She let him talk, saying nothing, trying to concentrate on the road.
They had left the street lights behind and the road narrowed, and rose, winding underneath
the overarching trees as she steered carefully back and forth through the bends.
Twice she stalled, let the engine slow too much. The driving rain was a pearly sheen
in the headlights, almost obliterating even the coloured reflectors at the side of
the road, which at times were the only indication she had of where the ditches were.
"Keith," she said, "Tell me if you see something first, won't you, I'm almost driving
Suddenly, rounding a tight curve she found herself suddenly come upon
a cyclist, bright in his yellow cape, almost at the verge of the narrow road, as
was she. She did not have room to swerve round him, and just stood on the brakes,
hoping that her low speed, and going uphill, would see her stop in time to avoid
As the car stopped, almost instantly, she heard and felt a bang at
the front, and the cyclist disappeared.
"Jilly," said Keith, looking out into the dark as he opened his door,
"what have you done - and after drinking, too - oh yes - of course the fruit punch
was spiked - the cops will never believe you didn't know. Stay there - I'll see what
we can do." He stepped out. His door slammed shut in the wind. She thought she heard
him shouting something, but nothing else over the wind.
A few moments later he was back, slamming the door. "Drive, drive.
Quick, before anyone else comes along. So far there are no witnesses. He's dead."
"What were you shouting?"
"I was trying to rouse him. It was hopeless. No response, no pulse,
nothing. It's too late to help him. Save your own skin. It's a long jail term for
sure. Get going, girl, for God's sake. I'll never dob you. They'd say I was an accomplice,
and with my record I'd be for it. Go!"
Quaking, she tried to argue with him. "But won't it count in my favour
if I tried to get help?"
"What help can you give him now. He's dead. no pulse. Nothing. If you
won't drive I will."
"Oh, no, Dad would kill me," and she gasped as she realised what she
had just said, "I'll drive, only do shut up so I can concentrate. I haven't done
a great job so far," and she burst into tears, as the car crept up the hill through
the storm, its wipers useless against the downpour, while she wiped her tears away
with one hand and steered with the other, all the time thinking she must have lost
her mind - how bizarre, after what had just happened, to be wondering whether she
was more blinded by the rain or by her tears.
As they drove, climbing through the deluge, Jillian's tears gradually
eased. Finally she just drove, dry-eyed, dismayed far beyond her experience at the
enormity of what had happened.
I should have got out and helped the injured, she thought. I want to
be a doctor but I flee the scene at the first sign of injury. Injury! Death - how
can I go on to be a doctor, now? After serving time for manslaughter, how could I
ever graduate? They would never register me even if I did pass all the exams. And
I fled the scene. I'm so weak. What would Chris have done? What will he suggest?
What am I thinking of - I can never tell him. That would make him an accessory.
She had never felt so alone in her life. Having Keith with her, she
thought, was making it worse, not better. She began to shake, almost uncontrollably.
By then, they were almost out of the forest. She drove on, mechanically,
shaking and saying to herself, over and over, "I should have got out myself, I must
get help. I should have got out myself, I must get help."
They were stopped by the traffic lights, where the Parkway crossed
the civilised, well-lit, six lane highway of Warringah Road. The rain had eased.
She turned to Keith. "I should have got out myself. I must get help."
"Oh, Jilly. In a minute. The lights are green now. Turn right here,
Jilly." He spoke gently, hoping to calm her. "Pull over and stop, Jilly. You need
time to settle down before we go any further. Along there, at the coffee shop. You
could do with a hot drink. I know I could."
She didn't answer, she couldn't trust herself to speak. She just did
as he said, glad to have someone to tell her what to do. Her brain seemed to have
stopped working. She now had no memory of the rest of the drive after she had killed
the cyclist, and no idea what to do. She stopped the car in the cafe parking lot.
"Now turn off the ignition, Jilly. Good. Now the lights - we don't
want a flat battery, do we? We'll be okay here for a few minutes, but on second thoughts
we had better not go in here for coffee - it's too close, and too soon, and a quiet
night, and you are obviously upset - they would make the connection for sure. You
seem a little calmer now, is that right?"
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
"Good. Let's move on then. Go to Chatswood, to the Interchange. I can
get some take-away at the Station Cafe and bring it down to the car for you, and
we can have a talk in the car. I'll be seen getting on the train - there won't be
any connection with a hit and run fifteen kilometres away. Do you understand?"
