


    About the Author


    North West Queensland

    Twenty-eight years ago

    It was cooler than usual. A relief, really. It made her think about winter, the ephemeral seasons. Which had it been when she had entered this place? Which would it be when she left? Katie glanced toward a sliver of light along the roofline, the only delineation of passing time – a single shaving that offered more frustration than hope in a world that vacillated between the edges of twilight and an abyss of black.

    Now that the others were silent or, God forbid, gone, something like despair, living and breathing, shifted around her. A shiver coursed her body, and she attempted to swallow the sourness that coated the back of her throat. Katie had grown accustomed to thirst and hunger—it was the smells that she would never get used to. Urine and body waste she had tried to make comforting by conjuring memories of farm stays and petting zoos. But the other, a rancid decay, remained nothing short of terrifying – like the interminable passing of time that didn’t exist at all because how could you ascertain that which you didn’t believe—time had ceased to exist the moment she had been put into this dungeon of horrors.

    When the pains began, it was almost a relief. Better to be feeling something other than hunger and thirst and your bony joints jabbing into the hard earth. It had started in her lower belly squeezing outward, but now they were more frequent, cutting deeper, encapsulating her entire being. Katie clawed at handfuls of straw already moistening from perspiration. It added to the nausea, and she wondered if he was watching as she struggled with the poison of his infliction, like the others before her, whose crumpled bodies she had carried away. Women whose hands she’d held, who had whispered of hope, yet had become nothing more than discarded tangles of flesh.

    When she couldn’t fight the agony any longer, she capitulated, crying out until her voice was raw—until she had no breath left to squander on sound and until she swore that this would be the last time she would ever cry again. What was the use? She had called to gods and prophets and saints before, and if any of them had heard her, they didn’t care.

    Katie bit down on her lip the next time the agony surged, like a freight train barreling up from inside her, tearing at her guts, eviscerating her most private of parts. She closed her eyes, tasting the copper of her blood, trying to breathe through a pain worse than any stab from a knife. The perversity of the injury, nine months in the making, now seemed worse than anything he had made her endure before.

    ‘Fuck you,’ she relented, but this time it was more from anger than from pain, directed at the gods, and the prophets, and saints for their ambivalence.

    Ironically, as Katie felt the windows of consciousness close around her, she thought of him, a man who had held her, who had listened to her, and who had wielded his will and his power totally over her. And even when she heard what she thought were strangers’ voices and imagined streaks of unnatural light penetrate her darkness, it was him that she conjured up as the closest thing to a god she would ever know.


    Present Day

    EAST COAST BULLETIN: Queensland’s tropical cyclone continues to lash the eastern seaboard with damaging winds and heavy rainfall. Severe thunderstorms were detected on the weather radar near Boonah, which tracked toward the Gold and Tweed Coasts around 8 pm. Winds in excess of 120km per hour have been recorded at Dalby. A Bureau of Meteorology spokesperson advises residents should keep an eye on the weather radar and pay attention to any storm warnings issued.

    Compounding the situation, the coast has been hit by a succession of king tides. This afternoon’s super tide caused the sea to rise unusually high, with coastal surges of up to seven meters reported. Maritime Safety Queensland has sent a warning to boaties in southeast Queensland after Water Police received numerous calls for incidents involving vessels in distress. Boat owners are urged to ensure unattended vessels are adequately secured.

    Due to the combination of extreme tidal elevations and a rising easterly swell, flooding of low-lying coastal areas and erosion of beach frontage have been extensive. Many streets have been closed, and maintenance crews have been checking drains in affected areas to ensure they are clear. Beaches remain closed, and the public is advised to stay away from the shoreline for the duration of the storms.

    Meanwhile, severe weather warnings are in place for parts of northwest Queensland, with heavy rains expected to remain in the region for the duration of the weekend. Some roads have been cut off due to flooding, and many graziers have endured sleepless nights with cattle stranded in high water. Few farmers are complaining, however. The rain has been welcomed in the drought-hit parts of Queensland, with more falls over the past two days than communities have received in years.


