WE COME SWEEPING up the tree-lined boulevard
with siren and lights and when the GPS urges us to make the next
left we take it so fast that all the gear slams and sways inside the
vehicle. I dont say a thing. Down the dark suburban street I can
see the house lit like a cruise ship.
Got it, she says before I can point it out.
Feel free to slow down.
Making you nervous, Bruce?
Something like that, I murmur.
But the fact is I feel brilliant. This is when I feel good, when the nerve-ends are singing, the gut tight with anticipation. Its been a long, slow shift and theres never been any love lost between Jodie and me. At handover I walked up on a conversation I wasnt supposed to hear. But that was hours ago. Now Im alert and tingly with dread. Bring it on.
At the call address Jodie kills the siren and wheels around to reverse up the steep drive. Shes amped, I guess, and a bit puffed up with a sense of her own competence. Not a bad kid, just green. She doesnt know it but Ive got daughters her age.
When she hits the handbrake and calls in our arrival at the job I jump out and rip the side door back to grab the resus kit. Beneath the porch steps on the dewy grass is a middle-aged bloke hugging himself in silence and I can see in a moment that although hes probably done his collarbone hes not our man. So I leave him to Jodie and go on up to announce myself in the open doorway.
In the living room two teenage girls hunch at opposite ends of a leather couch.
Upstairs? I ask.
One of them points without even lifting her head, and already I know that this jobs become a pack and carry. Usually they see the uniform and light up with hope, but neither of them gives me as much as a glance.
The bedroom in question isnt hard to find. A little mat of vomit in the hall. Splinters of wood. I step over the broken-down door and see the mother at the bed where the boy is laid out, and as I quietly introduce myself I take it all in. The room smells of pot and urine and disinfectant and its clear that shes cut him down and dressed him and tidied everything up.
I slip in beside her and do the business but the kids been gone a while. He looks about seventeen. There are ligature marks on his neck and older bruises around them. Even while Im going through the motions she strokes the boys dark, curly hair. A nice-looking kid. Shes washed him. He smells of Pears soap and freshly laundered clothes. I ask for her name and for her sons, and she tells me that shes June and the boys name is Aaron.
Im sorry, June, I murmur, but hes passed away.
I know that.
You found him a while ago. Before you called.
She says nothing.
June, Im not the police.
Theyre already on their way.
Can I open the wardrobe? I ask as Jodie steps into the doorway.
Id prefer that you didnt, says June.
Okay. But you know that the police will.
Do they have to?
The mother looks at me properly for the first time. Shes a handsome woman in her forties with short, dark hair and arty pendant earrings, and I can imagine that an hour ago, when her lipstick and her life were still intact, shed have been erect and confident, even a little haughty.
Its their job, June.
You seem to have made some kind of . . . assumption.
June, I say, glancing up at Jodie. Lets just say Ive seen a few things in my time. Honestly, I couldnt begin to tell you.
Then youll tell me how this happened, why hes done this to himself.
Excerpted from Breath by Tim Winton. Copyright © 2008 by Tim Winton. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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