Badger Hill – Chapter 2
It was no damned good.
Jay strapped Hannah’s knee tightly, using the elasticated bandage from their first aid kit, and cut her a sturdy walking pole from a stand of saplings. He transferred everything of weight to his own pack.
Still she could barely hobble around the campground. There was no prospect of her negotiating the steep and winding trail, in either direction.
‘What that knee of yours needs is a complete rest, Babe.’
No shit, Sherlock.
Time to put Plan B into action.
It was at that point that Hannah discovered her phone was dead. ‘For fuck’s sake!’ She had neglected to switch it off overnight, and the ageing battery had been drained, searching for a signal in this area of scant coverage.
Jay’s phone still had plenty of juice, but stubbornly displayed NO SERVICE. ‘Doesn’t matter. They’ll have a land line over at the farm.’
It was eleven by the time Jay set off, and the sun was already packing a punch. ‘Gonna be a warm day for September.’
Jay estimated that it might take him two to three hours to get to the farm, travelling light with just water and his phone; another hour to get to Athena Bay; and a fifth hour to return in the RAV4, threading his way along forest management trails to the foot of Badger Hill. ‘Maybe another hour to be on the safe side … so don’t expect me before five.’
This was somewhat immaterial, as Hannah didn’t wear a watch, and her phone was dead.
‘Jay, this is getting silly. As soon as you can get a signal, maybe you should just phone triple zero and ask for Bush Search and Rescue?’
‘Well, a sore knee is hardly an emergency, is it? And we’re not lost. Nah – don’t worry, Babe, we got this.’
Hannah always seemed to end up with pathologically self-reliant males. Why was it so hard to stand up to them? She watched him disappear down the track and couldn’t refrain from shaking her head: half in affectionate wonderment, half in frustration.
Aside from a throbbing knee, it was delightful sitting on the grass, watching and listening to the life of the bush.
Crimson rosellas flitted and swooped from tree to tree, chortling and squeaking to their companions, then ringing out their clear ‘pee-ping’ contact call across the valley. It always surprised her how a vibrant red-and-blue bird could disappear so completely into green foliage.
A shrike-thrush flew up into the tree next to her and fluted a rising melody. Answered by a rival or a mate further away, it began to riff on its familiar theme, producing ever-new modulations which were answered note-perfect by the other.
Hannah listened entranced, until an officious wattlebird came and chased the songster into the valley.
After a simple lunch of a muesli bar and an apple, a mug of tea and another brace of painkillers, she watched in a dreamy reverie as the shadows of clouds swept across the patchwork of meadow and woodland before her.
Mid-afternoon came and went. If there were any other walkers on the trail, they would be arriving soon. The next camp to the south was only 22 kilometres away. None came.
She dozed at intervals to catch up on the night’s sleep, until the sun started to decline into the west.
Surely it must be five by now?
A small knot of anxiety began to form in her abdomen. She reminded herself that five o’clock was the earliest, realistically, that Jay could return.
To keep herself busy, and because it was growing cold, she slowly gathered material for a fire; piled a ball of newspaper, a layer of gum leaves and a wigwam of kindling carefully in the fire pit; struck a match. Blue gum smoke curled upward into the evening sky.
Soon a small blaze was crackling and she could put the first of the split logs on. The half-burnt coals from the night before reignited and lent their rosy warmth.
Before she knew it, it was getting dark. The last rays tipped the treetops opposite in carmine, then were gone.
Any time now, he’ll be here.
He’s late. Something’s wrong.
She sat by the fire until it burned low, the fuel exhausted. At last she raked out the embers, sighing.
Then she retired to bed. It was cold in the tent without another warm body to snuggle up to, and she squeezed into her sleeping bag fully clothed.
Her mind churned ceaselessly.
Why isn’t he here? – He’s done the sensible thing and decided to wait until morning. – He would never do that. – There’s nothing I can do: no point in worrying. – Why isn’t he …?
Eventually she fell into a light, fitful sleep.
Next week in Badger Hill:
Chapter 3: Quarry
Hannah finds herself involved in a deadly pursuit …