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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Crimson Lake

A Novel

Candice Fox; read by Euan Morton

Macmillan Audio

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

I didn’t know Sean was there until his shadow fell over me. I jolted, grabbed my gun. I’d fallen asleep in my usual place on the porch, spread out against the wall on an old blanket. For a moment I thought an attack was coming.

“This is a sorry sight,” my lawyer said. The morning light was already blazing behind him.

“You look like an angel,” I said.

“What are you doing sleeping out here?”

“It’s glorious,” I groaned, stretched. It was true. The hot nights on the porch behind the mosquito netting were like a dream. The roll of distant thunder. Kids laughing, lighting fires on the faraway bank. The old blanket was about as thick as the mattress I’d had in segregation.

Sean looked around for a chair on which to place his expensively fabricked backside. When he didn’t see one he went to the step, put the coffees he’d been carrying and the bag on his elbow on the wood and started brushing off a spot. Even in the Cairns humidity there was some silk in his ensemble, as always. I sat up and joined him, scratched my scalp awake. I’d placed Woman and her young in the cardboard box turned on its side in a corner of the porch, a door made out of a towel. The big goose hissed at the sound of us from behind the towel and Sean whipped around.

“Don’t tell me—”

“It’s a goose,” I said. “Anser domesticus.”

“Oh, I thought it was a snake.” The lawyer gripped at his tie, flattened and consoled it with strokes. “What the hell have you got a goose for?”

“Geese, actually. It’s a long story.”

“They always are with you.”

“What are you doing up here? When did you get here?”

“Yesterday. I’m heading to Cairns, so I thought I’d stop by. Got a sexual assault defendant who’s jumped bail. I’m going to try to talk him back down. Everybody flees north.”

“If you’ve got to hide, it’s better to do it where it’s warm.”

“Right.” Sean looked at me. “Look, good news, Ted. Not only have I brought my favorite client a delightful care package, but as of this morning your assets are officially defrosted. They took the block off your bank account this morning.”

“Just in time,” I said. “I’m down to my last few bucks. Those birds are officially the most expensive thing I own.”

The white-haired man handed me a plastic bag of goodies. Inside were a couple of paperbacks and some food items. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about my fridgeless state. There was an envelope of forms as thick as a dictionary in the bag. He took one of the coffees and handed it to me. It smelled good, but it wasn’t hot. There wasn’t anything at all within twenty minutes’ drive of the house, certainly nowhere that made a decent cup of coffee. It didn’t matter. The scary forms and the cold coffee couldn’t possibly dampen my joy at seeing Sean. There were about twenty-one million people in Australia who believed I was guilty of my crime. And one silk-clad solicitor who didn’t.

“I imagine there’s something in that envelope from Kelly,” I said.

“Adjustments to the divorce settlement. Again. Semantic stuff. She’s stalling.”

“It’s almost as though she wants to stay married to me.”

“No. She just wants to watch you wriggle.”

I sipped the coffee and looked at the marshlands. It was flat as glass out there, the mountains on the other side blue in the morning haze.

“Any sign of…?” I cleared my throat.

“No, Ted. No custody inclusions. But she doesn’t have to rush, she can do that any time.”

I stroked my face. “Maybe I’ll grow a beard,” I said.

We considered the horizon.

“Well, look at you. I’m proud of you,” Sean said suddenly. “You’re a single, handsome, thirty-nine-year-old man starting all over again with a rental house and a few too many pets. You’re not really that much worse off than a lot of guys out there.”

I snorted. “You’re delusional.”

“Serious. This is your opportunity for a do-over. A clean slate.”

I sighed. He wasn’t convincing either of us.

“So are they guard geese?” he asked, changing the subject.

I had to think for a moment what he meant.

“The Nazis used geese to guard their concentration camps,” he explained.

“That so?”

“Can I take a look?”

I waved. He approached the box cautiously, squatted and lifted the towel with manicured fingers. He wore houndstooth socks. Probably alpaca. I heard Woman squeal from the gloomy depths. Sean laughed.

“Wowsers,” he said.

“All still alive?” I asked.

“Looks like it.” Sean glanced at me. “You looking for work?”

“Not yet. Too soon.”

The little geese pipped and shuffled around in the box. Claws on cardboard. He left them alone.

“Would you do me a favor?” Sean said.

“Probably.”

“Would you check out a girl in town named Amanda Pharrell?”

“Would I check out a girl?” I looked at him, incredulous.

“A woman,” Sean sighed and gave me an apologetic smile. “Will you pay a visit to a woman in town?”

“Who is she?”

“Just a woman.” Sean shrugged.

“What do I want to visit her for?”

“You’re full of questions. Stop asking questions. Just do what I tell you. She’ll be good for you, that’s all. Not to date. Just to meet.”

“So it’s not romantic in any way.”

“No,” Sean said.

“Then what the hell is it?”

“Jesus, Ted,” he laughed, before offering an adage he’d used many times during my trial prep. “I’m your lawyer. Don’t ask me why. Just do it.”

I made no commitment.

We sat for a while talking about what he was doing in Cairns and how long he’d stay. Sean was sweating through his linen trousers. His poreless nose was burned already by the sneaky tropical sun, slowly cooking the unwary Sydney man through the wet air. I’d managed a nut-brown tan just trudging around the property for a month, walking to the shopping center to buy Wild Turkey. I hoped I’d fit in eventually. That I’d grow safely unrecognizable from the man who had graced the cover of the Telegraph for weeks at a time, the broad-shouldered ghoul in a suit hanging his head outside the courthouse, pale from jail. A beard might do it, I thought. And time. I’d need plenty of time.


Copyright © 2017 by Candice Fox