She could only nod.
"Good. You seem more settled now. That right?"
She nodded again.
"Okay, then. Start the car. Lights. Indicator. Very good. The road
behind is clear now, pull out into the highway, that's good. Just keep driving, you
know the way, it's the same way you came. I'll guide you when we get into the interchange."
When they arrived at the Interchange, and she had parked, he got out,
went round the front of the car and looked at it from all angles, even getting down
on his knees to give the fenders a closer look. Then he went and bought coffees and
cakes. Later, all she could remember was that she had said she didn't want anything,
but as soon as she tasted the sweet coffee - he must have put a whole bowl of sugar
in it - she suddenly came back down to earth, and was grateful for the hot drink
and something sweet to eat.
"I've been terribly stressed, haven't I?"
"I've done a dreadful thing. I didn't dream it, did I. Please tell
me I dreamed it!"
"Sorry Jilly, it did happen. But it wasn't your fault. It was an accident.
Nobody could have avoided it. It would have happened whoever had been driving. It
would have happened to me, or to your father. Anybody. Where he was on the road,
in that weather, if a car came round the corner as we did, he was always going to
be a dead cyclist. The tragedy for us is that it wasn't just anyone. It was us."
"I should have got out myself. I must get help."
"You keep saying that. Tell me about it, Jilly."
"I'm a medical student. I should have got out to help."
"I didn't need help, Jilly. You are a student, not a brain surgeon."
"But I could have done something."
"I don't know. How could I know? I didn't bloody well get out, did
"Oh, Jilly. You are so upset, aren't you? I couldn't have told you
truth. You were hardly able to drive and you insisted you had to. I couldn't risk
upsetting you further."
"What do you mean?"
"He was dead, Jilly. Really dead. Very dead. His head had hit a rock
when he fell. And he must have fallen hard. It was a sharp rock, Jilly, one of those
ones that have been broken and have a sharp edge. He had landed on that edge. It
had split the back of his skull open like an axe. His face looked fine, except that
his eyes didn't move But the back of his head was gone. Spread all over the rock.
Bits of bone and brain and blood. It was all I could do not to be sick all over him.
We couldn't afford to have both of us in that state. So I lied to you. I had to."
"But he had a helmet on. At least, I think I saw a helmet. He did,
"Yes, Jilly, he had a helmet. One of those useless little things, perched
up on top, held by a couple of little straps no better than hair-ribbons."
"That would have saved him. It must have!"
"Jilly, have you ever worn one of those things?"
"Yes. Of course. For my bike."
"Does it sit firmly, and securely? Or can you wobble it around all
over the place?"
"It's not super firm, no."
"Have you ever worn a motor-cycle helmet?"
"Yes, one of the boys in the class gave me a lift home one night when
I missed the bus."
"Was that firm on your head?"
"Oh, I see what you mean. You can't dislodge the motor-bike helmet.
Your head would come off first. The push-bike helmet's not that much protection,
"The straps were still on, but it was pushed to one side by the rock,
it hadn't taken any of the impact at all. I suppose he might have been okay in a
motor-bike helmet, but I've never seen anyone wearing one of those on a push-bike."
"Oh, the poor man - it was a man, wasn't it? I couldn't tell. I just
thought it must have been. I can't imagine a woman riding alone there at night. Certainly
not in that weather. Oh, I do wish I had got out. I should have seen for myself.
We have to get help." She started to cry again.
"Oh, Jilly. Can you remember driving the rest of the way up the hill?"
"Not really." She sniffed back her tears. Her handkerchief was a sodden
ball. "You telling me to drive, and I remember I was so worried about what had happened,
and then the traffic lights. That must have been Warringah Road. Why?"
"You're not going to be a very helpful witness. That's why. Whatever
you say, they will be able to drive a train through it. They will have you putting
down anything they want you to, in your statement. The prosecutor - and oh, my, will
there be a prosecutor - will have you changing your story back and forth like a shuttlecock.
They will have a ball with you - medical student, good Hunter's Hill family. You
won't be up on accidental death - nothing less than culpable manslaughter, or criminal
negligence causing death, for you."
"But I know exactly what happened."
"Do you? Do you know what they will ask you? How it will look?"
