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High Heels by Brenda Saunders

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Darkness and Light by Chris Broadribb

Stuart & Sharon by Helen Slade

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Competing by Frances Macaulay Forde

Coulter Valley by Barbara Yates Rothwell

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Nice Day For A Murder by Chris Broadribb

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Short Stories

 

Stuart & Sharon

by Helen Slade

 

Lately, Stuart had gotten into the habit of spending his summer afternoons on the lovely garden patio at the rear of Krieghoff's restaurant. There he would sip an Iced Cappuccino while jotting his story ideas down in a notebook. He knew he was deliberately avoiding his wife's constant nagging at him about his writing. Even above the shuffling sounds of waiters, her scolding voice came back to him:

"With your measly pension, and the prices going up all the time, you should get yourself a paying job." Her voice now had a sarcastic edge: "You haven't made more than $500 in a whole year with your foolish writing."

Now Stuart blushed with anger and shame as he recalled his childish answer: "I'll soon become well known in the literary world &endash; then the money will come rolling in &endash; You'll see. . . ."

Well, Stuart defended himself, as he picked up his argument on the patio at Krieghoff's: "Maybe I will become known. That publisher said he liked what I sent to the Digest."

Just then, a waiter softly jostled his table, and Stuart's attention returned to his notebook as the faint blush of pink faded from his wrinkled cheeks. He sighed.

Reading the last few sentences he had written, Stuart was soon scratching away in his notebook as his Muse returned. He wrote easily, quickly, and remained bent over his notebook for some time while his Iced Cappuccino warmed in the summer sun.

The trill of a little bird drew his attention to the small Juniper in a nearby planter. Then he noticed the tall slim woman sitting on the other side of the patio, her silver hair haloed in the sunshine. Stuart had seen her here twice before, and had found her very attractive. She dressed chic, but not showy, and she kept her grey hair in a neat, youthful cut. Stuart noticed she was always alone.

Their eyes met, and they smiled at each other. Stuart wanted to speak to this lovely woman, but the memory of his scornful wife had left him feeling fragile today. Stuart glanced away and picked up his pen to continue writing. He noticed the faint breeze had a chill now as the sun had shifted. He would have to go home soon.

* * * *

Stuart still sat at the kitchen table. Lunch was over and he was eager to jot down an idea that had come to him this early autumn morning. The urge was very strong, but he hesitated to leave while Jean sat coldly silent beside him. She knew he wanted to be alone. He always wanted to be alone with his silly notepad. She had thought retirement would be different. Here she was doing the exact same things she had done for over thirty years. They never did anything together, as Jean had fancied. Stuart was always writing in his notepad, joining book clubs, joining writing clubs, going to readings, trying to hobnob with authors and publishers. Always chasing rainbows. Jean took a deep breath and exhaled. Retirement is Stuart's retirement. She pushed herself away from the table and headed for the sink.

Stuart stacked his cup atop his plate, took his utensils in his other hand and brought them over to the kitchen counter, laying them a fair distance from the sink. Almost as if to say, You don't really have to wash these, you know. Then he went into the living room, picked up his notepad and pens and stood looking out the window onto the street below.

Cars moved slowly in the autumn rain, their tires making a steady swishing sound as the windshield wipers clicked their soft rhythms or squeaked in anger as they swiped at the rain.

Stuart's spirits rose. The rain would be a perfect accompaniment to the ideas born in his head this morning. Stuart took his Macintosh from the hanger and left the house.

Twenty minutes later, Stuart was at his usual seat on the covered patio behind Krieghoff's. Rain continued to fall steadily on the patio awning as he moved his hot Cappuccino to one side, opened his tattered notebook to a new page and began to write furiously: "It had been raining for the past two days and we were all starting to get cabin feverÉ"

For some time Stuart was engrossed in his work, and raised his head only when he sensed the presence of someone approaching him.

Two lovely brown eyes smiled at him. It was the woman with the shining gray hair.

"May I join you?" she asked.

Stuart rose hastily, and pulled out a chair for her, "Of course," he answered. "Please do."

"This insistent rain is dismal, isn't it?" she said, as she took the chair he offered.

He wanted to say that the rain was wonderful, it had brought him here today, and without it he would have missed her, that he had wanted to talk to her oftentimes before.

But the words were lost in his astonishment that this lovely person was right beside him and that they were talking to each other.

"Yes," Stuart muttered. "It's really coming down, isn't it."

"My name is Sharon," she said. "Are you sure I'm not disturbing you?"

"Oh, not at all. I need the break. My name is Stuart", he said as he inhaled the perfumed scent of her.

"You are a writer, are you not?" Sharon asked.

"Yes, I am," he answered, hoping she would not ask him where he had been published.

"I too am interested in words," Sharon said.

"Really?" Stuart asked, genuinely surprised.

"Yes, I am a translator and interpreter."

The afternoon sped too quickly by as the new acquaintances talked about themselves and shared their aspirations. Soon the conversation took on a warmth reserved only for those with common interests, who share a true respect and admiration for each other.

When the patio lights were turned on, Stuart knew it was time to leave.

"I would love to drive you home, Sharon, but I came by bus."

