The creaking of the door’s telltale sign of a visitor drew Jade’s attention for only a moment.
“Jade? Where are you?” It was a rhetorical question. Kelly knew exactly where Jade was. As she entered the living area her eyes darted over the room before coming to rest on Jade. It was as if the girl hadn’t moved since the last time Kelly was there. She sat crossed legged, her heavily pregnant form slumped forward—as if the weight of her womb dragged her toward the floor.
Kelly made her way to the window, stumbling over stacks of papers before she flung the curtains open.
“No! They might be watching!” Jade’s panicked voice shrilled behind her.
“Who might be watching?” Kelly knew the answer, but asked anyway, hoping today will be different.
“You know who!”
“No one is watching Jade. No one is ever watching.” She sighed and drew the curtains closed again.
Her friend looked up from the box of books she was rummaging through. A smile creased her face but her eyes were hollow. “You never did believe me.”
Ignoring the statement Kelly lowered herself onto a chair, taking care not to disturb the papers on the arm rest. The musty smell that hung in the room tickled her throat. Chaos was all around. Layers of dust caked the coffee table while crumpled up papers lay strewn randomly on the worn wooden floorboards.
“Have you eaten?” Kelly tried her best to hide her concern.
“I’ll make you a sandwich okay? I brought some bread and stuff.” She motioned to the packets left in the doorway.
“There’s no time for that. I am very busy at the moment.” Jade’s tone drew Kelly’s focus to the tattered book she clasped between her fingers.
“What’ve you got there?”
For the first time since she arrived Jade looked directly at Kelly. “You won’t believe me. You never believe me.”
Irritated Kelly stood up, grabbed the food packets and stomped to the kitchen. The room was exactly as she left it two days ago, even the bread knife was in the same place—complete with surrounding breadcrumbs. She grunted as she started to tidy up. She wiped the counters and swept the floor before doing the washing up. Her mind was transported back to a different time. A time when Jade’s grandmother was still alive. A time when Jade was a carefree teenager. How much fun they had in this kitchen, sitting around the little table, debating which boy was the hottest and who had a crush on who. But that was a long time ago.
The kitchen hadn’t changed much. On the far wall hung a picture of Jade with bright brown eyes and a toothless smile—her grade one school photo. Soft yellow walls whispered of happier times, while cobwebs clung to every corner of the room. Jade’s grandmother was never a very good housekeeper, but even she would cringe at the state of the place now. Kelly dragged her attention back to the here and now as she reached for the groceries.
“Here, have something to eat.” Handing the sandwich to Jade, Kelly tried to think of a way to get through to her friend.
Without a word Jade took the food, her teeth tearing into the bread.
“Now tell me what you’ve found.”
For a moment Jade looked at her without recognition. “Kelly!”—she finally beamed—“When did you arrive?”
Kelly sighed, “Not too long ago Jade, how are you?”
“I am wonderful! Look, I even made a sandwich,” she chuckled.
“I see you found something.” Kelly pointed to the book.
Jade heaved herself up from the floor. Within a few strides she was at the window. Peeking through the curtain she motioned for Kelly to keep quiet.
“Come.” She wobbled up the stairs and into her room where she laid the book out on the bed. “Close the door!”
As Kelly closed the door behind her Jade opened the bedside drawer and pulled out a large jar filled with sand and rocks. With careful patience she poured the jar’s content in each corner of the bedroom.
“There, now no one can listen in.” With a satisfied smile she pointed to the book. “I found Gran’s diary.”
Stunned Kelly studied the book before reading aloud.
“This diary belongs to Carol Hollis.” She flipped the pages. Each page contained the neat cursive handwriting of Jade’s grandmother. Some dates only had a line or two while others had page after page of writing—mundane everyday stuff, like what she made for breakfast and trips Jade and her took.
“I’m happy for you Jade. This is a wonderful piece of your Gran’s life that you can enjoy for as long as you live.” Closing the book she handed it to Jade. “Maybe now you can find the closure you so desperately need.”
“Closure!” Wild eyes stared at Kelly. “I don’t need closure. I need to find out who killed her!”
“No one killed her! She was old, she fell, she was too frail to recover.”
“She’s not supposed to be dead! They killed her!” Jade pointed her finger accusingly at Kelly.
“Enough!” Kelly took a deep breath. “Look Jade, I might as well come clean. The reason I came today was to tell you that I’ve made an appointment for you to see a doctor—I should’ve done it months ago. She comes highly recommended and specialises in grief counselling.”
Jade stared at her for a long while before flopping down on the bed, resting her head in her hands. Then she struggled up and paced the room, her voice screeching as she rambled, “I can’t waste my time sitting in a doctor’s office. I have work to do!”
