Deep Waters Chapter 6 by Lydia Penn
The woman whom Justin and Ben had known as “Skippy” tossed restlessly in her sleep. The dreams were returning, the nightmares. She thought she could hear Harold calling in the distance, telling her what to do.
She woke suddenly and sat up in a panic — no, he was still there, snoring peacefully beside her. Dammit, she thought, the sleeping tablets aren’t working any more. She slid out of bed, pulled on her dressing-gown, and went downstairs to make a cup of tea. It was only 2am, and she was wide awake. This is becoming a habit, she thought, as she carried the steaming tea into the lounge where she sat in the darkness staring absently at the lamp illuminating the street outside.
We must move, she thought desperately. Perhaps I’ll feel better if we get out of Melbourne. It’s all right for Harold; it doesn’t affect him, so he just laughs when I tell him my fears, and says I imagine things. Maybe I am, but I feel people are looking at me and wondering, but —.
Her musings were interrupted by a loud male voice calling, “where are you, honey. I want you.”
He always calls me ‘honey’, she thought with a wry smile, but there’s certainly nothing sweet about me! Her thoughts were bitter as, leaving her tea untouched, she made her way back to bed and Harold’s arms; She wanted him too!
“Hush, honey,” he said, “You’ve been having nightmares again. Don’t try to talk. We’re together,” and he began to caress her.
As usual, she responded ardently, in a manner that would have astonished Justin — certainly no ‘ice maiden’ here!
Soon they both fell into a deep sleep, and it was late when they were woken by the sun streaming through the curtains. Again at breakfast, Skippy brought up the subject of leaving Melbourne, but in the light of day, her fears seemed petty, and as usual, Harold merely laughed and returned to reading the newspaper. “You worry too much,” he told her with his engaging smile. “Why don’t you go shopping and buy yourself some new clothes. That always cheers you up, then we can go out to dinner tonight, and you can wear something new.”
Skippy decided to shop in the city where she felt a sense of security at being unknown in the crowd. But as she wandered through the department store, selecting a few garments to try on, she was hailed by a loud voice. “Why, Sandra, fancy seeing you here. How are you?”
She turned and found herself facing Mona Thompson, her neighbour during those early days in Melbourne before she had married Harold. This was the “ice maiden” that Justin would have recognised, as she turned to great Mona with a cool smile, betraying none of the inner turmoil that the unexpected encounter had raised.
“How strange that I should see you today, “went on Mona. “Why, it was only yesterday that a nice young man called at the house. Said he was a journalist and was writing an article on former models and their lives now. Asked me all sorts of questions about you.”
“Really,” said Skippy, panic beginning to rise again even as she maintained her cool, detached manner. “I don’t suppose you could tell him anything very interesting about me. These people are always on the lookout for sensation.”
In spite of her apparent calm, Mona sensed that Skippy was a little disturbed at what she had said, and decided not to tell her what she had actually told Bradley Noakes. So after a few more moments of chit chat they parted, and Skippy fled to the fitting room, where she sat down and tried to think what Mona might have said and if it would have mattered anyway. What did Mona know? So she made her purchases and returned home looking forward to the dinner out that Harold had promised.
However, had she known what actually did become apparent in the conversation between Mona Thompson and Bradley Noakes, she certainly would have been very disturbed indeed!
Six months had passed since Bradley and Avril had first met, and two months since she had returned to England. They had met only twice more before she left Australia, but Bradley had phoned her frequently. Back in England, she had written as she had promised, but although her letters were warm and friendly, they lacked any expression of her longing for him as he longed for her. She was still undecided.
A promotion was in the offing, and Bradley had been kept very busy. But, he now had a few days leave, so after spending a day relaxing and unwinding, he decided to continue his investigation into the life of Mrs Sandra Cummings, nee Purcell. Maybe if I unearth a few more facts to pass on to Avril, it will rekindle her interest to investigate with me, he thought illogically, as he drove to the address where he had learnt Sandra was living prior to her marriage to Harold Cummings.
Although most of the houses were small, the street was pleasantly tree-lined and exuded an air of comfortable affluence. Bradley wondered briefly, how Skippy had afforded to live there, although he had been unable to obtain any details of her financial situation. Hoping to find a neighbour who had lived there three years ago, he knocked at the door of the house to the left of the one where he knew Skippy had lived.
“Why certainly I knew her,” said Mona Thompson, when Bradley had explained his concocted story — an article he was writing about the lives of former models. “But I didn’t know her well,” she added, “and I certainly never knew she had been a model. But actually, I think I played cupid there, as she and Harold met in this house.”
“Really,” said Bradley, trying to conceal his rising excitement. “How did that happen?”
“Well……,” began Mona. She paused, and looked him over, and liked what she saw. “Look here,” she said, opening the door wider, “why don’t you come in and have a cup of tea while I tell you all about it.”
Bradley accepted with alacrity. He was used to such invitations, but this one promised to be extremely productive. He could hardly believe his luck, as he followed her into the small but cosy kitchen, and settled himself comfortably into a chair at the table, as she proceeded to fuss about making the tea.
He got out his notebook as Mona began to talk. She obviously loved gossip and was in her element. She was, he judged, in her late fifties with dyed blonde hair and beady brown eyes which looked myopically at him through thick gold-rimmed glasses. She eased her plump figure into the chair opposite him, as she placed two mugs of steaming tea on the table.
