Here is a chapter from my new Taya Bayliss story, “Code Breaker”. I hope you enjoy it.
Taya woke slowly as voices in the living room intruded into her semi-wakefulness. She sat on the side of the bed for a moment before opening the bedroom door to peek out. Her father lay on the couch watching television. Taya picked up the box of school gear and carried it across the room, depositing it beside the other boxes lined up near the front door.
‘Hello, Featherhead.’ Her father sounded sleepy too.
‘Hello. Did I miss dinner?’
Steven Bayliss sat up, rubbed his fingers through his hair and smiled at his daughter.
‘Yup. I looked in on you earlier but you were sleeping soundly. Mum left you some spag bol. Want me to heat it up for you?’
Taya nodded. ‘Yes, please.’
They moved quietly around the small kitchen. Taya made cups of tea and found the cookie jar while her father heated the bowl of spaghetti Bolognese in the microwave. When they had seated themselves at the table, Mr Bayliss watched Taya eat for a minute or two before he spoke.
‘So, you aren’t happy about going away again? You don’t want to come with me tomorrow?’
‘Not really, but I don’t get a choice, do I?’ Taya stared into her spaghetti.
‘No, you don’t, TJ. Not about this. This is my work. I’ve tried going on research assignments alone, but your Mum didn’t like it and neither did I. We decided that, even though the travelling can be a nuisance sometimes, being together is better than being apart. We’re a family, and families stick together.’
Taya sighed, ‘That’s what Mum said, but I don’t think it’s fair that you don’t even tell me when the trips are going to happen. You could at least give me some warning. I’m not a baby. You could tell me when you are planning something.’
Steven Bayliss nodded. ‘Fair enough,’ he said. ‘But I didn’t know about this trip until lunchtime. That was when I called Mum and told her to start packing. So, you see, it’s been a surprise for all of us this time.’ He took his cup of tea to the living room and made himself comfortable on the couch again. Taya finished her dinner, rinsed the bowl and put it into the dishwasher.
‘Who was the man in the laneway?’ she asked as she joined her father in front of the television. Mr Bayliss sipped his tea.
‘In the laneway…I saw you talking to a man out in the laneway. Who was he?’
Her father’s gaze remained on the television screen.
‘There was no man, Taya. I wasn’t talking to anyone in the lane. You must have been dreaming.’
‘He had a bag or something, and he gave it to you and then he poked you in the shoulder and then he went. I saw him there,’ Taya persisted, turning sideways to look squarely at her father.
‘Taya, there was no man. You couldn’t have seen me with anyone. It was a dream.’ He spoke the words clearly and slowly, but Steven Bayliss did not look at his daughter until he had finished speaking. The face he turned to her was stern. The flickering light from the television cast dark shadows under his eyes and chin, making his familiar features seem sinister and scary.
Taya exhaled and looked away. ‘It was really clear. It seemed real.’
‘Dreams…,’ her father said quietly. ‘Sometimes they’re clear, sometimes all misty and vague. Sometimes you remember them. Sometimes you don’t. Funny things dreams are.’
Later, snuggled up in her bed, Taya thought about the conversation. It had been really strange to look at her father’s face and feel uncomfortable. She had never doubted him before. Now there was a niggling little voice in her mind that was telling her that he had lied to her.
Did it really happen or was it a dream? I have been dreaming a lot lately. I remember it so clearly. Why would Dad lie to me though?
She drifted into sleep, expecting that the dream would break into her rest again but the night passed without interruption.
Taya woke the next morning to a bright, sunny day. She dressed, made her bed and went to the kitchen to find her parents making breakfast.
‘Good morning, Taya Jeanne,’ smiled her mother. ‘I hope you are in a better mood today. Cereal or eggs?’
‘Morning! Hi, Dad. Eggs, please. Sorry I grouched at you yesterday, Mum. I guess I was just worried about Chris.’
Mrs Bayliss nodded. ‘He’ll be fine. A broken arm isn’t going to slow him down for long. Would you take that rubbish bag down to the bin please? Your eggs won’t be long.’
Taya shot a look at her father but he was focused on buttering toast and seemed not to notice her. She picked up the plastic garbage bag and walked to the door.
‘Still weird,’ Taya muttered under her breath. She headed downstairs to the bins. The building consisted of six shops that opened on to Grange Road, each with an apartment upstairs. There was a coffee shop, a convenience store, a bookstore, a pizza shop, a fruit shop and a dry cleaner. The Bayliss family lived above the bookstore. Taya dropped the bag into the rubbish bin and looked hopefully towards the back garden of the fruit shop two doors down along the lane. Usually at this time, at least one of the Comino family would be out there enjoying a cup of coffee but today the garden was empty. She took a deep breath of the morning air, glad that it was a fine and not rainy. Travelling in the rain is no fun. Everything looks so sad and miserable.
She looked across at the lamppost on the other side of the lane and wondered again about the events of the previous evening. In her mind’s eye she could see the man leaning there, cigarette smoke curling around him.
‘Still weird,’ she repeated, shaking her head. She walked over to stand beside the four-wheel-drive wagon parked by the gate.
‘I really thought I saw him. I wonder if…’
Standing on tiptoes, Taya peered through the passenger side window of the vehicle. She noticed nothing unusual. The interior of the car was neat and clean.
Wait a minute. He threw it in the back.
She moved sideways and, cupping her hands around her eyes, looked into the back of the vehicle. There was nothing on the back seats, nothing under the back seats, but there, in the luggage area, lying between the bundle of tent poles and a camping stove…there it was – a backpack. Taya drew a sharp breath!
He lied to me! It wasn’t a dream! He lied to me!
She turned to look at the lamppost again, her mind racing. Her father had never lied to her before. Well, not that she knew of anyway. Another look into the vehicle confirmed that she had not been imagining things. The backpack was definitely there.
Maybe it’s stuff he needs for the trip. Maybe the man was someone from the university. Why would he lie about that though?
Her mother’s voice calling her to breakfast broke into Taya’s thoughts. She climbed the back stairs to the apartment and returned to the kitchen. Eating her breakfast and listening to her parents chat about what to take on the trip, Taya realized that her father had still not spoken to her or even looked at her that morning.