She was walking down the road not far from my rented old farmhouse, hitchhiking. I don’t normally give people a lift, but she looked so hot in her little denim shorts and crop top how could I resist? I’m just a man after all. And I’m a nice bloke. Some evil person could have come along, picked her up and she would never be seen again. I was doing a good deed. Protecting her from dangerous people with devious minds. A knight in shining armour, that’s me.
I asked where she was going and she giggled. Said she didn’t know. Where was I going? She’d go with me. I said okay. She grabbed her backpack, and got in the ute.
I’d known her for about three months. ‘Let’s disappear,’ she’d whispered in my ear.
‘What?’ I mumbled as I tried to kick-start my brain through the early morning fug.
‘Let’s just disappear. We could go off without telling anyone. No one would ever find us.’
‘Why?’ I asked yawning. ‘Why would we do that?’
‘Why not?’ she asked cheerfully. She had obviously thought about it a bit. I was slowly waking up now and thinking more clearly. ‘Where would we go?’
‘Anywhere we wanted. Let’s buy a map, stick a pin in it randomly, and go there.’
I began to realise she was pretty serious about this.
She avoids talking about her past and I don’t push her. I like her and she likes me and we get along really well. She doesn’t have any money but that’s okay, she doesn’t eat much and doesn’t ask me for anything. I do casual labouring around the place which pays the rent and keeps us fed. She’s got a really nice voice and we sing together while I play my guitar. I get more money busking now because the guys give money just to see her smile. Can’t blame them for that.
She was interested in the newspaper headlines when we were in town buying groceries. Didn’t think much about it at the time. She wanted to watch the TV news that night but again, I didn’t think anything of it. I’m a bit slow on the uptake at times. Later, I remembered it was something to do with a murder and a missing witness.
When we went to bed that night, she snuggled up. ‘Couldn’t you reconsider?’ she asked softly. ‘Couldn’t you just leave this place and find somewhere new and exciting. I think we could be happy together anywhere.’
‘Aw honey, I don’t want to leave here. This is my home town. Where would we live? Where would I get work?’
When I woke in the morning, she was gone. I jumped in my ute and drove like hell up and down the roads searching for her, but she had just disappeared. I drove back home, and dragged myself inside.
I sat at the table staring at my warm beer. She was frightened. I couldn’t see it before but it was plain as day now. I should have protected her. Now she’s alone and on the run.
Funny thing; I was doin’ all right before I knew her. Now my life feels hollow.
I wish I’d disappeared with her.
Jim asked me to help him with his sheep. I was like a zombie walking around and he asked what the hell was wrong with me; said he’d be better off with his three-year-old daughter helping.
I told him. When we had a break he lit up a smoke and asked what I was going to do about it. I said I didn’t know. Suddenly I realised I knew very little about her, except for her name – Melody. Melody Sandford.
I loved that name Melody. It was just who she was, a beautiful song in my heart and my life. She’d changed my life into a happy song. Now I realised how empty the house was without her. How empty my life was without her.
‘So what are you going to do about it?’ Jim asked again.
‘What can I do?’ I said. ‘I have no idea where she is. I don’t know what to do.’
He asked about any places she might have mentioned. On reflection, they were all south of our town. And thinking about it, she was heading north when I picked her up. A spark of hope ignited in my gut and I felt my blood flowing again.
She’d left two days ago and I couldn’t imagine how far she‘d gone. I was afraid for her safety.
Jim said if I cared that much about her, I should take a few days off to try and find her. When I told him about the newspaper headlines and what was on the TV news, he looked worried too.
‘You’d better get your gear together and take off Braxton. You’ll feel really crook if something bad happened to her.’
‘Yeah, you’re bloody right, Jim,’ I said, jumping to my feet. ‘You’ll have to get your three-year-old now mate, because I’m off.’
‘Make sure you keep a low profile mate,’ Jim said. ‘If some bad guys are looking for her, they’ll be making their own enquiries to find out where she is.’
I shook his hand, said I’d probably be back in about a week, and high-tailed it back to my place. I found the map Melody had been looking at. There it was – a faint pencil mark underlining the name of a town about 120ks north of here. Butler.
I heard a car outside. It was Jim, driving his wife’s little hatchback.
‘What’s up Jim,’ I asked as he came in.
‘If they come looking for her and asking around town, someone might tell them about you. They’d be looking for your car. Take Debbie’s car. They’ll never be looking for you in this.
I didn’t want to be rude but, me – drive a little four cylinder hatchback? I looked at my V8 ute; whip antennas on the back; massive roo bar. Stood out in a crowd like dog’s balls in the moonlight.