"Then let me do the honours," Sharon replied. "My car is in the lot."

The rain had stopped, and Stuart told Sharon where he lived.

In the intimacy of Sharon's car, the conversation was as spirited and friendly as that between longtime friends, peppered with laughter as each regaled the other about the interesting and funny experiences each had had in lives lived long. Stuart recounted humourous incidents involving authors and publishers, while Sharon told anecdotes of judges, lawyers and doctors struggling to communicate with new Canadians while she acted as interpreter.

Just a few blocks from Stuart's apartment, Sharon pulled the car over to the curb as Stuart finished telling her of his latest escapade.

When he was finished, Sharon made no sign of driving on.

"This is where I live," she said, motioning with her head to an apartment block on her left. "Would you like to come up for a cocktail?"

Inside her apartment, Sharon turned to Stuart to take his coat. Their closeness was electric. Sharon hung up the coat and turned to face Stuart. His hands went around her waist and he began to pull her to him. He wanted to kiss her. But her hands pressed gently on his shoulders, her eyes a mix of desire and regret. Stuart removed his hands from her waist, his body alive with the warmth of her nearness. He moved into the living room while Sharon prepared two cocktails.

They drank their first toast to each other secure in the knowledge that each was on the threshold of a new and exciting experience.

It was Stuart who steered the conversation to its prior patio safety: "So what did the judge do when that lady fainted in his courtroom?"

Sharon took his cue, and recounted the antics of the apoplectic judge faced with a 350 pound Italian lady stretched out in a blubbery mound at the foot of his bench. Sharon's apartment rang with their laughter. But soon Stuart realized he had to leave.

"When can I see you again?"

"This court case should wrap up on Friday morning. Would you like to drop by Friday afternoon?"

* * * *

As autumn turned to winter, two lonely people didn't even notice the cold as the passion of their love-making seared them each to the soul. Sharon and Stuart knew with a sad certainty their time together was precious. Like two little kids, they romped, and laughed, teased each other and played together. Their play always ended in a burning, monumental desire, insurmountable, and uncontrollable. As Sharon and Stuart raged into each other, they both embraced their passion, welcoming it and the release it brought.

The season moved on, slowly reminding Stuart and Sharon of their separate lives: Hallowe'en saw Stuart at his apartment door dressed in his Zorro costume, handing out treats to children, cajoling them to sing him a song before he gave them their treat. He wondered whether Sharon was treating the kiddies at her apartment, or if she was, like Jean, oblivious to the kids and sitting in front of the TV, knitting needles clicking their useless song: Another Ill-fitting Sweater.

Thanksgiving followed. Stuart mouthed the usual praises of the turkey he would see again every day for the next week, in one form or the other. Jean was particularly attentive at Thanksgiving, even though she had long since noticed that Stuart most often left his notebook and pens behind when he left after lunch each day.

Stuart's afternoons with Sharon had taken on a slightly different air. Although they continued to be exquisite, filled with laughter, fun, and rollicking sex, Sharon spoke wistfully of a time when it might go on forever. But Stuart could not bring himself to speak of that possibility. After all, Jean had never worked outside the home &endash; how could she survive without him? &endash; how could he just dump her?

For Sharon, Christmas was the turning point. The prospect of spending it alone, without the man she loved, was very frightening to her. And when she pondered the long cold winter after Christmas, the dreadfully long wait for the awakening of Spring, the lonely maintenance of the status quo, Sharon grew to dislike the image of what her future would hold.

By the end of January, Stuart knew there had been a sea-change. Sharon was gracious enough, however, to tell Stuart by February 1st, that there was an attentive lawyerÉ. Stuart was devastated, but understood completely. He waited until Sharon's apartment door had closed behind him before he wept.

On Valentine's Day, Jean served Stuart with divorce papers and he had to move out of their apartment. He retreated to Krieghoff's, but the patio was closed for the winter. Stuart pulled his notebook and pens from his winter coat, but his Muse was away.

Stuart found himself writing numbers in the notebook. Rent, heat, light, insurance &endash; hoping he could make sense of it all within the confines of half his pensions. Calculating the figures, and coming up with a total, he learned that he would be able to keep a roof over his head and food in the fridge. Now all he had to do was find a reasonable apartment. But sadly, Stuart realized there would be no extras. Fortunately, he had just sold his short story, "Charlie's Suitcase" so he knew he wouldn't starve. But extras? Out of the question. Stuart left Krieghoff's to continue his search for lodgings.

Late Spring found Stuart back in Krieghoff's, encouraged immensely by a visit to his sister's home in BC. Sensing her favourite brother needed a change of scenery after his divorce, she had sent him the airfare as his 70th birthday present. Stuart was delighted to learn that his sister had arranged for him to meet Joseph P. Kinsella in Chilliwack.

To Stuart's great delight, Kinsella had expressed sincere interest in Stuart's writing, and so Stuart was back here on Kreighoff's patio, his hand racing across the lines in his notebook.

The early Spring rain pattered softly on the awning above, its gently hissing music matching the parading rhythm of Stuart's thoughts.

He felt his table move slightly as if a waiter had nudged it, and raised his eyes to find it was Sharon smiling down at him.

