IN THE LAST SUNGLOW of twilight, a motorcycle thrummed into town along the beach road. No one noticed, if an absence of porch lights turning on meant anything.. Maybe everyone was on their back porches watching the orange tipped waves on the shore while sculling back a beer.
On their store verandah, Singh and his wife were hauling in display racks before locking up. They never looked up from their work as he polished the windows while she swept the floor. They closed the door and turned off the lights - except one, near the back.
Two baches farther along the brothers Brimmon were leaning against the bottle-o’s verandah posts, in the shadows cast from the dim bulb above the door and hiding their crate from the view of their uncle across the road. As the bike’s hum closed in, two fag butts hit the floor, two booted feet silently stubbed out their glow.
The rider pulled in onto the faint glow from the shop. Kicking the bike onto its stand, he dismounted. He reached into the pouch of the backpack behind, and drew out a torch.
Then the helmet came off, revealing the slight face of a woman. “Anyone still here?” Her voice was almost loud in the silence of sunset.
A second light came on, nearer to the door in the shop.
She removed her helmet and flicked a floral cap from inside her jacket onto her head. Striding onto the verandah, heels beating a strong rhythm on the sub-bleached floorboards, she stood where Singh would see her. Through the door, she gave a two-handed salute of peaceful intention and took a respectful step back.
Singh opened the door wide, and greeted her. “Namaste, miss.”
“Namaste. Sat sri akaal” She bowed her head. “Mahid sent me.”
In one moment, the door was open wide, Singh’s wife was hugging the rider, Singh was pulling her inside, they were chuckling together … and the door was closed. Within another moment, all store lights were off, and the windows on the second floor were blazing with light for the seconds it took for curtains to be drawn.
If anyone had watched further, they would have seen the Brimmon brothers stroll to the bike, fondle it, sit astride it, and then slit open the flap of the backpack, and jimmy the locks of the side saddles.
But then ... nobody else was about
IN THE FIRST BRIGHTNESS of the morning, the beach glowed bright. The white sand, reflecting the sun, threw light up under the top growth of the pohutukawa trees along the ridge of the narrow dunes. The leaves glowed in a mosaic of green and shadow. Around and below the trees, clusters of pampas grass thrust their white flower heads up towards the sun, ripening their seeds. At their bases, sprawling ground covers lay between dried seed-heads, shell fragments, and the rare crisp packet.
The hush of flat waves washing the shoreline was peaceful, as it had been all night. The rare cry of the resident gulls from the cliffs farther along the bay was a pleasant break to the rhythm of the day. The breeze’s soft whisper among the pampas was a delicate bass note to the local song. On the sands between the baches and the water, children’s chuckles and cries added a different pitch.
The occasional mother watched from her porch, or her garden seat safely on the home side of the unpainted narrow picket fence, her children playing -- or those of her next door’s. Occasional, because once reassured all was well, she would retreat to her kettle and teapot in the kitchen.
Soon enough, only the children remained on the beach. Groups of little ones, and, well separated groups of ‘tweenagers sat or played on, moving all the time. Up the beach, along the beach, down the beach to the water, back up the beach.
Eventually, almost inevitably, three girls managed to move unnoticed into the dunes. Just for a chat, most likely about boys. They found a hollow and settled in. Chatter back and forth, nothing of importance. Pleasurable silences served as change signals between subjects of note. Their voices were low, their mood was companionable, their time was sociable…
Until one scooted closer to the heaped sand at the foot of a pampas clump. As she leaned back, she raised herself again.
“Bugger there’s a rock…” and she dug her fingers into the bulge that had bumped her back. “Hang on.” She swept sand aside. “It’s black.” Swept more. And bounced up and to her feet, pointing.
“It’s a boot!”
Her friends teased her, joked. “You read too many detective books!”
“Don’t be stu—“ The girl with glasses squealed and pointed. “Aargh! It is a boot!”
As the girl whose weariness had been interrupted - Sara -- swept away more sand, she revealed the heel, the laces, the socks, a hairy leg…
“Run! Run and tell Mr Singh!”
“No! Run and tell your Mum!”
“What good will that do? Mr Singh’s the only one with a telephone! Run!”
The bespectacled girl, Irene, sprinted off. In less than a heartbeat, the other two followed.
