It was a somber day at the Wanderer.
Carter had well and truly ceased to be a novelty, now that there were two missing boys to occupy the town’s attention. The Wanderer was practically empty. Carter assumed every able bodied person was either at work or out looking for the boys. Henry was constantly fielding phone calls and calling out updates to himself and Gwen. The boys hadn’t yet been found. It was almost three in the afternoon. The boys had been missing for over twenty-four hours now. There was an unspoken acceptance hanging in the air in Fisherman’s Creek – they were almost certainly no longer looking for two living boys.
Gwen had hardly spoken more than two words to him all day, other than to ask him to sweep up a spill or help her setting up a table. There were dark circles under her eyes that matched his own, and Henry’s. It seemed that she was even more shaken up by what they had seen in the bush yesterday than he thought. He had tried to be understanding, tell her that it was a reasonable reaction, but she had simply thanked him and told him that she still needed time to ‘get her brain sorted out’. After that he had kept to himself, throwing himself into the calming mechanics and rhythm of the kitchen work.
At five, just as Carter was beginning dinner preparation, Marcus strolled in, flanked by Tobias’ other followers. Tobias himself was curiously absent. Marcus and his gang threw themselves down at a table, hollering loudly for a pitcher of beer. Carter kept one eye on them through the kitchen window. It had only been Tobias’ influence that had stopped Marcus from picking a fight with him on that first night. He figured he better keep his head down so long as Tobias wasn’t around. He had no desire to get into it with Marcus.
However, Marcus was clearly looking for him, scanning the Wanderer’s main floor. Finally, Marcus locked eyes with him through the kitchen window. They stayed like that for a moment, neither man daring to be the first to look away. It was a dominance thing, Carter knew, and he knew that being the first to break eye contact would mean giving Marcus all the power. It was stupid, he knew, but it was also a very real concern. He wasn’t worried about being hurt by Marcus, but Carter thought that getting into a fight with him, even if Marcus was the instigator, would make it almost impossible for him to stay in Fisherman’s Creek. And he had no desire to leave just yet. He thought of the post-it note he had been handed by Lauren. Will tell you about harvest. Come Friday night. Tomorrow was Friday, and he had every intention of at least finding out what the hell the harvest was before he left the Creek.
Finally, Marcus turned away, talking to one of his off siders. Carter let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding in, and went back to preparing for dinner service. Today’s soup of the day was French onion, and he had to start that now if it was going to be ready when dinner service began at six. He busied himself with chopping onions, thankful for the many distractions the kitchen offered. He had been unable to get the sight of the many animal skeletons out of his head since last night. It was obvious that they hadn’t been killed by any animal, in retrospect. There would have been more bones missing, and signs of gnawing on the bones. And no animal would have killed that many animals in the same area, and left all their bodies there.
At the same time, he couldn’t conceive of a human having killed them, either. If they had been hunting, fair enough, but to leave the bodies there? Whoever had killed them had clearly not been hunting for food, or even materials. They had left the bodies. Whoever had killed those animals, it was clear they had done so simply to engage in the act of killing. Internally, Carter shook himself, and glanced over at Marcus again. The man was engaged in what looked like a loud conversation with his fellows at the table. Carter watched him, and thought of the strange animal graveyard they had found.
Could it have been-
A sharp pain brought him out of his thoughts. He hadn’t been paying attention to what he was doing, and he had cut himself. Not deeply, but there was plenty of blood, and it stung. Swearing, he threw out the now-unusable onion, and set about the process of cleaning up. He’d have to tell Henry that there might be a wait in store for anyone ordering the soup.
Once he was done cleaning, he paused for a moment, and looked through the window at Gwen, who was cleaning glasses behind the bar. She had worked all day without complaint, and he was seriously impressed. He doubted he could have confronted one of his deepest traumas and then turned up for work as if nothing had happened the next day. It seemed that if nothing else, they bred them tough here in Fisherman’s Creek.
Gwen caught his eye, and he was suddenly aware he had been watching her for almost a minute. He blushed, deeply. She gave him a quizzical look, and he held up his now bandaged hand.