    It seemed fitting that this would be the day the heavens chose to let loose. Weeping tears that suckled the earth, gouging creeks and swelling the fissures that snaked and yawed upon its parched belly.

    The elixir of life, however, was not evident in the old church. Today its duty was death – or at least the ritualist valediction for a man she had loved and, like the outside before the rains, the fissures of her being gaped, parched, and painful.

    Perched in the front pew, the scents of pine and lilies clung obstinately. She hated lilies. So did he. They had always reminded him of funerals. Ironic. Did no one get the memo? He was more of a chrysanthemum man, and especially today, he should have gotten what he wanted.

    Marnie pulled at the collar of the dress she’d had been forced to wear. Too close in the armpits, too constricting around her neckline, and too black for someone with a usually cheery disposition. Her pantihose prickled. Christ, she couldn’t even remember the last time she had worn the damn things – a symbol in the sixties for the feminine revolution. Go figure. It felt like a colony of ants foraging against her skin. Still, she stifled an urge to smile, he hadn’t fared much better.

    She hadn’t spent long at the open casket, which she doubted he would have wanted either. Seeing him a little too well combed and rouged, dressed in a suit she’d never seen him in and a tie she had wished she could loosen. She guessed it was her mum who had made the choices, encouraged, no doubt, by his sister, Valerie, whose taste had always been in her arse. She, she would have put him in one of the only two things she remembered him as ever having worn, his faded checked shirt and the jeans that always hung a little too low below his ample belly, or his uniform – of course, she’d rather not have had to have done any of those things. She’d rather the illness had not taken those choices from him, that he was able to dress himself in whatever he wanted, live his life out in the way he had planned, and tell anyone who tried to tell him otherwise to go fuck themselves.

    Perhaps it wasn’t her skin that was raw, but more about what lay beneath it. Maybe she should be thankful that it was possibly the dress, too taut, and the tights too snug, that were keeping her insides, like an overstuffed sausage, from bursting visceral grief all over the timber floorboards.

    Marnie attempted a meditative inhalation, something between a breath and a choke. The body heat of the packed congregation only added to the oppressiveness and, for all the turnout, suddenly too intimate, seated up front, a specimen for curious examination. Just two rows back and across from her, an older man in a sodden jacket didn’t even have the courtesy to look away when she caught his eye.

    She hated this sad scrutiny, though it was probably not uncommon in these circumstances, a morbid curiosity of what abject pain looked like if it were a physical incarnate. Or, perhaps she was being harsh, she hadn’t been home for some time, and maybe the curiosity was simply how much little Marnie had grown, or why hadn’t she been around more, helped more… the hell if she knew, small-town mentality could do one’s head in.

    Fidgeting with the hem of her dress, an uncomfortable irritation teased the downy hairs at the base of her ponytail. A bead of sweat perhaps, some relief in the stagnant air, or it could be that man again, two rows back to her right. Dickhead. Shifting again, she attempted her own stare-down, if nothing else, to gauge the depths of the man’s intent. The rheumy stare remained resolute, unwavering in its concentration, and something else. Confrontational?

    Enough already. Marnie turned away. Probably one of Dad’s oddballs, as Mum would call them. With years in the police force, her father had made a lot of acquaintances, friends, and probably as many enemies, and in between were the sad and confused lot, her Mum’s words again, that he wouldn’t abandon.

    Still, she was angry with herself. She had hoped she’d have held it together better than she was, that it would be her mother who would be breaking down. Jane, her mum, seemed to be handling herself with much more poise. Though her head was bowed and her eyes downcast, she at least managed to sit still. Marnie scolded herself for being selfish. Mum had gone through hell, was going through hell, and she needed to stop being so testy.

