Bob drove Sal out to the inlet while her car was being fixed in town. She lay back in the passenger seat and closed her eyes, not really listening to Bob’s fruity rambles through the week’s politics and reality television shows. She felt pouty and bruised, her skin scoured by Crow’s bristles. Trees flashed red black red behind her eyelids. The red-scented memory of his flesh in her bed.
It was a strange dissociative state; a bubble that contained only the two of them. She called it the fugue, when they fused together as a single creature derived from pleasure, a wild creature nurtured among the owls and the snakes and the trees.
“Bite me proper, Crow,” she says. “You have to mark me. You go home and all I have left of you are your marks.”
She'd come home in the early hours, three or four o’clock in the morning, with twigs threaded through her woolly hair and new marks over her body; teeth marks, raised red mosquito bites, scratches and bruises from the limestone ledge she’d laid upon. Her muscles ached from walking, climbing and fucking. She'd fallen into bed and slept deeply. When she woke, alone, it was as though their nocturnal meeting had never happened, a kind of wild dream. She could hardly remember the events, the words or deeds. All she had left of him were the signs on her body, the scent of him mingling with wood smoke in her hair and the feel of the hours of words they spoke. By three in the afternoon she'd come crashing down from that most exquisite hit.
She opened her eyes as Bob changed gears and slowed past the sign advertising cheap alcohol and fuel. He pulled into the roadhouse, where the local agricultural rep had pasted more advertisements; water tanks, herbicides and fertilisers. Inside, amongst the fug of meat pie and coffee smells, Sal picked up a local newspaper and a bottle of wine and took them to the counter.
“You wanna put the fuel in with that, love?” The woman nodded outside to Bob hunched over his jerry can for the boat.
She was a weathered, smiling woman with flowering vines and swallows tattooed over her collarbones. She rang up the amount and Sal paid her.
“Cops dropped this off yesterday.” She slapped a sheet of paper on the counter. It was a photocopied image of the man whose dog had knocked Sal down. “He’s out around here somewhere. Punched out a public officer and took to the bush.”
Sal stared at the picture. It really was his name. He hadn't lied. Jack Bailey looked ten years younger without his beard. “Is he considered dangerous?”
“Sounds to me like he’s just a bit of a loon. Could probably do with taking his meds.” The woman’s attempt at toughness collapsed. “Poor bugger. He’s getting hunted like a dog now. They think he might be out this way so if you are camping lock up your cars I guess. If he comes in, offer him a cuppa ... reckon he’ll need one.”
Sal smiled at her.
They passed the turn-off to Black Mountain road and climbed into the high lands, before the country swept down into the river country. Two police cars passed them, the occupant’s faces set and hard.
“Unusual,” Bob broke off his horror story rant about the TV show Extreme Bodies to remark. “Coppers out this way.”
Sal wondered at herself, at her new propensity for secret keeping and protecting others. Somehow, she’d neglected to tell Crow about her cup of tea with the man who was stealing his specimens. And now, as Bob noted the police cars, she said, “Something must have happened out near Bremer ... a car accident maybe.”