Shannon Bolithoe : A Writing Life

The Island


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That website! That damned internet site! What kind of evil people would design a website that encourages people to cheat on their partners? What sick bastards. 

The plane landed with a light bump on the tarmac. Marguerite looked out over the familiar landscape, tears pricking her eyes. In the distance, she could see the snow-capped mountain looming over the city. What fantastic memories she had of the beautiful mountain and happier times. She remembered driving up the winding road, watching the clouds skittering over the edges of the mountain as they reached the top. Thinking of the cold, crisp air of the mountain brought tears to her eyes.

I’m ridiculous. What is there to cry about in that?

Then it was time to disembark. She kept her sunglasses on so nobody would see how red and swollen her eyes were. It was too embarrassing to be seen crying by strangers.

I won’t cry, I won’t cry. He isn’t worth it.

The usual parade of tasks at the airport kept her occupied. She climbed down the stairs at the back of the plane onto the tarmac, gathered up her baggage at the carousel, and argued with the person at the car rental place. The familiar routine was almost soothing. She refused to give in to her grief until she was alone in the car. But as she turned the car key and drove out of the airport car park the tears began to flow, blurring her view of the road.

Thankfully the storm inside the car had blown itself out by the time she reached the ferry terminal. She arrived just in time to see the massive ferry arrive. She drove onto it but didn’t get out of the car. She couldn’t stand the thought anyone would see her misery. Not that anyone would probably have noticed. Only a few excited tourists were looking out at the view or bored locals on their way home.

After exiting the ferry, she drove the length of the island. Seeing the familiar sights of the Island brought back so many happy memories of her childhood. Her parents often brought her here on holidays when she was small. She parked at the Bed and Breakfast, unloaded the car and searched for the keys hidden under a pot beside the door; according to the instructions she’d been emailed. She’d hurriedly booked it the night before. Luckily it was out of tourist season, so she hadn’t had any problem finding a place to stay. It was a very tiny bed and breakfast at the Bay where she’d often stayed with her parents. It had a small lounge room and kitchen with a mezzanine floor for the bedroom. It was old fashioned and hadn’t been updated for many years, but she didn’t mind. It felt familiar, like returning to a childhood bedroom.

She pulled the door closed, and like turning on a movie inside her mind, it all came back to her. Scenes from the previous night flooded back; her yelling and screaming, him continually denying he had done anything wrong.

Why couldn’t he have the balls to admit what he’d done? It’s bad enough being cheated on, but couldn’t he at least tell the truth about it? Why wasn’t I enough for him?

The questions swirled around and around in her head, unanswered and unanswerable. If he were going to cheat on her, at least he could tell the truth. There was no point in him trying to hide it since she had the proof. With all the publicity about the hacking of the website, how could he have thought she wouldn’t check?

I’m an IT network manager, for God’s sake. Didn’t he think? Or did he think I was an entirely gullible idiot? Does he think so little of me? But of course, he didn’t think; he never does. He’s a personal trainer after all. He isn’t paid to think. He’s paid to exercise his beautiful body, performing for the rich old women who employ his services.

It made her consider, not for the first time, if his prowess as a personal trainer wasn’t the only thing they paid him for. A scene from American Gigolo flashed through her mind. Richard Gere made an attractive male prostitute, but the scenes with the older women had always turned her stomach. She grimaced in disgust, wondering if this was how Jarryd wooed his clients.

I hope they don’t pay him too much. They’d be wasting their money. It’s a pity his talent in bed never keeps the promises his body makes.

She sighed and automatically began to unpack her bags. Then she lay down on the bed, thinking about Jarryd’s beautiful face and gorgeous body. She always tried to keep her own body trim and fit so she wouldn’t disgust him. Luckily her long slim body didn’t run to fat. Knowing how important good looks were to him, she always wore the latest fashions and made sure her face was carefully made up. She was constantly being complimented on her looks by other people. So what was it with him? Why wasn’t she good enough for him? Why would he go looking for other women?

She’d asked him that question last night. Naturally he’d blamed her work. What did he expect? Of course, she was busy and yes, she did get called out at night and sometimes she had to work twenty-four hours straight. But what else was she going to do? She made more money, much more money than he ever would. Somebody had to pay the bills. How else was he going to have the Eastern Suburbs apartment and lifestyle he loved so much if she didn’t work to pay for it?