    It wasn’t like she wasn’t used to being looked at, judged even. The old guard at the law firm where she had worked had still clung to an outdated notion enabling her to be routinely mistaken for part of the secretarial department. Apparently, she didn’t look authoritative enough, whatever that meant. She looked like a fun girl, whatever the sexist hell that implied, but the hell if she was going to push her authoritative-o-meter any higher or her impeccable work record any further up the cemented chauvinism of their hallowed halls.

    She got it, she had boobs and a bum, and she didn’t care much for dressing in hessian sacks. She had her Mum’s physique, alright, petite and curvy, her open features, and a smattering of girlie freckles that made her look younger than her twenty-eight years. The unruly hair, tinged to butterscotch from the European summer, probably didn’t help either. She got that from Dad. His eyes too, she reckoned, though her skin tone, a tawny shade regardless of season, well, that had always been a genetic anomaly that belied either parent’s Irish descent – an observation her dad would routinely make on family excursions – that they looked like one of them Burberry handbags after a day in the sun, she brown, Mum white, and him a God-damn pink, and his face would light up, his eyes sparkle, and he’d let out one of his walrus guffaws.

    Someone cleared their throat, brittle over the sound system. Marnie tumbled back to ground zero.

    A man in the formal uniform of the Queensland Police began to speak, one of many, as it turned out, of friends, family, and colleagues who presented their eulogies – dour reminiscences along with anecdotal recollections of the man they had known. They painted her father as a good bloke, a fair man, as a hero. Between sniffles staunched in handkerchiefs, the congregation chuckled or murmured collectively.

    She said nothing. She knew she was expected to, and maybe she would. The vicar had proportioned a segment of time if she decided to do so, but what did you say? That she loved him and shall miss him, it all seemed so bleeding obvious and quite frankly none of anyone’s business. She mostly wanted to tell them all to stop talking and just listen. Quiet, she wanted to shout, so we can hear him – before he goes too far away, in time and space, let’s all just listen for him.

    Marnie had spent her entire childhood listening to his words of encouragement, of wisdom, of no bull. She had always only wanted to listen to him. If she could have zoned out the chattering of others, concentrated on the silence that places like this seemed naturally to possess—there, on an exhale of breath, she could almost have believed that she had heard him whisper.

    The moment was gone. They stood in ragged lines for a hymn, a somber rendition of something, a hundred voices mostly out of tune. She wondered then too, who was responsible for the song choices. Didn’t they know Dad’s partiality for Willie Nelson or even a couple of gritty garage rock bands, the existence of which he’d vehemently denied until she’d exposed his stash in the glove compartment of the ute? No one had asked her.

    Now she just felt cold, shivering in a shell of grief and angry that such emotion should contradict the warmth she felt for her father. Now it was her turn to stuff her face into a hanky. Out of the corner of her eye, movement. Two rows back and across. The man in the rain-sodden jacket stumbled out from the edge of the pew and, with a face like fury, hustled up the aisle toward the rear doors.

    The house choked with the onslaught of visitors who milled around the living areas and the entrance hall, overflowing onto the deck and taking shelter from the interminable drizzle under the arching overhangs of the old Queenslander. Thankfully only about half of those who had attended the service had taken up her mother’s invitation for refreshments. Marnie pondered the need for this sort of lengthening of an already tenuous day, but, apparently, it was considered an appropriate thing to do, and in this of all days, was an opportunity for her mother to be nothing but appropriate.

    They were a mish-mashed lot in attendance, family, friends, cops, and crims. She could spot the police contingent, dressed in formal boxy blues, dour and institutional, who stood together in awkward reserve, occasionally sweeping a consoling eye over at her. The neighbors were here, from the homestead some five kilometers away, and a group that Marnie assumed were locals, though she barely recognized anyone. Then there was family, all Dad’s side, an extended bunch who had traveled from all over the place, huddled in their specific familial groups. Some of the guests had come up and mumbled condolences, not so eloquent without the rehearsed lines. Others had wanted to hold her attention for ages, parental gestures of affection as if they knew her, though most didn’t. She tried to remember names, took mental notes of their connection with Dad so she could send a thank you later, even though, in the blinding reality of getting on with life after, she probably wouldn’t.

