Prologue: It Started With A Piss
He deliberately adjusted his position so that the jet of urine struck the bottom of the disinfectant block. The small, white cube had become lodged behind a rusting screw which fastened a metal grid over the drainpipe in the porcelain bowl. Normally, he aimed, such that the stream of liquid shot directly between one of the holes in the grid, to disappear straight down into the void, without touching the ceramic sides of the urinal, but the possibilities of being able to move the block had got him interested; momentarily distracting him from the matter at hand. He wasnt looking forward to the interview ahead. It was always difficult talking to one of the relatives. Too close. Never able to separate the emotional from the logical.
Just a little bit lower. And if he squeezed harder, perhaps he could produce just a little bit more force. The warm fluid bubbled up in a frenzy of white froth where it struck the surface of the urinal immediately beneath the gleaming cube. The little object rocked one way and then the other, moving almost like a miniature hovercraft supported on a wave of air, teetering, seemingly aware that its energy source was not inexhaustible and was subject to fluctuations. Now or never. One final blast. Almost. Almost. The white block hung suspended, perilously close to surmounting its rusty hurdle, before the pressure of the jet diminished, and the cube of disinfectant sunk back, dejected, to its previous dormancy; one tiny speck of purity in an otherwise soiled world. No more delays. Best to get out there and get this over with.
Shake. In. Tuck. Zip. OK.
"Im sorry, Sir. I know this is difficult, but we have to ask."
"I understand that."
"So, absolutely sure? I am sorry to press this, but it has been eight years. Are there any distinguishing marks that make you absolutely positive that it is his bag?" The New Zealand accent made the final word sound like beg, but there was no mistaking the policeman was referring to the small suitcase that he cradled in his large arms, in the same fashion that his interviewee would have once held his missing offspring.
"For Gods sake. Of course Im sure. I know my own sons case. It might be eight years to you, but it is still yesterday to me."
"Do you? Do you? I doubt it." Confronting. Bitter.
"I understand how distressing this all is for you." The official reverted to the public broadcast, "But rest assured we are doing everything in our powers to find out what has happened to your son. The discovery of this suitcase opens up several new possibilities."
"So you will finally believe me when I say that something grave has happened to him?"
"We never ruled that possibility out."
"But you never did anything about it."
"Young people disappear all the time. Most of their own volition. If we spent time investigating every ..."
"Eight years. Not a word. He had nothing to run away from. He had a life waiting for him back home. He was on holiday. On holiday." His indignation blew out, replaced by despair.
The dark-suited policeman was silent for a moment, allowing the other man time to compose himself again, before continuing. "We will have to hang on to this." He held out the suitcase again. "Im sure you understand."
"Procedure." Quiet. Ironic.
"Well find out what happened. Leave it to us. Go back to your hotel. Youve had a long ..."
"Dont tell me Ive had a long flight."
He continued, his voice quieter but more steely, "Youve had a long flight. I might have more I can tell you in the morning. All I know at this stage is that your sons suitcase was discovered at the back of a large laundry cupboard in a popular hostel in the city centre. It could have been there ever since he disappeared. We have thousands of backpackers passing through Christchurch every year. Millions, for all I know. Thousands just in this one hostel, so its not surprising that it wasnt discovered. But well tear the place to bits if thats what it takes to find anything more about what happened."
"But eight years."
"I know. Its a long time ago. But if there is any evidence to be found, we will find it."
"And what can I do?"
"You can catch up on some sleep."
"Sleep?" Surprise. It was as though hed never slept before. As though the concept had never occurred to him. Too simple that the anxiety could all be switched off by a simple flick that turned consciousness into unconsciousness; reality into oblivion. It was an invitation that had no pay-back. A win-win situation. Sleep. Not a solution, but perhaps an answer.
At the same time, eleven thousand miles away, a young man is watching his TV set and is about to discover that he has made the biggest mistake of his life.