And it wasn’t as if he was perfect either. Yes, he had a beautiful body and a beautiful face, but he also had a very, very small dick. He was also a very, very average lay and was very far from the sharpest tool in the shed. But, as Joe E. Brown said in “Some Like It Hot”: ‘Nobody’s perfect.’ She loved him; it was as simple as that. This was the point she always came back to; she loved him no matter what. Why didn’t he return her love? Why did he have to do this to her?

Enough! I have to stop torturing myself. There’s no point thinking about him anymore. What am I going to do now? That’s what I have to think about. I’ve wasted enough time on him.

She pulled her electronic gadgets out of her bag and plugged them into the power outlets to charge up overnight. She saw a long list of messages, texts and missed calls from him. She turned off the phone so she wouldn’t be tempted to look at them – she didn’t need any reminders of him. On the flight down she’d already decided she wasn’t going to talk to the bastard now, or ever. That gave her an idea. Why not go old school? She would contact her solicitor and ask him to write a formal letter to Jarryd evicting him from the flat. After all, it was her flat. He could never have afforded to live there by himself. It was a lovely flat, close to Bondi Beach. She was the one with the money, after all. He was just an upmarket gym junkie, and it was time he left.

She slowly she felt herself relaxing into the mattress, exhausted by the stress of the last few days. She snuggled under the quilt and smiled contentedly to herself. The Island had always had a good effect on her. She was so glad she’d never bought Jarryd here since she wouldn’t have been able to come here now. He would have spoiled it like he’d spoiled everything else. Quickly she fell into a deep dreamless sleep, almost as if she was a child again.

She slept late, reluctant to drag herself out of the dreams of the night. After a quick shower and breakfast, she dressed warmly in a plaid jacket and bright yellow and orange scarf and drove down to the National Park. She didn’t want to go to any of the tourist spots. The last thing she wanted was to have to see or talk to people. She needed to walk and think. She needed to make some plans and decisions. She parked her car in the car park and walked along the path, heading for the beach. She sat on the rocks above the beach and stared Southwards.

Next stop Antarctica.

Maybe that’s where she should go. A year on a station down in the Antarctic might be interesting. She wondered whether her IT skills would be needed down there. Then she laughed sadly. Now she was being ridiculous. That would just be running away. She had always faced her troubles head on, and this would be no different.

She stood up and walked the length of the beach, studying the flotsam and jetsam on the sand. She picked through the bits and pieces of other people’s lives; plastic bags, clumps of old fishing lines, lumps of wood, even pieces of glass smoothed like pebbles by the seawater. She looked for shells among the trash but was only able to find broken bits and pieces of shells.

At the end of the beach, the sand merged with a jumble of sharp edged rocks, pockmarked with rock pools and festooned with multi-coloured seaweed. She climbed and stumbled over the rocks, intent on reaching the edge of the cliff where the rocks stopped, and the sea began. By the time she reached her goal she was out of breath and sweating inside her jacket, despite the freezing wind whipping around her head. She stopped and wrapped her scarf around her head, deadening the dull roar of the wind and waves. She peered shortsightedly up the height of the cliff and could just see the white of the lighthouse standing guard over the cove.

She decided to walk up and have a closer look at the Lighthouse. She clambered back over the rocks to the beach and walked up the path that led to up the hill to the Lighthouse. She vaguely remembered having been told it was one of the oldest in Australia and had been built by convicts. She reached the top and there it stood, squat and solid, as it had for so many years, holding fast against the storms of the southern seas. She remembered the lighthouse keepers who had been here when she was a child. Her father had always stopped to talk to them when he brought her here. She vaguely remembered their conversations, about the loneliness of the life here.

It was getting late as she approached the lighthouse, and the light was started to fade. She could see its familiar white painted pink stone against the setting sun. Puffing slightly from the climb up the hill, she turned and looked out to sea. She inhaled the sharp cold of the air, glorying in the pink and golden light, watching the seabirds as they flew past her and cruised on the air currents. She felt free, for the first time in days, as if the wind had scoured her mind clean of cobwebs. She felt her spirits lift and fly high with the birds. Then she heard it; a sweet sound blowing towards her with the wind. It sounded like music. She looked around curiously but couldn’t see anyone.

