Nina Holt woke with a start. Her heart jack-hammered, but instead of gasping for breath like she desperately wanted to, she held it in, kept her eyes closed and didn’t move a muscle. Bad dreams were a regular occurrence, so she felt no need to reach for the bedside lamp to chase away the darkness. Besides, she wouldn’t dare wake Michael.
Lying motionless, she waited for the fog to clear from her mind, waited for reality to seep in and tell her heart there was nothing to fear.
She almost smiled at that ridiculous thought. Almost. There was always something to be afraid of in this house.
Slowly, her other senses returned, revealing something far more unsettling than the fading nightmare.
Nothing except the sound of blood swirling through her ears. Her pulse stuttered. Where was her husband’s steady breathing, his soft snore, the sounds she’d listened to every night for over a decade?
For a sliver of a second, she wondered if he’d died in his sleep, then dismissed the idea. She’d never been lucky, so why would luck bestow a favour upon her now?
No, the room held a discernible emptiness.
Which meant she could move.
As Nina tried to roll onto her back, she discovered her body refused to cooperate. She’d become so conditioned to remaining motionless for fear of waking Michael, she hadn’t noticed that something was terribly wrong when she came out of the nightmare.
The effort to move her legs seemed insurmountable, as if her limbs were being pressed against the bed by an invisible weight, forcing her to use every ounce of concentration to make the appendages obey her commands.
Gradually, her left leg inched toward the edge of the bed, and as it did so, the realisation that she’d experienced this laden sensation before hit her hard. Michael had drugged her.
Although his use of chemicals on her had been few and far between, Michael had always slipped her just enough sedative to keep her conscious, yet totally defenceless. He wanted her to know exactly what he was doing to her. After all, that was part of the fun.
But this time, she couldn’t even remember saying goodnight to her son, let alone climbing into bed, which meant Michael had gone against his nature and given her enough to totally knock her out.
She managed to pry open an eyelid. The illuminated numbers on the bedside clock glowed red. Six minutes past one. That surprised her. If Michael had given her a high dose of the sedative, she should have slept until morning. Maybe the nightmare induced adrenalin rush counter-acted the drug, at least enough to wake her mind, but her body remained useless and heavy.
With immense effort, Nina rolled onto her back. As she caught her breath, she tried to get a sense of whether or not Michael had sex with her while she’d been unconscious. She didn’t ache anywhere, and her underwear was still in place, still dry. Dread filled her. If he hadn’t drugged her for his usual purpose, then why? What was he up to? Where was he?
Like a large spider, she didn’t want Michael anywhere near her, but needed to know exactly where he was at all times. Knowing where he was, what kind of mood he was in was the only way she could anticipate his needs and keep his violence at bay—at least for a moment.
As she contemplated Michael’s reason for drugging her, a terrifying thought bloomed in her mind.
What if Michael had taken Sam away? Hidden him where she had no chance of ever finding him? The thought stole her breath. Sam was the only light in her dark world. If it wasn’t for her son, she would have checked out long ago. Michael knew that all too well. Taking Sam would be his cruellest torture of all.
Nina knew he wouldn’t hurt Sam, that he loved the boy just as much as she did. But because of their affection for each other, Michael could easily convince Sam to play a cruel prank on her. That was his style.
She had to get up and make sure Sam was still in the house. Though she felt like she was at the bottom of the ocean, weighed down by water as thick as molasses, a new surge of adrenalin helped her limbs move more fluidly.
Finally, her feet sank into the thick luxurious carpet. She rose, tested her legs. They were weak but stable enough to hold her weight. As she took silent stilted steps toward the bedroom door, she glanced through the open plantation shutters. The full moon stared back, seemed to mock her with a promise that what waited down the hallway would be everything she feared.
As she crossed the master bedroom’s threshold, she broke into a panicked run. Stumbling along the hallway,
she tripped over her own feet and landed with a thump on the carpet outside Sam’s room.
From the floor, she couldn’t see him.
Using the doorframe to haul herself to her feet, her knees almost buckled when his small form, safely tucked in bed, came into view. She clung to the doorframe with relief. The moon hadn’t been mocking her after all. Instead, it provided enough light to show her that her son was exactly where he should be.
Once her breathing slowed, Nina shuffled into the room, stood beside his bed and watched him sleep.
Only 9-years-old and already handsome. Although she wasn’t sure about the existence of a God, someone was on her side, because every day she was grateful Sam looked nothing like Michael. With blond hair and blue eyes, Nina saw a mixture of herself and Sam’s own uniqueness every time she looked at him. Of course, Sam would be appalled by the very idea. He wanted to look like Michael, wanted to be like Michael.
And day by day, Michael’s behaviour and attitude ingrained itself within her only child.
