One foot inside the apartment, the smell hit her. Sour, like cat pee. Except they didn’t own a cat.
“Sean?” she called, her voice cracking. She cleared her throat. “Sean, honey, are you home?” Louder this time.
Not a sound. Only that putrid smell.
She dumped her heavy satchel on the floor, kicked the door closed, and surveyed the room.
The late afternoon sun streamed through the balcony-
She crossed the carpet toward the short hall that led to the bedrooms and stuck her head into the apartment’s galley-
Usually wide open, the door to the guest bedroom was half-
The door swung in, releasing a rush of sour air. Pinching her nostrils together, she leaned into the room, ready to beat a hasty retreat if anyone was in there. Her gaze went first to the queen-
Breathing out through her mouth, she glanced across the bedroom to where sunlight, filtered through the window’s upward angled Venetians, striped the ceiling.
She took another step into the room and turned around. The leather strap of her handbag slid from her shoulder. She didn’t try to stop it, couldn’t stop it. Unable to move, all she could do was gape at the open wardrobe, her eyes bulging almost as much as the vacant ones staring back at her.
A silent scream blocked her throat. She couldn’t breathe in; she couldn’t breathe out. Her lungs wanted to burst. The purple, bloated face of the naked man hanging from the wardrobe’s steel rail on a belt, his swollen tongue protruding from his mouth, was almost unrecognisable. Almost.
She stumbled backwards, snaring her handbag as she landed in a heap next to the bed. She scrambled in the bottom of her bag, her mobile phone eluding her like wet soap in the bathtub. When she did manage to get hold of it, she struggled to still her shaking hands. Her fingers felt fat and clumsy, the buttons on her phone tinier than she remembered.
“Emergency. What service do you require? Police, Fire, Ambulance?”
She opened her mouth to answer, but a magazine page stuck to her leg now had her attention instead. She peeled it off, dangling the magazine at arm’s length as if it were a dirty sock. She had never seen anything quite like it. Naked flesh. Entwined bodies. Explicit sex scenes.
If she had thought things couldn’t get any worse, she had thought wrong. She shook her head, unable to come to terms with what she was seeing. Her fiancé, her lover, her partner was dead; dead and surrounded with hard-
Jemma Dalton rubbed her bare arms, wondering what it would take to convince her dour-
She twisted the skin on the back of her hand, pinching it between her nails, needing the solace of physical pain. Anything to fill the void inside her. Losing her big sister – her only sister – had been devastating enough, but the coroner’s finding of suicide had pushed her past the pain threshold.
According to what she had been told, her 35-
The Melbourne city skyline loomed in the distance, reminding Jemma of the reason for her visit. Though Tanya’s body had been flown to Perth and laid to rest beside their beloved mother, her essence was here; the place she had lived and worked for all her adult life.
Up ahead, a monumental yellow beam, cantilevered at a precarious angle, hung out over the freeway. On the other side, a line of giant, red sticks leaned toward it creating a portal: Melbourne’s gateway. When they passed through the sound tube on the other side, a 300-
What she hadn’t counted on was getting caught in the gridlocked inner city traffic. By the time the taxi arrived outside the property manager’s office, a suited, dark-
She leapt out of the taxi. “Please wait. I’ll just be a minute.”
From the look on the driver’s face, she had asked him to cut off his right hand. Double-
Dodging a group of Asian tourists taking photographs, she raced across the footpath. If she couldn’t persuade the man in the suit to open up again, she would have to fork out for a hotel. That or sleep on the street.
Profuse apologies and some fast-
The taxi driver paid, her luggage unloaded, she set off.
Her mobile phone rang while she was humping her cases along the footpath. She ignored it, more intent on escaping the heat, traffic fumes and noise. She pushed on, perspiration matting her fringe to her forehead. Not much further…
Number 299. She shouldered through the thick glass entrance door, shoving her luggage ahead of her into the airlock separating the street from the building’s lobby. She paused for breath. Nearly there.
She swiped her security card, unlocking the next set of glass doors. The cool, marble-
A bank of brushed-
She heard a swish and looked around to see the doors of one of the two lifts part. A tall, angular-
Jemma hauled her luggage into the vacated lift and pushed the button for the sixth floor. Seconds later, the doors opened. She stepped out, looking up and down the carpeted, windowless corridor for numbers.
Two doors down on her right she found apartment 367. Her mobile rang again just as she was inserting the key into the lock. She gritted her teeth and turned the key. Couldn’t he take a hint? She wasn’t ready to talk. Not yet.
A wall of hot, stuffy air hit her as she pushed the door in. The open-
She found the switch for the air conditioner on the wall to her left and flicked it on. Then, leaving her luggage at the door, she began to explore the apartment.
A black leather modular lounge suite, positioned to take advantage of the city views, dominated the off-
Opposite it, on the other side of the hallway, a room she had hoped was the guest bedroom would have been a squeeze even for a single bed. Instead, Tanya had converted it to an office. A high-