Anywhere was better than here.
Between sundown and sunup…
IN THE NINE O’CLOCK DARKNESS, the woman was seen leaving the shop, and its upstairs lights were switched off. She didn’t bother with wearing her helmet, didn’t check her backpack or saddle bags, didn’t use the bike’s lights. Holding the torch in one hand as she gripped the handlebar and walked it across the road and onto a grassed empty section, heading for the dunes.
She chained her bike to the telephone pole rail at the boundary, and only then did she discover the vandalism. Shits! A quick and careful examination of the floral backpack - spreading the slash wide and peering in, taking snapshots with her fone… Bastards! The right saddle bag - a snap of the lock, a snap of the first view inside, then a quick rummage through her now tainted personal belongings… Bloody hell! Not touching them anymore!
The left saddle bag. The one in which she kept what she needed to snatch and grab. The one with the unnoticeable easy flip lid for instant access. A blip from her belt buckle popped it. She snapped the damaged but not broken lock - that was good news. A quick one-fingered poke among her collection… Thank heavens, Nothing touched. After dusting a haze of talcum powder over everything, a light sweeping with a soft brush, a puff of breath, a few close focus snaps. Send them to the lab first thing in the morning.
Taking only her backpack and the blanket roll from the pillion, she stepped over the pole and disappeared among the pampas.
Sleeping rough. At my age…
Shut up. You’re well used to it.
UNDER THE STARLIGHT of midnight, two men could have been seen by the light of the moon, walking carefully along the beach just below the dunes. Could have been seen, if anyone were out and about. Hoodied up, trackies, bovver boots… and one torch, its lens covered by an elastic gripped piece of nylon stocking. Its pale glow was all the extra light they’d need, should they enter the dunes and pampas…
The Brimmon brothers - in hiding at their dad’s cottage, from the police back in the city. Wanted for aggravated robbery, assault and rape charges, they’d had to give up their social life to keep their mates out of the picture. One boring, chilling winter of drafts at every door, icicles on the bathroom exposed pipes, and a lack of heating. They could have chopped firewood of course. But as they didn’t, Dad had taken the one-bar electric heater into his own room, leaving them the back verandah. Hard labour in the spring fixed up the old man’s house - fitting ceiling and underfloor insulation, new tighter window panes - and earned them an electric heater in the sitting room cum kitchen.
Their only cash was the monthly cheque from the boss back in the city - and for that they had to go and play nice with Mr Singh. If they acted all bully-like, he’d claim he had no cash. And dad had threatened to dob them in if they robbed anyone in the village.
But an opportunity had come.
Between midnight and dawn
USING THE MOONLIGHT was easy enough. Her light now strapped to her head helped. She found her way in, among and around the pampas in the dunes. She could have found a more comfortable hollow, but it was late, she was cold, and wanted to be under cover as quickly as she could be. The hollow she chose was narrow, but the ways to and from it were covered by empty shells… burned ashes and detritus showed signs of a long ago boilup. She probably figured the empty shells and carapaces would signal if anyone approached, and maybe she scattered some from the centre out along the paths of sand. No one would really know, except the local kids who played in the dunes. But then...who can tell whether a kid is remembering or inventing?
She arranged her belongings. With her backpack and items from the quick-grab saddlebag where her head would be, she pulled a thin groundsheet from the pack, rolled herself in it and curled up, her feet towards the pathways. In five, she was asleep.
Pampas rustling. Heavy breathing. A whispered curse. A soft crack.
The Brimmons always made their way as per. Ted, the younger and lighter, would have been in front - ready to take the first hit. Thomas, the elder and heavier would have been behind him as backup - hefty, solid, mean backup. They would have been easy enough to spot, if anyone else had been there to see them enter the hollow.
With Tommy behind, it was Ted who copped the kick as he closed in on the heaped blanket in the middle. Whoever was there managed to throw the blanket over his head and shove him back. He tripped over his own feet, his hobnails scraping down the side of his own calf muscle. The bruise would be obvious when it was seen.
By the time Tom barged past him, fists raised and one holding a knife - blade up like an amateur - there was no sign of the girl they’d been stalking. He dragged his kid brother to his feet, and signalled -- You go left, I’ll go right. He stepped around the clump, the blade out in front of him.
