Source: Gary Jubelin for News Corp
Everyone drank that night.
In the circumstances, it seemed wise to be – or at least appear – part of the group. To be different was to be a suspect. Or a victim.
It had been well after midnight before they’d started processing as a collective what had just happened; it was, after all, a gathering of highly egocentric individuals.
And at the centre of it all, just where they liked it, were McCredden and Maya; the ageing thespian and the faded beauty, holding court in the Pandanus Lounge.
There’s nothing wrong with 70-somethings continuing to be sexual beings.
In the circumstances, though, the witty double entendre just seemed inappropriate.
“Oh darling,” Maya had declared, with more than a dash of Broadway at some point in the confusion after Dario’s collapse, “I’ve been dying to see you.”
McCredden was the only one who hadn’t cringed.
If this were a reality show – which it were beginning to resemble – this would be the end of episode one, where alliances are beginning to form.
Nine individuals trapped on an island with a murderer among them; it was a Freudian showrunner’s dream: let’s see the worst and best of human behaviour.
Alliance One: the island employees. Why shouldn’t they join forces? The murdering had started after the outsiders had arrived, after all. Manager Garfield Engelbrecht assumed his natural role as alpha male. His deputy, De Kock, and kamikaze chef Kev were happy to defer to Engelbrecht; they were enthralled to be in the presence of real life television stars.
This seemed to annoy Champion, who kept bringing the conversation back to his leadership credentials. “As the director … ” “When you’re a director like me …” he kept saying; “Speaking with my director’s hat on … “
As the night deepened, they discussed the day’s events. Two people had been murdered. A once-in-a-generation storm meant no prospect of assistance in the next 24 hours. They had electricity, thanks to the reliable diesel-driven generator they could hear whirring in the background, in unison with the roar of the storm and the waves crashing in the lagoon.
The kitchen had an abundance of fine food. The bar was fully stocked (McCredden’s rider had seen to that).
Garfield summoned his calmest island-manager voice and declared, his vowels Queensland-flat: “Perhaps given the circumstances it would be best if we all bunk down here in the bar. I could arrange for mattresses to be brought down.”
Nods of resigned agreement from some in the group.
But not from Mcredden. Not Ms Maya Churchill. They had other plans. There were 30 years of sexual tension crackling between them, and this real-life drama was one hell of an aphrodisiac. This would be one performance that didn’t require an audience.
They both brightened just a little when Champion – feeling obliged to assert his authority – disagreed with Garfield.
“I think we would all be safer in our own rooms,” Champion said.
“We were here together and that didn’t stop Dario being killed in front of us. “
Champion allowed his voice to catch; his chin to tremble slightly.
“Dario … the finest cinematographer I’ve known.”
Mother had spent a fortune on those acting classes, and Champion could summon the subtlest of emotions whenever he felt it would enhance his point.
Still, as the discussion continued, the will of the group seemed to be swinging towards Garfield’s suggestion.
And then Mother – Maria – spoke up. She’d been quietly sitting in the corner on her own, sipping on her gin and tonic with a pinch of lime.
The others whirled towards her in surprise. They’d forgotten she was there.
Mother had a secret. She knew where Matilda’s missing shoe was. But she wasn’t about to let that out just yet.
“Mr Garfield,” she murmured, “how many keys are there for each room?”
Garfield looked surprised. “Two for guests and a spare that we keep in the office.”
“Might I suggest,” Mother said, “we each take the three sets of keys for our own room? That way we can make sure we are all safe overnight. “
Unspoken between them was a hint of guilt; they’d all ignored the figure in the corner, old and therefore invisible.
Champion wasn’t feeling guilty. He was humiliated.
Once again, Mother had stepped in on his behalf, just as she had time and again when he was a boy.
“Once I sell the rights to this – whatever it is,” he thought, “she’ll see. I’ll be my own man.”
He cleared his throat in what he hoped was a manly fashion. “How about we all agree to be back here at eight in the morning – and that no one should leave their room overnight?”
Agreement. They filed out of the lounge and off to their rooms.
Did Maya and McCredden walk together? Did they enter the same room? The prospect is a gossip columnist’s dream. Someone would get the story one day; even if McCredden had to drop a few well-timed hints to his favourite showbiz reporter. He pretended to revile the press, of course – especially the journalists who covered him and his career so avidly – but like most of his peers he wasn’t above planting the odd story when it suited him.
Zoe walked off to her room alone. She was, frankly, scared. And confused. Sleep was impossible.
It wasn’t the incessant howling wind or the clanging of furniture sliding across balconies that kept her awake.
It was regret. Maybe she should have got as drunk as the rest of them the night before; Matilda’s last night on earth. Maybe she shouldn’t have appointed herself Covid Marshal, for Christ’s sake. Maybe she should have let the beautiful young starlet do what she wanted.
In Zoe’s 30 years, she’d never been exposed to death, unless you counted Rusty the family cattledog, which Zoe didn’t, considering he was so very old when the vet finally dispatched him.
Now, in the space of 24 hours, she had come across a dead body and seen someone drop dead in front of her.
She simply could not get the image of Matilda Meadows out of her mind, nor the nose-clearing odour of congealing blood.
She had followed Matilda’s career for years. To see her lying there with her throat cut, staring into nothing, sent chills down her spine. Aren’t dead people meant to close their eyes? Is that just on TV?
Matilda’s eyes had been full of fear and horror. There was nothing artistic; nothing majestic about her death. This was a life brutally stolen.
And Dario – alive one minute, then the life just sapped from him. “What the fuck?” She could see the look on his face. He didn’t want to go. And then, the instant he fell, his body was just an object; his soul stripped away.
Zoe shuddered. Is this it? Is this how life ends?
The thoughts were still swirling as the sun rose, brightened and began to heat the island. Zoe stepped out of her room and walked towards the Pandanus Lounge, still hearing Dario’s words; still smelling Matilda’s blood.
Time to face the others. Maybe, together, the nine of them could work out what to do next.
As she stepped indoors and her eyes adjusted to the gloom, Zoe scanned the group and froze.
There were only seven people in the room.
Gary Jubelin was one of Australia’s most celebrated detectives. The majority of his career was spent investigating high-profile homicides, before he left in controversial circumstances. Instead of writing facts sheets, he has turned his focus to journalism. Applying the same passion he had for catching killers, he now hosts the ‘I Catch Killers’ podcast, co-authored his memoir ‘I Catch Killers’ and writes for News Corp Australia, based at The Sunday Telegraph.