Why was there music here? Where on earth could it be coming from?

She looked around, trying to focus her ears on the source of the sound. There it was again. It seemed to be louder when the wind blew in her direction. When the wind blew in the other direction, the sound would almost disappear. It sounded rhythmic, like a sea shanty, but not as cheerful as the sea shanties she knew. It was mournful and sad, almost dirge-like, but exquisite for all that.

It’s a man’s voice, definitely a man’s voice.

She followed the sound and thought that it was definitely coming from the lighthouse. As she approached the lighthouse, the song sounded louder, but she still couldn’t make out the words. She could pick out a few odd words, but they were disjointed and made no sense. There was no doubt it was a man’s voice; a clear high tenor. She walked slowly to the foot of the lighthouse and looked up.

She saw a man above her, on the walkway. She didn’t have her glasses on so she couldn’t see him very clearly, but it was definitely a masculine shape. He looked like he was wearing a dark blue coat. Could it be a uniform, some sort of naval uniform? He looked tall and slim, although from her perspective it was hard to be sure. He stood on the balcony surrounding the lighthouse, holding on to the railing, and staring fixedly out to sea as he sang.

Standing at the foot of the lighthouse she noticed that night was rolling in. She could hear the song more clearly now that she was out of the wind. The tune definitely sounded like a sea shanty, although she still couldn’t make out the words. Maybe they weren’t all in English?

‘Hello, is there anyone there?’ She called up to the figure and waved her hand to attract his attention. The singing stopped abruptly, and the figure disappeared, out of her sight.

Where did he go? How could he move so quickly?

She walked around the lighthouse in the direction she thought he had disappeared in, but there was no sign of him. She continued her circuit of the lighthouse and found the door. It was locked, held fast by a large rusty chain and padlock. The door was weathered and old and looked like it hadn’t been opened in years.

They must be worried about thieves. A vacant lighthouse would be a fantastic target for graffiti artists and hooligans. Imagine what someone with rocks would do if they could get to the glass at the top.

‘Idiots,’ she muttered angrily under her breath.

It was almost full dark and time to be getting back. Her singer apparently wasn’t coming back, so there was no point in hanging around. She started walking back to where the car was parked.

That voice! It was so beautiful.

She wondered what the song was and what was he doing inside a locked lighthouse? It all seemed so strange. The thought of the man and the lighthouse occupied her mind for the rest of the night. She welcomed the mystery since it took her mind off Jarryd and worrying about what her next moves should be.

As she lay in bed staring into the darkness, she felt around inside her heart and mind and unexpectedly realized something. The feelings she had for Jarryd seemed to have disappeared, evaporated into the air as quickly as the strange man at the lighthouse had done. She suddenly felt free; that was the only word for it. Something during the day had broken the hold Jarryd had on her heart and freed her. She didn’t care about him anymore. He could screw any number of bimbos and she really, truly, honestly didn’t care. What a fantastic feeling! It was a relief, but very surprising. Was it only yesterday she had been crying her eyes out over him? Could she have really loved him or was she just incredibly shallow? How could she stop loving him so instantly, if her feelings for him had been real? That was a lowering thought. But rather than dwelling on her character flaws she decided to enjoy this new lightness of spirit and mind. She thought instead about the day, the Island and her many happy memories of this place, especially those involving her beloved parents. She still missed them every day.

At least they’d died together.

They’d been on holidays in NZ, and their hire car had run off an icy road. They were killed instantly. She smiled sadly in the dark. They were still so much in love. It was probably better for them to have died together, but it was a tough time her, being the sole survivor of their once happy trio. She had no other family and even after ten years she missed them dreadfully. Being here at the Island had brought them closer to her, and she felt comforted by their presence.

***

Next morning she returned to the lighthouse. The mystery of the man and his song kept nipping at her mental heels. It was almost a carbon copy of the previous day. The sun was bright, and the sky an intense blue; clear as only a southern Tasmanian sky can be. The crisp, biting wind blew through her, lightening her mood. She drove along the winding road to the national park, marveling at how clear headed she felt this morning. What a change in only twenty-four hours. This place definitely was right for her.

She climbed up the path to the lighthouse straining her ears, listening for the song. When she was in sight of the tall white column, she heard it, and relief flooded through her. What was it about his voice? She’d never heard anything like it before. It soared so high and clear, without music, just the voice a capella, singing the same song over and over again. The words, whatever they were, seemed to change, but the melody remained the same. She laughed softly to herself.