    She scanned the room for the angry man from church. Considered what she would say should he turn up, whether she would have it in her to ask him to leave—wondered why he had bothered her so much. No sign of him. Just as well, whatever his beef was, this was not the time nor place for confrontation. Whatever his problem was, she’d have to say he’d left it a little late.

    Instead, her eyes fell on a scrawny figure with a greying mullet, Marvin G. Years back, he had been a gem at supplying kids with pot and fake IDs – something she remembered because she had often been torn between her loyalty to friends and her obligation to her father, and yeah, most often loyalty won. Then there was Ned Bates, who, regular as Saturday night, would beat up his wife, who would show up at the station the following day swearing bloody murder at the officers who had locked up the man of her dreams. Got to wonder what some people dream about. She’d spotted Mrs. Bates on the deck earlier, getting a little flirty with a nervous-looking Senior Sergeant. Her mother had been adamant, though, that all were welcome even though she was pleased the silverware was well hidden. With all the uniforms, pips, and stripes around, Marnie doubted whether she had to worry.

    ‘Marnie. Darling.’ Her introspection broken as her mother sidled up, presenting her with a plate of sausage rolls.

    Marnie rolled her eyes. She’d already arranged a buffet with sandwiches and cakes, and someone had brought a lasagna that rested in a congealing slab on the formal dining table. Her stomach did a turn.

    ‘Mingle and hand these out,’ Jane said. ‘They’re here for Dad,’ she added in validation.

    She took the tray, mingle, as if this was a surprise birthday party, and her father would walk into a crescendo of voices shouting surprise. She couldn’t help but glance toward the door. Fuck, one’s imagination can be a bitch. Taking the least obtrusive trajectory, she headed for the far corner of the room.

    Marnie stopped short. Dad’s favorite chair was occupied by a trim, middle-aged man with a thick brush of greying hair and a weathered face. She recognized him as the man who had begun the eulogies at the church. Still, her insides did a flip. How easy it was to imagine Dad sitting there instead of this stranger.

    ‘John Talbot,’ the man stood, offering a hand and appraising her with liquid amber eyes.

    She started to say her name.

    ‘I know who you are.’

    ‘Of course, and you knew my dad well then?’ She felt herself flush—a bleedingly obvious question.

    He nodded pensive up-down movements. ‘We worked together. I was pretty green back then, many years ago, just before…’ he hesitated, ‘before you were born.’

    Marnie mirrored his nod. She didn’t remember Dad having mentioned him. She couldn’t think of anything to say either, so she offered a sausage roll. He declined.

    Talbot cleared his throat. ‘Good man, your father. Best I’ve served with’ A smile, and Marnie felt a genuine warmth. ‘I’ve been overseeing operations in the region, temporarily, until we get someone more permanent on board. Big boots to fill.’

    ‘Yeah,’ she felt an awkward tinge of guilt. This man had been here for her father. Marnie had not. But in truth, she hadn’t even known that he had been unwell. He’d held off telling anyone, even Mum, until he’d had no choice, and even then, according to her, he’d been adamant that he’d make it through. Everything will be fine when all along nothing had been fine, and the malevolent thing that was cancer had not bloody well held off. Hadn’t even waited for her to make it home.

    ‘This is tough, all of this,’ he jutted his chin to indicate the room. Marnie hated small talk, but if he wanted to, for whatever cathartic purpose, it was okay. It was always better if the other party did the talking. ‘You gotta be strong to get through, but I know he would have taught you well. Family was everything to him,’ he locked her in a stare. ‘No matter what, he was very proud of you. Was always going to do the right thing.’


    ‘Always did the right thing,’ Talbot corrected.


    ‘I’ll be around for a while. If you or Jane ever need anything, I’m here for you. If you want.’ Another stymied pause. ‘We look after our own.’

