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Fifteenth Instalment of the "Herald's " Second Prize Novel

YOU CAN'T SEE

ROUND CORNERS

By JON CLEARY

Illustrated by JAMES PHILLIPS

FRANKIE McCOY deserts from the army to come back to his

living as a starting-price bookmaker at Flanagan's hotel in Paddington. His girl, Margie Harris, breaks with him when she learns of his desertion and refuses to hear from him until he returns to the army. He meets two other girls: Myra, whom he picks up in a dance hall and to whom he introduces himself as Frankie Brown, and Meg, a niece of Flanagan's wife. He loses a large sum of money betting and commits a burglary to recoup  

his losses. He then takes out Myra, who asks him to meet her parents the next day.  

NOW McCoy knew his

place: he was being nom- inated for permanency. The introduction to the

parents, the regular visits, the gradual transition from visitor to "one of the family," the adop- tion of two homes, calling her mother and father "Mum" and "Dad," and finally the veiled questions as to when "the happy day" might be. He could see it all, like the preview of some film. It was inevitable unless he was careful. And he would be care- ful; but he would accept the invita- tion to go out to-morrow: anything to escape the insistent telephone: "When can I collect my money, Frankie?" "How about my winnings, McCoy?" He would pay them all on Monday; till then he wanted to enjoy this new-found freedom from worry.

"All right. I'll come out." He felt magnanimous, ready to bestow favours. "Be glad to meet your people."

They were walking beneath the trees now. Behind them the Gallery rose black and huge to shut out the sky and they were in a giant cave of darkness. Down at the bottom of the slope street lamps glowed in yellow lonely pools, and from Woolloomoo- loo came clearly the sounds of a ship being unloaded.

"This'll do, eh?"

He spread out his coat and she sat down. He put the sandwiches and lemonade bottle down beside her and took the whisky bottle from her. With his nail-file he extracted the cork.

Then he remembered.

"Hell, I forgot to get the water. Won't be a minute. There's a tap just up there."

"Don't be long. I get scared. Any- one could come up and jump on me here, it's so dark."

She couldn't see his grin but it was in his voice. "Hit him with the bottle. But don't spill it. Put the

cork back first."

Coming back from the water foun- tain, walking in the silent darkness, the trees brooding above him, the grass soft and dead beneath his feet, he felt a sudden apprehension him- self, and, feeling slightly ridiculous, he looked back over his shoulder. He reached her and with something like relief, gaining courage from her com- pany, sat down beside her.

"Gee, I'm glad to see you,'' she said. "I was starting to see things."

He leaned across and Kissed her on the cheek. "Feel safe now?"

She squeezed his arm. "Safe as a

bank."

"Well, here. Put this in your vault." He gave her one of the cups. "Here's luck."

She smiled at him across the top of the cup; he could see the pale oval of her face, the shadows that were her eyes, and the whiteness of her teeth as they appeared between the black outline that was her lips.

"Luck."

The whisky was rough and burning going down his throat and he gri- maced. You robber, Flanagan, he thought. A quid for this paint remover; the closest it gets to being whisky is having the label on the

bottle.

Myra coughed and he patted her on the back. "Terrific, ain't it? Watch the enamel on your teeth. Here, have a sandwich and reline your throat."

She took a sandwich, twisted her body, and leaned back against him. He took another drink, then bent his head and kissed her. Crumbs stuck to his lips and she sat up laughing, reaching for her purse and her hand- kerchief. She wiped her mouth, took another drink, then lay back in his arms and drew his head down. He could feel the claiming possession of her lips and the almost feline way she moved when he caressed her.  

"Like me, Frankie?" Her voice was husky; her passion for him was coursing through her like some wild

current.

"Sure. Love you,"

The banter in his tone was recognis- able; there was no sincerity, no com-

mitment in his answer. She relaxed, her body limp with disappointment. "I wish you meant it, Frankie."

He sensed her let-down; he pinched her chin and gently brushed her lips with his. "No, you don't, hon. I wouldn't be much chop as a hus-

band."

Her arm tightened round his neck, and she raised her face, pressing her mouth hard against his. "Oh, Fran- kie!" He knew she was crying, but he could not see her face, only feel the wetness of her cheek against his, and hear her sobbing as she clung

to him.

