Excerpt – Presumed Dead
PART 1 CONCRETE
In the dim light of dawn, the concreters plodded in funeral procession across the construction site towards boxes in the ground that would mould the pillars of a road overpass. Ready mix trucks waited in a line to move their bowel contents into a pipeline for pumping across to Norman in his crane. He swung the spout from box to box, playing the knobs like piano keys.
The gouts plopped down into the darkness, over tufts of steel rods. Brian and Bob came close behind with vibrating pokers, jiggling the ooze into cavities.
‘Something under!’ yelled Bob, pointing to where he had felt a push against his poker. They buried all sorts of things: cans, tools and garments. Perhaps this was an animal or a large bird?
When he jumped in and tried to lift it, he sank up to his waist in the quagmire.
‘Help!’ he called.
Brian jumped in too and Norman swung his crane over. They hooked their arms over the spout and were lifted up. Holding on to the thing, they dragged it out from under the surface onto the ground. They were amazed to discover it was a woman, in blouse and skirt, with bound wrists and ankles, a gag in her mouth.
‘Alive,’ shouted Bob. ‘Quick.’
How skinny she was as she lay on her back with her bones protruding. They removed the gag, pulled off the blindfold and undid the bindings. Norm started pumping her chest. She coughed, gasped, groaned and rubbed her eyes. They rolled her on to her side and hosed away the grit and slurry. Her skin was smooth and grey, her hair lank and matted. She shivered and lapsed into unconsciousness.
Paramedics arrived with a stretcher.
‘Almost dead she is,’ Norman cautioned as they lifted her on.
They carried her to a waiting ambulance. It rushed away with her, siren wailing.
‘Another hour and it would take a jackhammer to get her out,’ said Bob. ‘What evil bastard did this?’
Police cordoned off the site keeping the crowd back with crime scene tape.
A reporter said: ‘It could be that City Councillor who went missing over a month ago.’
Norman replied with vehemence: ‘It’s premeditated fucking murder. Whoever did it should be locked away forever.’
‘What if she lives?’
‘Attempted murder — no two ways about it. Our Jane — after she has done so much good! What a thing to do! He must be a psychopath. Throw away the key.’
The reporter set up his camera on a tripod and stood in front talking to it.
‘I am at a construction site where a woman has been rescued from under wet concrete. She was barely alive and has been rushed to hospital. It would be a terrible way to die. If the concrete had set, her body would have decayed to gas and liquid and leaked away slowly, leaving only an empty mould with a brown stain, like they found at Pompeii where a person was buried alive in volcanic ash. She would never have been found.’
‘The police are investigating how she was buried alive, a horrific crime. We will find out from the hospital if she will survive.
‘The victim could be a Councillor who disappeared five weeks ago on her way to a meeting in City Hall, but her identity has not been confirmed. There is no evidence that this horrific crime was politically motivated.’
The picture switched to a uniformed Police officer, who said: ‘We have located a place where we believe she was held captive before she was brought here. We are following leads to find the abductors. If you have any information would you phone this number: 3386 1190.’
The reporter said: ‘We are awaiting developments. This is Grant Summers for ATV.’
PART 2 JANE
I met Jane Kenwood two years before she was found buried in concrete, when I went on an excursion to the beach in a coach with other National Liberal Party (NLP) councillors and their families. Alexandra was the capital city of Roberta Province in the former British colonial independency of Southland. It was a city with two million inhabitants descended from European, Indian, African, Asian and Indigenous forebears. It was governed by a Council having 24 elected members.
As couples descended from the bus, I noticed that one in each pair would direct where they went. It was like an outing of blind people each with a seeing-eye dog. When I had been in a couple, I had wanted to be neither the leader nor the follower but equally balanced. My marriage had ended in divorce when I had wanted to have children and my wife didn’t. We had wanted to go in different directions. We didn’t make it as a pair.
‘Are these couples balanced?’ I wondered.
I was enjoying life as a single again. I was well known, physically okay and my job as a City Councillor was prestigious. I met plenty of attractive women. For four years I had partnered a series of females and when one intruded into my space I moved on to another. They said I didn’t have feelings. I did have feelings but they were not the ones they wanted. I was better off on my own I thought, unless I met someone exceptional.
There were only a handful of singles on the bus. I was pleased to see Jane Kenwood getting off, joking and laughing with her friends. She was the sassy councillor who kept us on the edge of our seats with her invective and wit in Council Meetings. I had heard she was single but because she was a doll I assumed she would have a partner. Today she was on her own.
I had been at uni with Jane but I hadn’t talked to her because she always had people with her and I had been too shy. She was a law student and prominent in campus politics. I was studying science and into sport. I had been interested in politics too but in students’ union elections I was limited to handing out leaflets. I was not a talker, being shy and terse.