    ‘Thanks.’ Marnie politely disengaged. She had nothing to offer except stilted conversation and a few greasy pastries, and she didn’t know how much more or either she could take.

    A cursory round of the room, and she was done peddling her fare. Her mother was over at the dining table, filling cups of instant coffee granules with water from an urn she had borrowed from the surgery where she worked. She watched her hands moving lithely, tiny blue veins pulsing as she began to dole out tea bags. Marnie wanted to tell her that people were quite capable of doing all that themselves, and, clearly, she was overcompensating, but then she wasn’t sure if that would be appropriate. Instead, she let her continue, fiddling with the strings attached to each bag, smiling graciously, working out her bravery for the world to see. She didn’t have to wonder how her mother had the capacity for all this congeniality when all Marnie wanted to do was crumple. Marnie had no doubt she was being assisted by a cocktail of tiny pills, the bottles of which crowded her nightstand. She wasn’t judging, though there certainly was room for conversation. Maybe not right now. There would be enough silent and lonely nights ahead for them to facilitate that discussion.

    She tossed the tray of pastries down beside what remained of the lasagna. Apparently, it had been a hit in the short time she had worked the room.

    A rumble of voices and several shouts erupted from the far corner. Marnie braced. The O’Dare’s. They were a fiery lot, and that a family fight had broken out was not entirely unexpected. Then she saw the bottles—large, duty-free specials. Rallied on by her uncles, some of the guests had started on the whiskey. Marnie wasn’t sure about the appropriateness of that either, but before she could protest, she caught her mother’s stare.

    ‘It’s fine,’ she mouthed.

    Wide-eyed, Marnie shrugged.

    ‘Dad’s Irish,’ Jane said, coming out from behind the table and taking her daughter’s arm. ‘He’d expect nothing but a good Gaelic send-off.’

    Uncle Jim raised a glass, sloshing half the liquid down his shirt, and loudly proposed a toast. ‘Christ,’ Marnie mumbled. She wasn’t going to wait around to watch her father’s funeral turn into a drunken wake, regardless of how well-intentioned.

    ‘Mum,’ she stated, wiping a residual of sausage grease onto her sleeve, ‘I’m just gonna get some fresh air.’

    She didn’t wait for a reply, and before she’d thought through the ramifications of leaving, Marnie had grabbed a jacket and the keys to her mother’s old Honda Civic. Heading for the door, she turned. The least she could do was jangle the car keys so Jane would know what she was doing. She spotted her in the far corner, deep in conversation with John Talbot. He had a hand on her shoulders, and her forehead was inclined toward his chest. Marnie’s eyes flicked to Dad’s chair, then back up at them.

    ‘Right then,’ she muttered, heading down the stairs.


    Fifteen hundred kilometers away in a basement room, Holly was unaware of rains, or floods, or tidal surges. She could barely remember the last time she hadn’t breathed anything but stale air, felt anything other than misery. She uncoiled herself from a fetal position. Winced. She hadn’t deserved the beatings any more than she had deserved his impotent attempts at lovemaking. She certainly hadn’t deserved a boot to the belly.

    But there’d been a time when he’d been good to her—when she’d thought, this time, it would be different. He had cleaned her up, straightened her out. He had been kind, in his way. He’d promised her things, a new life, and purpose, and she had believed him. When she had closed her eyes, she could pretend that it wasn’t him who was saying the words he was saying and that it wasn’t him inside her doing what he was doing inside her, but someone else who was loving her in a different way.

    But that was then. Now Holly knew that there were worse places than waking up covered in her own puke with a needle in her arm. Worse places than fucking a nameless stranger so that she could wake up covered in her own puke with a needle in her arm. Holly now knew there were worse places because she was here, wasn’t she?

    Still, when she closed her eyes—

    Holly woke with a start.

    There was an ache in her jaw, and every time she swallowed, it was like downing crushed glass. Even when she didn’t move, agony in her guts. She put her hand over the round of her belly. The gesture gave her momentary focus.

