The pulsating follow-up thriller to the acclaimed Resurrection Bay.
Caleb Zelic used to meet life head-on. Now he's struggling just to get through the day. His best mate is dead, his ex-wife, Kat, is avoiding him, and nightmares haunt his waking hours.
But when a young woman is killed after pleading for his help in sign language, Caleb is determined to find out who she was. And the trail leads straight to his hometown, Resurrection Bay. The town is on bushfire alert and simmering with racial tensions. As he delves deeper, Caleb uncovers secrets that could threaten his life and any chance of reuniting with Kat. Driven by his demons, he pushes on. But who is he willing to sacrifice along the way?
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The man cornered Caleb at the lights. Twitching and sniffing, talking in staccato bursts. A skeletal face and pupils like voids.
Caleb gestured to the empty pockets of his running shorts. 'Nothing on me, mate.'
Sniffy kept talking and twitching. Caleb ignored him. Thirty more seconds and he'd be in his flat and under a long, cold shower. It was an hour after sunset, and the day's heat still clung to concrete and asphalt, the pores of his skin. Stupid to have gone for a run, but last night's dreams had slipped into his waking hours again, plucking at his thoughts with their bloodstained fingers.
And now Sniffy was waving a piece of fucking paper in his face.
Caleb tried to skirt around him as the lights turned green, but the guy did a little sideways dance to block his way.
'Piss off,' Caleb said.
Sniffy shoved the paper into his right hand. A receipt of some kind, sweat-stained and crumpled. Something written on the back in thick letters. He held it up to the streetlight.
33/45 Martin St Nth Fitzroy
His name, his address. The words were scrawled in lipstick, but there was nothing flirtatious about their jagged letters, the strokes flecked with lumps of flesh-like pink. Something cold slid down his neck.
He looked at Sniffy. 'Where'd you get this?'
Words scuttled from the man's mouth and disappeared into the shadows. Was that a W? And an O? Definitely an M.
'A woman?' Caleb guessed. 'A woman gave it to you?'
Sniffy gestured down the street. 'She said ... and I ...'
'Slower. What woman?'
'Tall, black ...'
Fear gripped Caleb's bowels. 'Where is she? Show me.'
Sniffy headed along the street, talking the entire time. A shambling gait like a sleep-deprived toddler. Step, shuffle, step. Past apartment blocks and pizza shops, around a corner into an empty side street. So slow. Why the fuck couldn't he go any faster? Around another corner into an unlit alleyway of rusting corrugated iron and jumbled cobblestones, the stink of stale piss. Caleb came to a halt halfway down it. Dark, no overlooking windows – a good place to get jumped.
Sniffy made his way to the back of the alley, where a thin shape stepped out of the gloom to meet him. Not Kat. Nothing like Kat. The woman's skin was so pale it looked translucent, a startling contrast to her short, dark hair. Black hair – Sniffy had been describing her hair, not her skin. Caleb let out a shuddering breath. Of course it wasn't Kat. She was five thousand kilometres away in Broome, not in a stinking Melbourne alleyway. And if he'd stopped to think for a second, he would have remembered that.
A quick exchange of money between the pair, and Sniffy shuffled away. Just a delivery boy. So who was the woman? She was young, probably early twenties, carrying a brown handbag and wearing a red cotton dress that looked as though it would smell of incense. Dark alley, vulnerable young woman – it had to be some kind of a con. Walk away. But he glanced at the crumpled receipt in his hand.
'How do you know my name and address?'
Red launched into speech, but her face was deep in shadow. It was brighter out on the footpath – he'd be able to see her mouth there. And her hands.
'Move onto the street,' he said. 'It's too dark in here.'
She shook her head and pressed herself against the wall.
Well, he wasn't waiting around for someone to walk up behind him with an iron bar.
'OK,' he said. 'Find yourself another mark.'
