Unmarry me, p.17

Unmarry Me, page 17

 

Unmarry Me
 


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  ‘Don’t worry about noise or anything, Ruby, we’ll be up. Mrs P said she wanted to get a bit more exercise so I suggested a movie marathon. You can’t beat Fred and Ginger.’

  ‘You are a funny bloke, Mr P. Thanks again for this.’ I take my seat in the doorway of the open front door. I’m glad I remembered my jacket. It is cold.

  ‘All right,’ Mr P says, ‘we’ll leave you to it.’

  I sit and watch my front door.

  After what feels like fifteen minutes I check my phone to find it’s only been five. I lean forward, my elbows on my knees, and unwrap another Fantale. I can’t read the question in the dark but that doesn’t matter because I know all the answers anyway.

  After twenty minutes my arse hurts. I ditch the chair and sit on the carpet. This has been eye-opening. Now I know that I would never have made a good detective or paparazzo. I couldn’t have stood the watching and waiting. Tonight I have learned that I can’t even sit for it.

  At the half-hour point, the Fantales are gone. I pour myself a cuppa, because I’m hoping the heat from the tea will dissolve the caramel stuck on my teeth, and because having a cup of tea is something to do.

  Forty-five minutes and I’m thinking of calling it a night or chucking my phone in the bin so I stop knowing what time it is. I call Justine.

  ‘God, I’m bored.’

  ‘What?’

  I try a loud whisper: ‘I said I’m bored.’

  ‘A stakeout is meant to be tedious. In the movies, the minute everybody gets tired and scratchy is when the perp shows up.’

  For some reason Justine using the word ‘perp’ is hilarious.

  ‘It’d be fucking awesome if the perp showed up on cue.’ My voice is too loud. I have never been a great whisperer. I don’t like whispering—it’s not sexy or discreet; it’s raspy and evil-sounding.

  ‘You’re too noisy,’ Justine says. ‘I’m going.’

  I make sure my phone is on silent and slip it into my pocket.

  Tonight is the night, I can feel it. The clench in my stomach is back.

  Exactly an hour after I sat down I hear a noise. I breathe through my mouth, low, soft. Footsteps on the stairs. A person-shaped shape. Past No. 5, up the stairs.The shape strides past No. 7. Up the last of the stairs to No. 8. My place.

  I watch. Shuffling. Something drops. The shape bends down and picks up a red envelope. In the dark I can see the red, it’s showy: Look at me, I’m crazy and I hate homos.

  I should have thought more about what I’d actually do if the stalker turned up. I want to burst out onto the landing with my gun up high and shout ‘Stop in the name of the Law’, but I don’t have a gun and this isn’t a Western. What I do have is the fear that I can’t pull this off. There’s sweat on my lips but my neck and back are cold.

  I tug the handcuffs out of my back pocket. Here we go. Mr P must have oiled the hinges on his screen door. He thinks of everything.

  I tiptoe across to my place. My mouth is dry, no spit, and my legs are numb. The shape turns around to come back down my stairs as I reach the bottom. The shape has nowhere to go.

  I don’t see her often, although I saw her only days ago, and I try to keep my distance. And here she is on my landing.

  ‘You?’

  33.

  Cassandra doesn’t want to be restrained and it takes everything I’ve got, which is a lot since I’m so pissed off, to handcuff her to the railing. Her hair is in my mouth; I spit it out, pushing it off my lips with my tongue. She leans over my back, yanking her arm, and I have to crouch to snap the cuff over the rail.

  ‘You can’t do this. It’s imprisonment.’ Cassandra rattles the cuff on the railing. It clanks, and I don’t know if I want to laugh or find a corner to cry in.

  ‘It’s a citizen’s arrest,’ I say.

  ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ Cassandra pulls, trying to get free. ‘That’s about as stupid as your citizen’s divorce.’

  ‘If it’s so stupid why are you handcuffed to my stairs?’

  ‘You wait until you hear from my lawyers.’ Lawyers plural. Only wankers have more than one lawyer.

  ‘Shut up, Cassandra.’ And that’s about the most I plan to say to her.

  I leave her there and go to tell the Ps.

  ‘Mr and Mrs P,’ I call out as I knock on the loungeroom door, ‘I caught the stalker. You can go to bed now.’

