The Project-A short story
It was early morning and Vic thought he might catch Eve before she headed to work. She’d already been in Sydney for the allocated time, and the project was about to head into its next phase. Eve still avoided conversation and Vic was frustrated, so tried again.
It was Sunday morning, and the phone rang incessantly, eventually dragging Eve from her deep slumber.
‘Hi. Eve speaking,’ she answered sleepily.
Vic was quick to respond. ‘Eve – Hi.’ His voice startled her, and she sat up.
‘Vic, oh, hi, yes, look I’m just heading out.’
He sounded disheartened and now he had her, wasn’t going to give up easily. Vic picked up that she was about to hang up and shouted into the phone.
‘Eve, WILL YOU PLEASE JUST WAIT!’
Sounding exasperated, he calmed his voice to a pleading tone.
‘Can’t you please talk - for a moment?’ – silence – ‘Just for a minute?’ – silence. ‘I - just - want - one – minute - Eve. - Please?’ – silence- then, again, in a more exasperated tone: ‘You owe me that!’
The last part was more an exclamation than a question and Eve softened. She knew she’d been hard, but the silence gave her space.
Eve sat on the edge of the bed and took in a deep breath. She knew it wasn’t his fault. It was hers. It was always her fault, no matter what. It’s what she always knew, grew up with, was told, repeatedly.
No matter what the counsellors said, no matter what the meditation tapes told her, it was always her fault, and it made the hurt more painful; the pain in her belly, the pain in her head and her heart, it was real.
It made her feel sick and worthless. It made her feel life wasn’t worth living. Though the anti-depressants dulled it a little, the heartache was always there, and at times it was too much; so, the silence gave her space. At least on the project, she could get away from the haunting, incessant voices in her head.
‘I’m sorry, Vic. I’m sorry. I know I’ve been avoiding you.’
Vic breathed an audible sigh as Eve made excuses about how busy she had been, how she was up early and home late. It was the reason she could never talk. They both knew it was a lie.
He asked her about the weather and kept the conversation light. Nothing heavy - that would only bring it all back. At least he could hear her voice. He hated texts - they were for people who didn’t want to exchange dialogue with whoever was on the end of the phone – convenient but impersonal.
Vic needed to hear her voice, so he kept going – slowly – one step at a time - simple questions – space – silence - answer. But it was her voice. Eve’s voice-and that’s all that mattered. Then, without thinking, he asked Eve about the project and immediately wanted to retract the words.
‘You know I can’t talk about it, Vic!’ Eve snapped. Suddenly there it was – that anger – back again. Eve didn’t know where it came from or why she felt like that. After all, Vic had been loving, gentle and supportive. He cared for her every need.
Eve wondered whether it was too late to rekindle what they’d had. It had been so long since her miscarriage, and she’d been working on the project for three of those; away from his incessant nagging to discuss her feelings.
‘I feel fine,’ she told him. ‘I don’t need to discuss how I am. I’m back working and that’s all that matters!’ she finally said more calmly. ‘It makes me happy.’
She also knew it was a process - the grief cycle – loss-hurt-shock-numbness-denial-emotions-outbursts-anger-fear-panic-guilt-depression and eventually acceptance or adjustment. The counsellor had gone over it at every session.
Eve knew it, like she knew her own cycle-except now she hated when she ovulated too. But Eve wasn’t ready. She didn’t want another child; she wanted the one she’d lost.
Oh, she knew Vic wanted more. He’d gently suggested it before she left-but she couldn’t-not yet. It would mean intimacy and as much as she wanted him, she couldn’t. The grief was still there and so the space provided shelter.
Vic sighed. ‘I’m sorry. I forgot. I know you can’t talk about the project, Eve, but I don’t know what else to say anymore.’
There was silence for a moment before he burst out.
‘It’s just I feel I can’t ask you anything anymore. You don’t want to talk to me, or be with me and, well I’m hurting too. I feel as much sadness and grief as you do!’ The frustration showed in his voice.
Vic had tried to be calm, he’d been patient, but he needed his wife to realise they were drifting apart. Eve tried to restrain from sounding annoyed. So, as she held the phone, did the breathing exercise the doctor suggested, in her head.
‘In, (breathe) out (breathe), in (breathe), out, (breathe), then count to five.’
Calmly, she responded.
‘I’m sorry Vic, I know.’ Eve tried to sound a little more upbeat.