The song must have about a thousand stanzas. How does he ever remember the words?

She walked up to the base of the lighthouse looking for the singer, but there was no sign of him.

Maybe he’s inside the lighthouse? But how did he get in?

She checked the door again and found that it was locked as before, with no sign that it had been opened since she was here last night. She was disappointed since she’d never been inside a lighthouse. She had a vague impression from movies of what it would be like and imagined a circular staircase curling up towards the top.

There’s probably some platforms inside. What else would they stand on when they were looking after the light? Maybe there were even multiple floors? Maybe someone could even live up there?

She wished she knew more about lighthouses. She’d always loved how they looked, silhouetted against the sky, a seaman’s only help in a stormy sea. She even liked lighthouse songs, like the one by Nickle Creek.

Suddenly the singing stopped, and all she could hear was the call of the distant birds and the rush of the waves on the rocks below. She felt unexpectedly bereft at the loss. Her heart sank, and she felt yesterday’s grief coming over her again.

No! I’m determined not to go there again.

She did another circuit of the lighthouse and checked the padlock and door again. Still no change. Where was he? This was getting “curiouser and curiouser”, as they said in the classics. Dejectedly she walked back to the car

I need to find out more about this lighthouse.

She drove back to the Bay and called in at a small shop that seemed to double as the tourist information centre. She asked the old lady at the desk if she had any information about the lighthouse.

‘I’m afraid it was decommissioned a long time ago,’ the woman said sadly. ‘It was too expensive to keep open since it wasn’t really needed anymore. They built an automatic light on the point instead. They locked it up, and we haven’t had anybody there since, hmm,’ she pursed her lips thoughtfully. ‘I think it was in the early nineties. Wait a minute. I think I have a book here on it.’

She rustled through some of the magazines and pamphlets on the shelf until she found a small booklet.

‘Here it is.’ She quickly scanned the information on the back of it. ‘The lighthouse was built in 1838 by convicts out of local stone. Apparently there’d been quite a few shipwrecks near here. I was right. It was decommissioned in 1992.’ She looked at Marguerite again.

I think they closed a lot of the old lighthouses in those days; either closed them or automated them. I’m pretty sure it’s been locked up ever since. Nobody lives there, and nobody goes there as far as I know, apart from tourists, and the National Park Rangers.’

‘That’s strange.’ Marguerite frowned. ‘As I said, I was there yesterday and today and I heard a man singing. It seemed to be coming from the lighthouse.’

‘That is strange. Maybe there was another tourist there you couldn’t see. They might have had a radio playing.’

‘Yesterday I saw the man who was singing, although I didn’t see him today. He was in the lighthouse, on the outside balcony.’ Marguerite pointed out the spot on a photo in the pamphlet. ‘I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t see him very clearly, but he seemed to be wearing a dark blue uniform of some sort. He was holding onto the balustrade and looking out towards the sea, and he was definitely the one who was singing.’

‘I think you must have been mistaken.’ The old lady frowned. ‘I don’t think anyone even has the key to the lighthouse anymore. How would they get inside, and why would anyone be up there singing?’

‘I don’t know. That’s why I was wondering if you had any information about it or if you knew if anybody goes to the lighthouse sometimes; a caretaker or something like that.’

‘I haven’t heard of anybody going inside it for a very long time.’

‘Interesting,’ said Marguerite thoughtfully. ‘I’ll buy that pamphlet and take it home and have a read through it. Is there anything else you have about the national park or the lighthouse? I’ll take those as well.’

***

Back at the bed and breakfast Marguerite spread out the books and pamphlets and pored through them, looking for some hint of who might have been at the lighthouse. She couldn’t find anything useful so she pulled out her iPad to check on the net. She found the lighthouse was listed on a few sites, but there was nothing more than what she had already read. One site had a list of people who were buried there, having died as a result of accidents in the 1800’s, but there was nothing more recent. Frustrated at her lack of progress she was about to close it down when she noticed a large number of unopened messages.

‘Jarryd again,’ she sighed. ‘Why can’t he just leave me alone?’

