The Job short story by Iris Carden
Cassandra needed a job, and a housekeeping job on a remote island off the Queensland coast would give her the chance to enjoy the beach in her down time.
Her first sense that the job might not be as great as it appeared, was when she found there was no airstrip. The only way on and off the island was by boat. Her new employer advised her a boat would collect her at the Port of Brisbane. The boat went to Brisbane once every three month’s supplies. It would only be in Brisbane for three days, and would not come back for another three months. If she changed her mind, she would have a long wait to get home.
As she was looking for the boat, a nondescript man in a dark grey suit approached her. He gave her a business card which said his name was David Brown and he was an ASIO agent. “I understand you’re the new housekeeper for Doctor Jergins. I want you to call me if you see anything suspicious. This is a satellite phone your regular phone won’t work there,” he said, handing her a case.
He left, blending into portside crowd. Within a minute, Cassandra realised she wouldn’t be able to describe him or recognise him again. She wondered if spies were chosen for their ability to be invisible and non-memorable. Now she had a government-issued phone. Presumably the government was paying the bill. Whether or not her new boss was doing anything worth spying on, she would make use of the phone.
Dragging her suitcase, and now juggling the satellite phone case and her handbag, she finally saw the boat she was looking for. It was much larger than she expected, painted red, and had “Island Queen” written on the side in white.
“Hello!” she called.
“Hey,” a voice behind her said. “You must be Cassandra. I’m Andy. I’m the gardener at Dolphin Island, and I also drive the boat. Get your gear on board.”
He was pushing a trolley, loaded with boxes. “This is the last of the supplies to on-board,” he said. “Then we’ve just got to wait for Mark. He’s the Doc’s assistant.”
“What is Doctor Jergins a doctor of? What’s he doing on the island?” Cassandra asked.
Andy shrugged. “No idea. I just grow vegetables and drive the boat.”
Cassandra helped Andy stow the boxes safely below decks.
“You remembered to get any personal stuff you need for three months? Toothpaste, soap, ah other stuff?” Andy asked. “There’s a supermarket here if there’s a supermarket near here if there’s anything you’ve forgotten. Last chance. There’s no leaving the island once you get there, not for another three months at least, maybe longer if there’s a cyclone. There’s always a risk of a cyclone off the Queensland coast, and we’re heading into the right season for them.”
“I’m good,” she said, thinking again that three months was a long time away from a supermarket, or her friends. “What happened with the last housekeeper? Was being away so long an issue?”
“Alice died. I brought her body back. Don’t worry. We wrapped her very carefully to keep her in the freezer for a month. The food in there wasn’t contaminated.”
“How did she die? Was she old? Sick?”
“Nah, she was about your age, I guess, early 20s. I didn’t think she was sick. But what do I know? Like I said, I just grow vegetables and drive the boat.”
What could someone who was young die of if she wasn’t already sick, she wondered? What could someone die of and one of only four people on the island not know about it? Would that have something to do with why ASIO wanted information about the island? Just what was the research this Dr Jergins was doing? Was this some creepy Island of Dr Moreau stuff? Was this more than she signed up for?
“I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going. Tell Dr Jergins I don’t want the job,” Cassandra said. “I’ll just get my gear and go.”
“I’ll get it,” Andy said. He brought her back her suitcase, but not the satellite phone case. She didn’t care. She was sure the government could afford the loss.
As Cassandra fled the boat, Mark was boarding. Cassandra pushed past him without stopping or speaking.
Mark watched her go, then turned to Andy. “You did it again, didn’t you? What was it this time? ASIO and a dead housekeeper? Or mad scientist mutating animals? It’s not funny. You know how much I hate being stuck with the housework. I have more than enough to do without it.”
“No, it’s not funny,” Andy answered. “It’s also not funny when the old predator has a woman stuck on that island with no way to escape him. You might go around with your eyes closed, but I don’t. I’m not taking another innocent woman out there to be his victim. So it’s not funny, but I’m going to keep scaring them off, because I don’t think a simple warning is ever going to explain just how dangerous he is to them.”
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Great short story.