Welcome to the second chapter of our exclusive two-part extract from critically acclaimed new Australian novel The Hunted, by Gabriel Bergmoser. Outback roadhouse owner Frank, granddaughter Allie and two passing customers — Charlie and Delilah — have just seen a blood-spattered woman pull up in a car then collapse. Far worse is to follow …
Frank had picked the girl up and was walking back through the roadhouse entrance before he even realised what he was doing. She was limp in his arms, her eyelids fluttering. He could see that the source of at least some of the blood was her right leg, deep lacerations obvious through a rag serving as a makeshift bandage.
“What the hell …” Delilah was on her feet, Charlie trailing behind her. Allie hadn’t left her seat; she just stared as Frank laid the girl down on one of the tables.
“Call an ambulance,” Charlie said. “Now.”
Delilah ran for the counter. Charlie stood across from Frank, looking the girl over. He reached down and touched her injured leg. She stirred, slightly. He examined what he could see of the wound with a grimace.
“Not good?” Frank said, feeling like an idiot as soon as he did.
“I’ll need to get it clean to take a look,” Charlie replied. “But it looks pretty bad … I have no idea how she was driving.”
“You a doctor?”
“Nurse. Del?” Charlie looked over to the counter. “How you going?”
Delilah was looking down at the phone in her hand, frowning.
“Delilah,” Charlie urged.
“The line’s dead.” She looked up at them. “There’s nothing.”
Frank hurried over and snatched the phone from her. He put it to his ear. There was only silence.
“Is that … Does that happen sometimes?” Delilah asked.
No. “Yeah. Line must be down or something. Who’s got a mobile?”
Delilah looked embarrassed. “We drained it playing music in the car, and the
charger’s busted. We were going to replace it in the next town but … do you
have a Samsung charger?”
Frank bit back his frustration. He turned to Allie. She was already on her feet, phone in her hand.
“No,” the girl on the table croaked. Allie stopped dead. ‘Keep still,” Charlie said. “We’re going to call help.”
Frank was taken aback by the force in her voice. The girl’s eyes were open, locked on Charlie, wide and desperate. “No ambulance. No police.”
“You’re hurt,” Charlie said. “Look, you —”
“No.” The girl sat half up, her arm shot out. Her hand closed around Charlie’s wrist so tightly he yelled out. Frank moved instinctively as the girl rose from the table, breathing heavily, eyes boring into Charlie’s. “No ambulance. No police.”
Her grip loosened. Her eyes lost focus. Charlie caught her as she fell back.
“Stay with me,” Charlie said. “Come on, stay with me. What’s your name?”
Her eyes closed. Charlie put his ear to her mouth, listening. After a moment, he nodded and with Frank’s help gently laid her back on the table.
“How’s she doing?” Frank asked Charlie.
“The same,” Charlie said. “She’s breathing, but that doesn’t mean much until I can get her cleaned up and take a better look.”
After a couple of minutes, Charlie spoke again: “What do you think happened to her?”
Frank didn’t reply. It was the question that had to have been on all their minds from the moment she collapsed out the front of the roadhouse. The few ideas he did have were either ridiculous or terrifying, or both. He looked down at the girl’s prone, filthy form. Who are you?
After the other three took the woman to Frank’s house, Allie heard the shop’s screen door swing open. She looked up, surprised. There’d been no sound of a car.
A man stood in the entry, hands on his hips and eyes scanning the room. He was tall and thin. His skin was weathered and leathery. He wore a filthy suit jacket over a plain singlet tucked into his jeans. The fact that his grey hair was receding hadn’t made him think twice about growing it long.
He stopped about a metre from the counter. He raised an eyebrow. ‘‘You didn’t happen to see a girl pass through here, did ya?”
Gabriel Bergmoser’s The Hunted, published by HarperCollins Australia, will be in all good bookstores from July 31. It is our Sunday Book Club’s Book of the Month for August — and as a special offer, readers can pre-order or buy it for 30 per cent discount at Booktopia with the exclusive code HUNTED