    She took in the small, dank room, the jaundiced flush from a single bulb swaying from the ceiling. She was alone—just her, in a thin cotton smock, on a cranked-up hospice bed, and fear squeezed like a hangman’s noose because, with clarity, she remembered now.

    The gas had done nothing to ease the pain when they had cut her, and her head felt thick. She wanted to be sick, and everything below her belly hurt like a motherfucker. Tentatively she put her fingers between her legs. Sticky. Blood. But she still had some strength. She had some wits about her, and if she could only keep that clarity.

    The gentlest of breezes brushed her cheek. She looked up. Stairs. The door to the basement was above her, a trail of light slinking down the steps.

    Mother had been distracted. Mother had left in a hurry.

    The bulb was swinging on its cord. Up the stairs – that was where the shift in the air was coming from.

    The hell if she knew where Father was.

    Holly swung her legs over the side of the bed. The effort made her head spin.

    She started up the stairs.

    Committed now.

    They shouldn’t have left her.

    The hallway was empty, just the trail of moist air that she followed to a cluttered living room. Ahead, the front door gaped, and this somehow confused her – like it was a trick.

    Still, she was alone.

    Poking her head through the door felt like the rush from a window of a fast-moving car. It slapped her senses further into focus. She could hear voices rising and falling in cadence with the wind.

    The light was low, ominous like twilight without the glow, and the rain smeared a haze over everything. Another wave of nausea, cramps, and pain doubled her over. She felt heady, a trickle of something down her legs.

    Shit. Not now.

    She concentrated on clarity.


    She stumbled forward.

    Within seconds she was drenched, rocked by buffeting gusts.

    Twenty steps, she reared up. A beach, pounding surf. She could make out two people. One in the powder-blue jacket Mother had been wearing earlier. The other in an oversized raincoat, she didn’t think she knew. It wasn’t Father. A boat just meters offshore bucked and rolled uncontrollably on the water. Luckily, it held their attention. Holly ducked and scuttled backward. She couldn’t dare go down to that part of the beach, not with them there. She chose the opposite direction.

    The sand dragged her down, and the wind pushed her sideways. The bowling ball in her belly kept throwing her off balance. But she was glad it was raining; it would help cover her tracks. She was glad of the wind because it covered the sounds of her breathing. She headed toward a cluster of trees, quivering limbs that reached out to draw her in. Kangaroo grasses whipped into a frenzy, clawed savagely. It didn’t matter. She had to get as far away as possible.

    She heard the waves first, thunderous rolls over the squall. She was back on the beach. Another one? Had she circled around? The notion terrified her. But this time, it was deserted – and she could do this, head out into the water, follow the coastline. There seemed to be a haze of light to her right. It drew her forward.

    Then she saw her footprints, panicked, toppling her down the embankment. Gouged by the tidal barrage, it caved under her weight, crumbling in liquefied clumps that emitted a putrid stench. Holly gagged. Picked herself up.


    Keep to the right.

    The waves were massive—but a mere distraction, she told herself. She had always been a strong swimmer.

    Churned and grey, the water was remarkably warm, comforting almost. She waded until it was up to her knees. The waves pummeled. She dug her heels in, her arms steadying her. Didn’t think about rips and sharks, she was a strong swimmer, and she knew now that there were worse predators than those that inhabited the sea.

    If she could force herself through the breaks, she could swim. So that’s what she did. Swam. Swam for her life.


    Marnie changed in the car. Ditched the polyester for cotton – jeans and a t-shirt she had stashed in the boot. She drove slowly down the pitted driveway, windows down, letting the rain sprinkle in. She didn’t have a plan for her impromptu escape, didn’t know where or even why she was driving, other than she had to be alone.

