Morag had always hoped, in vain it seemed, that married life would come back onto an even keel despite the problems that had beset it over the years. All she wanted was a man who loved her, not his job or someone else he found more exciting. After the last fiasco she’d gone out and got an education so, if the worst came to the worst, she could support the kids, put food on the table at least. Now they had a nice place in a good suburb, she had a great job and the kids had left home after a good education. Things should have been rosy. But of course they weren’t.
She’d talked to her friend Jane about the affairs; Jane was really the only one she could talk to about her topsy-turvy life. They both worked at a government agency and Jane had come to her with the news that a woman she met at her tap class had said she knew her. The tapper mentioned some information about their work, something she shouldn’t have known. It could only have come from her!! And she knew the only person she had told. Jane, working in the security division, was concerned about the lapse. Morag regretted the mistake of thinking he could be trusted, of breaching the trust placed in her.
Morag knew the tap dancer worked with her husband. They were away regularly as part of a team. He denied passing on information even innocently, denied anything other than a work relationship. But he’d had affairs before. Betrayal yet again left her by turns distraught and weepy, confused and angry. This time her training kicked in and the searching started: the covert monitoring of phone calls, messages, passwords, anything she could get her hands on. Knowing she was guilty of a further breach of trust, she became obsessive about his to her. She drank more, her relationship with him got worse the more she tried to make it better; get things back to normal. It was difficult knowing that much of his time was spent with the person who’d betrayed them both.
In the end she conjured a plan: it was simple; she had discovered a secret liaison – well, secret until she’d used his password to read his emails. He said he was away for work yet the email told another tale - the promise of a night of illicit lovemaking on the bay. She decided to get to the family yacht first and confront them both when they arrived. Tonight was the night and Morag could hardly wait to see her husband and his lover get their comeuppance.
The dawn light was barely breaking over the bay. Scattered grey cloud formations were tinged with pink along their edges in the lightening slate of the sky. The pier stood out in stark black relief, the white painted railing running along its length. The lights, regularly spaced and in contrast to the ending night and the dark jetty along which they were strung, made small bright puddles one of which lit up an overturned wine bottle at the end of the jetty. Others overflowed its surface spilling into the water surging through the pilings. At the water’s edge the waves rippled up the wet sand, gently receding as the tide crept out again after its long journey to the beach overnight.
A few yards away the first Port Melbourne residents were beginning to show themselves. The lycra-clad runners moved with their concentration fixed on toning their already tight muscles. The few early morning walkers, some brisk and others slower, savoured the crispness of the light breeze arriving with the coming day and the sense of calm without the trammel of the daytime traffic along Beach Street. In an hour or so the sun would be up and the start of the working day would bring the workers out as they hurried to catch the city tram.
But right now the moon still half-lit the sky, warring with the rising sun for ownership of the heavens. The foamy surge of the water moved the fingers of the hand as though it was still alive, made them drift toward the edge of sand as though the hand, the arm, the woman they belonged to, were still quick and reaching out for salvation. Tendrils of hair swirled around a face, though still perfect, pale and very white.
Mounds of dead leaves, seaweed and small shells gathered in convocational lines at the furthermost reaches of the tide, rustled and crunched under the feet of a small, inquisitive dog. The white of the Jack Russell’s body shone slightly in the dim light as, tail upright, he nosed amongst the bay’s detritus. His small black nose twitched rapidly as he took in the plethora of smells - fish, people, other dogs, shellfish - contained amongst the shells and leaves.
He was well ahead of his owner who had stopped to re-tie the laces of her running shoes further back the beach towards Middle Park. Now she was gaining on him. He looked back to check that she was still there then continued his investigation of the smell he had found drifting in above the leaf litter. It was coming from the edge of the water under the pier. As he shifted his gaze towards the pilings something in the water attracted his attention and he moved slowly and cautiously towards the water’s edge, straining his body forward towards the tiny ripples the waves were making on the shore. He sniffed at the fingers outstretched towards him loosened from the departing grip of the tide. He knew there were no pats left in this hand, sensing death emanating from it. He backed away and began to bark, slowly at first then more urgently. Frantically.