Kelly rolled her eyes. “What are you talking about? You’ve been sitting at home for the last six months doing nothing but rummage through junk! You have a baby on the way—due in only a few weeks. If I hadn’t brought the midwife around you wouldn’t even have bothered with that. You don’t seem to care about anything anymore—not even your unborn child!”
Jade’s attention was caught by something on the floor. She kneeled down and smiled before picking up the speck of dust and placing it in her pocket.
“Jade! Are you listening to me?”
“You don’t have to shout. I’m not deaf you know.”
Drawing a deep breath Kelly studied her best friend. She wore no make-up. Her long brown hair was pulled back in an untidy ponytail from which most of the strands had escaped. A dirty T-shirt clung to her inflated stomach while creased pants hung loosely from her hips. Not too long ago, she was attractive. Now, puffy dark circles surrounded her sad eyes while all colour had left her skin. Broken nails had replaced well-manicured hands—her fingertips discoloured from looking at old papers. Kelly’s heart ached for her friend and she instinctively reached forward and took both Jade’s hands in hers.
“Please Jade, for me. See the doctor for me.”
“Because I’m worried about you.”
“No no, I can’t. I’m simply too busy. Gran’s diary holds the answer to this whole business.”
Kelly thought quickly, “I tell you what. If you indulge your best friend by going to the doctor with me, I will help you go through your gran’s diary—more hands make light work.”
Jade paused, seemingly thinking about the proposal, then her face lit up, “You got yourself a deal partner!”
With a heavy heart Kelly embraced her friend.
“Now, the appointment is tomorrow morning at ten. I will pick you up no later than nine thirty okay? Make sure you’re ready.”
Jade absent-mindedly nodded her head while pushing her bed away from the wall. She lifted one of the wooden panels before gently placing the diary into the cavity between the outer and inner wall. With practised precision she moved the bed back exactly where it was.
After sweeping the sand and rocks back into the jar, Jade opened the bedroom door and hurried downstairs as fast as her pregnant frame would allow. Once in the lounge her hands butterflied from one stack of papers to the next, packing them away.
“You’re tidying up?”
“You say that as if I never tidy up.”
“Sorry, I’m just surprised.”
Jade focussed her eyes on her friend. “The diary holds the key Kelly. I don’t need any of this other stuff anymore. I am close to the answers…I can feel it!”
“Jade, have you thought about a name for your baby?” Kelly busied herself with some papers, happy to change the subject.
“Frankie, her name will be Frankie.”
I am a shape shifter. Frankie repeated the words to herself. I can handle any situation—adapt when I need to. She looked around the room at her fellow prisoners. You could pick out the ones who were there for the first time and you could certainly pick out the ones who treated this place as their second home. She was neither of those. She’d been here plenty of times, but had never gotten used to the acrid cell.
How could I be so stupid as to get caught—again! Now it was a waiting game. The cops would try to get hold of a social worker—at three o’ clock in the morning it would take longer than usual. They might even wait another few hours for the new work day to begin before starting their enquiries. Whichever way, they couldn’t hold her for too long. Not on a trespass charge. The charge sheet would read something like ‘Unlawfully in enclosed area’ but, since they caught her before she could actually steal anything, the minor charge would likely be dropped. When the social worker arrives Frankie will say she accidentally wandered onto the property. She’ll put on her most innocent face and pout that she was looking for a place to sleep. Maybe they’ll believe her, maybe not. If not, she’ll try a different tactic—shape shifter.
“Hey Blondie, give us a fag.” The girl was obviously drunk—the stench of alcohol saturating her like a disease. Her make-up smeared face was horrifically unattractive as she tried to fix her eyes on Frankie.
“What you want a fag for? There’s no smoking in the cells,” Frankie sneered at her. How she despised drunkenness. Of all the reasons she hated to be locked up in a police cell, sharing it with drunk people was on top of the list. She couldn’t stand their smell or the way they staggered around like idiots.
The girl shrugged and giggled like a fool before sinking onto the cold hard floor. She was definitely a first timer. Probably waiting for her Daddy to come and fetch her, Frankie thought wryly. The thought was still fresh in her mind when the cop strolled in.
“Smith, Elizabeth!” he called in a loud voice.
“Here off…officer.” The drunken girl pulled herself up before supporting her weight on the wall and then the bars until she reached the exit.
“Your father’s here. You’re in a lot of trouble young lady.”
She was suddenly quiet and looked almost fearful. Definitely a first timer, Frankie thought with a vague sense of satisfaction at the girl’s change in demeanour.
“Anyone here for me yet?” she barked at the officer as he escorted the girl out.
He snorted. “The social worker’s on the way.”
