The rain had stopped sometime last night, then the sun had burned bright all day. The ground was still wet underfoot, the grass above it, dry. Tom had finished work early, the lawn had been bugging him. The grass had gone from rising upward, to bending as it lengthened. He topped up the oil and petrol in the motor mower, pushed it out past the clothesline, pulled the cord to start it; the engine sputtered to life.Â
Tom lived on half an acre bordering a park reserve, there was plenty to cut. The sun beat down, his shoulders were turning red. He probably should have worn more than a singlet, his thoughts turned to the cold beer he had in the fridge when the motor died. It hadn’t just faded-”it had cut out. He wiped the sweat from his brow, rolled the mower onto its side. It’d caught something.Â
A thick green cable had wrapped itself around the base of the blade, stripping the plastic from one side of it, exposing internal copper wiring. He managed to untangle it, then dropped it pretty quickly when he felt its warmth. It was live-”to what? He was in the left corner of the property, far enough away from the house and anything else that might have been powered.
Tom righted the mower, got on his hands and knees. He pulled grass aside to find the cable, it had been buried a few centimetres beneath the ground. Something-”maybe a rat, had forced it up to the surface. He could see a hole near where he’d struck a small mound of earth. He used a stick to unearth it, then followed it back to the house.Â
Black rubber piping had been bracketed to the brick wall of the basement. He found a torch, followed it to a small hole drilled through the floor beneath the mains box in the hall. Odd. He spun around, then followed it back out to where he’d struck it.
Thoughts of his daughter-”now estranged, entered his head. Was this something Phoebe had done? A final legacy from the fall out over all the pain she’d caused? His relationship with his wife had barely survived because of it. It hadn’t been easy. His little girl had been their only child, his best friend. They’d been so close, he struggled to pinpoint where it’d all gone wrong. He’d been forced to choose.Â
Tom grabbed his rubber gloves from the basement; pulled hard on the cable, unearthing it as he made his way out to the edge of his backyard. It kept going, sweat ran freely down the side of his face, the beer-”forgotten. He hit the base of the hedge and forced his way through, scraping his arms and burnt shoulders crawling through to the reserve.
The grass was longer in here. The cable ran down the side of the hedge, under a rusty barbed-wire fence at the back of it, tightened and went straight into the ground. Tom found a rope to one side, hidden under broken branches. He pulled the end, watched amazed as a wooden cover rose from the ground, revealing a crude dirt staircase cut beneath it. He could hear something running inside. He shifted the grip on the torch, its handle was long, thick, so he flipped the handle upright with the light shining down.
It smelt pungent inside, toxic, like some sort of gas. Thick silver-foiled piping ran down the sides of a long square space. Tom could feel the steady hum of fans; lights hung from cables nailed to planks of wood bracing the ceiling. Racks of chemicals, bottles he didn’t recognise sat on shelves to his left and right. He cursed his daughter under his breath, thought of the money that had disappeared from their accounts, his wife’s jewellery-”taken. All of the denials Phoebe had thrown at him, the deflection of blame.Â
She’d pleaded innocence, though he’d seen first hand the friends she was running with; experienced a gradual withdrawal, then disdain for them as parents. The massive fall out with Everlyn-”his wife, who had tried so hard to make it right. It had fallen on deaf ears. Phoebe had left, walked out the door and changed her phone number, never to be seen again. She had called. Him. She hadn’t said anything, just cried down the phone when he’d picked up. He’d listened, done his best not to judge, not to advise, just to be. It had been hard.
There were lights up ahead. He braced himself, it was clearly a lab, meth being cooked at his expense. Poisoning the grass he cut, the ground he lived on. He could hear music up ahead, a tune he recognised-”someone, moving. He was glad Everlyn was abroad. It was one person, hunched over a set of glass beakers, tubes, gas-burning above a small portable cooker with a large light turned to the bench below them. They wore a mask inside a blue Hazchem suit.Â
Tom switched off the torch, heart pounding, breathing gently through his mouth, masking his movements. Then he was on them, forcing an arm behind their back, pushing it upwards, driving them forward on to the bench they were huddled over. Tom heard a cry as glass smashed and the burner was forced sideways from its perch to the dirt floor. He ripped the mask from the cook and held the torch to their face. He dropped it when Evelyn looked back at him, her face dissolving as his own understanding sunk in.