"Hon?"

"Yes, darling?" The endearment was a wish; it was tentative rather than possessive. She lifted her head and he could see the sob quivering on her lips.

"What's the matter? What're you crying for?"

Was he blind or just stupid? Were all men like this, only aware of the most obvious? "Nothing."

He did not know that there was no balm for the disappointed heart, the

unreturned love.

He poured himself another drink. "Then why you crying?"

He put down the empty cup and lay back. She raised herself on one elbow, looking down at him, then suddenly her love went wild within her, twisting into hate at his blind- ness or his stupidity, or his selfish- ness, or whatever it was that made him talk in this crass, irritating way. She put her face down to his and her teeth bit into his lip, savagely and passionately, wanting to hurt him.

He felt the pain of his lip and tasted the blood in his mouth at the same time and he struggled up, pushing her away. "You bitch!"

She turned away from him, lying flat on the ground, her face buried in her arms, and he could hear her crying. He took his handkerchief   from his pocket and put it to his lip, angry and surprised.  

"What the hell's the matter with you?"

"I'm sorry, Frankie. I didn't mean it" . . . She rolled over and sat up. "D'yu want a drink?"

"Yeah." He continued to hold

the handkerchief to his lip but took it

away when she handed him the paper cup. The lip had stopped bleeding, but when the whisky touched the cut it stung.

Myra had not poured a drink for herself and now she was combing her hair.

"What're you doing?"

"Let's go home, Frankie." She suddenly hated this place; it was as if she had come here in the dark- ness, picturing the surroundings as she wanted them to be, and when

the sun had come she had found herself in a place that reflected only disappointment and misery and the bad memories of the past.

He knew he had made a mistake. He had not been smart; all he had to do with this girl was play the lover and instead he had acted like a

damned fool. And in the past he'd always been so proud of his finesse with the women. He put his hand on her arm.  

"Ah, come on hon. I'm sorry. I dunno what I did, but I'm sorry, honestly."

She stopped combing her hair, her hand still raised, and looked at him. "Don't you understand, Frankie? Have I got to write it down?"

He understood, all right, and he had the answer, but he couldn't give it to her now. To answer would mean committing himself; he would have to choose between the alternatives: marriage or complete severance of their relationship. The latter would be the better, but not to-night. To- morrow we'll call it all off, but to- night—well, to-night let's keep it on

the same old level.

He put his arm about her and drew her to him. She relaxed against him, but there was no warmth in her body, nor response; she lay waiting for his next move. He poured a drink and handed it to her. She took the cup, not looking at it, holding it in her hands, and staring down through the dark tunnel of trees to the lights at the bottom of the slope. He took another drink himself, feeling the sting of the whisky in the cut on his lip. He lightly kissed the back of her neck, afraid of her silence, of her mood and what she might be think- ing.

"Come on, hon. Don't be like that."

He put his hand under her chin and turned up her face. She looked at him without speaking, but her eyes were just pools of shadow and he was suddenly glad he could not see them; it was easier to be oblivious of her reproach and disappointment. He lowered his face and kissed her, quietly and without passion, and he felt her kissing him back, gently and with tenderness, and he knew she was saying good-bye to him, farewelling

her dreams.

HE lay down beside her, her head resting in his arm, and they lay    

like that for some time, he now and again taking a drink and feeling it working within him, she quiet and stroking the hand that caressed her shoulder. He turned his head and her face was close against his, her lips open so that he could feel her breath on his mouth, her hair brushing his cheek. His right hand was on her hip and sud- denly he was conscious of the flesh beneath his hand, the warmth of her body close to his, and desire uncoiled in the whisky within him. He pulled

her to him.

"Don't, Frankie!'

The heat of his blood was betraying him again, blinding him to her frame

of mind.

"No! Please, Frankie . . .!" She twisted her head and he felt her teeth sink home again, this time deep into

his hand.

"You b——d." White-hot anger burned him and he savagely pushed her chin back with the heel of his hand. She struggled, writhing beneath him, and reached up and with her nails tore his cheek.

"Frankie! Please, don't! Frankie . . . !"

