The sound of the tent stirred by the breeze confused him.
The sunlight was filtered by trees and cast a shifting dapple on the roof of the tent. As he watched the dancing shadows, he realized that his body was relaxed. The pain no longer knotted his muscles or twisted his gut.
He sat up and looked through the insect meshing to see a mild autumn afternoon. He unzipped the tent. He straightened up and stretched; a luxurious gesture. It felt good to be alive.
He sat between the tent and the small fire he had built earlier, feeding the flames with waiting wood. The heroin no longer blurred his mind but, as he sat enjoying the warmth of the sun on a pain-free body, he became uncomfortably certain that there was something he had forgotten.
Cassie stood on the side of the rugged hill that curved down to the water.
Here was a place to call paradise. There were no gentle tropical breezes or swaying palm fronds: no gaudy profusion of scented blooms. There was a small, sheltered bay with a white beach. A creek wandered over an inlet of sand that had found harbour among the wild scrubland at the shore.
As she walked down into Refuge Cove, Cassie could imagine how the sailors had felt when they named this place so many years ago. The hills surrounded her, shutting out the storms that buffeted her soul. The smells and sounds of the bush soothed her and she began to feel that she would be able to go on to face the next hurdle that life placed before her. First, though, she would rest in this place of sanctuary.
There was already a tent at one end of the camping area. Cassie smiled companionably at the unkempt man who sat between the tent and a small fire . He nodded absently in her direction. When Cassie looked over from the site she chose at the other end of the clearing, the lone hiker seemed to be deep in contemplation.
It did not take Cassie long to set up her small tent and organize her campsite. Her tent looked out onto the bay of sand that intruded on the bush. She wondered idly whether the tide would be high enough to flood the inlet as she had seen it do before.
By the time she had been swimming, made a meal and cleaned up, the sun was low in the sky. The other camper withdrew into his tent.
Cassie took advantage of the dying rays of the sun to take a short stroll to the beach. Her sense of the isolation of the place was broken by a boat which was just anchoring in the cove.
"Still," she told herself, "this is a place of refuge for seafarers. They've as much right to be here as I. I hope this doesn't mean there's bad weather on the way."
Cassie sat by her small fire listening to the sounds of the night for a time. The fire in front of the other tent had long died away, and the tent had disappeared into the darkened bush. Cassie could now easily believe that she was alone.
As she had walked through the bush many things had passed through her mind. Mingled with her sweat and the rubbing of her pack's shoulder straps were visions that ranged through the whole of her experience.
She could remember hugging Linda, the bitter-sweet child who had helped her keep her balance so many times over the years. At the age of sixteen Cassie had held a tiny baby girl in her arms and wondered at the miracle of life. She could still see the pointy skull; the red and wizened face. She could remember feeling small when the eyelids had opened and the huge blue eyes, full of peace and wisdom, had peered out at her.
She could remember David. The surliness of the wedding had passed, and now he stood and watched his daughter wriggle. He watched, but he would not touch.
"It's a pity he didn't feel like that about me," thought Cassie bitterly.
They had stayed together for three years. Cassie often tried to forget those years. David's pride in his daughter had quickly given way to annoyance. Linda had disturbed his sleep and taken Cassie's attention away from him.
For five months the two children had played at being grown-ups, but with Linda's birth the play had become real life. When Linda was three months old, David began to drink. Cassie began to organize her life so that she would not provoke her husband. She had nowhere to go that would not cause her to choke on her pride, and she decided that being beaten to submission once was enough.
Cassie's strategies had limited success. She did not discourage her husband's weekend sprees with his mates. She made sure that meals were ready on time and that Linda was in a good mood when David was due home. An affectionate, happy daughter would often set David up to look benevolently at his wife for the rest of the evening. Cassie learned to accept the blows when his humour was bad - the risk that Linda would become a target was too great.
Sex was largely a passionless business for Cassie. The adolescent desire that had created Linda quickly faded. Exhaustion was the main feeling in Cassie's life. She learned to simply accept David's crude approaches.
They were bad years.
When David brought his lover home, Cassie left. She had been planning it for some time. Money had been painfully saved from the meagre housekeeping, already taxed by her husband's drinking. Friends were ready to fetch her and house her as soon as the phone call came. Cassie was glad of the excuse. So was David.
The next years were bad too.
But in the blur of activity it took to raise a child, earn a living and gain some education, the years flew by. Something to reach for sped up her life, the way misery and pain had slowed it down.
She could remember her first "real" job. She had been contributing on and off to the local paper. One day the phone rang and Cassie had stood, elated yet stunned by their offer. Linda, so small, had waited impatiently until Cassie put the phone down.
"Are you going to have a new job, Mummy?"
Such a stupid damn thing to stick in your mind. How clearly she could see again the face of her seven-year-old daughter! Those blue eyes, so wise.
It was Jack's eyes that had first interested Cassie.
The place of sanctuary that Cassie had instinctively sought had worked it's magic. For the first time she found herself able to think of him without pain. There was sadness, but not pain. She found a crooked smile on her lips as she remembered.
Staring at the dying fire she could almost feel the brush of his fingertips on her cheek; almost hear the lilting richness of his voice.
"Such a beautiful lady should not have such sad eyes."
She could remember eating with him, dancing with him, talking with him. With a nostalgic shudder she remembered lying in his arms, warm and sated; safe. She could almost smell him.
She didn't hear the rowboat that had put quietly to shore. Absorbed in her recollections and the depths of the crackling fire, she did not hear the men approaching.