Sam adored his dad, idolizing him to an extent that made it easy for Michael to drive a solid wedge between herself and her son. It filled her with dread, not only because Sam was becoming a pint-sized version of Michael, but because of the promise she’d made to herself. When Sam was a toddler, she promised that if he ever exhibited even a hint of Michael’s vicious side, she’d have no choice but to take him and run. She might not care what happened to her, but she cared about her son and the type of man he would become. She would risk her life to prevent him growing into a monster.
That didn’t stop fear racing through her heart at the mere thought of running, though. Running would mean bringing down the wrath of not only Michael, but his brother, Greg.
- 2 -
As the Ford Falcon dipped and bumped slowly over the driveway’s uneven surface, Greg Holt leaned forward in the passenger seat and stared through the windscreen. The moon hung in the sky between tall gumtrees bordering the dirt driveway, providing enough illumination to safely navigate the car without headlights. He couldn’t have picked a better night for the task they were about to carry out.
In the driver’s seat, Michael hunched over the steering wheel in an effort to keep the car on course. Only two years separated them. Although that gap meant nothing now, during childhood two years had seemed like a lifetime. Those two years of seniority made Greg feel responsible for protecting Michael from their father’s rages. Those two years had meant a lifetime of beatings taken in Michael’s place.
Now 42-years-old, Greg still protected his little brother. At least, that’s what he let Michael believe. What Michael didn’t know was that years ago Greg discovered how much he enjoyed doing what they were about to do. The intense high he’d experienced after that first time had been better than any drug he’d ever taken, and he’d tried most. Now the opportunity to do it again had presented itself. Although this would be the biggest favour Michael had ever asked of him, the reward would be the same as he’d receive for cancelling a speeding ticket for his brother.
He didn’t mind. The reward was pretty fucking great.
“Here’ll do,” he said.
Michael obediently stopped the car in the middle of the driveway.
Greg popped the glove box and removed the .22 snub-nosed revolver he’d lifted from a dealer five years ago. Already loaded with sub-sonic rounds, the small gun had served him well in the past. It would be just as effective in a few minutes.
Fishing under a folded map he’d been meaning to toss away, he found his badge. When it glinted in the moonlight streaming through the windscreen, he took a moment to admire it. He’d worked hard for that badge. Almost two years ago it merely read Detective. Now the words he’d always wanted to see were indented permanently into the cold, shiny metal.
Sacrifices had needed to be made by those who were competing for the position, but that just made the promotion all the sweeter. He’d won, and those who thought they were smarter, more educated, had lost—big time.
Hanging the badge around his neck, he checked his watch. Half past one. He preferred to do this a little later, around three, when Martin Wenzel would be in his deepest sleep. But Michael insisted he be home before Nina woke. Why argue? He enjoyed giving Michael small victories, letting him think he had the upper hand.
Slipping on a pair of leather gloves, he said, “Give me two minutes, then drive on up.”
“I know what to do,” Michael said.
He wanted to snap back, tell Michael he knew nothing about what they were moments from doing, but only smiled and stepped into the frigid winter night.
His breath plumed in the air, reminding him he was long overdue for a smoke. But that could wait. His craving for what he was about to do far outweighed his need for nicotine.
From the rear seat, he grabbed a folded woollen blanket. All set, he silently closed the door and strode along the remainder of Wenzel’s rural driveway.
As he rounded a bend, the trees shrank away from a clearing, revealing Wenzel’s poorly maintained house. The moonlight reflected the last vestiges of white paint stubbornly clinging to the weatherboard. No lights glowed from the windows. He already knew Wenzel didn’t have a dog or pet of any kind. Even better, he didn’t have a wife or girlfriend either. No, Wenzel was far too busy trying to bring down Tasmania’s Premier to bother with a relationship.
As a leader and organizer of environmental protests, Wenzel had built a substantial network of tree-huggers over recent years. The media, parasites that they were, loved the rowdy protests and hot environmental issues raised by Wenzel every time Michael made a public appearance to discuss his party’s policies. Wenzel had become quite a celebrity in Tasmania, and it seemed nothing could discourage the fucker. Unfortunately for Wenzel, he had no idea who he was dealing with when it came to the Holts.
Greg crept up the concrete steps and stood on the small porch before Wenzel’s front door. Without a sound, he unfurled the woollen blanket and spread it over the concrete porch, as if about to sit down for a picnic.
Heart hammering with excitement, he positioned himself in front of the door and pounded on the hollow wood. The door shuddered in its frame with each strike. When a light came to life along the side of the house, Greg moved closer to the door.
“Martin Wenzel?” he shouted with authority. “Police. Open up.”
Muffled curses and footsteps came from inside. Greg held his badge in front of the peep-hole, tightened his grip on the Glock in his other hand, and waited.
“What the hell?” Wenzel grumbled as the door swung open.
In a flash, Greg grabbed Wenzel by his t-shirt. Before the tree-hugger’s eyes had time to register surprise, Greg pressed the barrel of the suppressor to Wenzel’s chest and fired twice. As Wenzel’s legs buckled, Greg yanked him forward, stepped aside, and released him.