"I just need to tell the truth." She was more confident now. Calmer.
"Jilly, I'll show you what I mean. Tell the truth by all means. See
how they will make it look. Okay?"
"There was an accident. A cyclist. What happened?"
"I came round the corner and there he was. I hit him. At the front."
"I had a look when I got the coffee. There isn't a mark on the car."
"I must have caught his body rather than the bike."
"Why didn't you stop when you saw him?"
"He was too close."
"Too close to stop in time?"
"You were going too fast to stop in time?"
"I was going very slowly."
"Perhaps, but if you hit him because you were too close to stop in
time, you could only have been going too fast to stop in time, for that distance.
Isn't that right?
"I suppose so."
"You suppose so. You were going too fast, then, weren't you? Can you
say that you weren't?
"Then you were, weren't you. Going too fast."
"Why didn't you drive round him? Save some time, Jilly - give us the
answer now that you know they will force out of you eventually."
"I was too close to the edge."
"Was it dark, raining, blustery?"
"You knew that, did you?"
"The road is narrow, winding, unlit, unkerbed? And you knew that?"
"You know that is a favourite cycling route?"
"And that cyclists need additional clearance?"
"I didn't think there would be any so late, in those conditions."
"You didn't think. Thank you. You are still on your P plates, are you
"And as you tell us, you didn't think. You know that you are still
a very inexperienced driver."
"But you still drove too fast and too close to the edge. By your own
admission you took no care for your level of skill or the unusual conditions. Had
you had anything to drink?"
"Yes. Fruit punch."
"How do you know? Let me help you here. This was a student party?"
"Well, I suppose so."
"You suppose so. And at student parties the fruit punch is often, perhaps
usually, 'spiked' with vodka. Irresponsible perhaps, but it does happen?"
"And you knew of that practice?"
"Can you persist in saying, for an absolute certainty, that you took
"No, perhaps not."
"You might have had alcohol, then."
"Yes, I suppose so. Oh, Keith, is this really what would happen. I
suppose it is. It's what you see in the movies. If it works for them, Why wouldn't
they? Yes, as a matter of hard proof, though I don't recall tasting any alcohol,
I suppose I might have had some."
"You suppose so. In fact, regardless of what the subsequent testing
may have shown, at that time you had no idea at all what your blood alcohol level
"I daresay you didn't even give it a thought. Did you at any point
before the accident think about what your blood alcohol level was? A simple Yes or
No will suffice. Well, Miss Jones, Yes or No?"
"No. No, I thought I had no need to."
"You thought you had no need to. We may come back to that later. Now
Miss Jones, coming back to the 'accident'. You say you hit the cyclist."
"How do you know you hit him?"
"I felt the impact."
"Did you stop?"
"Did you get out, to help?"
"You did Keith - oh yes, I mean - my passenger did."
"Is he a doctor or medical student?"
"Yes. Oh, Keith, you are making this seem dreadful."
"Me - I'm only asking simple questions. You are the one giving the
answers. Try harder. Here we go again. Why didn't you get out and look for yourself?"
"Oh, Keith. You know why."
"Please tell the court."
"Oh, Keith. I was frightened of what I would see."
"And what was that?"
"I was scared that I had killed him."
"And had you?"
"Yes. Yes, indeed, Miss Jones. You had killed him. Then you drove on?"
"Did you report the accident?"
"I still want to, Keith."
"Fine, Jilly. Let's get our story right. Did you report the accident?"
"How long afterwards?"
"About - how long, Keith?"
"Say an hour. Maybe two. If you still want to then. But then they will
ask, what did you do in the time between?"
"I don't know - what are we doing?"
"We're rehearsing our story."
"That sounds dreadful."
"Yes, Jilly, but we aren't actually being dreadful, are we?"
"No, but they will make it seem that way."
"Well, it's their job. No conviction, no promotion. It's that simple."
"What more can they possibly do, Keith?"
"Oh, Miss Jones, you don't want to go to jail, do you."
"No, of course not."
"And you would like to get your degree and become a doctor?"