    Stanley Crossing was situated pretty much smack dab in the middle of nowhere, northwest Queensland. Her parent’s house was on the outskirts of that. If she kept driving, she could go for hours, even days, and nothing would change much. She would possibly not see a soul if she bypassed the communities. North, toward the Gulf of Carpentaria. West, toward the arid landscapes around Uluru. Due east, the Eastern seaboard, and the Pacific Ocean. The options were tempting, but she doubted she needed that journey now, physically or metaphorically.

    Marnie chose a road heading southwest toward town – past run-down homes on quarter-acre lots with mangy yards of struggling grass. An inordinate amount of junk heaped on porches and front yards: rusting white goods, cabinetry, and corroding cars. Refuse preserved as if in homage to a past no one could bear to discard. High Street was deserted. The gutters overflowed, trailing serpentine rivers along the edges of the pavement, bouncing off the tires of the few cars parked curbside. Store frontages, sallow in earthy shades, most vacant now, boarded up with For Sale posters slapped haphazardly to the insides of their windows. The brick clock tower mildewed and frozen at two-twenty. She wondered at the significance. Considered if that had been the time when everything around here had simply stopped.

    On its steps, Marnie made out the lone figure of a woman in an oversized moleskin jacket. She clutched a crumpled grocery bag, drumming her feet in a pool of water. Marnie knew her as a local fixture, the resident bag lady, though she was sure she must have a home somewhere. Dad would never have allowed a person to go homeless in his town.

    The woman peered up as she passed, tracking the movement of her car. Marnie depressed the accelerator and diverted her gaze – it was rude to stare, especially at people like her. She set her mental clock to twenty minutes. After that, she’d turn around. Too much introspection, in a place a little too isolated, was just too much of an unpredictable thing.

    Ten minutes out, the periphery of the copper mine materialized over a shallow rise. All that remained of its industry was gouged earth and rusted shells of outer buildings, piles of timber sleepers, and ditches brimming from the rains. She tapped the break.

    These were the bones of the history that had once been the lifeblood of the community – now enclosed by a saggy framework of chain-link and barbed wire corroded into insignificance. Marnie pulled over, switched off the engine, and stepped onto the spongy ground—inhaled dank scents of sodden timber. The rain had eased, leaving the air the consistency of a warm, soaked towel.

    In front of her was a large boulder set in concrete, a tarnished plaque. The mine’s story was etched upon it, and names—twenty-three of them. Marnie ran a finger over the furrowed surface.

    It had happened one November over thirty years ago. A freak explosion had caused a cave-in midway along shaft two. The blast had released a torrent of water from an underground source that had quickly filled the tunnels and blocked escape routes for the men who had been trapped below. Twenty-three men had lost their lives that day. It was part of her history, yet Marnie had never taken the time to read the inscription. She stared at the names of the victims and, drawn by her own feelings of loss, let the plight of those poor souls wash over her. She shivered. The mine was never re-opened after that. Along with the victims of the disaster, so too was a once-thriving community that had lost its purpose that day.

    It had happened before she was born, and she had never questioned the economics of it other than to gauge that those who remained appeared to do so out of loyalty to an existence they wouldn’t or couldn’t give up and pride in a township that they refused to let die. Marnie drew her arms around herself – a shot of her uncle’s whiskey didn’t seem such a bad idea—if there’d be any left.

    She eased the car back onto the highway, relieved to leave the depressiveness of the mine behind her. Her twenty minutes were all but up. Then what? She had no idea what her commitments were now. How long she should stay, knowing she shouldn’t turn her back on her mother. Marnie didn’t know a lot of things – only that this was a shitty way to start whatever it was she was supposed to be starting over.

    A low-slung building flashed past her peripheral, its roof veined a russet apricot and flanked by the crippled shapes of two giant Acacias. Marnie braked, performed a U-turn, and spun into its gravel parking lot. A weathered sign dangling from beneath a bullnose veranda read Neville’s Bar.

