An extract from Emma’s MA novel.
It’s two a.m. and I am driving. Charlie/Charlize kicked off about this. She reminded me I crashed my car and am a liability. Says she’s seventeen and has her licence but she’s so small I find this hard to believe. She’s a liability herself. She’s been jumpy since the panic attack and her skin has this hot smell, as if she’s lit a match and blown it out.
She directs me out of the lane and the first few streets. ‘Left here. Right at the end. Go straight.’ Apart from this we don’t talk.
The car is a parrot-green Holden dual cab ute with leather seats, not new but forensically clean. A laminated photo of a girl hangs from the rearview mirror — Lana Del Rey hair and dramatic eyes, the same freckles and gap between her teeth as Charlie — and behind it a pale-yellow Magic Tree that smells of lemons. There’s a set of weights and what looks like a gym bag on the floor in the back, both of which alarmingly remind me of Warren. I’m trying not to think about this when I brake too hard coming up to Railway Road.
‘Watch it!’ Charlie says. ‘Got whiplash off Daryl, don’t want it twice.’
‘I don’t think you can get it twice.’
‘How would you know?’
I don’t answer, just take the corner slowly into Railway Road. There’s no traffic, no sound except the purring of the ute’s engine and the blood rushing in my head that is still there but softer. I think about when it will stop, when everything will be done and over and go back to normal.
The bloke Daryl is in the tray of his ute behind us and looks exactly like what he is — a dead body wrapped in a tarp criss-crossed with rope. He is solid muscle, going to fat, and getting him in there is something I never want to think about again.
My hands sweat and I can’t stop looking in the rearview mirror. What do I think, that he’s going to climb out?
So far, we’ve agreed on one thing: the bloke is going in the ocean, down at Woodman Point, weighed down with a sack of gravel Charlie found in a neighbour’s shed. All I need to do before we get there is get rid of my phone, and I know exactly the place. After that, we dump the body, I drop her back and we are done.
I’ve told her I’ll dump the ute across the river before I go home, but the fuel gauge tells me I have three-quarters of a tank, far enough for a start. I won’t be going home.
My hands tighten on the wheel as I turn under the railway. Charlie’s head jerks up, doesn’t miss a trick. ‘Where ya going? We said Woodman’s.’
‘I’m heading for the highway.’
‘No, yer not.’
She sniffs. ‘Fucken long way around.’ Her face is pinched in the light from the dash, her eyes raking the display. She’s scratching the back of one hand; I can hear the sand-papery sound above the engine. ‘Just get us there. Don’t speed, but. Don’t get us pulled over.’
‘Keep calm and I won’t.’ I make another turn, no traffic. I drop my hand from the wheel to the shape of my phone against my leg. There’s a no-through-road to the lake and I take it, down towards the carpark. ‘I need to stop,’ I say.
Charlie grabs the door handle as I swerve around a pothole. ‘What the fuck? Not got the time.’
‘I’m going to throw up.’
‘Fuck, pull over. Here!’
‘Not yet. You need to keep calm.’
‘I am fucken calm!’
I jerk on the handbrake at the end of the track and spill out of the car towards the water. Into the trees, head down. I make like I’m retching, make the right sounds.
‘Don’t be too fucken long!’ Charlie yells.
It’s flat dark, no lights. A circle of dead trees spears out of the water, black against black. Layers of frog sounds. The smell of tea tree over the stink of mud. Something invisible flaps across and lifts the hairs on my arms — a crow or a black cockatoo.
The wet sand sucks at my feet. I shiver and pull my phone out of my pocket, but I forget not to look and the screen is crammed with messages.
The ground lurches under me — Mum. Someone has called Mum in Bali. But I read the first two messages and remember the Sunday session last-exam drinks — Jessica, Ryan and Neil, wondering why I didn’t show. Commiserating, debriefing, celebrating even when you think you’ve screwed up.
My throat clogs and I want to call each one of them back.
I throw the phone and it spins end on end until I hear the splash. I’m close enough to home to have lost it here, for it not to seem strange if someone checks.
I wipe my eyes and I’m wiping my mouth as I come out of the scrub near the car. A flapping rush of panic when I see Charlie. ‘What are you doing?’
‘What d’ya reckon?’
The back of the ute is down, the interior light spilling out of the rear window. She’s backed it up to the water on a short square of jetty and got the body half out. ‘No.’ I rush and grab the end she’s pulling and try to push it back. ‘We had a plan.’
‘So? I changed it. He can go in the lake — we’re here orright? We’ll weigh it down like we said.’
‘No. You can’t do that.’ I lift and push but she’s stronger. How can she be stronger? ‘We have to get him back in, stick to the plan. The lake’s too small.’ There’s not enough jetty between me and the water. The body shifts, awkward and heavy. The head part lolls off the end of the ute as I let it go.
She climbs up into the tray. ‘You got eyes in yer head? See how dark it is. We can do it here.’
I look at the trees against the sky, the outline of stars. ‘It’s dark everywhere.’
‘Not down the beach! There’ll be lights. And fishing. They’ll be fishing down at Woodman’s, we shoulda thought of that.’ She drags the other end of the body around and then the bag of gravel, scraping against the metal tray.