"Hello Stuart. May I join you? This insistent rain is dismal, isn't it?"

Astonished, Stuart rose clumsily, and pulled out a chair for Sharon. "Oh yes, it is." Though he didn't at all agree. "But pleaseÉ sit down and join me."

There followed an eager exchange marked by Stuart's account of his divorce and his visit with Joseph Kinsella, and Sharon's tale of the unfaithful lawyer. The two friends chattered happily together for some time. Then, holding hands, they left Krieghoff's patio as a little bird trilled in joy on a branch of the Juniper tree.#

Top


The Unluckiest Man Alive

 

Giovanni Nero arrived in Australia on his first birthday. His

parents, abandoning the depressed Italian economy in

the migration exodus of the nineteen-sixties, left their Sicilian

village to join relatives in the lucky country.

 

On his second birthday, they changed his name. In a

flood of patriotic fervour for their adopted land and

determined to embrace all things Australian, they were naturalised and

easily translated the family name to Black.

 

Their first son was renamed Jonas. It should, of

course, have been John, but his mother used superstition as a powerful

adjunct to her religion. Painstakingly reading through a list of the

mystical meanings of Christian names, she found that a John

"prefers sport to work". Still peasant enough to believe in the moral

rectitude of hard labour, she passed on to the next entry and

discovered that, amongst other things, the name Jonas conferred the

attributes of being "gentle, forgiving and sincere in love".

 

So Jonas he became.

 

In later years, Jonas often wondered whether his

misfortunes dated from this event, just as changing the name of a ship

was reputed to presage ill luck.

 

His formative years were overshadowed by the acute

humiliation of wearing hand-me-down clothes that were always a year

behind the fashion. His paternal aunt had married well and had a

son a year older than Jonas. This cousin was indulged in all his

whims by his parents, each year helping to line the pockets of the

garment manufacturers by changing his wardrobe for the new

trend. So Jonas's jeans were stone-washed when everybody else was

wearing white, and his tee-shirts always bore last year's message.

 

He learned to stay out of the social scene to avoid derision.

 

His parents made noisy sacrifices to send him to a

private school, where uniform levelled the clothes situation.

But he had the misfortune to travel his academic road in the company

of peers whose social status predisposed them to arrogance. Jonas

trailed along on the skirts of their glory. Mediocrity and the safe

middle ground became his comfortable milieu. Teachers treated him as

an empty space, expecting little, so never disappointed.

 

His adolescence, of course, was blighted by

eruptions of acne, and a mortifying tendency to exude through his pores

exponentially the copious amounts of garlic lovingly used in his

mother's cooking.

 

Having left school with minimal qualifications, he

gravitated into his father's haulage business as accounts and wages

clerk. His days were spent in a dingy shack in the truck yard inhaling

dust and diesel fumes.

 

Never flavour of the month with girls, on account of

his garlic problem, he was still a virgin when his parents

married him to a tempestuous and demanding Italian girl. It was a union

which gave both families much ethnic and financial satisfaction,

but none at all to the central couple.

 

He fulfilled the mystic meaning of his name and was

gentle to the point of lacking passion; forgivingly refused to beat

his wife into submission; and was embarrassingly sincere in a macho

world of deceit and duplicity.

 

His wife, driven to distraction by his complacent

acceptance of the slings and arrows she hurled at him, left him for

a German named Weiss, proving, in defiance of natural law, that Black

may become White.

 

In an effort to make sense of the futility of his

life, Jonas had his horoscope cast. He discovered that at the moment

of his birth, Mars was in conjunction with Saturn.

 

Remnants of his classical education told him that

one was the God of War, and the other a criminal psychotic who

swallowed his five children. This plunged him further into a fatalistic

deep gloom.

 

One day, quite suddenly, on a suburban rail platform, he decided

to end it all by falling gracefully but with determination in front

of the next train. He was elated by the prospect of

taking charge at last of his life - or, in this case, death. Pressing

the arrivals sensor on the information board to confirm that the

next train was indeed due in three minutes, he composed himself for

his last moments on earth. Three minutes was enough time for an

Our Father sandwiched between two Hail Marys.

 

Standing on the edge of the platform, on the brink,

as it were, of a new life, he had just reached "and deliver us from

evil", when his hasty rites were overridden by a metallic voice on the

P.A.system.

 

"Owing to circumstances beyond our control, train

services will be interrupted indefinitely. Buses will shortly be

available at each station to take passengers to their destinations." #

Top


 

Darkness and Light

by Chris Broadribb

 

"Mum's going to kill me when she finds out about this," Rick said. He clutched the bars of his cell, looking at me, his curly hair outlined in the dim light. "What am I going to tell her, Joe? I can't tell her the truth."

"Who cares what she thinks? Forget about her." His mother was the least of our problems right now.

I sat on my bunk huddled in a scratchy blanket. It was very cold down here, and I was only wearing a t-shirt. I watched the shadows on the floor move as the light flickered. Somewhere in the distance, water dripped intermittently. Two men were muttering to each other in cells further down the corridor, but I couldn't make out what they were saying. Somebody else coughed every now and then. He sounded ill.

