Her little finger hit the delete key. Delete. Delete.
Her mobile phone buzzed and vibrated on the desk next to her computer and she snatched it up.
‘Mrs Crowley, it’s Rodney Bellach.’
‘Rodney,’ said Rachel. ‘Do you have good news for me?’
‘Well. Not – well, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve given the tape to a good mate at the Unsolved Homicide Team,’ said Rodney. He sounded stilted, as if he’d carefully scripted his words before he picked up the phone. ‘So it’s absolutely in the right hands.’
‘That’s good,’ said Rachel. ‘That’s a start! They’ll reopen the case!’
‘Well, Mrs Crowley, the thing is, Janie’s case isn’t closed, ’ said Rodney. ‘It’s still open. When the coroner returns an open finding, as they did with Janie, as you know – well, it stays open. So what I’m saying is the boys will take a look at the tape. They’ll certainly look at it.’
‘And they’ll interview Connor again?’ said Rachel. She pressed the phone hard against her ear.
‘I guess that’s a possibility,’ said Rodney. ‘But please don’t get your hopes up too high, Mrs Crowley. Please don’t.’
The disappointment felt personal, as if she was being told she’d failed some test. She wasn’t good enough. She’d failed to help her daughter. She’d failed her again.
‘But look, that’s just my opinion. The new guys are younger and smarter than me. Someone from the Unsolved Homicide Team will call you this week and let you know what they think.’
As she put down the phone and returned to the computer, Rachel felt her eyes blur. She realised she’d had a warm sense of anticipation all day, as if finding the tape was going to set in motion a series of events that would lead to something wonderful, almost as if she’d thought the tape was going to bring Janie back. An infantile part of her mind had never accepted that her daughter could be murdered. Surely one day some respectable authority figure would take charge and put it right. Maybe God was the reasonable, respectable figure she’d always assumed was going to step in. Could she really have been that deluded? Even subconsciously?
God didn’t care. God didn’t care less. God gave Connor Whitby free will, and Connor used that free will to strangle Janie.
Rachel pushed her chair back from her desk and looked out the window at the schoolyard. She had a bird’s eye view from up here and could see everything that was going on. It was nearly school pick-up time. Parents were scattered about the place: little groups of mums deep in conversation, the occasional father lurking in the background, checking his email on his mobile phone. She watched one of the fathers quickly step aside for someone in a wheelchair. It was Lucy O’Leary. Her daughter Tess was pushing the chair. As Rachel watched, Tess bent down to hear something that her mother said, and threw back her head and laughed. There was something quietly subversive about those two.
You could become friends with your grown-up daughter in way that didn’t seem possible with your grown-up son. That was what Connor took away from Rachel: all the future relationships she could have had with Janie.
I am not the first mother to lose a child, Rachel kept telling herself that first year. I am not the first. I will not be the last.
It made no difference, of course.
The buzzer went for the end of the school day, and seconds later the children tumbled out of their classrooms. There was that familiar afternoon babble of childish voices: laughing, shouting, crying. Rachel saw the little O’Leary boy run to his grandmother’s wheelchair. He nearly tripped because he was using both hands to awkwardly carry a giant cardboard construction covered in aluminium foil. Tess bent down next to her mother’s wheelchair and all three of them examined whatever it was – a spaceship perhaps? No doubt it was Trudy Applebee’s doing. Forget the syllabus. If Trudy decided Year 1 was making spaceships that day, so it would be. Lauren and Rob were going to end up staying in New York. Jacob would have an American accent. He’d eat pancakes for breakfast. Rachel would never see him run out of his school carrying something covered in aluminium foil. The police wouldn’t do anything with the video tape. They’d put it on file. They probably didn’t even have a VCR to watch it on.
Rachel turned back to her computer screen and let her hands splay limply on the keys. She’d been waiting twenty-eight years for something that was never going to happen.
It had been a mistake suggesting a drink. What had she been thinking? The bar was crowded with young, beautiful drunk people. Tess kept staring at them. They all looked like high school students to her, who should have been at home studying, not out on a school night, shrieking and squawking. Connor had found them a table, which was lucky, but it was right next to a row of flashing, beeping poker machines and it was clear from the panicked concentration on Connor’s face each time she spoke that he was having difficulty hearing her. Tess sipped a glass of not especially good wine and felt her head begin to ache. Her legs were sore after that long walk up the hill from Cecilia’s place. She did that one Body Combat class with Felicity on Tuesday nights, but she couldn’t seem to manage to fit in any other time for exercise in between work and school and all of Liam’s activities. She remembered suddenly that she’d just paid one hundred and ninety dollars for a martial arts course that Liam was meant to have started in Melbourne today. Shit, shit, shit.