  Fred and Ginger pause mid-dance and the Ps follow me out to the landing. I wish they wouldn’t; it’s cold and it’s late, but they have been in this from the start and they want to see the end.

  We stand on the Ps’ side of the landing, away from Cassandra, and I get my phone out to call the police. My hands are shaking and I drop McManus’s card twice before Mr P takes over and reads the number out.

  ‘It’s ringing,’ I say to the Ps, snug in their dressing-gowns, expectation on their faces, like little kids on Christmas morning.

  Cassandra tugs on the cuffs. Bad luck, Cassandra, they’re proper police handcuffs, not the cheap and cheery type you pick up at Sexyland.

  ‘Hi, Sergeant McManus, this is Ruby Wheeler.’

  ‘Good evening, Ruby.’ Gravel down the phone. ‘Have you been riding in any boots lately?’

  ‘Of course not, Sergeant.’

  ‘What can I do for you tonight, Ruby?’

  ‘I have caught a stalker and I have her handcuffed to a railing.’

  ‘Sounds interesting. What’s the address?’

  I tell him and hear his pen clicking and sliding on his notebook.

  ‘Ruby, I’m hoping this isn’t something both us will regret. We’ll be there shortly.’

  ‘Thank you, Sergeant.’

  I hang up and call Justine. ‘It worked!’

  ‘I’ll be there soon.’ Quick as a hot flash, she’s hung up.

  Justine has further to travel than the police but I won’t be surprised if she beats them. I didn’t get a sense that McManus would use lights and sirens; he sounded cautious.

  I get back to the Ps, who are telling Cassandra what a bad person she is. Mrs P gives her too much information.

  ‘Ruby’s stressed,’ Mrs P says, ‘and she has trouble sleeping. We see her going out at all hours for snacks.’

  ‘What do you have to say for yourself, Missy?’ That’s Mr P.

  Cassandra has turned away from them. She might be counting the cracks in the plaster on the ceiling. She could be planning to disappear. She isn’t listening and she isn’t going to say anything. I’ve seen that look.

  ‘We couldn’t help it,’ Mrs P says.

  ‘That’s okay. Let’s go inside and wait for the police. Can I put your kettle on, Mrs P?’

  We leave the screen door open so we can see Cassandra, who is using her free hand to call someone on her mobile. I don’t care. She can call the whole wide world. Nobody she calls will get here before McManus, and he’s going to love that I’m not wasting his time.

  ‘She’s on the phone,’ Mrs P says.

  ‘Probably calling her lawyer. Or a locksmith.’

  ‘Have you got the keys, Ruby?’

  The cuffs were loose in the glove box, without a key, and I didn’t think to look through the rest of the junk. ‘Nope, no keys. I hope they’re universal. We’ll find out soon enough.’

  ‘We’ll find out now,’ Mr P says. ‘We’ll leave you and the police to it, Ruby. Good night and congratulations. That took courage. We’re proud of you.’

  The police look all business and their authority over Cassandra really does it for me. Right behind them is Justine. Two personal bests in one day—whatever will she do with herself? She throws her arms around me and the police have to wait until she is done.

  ‘Ruby, why do you have this woman handcuffed to a railing?’

  ‘She’s been stalking me for months. She calls and says disgusting things to me; she’s been leaving letters; plus she vandalised my car.’

  ‘And the dead rat,’ says Jus, making sure.

  ‘I opened the first lette
r but after that I didn’t bother. But I kept them all. And the rat.’

  Cassandra takes a breath.

  ‘That’s right, Cassandra. Evidence.’

  ‘Ruby, can you two wait over there?’ McManus points to the far corner of the landing. He turns to Cassandra. ‘Can I see some identification, please?’

  ‘If you get me out of this,’ she pulls and the cuff rattles against the railing, metal on metal, ‘I’ll be able to retrieve my purse from my coat.’

  ‘Which pocket? We’ll get it for you.’

  ‘Left.’

  McManus’s partner, Constable Staples, gets the purse and hands it to McManus. ‘Cassandra Cartwright. Is this your current address?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘You’re a long way from home.’

  ‘Yes.’

  Stalkers are known for their commitment. Stalkers never put off for tomorrow what they can do today.

  ‘And did you leave this envelope?’

  McManus points at the red envelope tucked into the screen door.