Yeah. I could see the sense in what Jim was saying. I nodded my head. ‘Thanks Jim. That’s a great idea. If my car’s here, they’ll think I’m somewhere around.’
I grabbed my swag and threw in everything I thought I’d need for a few days. I packed some food and water for the drive; locked the doors, tossed my gear on the backseat and jumped in the little car. Pushed the seat back as far as possible to make room for my legs. It was very ordinary, petrol efficient, blended in with the crowd. A real heap of crap. I rattled down the driveway onto the road and headed north.
If she’d got a lift, they would’ve stopped somewhere for petrol. I pulled into a petrol station to fill up, showed the guy behind the counter the photo I had of Melody on my phone. He didn’t remember her. I stopped at every petrol station, truckie stop or roadside café but no-one remembered seeing her.
I finally reached Butler. Tried the two petrol stations in town but still no luck. I booked into a motel room. After dropping my stuff off, I walked around the streets. I looked into every shop, every café, every takeaway place – nothing. It was late afternoon, and I was feeling disappointed. I told myself to not start losing hope. I’d only been looking for one day. Had something to eat and did another walk around the streets before heading back to my room. Maybe tomorrow would be better.
Then I saw it. Down the road a bit. The little denim shorts that looked so good on her. I started running, swerving around an elderly couple taking a walk. She must have heard my footsteps and turned around. She cringed and a look of fear flashed across her lovely face before she recognised me.
‘Braxton,’ she said throwing herself at my chest and clinging on like a lizard to a gum tree. I held her so tight it’s a wonder her ribs didn’t crack, or she didn’t suffocate. I just wanted her to melt into me so I could protect her, and she’d never be afraid again; and I would never feel hollow again.
She was shaking and crying, asking how I’d found her. She’d got a lift with a female truckie and after being dropped off just outside of Butler, booked into a backpacker’s hostel.
We went back to my motel room and didn’t surface until lunch time the next day.
Melody told me about witnessing a murder. Walking home from a friend’s place one night, she came around a corner where three guys were having a fight. One of them raised his hand above his head. She saw the street lights reflect off a knife blade, watched the hand come down and plunge the knife again and again into the back of one of the guys.
She had to get the hell out of there. As she turned to run back around the corner, one of them yelled and she ran like mad. She ducked down a driveway and around to the back of a house. There were lots of shrubby bushes along the back fence, and she wormed her way into them, laying down flat. Melody lay completely still, trying to slow her ragged breathing.
Heavy footsteps pounded down the drive and around to the back of the house. The dog next door started barking at the fence; a light came on in the house, and the intruder ran back to the street. She heard sirens; probably an ambulance and a cop car. A car started up and she heard it accelerate away. She stayed where she was until her legs stopped feeling like jelly.
The wounded man was taken to hospital in a serious condition. He told the police that a girl had seen what happened but ran off. He didn’t survive the night. Police were appealing to the public for information and for the witness to come forward.
‘The thing is,’ she said, ‘I recognised the guy with the knife. He’s one of the local drug dealers. I’m too scared to tell the police in case the guy comes after me. What can I do?’
Melody hurried back to the house she shared with two flatmates. They were both asleep, so she shoved everything she could into her knapsack and quietly left. The main highway north was not far away so she headed in that direction. There was a bus station on the highway and she bought a ticket without even thinking about the destination.
While she was waiting for the bus, she wondered how long it would be before her flatmates realised she was gone. Would they report her missing? Would they conclude she was the missing witness?
The bus dropped her off at a T-junction, and Melody started walking along the road. She hadn’t gone very far when she heard a car approaching. It was a ute with a young guy driving. He asked where she was going and she said she didn’t know. He had an honest country boy face, so when he offered her a ride she got in. He said his name was Braxton; she said her name was Melody. He said she could stay with him if she liked, and she said she’d like that.
Braxton had to think. . Protective custody doesn’t always work. Some newspaper could find a photograph of her and splash it all over the front page; everyone and their dog would know who she was. Then the drug dealer’s mates would be after her.
For now, we were safe. I told her to stay in the room with the door locked while I went out for food and drinks. I hung the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the outside doorknob. ‘Lock the door behind me, and don’t answer the door if someone knocks.’
I thought the best thing to do would be to use a payphone to call the local police station, tell them the bare bones of the story and see what they said. Because the motel staff hadn’t seen Melody go into the room, they wouldn’t know she was there if the police made enquiries.