“Why don’t you ask Smith, Elizabeth’s daddy to take me home—at this stage I might look like a better option than his drunken daughter.”
“Yea right,”—the officer laughed—“her he can sober up and get clean. You—you’re hopeless.”
His words stung. She wasn’t sure why. It certainly wasn’t the first time she’d heard it.
“Whatever,” she replied with a shrug, it’s what he would expect her to say.
She leaned against the wall in the far corner of the cell. There were now three others in the room with her; a hard core junky, track marks trailing all the way up her arms, a vacant look in her eyes; a small elf-like girl, no more than thirteen years old, and a big fat pimple faced person—possibly a girl but more likely an escapee from some government experiment lab. Frankie chuckled at her own sense of humour as she studied the girl and imagined her escaping over the fence of a top-secret experimental facility somewhere in the desert. You’re weird Frankie, she thought.
The cell looked as you would expect, she’d seen a dozen like it. The concrete floor was stained with the puke and blood of countless other prisoners, some of them took the time to leave messages on the walls, crudely carved with belt buckles or other such sharp objects. The bars made her feel like she was in the zoo. She’d heard that some of the newer cells had clear Perspex walls instead of bars, but she’d never been in one of those.
About an hour later the cop plodded in and motioned for Frankie to follow him. “Social worker’s here. Aren’t you lucky we were able to get one at this time of the morning?”
He led her out into the main office, past a row of empty desks and into a room almost completely surrounded by glass. Without ceremony he pushed her down on the chair.
“Well, where would I go?” she shouted after him with an amused laugh.
Through the glass she watched him talk to a young woman clad in a business suit. Relief swept over her. Young social workers were easy to fool; they still had their rose tinted spectacles firmly in place. Some of them even had the deluded idea that they could actually make a difference. She had fooled dozens like this one before, she’d do it again. She smirked at the thought but quickly replaced her cynical expression with one of innocence as the young suit-clad woman approached the room.
“Francesca Hollis?” The young woman directed the question at Frankie, her arms filled with manila folders.
“Yea, that’s me. This is all a big misunderstanding.”
“Of course it is.” The woman looked at her sympathetically. She was short and petite in stature, her dark hair cut in a boyish style. She peered at Frankie over dark rimmed glasses. “Don’t you worry, we’ll have it straightened out before you know it.”
Frankie smiled her sweetest smile. Jackpot!
“Constable, can you please bring me a box for all these files. And give this girl something to drink!”
Frankie was surprised at the woman’s authoritative tone with the cop.
She pulled up a chair after carefully placing the manila folders on the table.
“Now then, let’s get acquainted.” Her voice was matter of fact. She took her glasses off and placed them on the table next to the folders. Then she straightened everything on the surface with patient precision. With a satisfied smile she focussed her attention back to Frankie. “Where were we?”
“We were getting acquainted.”
“Of course. My name is Trish Nelson. Nice to meet you Francesca.”
Frankie reluctantly took the woman’s outstretched hand in greeting. “Frankie.”
“People call me Frankie, not Francesca.”
“Well…Frankie. How did you get yourself into this mess?”
“I was looking for a place to sleep. It looked warm and cosy. I didn’t know it belonged to someone. It looked like a derelict building.”
The social worker’s eyes narrowed as she looked at Frankie. She sighed before fingering through the pile of files neatly stacked on the desk. “I suppose you also thought this one looked warm and cosy, and this one, and of course this one looked really cosy.” As she spoke she slid page after page across the table, each document containing another trespass charge.
Frankie rolled her eyes. “They all looked really cosy,” she muttered.
The officer entered the room. He planted a fizzy drink and an empty box on the table before leaving again. Trish waited for him to close the door before she continued. “I can’t help you if you’re not honest with me.”
“You can’t help me at all.” Frankie folded her arms across her chest. She had completely underestimated the woman. She needed to change her tactics. “Okay, I’ll tell you the truth. I was hungry. I thought there would be something in there I could pawn.”
Trish eyed her. “Do you know how much trouble you’re in?”
“I’ve been in worse fixes than this.”
“You’re only a couple of weeks away from turning seventeen! You have a juvenile charge sheet a mile long. The frightening thing is you accumulated this impressive record only in the last two years!”
“You don’t know nothin’!”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I don’t know anything about it.” Trish stood up and packed the files into the box. “What I do know is that you’ll have to come home with me; I couldn’t find any caregivers willing to take in an almost seventeen year old delinquent. I had to call in quite a few favours to get this arranged—it’s not exactly normal protocol you know.”
She was right. But Frankie didn’t care. This was her ticket out. Once she was at the social worker’s house she’d find a way out—she always did.
“Sounds good,”—she pushed herself up from the chair and took a swig of the fizzy drink—“anything’s better than here.”