He turned away, and she darted forward and grabbed his arm. Her trembling hand was slick with sweat. Impossible to fake that kind of fear. Or for him to feel like more of an arsehole. She was gesturing urgently, pressing her hands together and pulling them towards herself. A familiar movement, as though she was signing the word 'help'.
'You know Auslan?' he signed.
Red stared at him as though he'd performed a circus trick. Not a signer, then, just someone who'd learned a word. Which meant she probably knew more about him than his name and address.
'Help?' he said out loud. 'You need help?'
A rapid nod. 'I ... and ... said you'd help.'
'Who said I'd help?'
'... and ... you ...'
This was hopeless; he'd have to get her to write everything. He reached for his phone, but his hand dug into the empty pocket of his running shorts. Shit: no phone. Just him and his stupid desire to be alone when he ran.
'Have you got a phone?' he asked. 'Something to write with?'
She shook her head and attempted another sign. It was the wrong hand-shape, but it looked a lot like ...
'Do that again,' he said.
Two fingers against two fingers, a twist of her wrists: 'family'.
Family? A brother he barely knew and an almost-ex-wife avoiding him in Broome.
'Anton?' he asked. 'Kat?'
More headshaking, more incomprehensible speech. Something about bees? No, that couldn't be right.
He tried for a gentle tone. 'Look, I can't understand you. My flat's around the corner. Do you want to go there? Or I can take you to the cops.'
Her eyes widened, staring behind him. He spun around. A man was pounding up the alleyway towards them. Thickset, with short, blond hair and a dark swirl of tattoos up his arms and neck. Caleb threw himself backwards and caught the edge of the blow on his forehead. Falling. Down on his knees, head to the cobblestones. Up, get up. He levered himself to his feet. The man was dragging Red away, his arm locked around her neck. No thought, just motion: five steps and a fist to the man's kidney. Caleb's knuckles hit solid muscle. The man staggered and dropped Red, swung around. A calculating look as he took in Caleb's equal height but lack of kilos. His fist clenched. Caleb ducked the punch with reflexes born of a thousand playground fights. Quick, go for the kneecap. An awkward movement, mistimed, but his foot hit the side of the man's knee with a sickening jolt. Down like a felled tree.
Red. Where was Red? Caleb sprinted to the street. There she was, running towards Alexandra Parade. Good, there'd be people, lights, cars. He ran after her. Fitzroy Police Station was only a few blocks away – he'd get her there and work out what the fuck was going on. She was at the intersection, scanning for a break in the traffic.
'Stop,' he called, nearly at her side. 'It's safe here.'
Her head whipped around and she stepped back, her eyes focused behind him again. Shit, the blond man was only metres away, charging past him towards Red. She threw up her arms and stumbled backwards off the kerb.
Caleb lunged for her.
A fleeting touch of skin, then a flash of white, the smell of diesel and brake pads. She slammed against the van's bonnet. Into the air. Down.
An endless moment.
People were running. And he ran, too. Red was sprawled on the road, her arms flung wide. Blood. Blood everywhere. Bubbling from her lips and darkening her dress. He'd been here before, seen the spreading pool, smelled its iron sweetness.
Her lips were moving.
'... the be ... got the be ...'
He made himself touch her cheek. Cold beneath the slick warmth of her blood.
'It's OK. Help's coming.'
Her eyes held his: sea green and rimmed with pale lashes. A fierce brightness that flickered, dulled and faded.
Then nothing.CHAPTER 2
He made his statement in a soulless grey room at the Fitzroy Police Station. Eyes gritty, a dull ache squeezing his temples. The young policewoman questioning him was a hard read, with rigid lips and a tight jaw. She wasn't too impressed by him, either. She'd been through his statement twice now, querying each sentence, her eyebrows drawing together at his answers. He didn't blame her for her wariness. His image in the two-way mirror looked like it should be on a wanted poster: hollow-cheeked and unshaven, a wildness to his dark hair and eyes. Probably slurring his words too, exhaustion stripping all those years of speech therapy from his tongue.
