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He shouldn’t have come. He should have arranged to meet her somewhere else.

Anywhere but here.

But it’s too late now. He might not get another chance.

As he guides the car off the main road and up the rugged driveway, the smell of decaying garbage crawls through the air vents. The place is worse than the last time he was here. But the rain has eased and it’s dark enough that no one will recognise the car.

He cuts the engine, and sees her framed in the light of the kitchen window, dreadlocks twisted into a macabre knot, matted and disgusting from years of neglect—just like the wreck of a house she lives in. Squares of rotting cardboard covering broken windows, guttering rusted and bent into a V at the front. The rusted-out remains of an old washing machine on the porch. Shit everywhere.

Still, he won’t be staying for long.

At the sound of the car door closing, her head lifts. He can imagine the look of anguish in her eyes. No one else ever comes here. And it’s later than they agreed.

She disappears from the window, and as he lifts his collar against the damp night air, the front door opens. She’s on the porch, head tilted while she identifies him. The only sounds are the wind riffling through the straggly foliage and the plop of engorged raindrops falling into the puddles below. Her arms are folded tightly, but the tension in her bearing fades as she approaches and recognises him.

Her smile fades as her gaze flicks to a red Toyota rammed beside the old concrete water tank. The car is engulfed in a spread of morning glory.

She walks to meet him, the dreads clumped together like a ghastly wasps’ nest over one shoulder of her tattered dress, the seam of which is held together with safety pins. She has bare feet, even on a night like this, and her smile reveals two broken front teeth. As she approaches, he sees the dark rings under her eyes, obvious even in this light. What she ferrets away at in the middle of the night, he’ll never know.

‘I was finking you weren’t coming,’ she says, the impediment a result of the broken teeth. Or maybe she always spoke that way. He doesn’t remember. She pauses a few feet from him, searching his face, seeking an explanation she’s not going to get.

He shrugs further into his coat and glances up at the threatening sky. ‘I told you I’d come. And here I am.’

Concern crumples her brow. ‘You want a cuppa tea? I can make you one.’

Not bloody likely. Last time he went in her kitchen he just about threw up. But he needs to do what he came for and get out. Lights are flickering on at the neighbouring property. He doesn’t want to be seen.

‘Maybe next time, eh? How’d you get on? Y’know, finding everything…?’

‘I got it all.’ Her eyes dart back to the Toyota, then return to him, unsettled.  ‘So vat’s all you want? You won’t come back?’

He drops his chin, gives her a reassuring smile. ‘What did I say?’

‘You said you wouldn’t.’

‘And I keep my word. You should know that.’

She’s anxious now, hands wringing at her chest, eyes searching middle ground. But she nods. ‘It’s inside.’

He follows her back to the house and into the dining room, where a clear plastic bag sits on a stack of newspapers mounded against the wall. When she hands him the bag, he parts the top and peers inside. He’s shocked. There’s way more than he expected. He tugs out several pictures and inspects them. He’s a little shocked. It’s far more than he remembered.

‘Is this all of it?’

‘Vat’s all I had. Is that okay?’

‘No, no, this is good. You’ve done really good. This is all you had to do.’

A smile lifts the corners of her mouth. She thinks it’s over. She thinks he’ll leave her in peace.

Which is a shame.

‘Now, you know what?’ he says as he folds over the top of the bag. ‘Maybe I do have time for a cuppa.’

As she turns for the kitchen, he feels in his pocket for the coil of wire.

He didn’t want it to end like this, but if he’s going to stop the shit storm coming his way, he has to start now.

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