She gave him a friendly smile. “Sugar, young man? No, well you’re sensible,” she said, shovelling two full spoonfuls into her mug. “We knew Harold’s parents quite well,” she began. “We used to attend the races, you know, and Bruce, that’s my husband, got friendly with wth Harold Snr. But we never met his son or Sarah, Young Harold was never interested in the horses, only in spending his father’s money.” She shook her head reprovingly and sipped her tea.
“So tragic, his father’s death, so soon after the loss of his mother,” she continued. “We sent young Harold a condolence card. But we heard nothing from him until about three years ago, when he suddenly phoned and asked if he could come over. We were a bit surprised, but we asked him to dinner, and after that — it was after Sarah’s death too, of course — he used to come here regularly. Funny though, he never talked about himself, but he asked a lot of questions about the district. We wondered if he was planning to move here, but never did.”
“And,” prompted Bradley, absentmindedly helping himself to a shortbread biscuit from the plate in front of him. “When did Sandra come to live next door and meet Harold?”
“Oh, that was just a coincidence,” said Mona, “The house was to be leased for a year, as the family was going overseas. They were lucky. She told me that they got a tenant straight away, which was Sandra. She moved in two months after she took the lease. But we hardly saw her. She never went out during the day, but always at night. I thought she must be a waitress or have a job in a bar, something like that.”
“How did she meet Harold?” asked Bradley again, filling his notebook and trying to keep her on track.
“Well,” said Mona, “I was having this small dinner party, quite casual, you know, and I asked Harold. Then a day or two earlier, as I was unloading all the groceries from the car, Sandra came out and offered to help me. I told her I was having a dinner party, and she said something about it being nice to have so many friends, and she looked so forlorn that I just asked her to join us.”
“I see,” said Bradley thoughtfully. Actually, he saw a lot more than Mona realised! He asked a few more pertinent questions, but he sensed that she was becoming curious, so he thanked her profusely and left before she began to suspect the real reason for his call. He now had plenty of food for thought, but it was lunchtime, so he went in search or more solid food to fill his stomach.
He found the local shopping centre and located a small cafe on a corner which looked quite congenial. As he entered, he noticed a girl sitting at a window table, who looked vaguely familiar. She looked up as he approached and smiled. “Hello, Brad,” she greeted him.
Bradley stopped. He met many people in the course of his work and prided himself on his good memory for faces. He smiled back and held up his hand. “Don’t tell me,” he said as he studied her — long blonde hair and wide grey eyes. “I know,” he said after a moment. “Jessica, the wedding in Sydney. We sat at the same table. That’s where I met you before,”
That will do for starters, thought Jessica, as she indicated the vacant chair opposite her. “Please join me.” As Bradley sat down, she thought back to that evening, when he had attached himself to the group outside the marquee. She remembered how piqued she had been when he showed such obvious interest in Avril and had danced so closely with her all night. What was the situation now, she wondered. Was this her opportunity?
Bradley broke into her thoughts. He had been studying the menu, and he now looked up at her. “What are you doing here? I thought you lived in Sydney.”
“No, I live here,” she said, “and work as a travel consultant. I was born and brought up in Melbourne. But yes, I did live in Sydney for a while when Dad had a transfer there with the bank. My parents are still there.” She put down her empty coffee cup. “Do you live nearby?” she asked.
“No, I don’t know this area at all,” said Bradley, “I was just here doing a bit of investigation, — the nosy journalist!”
“Of course,” said Jessica and laughed.” I remember you and Avril were busy discussing a little investigation that evening too.”
The fencing had begun!
Bradley was adept at parrying questions which he didn’t want to answer, while Jessica, as a salesperson, knew how to thrust to get the information she needed. He wanted to conceal details of his relationship with Avril, the girl he intended to marry, while Jessica was equally determined to explore Avril’s relationship with Bradley — the man she intended to marry!
She chose her next words carefully. “I hear from Avril that they are well settled back in England. I know she was looking forward to going back. I don’t think she ever really settled in Australia.”
Bradley parried the unspoken question. “How did you come to know Avril?” But at that moment a waitress appeared to take their order, and he turned his attention back to the menu. “I’m starving,” he announced with a grin. “It seems ages since breakfast. Will you join me for lunch, Jessica?”
“Thanks, I’d love to,” she replied, concealing the fact that she had just finished a very belated breakfast. “Something light — just a salad perhaps.”
Bradley placed their orders, with a substantial meal for himself, then returned to his question.
“We met at Business College,” explained Jessica. “My family had just moved to Sydney, and hers had just arrived in Australia. So we kind of palled up — a new city for both of us.”
“Do you work near here?” asked Bradley.
“No, my office is in the city, but I was visiting a client in the area,” Jessica explained and began to discuss her work, preparatory to her next thrust. But glancing at her watch, she realised she needed to get back to the office. She thought quickly. “Look,” she said, “I have to get back to the office. But I’m sure we still have lots to talk about. If you have another spare day, why don’t we meet for lunch next week and chat some more? My shout.” She gave Bradley a dazzling smile.
“Why not,” said Bradley. So they arranged to meet for lunch the following week at a restaurant near the travel agency.
A chance encounter! But what was set in motion that day was to have far-reaching effects in many lives.