He sees her painting nails. Toe nails. But what colour?
The constable adjusts his gun belt, hacks out the car door and farts.
‘Nice.” The sergeant sighs. The scrub blurs past like blown paint.
“My brother can fart Are You Lonesome Tonight,” he pauses, waiting for his boss to respond, “the Elv..”
“I know what it is. Read the map.” The sergeant has regrets that plague him at times like these. His sister’s son. How did he get talked into it?
“She’s not gonna be this far out, no way.”
“Oh really.” A roo thinks of bolting across the road. Carson floors it. “How do you figure that, Sherlock?”
“You do what she did, come on mate, she’s gonna hop a plane.”
“Don’t call me mate.”
The suspension drums a thudding beat over the corrugation, a red dirt cloud chasing them, relentless.
“Do ya reckon she’s gone mental?” The constable takes a cig from the packet and slips it behind his ear, knee popping along with the jarring rhythm of the road, his anxiety now somehow in sync with the shuddering Ford.
“Well, she’s not well, Darren. No.”
His nephew picks at scab on his elbow. Carson realizes he may as well be talking to a rock, but persists. He needs to take his mind off the girl.
“So, if you were a famous actress and you’d just slain...,” Carson stops, the scene suddenly running back and forth, jumping, speeding, stopping.. Apartment, harbour view, up high, carpet spattered. Her moving around it all, bare feet. He realises he isn’t breathing.
The nephew’s defiance jolts Carson back. “So,... you’d catch a plane out of the country... to escape? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Outta here like shit off a shiny shovel, mate...sir.”
A monster rig slams past at an ungodly speed, the dust erasing all light within the patrol car. The sergeant half thinks about turning and nailing the prick, but thinks better of it. Not today.
“..and Customs?” He continues, “Her face? She’s on every supermarket magazine from here...”
“Disguise.” The nephew’s response has resolve, but his tone is wavering. Higher, less sure.
The constable pauses briefly. The sergeant glances across and sees the challenge crushing the constable’s forehead. “Borrow one?”
The Sergeant parks the vehicle next to an anthill and gets out. He says he needs to piss, but he doesn’t. He just needs out. Out of the air con the heat holds him tight. The constable watches. ‘He’s not pissing,’ he thinks swatting at the new swarm of flies sucked in through the open door. He leans across awkwardly and tries to close it, but can’t quite reach. He flops on the driver’s seat, in that unco resigned way, thinks about staying flattened there on the sheepskin cover, but caution reigns and he heaves back over.
He knows the call will come any tick. ‘Call it off, back to the station, let someone else find her.’ No one else will, though.
Next to a bloodwood an old Coke can glints, shining out like alien refuse. Space junk. McCauley at Alice said she had no shoes. That was the only info they had. No shoes. In this place. He pretends he sees something moving in the hazy scrub, then catches himself, annoyed. That was a game he gave up years ago. Wishful policing. Mug’s game.
But he can see her feet moving over the dirt, rock. Bare, but for the blood.
“No more, Vince.” Cathy gives him the stare down, then goes to serve Patch at the far end. There only the two of them in tonight.
“You’re getting stingy, lady.”
The barmaid ignores Carson, so he works the usual trick, and leans over the bar to grab the bottle. Oldie but a goodie.
“See Patch,” Cathy bellows theatrically, motioning to the swaying Sergeant, teetering and reaching for the Wild Turkey, like a wonky crane, “if yer a copper, you can do whatever ya fuckin’ like!”
Carson stops, looking down at her feet. Flip flops, rubber mat. In focus. Out of focus. Eyes narrow.
“Purple.” The Sergeant stops, bottle halfway lifted across the bar. “She’s wearing purple nail polish. No, pink.”
He tilts his head toward the greasy window, out past the fluoro sign and lifeless highway, across the tiny daubs he knows are mulga, past the fading ridge line to the squid ink sky.
“Her.” He nods out into the still night. "I mean her."