Home > Apples Never Fall

Apples Never Fall
Author: Liane Moriarty

 

 

   prologue


The bike lay on the side of the road beneath a grey oak, the handlebars at an odd jutted angle, as if it had been thrown with angry force.

   It was early on a Saturday morning, the fifth day of a heatwave. More than forty bushfires continued to blaze doggedly across the state. Six regional towns had ‘evacuate now’ warnings in place but here in suburban Sydney the only danger was to asthma sufferers, who were advised to stay indoors. The smoke haze that draped the city was a malicious yellow-grey, as thick as a London fog.

   The empty streets were silent apart from the subterranean roar of cicadas. People slept after restless hot nights of jangled dreams, while early risers yawned and thumb-scrolled their phone screens.

   The discarded bike was shiny-new, advertised as a ‘vintage lady’s bike’: mint green, seven-speed, with a tan leather saddle and a white wicker basket. The sort of bike you were meant to imagine riding in the cool crisp air of a European mountain village, wearing a soft beret rather than a safety helmet, a baguette tucked under one arm.

   Four green apples lay scattered on the dry grass beneath the tree as if they had spilled and rolled from the bike’s basket.

   A family of black blowflies sat poised at different points on the bike’s silver spokes, so still they looked dead.

   The car, a Holden Commodore V8, vibrated with the beat of eighties rock as it approached from the intersection, inappropriately fast in this family neighbourhood.

   The brakelights flashed and the car reversed with a squeal of tyres until it was parked next to the bike. The music stopped. The driver emerged, smoking a cigarette. He was skinny, barefoot and bare-chested, wearing nothing but blue football shorts. He left the driver’s door open and tiptoed with balletic, practised grace across the already hot asphalt and onto the grass, where he hunkered down to study the bike. He caressed the bike’s punctured front tyre as if it were the limb of a wounded animal. The flies buzzed, suddenly alive and worried.

   The man looked up and down the empty street, took a narrow-eyed drag of his cigarette, shrugged, and then grabbed the bike with one hand and stood. He walked to his car and laid it in his boot like a purchase, deftly popping off the front wheel with the quick-release lever to make it fit.

   He got back in the car, slammed the door shut and drove off, rapping the beat to AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ on his steering wheel, pleased with himself. Yesterday had been Valentine’s Day, apparently, and he didn’t believe in that capitalist shit but he was going to give the bike to his wife and say, Happy late Valentine’s Day, babe, with an ironic wink, and that would make up for the other day and odds were he’d get lucky tonight.

   He didn’t get lucky. He got very unlucky. Twenty minutes later he was dead, killed instantly in a head-on collision. A semitrailer driver from interstate didn’t see a stop sign concealed by an overgrown liquidambar. Local residents had been complaining for months about that sign. It was an accident waiting to happen, they said, and now it had happened.

   The apples rotted fast in the heat.

 

 

   chapter one


Two men and two women sat in the far corner of a café underneath the framed photo of sunflowers at dawn in Tuscany. They were basketball-player tall, and as they leaned forward over the mosaic-topped round table, their foreheads almost touched. They spoke in low, intense voices, as if their conversation involved international espionage, which was incongruous in this small suburban café on a pleasant summery Saturday morning, with freshly baked banana and pear bread scenting the air and soft rock drifting languidly from the stereo to the accompaniment of the espresso machine’s industrious hiss and grind.

   ‘I think they’re brothers and sisters,’ said the waitress to her boss. The waitress was an only child and intrigued by siblings. ‘They look really similar.’

   ‘They’re taking too long to order,’ said her boss, who was one of eight and found siblings not at all intriguing. After last week’s violent hailstorm, there had been blessed rain for nearly a week. Now the fires were under control, the smoke had cleared along with people’s faces, and customers were finally out and about again, cash in hand, so they needed to be turning over tables fast.

   ‘They said they haven’t had a chance to look at the menus.’

   ‘Ask them again.’

   The waitress approached the table once more, noting how they each sat in the same distinctive way, with their ankles hooked around the front legs of their chairs, as if to prevent them from sliding away.

   ‘Excuse me?’

   They didn’t hear her. They were all talking at once, their voices overlapping. They were definitely related. They even sounded similar: low, deep, husky-edged voices. People with sore throats and secrets.

   ‘She’s not technically missing. She sent us that text.’

   ‘I just can’t believe she’s not answering her phone. She always answers.’

   ‘Dad mentioned her new bike is gone.’

   ‘What? That’s bizarre.’

   ‘So . . . she just cycled off down the street and into the sunset?’

   ‘But she didn’t take her helmet. Which I find very weird.’

   ‘I think it’s time we reported her missing.’

   ‘It’s over a week now. That’s too long.’

   ‘Like I said, she’s not technically –’

   ‘She is the very definition of missing because we don’t know where she is.’

   The waitress raised her voice to a point that was perilously close to rude. ‘Are you ready to order yet?’

   They didn’t hear her.

   ‘Has anyone been over to the house yet?’

   ‘Dad told me please don’t come over. He said he’s “very busy”.’

   ‘Very busy? What’s he so busy doing?’

   The waitress shuffled alongside them, in between the chairs and the wall, so that one of them might see her.

   ‘You know what could happen if we reported her missing?’ The better-looking of the two men spoke. He wore a long-sleeved linen shirt rolled up to the elbows; shorts and shoes without socks. He was in his early thirties, the waitress guessed, with a goatee and the low-level charismatic charm of a reality star or a real estate agent. ‘They’d suspect Dad.’

   ‘Suspect Dad of what?’ asked the other man, a shabbier, chunkier, cheaper version of the first. Instead of a goatee, he just needed a shave.

   ‘That he . . . you know.’ The expensive-version brother drew his finger across his neck.

   The waitress went very still. This was the best conversation she’d overheard since she’d started waitressing.

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