Angred and desire and the whisky  

had inflamed him till he had lost control of himself. His mind was blurred, red with the blood pounding in his head, conscious only of her pummelling fist, her scratching nails, her strangled gasping, and his own panting. He moved his hand from her throat and quickly she turned her head and buried her teeth in his fingers. Pain shot through him, joining the thundering blood in his head, blacking him out, and the hand raised, balled to a fist, and pounded, pounded into her face till she was suddenly limp, and then he felt his anger die within him and he heard the rustle of the tree-tops in a breeze that had suddenly sprung up.

He moved aside, not looking at her, reaching for the bottle. He shook it, recognised there was only a small amount left, and drank from the bottle. He turned and put his hand on Myra's shoulder, shaking her.

"Hey! Come on, wake up!"

She rolled limply under his shaking, inert and boneless as a rag doll. He leaned over her, and, dim though the light was, felt a cold shock of horror. Her face was blood-smeared and her nose was flat and twisted. Her mouth was open and her teeth were broken off and her hair lay in strands across her face, stuck in the blood.

"Hey, Myra! Myra! For God's

sake!" Panic hit him physically: his stomach was suddenly nervous and sick, perspiration broke on his fore- head, his limbs were weak and almost useless. His mind was now clear and sober, the effect of the whisky swept away before the flood of his fear. He put his hand beneath her neck, but her head was just a heavy weight in his hand, lolling grotesquely. "Oh Myra! Myra! Say something. . . .!"

He bent his ear to her breast. He sat up slowly and slowly drew his hand from beneath her head, staring with unseeing eyes at the darkness about him, blinded by the horror of his realisation. She was dead, and

he had murdered her.

He sat there, stiff and silent as the dead girl beside him. The trees rustled sibilantly, a car hummed along the street at the bottom of the slope, a winch rattled on a ship down at the wharves. Up on the path at the top of the slope a man and woman laughed, and suddenly he was aware of them. He turned his head quickly, then hurriedly scrambled to his feet, his legs still weak, his body now cold.

He must get away, get away quickly before he was discovered. The place had been deserted, and now suddenly it had possibilities of being crowded, of people coming from everywhere, appearing from the darkness to stumble upon him and his crime.

He gently lifted the body, fighting down a feeling of revulsion at touch- ing a corpse, and slid his coat out from beneath it. Something came under his hand, and his fingers closed on his wallet. Thank God he hadn't left that! He stood up, then bent again, and gathered the two bottles and the two paper cups. He dared not strike a match and with his hand he felt round in the grass where they had lain. Nothing else; he had the lot, and now he must get away from here as quickly as he could.

He looked down at her, seeing her dimly, her lolling head, the bat- tered face, the smashed mouth that had so often smiled at him, then he turned quickly away and went down through the grass to the bottom of the slope and out into the road. He turned left, walking back towards the harbour, then right, walking close against the fences. He came to a vacant allotment, and he dropped the bottles and cups into the grass and jumped with shock when the bottles broke. He looked fearfully about him, but the street was deserted as a graveyard.

He hurriedly combed his hair and, with his handkerchief, wiped his hands and face. The scratches on his cheek stung as he passed the handkerchief over them, and he wondered how they would look to-morrow. He dusted his overcoat, folded it, and draped it across his arm. Then, and only then, feeling he could relax now, he lit a cigarette.

He walked back along the street, turned left, and walked round the bottom of the Domain, looking up at the dark expanse of trees and seeing in his mind her lying there, twisted and dead. He continued on up past the Cathedral, turned into College Street, and walked on to Oxford. A Bronte tram came and he got aboard, sitting in a rear compartment with his scratched check turned outward, away from the man and girl who shared the compartment with him, fearfully wondering now he was beneath bright lights if there was blood on his clothes or any other evidence that might tag him as a recent murderer.

He alighted in Paddington and, without being observed, let himself in the side door of the hotel and went silently, swiftly up to his room.

He locked the door, undressed, and got into bed and lay there in the dark- ness, awake all night, seeing her lying there with the blood on her face, dead, killed by the right hand he now clenched and unclenched and beat into the pillow in a frenzy of fear and despair.