Jane Norrington had just got back into her stride after retying the laces of her runners when her attention was captured by the sound of her dog barking hysterically at the edge of the water near the Lagoon Pier. “Oh God, what’s he found now?” she thought as she sped up to rescue his latest find. These were usually abandoned thongs or one of the smallish blue soldier crabs that foraged amongst the piles of shells and rubbish along the high tide mark. More than once he had suffered the indignity of having his nose pinched by the nippers of a crab. “I’m coming,” she called as she drew closer.
Jane shook her long dark hair out of her eyes as she stepped off the bitumen pavement and down the stone steps onto the sand at the southern edge of the jetty. She could see the shape in the water that occupied the dog so intensely. Too big for a crab she thought flippantly milliseconds before the reality of what she was looking at overwhelmed her. “Shit,” she muttered, “it’s a body.” She waded into the shallow water in case by some stroke of luck she could help; in case she was mistaken and there was still life present. It was a woman, obviously no longer alive, just drifting there, hand now out of the water – a woman. She stared at the familiar features distorted by the ripples of the water, wishing she were wrong but knowing her eyes were not deceiving her and it really was Morag. She turned and blundered out of the water, wanting to get away from the eyes staring back at her from just below the water’s surface.
“Fuck, what the hell is happening here,” Jane thought as she dug frantically into her backpack for her mobile, “bugger, bugger, bugger.” Her mind was racing and it took several tries just to dial triple zero. The calm male voice at the other end asked questions, she answered him impatiently, “please just get them to hurry.” Her eyes felt swollen with tears that would not fall, her heart beat rapidly and she began to breathe quickly while her mind pushed scattered thoughts uselessly about in an effort to come to terms with the death of a friend whose home just across the road she had visited often. At the same time she pulled a loudly protesting Jack Russell away from the body of the woman he also knew as a friend. “Christ, what was the right protocol at a time like this – was there one at all,” she thought. “I should call her boss at work, no, what was the point, what could he do anyway. Just sit and wait for the cops,” she told herself .
Incongruously a plastic chair from one of the fast food shops along the shore sat at the entrance to the sand no doubt where some wild child had deposited it. Jane retreated there to wait for the blue lights and siren that would accompany the attending coppers. They took what seemed like a lifetime to arrive but it was most likely no more than the ten minutes it would take the nearest patrol car to reach her. She reached into her pack and took out the dog’s lead; he hated having it on but it would be easier to hold onto him once help arrived. He leapt off her lap and immediately went as far as it reached, sat down on the sand and resumed his watch on Morag’s body as the water ebbed away from it. He was trembling with nervousness at such an important find but he waited now, however impatiently, without barking.
Jane sat, the chair slowly sinking into the sand beneath it, her legs jiggling with nervous energy. She got up holding onto the lead, pacing a little, anything to keep from remembering the pale face staring back at her; all the while wondering what on earth had happened, how someone so apparently stable, sensible, responsible, despite her marital problems could have ended up here. Was it connected with the fortune she had just inherited on the death of her mother? Was it connected with the work they did? Had she committed suicide? She had been overwrought by her husband’s affair and her subsequent frantic, pitiful, search for love with the assorted rat-bags at work who were only too quick to take advantage. Still Morag had seemed a bit less concerned about all that in the last few days, as if there had been some positive developments. She wished the coppers would hurry up, it was scary being here by herself with the day still on the cusp of night.
The sound of sirens came from the direction of St Kilda, then the blue flashing lights followed by the flicker of red lights racing up Beaconsfield Parade towards Beach Street. They ground to a halt, two police cars and an ambulance.
No-one saw the man across the way as he quickly moved into the shadows. He was glad it had been Morag’s nosy friend Jane who had found her. She knew of Morag’s affairs as well as his own. She knew how upset and depressed Morag had been recently.
Morag didn’t swim well and she’d had a lot to drink while she waited for him to turn up. Gemma had had to cancel so he had already left on a late night sail before her ladyship staggered drunkenly out of the forward cabin. The ensuing argument was very heated before she tripped and toppled over the safety lines. He had tried to catch her but lost her in the dark water as they neared the pier across from their home. The tide, approaching high, was close to the turn.
Now the tide had delivered her, as he knew it would. He had sailed back to the marina and drove back quickly. He’d seen her as the tide brought her home and left her wine bottle where it would be found. He walked home and went inside to call the police to report his wealthy wife missing.