"There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. This protected blue-tail,
top marks, a high-flier, goes to a student party, drinks the punch that she knows
is probably spiked, gives no thought to her blood alcohol level, goes driving with
a boy-friend, knows that the road is bad, the conditions savage and her driving skill
laughable, and knowingly drives too fast and too close to the edge. She kills an
innocent cyclist, won't get out and even look because of her certainty - this could
not have been just a glancing contact - her certainty that she had killed him - as
indeed she had. She doesn't want to go to jail. She wants to become a doctor, a saver
of life. What she has done, by her own admission, would make that impossible. Even
if it were appropriate. Which of course it cannot be. So she goes away to try and
make her story seem better before she comes forward. Is she guilty or not?"
"Oh, Keith. They will find me guilty, guilty, guilty. All twelve of
them." She burst into tears again, and in the dark of the car turned and sobbed against
his shoulder. "But you were there - you can tell them. I've got a witness!"
"They'll ask me similar questions, with the same spin. And I'm a convicted
felon. They'll use that to make you look worse, not better. But they won't find you
guilty, Jilly. It's only the way they twist the truth. You've got to be a bit cautious
about what you say, so you give them some facts, but force them to prove their case,
rather than letting them make you look much worse than you are. Remember, you were
actually just creeping as slow as you could without stalling, in the lowest gear,
trying to keep left so that you wouldn't hit someone coming the other way on that
narrow road. It all depends how it is put, doesn't it?"
"You make it sound criminally careless one way, and an unavoidable
accident the other way."
"That's the way of it. Now, if you are not going to put your head into
the noose and pull the lever yourself, I would seriously suggest we work out some
half answers, not naive all-the-truth so-help-me-god. If they aren't the whole truth,
let the fuzz prove their case. If you are going to go, go raging, not as a complete
"God, Keith, I am a complete wimp, aren't I?"
"No, you just didn't know how they work - well, you did, but you hadn't
pulled it off the silver screen and down into your life before this. What doesn't
kill you makes you stronger."
"I'm starting to believe it. What do we do now?"
"Now, Jilly, we are going to put the case for the defence. You are
going to complain just as much about the twisted defence lawyer's mind as you did
about the prosecution's - they are all of a piece, those lawyers. Ready?"
"Miss Jones, you were creeping as slowly as possible. In fact, you
stalled twice trying to go slower than the car would manage, and you were as far
to the left as could be, knowing the road was very narrow - scarcely wide enough
for a two-way on such a wet, dark, night. Did you know that State Transit buses are
forbidden that route because if two of them meet one another, in many places there
isn't width enough for both?"
"No, I didn't know that."
"So you kept well left, very slow, keeping a good lookout, and you
asked your passenger to tell you if he saw something first."
"You had been drinking fruit punch. You've had a spiked punch, on occasion,
"You can tell the difference in taste, the tang of the alcohol?"
"This wasn't, as far as you could tell, or so little that it impossible
for you to detect. There was no trace at all that would have aroused your suspicions?"
"So you gave no thought to your blood alcohol level because based on
your experience with spiked punches, you were sure that this was not, so your level
could not have been an issue?"
"That's right. Oh, Keith - it sounds so very different."
"Yes, my little Jilly, and wait - there's more. Tell us about the other
"What other cyclist?"
"Are you aware that an earlier accident had caused the death that you
reported, and that the man you saw, in the yellow cape, merely fell of his bike when
he bounced, just ahead of you, through the pot-hole that caused you to think you
had hit him?"
"I didn't know anything about any of that. Keith, you are making that
"Maybe, maybe not. Just go with it for the moment. Now Miss Jones,
in that case you would not have been aware that the man in the yellow cape, when
he fell off, rolled past the dead man, and down the gully alongside, bicycle and
all. He wasn't actually hurt?"
"I knew none of this."
"And there was red paint, analysed as being from a Ford, found freshly
scratched into the pedal end of the dead man. You were driving a green Holden, were
"The defence rests its case, M'lud."
"Oh, Keith. It would be lovely if it was like that. But it's just not
"Are you sure?"
"So, can you prove it's not true?"
"Of course not."
"Then it might be, for all anyone else need know. If you've killed
a man, he's dead. If you go on a guilt trip now, however much it may be justified,
it won't bring him back. Sitting behind bars in Parkhurst for two years won't make
you feel any better about it. Get your degree and pay your penance by being a good
doctor and healing the sick."
"But I did it!"
"You didn't see that cyclist on the rock. You didn't see one down a
gully, either. Tell yourself it's hearsay, not evidence. Tell yourself that I lied.