Literally a dead weight, Wenzel collapsed onto the woollen blanket. Working quickly so the blood wouldn’t have a chance to soak through the single layer of wool and stain the concrete, Greg tossed the edge of the blanket over Wenzel and rolled him, encapsulating his body in thick layers. Since he’d shot Wenzel directly in the heart, he wasn’t too worried about copious amounts of liquid pumping from the tree-hugger, but he wasn’t taking any chances.
While he waited for Michael to bring the Falcon around, adrenaline circulated through his system as he stared at the cocooned corpse at his feet. Although this kill hadn’t been as sweet as his first, it still excited him. It wasn’t a perverted sexual excitement like he’d seen in the mentally unstable low-life’s he came across in his line of work. No, this was the excitement he imagined a caged bird must feel when it finally flew free.
Right on time, his Falcon rolled around the bend in the driveway. As instructed, Michael reversed up to the steps. A moment later, the boot yawned open like a dark mouth, ready to consume its victim.
Greg waited for Michael to join him, then hugged Wenzel’s upper body through the blanket while Michael lifted Wenzel’s feet. The shovel and pick in the boot rattled when they dumped the body on top.
Michael grinned. “I can’t believe it’s done, that it’s this easy.”
“Nothing’s done till he’s in the ground. So get your arse to Site Two and wait for me. I’ll be there in five.”
Greg waited for Michael to drive away before entering Wenzel’s house. Inside, he located the master bedroom, found an old suitcase on a high shelf in the wardrobe, yanked clothes off hangers and tossed them in the case. Then he moved to a tallboy, picked up handfuls of underwear, socks and t-shirts and, along with a couple pairs of hiking boots and runners, stuffed them into the suitcase. Satisfied that it looked like Wenzel had packed for a trip away, he carried the case into the living area where he found Wenzel’s wallet and car keys on a coffee table.
Before he left, he removed an open carton of milk from the fridge and poured the contents down the drain, leaving milk residue in the sink.
After placing the suitcase in Wenzel’s car, Greg climbed behind the wheel and started the 20-year-old Toyota. Apparently hippy tree-huggers weren’t flush with money.
When he arrived at the abandoned mining site, his Falcon sat idling before the locked gates. Greg climbed out with the padlock key he’d secretly acquired over six months ago from an unsuspecting site manager.
Positioning Wenzel’s car a good fifty metres up-slope from the dam, he turned off the lights and engine. After locking the steering wheel, shifting the gearstick into neutral and winding down all the windows, he waited for Michael to haul his arse up the slope.
Michael had wanted to sit Wenzel’s body in the car to make it look like he’d driven over the cliff himself, but Greg convinced him that the decomposing body would leak fluids that would rise to the water’s surface, fluids that would be noticeable against the milky jade water, fluids trespassers might find curious.
With a little more prodding, Michael agreed to burying Wenzel’s body on his own property where no one would stumble upon it by accident.
Of course, his brother had no idea the dead man would be joining another body already buried there.
As Michael joined him, Greg smiled, reached into the car and released the handbrake. The Toyota began to roll immediately. Without a word, they followed the car, put their gloved hands on the boot and pushed, running flat-out.
As the car picked up momentum, they pulled up and watched, panting as the car careened down the remainder of the slope and sailed over the edge.
Silence. Silence. Then an enormous splash.
“Got the torch?” he asked Michael.
Michael turned it on as they approached the edge. The beam of light shone on the water below, revealing the tip of the boot bobbing as bubbles burst on the liquid’s cloudy surface. Then it sank, disappearing in a swirl of jade.
As they walked back to the Falcon, Greg removed the sweaty gloves and held out his hand. “Keys.”
“I don’t mind driving,” Michael said.
“Sure. Long as you don’t mind getting pulled over with a body in the boot. Long as you don’t mind explaining why you’re driving my car when I’m sitting beside you. Go ahead.”
Michael gave him the keys.
An hour later, they arrived at Michael’s property. While they waited for the large wrought iron gates to swing open, Greg looked across at Michael and grinned.
“When do I collect my reward?” He made it sound like a question, but it wasn’t.
“Tonight suit you?”
As the gates swung all the way open, Greg punched the accelerator, travelled along the sealed driveway and past the double story sandstone house Michael called home. Swinging off the drive, he drove onto the open expanse of manicured lawns at the rear of the house. A hundred metres in, the headlights shone on the trees ahead. As he drew closer, he swung the car around, backed up to the tree-line and killed the lights and engine.
Without a word, they both got out. As Greg walked toward the rear of the car, the ghost gums caught his eye, their white trunks luminescent in the moonlight. Raising the boot lid, they hauled out Wenzel’s wrapped body.
As they shuffled toward the trees, Greg glanced at the house. And smiled. There in the window, Nina’s pale face stared out, watching. A shiver of a thrill travelled down his spine. She might have caught them in the act, but he knew she would never breathe a word of it. Not to him. Not to Michael. Not to anyone.