Quickly she opened Facebook, unfriended Jarryd and deleted all his Facebook and phone messages. She wasn’t even tempted to read them. She blocked his phone number on her iphone as well. She was relieved to be able to use technology to shut the door on that part of her life. She paused, thinking how curious it was that the man who had occupied her thoughts and her bed for three years now evidently meant nothing to her. She was having a problem even recalling his face. How odd!

Next morning she decided to visit the lighthouse again. Her curiosity about the singer grew with every day that passed. She even dreamed about him. Was he a figment of her imagination or a real person? She decided to wait until the afternoon to the lighthouse, hoping to maximize her chance of seeing him.

She spent most of the day driving around the island. She noticed how much it had changed since she was a child. There were more upmarket foodie type places selling gourmet this and that, and the prices of the houses had skyrocketed. She also walked around the headland near her B&B, trying to spot the white wallabies the area was famous for. When she was a child, she had played a game with her parents of spot the wallaby. Whoever saw the most picked what they would have for dinner that night. One year she had been particularly sharp-eyed, and they ate nothing but pizza until even she had got sick of it. She smiled fondly at the memory, trying to suppress the familiar pain she felt at the thought of her parents and the times they had shared together here.

Why do bad things happen to such lovely people? She wondered about this for the thousandth time. It was a question that had baffled theologians and philosophers throughout the ages, and she wasn’t going to solve it today. But one thing was for sure, if only the good died young, Jarryd would live a very long life. And hopefully, an unhappy one, she thought uncharitably.

She was relieved when it was time to go to the lighthouse. As she drove along the road her stomach knotted with tension, scared she would see him but equally scared she wouldn’t. Later, as she walked along the path towards the lighthouse, she was relieved, despite her misgivings, when she heard the song. It was the same tune she remembered, with the same high tenor voice.

She approached the lighthouse slowly, hoping not to scare him away. She was wearing her glasses this time and was able to see him clearly as the lighthouse came into view. He was in the same spot as last time, leaning against the balustrade, staring out to sea. His jacket looked even more like a uniform, now she could see it more clearly. He had a navy turtleneck jumper underneath the coat. She could see the details of his face as well. He had shiny black hair, wavy and slightly long, just brushing his collar. His skin was paler than she expected. How could he not get tanned in a job like his?

His song mesmerized her, drawing her closer and closer until she reached the foot of the lighthouse. She was able to make out some of the words of the song. Something about lost love, the sea, the rocks. Carefully she circumnavigated the base of the lighthouse until she reached the door. This time, the door was open. There was no sign of the old chain and lock, and the door looked newer as if it had just been painted.

That’s strange. Maybe they’re going to reopen the lighthouse as a tourist attraction. Hopefully, they won’t mind if I have a little peek inside.

She opened the door and edged through it into the dim, cold interior. The song seemed to be magnified inside, the long vertical shaft acting as an amplifier. What had sounded distant and sweet now filled her ears and mind almost to the exclusion of any thought. She felt drawn almost physically up the winding staircase. Around and around she climbed, higher and higher until she reached a platform which formed a snug little room at the top. She stopped to look around the room, but then the song changed slightly, becoming more rhythmic and hypnotic and she felt an overpowering compulsion to go to the singer.

Gingerly she stepped onto the platform outside, at first overcome by a feeling of dizziness, seeing how high she was above the sea. She clutched the railing to steady herself and walked slowly, hesitatingly, towards the source of the sweet music.

As she came around the bend of the wall, she saw him. As if sensing she was near he slowly turned towards her, never faltering with his song. His face was like an angel, a dark angel. His longish black hair whipped around his face, and he smiled so sweetly at her that she had to smile back. Her eyes were drawn to his. They glowed in his pale face like sapphire-blue ice.

Marguerite felt the wind buffeting her, pulling at her clothes. It seemed darker than when she had entered the lighthouse. Tearing her eyes from the man she looked up and saw dense grey-green clouds rolling towards her from the south. Looking down she saw the waves had also started to rise, crashing against the rocks at the base of the lighthouse with manic force. The wind whined in her ears, partially deadening the sound of the song.

Slowly she turned towards the man who looked at her solemnly, his head cocked to one side, still singing his magical, siren song. Then he smiled, and his face lit up with an internal fire, his eyes blazing like stars. Marguerite felt her heart soar. Any of the residual pain inside her disappeared, replaced with a feeling of such joy that she had never experienced before. He held out his arms to her, motioning slightly with his fingers to indicate she should come closer.