‘So, what are you up to? How’s things at the Estate?’
Vic picked up on this and told Eve how the winery was doing.
Chad was at least meeting with new exporters. He’d apologised to Vic about neglecting the winery but seemed genuinely interested again and was hoping to share his vision of a new brand.
Vic was keen. He’d owned the winery for three years now and it was growing quickly so had to plan the next stage of the business was a good thing.
Eve listened to Vic rattle on, then realised she was running late.
‘That’s good. Look, I’m sorry but I really must go. I’ve got a meeting.’
Before he could respond, Eve hung up. Vic sighed. At least they’d spoken. That’s all he needed. In the meantime, he had to get going himself.
He was due to fly out in the next couple of hours to meet with the new exporter and organised Rick. It was a good excuse for them both to catch up and the company could pay this time, so it was a win-win for them both.
As they boarded the plane, Vic talked to Rick about the issues he’d had before and went over in his mind, the plans he had.
‘Seems to have quietened down Vic. For some reason, I haven’t had any problems since you flew last time.’
Vic was worried there was still an underlying problem though, and asked the pilot to ensure he was vigilant with his checks when he flew.
‘Well, mate. We agree on that point!’
Back in In Melbourne, Vic was still trying to fathom what an exporter had just told him. The conversation suggested a new client had muscled in and was doing a better deal. They wouldn’t disclose much except to say they could get Seven Signs Estate wines at a cheaper price from the new business specialising in the best deals.
‘Can you at least describe what this guy looked like?’
‘Sorry mate. Did all his deals over the phone. The name of the company would be disclosed when they agreed and before contacts were signed. Until then, he wouldn’t let on any other information.’
Vic knew it was Chad. He mulled over whether to confront him, yet knew he’d be wasting his time as Chad covered his tracks.
He climbed back into his car and slammed his hand on the steering wheel. Vic wasn’t one to temper quickly – but this was the last straw.
Vic had always mistrusted his partner, yet the winery seemed to be growing with his expertise. All the rumours had so far come without evidence to back them up. He knew he needed to dig further and called Ted.
‘Funny but I have heard there were a few strange deals going on behind closed doors. I caught Chad in the office with one of the exporters. It was just before Mitch disappeared. He went in to retrieve some paperwork and I found them talking.’
Vic took notes as Ted continued. ‘Chad seemed rattled when I walked in, and Mitch told me he was acting strange about the whole thing, asking whether he overhead their conversation. It was after that, Mitch disappeared.’
Ted told Vic the police he found evidence of Chad letting himself into the office and searching through papers, yet the guy kept saying he was just making sure the business was running well whilst Vic was away. The police believed his story.
If he confronted Chad, it would give away the camera Mitch had planted and Chad had called Vic saying he needed access to the office for export meetings, so had kept a recording of his coming and goings.
It was this scene though that kept replaying in his mind as he recalled the shadow he’d seen on the videotape. Vic decided he’d talk to Ted about it and suggested they meet later to go over the footage.
‘I’d like your opinion on whether you think I’m seeing nothing, Ted. It’s just that the shadow seems to be lurking in the background. I want you to see what you think of it.’
On his way back to the Estate, Vic talked to Rick about what he’d discovered from the exporter.
‘I don’t know what to say Vic. This guy certainly sounds like he’s up to no good, but without evidence, you can’t really do anything.’
‘Yeah, I know. Poor old Mitch tried his best to help me out but now he’s gone, I feel like I need to hire someone to do some checking. Somehow I know his disappearance has Chad involved but the police can’t find anything and reckon that his stories check out, so I am still at a loss.’
Rick listened intently as he continued.
‘I’m going to get Ted to look at the footage when I get back but in the meantime, I’m wondering if I need a Private Investigator to help me out. The police don’t seem to be getting anywhere and Constable Patrick doesn’t really have much time. He’s a lone cop in a small town.’
‘That sounds like your best bet mate. I can put you in touch with a friend. He does a bit of PI work on the side. I talked to him about what’s been going on with the fuel line and he gave me some advice on it.
He’s an ex-journo. Started up PI ‘cause he found too many unsolved murders and wanted to help. He realised his journalism often led him to investigations and he worked with the cops on some. They talked him into getting trained up and he’s been crazy busy ever since but loves it. Mixes the two jobs depending on what he’s got. Name’s Steve. I’ll send you his details.