I found a payphone in a shopping mall and called the police station. I told the story to the constable who answered the call. ‘Hang on a minute mate,’ the constable said, ‘I’ll have a word with the Sergeant.’ I hung up and walked back to the motel unit. I’ll find another phone in an hour or so and speak with the Sergeant then.
Melody had relaxed and was happy and chatty again. She kept looking at me like I was some kind of god who had arrived in the nick of time to save her from mortal peril. I now had a purpose in life. To look after Melody. To love her and keep her safe.
My mind instant-replayed that thought – to love her. Yeah. Thinking about it, I could feel it. I did love her. I was awestruck. Me. Just an ordinary bloke, actually loved a woman.
Melody saw the stunned look on my face. ‘What?’
‘I just realised. I love you.’
She looked at me for what seemed like a heck of a long time, then covered my hand with hers. ‘I’ve realised over the past couple of days how much I missed you. I love you too Braxton.’
What a day. It must be the most exciting day in my whole life.
Jim sat on his back verandah having a smoke with his morning coffee. A perfect summer day. Crutching was finished and, hopefully, Braxton would be back in time for shearing. He used to do it himself, but the flock was growing and he was ageing. Braxton was a good bloke, willing to learn and not afraid of hard work. He enjoyed having him around.
A glint of sunlight caught his attention. Shading his eyes with his hand and squinting into the sun he could see the farmhouse where Braxton lived. It looked like a police car in the driveway.
Debbie came out with coffee and biscuits, joining him at the end of the verandah. ‘What’s up love,’ she asked.
‘Looks like a cop car at Braxton’s,’ he answered, leaning on the corner of the house. ‘Wonder what he wants.’
They both stood silently sipping their coffee and watching the farmhouse. The officer knocked at the front door then went round to try the back door. He checked the ute briefly then got back into the police car. They watched to see which way he’d go. As Jim predicted, he turned left and headed towards their property.
Constable Wright: was a good enough young bloke who had single-handedly put a stop to a brawl at the local pub a couple of months ago. Some of the young guns in the district had a lot more respect for him now.
‘G’day,’ he said as he walked over to them. ‘How’s it goin?’ he asked pleasantly.
‘G’day Constable,’ Jim and Debbie replied in unison.
‘Would you like a cuppa love?’ Debbie asked.
‘Yeah, why not. Thanks. Milk no sugar.’ He stepped up on the verandah and Jim shook his hand.
‘Keepin’ ya busy?’ Jim asked as they both sat down.
‘Yeah. Always something to do.’
‘So what can I do for you?’ Jim asked.
Constable Wright inclined his head in the direction of Braxton’s farmhouse. ‘You know where the bloke next door is?’ he asked.
‘Nah,’ Jim said, slowly shaking his head. ‘We don’t keep tabs on each other. Young Braxton gives me a hand now and then, but we don’t socialise. Something wrong?’
‘Just a general enquiry,’ the constable replied. ‘Thanks,’ he said as Debbie put his coffee on the table and sat down.
‘Seen any strangers around? A young woman perhaps?’
‘I dunno know mate,’ Jim said vaguely. ‘We don’t really check what’s goin’ on over there. He in trouble then?’
Constable Wright said, ‘A young woman’s gone missing and Braxton’s been seen in town with someone who matches a description we were given by her flatmate. She’s been singing with him on weekends.’
‘Oh ….. her?’ Jim said. ‘Oh, yeah. Now I know who you mean. She in trouble?’
‘We’re worried about her safety,’ Constable Wright said. ‘If you see her, give us a call,’ handing Jim a card. ‘Thanks for the coffee.’ Jim and Debbie watched as he drove away.
A couple of hours passed before I phoned the police station again. The officer who answered the phone put me straight through to Sergeant Hansen.
We said ‘g’day’ and he listened to what Melody had to say. He told us about matching DNA from the victim to the suspect they had in custody, which had resulted in a full confession. He asked us to come into the station so Melody could write her statement in relation to the incident. He said she wouldn’t have to go to court because of the confession. I said we’d be there in the morning.
The Sergeant told us Melody’s flatmate was worried about her sudden disappearance. When she heard someone had been stabbed nearby and they were looking for a female witness, she put two and two together. She reported Melody missing, gave them a photo, and a search began.
Melody wrote out her statement using my address and phone number for contact. When we went back to the motel, I settled the bill, put our gear in the car and headed for home.
The next morning, we returned Debbie’s car. ‘So how’d you like to be my best man Jim?’
‘What?’ he said.
Melody and I laughed. ‘Yeah. We’re getting married Jim. Sooner the better.’
‘Well I’ll be buggered,’ he said, shaking Braxton’s hand. ‘Yeah mate, I’ll be your best man.’