PART FOUR

T'HE room slowly lightened, coming out of the darkness like a slowly   developing photograph, the peace of a Sunday morning coming in to replace the terror of a night where fear and remorse had writhed in the bed with him in the darkness. The light spread, washing in like a slow tide, the dark- ness giving way before it, clinging to the shadowed wall on each side of the window, then suddenly capitulat- ing, gone in a moment, and he could now see the room clearly.

He raised his arm and looked at his watch. Five to six. He had counted the time all night, following the hand of his watch like a timekeeper check- ing a race. He had tried to drop off to sleep, making an effort to efface everything fron his mind, striving to pull the blackness of sleep over him as if it were a cover, but then every- thing would come back to him and his mind would begin again, getting into motion like a refrigerator start- ing up when the coolness had reached a certain low level. He would be back in the Domain, standing beneath the oppressive trees, surrounded by the darkness that was somehow tangible, looking down at her, seeing the hor- ror of her broken face, and he would feel a coldness rush through him, and he would turn his head on the pillow,

shutting his eyes, trying to block out

the memory. He would lie there worn out by the punishment inflicted by his too-clear mind, the mind that would not surrender to sleep.

He sat up and reached for his cigar- ettes, but the packet was empty. The ash-tray lay beside the empty packet, full of butts, the relics of a shattered night.

He threw back the bedclothes and walked across to the dressing-table and looked in the mirror. His right cheek was furrowed by two long red scratches. For a moment he panicked —she had died and left her mark on him, branding him and his crime. Then he took control of himself again —why should anyone think she'd scratched him? Anyone could have done it; there were a thousand and one reasons for scratches on a face; he could have been in a fight at a pub or been scratched by a cat or stumbled against nails. Come on, McCoy, hang on to yourself. You'll finish up running out in the street and blabbing the whole story to some- one passing by.

Moving quietly, almost stealthily, he went along the passage to the bath- room. The shower and shave made him feel better, bringing life back into his body if not clearing his mind of fear, but he had to be careful when shaving that the razor did not open the scratches again.

He dressed in his room then still quietly went downstairs. He let him- self out the side door of the hotel, went up the street, and turned into Oxford Street. Two streets away he could see a boy delivering the Sun- day papers from a billy-cart he was pulling behind him.

He walked up the street toward the paper-boy. His heels were loud under the shop awnings in the silent de- serted street, coming back like echoes, like someone following him. Even though he had not slept, he was wide awake, too wide awake, looking about him for things that were not.

He knew the paper-boy.

"G'day, Frankie. Wassa matter? Couldn't you sleep?" The boy was about fourteen, thin, small for his age, sharp-faced, but full of a wiry strength that would beat poverty, en- vironment, the future.

"G'day, Dave. I got the toothache. Been sitting up all night with it. Give me the Sunday papers."

"Whadya do to your face?"

"Got scratched for not minding my

own business."

The kid had a perception older than his years. "All right. Sorry I asked."

"Sorry, Dave." He must show no sign of being irritated or upset; he must go on being absolutely normal,

being even too normal, trying to efface himself. "I ain't in the best of tempers this morning."

The kid had taken no offence; words were nothing to the other battle before him. "That's all right. You better get that tooth out, though."

"Yeah. I will. So-long."

He walked back down Oxford Street and at the corner of a cross street stopped and opened a paper. He turned the pages quickly, for the first time skipping the sports pages, but there were no headlines of the murder. Right across the middle pages there was a two-page spread of the Belmore murder, but Myra and her death were still un- known to the reading public. He closed the paper, but as he went to put it back under his arm his eye caught the Stop Press. It was there. Even before he read it, he knew the crime had been discovered. He raised

the paper and the type was heavy be- fore his eyes, massive, screaming, ac- cusing . . . "The body of a young woman was found behind the Art Gallery this morning. She had been brutally battered and assaulted. She had been dead for several hours. The police are investigating."

That was all. The bare statement that would whet the public's appe- tite, that would keep them waiting till to-morrow morning and more   news. It told them nothing—and it told him nothing. It did not tell him how much the police knew. They could be back at the hotel now, wait- ing for him.

He opened another paper. There, too, the news was in only the Stop Press, the wording different, but the information just as negligible.

(Continued To-morrow)

Digitisation generously supported by
Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation
Digitisation generously supported by

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