Until it was chopped from his hand. That is, with his hand. As it fell to the ground, his stump gushing, his scream was cut short - as was his throat. He folded down on himself, the blood pooling black in the moonlight.
A rustle of grass on sand. Ted slowed. “Tom?” Nothing.
Can you say a flash of a shadow? Well, too bad, because that was all he would have seen. He spun around, coming face to face with - a fucking black ghost! Over his head, a moonlit flash of silver - a friggin’ sword!
There’s not much anyone can do with a sword at your adam’s apple. He froze, and watched her stepping closer. He may have thought, if he’d noticed her arm bent at the elbow, he’d have a chance of knocking it away. He slowly started to lift his left arm…
“I’m close enough to ram this through your neck. Stand still. Drop the duster.”
The knuckle duster landed silently, and was kicked well out of sight and reach, into the sand, as she grabbed his arms from behind and - a figure-of-eight zip-cord held his elbows, and another his wrists. His rotator cuffs would have been shooting pain into his shoulders and neck.
He could have landed face-down, if he’d not guessed it was coming and turned his face side on at the kick to the back of his knees.
With one knee on his back, she tickled his ear with the blade. “You’ve been snooping into my things, following me, now disturbing me.” Not a question.
“Tom. Where’s Thomas?”
“Bleeding out around the other side.”
“What did you do? What have you done?”
“Not much. Yet.”
Ted was gasping as his breathing quickened in panic. He couldn’t do much now, knowing his brother was gone.
“Tell me… who do you think you were following?”
“Dunno. It was Tom’s idea. He.. Ow! ...We reckoned you must be rich with the flash bike. And, and calling in at Singh’s, the thieving bas- Aargh!” The slap of the blade against his face would have been impossible to ignore.
“No. There’s more to it than greed. Keep talking.”
He said nothing, until she dragged on the ties at his wrists, arcing his back as his shoulder protested. He whispered, “He… he wanted something. You.”
The chill of her voice in his ear would have frozen any nerves left - “Me.”
“Yeah. You. For… you know.”
“Well, now, that’s not going to be how this works.” She scooted off him. “Get up.”
He managed, somehow. She pushed him down to sit on the sand, and he drew his feet in close, dropped his head, avoiding looking at her. Suddenly his wallet was in her hands.
She must have found what was in it, as it would be empty, if it were ever found.
“Two driver’s licences. You’re either Ted Brimmon, or… Charles Theodor. Which is it? Never mind, I already know. Gun license - two, Ted and Charles. Why am I not surprised? Forty in notes. Nothing else.”
She reached past him, and there was a steel water flask. She poured a capful, and watched him as she drank. He licked his lips - thirsty, sand in his mouth.
“I know about you, Teddy-boy. Little man, but a thinker. A planner. The paperwork merchant. Stuck with the blundering Tommo, the big, blundering bugger who’d slash a girl’s face for the right price. Xenophobic, careless, clumsy - enough to lose your car. A big Ford, blue, left-front seat taken out for the dog’s cages - that’s it, right?”
She wouldn’t have needed him to nod or agree out loud. She was always right.
Reaching her fone from a rear pocket, she tapped out a message and hit [send]. A second or two and ‘ping’. She glanced at the reply, closed the phone and pocketed it again while standing up and over him.
“Bloody pity of it is - there’s no price on you alive. And worse, I have to leave in ten. Goodbye.”
Between 1 a.m. and sunrise…
IN CLOUD-COVERED DARKNESS, a figure might have been seen appearing from between the pampas, crossing the last sand dune, stepping over the rail, and packing things into motorcycle saddlebags. If anyone was there to see…
She stepped into her leathers, drew her full-face over her head and fastened the chin-strap, and unlocked the chain. Walking it out and off the roadside grassed ‘car park’, under the broken street light, she turned left onto the road out of town.
She walked it for twelve minutes, passing the village’s outermost house tucked inland a hundred yards deep into the bush beside the road. The family inside could have heard the engine, if Dad wasn’t a loud snorer.
Firing it up with a savage kick, the engine purred into life. A moment later, and the bike and its rider were out of there, only a handful of people ever knowing she’d been in town.
And none of them would be talking.