I thought about the things I had planned to do tomorrow. Wash my car. Go to Centrelink to look at job vacancies. Meet one of my mates for lunch at his place in Glebe. I wouldn't be able to do any of that now. I wondered how everything had gone so wrong.

"Sam's going to be mad when he finds out what we did," Rick said.

Sam was one of Rick's flatmates, a new guy who had moved in a few weeks ago. He dressed like a bikie even though he didn't own a bike and, since he was a dole bludger, probably never would. It wasn't long before he had boasted to Rick that he had a gun. He kept it in a shoe box under his bed. He wouldn't say where it had come from, but it probably wasn't legal.

"Sam goes out most nights," Rick told me when he came over to my place on Wednesday afternoon. "We could borrow the gun for a few hours and put it back and he'd never know."

"What are you going to do with it?" I said.

"I've got a few ideas. Let me think about it."

I didn't believe that Rick would have the guts to do anything with it, so I forgot about it after he left. However, he rang me on Saturday morning to tell me his plan.

"I've got it all worked out, Joe. It'll be easy. Man, we're really going to have some fun."

He obviously wasn't having fun now, and neither was I.

"Rick, have you got a lawyer?"

"No, of course not. Why would I?"

I had never needed one before either.

"Maybe we can apply for Legal Aid," I said. I didn't see how either of us could afford a lawyer otherwise. Rick was on the dole too, although in his case it was by choice.

"How do we do that?" he asked.

"We ring them I guess. When we get a chance."

"So how's a lawyer going to help us?"

"That's their job. They'll think of something."

The police officer who had been guarding us returned, trudging back along the corridor carrying a polystyrene cup of coffee and a rolled up magazine. He wore a thick black jacket. He looked young, probably only a couple of years older than me.

"Hey, what time is it?" Rick asked.

He didn't answer, but whacked Rick's hand with his magazine as he walked past.

"Ow!" Rick let go of the bars and rubbed his fingers.

The cop continued past my cell to sit down at the desk at the end of the corridor, underneath the flickering light bulb. He opened his magazine and started to read it while sipping at his coffee. The magazine was about Formula One racing cars.

"What time do you reckon it is?" Rick asked.

"Don't know." All I knew was that it was late. I should try to get some sleep, but I couldn't relax. The events of the night kept running through my mind.

Rick had originally been the one carrying the gun. He said that he just wanted me to drive there and back. It sounded easy enough. My car was a secondhand 1985 Holden; it was slow and wasn't really suitable but it was all we had.

Rick insisted that we drive past the store first to check things out. He thought that nobody but the elderly shopkeeper would be in there on a Sunday night, but as we cruised past I noticed a customer in there too, looking at the new videos on a stand near the window.

I turned into an alley fifty metres down the street and stopped by a tall white fence surrounding somebody's back yard. "What do you want to do? Wait a bit?" I asked.

"Yeah," Rick said, checking his watch. He looked nervous, but excited. He had told me that the shopkeeper always closed the store at 9:00 pm exactly. It was 8:50 now.

He sat there fiddling with the gun for a few minutes then said, "You've got to come in with me, Joe."

"But you said - "

"I can't do this on my own, man. You've got to help me. I'll hold the gun, you grab the cash. We split it 50/50."

I thought about it. I really needed money. The rent was due soon and I couldn't pay it. I was already three weeks behind. I looked at my watch. We were running out of time.

I zipped up my jacket, pulled my sunglasses out of my pocket and put them on. "Ok, let's do it."

***

"Are you two brothers?" I was startled as the man in the cell opposite mine suddenly spoke. He had been standing there staring at us for a while. He was heavily built, had a shaved head and wore a nose ring. He looked a lot older than me, although it was difficult to tell in the dim light.

"You look like brothers."

"We're cousins," Rick said.

"Don't talk to him. We don't know him," I said.

"I'll talk to anyone I like. You can't tell me what to do."

"You look too young to be in here," the man told Rick. "How old are you? Sixteen? Seventeen?"

"Nineteen," he muttered.

"You're just a kid. You ought to be at home with your mother. What did you do, anyway? Steal some lollies?"

Rick didn't reply.

"Leave him alone," I said.

The bald-headed man continued to stare at us for a while, then gave up and flopped down onto his bunk. Everyone was quiet. The cop pushed his chair back and put his feet up on the desk. He pulled a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket and lit one, ignoring the 'No Smoking' sign on the wall above him.

It had all happened so quickly...

Rick burst through the glass door into the video store. "This is a robbery! Everyone get down on the floor!" he yelled, waving the gun around wildly. I slipped in the door quietly behind him.

The shopkeeper looked up from the form he was filling out at the counter. He squinted at Rick, looking bewildered. His customer, a middle-aged man wearing a suit, dropped the video he was holding and backed away.

"Open the till!" Rick yelled at the shopkeeper.

I glanced around the store. There was nobody in there besides those two, and I didn't see any surveillance cameras.

The shopkeeper hesitated, scratching his head.

"Open it or I'll shoot you!"

He finally moved over to the cash register and pressed a button. The drawer sprang open. Rick waved him away. I hurried over and leaned across the counter, accidentally knocking a stack of videos onto the floor. I grabbed notes from the drawer and stuffed them into the pockets of my jacket.

