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A Word If You Please – Chapter 5

“It was totally gnarly. I’ve never seen James look like that before,” Serge told Trilby. “He’s always been professional, smooth, polite. You know how he is, right? Suddenly, his eyes were, like, no feeling. You ever been to the Sydney Fish Market, seen all those dead fish on ice? James’s eyes made me think of a swordfish I saw there once. They’re impressive, swordfish are. When you see them alive, like in the aquarium, and you look in their eyes, you can see there’s something alive behind there, you know? But when they’re on ice, the eye looks, like, just weird.” Serge shivered at the memory.

“Mmm.” Trilby was plotting timelines in her head. The rope around her wrists was proving incalcitrant. Her ankles were firmly tied too. No give there. She’d need to think up a different escape strategy. “When did all this happen?”

“Like I said, I’ve been here one night. It was yesterday, at 13.18. That’s the last time stamp I saw on my screen, before things went crazy. I guess they thought everyone was out for lunch.”

Trilby had popped out around midday that day for a breath of fresh air. The only other person who worked in the small office was Elliott McDonald. He acted as office secretary, receptionist, PR expert, and anything else Amity could think of to pile on him. Elliott took a break at lunchtime every day, to work on his muscle tone at the gym. His habit was to flip the card around on the door, display a notice to would-be customers: WE’RE OUT FOR LUNCH. PLEASE COME BACK IN 15 MINUTES. It’s likely Amity and his brother had seen that notice and assumed the office was empty.

James and Buddy had brought Serge here to the shed, chained him up and given him supplies and reassurances, then gone back to the city. For some reason, Buddy had returned to the office in the evening and had seen Trilby looking at the home evaluation for William Carruthers. Already on edge from the day’s earlier events, Buddy had panicked and attacked her. When she’d proved to be no soft target, he’d rushed off. His next step had probably been to consult his brother.

“It sounds like they have two schemes going at once,” said Trilby.

“Two? How do you figure that?”

“You overheard something about a loan, for a company that doesn’t exist. If the Amity brothers were borrowing money for Amity Loans, there’d be no reason for them to lock you up. Even if they didn’t want people to know the company needed money, that’s still no reason for such extreme measures. So, maybe it’s a scheme to get money from the bank.”

“Sounds pretty iffy to me,” said Serge. “The bank would get suspicious, wouldn’t it?”

“Maybe so. But let’s go with it for a moment, to see how my line of thinking pans out.”

“So, two schemes, you said.”

“Mmm. Last night, I was working late. I came across some test data. Well, I thought it was test data. There were files for a couple of home loan applicants, including their salary statements, home evaluations, things like that. Some of the figures didn’t add up. I was just taking a closer look because I like my test data to make sense. Buddy walked in on me. It was just as you described: things went gnarly for me too.”

Trilby grinned at the memory. “I won that round. Good and proper. But Buddy went home and told his brother all about it. They were waiting for me in the office car park this morning. And that’s how I ended up here.”

“It was only Buddy who brought you in. Not James. Buddy had to carry you in all by himself.”

“I pushed James out of the car.”

Astonishment flitted across Serge’s face, closely followed by understanding. No problems with the chain of logic in this man’s mind. “That’s why Buddy was so stressed.”

“Mmm. The ropes and stuff were to get James Amity out of the ravine he fell into. That’ll keep them busy a while.”

Serge and Trilby fell silent. It was getting towards evening. Both were wondering how much longer they’d be stuck in this barely habitable shed.

“Serge, you’ve been gone twenty-four hours. Won’t anyone miss you?”

“Not likely. When I get in the zone, coding, I lose track of time. I turn off all my social media and just hack away. People will think that’s what I’m doing.”

A possum appeared at the top of the wall, where bricks met roof. It was a big one, a male brushtail with woolly golden-brown fur. It hoisted itself up onto one of the horizontal supporting joists and started across the room. Then it froze, noticing Serge and Trilby in the room below. After a couple of minutes of staring, the animal turned and went back out the way it had come.

Serge sat up straight. “I hear a car. Buddy’s coming back.”

Good. Let the fun begin. Trilby wasn’t too worried about escaping. The shed wasn’t built to hold people in, and she was sure she could outwit Buddy or overcome any obstacles Amity put in her way. Serge’s presence did complicate things. He wasn’t the most athletic of people.