Keith and Gayle Keating loved living near the ocean.
They had put off having children, and saved like mad for the first five years of their marriage, to buy the house in Sheriff Street, only two streets back from the foreshore, which had been their home ever since. Melissa had spent eighteen summers on the beach. She loved the water.
As a twelve-year old, Melissa had joined the local surf life saving club, a beachside institution devoted to lifeguard services and competitive water sports, and spent her summer days competing in carnivals and patrolling the beach. The surf life saving club was where she had met Darren and his older brother, John. The club held Friday night beach parties over summer to raise funds for maintaining its equipment.
Most Friday nights during summer, Keith and Gayle attended the beach parties and socialised with their neighbours, like Mark and Helen Jackson, Darren’s parents, who lived a couple of blocks inland from Sheriff Street. This week they had decided to spend a quiet Friday night at home, so the kids could relax one last time before the start of the academic year.
One of the pleasures of living on the coast, which they looked forward to nightly at this time of year, was the sea breeze that swept through the house on its way inland at the end of every hot summer’s day.
At nine o’clock, Gayle shut off the air conditioner and opened up the house to allow in the sea breeze, and joined Keith on the front veranda to enjoy a glass or two of chilled chardonnay, while they waited for Melissa and Darren to come home.
Sitting in the shadows, they sipped wine and listened to the sound of breaking waves drifting over the houses between Sheriff Street and the beach. The only light, cast by the distant street lamp on the corner where Sheriff Street joined Marine Avenue, which ran down to the beach, didn’t illuminate anything on the veranda.
As they chatted about their day, the soft rhythmic sound of the waves, breaking and rolling back into the sea, was drowned out by the wail of a siren approaching. The piercing sound built to a crescendo and abruptly stopped, and a pulsating glow of red and blue lights lit up the night sky in the direction of the surf life saving clubhouse.
‘I wonder what’s happened,’ said Keith.
‘Probably one of the oldies in the retirement village has had a turn,’ said Gayle. ‘Seems there’s an ambulance there every second day. Connie told me this morning that Mrs Porter, you remember her don’t you? Anyway, they had to call an ambulance for her last night; she had another heart attack.’
A few minutes later, the wail of the siren came to them again as the ambulance departed with its precious cargo.
As silence descended across the night, Keith pressed the button that illuminated the face of his watch.
‘It’s way after ten. I wonder what’s keeping them. It’s not like Darren to be late,’ said Keith.
‘Do you think I should call her? She took her phone.’
Before Keith could answer, a police car, with its red and blue emergency lights flashing, turned into their street from the direction of the beach and pulled up it front of the house. The front and rear doors of the car opened. A police officer got out of the front of the car. Darren’s brother emerged from the rear, vaulted the front fence and ran up to the veranda.
‘Is Melissa here?’
‘What’s going on?’ said Keith, looking from John to the police officer running up the path behind him.
‘Is Melissa here?’ John repeated.
The desperation in his voice finally broke their trance.
‘They haven’t come back from the party yet,’ said Gayle.
‘Shit!’ said John, turning to the police officer behind him. ‘She’s not here.’
Keith switched on the veranda light. ‘Will somebody please tell me what’s going on?’
‘Mr and Mrs Keating?’
‘Yes,’ said Gayle.
‘I’m Constable Head. There’s been an incident near the surf lifesavers. We’re looking for your daughter, Melissa.’
‘She’s with Darren,’ said Keith, looking at John and opening his hands in question.
‘Darren’s been bashed. Didn’t you hear the ambulance?’ said John. ‘She wasn’t with him when we found him.’
‘Did you try calling her?’ said Gayle.
‘She doesn’t have her phone,’ said Constable Head. ‘It’s in the bag we found with Darren.’
Keith walked over to Gayle and put his arm around her waist, as he finally understood that Melissa was in trouble, probably in danger. They stood in silence looking at each other. None of them knowing what to say.
‘Charlie, have you located the girl?’ said a voice, over the radio clipped to Constable Head’s shirt.
A loud thudding sound erupted overhead and a bright searchlight pierced the darkness, illuminating everything in its path, as the police helicopter hovered above the dunes south of the surf life saving clubhouse, and then slowly made its way down the coast.
to be continued…