"Let's get out of here," I said, turning away.

However, Rick was looking towards a small office at the back of the store. "Hey, he's got a laptop in there."

"Leave it! Let's go."

"I'll go get it. Here, hold this." Rick thrust the gun into my hands and headed down the aisle towards the office.

"Rick!" My heart was pounding. I had never held a gun before. I looked at the shopkeeper, who was pressed against the wall, quivering. The customer had ducked behind a shelf of videos nearby, and I couldn't see him. I wanted to get out of there, but I wasn't going to leave Rick in the store by himself.

Rick emerged from the office carrying the laptop under his arm, looking jubilant.

I heard a slight noise behind me and turned around. It was the customer, who had reappeared from behind the shelf. He looked determined. He lunged at me, reaching for the gun. I pulled the trigger without thinking. The shot was very loud. The man clutched at his chest, blood running all over his hands, and collapsed. I threw the gun down, horrified.

"Joe!"

I looked around. Rick had dropped the laptop on the floor and was staring at me.

"Come on!" I yelled. I ran around the man writhing on the floor and burst through the door onto the street. At first I wasn't sure which way to turn, then I ran down the footpath towards the alley. I heard Rick running behind me, calling my name.

***

Something scurried across the floor in front of my cell. As it ran on past Rick's cell he jumped. "Hey, that's a rat. I hate rats, Joe."

"Well, what do you expect me to do about it?"

"I remember that rat," said someone in the darkness further down the corridor. "I saw it last time I was here."

"I'm so hungry I could eat it," someone else said.

"Leave it alone! It's my pet," said the big, bald-headed man in the cell opposite me.

The rat returned a few minutes later, heading towards the cop at the desk. He threw his empty polystyrene cup at it and it darted off to the side. I hoped it wouldn't crawl into my cell.

"That's unhygienic, letting rats run around in here," Rick complained. This provoked a few sniggers from the other men.

"If you think this place is bad, wait 'til you get to Silverwater," said the bald-headed man. "The rats are real big there." He laughed unpleasantly.

I could spend many years in jail with people like him. It was a depressing thought.

"We could have got away, Joe," Rick said. "If you hadn't been so stupid."

"This was all your fault!"

"I didn't do anything."

"You're the one who got us arrested!"

"Listen to them squabbling," said the bald-headed man. "Silly kids."

We had almost got away with it. We made it to my car and drove down the alley onto the main street, which had little traffic. I was gripping the steering wheel hard, my heart still pounding. All I wanted to do was get away from the area as quickly as possible. We sped along past closed shops and offices.

"Why did you shoot that guy?" Rick said. "You killed him, man."

"No way. He'll get to hospital. He'll be ok." I was trying to convince myself as much as Rick.

I turned off down a side street, then realised that I had taken the wrong one. I kept on going, though, driving through the quiet, tree-lined streets of Ashfield. I started to calm down. We had done it. We had got away with it. Everything was going to be all right.

I found my way onto Railway Parade and slowed down a bit. I was doing 70 now, in a 60 zone, and we were heading back towards the city.

"Let's count the money," said Rick suddenly.

"Not now. Wait until we get back to your place."

"I want to know how much we got," he insisted. He picked up my sports bag from the floor and started to unzip it. I'd stuffed my bloodstained jacket into it, and the money was still in the pockets.

"Leave it, Rick!" I snatched the bag away from him and threw it onto the back seat. When I looked back at the road the lights at the intersection ahead had turned amber. I didn't have time to stop so I sped up and drove straight through them, just as they changed to red.

A second later I heard the sound I had been dreading all night: a police car siren. Looking in the rear view mirror, I saw flashing blue and red lights.

"Speed up, Joe!" Rick shouted.

I put my foot down. The car creaked and rattled badly. The cops' siren was piercingly loud and I could see those flashing lights getting closer and closer. We weren't going to outrun them.

"Stay cool and keep your mouth shut, Rick."

I slowed right down and pulled over at the side of the road, beside the railway fence. The police stopped a short distance behind us. I wound down my window as a uniformed cop walked up to us. He was middle-aged and fat.

"Sorry, officer, the lights changed so quickly that I didn't have time to stop, and then I was trying to slow down but I accidently pressed the accelerator instead of the brake - "

"Can I see your license, please?"

I scrabbled in my wallet for my license and handed it over. However, he was now looking at Rick. "What's wrong with your mate?"

Rick was sweating and shaking. I'd told him to stay calm. This was no time to fall apart.

"He's sick," I said. "He's got a migraine. I'm taking him home so he can get some rest."

The cop looked suspicious. "What's your name, son?" he asked Rick.

"Huh?"

"Your name," he said firmly.

"Uh - Roger Moore."

I swore under my breath. Trust Rick to say something stupid.

The cop glared at us. "Can you both step out of the car, please?"

I figured we would still be ok as long as we acted cool. The cop couldn't know what we'd done. I opened my door and got out, trying to look unconcerned. The winter air was cold and I shivered.

Rick got out of the car too, but immediately took off down the street, running as fast as he could.

"Stop!" the cop yelled, and ran after him. For an overweight guy, he sure could run fast.