She drifted towards him, no longer aware of the wind or the sea, seeing nothing but his eyes, hearing nothing but his song. She walked into his arms as if she belonged there, and felt them surround her, clasping her body to his. In his arms, she felt complete peace and stillness. Her face rested against his shoulder, and she felt his hand first stroking her hair, then massaging her neck and back. The strain and tensioned drained out of her, replaced by the icy fire of desire. His song was replaced by a rhythmic hum. It vibrated inside their bodies, melding them together as one.

Cold drops of water fell on her face and vaguely she sensed the storm was now above them, soaking her through. She didn’t care. She wanted this moment to go on forever. Slowly she lifted her face and looked into the beautiful face so close to hers. His eyes filled her vision. His mind spoke directly to hers. She saw images of old ships, icebergs, violent storms, stars shining above a vacant sea. Then exquisitely slowly, he lowered his lips to hers and kissed her.

At the touch of his lips, her mind took flight. She felt as if she was soaring into the air, at one with the storm. She could hear the blood pulsing through her veins, throbbing in time with the humming in her ears. The music filled her ears, her mind, and her body.

She wrapped her arms and legs around him and held on tight as they rose into the air, and took flight, spinning through the clouds. She felt light as a snowflake, warmed but not melted by the heat of his body and the pleasure radiating through her. Higher and higher they flew, faster and faster they spun, until her mind exploded in ecstasy. Then came the darkness.

***

‘I wonder who this car belongs to?’ the ranger commented to his daughter as they drove slowly through the empty car park in the first light of dawn.

‘Lucky it wasn’t damaged in the storm last night. Look, there’s a tree that’s fallen down right behind it.’ The little girl’s high voice squealed with excitement. ‘I was so scared last night, Daddy. I thought the roof was going to come off our house. Lucky it’s the school holidays. I wouldn’t want to have been coming home from school in that storm. The bus might have fallen off the road.’

The ranger smiled indulgently at her as they pulled up beside the parked car. He climbed out of his car and peered through the other car’s windows. It was empty. Damn it, he’d have to report it to the police, if no one came to collect it. But who would have left it here? It was too far to walk back to town, and the car wasn’t here yesterday when he drove through checking for validation passes.

‘Come on sweetheart, let’s go for a walk and see if we can find the owner.’ He held out his hand to the little girl, and they walked down towards the beach. She skipped along beside him, excitedly pointing out where the trees had fallen down and the odd things washed up on the beach. He only half listened to her chatter. The other half of his mind was occupied with the mystery of the car, or rather, the car’s owner. He decided to walk up to the old lighthouse. It was built up high enough to give him a good view of the surrounding area. He might be able to spot someone from up there.

At the top of the hill, he checked the door of the lighthouse. It was still secure, as always. It hadn’t been opened in years as far as he knew and the old lock was so rusted he’d be surprised if they could open it, even if someone knew where the key was.

He walked towards the edge of the cliff and looked down. That’s when the scarf caught his eye. It was a bright yellow and orange scarf, flowing back and forth in the waves where they washed against the rocks.

‘Shush sweetheart.’ He tried to stem the flow of his daughter’s chatter. ‘Stay here, I have to go down to the rocks and check something out. Promise me you won’t move. You know how dangerous it is around here.’

‘I promise.’ Her little face was solemn. She knew if she didn’t do as he told her he wouldn’t let her ride along with him to work.

‘Good girl.’ He smiled at her approvingly and gave her a quick hug. He took off his fleece jacket and laid it on the grass for her to sit on, and trudged down the steep path to the beach. He climbed over the rocks towards the bright colours of the scarf, glowing against the dark gray of the rocks.

‘Oh no. Not another one,’ he muttered savagely. Standing on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff he had a better view of the scarf, and the broken body attached to it. It looked like a woman, with long black hair flowing back and forth with the waves as they lapped at the rocks. He knew he should go down and check her, but what was the point? Her body was twisted at unnatural angles, and he didn’t need another dead face haunting his dreams.

What is it about this place? Why do so many girls pick this cliff to jump off?

With a heavy sigh, he climbed back up the rocks, pulling his phone from his belt and began dialing the number for the local police.

 

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