Debating was Jane’s forte. Like Marilyn Monroe, she was in her element before an audience. She had a coy naïveté that was captivating, belying her kickass attitude and razor sharp intelligence. Now she enlivened our weekly Council Meetings, putting the Government dullards on their mettle.
As I waded through the foam to catch another wave, she looked across at me and gave me a wry smile, sharing in my obvious enjoyment. She turned away to dive through a wave. My legs pranced towards her underwater, while above the surface my torso was immobile like a duck’s.
When I was close enough I shouted through the din, ‘Hello Jane.’
Her voice tinkled in the roar: ‘Hi Phillip. How are you doing?’
‘Is there enough water for you?’ I said, as we stood chest deep, side by side, bobbing up and down. Her auburn hair was plastered on her head. She was pretty.
‘No. I like bigger waves.’
‘This beach is too high for that,’ I said.
She gave me a puzzled look.
‘You mean there isn’t enough water?’
‘That’s right. The biggest waves will be at high tide.’
‘Not much now. I was into it once.’
‘I don’t have enough time now.’
‘Me too but I body surf sometimes,’ she said.
‘I thought making waves was more your style.’
She smiled. ‘Haha. How do you like our Council Meetings?’
‘They seem to be staged,’ I said, ‘except for your er . . . polemics.’
‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘The meetings are staged. The Government puts on a demonstration of its authority.’
‘By virtue of its superior reasoning?’
‘No, its bovine will,’ Jane said.
‘I would say porcine. Once their snout has an opening, they push and push and there is no stopping them.’
‘Yes,’ she said laughing. ‘That is exactly what they do.’
‘Pigs are difficult to stop. A pig farmer holds a sheet of galvanised iron to drive them along. The Opposition has to have a solid barrier.’
‘The meeting rules are full of holes.’
‘Until you block them,’ I said.
Jane’s self-appointed role seemed to me to persuade our indolent Government to obey our rules of meeting procedure.
‘Oh look, let’s catch this one.’
We rode in on a large wave and waded out again.
‘Do you ever get out of your depth?’ I said smiling.
She cupped her hand to her shell-like ear, but the next wave smashed into us.
‘DO YOU EVER GET OUT OF YOUR DEPTH?’ I yelled, but she did not respond. I felt foolish and shrugged in defeat.
She came towards me and peered up into my face, smiling, waiting for me to say it again. I reached out and held her gently by the arms, in front of me. She quivered like a bird, living quickly. Holding each other at arm’s length in the foam, we chatted and laughed.
Her warm smile uncovered perfectly white teeth. Her right eye calculated my details while her left ran a cool appraisal. Her nose, almost straight, had a slight downward curve but I saw neither disdain nor narcissism.
‘I could get out of my depth with you,’ I said. I had not met anyone like her before. I had heard it was better when meeting girls to pretend to be underwhelmed, so they would think you didn’t like them, causing them to want your approval and open up to you. I would conceal that I was in awe of her.
She cocked an eyebrow.
‘You will have to swim.’
‘I refuse to crawl.’
‘Let’s not get in too deep.’
We grinned at each other, having fun.
She was trusting, her body arched to meet mine, her hands holding my hips, keeping me close – but not too close. I could hardly believe that someone so beautiful would flirt with me like this, with our colleagues watching from the beach.
She steadied herself in the soft sand. I was a head taller and bent down to kiss her for the first time, slowly and gently, her soft mouth searching my lips. We heard yells and whistles and broke apart, diving under the next breaker, swimming alongside each other, sharing a wave, laughing.
‘Do you want to stay shallow?’ I said as I braced against the backflow, holding her to stop her being washed away. Water tore at our legs.
‘We won’t know until we’ve tested the water,’ she quipped.
‘Do you think there could be any sharks?’ I asked, keeping the patter going.
‘What do you think of Hubbard?’ she said. Martha was Lord Mayor (LM) of the two million people who lived in Alexandra City. We could see her holding court on the beach.
‘She is totally up herself,’ said Jane.
‘Half a million citizens voted for her.’
‘For the NLP,’ Jane corrected.
We were both members of the NLP.
‘I don’t like the way she matronizes us.’
Pouting and with a long upper lip, Jane imitated the LM: ‘I’m not sitting in the cheap seats . . . ‘
We laughed together.
‘Perhaps she is the only one who knows what is really going on,’ I said.
‘Privilege is a bad look as far as I’m concerned,’ said Jane. ‘Government should be transparent.’
I was going to say ‘Me too,’ but I caught myself in time. It was my first encounter with open dissent in the NLP ranks. Jane seemed conflicted by a renegade tendency. She had spoken a heresy as casually as commenting on the weather and it resonated with something inside me that I hadn’t realised was there — something rebellious. Jane fascinated me. I wanted to be on her side.
We waded side by side against the current, chatted and then sat on the beach until we boarded the coach. We rode back sitting together in companionable silence. I was talked out.