He was going through the events for the third time when the constable stood without warning. A moment of confusion until she strode to the door. Right, someone knocking. Hopefully someone with a couple of painkillers.
It was a large man with granite-like features and close-cropped hair. Uri Tedesco: friend, life-saver, cop. Caleb had texted him from the station's sticky-handled public phone to explain why he'd stood him up for Friday night drinks, but hadn't asked him to come. A flash of anger that the big man had assumed he'd need help.
Tedesco shot him an unreadable look, then spoke to the constable. The pair of them batted words back and forth, too fast for him to catch. Conversational ping-pong – his least favourite sport. He stared at the table until Tedesco waved to get his attention and said, 'You're right to go.'
The young cop wasn't looking too happy, but homicide detective trumped constable every time. Particularly a homicide cop who'd had the temerity to kill a bent colleague and stay in the job. Caleb gave her a nod and followed Tedesco through the station.
Outside, the air was like a sick dog's breath.
'You didn't have to come,' Caleb said.
Tedesco's gaze flicked across his bloodied running clothes. 'I was out of beer. Figured there'd be some at your place.'
* * *
Caleb showered while Tedesco got started on a beer. A long shower, with plenty of soap. He dressed and hunted for his hearing aids, finally found them under a book in the bedroom. They were small and pale, almost invisible beneath his dark hair. They amplified every unwanted sound and only gave hints of speech, had to be cleaned and replaced and adjusted and paid for. But without them there was nothing – no faint words or murmuring tones, just gaping mouths and guesswork. He never wore them on a run. Never took his phone or his notebook or even a fucking pen. Would Red still be alive if he did? Maybe. Probably.
Tedesco was out on the apartment's shitty balcony, halfway through a stubby of Boag's. Caleb slumped into a chair and opened a beer.
'Not your year,' the detective said.
Seven months since he'd stumbled blindly into an investigation that had ended with his best mate murdered and Kat badly injured. Since his business partner had betrayed him. Understatement was one of Tedesco's stronger suits. Caleb took a long drink, then put the bottle down. Enough. People having very bad years didn't have the luxury of drowning their sorrows, not if they wanted some semblance of a life.
A sudden realisation that it was January and the new year had begun. God.
Caleb nudged the bottle further away. 'What did you find out?'
Tedesco paused, probably consulting his inner censor. 'Not much. No handbag or ID. And no one's reported her missing.'
'She had a handbag. I told them. Did they look for it?'
'Nah, just shrugged and went home.' Tedesco drained his beer and set the bottle on the table. 'You definitely didn't know her? Not an old neighbour or something?'
'No.' He had a fierce memory for faces, but he'd never seen hers. Not in the street or in a shop, not even in a photo. Which meant she wasn't a local.
His phone buzzed in his back pocket. A message from Kat.
— I've checked. No one thinks they know her. You OK? x K
Damn. He'd gone straight to his phone when he got home. Standing in the entrance hall, hands still crusted with blood. It hadn't taken long: one text to his brother, Anton, in Resurrection Bay, and one to Kat. A description of Red and a bloodless version of her death, a plea for them to tell him if they'd sent her. Neither of them had. Kat's ring-around of her family in the Bay had been his last hope.
He resisted the temptation to prolong the exchange, and sent a quick reply.
— Thanks heaps. All good. x C
Tedesco waved. 'Any joy?'
Only the sight of that 'x'. A sympathy kiss, but a kiss nonetheless.
He shook his head, and Tedesco reached for a second beer. 'Guess that's that, then.'
Caleb roused himself. In the seven months he'd known Tedesco, he'd discovered that the man wasn't a big talker, sharer of secrets or believer in late nights. Caleb probably had one more beer and four more questions before the detective took himself home to bed.
'Have they got any leads on the guy who was chasing her?' Caleb asked.
Tedesco paused for another ethics committee meeting. 'No. No one else noticed him. They'll get her picture onto the news and do another doorknock tomorrow, see if they can jog anyone's memory.'