After completing the necessary legal documents and retrieving her backpack, Trish drove Frankie to her place.
“This is a nice car. How do you afford it?”
“What?” Trish stammered.
“Social workers don’t earn a heck of a lot. This car is way out of your budget.”
“It’s none of your business.”
Frankie’s gaze narrowed. “So, with all your daddy’s money you still decided to be a social worker.” It was more a statement than a question.
“How did you—?”
“Lucky guess. I wasn’t born yesterday you know. Either you have a rich boyfriend or a rich daddy. I went with the rich daddy.”
“You should learn to keep your opinions to yourself. Hasn’t anyone ever told you that?”
Frankie’s shrugged and focussed her attention on the road.
They drove for half an hour before stopping at an apartment block in Glenview Heights. The building reached high up into the sky. With a growing sense of irritation Frankie groaned.
“What floor are you on?”
“Eight. It’s a nice quiet neighbourhood.” Trish surveyed the surroundings. “Nothing much ever happens here.”
Frankie listened with divided attention. She was too busy scouting the building for fire escapes and balconies to listen to Trish. There was a possibility that she could pick the front door lock but, from the look of this place, it would be alarmed. She needed to get away, no matter what. For a few moments she considered making a run for it right there and then but immediately reconsidered. Trish would call the cops and she’d be back in the cells in no time. If she snuck out while the woman slept, chances are she’ll only discover her missing in the morning. By that time Frankie would’ve had time to cover her tracks. Anyway, she thought, no harm in having a good meal and a bath before departing.
“Wow, this is a flash place.”
“Thank you, I think,” Trish chuckled while hanging her car keys on a hook in the kitchen.
“More of daddy’s money put to good use here.” Frankie looked around the room with cynical appreciation. “Why don’t you just live within your means, like other social workers?”
“We’re not going to get along very well if you insist on behaving like this.” Trish was openly irritated.
Peering out of the large glass doors that led out to the balcony Frankie wondered if she’d be able to climb to the balcony below.
“Don’t get any ideas about running away,”—Trish eyeballed her—“it will not be in your best interest.”
“Now why in the world would I want to leave this fancy place? I think I’d rather make myself comfortable. Maybe you can adopt me.” Frankie gave her a wry smile while stretching herself out on the couch.
“Go have a shower. I assume you have something relatively clean to wear in that backpack of yours?”
After her shower Frankie sauntered into the living room, her blonde hair pulled neatly back in a ponytail. Trish was nowhere to be seen. Glancing at the door lock and alarm system she grunted in disappointment at their complexity. She marched to the glass sliding door leading out onto the balcony. Not alarmed! Her excitement grew as she flung the doors open and estimated the distance to the adjacent apartment’s balcony, her mind racing with escape possibilities.
“What are you looking at?” Trish’s voice was calm.
“Bloody hell you scared me! You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that!”
“I’m not the one sneaking.”
“I wasn’t sneaking. Just admiring the view from up here. It’s really something.”
“Well come inside. Dinner’s ready.”
Dinner consisted of cold meat sandwiches and orange juice.
After the meal Trish fumbled in her handbag, producing a box of cigarettes. “Want one?”
Frankie scrunched up her nose. “I don’t smoke.”
“I shouldn’t either. Never been able to kick the habit though.”
While Trish enjoyed her cigarette, Frankie tidied the dishes, stacking them neatly in the dishwasher. The kitchen was small but practical with bright red counter tops and silver appliances. Everything was state of the art; the latest models.
“So where have you been living? On the streets?”
Frankie regarded her closely before answering, “Sometimes.”
“What do you mean why? I’m a street kid. Street kids live on the street.”
“I happen to know you have a sizable bank account.”
“Really. What else do you ‘happen to know’?” She leaned against the wall, crossing one leg over the other.
“I know quite a bit. For instance I happen to know that your mother committed suicide on the very same night you were born. I also happen to know you were raised by your aunty Kelly—who is actually not your aunty at all but was your mother’s best friend. Tell me, why didn’t they call Aunty Kelly to come and bail you out of the mess you got yourself into tonight? Could it be that she too is fed up with your antics?”
“Shut up! You have no business talking about my family!”
“But I haven’t come to the best part yet. I also happen to know that all the properties you’ve been caught trespassing on belong to the same organisation.”
Frankie shrugged. “Pure coincidence. Anyway, I’m tired. Do you have a bed for me, or am I sleeping on the floor?”
Trish rose from her seat, stubbing out the cigarette in an exotic looking oriental ashtray. She regarded the girl’s small frame. “You know you really should stop calling yourself a street kid. In a few weeks’ time you’ll be a young adult. You should start acting like one.”