    A wave of nostalgia. She and Dad would come here regularly after an afternoon at the shooting range. As a kid, she didn’t recall ever having been into guns, but it was something they had done together. Unlike most kids, she had wanted to please her father, and spending more time with him because it was something he did, made sense. Still, Marnie wasn’t a bad shot. She had preferred shotguns to handguns, target shooting, and never hunting. It was always about precision – the rush of satisfaction at a center shot, a clean hit of clay catapulting through the sky. She could never imagine killing a living thing which was never what it was all about anyway

    The pub’s deck extended the perimeter of the building: saloon-style doors front and center were flanked by cactus pots and weathered chairs, the same ones that had always been there. The sidewall had been newly painted with a giant logo, XXXX Our Beer, the lettering projecting garishly on the render.

    Marnie let the doors swing shut behind her. Inside, the feral aesthetic hadn’t changed either. A sort of cowboy saloon meets working man’s pub. She had never known whether that was a deliberate choice or simply bad taste. Neville had apparently spent his youth working on the oil rigs off the southern coast of the United States. Marnie guessed the decor was a throwback to those years, and forty years on, well, he was hardly the makeover kind of guy.

    It smelled of stale beer and nicotine that, even years after the smoking ban, still lingered, like the booze, imbibed into the very skeleton of the place. Funnily enough, Marnie preferred this to the sterility of most modern bars – a munificent bastion of beer and cheap spirits, of bullshit and bravado.

    Behind the bar, a solidly built man eyed her entrance. Neville himself, looking much the same as she remembered, just more weathered, and the wisps of hair, slicked on his nut-brown head, a tad greyer. Not particularly tall but with a barrel chest, the muscular tone on his arms was still evident under the short sleeves of a denim shirt. She had to hand it to him, even north of seventy, he looked like a man to be reckoned with.

    ‘Sorry I couldn’t make the funeral,’ he said, barely looking up from his glass polishing.

    Marnie pulled up a bar stool and mumbled an ‘okay.’

    ‘What can I get you?’ Still a man of few words.

    ‘Tequila and orange,’ she said. The tequila because it was supposed to make you happy, and orange at least sounded healthy, diluting extremes, as if it distanced her from the alcoholic exploits of her uncles. Clearly not. She took the glass Neville handed her. The juice was frothy, the glass warm. As she turned, she asked him for another. He nodded. Non-judgmental. Of course, that was his job.

    Marnie crossed to a corner table, the same one they would sit at when the guys would hustle her in, underage, after an afternoon at the range. She’d be told to sit in the corner and not make a fuss, though she doubted Neville would have said anything. Dad was who he was, and if he condoned buying his kid a plate of wedges at his local, hell, no one was going to make a big deal about it, least of all Neville.

    Maybe that was where her inclination to bend authoritative norms began. After finishing her law degree, she landed a job at a swanky firm on Sydney’s Pitt Street. One of those made up with the three names of their founding partners and, through the wonders of nepotism, whose sons and daughters now ruled, revered, and feared in equal parts, selecting and advancing whom they deemed worthy. And who could blame them? Marnie knew how much they charged by the hour. She knew of the high-profile cases they took on, and, for a short time at least, it was something she had aspired to with every being of her soul. She downed what remained in her glass and wondered if it was a bad sign she couldn’t taste the tequila anymore.

    Dammit. She pushed herself back in the chair. On the cusp of thirty, and how fabulously mediocre. Make believing that it was okay to have nothing to show except an unrealized law career, a phone full of travel snaps, and links to countless acquaintances and recreational lovers she’d probably never hear from again. These were the thoughts that had started even before her dad had gotten sick. Now, like waking up with a bad hangover, her dad’s death had only added to how she had been feeling for some time. Pointless and bloody sad.

    A carpet of light patterned the chipped floor. Like a re-enactment of an Eastwood spaghetti western, the door panels swung then rocked back with a quivering thud, the brightness from behind creating a dark and mysterious silhouette, but this was no Clint. Square and stooped, she recognized him instantly—the man in the dark rain jacket. Angry Man from the church. And he still looked angry.


    Two hours into nightfall, the waves of the South Pacific Ocean thrust onto the

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