'That's it? A doorknock and a photo?'
'More than usual for a traffic accident.'
'It wasn't an accident.'
'Mate, half a dozen witnesses, one of them a QC, saw her step in front of that van.'
'So Red just decided to play with traffic on a whim? Her death's got nothing to do with the big bloke chasing her?'
'Better than Jane Doe.'
Tedesco's grey eyes fixed on him. The detective was only a couple of years older than Caleb's thirty-one, but his Sphinx-like expression was aeons old. 'You're a country boy, you ever raise an orphaned animal?'
'I lived in town,' Caleb said. 'The only thing I raised was a rabbit.'
'I was eight the first time I did it. A spring lamb. He slept in my room so I could feed him. Did a good job of fattening him up, too. I called him Toby.' Tedesco tilted his head. 'Reckon you can guess how that story ends.'
Caleb stayed silent.
Tedesco drained his beer to the last couple of inches. 'Let it go, mate. It was a shitty experience, but the more I hear about it, the more I think you were just a mark.'
Tell him about today's break-in? The possible break-in, possibly today. A loose grip on time and specifics these days. There was no proof that anyone had been in his flat, just a bathroom door left ajar, a sense of stale air disturbed. He'd had the same feeling a few times over the past couple of weeks.
'She knew my name,' he said. 'Knew some signs.'
Tedesco lifted a shoulder. 'Good groundwork on her part. And everyone knows one or two signs.'
Not the people he met. A scant few people in his life knew any Auslan, and only two of them were fluent. His parents hadn't learned a word.
'You don't,' he said.
Tedesco smiled, the look of a smug student catching a teacher in a mistake. He circled a fist in front of his face and then formed a diamond with his thumbs and forefingers.
Caleb choked on a laugh. 'Jesus, where'd you learn that?'
The smirk slipped from Tedesco's face. 'What? Why?'
Ant, it had to be Ant. Who except Caleb's brother would have taught a member of the force to call himself a pig's cunt?
'First lesson.' Caleb slid two fingers across his forearm. 'That's the sign for "cop". Second lesson, don't trust Ant. What were you trying to say?'
'That I –' Tedesco coughed. 'Never mind.' He finished his beer and stood. 'Bedtime.'
Caleb checked the time: 12.14 a.m. Long, long hours to go before dawn. Be a bit pathetic to beg Tedesco to stay and keep the monsters at bay.
He walked the detective to the door and paused with it half open. Red had known she was dying. That look in her eyes: desperation and pain, terror. He'd seen that look before. The memory of it lurked just beneath his thoughts, leaching to the surface in unguarded moments.
'Can you tell me if you find out her name?' he asked.
Tedesco shook his head. 'As my mum'd say – that'd just end in tears and a nice Sunday roast.' He slapped Caleb on the shoulder. 'Take care of yourself. And tell your shit of a brother to watch his back.'
Caleb wandered into the living room. He'd caught Tedesco's quick frown at his surroundings as they'd walked to the door. It was hard not to see the place through the man's clinical gaze: the hand-me-down orange furniture and un-vacuumed carpet, the patchy coat of white paint that Caleb had slapped on the walls in a burst of 3 a.m. energy. The thick layer of dust. Only the neat filing cabinets and organised desk saved it from being a hovel, and they didn't lend much to the ambience.
Trust Works had been shaky in the months after Frankie's betrayal, with no new clients coming in and plenty of old ones leaving. For some reason companies seemed reluctant to hire a fraud investigator whose business partner had been a lying, drug-addicted criminal. So he'd given up the shiny office and set up in the flat, taken on more quick-turnaround work: background checks and due diligence cases. Jobs that required hours in front of the computer and minimal human contact. Jobs he could do alone. Nothing was lined up for the next few days, though. Just him in the flat with the endless, empty hours.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "And Fire Came Down"
Copyright © 2017 Emma Viskic.
Excerpted by permission of Bonnier Zaffre Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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