That your cyclist was down the bottom of the gully, unharmed, angry at himself for
his own carelessness. Tell yourself that you didn't hit anyone. Remind yourself that
there's not a mark on your paint. Say to yourself 'I am blameless'."
"It wasn't like that. I killed a man."
"You can't prove it. Nor can anybody else. Why give yourself, and you
parents, years of worry waiting for a court appearance where you will be found not
"Why are you doing this for me?"
"Oh, Jilly, you know I've been in love with you ever since I first
met you, but you only had eyes for Chris. I know I'm not a smooth talker. You must
have thought me unbearably crass. You couldn't stand me. But that has never altered
the way I feel for you. I'd do anything for you, to protect you, to help you live
your life the way you want to."
"You're a pretty good talker now."
"I've had to learn. I wasn't doing myself any favours before, was I?"
"That was certainly true." She smiled at him, a little, in the dim
light of the street lamps.
"Now we have a decision to make."
"Are you going to tell your folks about the cyclist in the gully, or
are you going to say nothing at all?"
"Which do you think?"
"Look, Jilly. If you go in shaking like a leaf and burst into tears
when you see your Dad, they will know something is up, that you are hiding something.
They will pester you so much that you might make a mistake and tell them you killed
someone. If you are that wound up it would be better to tell them the gully story
straight off and let them think you've cleared the air. Okay?"
Jillian sniffed back tears. "Okay."
"But if they are in bed already, say, and you don't see them until
almost lunch time, after a sleep - okay, maybe not a good sleep - they may just say
that you look like shit and ask you if there is any problem."
"And if they do, I can say that it was a dreadful strain driving back
through the storm and I still haven't got over it. Do you think I can do that? Would
they believe me? Yes, why wouldn't they? After all, I've never lied to them before.
Not this big a lie, anyhow." She patted his arm. "You're not quite as much a shit
as I used to think."
"Thanks a heap."
"Be my guest." She was silent for a moment. "Keith, what about the
"What about it?"
"When someone discovers it. Oh, they would have by now."
"Usually, even the merest brush with a bike shaves paint off a car.
We have been lucky. Not a mark. Nothing to connect the cyclist with us. Get out and
look for yourself. Not a hint of a scratch."
Together they got out of the car and looked at it. Though they only
had the street lights, it was obvious that there was no damage to her father's beloved,
flawless paint-work. While Keith watched her, Jillian put her face close and looked
carefully, bit by bit, all over the front and side of the car, where she had thought
she had hit the cyclist. She could not see any signs of an impact. They got back
"Jilly, tell them nothing. If you can't avoid that, tell what you saw,
not what you think. Yellow cape, fell down. You stopped. I got out. I got back in.
I told you I had seen man in gully, alive. I told you he yelled that he was okay
and could manage by himself. I told you to drive on. You were shaken. I offered to
drive. Father had said no. So we stopped for coffee to settle you down, then went
on home. I came with you in case you got shaky again. I'll do that, rather than take
the train. I can get a taxi from your home."
"But it's not strictly true, not by a long chalk."
"Of your own knowledge, it might as well be. And I have said all those
things. What you tell them will be totally true."
"But that's not what you really told me at the time."
"They don't have to know that. You know the danger of telling the whole,
"I would never dob you, Jilly. I do so truly love you. You do know
She nodded again, her insides once more a churn of competing emotions.
"Do you think you can face them? Even if you break down and weep they
"Yes, but what about the man I killed? I keep seeing this image of
his head, on the sharp edge of rock, the back of his skull split open, eyes never
moving, bits of bone and brain and blood spread out all over the rock, in the rain
and the dark. I can't stand the thought of it, but I'll never get the picture out
of my mind. Never."
"We've been over that. One more time, then. Whatever you say can't
make any difference to a dead man. I'll go out there tomorrow. Trust me, there will
be no death to be pinned on you. Don't tell anyone you killed someone. You might
end up certified, and that could be worse. Only we two know. You should forget it
and live your life. Do good in the community with your medical degree. I've been
doing it with my computer skills. It helps. And I'll never tell, either. People who
help hide a crime get done as accessories, and I already have a record. I can't afford
to say anything, not now, believe me. And I love you. You are totally safe if you
keep your mouth shut. I'll do what's necessary. Tomorrow." He paused. "Today, actually."