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘And you have left others?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘And a dead rat?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘And you made nuisance phone calls?’

  ‘Yes.’

  She’s using the when-in-doubt-agree-to-everything ploy. That’s new. She is never this agreeable at work. She even has to have her office furniture arranged differently from everyone else’s.

  ‘Why, Miss Cartwright?’

  She clamps her mouth shut. Shakes her head.

  ‘We’ll get to the bottom of it, won’t we, Constable Staples?’ He tucks his notebook away. ‘Back at the station.’

  I feel like I’m about to lose it. After months of leaving the phone off the hook, and double-double-checking the doors and windows, I’m done.

  I’d love it if she went to jail.

  Although public humiliation would be okay, too. Since unmarryme, I know what that’s like. People look at you as if they think they know you, you can see they’re about to say hello, and then they realise it’s the unmarryme woman. You don’t die of humiliation but it’s less than glorious.

  ‘What will happen to her?’

  ‘She’ll likely be charged with stalking. You didn’t happen to record any phone calls?’

  ‘No, I didn’t think of it.’

  ‘Ruby, do you have a key for the cuffs?’

  ‘No, Sergeant McManus, they were Keith’s. I found them in his glove box and I didn’t think of keys.’

  ‘Oh. Well, we’ll have to send off to head office for a key. Should have it by early tomorrow morning.’

  ‘What?’ Cassandra pulls at the rail and the cuff digs horizontal tooth marks into her arm.

  ‘I guess we could burn them off? There’s a blowtorch back at the station. I’ve only done it a couple of times. What about you, Staples? Might be good for you to get some practice.’

  ‘What?!’ Cassandra’s face twists.

  ‘Miss Cartwright, relax. Police humour.’ He unlocks the cuffs.

  Cassandra rubs her wrists like the perps do on TV. ‘You haven’t heard the last of this,’ she says.

  ‘You can add making threats to the list if you like. Come on, Miss Cartwright, let’s sort this out at the station. You’ll need to come down, too, Ruby, but come in the morning. It’s late and you look beat. I’m sorry, I don’t know your name,’ he says to Justine.

  ‘Justine Margaret Roper-Daily.’

  ‘Okay, Justine Margaret Roper-Daily, are you able to stay with Ruby tonight? She might need some company. And can both of you come in tomorrow morning?’

  ‘Of course,’ Justine says.

  ‘What about your deadline, Jus?’

  ‘My laptop’s in the car.’

  Sergeant McManus and Constable Staples walk Cassandra down the stairs. We follow them and watch her being put in the police car. Constable Staples has a hand on Cassandra’s head as she gets into the back seat.

  ‘So you know her?’ Justine says.

  ‘From work. She’s not a fan.’

  ‘Or she’s the worst kind of fan. Fan is short for fanatic.’

  ‘Whatever. Who gives a shit? I’m tired.’

  ‘Same here,’ Jus says. ‘That was satisfying, though.’ We grab Jus’s computer out of her car, and I take my clothes and bag as well. Justine brought a change of clothes, just in case.

  ‘Thanks for tonight, Jus. I couldn’t have done it without you.’ I have cried more in the last few months than I ever have, and here I go again.

  ‘Come on, Rube.’ An arm around my shoulder.

  Jus leads me up the stairs. She’s bossy, like Peta. Once a big sister, always a big sister. Justine is fourteen months older than her sister, Mel, and she finds it hard to let go of her authority.

  ‘What time is it?’

  Jus looks at her watch. I never noticed she wears a watch. ‘It’s only twenty past eight.’

  ‘Is that all?’ I say. ‘I’m going to bed.’

  ‘Good idea. I’ll make camp at the dining table and finish the writing. Do you want me to wake you up if Mark calls?’

  ‘When he calls. Yes, please.’

  34.

  ‘Are you still awake?’

  ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘I’m wrecked but I can’t sleep. Plus, I’m waiting for Boydy to call. My body’s got used to our nightly chats.’

  I make space for Justine. The spare bed in Celeste’s room is covered in toys and books.

  ‘I finished the article. It’s changed a little since today. Don’t worry, I didn’t name names. I talked about personal cost, extra-personal now, but also the joy of other people getting on board.’ Justine climbs into bed beside me and reaches under the covers. ‘What’s this?’