‘Not in the middle of the night.’
‘Yes, tomorrow morning! Monday. You don’t know everything. Why d’ya think ya do? We shoulda thought of it.’
I lean against the end of the ute and press the heels of my hands into my eyes. When I pull them away she’s still there. ‘Why couldn’t you have waited for me? It’s not far to the beach. Even the river is better.’
‘No, it’s not,’ Charlie says. ‘You don’t know every fucken thing. People out in boats, fishing, surfing, fucken surf lifesaving. Here there’s gunna be no one — coupla dog walkers, if that.’ She gets the bag of gravel to the edge of the ute.
I think of my phone, all those messages, a few metres away. ‘We can’t put him in there. I’ve just thrown up in the water. My DNA is in there.’
She plants her fists on her hips. ‘I don’t care if your whole fucken dinner is in there. Both our fingerprints are all over this tarp in case you hadn’t noticed. Now either fucken help me or get out the way.’ She puts a foot on top of the bag of gravel.
‘No, I will not do either of those things.’ I brace myself against the gravel, glance behind at the water. ‘Do you have to, like, say eff every second sentence? Can’t you think of anything else?’
She goes quiet and there’s a moment I think we’re in for a fight. I should probably be scared of her. Why aren’t I scared of her? But she snorts a laugh. ‘Can’t ya say fuck? Too posh?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ My face hot.
‘Stand back.’ She shoves with her foot and the bag of gravel lurches and I can’t stop it.
‘Charlie!’ I scramble to the side. The bag hits the jetty and then the body does. She’s tied the two things together.
Crunch, jerk, slither. The rope looping and tightening, and all of it gone off the edge. Two splashes. I don’t know whether to be impressed or terrified. A flock of corellas wheels out of the dark.
Charlie sulks the whole way back in the car, curled up on the passenger seat like a shelter puppy. Which is flaming unfair when she’s the one who got her own way.
I am trying very bloody hard not to think about it — the smell of the lake and the circle of dead trees, the corellas like ghost birds. How the frog sounds stopped and the body floated before the bag of gravel pulled it all the way under. Most of all I’m trying not to think about my phone, in the water practically alongside a dead body.
All these things go with the rest, pushed down and under while I keep both hands on the wheel and watch the road ahead.
I take us back the same way: quiet dark streets, the occasional car. Charlie is right about our fingerprints. I should have kept the gloves on, after cleaning up the blood. We haven’t thought about CCTV. We haven’t thought of everything. I am very aware of this.
None of it matters as long as no one finds him.
When we get close, I say, ‘You’ll have to direct me.’ Charlie jumps and then yawns. I feel how tired I am too. ‘The last few streets. I can’t remember.’
She does, and as I turn the last corner I realise this is it: we won’t see each other again. I wonder if she’s thinking the same.
‘Here,’ she says.
I stop two cars past and don’t reverse back.
She stretches. ‘Be okay with the ute?’
‘Of course. I’ll wipe it down like we said.’ And I will, except not yet. I check the fuel again and straighten my back. ‘Listen, I’m sorry if I… Like, I had a fight with someone, earlier tonight.’
She looks at the cut on my hand, up at my face. ‘Bastard. He hit ya?’
My breath snags. If only.
‘That how come you didn’t stay with the car?’ she says.
‘After you stacked it?’
‘Oh. Yes, exactly. It’s in his driveway.’
‘Dickhead Daryl hit Geen,’ she says. ‘Four times. She lied about it but he did.’
I tighten my lips and nod. ‘Well, he won’t do it again. Remember what to tell her?’
‘That I never seen him.’
‘Good.’ I haven’t told her about the missed calls on his phone. It doesn’t matter now, it’s at the bottom of the lake. ‘And we’ve never met each other.’
‘Okay.’ She unclicks her seatbelt and puts a hand to the door but she stops. ‘What the fuck?’ Her eyes on her wing mirror. Her hand finds my sleeve and grips it.
A man in a dark hooded jacket peels himself from the shadows next to Charlie’s front door. He strides down the path towards the low gate, slow at first and then faster. ‘Who’s that?’
‘Dunno,’ she says.
He vaults the fence next to her gate. Dark jeans and white sneakers. Head up, looking our way.
‘You don’t know him?’ I’m whispering, the rushing in my ears louder than it’s been all night.
‘No, I fucken don’t.’ Her grip tightens.
‘Charlie, that hurts.’ She lets go and refastens her seatbelt.
He steps between two cars into the street and turns towards us. ‘Do you think he’s seen the ute?’ I say. ‘Is he looking for Daryl?’ She punches me hard in the arm. ‘Ow!’
‘Course he’s seen the ute,’ she says. ‘He’s headed straight for us. Drive!’
‘What if he—’
I pull out one car length in front of him. He rocks to a stop as our tyres squeal away. ‘I don’t know which way to go,’ I say. ‘I don’t know what to—’
‘Anywhere! Drive.’ She’s glued to the rearview mirror. ‘Shit, he’s going back for his car.’