I looked around. Another, younger, officer had emerged from the police car and was striding towards me, his hand on his gun. I stayed where I was.

The older cop caught up to Rick and tackled him, knocking him to the ground. He then got him in an armlock and marched him back to my car.

"Let me go! I haven't done anything!" Rick said.

The cop paused for a moment to get his breath back. He told Rick, "You're under arrest for giving a false name." Then he looked at me. "And you're under arrest for dangerous driving."

***

It was becoming noticeably colder in the cells now. It must be getting very late. However, people were still talking quietly in the cells further down the corridor. Water dripped slowly in the distance.

I looked at Rick, who was sitting on his bunk fidgeting nervously. If only I hadn't listened to his stupid ideas.

"I hate it in here," he whined. "What are we going to do, Joe? What's going to happen?"

"How would I know?"

"You kids are in trouble, huh?" said the bald-headed man from the darkness of his cell. "Your mummy isn't going to get you out of this one."

"Shut up," I said.

"You should've stayed at home tonight. This ain't no place for you boys."

"If you're so smart, how come you're in here?"

"Hey, I like it here. I come here whenever I'm bored." He started to whistle loudly.

I looked around as I heard the cop at the desk get up. He walked over and kicked at the door of the man's cell really hard, making the bars rattle. The man abruptly stopped whistling. Everyone else went quiet. The cop returned to his desk. I sat there shivering and watched the cockroaches run around on the floor.

The two cops who had arrested us had questioned me afterwards. The old, fat one was named Senior Constable Turner. The younger one was Constable Meeling, a fair haired guy who seemed to have a permanent scowl on his face.

"We've had a report of a robbery at Ashfield Video Centre tonight by two young males armed with a semi-automatic weapon. A man was shot during the robbery. Do you have anything to say?" Senior Constable Turner asked.

"I don't know what you're talking about." I sat with my arms folded, staring at the video camera.

"We found $325 in a green sports bag in the back seat of the car you were driving tonight. Where did the money come from?"

So that was how much we had stolen. "I don't know anything about it."

I wondered what Rick was doing in the other interview room down the hall. I hoped he had enough sense to keep his mouth shut.

"We found the money in the pockets of a brown leather jacket which appeared to be stained with blood. Is the jacket yours?"

I didn't answer. I was trying to think of some excuse to explain away the money and the bloodstains, but couldn't come up with anything.

"Where did you get the gun?" Constable Meeling asked.

"What gun?"

"The Colt .45 pistol you used in the robbery."

I said nothing. I doubted that Rick's dodgy flatmate had registered it or would tell the police when he found it missing. They couldn't trace it to us.

"Do you know what DNA testing is, Joe?" Senior Constable Turner asked.

"Yeah." I had read about it in the newspaper.

"We're going to have that jacket tested to see if the blood on it is from the man who was shot. Perhaps we'll find traces of your DNA on it, too."

I was becoming very worried.

"Why did you shoot him?" Constable Meeling asked.

I didn't answer.

"He's in hospital right now. He's going to have an operation tonight. The doctors say he may not survive," Senior Constable Turner said.

"If he dies, we'll charge you with murder," said Constable Meeling. "Your mate too, of course."

"I didn't mean to shoot him!" I protested.

"How about you tell us what happened, then," Senior Constable Turner said.

I realised that I shouldn't have said anything. I had admitted being involved now. "It was all Rick's idea," I muttered. "I just needed the money."

***

The cells were all quiet now. Nobody was talking anymore, and the water had finally stopped dripping. The cop was engrossed in his magazine. Rick was slumped against the wall and looked like he had fallen asleep.

In maybe a couple of hours it would be dawn outside. It wouldn't be long before I found out whether or not I was a murderer. I lay back on my bunk and stared at the cracks in the ceiling, thinking about it, wondering if I could cope with it, wondering if I would spend the rest of my life in jail.

I was very tired and as time slowly passed I started to doze off, still unsure of what would happen in the morning.#

Copyright Chris Broadribb 2002 Top


First Chapters

 

"Cunyarra" - Qawra Press, 66 Northmore Crescent, Winthrop. W.A. 6150.

This book will be launched at the Avondale Discovery Farm, on Sunday 21st November 2004 and will be available at booksellers at the RRP of $22.95 inclusive of GST. Colin Price

 

 

Cunyarra

by Colin Price

Chapter 1

 

North West Australia, November 1941

 

The morning sun blazed down from a clear sky on the windblown sand dune. At its foot, in the shade of the wild fig tree, Willy Muller dug in the ground with a bayonet. Laying it aside, he scooped the loosened sand from the hole with his hands, then sat back on his heels and wiped the sweat from his eyes with his forearm.

"Is it deep enough?" his companion asked in German.

"I think so. The animals that gather in the shade of this tree will soon trample the surface flat." Muller looked around him, then gestured irritably. "Let's have that case, it's time we got out of here."

The ship's Press Officer, Klaus Schmidt, passed the leather attaché case across to him. "It's heavy," he said. "It does seem a waste, burying all that gold."

Muller looked at him disparagingly. "What ever gave you that idea. Ferkell said the case only contained cash from the ships we took in the Bay of Bengal."

