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The Broken Shore: A Novelby Peter Temple
CASHIN WALKED around the hill, into the wind from the sea. It was cold, late autumn, last glowing leaves clinging to the liquidambars and maples his great-grandfathers brother had planted, their surrender close. He loved this time, the morning stillness, loved it more than spring.
The dogs were tiring now but still hunting the ground, noses down, taking more time to sniff, less hopeful. Then one picked up a scent and, new life in their legs, they loped in file for the trees, vanished.
When he was near the house, the dogs, black as liquorice, came out of the trees, stopped, heads up, looked around as if seeing the land for the first time. Explorers. They turned their gaze on him for a while, started down the slope.
He walked the last stretch as briskly as he could and, as he put his hand out to the gate, they reached him. Their curly black heads tried to nudge him aside, insisting on entering first, strong back legs pushing. He unlatched the gate, they pushed it open enough to slip in, nose to tail, trotted down the path to the shed door. Both wanted to be first again, stood with tails up, furry scimitars, noses touching at the door jamb.
Inside, the big poodles led him to the kitchen. They had water bowls there and they stuck their noses into them and drank in a noisy way. Cashin prepared their meal: two slices each from the cannon-barrel dog sausage made by the butcher in Kenmare, three handfuls each of dry dog food. He got the dogs attention, took the bowls outside, placed them a metre apart.
The dogs came out. He told them to sit. Stomachs full of water, they did so slowly and with disdain, appeared to be arthritic. Given permission to eat, they looked at the food without interest, looked at each other, at him. Why have we been brought here to see this inedible stuff?
Cashin went inside. In his hip pocket, the mobile rang.
Kendall Rogers, from the station.
‘Had a call from a lady, she said. ‘Near Beckett. A Mrs Haig. She reckons theres someone in her shed.
‘Well, nothing. Her dogs barking. Ill sort it out.
Cashin felt his stubble. ‘Whats the address?
‘No point. Not far out of my way. Address?
He went to the kitchen table and wrote on the pad: date, time, incident, address. ‘Tell her fifteen-twenty. Give her my number if anything happens before I get there.
The dogs liked his urgency, rushed around, made for the vehicle when he left the building. On the way, they stood on station, noses out the back windows. Cashin parked a hundred metres down the lane from the farmhouse gate. A head came around the hedge as he approached.
‘Cop? she said. She had dirty grey hair around a face cut from a hard wood with a blunt tool.
‘The uniform and that?
‘Plainclothes, he said. He produced the Victoria Police badge with the emblem that looked like a fox. She took off her smudged glasses to study it.
‘Them police dogs? she said.
He looked back. Two woolly black heads in the same window.
‘They work with the police, he said. ‘Wheres this person?
‘Come, she said. ‘Dogs inside, mad as a pork chop, the little bugger.
‘Jack Russell, said Cashin.
‘Howd ya know that?
‘Just a guess.
They went around the house. He felt the fear rising in him like nausea.
‘In there, she said.
The shed was a long way from the house, you had to cross an expanse of overgrown garden, go through an opening in a fence lost beneath rampant potato-creeper. They walked to the gate. Beyond was knee-high grass, pieces of rusted metal sticking out.
‘Whats inside? Cashin said, looking at a rusted shed of corrugated iron a few metres from the road, a door half open. He felt sweat around his collarbones. He wished hed let Kendall do this.
Mrs Haig touched her chin, black spikes like a worn-down hair brush. ‘Stuff, she said. ‘Junk. The old truck. Havent bin in there for years. Dont go in there.
‘Let the dog out, he said.
Her head jerked, alarmed. ‘Bastard might hurt im, she said.
‘No, he said. ‘Whats the dogs name?
‘Monty, call them all Monty, after Lord Monty of Alamein. Too young, you wouldnt know.
‘Thats right, he said. ‘Let Monty out.
‘And them police dogs? What bloody use are they?
‘Kept for life-and-death matters, Cashin said, controlling his voice. ‘Ill be at the door, then you let Lord Monty out.
His mouth was dry, his scalp itched, these things would not have happened before Rai Sarris. He crossed the grassland, went to the left of the door. You learned early to keep your distance from potentially dangerous people and that included not going into dark sheds to meet them.
Mrs Haig was at the potato-creeper hedge. He gave her the thumbs up, his heart thumping.
The small dog came bounding through the grass, all tight muscles and yap, went for the shed, braked, stuck its head in the door and snarled, small body rigid with excitement.
Cashin thumped on the corrugated iron wall with his left hand. ‘Police, he said loudly, glad to be doing something. ‘Get out of there. Now!
Not a long wait.
The dog backed off, shrieking, hysterical, mostly airborne.
A man appeared in the doorway, hesitated, came out carrying a canvas swag. He ignored the dog.
‘On my way, he said. ‘Just had a sleep. He was in his fifties perhaps, short grey hair, big shoulders, a days beard.
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