Some sudden instinct made Cassie look about her. Three men were walking towards her, coming through the last of the scrub that separated the camping ground from the inlet of sand. Cassie was surprised, then curious. They must have come ashore from the boat she had seen - but why?
"Hello," she said.
"Hello. You . . . enjoy being by yourself do you?"
The question seemed incongruous. Why else would she be here? She laughed.
The men had stood by her fire, as if warming themselves. Now one of them walked around to her. Cassie was too startled to even think of moving away when he lunged towards her. In her disbelief she did not make any noise, but struggled silently for the pitiful few seconds it took for her to be subdued.
The man stood behind her, pinning her arms to her side with one huge arm of iron while his other hand covered her mouth. For a moment the scene around the fire froze in a bizarre tableau. Cassie felt her heart hit the bottom of her stomach as she realized that whatever these men wanted, they would get.
"Well, pretty lady, you're not alone now," said the man who had first addressed her. "The boys and I are here to keep you company. But, I am being rude aren't I? Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Tom, this is Dick, and that's Harry," he smirked, pointing at the giant of a man who held Cassie.
Cassie writhed, testing "Harry's” grip. She may as well have been bound with chains. Hope stabbed at her chest as she remembered the other camper, but looking at her captors she realized the futility of this thought. Her only chance would be if the hiker were the re-incarnation of Bruce Lee. The wry reflection allowed her to relax momentarily. She looked at the men. Why were they here?
"So, Cassie." He knew her name! "I've been told that you're in need of a little advice. It's probably just as well that you don't seem to have a great deal to say for yourself," he leered pointedly at the hand clamped over her mouth, "because I'm really concerned that you listen to me. Listen very carefully.
"It seems you've upset some people. Very important people. You should be more careful, you know." The man's sarcastically threatening manner was beginning to anger Cassie. She also began to hope that she wasn't actually in physical danger. He wanted her to listen, and remember!
As she listened, this hope was weighted down and sat in a solid ball at the bottom of her stomach. This was about her F.I.S.H.E. research. Some-one was very anxious that she did not continue to probe. They were prepared to silence her - permanently.
"So you can see, you can't get away from us, no matter where you go. Perhaps you should use the rest of your quiet communion with nature to contemplate that! And don't worry, it doesn't matter what you do, my boss'll know. He'll know if you don't do as you're told.
"That's the message we had to deliver, lady. Me and the lads'll be going now. Only you have to remember, this is just a social visit. Next time it could be serious."
Cassie was anxious now for them to leave. The implications of the "social visit" horrified her. When, instead of moving to leave, "Tom" stepped towards her, she was annoyed.
"You know, you haven't been very sociable," he said. "I think, since we're here and no-one'll ever know, we should all get a bit more friendly."
As he ran his hands over her body, Cassie went cold. She could not let this happen. When "Harry" shifted his grip so that "Tom" could undo her shirt, Cassie wrenched herself free and screamed at the men.
She began to run before they reacted, but was swiftly trying to protect herself from the earth that rose and slammed into her body. The weight of the man, sitting on her back while others grabbed at her arms and legs, was smothering. Desperately she struggled, despite the knowledge that she could not possibly win.
When the weight on her eased it was unexpected. Scuffling noises told her of the fight she could not see.
When "Dick" began to rise a sudden need to hit back caused Cassie to grab his ankle and trip him. She turned around to see "Tom" and "Harry" grappling with the scruffy hiker. He was holding his own, but Cassie decided that one against three would be too much to ask.
She jumped on top of the winded "Dick" before he could recover. She snatched at a piece of wood that was on the ground. The large stick broke when she hit the back of "Dick"'s head, but it knocked him unconscious. Filled with anger she reached for a conveniently club-shaped fallen branch and joined the fight.
The men were alarmed to find themselves attacked from the other side by a wild-woman swinging a club. They soon crouched back, trying to avoid blows which now ceased.
The lone hiker stood over the men. He straightened up, looming to an unexpected height.
"Take your confederate and leave, now!" The authority in the man's voice froze Cassie with confusion. As the men gathered up the limp "Dick" and obediently began to leave, the walker's voice rang out.
"Don't bother this woman again. This life of violence that you lead is corrupt. Mend your ways!"
The men shuffled off and soon the sounds of a row-boat leaving shore and splashing out to the waiting boat could be heard.
Cassie remained frozen. The frenzy of the attack had drained her of vitality, and the shock of the experience overwhelmed her. Her shabby saviour turned to her, responding to the distress of the paralysed woman.
Cassie was barely aware of being sat in front of the fire. A blanket was thrown over her shoulders and soon a cup of strong, sweet tea was warming her hands. A voice compelled her, "Drink." The warmth of the fire and the now unbroken peace of the bush once again cast their healing spell. Feeling as though she had just woken, Cassie looked about her.
"Hello," said her dusty companion. "I'm glad you're feeling recovered. You really need some sleep now, so I'll be off. Nice meeting you. Good-night."
"Goodnight," said Cassie.
Before she could rouse her wits enough to speak further, the man had melted into the gloom in the direction of his tent. "Oh well," she thought, still a little dazed, "I'll speak to him in the morning. I must thank him."
She cleaned her teeth and zipped herself into her sleeping-bag. Despite the excitement of the night, sleep came easily. She was no longer concerned for her welfare and she was tired - so tired.
In the morning when Cassie woke, the lone hiker had gone.