He placed it in the hole and straightening, demanded. "Now the movie camera and the film cans."

Schmidt passed the camera and the metal film cans to Muller, who laid the camera on its side on top of the case, stacked the cans in the remaining space and pushed the sand in around them.

"You know, Muller, I took some good shots of the action. It's a pity that I didn't have time to process the film, it will quickly deteriorate in this heat. It was odd the way the Australian cruiser came alongside with none of her main guns trained on us. When Captain Dietmar gave the order to fire and we dropped the covers, we were able to open up with everything, including the seventy-fives and a torpedo, before they brought any of their guns to bear and when they did, they only fired that one round."

Muller looked at his companion derisively. Ship's press officer he thought, not even a proper member of the Navy.

"We were lucky it was only one. Give them their due the Australians put that into our engine room where it hit the propeller shaft and we were done. A few metres either side and they would have hit the mines in the hold and blown us all to hell."

Muller levelled the remaining sand and picking up some of the grey-brown mixture of animal manure and sand, he scattered it on top.

Standing back, he looked at his handiwork. "Not bad, apart from our footmarks, you wouldn't know we had been here."

"Quick! Get down!" Schmidt cried, pushing him under the tree.

With a roar, a twin-engined aircraft passed low over the water of the bay and heading north, rose over the cliffs and disappeared. They waited on the ground until the sound had faded into the distance.

"Muller, why didn't that pilot turn around and look for us when he saw the boat pulled up on the beach?"

Muller stood up and dusted off his navy blue dungarees. "How would I know, perhaps he was looking for something else." He bent and picking up the bayonet, slipped it into the scabbard on his belt.

"Do you think the other boat reached the shore? It may be further to the north. After all we lost sight of them two nights ago."

Muller turned slowly and looked at the younger man. "Schmidt, you talk too much. We have to get back to the others, they will have killed the sheep by now and should have a meal ready. We'll walk down to the boat first and then go back to the blockhouse. We can't erase our footprints in this soft ground and this will make it look as though we passed the windpump and tree on the way to the beach."

They trudged across the bare ground and climbed the low dune that ran along the beach. Schmidt spoke as they reached the top of the rise. "It won't be long before the vegetation behind this sandhill is covered by sand."

Muller turned and looked back at the solitary wild fig standing some way from the steel tower of the windpump. "It will be some time before that tree is covered and if we are sent here after the war is over, we should have little difficulty locating it," he gave a short laugh, "if we survive."

"Do you think the Australians will put us in a camp?"

"Of course they will. Let's hope it's not as hot as this place." He wiped his forehead with a handkerchief, and brushed the flies from his eyes.

"Well, it's a change isn't it, after more than a year at sea with only the occasional rendezvous with our supply ships. It's a pity that I won't be able to show the film I took of all the vessels we sank. Mind you, nothing was as exciting as the Sydney, the way her control tower and bridge went up in flames when we hit her with the first salvo. I got some great camera shots after their gun hit us and our engine stopped, as she steamed away over the horizon, a blazing wreck. I could see the glow of the fire well after dark and would have liked to film her end."

"A pity you hadn't had something else to do. We were busy all that night, lifting the two boats out of the hold without any electricity for the winches and launching the inflatables. I was sorry when we had to bury the men who had died in the engine room; the old man did the right thing, stopping work to give them full honours. What I couldn't follow was why he told us to bring that case and the film with us, instead of throwing it over the side with the code books when he decided to scuttle her."

"Poor old Kormoran, she was a good ship. We did well, ten merchant ships and the Sydney. A heavy cruiser wasn't she, flagship of the Australian Navy, someone said?"

Muller snorted derisively. "That doesn't mean much, they only have five or six ships. It was a miracle that the Australians didn't stand off, out of range, and blow Kormoran out of the water. They could easily have done it with their eight-inch guns. Our biggest guns were only seventy-five millimetres, or three inches. If it had been the other way about and we had the cruiser, we would never have made that mistake."

They set off together along the shore to where they had left the lifeboat drawn up on the sand the day before. The swell rolling in from the Indian Ocean was breaking fifty yards out from the steeply shelving beach. The offshore breeze caught at the crests as the combers curved over and thundered down before washing up the white sand.

"Muller!" Schmidt said excitedly. "There's a big turtle swimming out there, beyond the line of the breakers."

Muller looked to where he was pointing and saw a large turtle paddling slowly along, its head popping out of the water from time to time on the end of its long neck. He grinned in spite of himself. "The sea is a lot quieter than it was last night; it got up during the evening. I was on watch just after two and you could hear it booming down here then.

Schmidt pointed ahead. "It must have been rougher than expected because the boat's gone. You can see our kit piled above high water mark, but she isn't there now."

"That explains why the crew of that Hudson didn't take a second look."

They walked along the hard sand at the edge of the water until coming to where the water tanks and other equipment had been left, they found one of the anchors. The remains of the hemp rope attached to it led into the water.

Muller pulled the rope in; the end was worn through. "I might have known it. If the boat were sucked back and forth in heavy surf, it wouldn't take long for the steel edge of the gunwhale to saw through this hemp. It should have been properly fetched around with rag to stop it fraying." He threw the rope down in disgust. "Well, let's see if there is anything left that can be of any use to us while we are waiting to be picked up."