  ‘It’s Celeste’s.’ I snatch Tall Guy from her. ‘I sleep with him. There’s no need to look at me like that. You’ve still got your teddy. What’s it called again?’

  ‘Pinky,’ she says, ‘and he’s a collector’s item.’

  ‘If that’s code for manky, then yes he is.’ I’m still hugging Tall Guy. I push him back under the covers. ‘Jesus, your feet are cold.’

  She doesn’t lie down and her freezing feet are at thigh level. ‘That’s what Stuart always says.’

  ‘Stuart is always right. In this instance. And about the beard. Happy that’s gone, huh?’

  ‘I liked it,’ she says. ‘He had it when I met him, so I must have.’

  ‘What did you mean before? “Extra-personal” cost?’

  ‘Stuart wants to unmarry me.’

  ‘Really?’ I’m smiling and I can’t help it. I’m sad and I can’t help it. This is the throwing-a-stone-at-someone’s-head feeling again. Only this time it’s my best friend and there she is, lying in the dirt, her jacket bright green against the brown, and here I am willing her to get to her feet, dropping the rest of the stones behind my back. ‘Have you told him how you feel?’

  Justine doesn’t need to say she isn’t happy. She let her feelings be known months ago when we moved Mark into his dad’s place. Nothing would make her divorce Stuart, she said. ‘We’ve talked about it,’ she says. ‘Don’t worry, you’re not an island in all this.’

  ‘Tell me about it. Unmarryme is a country and countries come with politics, and preachers, and stalkers. I could talk to Stuart. Tell him not to.’

  ‘It’s beyond you, Ruby.’ She’s still sitting up in bed. I’ve taken to keeping the curtains open since Mark moved out; against the light coming through the window I can see the curve of her back and the profile of her face.

  ‘What do you mean it’s beyond me?’ I say. ‘I invented it.’ Now I sit up and look out the window: the roofs, the trees, everything a silver dark blue, as if we were on the moon instead of Earth. It took Mark leaving for me to see how good the view is.

  ‘A minute ago you said unmarryme is a country. This is bigger than you and it’s not about you and now it looks like I’m heading rapidly to divorce.’

  S
he should be angry. She shouldn’t be spending her time looking after me. If it were the other way round, I’d do things to her. I’d bring my stapler. Maybe she likes her revenge chilled and, one day, when I least expect it, she’ll turn up with a home electrocution kit and give me the buzz I deserve.

  ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

  ‘I’m telling you now. He decided for sure this morning.’

  ‘It’s my fault, Jus. I couldn’t leave it alone and now people are getting hurt. Peta was right.’

  ‘No, she wasn’t. She just wishes it was someone else’s sister so she didn’t have to see the sacrifice so closely.’

  ‘Oh, you reckon?’

  ‘She said so. It’s in the article.’

  Justine spoke to Peta? I haven’t even told her about our recruits and she should have been first, well, second, third, somewhere in the first five, to know. I can’t say she’s not interested in me when I don’t call her with big news like that. Sometimes I’m such a shit sister.

  ‘I didn’t want this for you,’ I say. ‘When it was an idea, I wanted the whole country to do it, but now I’d rather save you the pain.’

  ‘Too late. We’ve committed to an un-commitment.’ It’s ten o’clock. The grandfather clock chimes and Justine counts along. On the last of the chimes, over the echo, she says, ‘How am I meant to sleep with that bloody noise?’ ‘It’s ridiculous.’ She clasps her hands over her ears.

  ‘You get used to it. I almost never hear it now, and when I do it reminds me of Mum.’

  Enough sitting up in bed. I lie back down and drag the covers up and over Justine, who is still sitting.

  ‘How about BJ’s mum?’ she says, still sitting up, because she can be at least the pain in the neck I can be. ‘I did not see that coming.’

  ‘Don’t you remember the wedding? All the fingertip kissing.’ And I never did talk to BJ about it. Too busy freedom-fighting. The phone rings. ‘That’ll be Mark.’

  Justine gets out of bed, indicates she’ll leave us to it.

  ‘Hi, Boydy.’

  ‘How was the stakeout?’

  He sounds as tired as I am.

  ‘It worked.’

  ‘Was it that Mrs Smith woman?’ He sounds tired and something else. Worried? Stressed? He should sound happier; I’m safe now, and all that.

 
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