I cut myself, he mouthed. She put a finger to the side of her eye, then ran it slowly down, miming a tear.
That was dumb, she mouthed back, and he grinned.
I ran out of red onion so I had to make some, he mouthed back, and he heard her barking laugh from all the way across the Wanderer’s floor. He went back to his work, smiling to himself.
He heard shouting, and in the edges of his vision saw figures running towards the Wanderer’s front door. He leaned out through the kitchen window to try and see what was happening. A group of people had gathered around someone at the Wanderer’s door, blocking his view. Or most of his view. Over the top of them, he thought he could see a shock of bright red hair.
Marcus and his gang crossed the Wanderer’s floor quickly, and pushed through the congregation of people. They disappeared into the throng for a moment. Then Marcus emerged, supporting the weight of a bruised and scratched-looking Tobias Kingsley.
Tobias had dried blood matting his hair on one side and a huge bruise on his cheek. His face and hands were scratched, and his shirt and pants were muddy and torn. He was leaning on a tree branch, and a quick glance downwards told Carter why – even from across the Wanderer’s floor, in the kitchen he could see that Tobias’ left ankle was bent at a hideous angle, and was horribly swollen. Marcus led Tobias over to a table and sat him down. Gwen hurriedly brought two pitchers – one filled with water and the other filled with ice – and Henry followed her with a tea towel. As Carter watched, they fashioned a makeshift ice pack and handed it to one of Tobias’ followers, who held it to the swollen left ankle. Tobias barely winced. Carter thought he looked dazed. Going by the blood on his head, Carter thought that he might have also sustained a concussion when he had – presumably – fallen and broken his ankle. Henry caught Carter’s eye and beckoned him over, and Carter hurried out of the kitchen.
When he reached the table, Henry handed him a mobile phone.
“Call an ambulance. I think he was out in the bush all night. He seems really out of it, he’s not responding to us very well.”
Carter quickly called the emergency services hotline, and within ten minutes an ambulance was on the way. Marcus was repeatedly saying Tobias’ name, but Tobias was barely even looking at him, not registering his own name. Tobias looked around the group of people who had gathered around him, pausing on every face, squinting, as if trying to figure out who they were. When he got to Carter’s face, he lingered there for a long time. Then his eyes lit up.
“The harvest. The fisherman’s harvest. We’ll have you there. The catch. Catch you. I think you caught my boy. He caught my boy!”
Tobias began sobbing and wailing, pointing an accusatory finger at Carter.
“CAUGHT MY BOY!”
Henry made a shooing motion.
“Get out of here, Carter!”
Carter hurried back to the kitchen, Tobias’ wailing following him all the way.
“HE CAUGHT MY BOY!”
He had no idea what Tobias was talking about. Then suddenly, something came into focus.
My boy. Holy shit, is one of the missing kids Tobias’ son?
He thought it might be. A chill ran down his spine. Did Tobias really think he had had something to do with it? It seemed like he was accusing him of something. He thought he had better lay low for a while, if possible. He had clearly not done anything to Tobias’ son – had been with Henry and Gwen all day on the day the boy had gone missing – but Tobias was a well-known figure in town, and he was a stranger, and he thought Tobias’ condemnation of him might be enough to cause him some serious trouble, at least in the short-term.
He wondered if Tobias had found his son, or if the boy was still out there in the bush. Something about Tobias’ words chilled him to the core. Caught. Why caught? Took my boy, sure, or killed. But caught?
More than ever he was determined to go and see Lauren and learn the secret of this harvest. Something was very wrong in Fisherman’s Creek.
HE CAUGHT MY BOY!
It had taken almost half an hour for the ambulance to arrive, and Tobias had shouted and raved the whole time. When the paramedics finally arrived, they had given him a sedative, to stop his struggling and keep him from further injuring his already broken ankle. Some of Tobias’ followers had taken their ute and followed the ambulance. Carter noted that Marcus was among those who opted instead to walk home.