"Oh, Keith, How can you be so sure?"
"About my love for you, or about your not getting shopped as a killer?"
"Better you should never know, then you can't incriminate yourself,
or me, with careless talk. Agreed?"
"Oh, Keith. Of course I agree. What other option do I have?"
"Oh, my darling Jilly. I'm so glad we met again, tonight. You might
have had that horrible experience without me there, and I dread to think how differently
it could have turned out for you."
"Oh, Keith, I think I must have misjudged you terribly." She looked
at him thoughtfully. "But, then, you did push your luck a bit rudely. You were very
crass sometimes. Not at all nice. I must admit you've improved since then."
"Jilly, you're lovely. Thank you. Now, let's head for Hunter's Hill."
Jillian, feeling much steadier, but still as if she was in a bad dream,
drove them both back to her parent's home. "When we get there, do you think you should
"Well, I do have to phone a cab."
"What about your mobile?"
"Oh, I'll say it's gone flat. I really only want an excuse to be there
for you in case they are still up and you want my support. In any case, it's not
that warm, and I'd rather wait inside than not."
"I'm still not thinking all that clearly, am I? Oh, what about the
newspapers? I forgot about the newspapers. Mightn't the police put out a call asking
"Trust me, Jilly, you will see nothing about this one in the newspapers.
Anyhow, when did you last see a police notice asking for witnesses to an accident,
in the dark, on a deserted, winding, bush-land road?"
"Oh, that's true. They only do that in the movies, I suppose."
"I think we have too many traffic accidents for them to do any detailed
They arrived back at the house. Jillian drove into the garage and they
both walked through to the kitchen. Her parents seemed to have gone to bed. They
had not called out as they often did when she came in late. Probably asleep, she
thought. Just as well.
She remembered the last time she had walked through here with a man,
other than her father, and wondered just what she was going to say to Chris. She
looked at Keith. He was on the phone, ordering a cab, quietly. When he had finished
she lifted her eyebrows at him.
He tilted his head in reply, a question in his eyes.
"Chris," she whispered.
He shook his head, emphatically. "Never the truth. Never. Do you want
to make him do time as an accessory?" he whispered.
Her eyes filled with tears, again.
He put his arms around her, kissed her hair. She thought she would
find it unpleasant, but she was still feeling weak, and it was actually rather comforting.
She was glad he had learnt not to be crude and grabby, though she doubted she would
ever feel about Keith what she knew she felt for Chris, as little as that might be.
She stood there a little longer, feeling the warmth of another body. A male body.
For all the talk about feminism, and women being complete equals, it was sometimes
very nice to have a man about the place. Even one who had once been crass and unpleasant.
Even though she didn't really like them. She stepped back and looked at him. "What
"Let me out. The cab will be here soon. Save it tooting. You go up,
have a long Sunday sleep-in. I'll give you a ring in a few days. Better play it cool
for now. Say hello to your folks for me. I wish I hadn't been fooled by my dad. I
know he's paying for what he did, but it made things difficult for your people too.
And I could have prevented it.
"You couldn't have known." Why was she making excuses for him? She
had hated him then, but now, she realised, she needed him. Once, the thought of that
would have made her feel almost physically sick, but now he was different, there
was no question of that. What was happening to her wasn't pleasant, but it was at
least tolerable, certainly compared to the sheer terror she had felt only a few hours
previously. She realised he was looking at her quizzically. "You couldn't have known
to distrust a parent," she explained.
"No, but it doesn't make it feel any better. Worse, if anything. Good
night, now. Try to have a good sleep. I'll be thinking of you. Ring my mobile any
time, if you need to, if you really have to. But I'll be pretty busy. I'll get back
to you as soon as I've got us truly in the clear. Coupl'a days. Keep Saturday night
free. You can say we are going to a film together. I'll fill you in then on what
happened." He pecked her on the cheek and she surprised herself by accepting it from
him. She closed the front door and put the chain on again. She had quite forgotten
about her movie date with Christopher.
As she went up the stairs she heard the taxi come down the street,
and the sound of him getting in. As it drove off she wondered whether she would dream
when she went to bed, and what about. Nothing, she hoped. The evening had been enough
nightmare to last for a lifetime.
Copyright © 2003 Peter Leon Collins