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Amber greeted Maverick on the front steps in the morning. Her hair glinted in the morning sun.
“I thought I might go to Melbourne early,” she stated, stilted. She wasn’t ready to deal with last night yet. Her backpack was beside her.
“That’s fine. Probably best, a couple of nights away will mean we are out of your hair. There are thick walls in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Chances are you need to prepare yourself for a gutted kitchen, bathroom and bedroom when you return. I’m not sure what forensic tools the boys have in their arsenal but the Area Commander was stationed here 30 years ago. He can remember several unsolved disappearances from this area.”
Amber nodded, her eyes not meeting his.
“You are coming back okay,” Maverick insisted, “This is a temporary trip to Melbourne. I am sure a detective will be in touch but I’ll find out the name and if you want, I can sit in with you whilst they talk to you.”
“I have done nothing wrong,” Amber replied coldly. She picked up her backpack and walked to her ute. Maverick watched her as she shut the door and reversed out of the driveway.
Amber sat in the ute for a moment, pausing before she changed gears from reverse to drive. Her house still looked a little ramshackle and it really needed a coat of paint, but the new roof shone. Someone loves me, the house seemed to be shouting into the street. Maverick was standing on the veranda now, he smiled and waved.
Amber drove away, trying not to let her hands shake. It was her house damn it and now police were going to spend days crawling all over it.
“What was the final body count,” Amber had gotten out of her ute. The front yard was full of building debris, her kitchen and bathroom as well as so much plaster and walling. Maverick was loading the rubble into a skip. Tom, Robert and the teenage kids were helping.
Maverick dumped another shard of timber in.
“We got a total of another seven bodies out. They had been dismembered. Forensics roughly dates them as pre-Sam Grant.”
“Good. I didn’t know him but I liked him. He only hoarded intelligent things. Not a trashy mag in the lot. Can I have my house back,” she asked.
“You can, but I have to do a bit of cleaning up still.”
She eyed him, he eyed her. She was in her business attire, being a knee length pencil skirt and a pinkish-red shirt. Damn it she looked good.
“We’ll be done with this in a minute.”
“You don’t have to help,” she stated to everyone much more calmly than she felt.
“Yes, we do. You came into our town and you uncovered a 30-year-old mystery Luv,” Tom said. “It’s the least we can do.”
“Besides old man MacDonald told us he’d beat us to kingdom come if we didn’t help ya,” one of the teenagers said.
Amber laughed and the tension fled. “I’ll go get my gloves,” she said. “After all, I did manage not to have to pay for the gutting of downstairs.”
Amber walked into the house and dumped her backpack down. She looked around and could see all the way out the back door. Dust was everywhere. It coated the remaining floors and the sheets that had been hung up over the windows. The faded old cream wall paint was now a brown-grey colour. There were no internal walls left except for the walls lining the staircase. The downstairs seemed massive. The floor where her kitchen, dining room and bedroom had been removed and she could see through the bearers and joists to the ground below.
She went out the back and found her gloves before loading up the skip with the rest of them.
“How’s the investigation going,” Amber asked.
“How’d your meeting go,” Maverick changed the conversation.
“Good,” Amber said noncommittally. Amber did not readily discuss business with anyone, nor did Maverick, apparently.
“You should take Mum out and look at kitchen designs. She’s feeling pretty good at the moment. It would do her well to have some girl time.” One of the boys commented.
“What do you think I am,” his sister replied.
“Her child, not the same as a girls day out,” he replied sarcastically.
“Knock it off kids,” Robert ordered, “The boy’s right, though. Milly would love a trip out of town and some time away from the kids. She really does have to put up with them heaps when I am out of town. I can give you the plans for the inside tomorrow and you can go and look at some designs for what you want.”
Amber nodded. Maverick may not be willing to share too much of the investigation but Milly would quite happily spill the beans.
“You can use the toilet downstairs, but pretty much everything else was removed.”
“Not a problem,” Amber said dumping more stuff into the skip. Her phone buzzed and she pulled off her gloves to answer it.
“Good afternoon, Amber speaking,” she answered formally before switching to Italian.
“She speaks Italian as well,” Robert shrugged.
“She could speak five languages before she turned 15.” Maverick offered. “Gentlemen, lady, we have a genius moved into our neighbourhood. But genius or not, that won’t get all this rubble removed and I am not going to front up to Grandpa tomorrow and tell him the job is not done.”
At that, the helpers all started piling the old kitchen into the largest skip that Tom owned.
Amber dropped her gloves by the front door. She felt an uncharacteristic sense of calm. She felt that she had come home. Her brain conflicted that, how many people had been buried in the walls of her house. The entire downstairs was an empty shell. The only internal structure was under the stairwell. The two front rooms were gutted, the lining removed so just the external weatherboards were between her and the elements. The floorboards in the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom area had been removed and stacked neatly in the front room. She could probably relay those. She’d have to speak to Robert before he left to go back to his job in a couple of days.
Amber pulled out a pen and paper, now she had no lining she could install insulation very easily. Perhaps she could get some underfloor insulation so that she could have the timber floorboards without freezing her feet off in winter. She’d keep the openness and perhaps install a pot belly stove to heat the house. Roxy was good at design and she was due up from Melbourne in three days. Amber would take Milly into Wangaratta or Shepardton tomorrow, it would be good to take a few hours off work to concentrate on remaking her house. She’d have to do some of the work herself, insulation couldn’t be too hard. Amber lent closer to an exposed wire. It had a funny green substance on it.
“You are going to need to rewire the house soon,” she spun around. Milly was standing there with a travel mug of tea for her. “Murderous ex-owners or not, at least now you have unfettered access to your house and you don’t have to remove the lead-based paint from down here. It’s a pain in the bum. Have a cup of tea. I would have made you a cake but I’ve only just gotten over another bout of Pancreatitis.”
“Thanks, do you know any electricians,” Amber asked.
“Raphael Pololonski. I went to school with him. He lives in Wangaratta now, but he does a better job than our local fellow and he doesn’t charge as much. He’s got a big job starting in a week, so he can probably fit you in.” Milly scrolled through some numbers on her phone. “Here you go,” and she gave Amber the phone number. A few minutes later Amber hung up.
“He’ll be out in an hour to quote. It would be nice to not have to touch the place for a while after I finish the renovations, but my bank account is going to take a big hit. I didn’t budget to reline the walls. I guess Colin can order everything in for me. I don’t even know what I need. Hell, I’ve never lived with a builder before.”
Milly gave her an odd look. Amber grinned. “For a small country town, I guess you only know what people choose to tell. I grew up in the foster system.”
“So Roxy isn’t really your sister.”
“No, but she’s pretty cool and well, it’s sort of nice to have some sort of family occasionally. Am I forgiven for not owning up to the truth.”
“You are an absolute idiot. Family isn’t just blood, it comes in all shapes and sizes.”