They rummaged around and eventually set off back to the camp. Muller carried a large piece of canvas from the sail and Schmidt a pair of binoculars from the ship's bridge slung from his neck.

Reaching the hut set back from the edge of the low cliff above a sandfall, they found the rest of the survivors busily eating the meat of the two sheep they had cooked on the coals of a campfire. A chorus of voices greeted them.

"Did the aircraft see you, Muller?" one called.

He shook his head. Franz Keitler, another Petty Officer, waved him over.

"You missed all the fun, Willy," he said. "A cowboy came up the track from the south in an old car with a canvas hood. We gave him a shock when we jumped out of the bushes by the gate in the fence. I spoke to him in English and told him our ship had sunk. He has gone off to telephone the authorities in Carnarvon and ask them to come and pick us up. It's not far, he said, perhaps they'll be here this afternoon."

Muller nodded. "Did he say whether the other boat had come ashore?"

"No. I think I confused him when I said we were Deutzers. He kept on saying we were Dutch. We've been discussing this and I have come to the conclusion that he must have thought we're Nederlanders. It's not important."

A man the other side of Keitler leaned forward waving a piece of charred meat in his hand. "Muller!" He said jovially, " you had better get some of this meat into you. It's very good. You may not have another chance for a while. The farmer was not very happy to find that we had killed his sheep."

Later that day, they were picked up by a police sergeant with two trucks and brought down to the tiny coastal town of Carnarvon. There they were lodged in the local church hall under the guard of two rather untidy soldiers and a middle-aged lieutenant who spoke German.

Later that night other survivors arrived, who told them they had come ashore at Red Bluff, a promontory to the north of Cuvier Bay, where they had spent the time camped in a large cave.

One of the newcomers, Ferkell, the political officer on board the Kormoran, came over to Muller and took him aside.

"Muller, were you able to bury the case and film?" he asked.

"Yes, under a tree which I can easily identify. I'll draw a map if you like."

Ferkell looked around him and, reassured that no one was close enough to hear their conversation, spoke rapidly. "Don't do that yet. We are sure to be interrogated and our personal kit searched. We shouldn't have any evidence on us that could lead to the things we have hidden. Once the Australian authorities have given up questioning us and we are settled in a camp, we can make a cryptographic drawing that will record all the details, main topographical features and the position of the cache."

"Do we really need that? There is only one tree of any size and that is near a windpump situated close to the beach, approximately half way around the bay. It is the only place where there is a break in the cliffs and the sand comes down. You don't need to know any more."

Ferkell looked disappointed. "Well, I still think we should make a proper cryptographic illustration of the spot. I'll show you how to do it. I'll make another to cover the files I buried in the cave. They were of course more important to us than the film. The contents of those books would be politically embarrassing to the British if they were in the hands of someone who could make use of them. Like our agents in India."

Muller looked at Ferkell in amazement. "You're an optimist, Ferkell. We are going to be lucky if we ever get out of prison camp before the end of the war, let alone back to Cuvier Bay."

Ferkell ignored the comment. "Muller," he demanded, "we haven't eaten today. Is there any food?"

"Haven't you? We were far luckier. We found some sheep and killed two rams which we ate at the block house in which we camped on the cliff." He grinned at his companion's envious expression. "The farmer who owned the sheep was not so happy when he found what we had done. He was quite decent about it though and organised our rescue, so when we stopped at the farm house on the way down the coast in the trucks, we gave him a pair of binoculars we had brought from Kormoran, in settlement of our debt."

Ferkell was no longer interested; his eyes were darting around the hall identifying who was there.

Muller shrugged his shoulders and moving to one of the mattresses provided by the townsfolk, he lay down and made himself comfortable.#

Top


Nice Day For A Murder

by Chris Broadribb

Copyright Chris Broadribb 2004

 

CHAPTER 1

 

Ben rode his motorbike along a quiet street in Newtown and stopped in front of his brother Steve's house. It was two storeys and had once been painted yellow but the paint was faded and peeling badly, revealing rotting wood underneath. Ben often wondered if it was safe to live in as it looked like it might fall down at any moment. The front garden consisted of a wild rose bush and a few feet of dried grass. A piece of paper taped to the front door read, 'BBQ out back' so he followed the erratically placed paving stones around to the side of the house and down to the back garden. Steve's terrier bounded over, wagging its tail, and he bent down to pet it. It didn't have a name as Steve had some sort of moral objection to giving animals names.

"Hi, Ben!" his sister Katrina said. She sat at a wooden table under a eucalyptus tree. Even though it was a Sunday, she was dressed up as usual, wearing a blue suit, a white blouse and high heels.

"Hey, Ben, it's great to see you," Steve said. He wore jeans and a faded brown T-shirt that had several holes in it. "This is my new flatmate, Derek."

Derek was a long haired, bearded man of indeterminate age in shorts and a singlet. He was engrossed in a book. He looked up and nodded, but didn't say anything.

Ben sat down on a grubby white plastic chair that had probably been rescued from a tip. The table was splattered with blobs of dried paint, but someone had made an attempt to clean it. He accepted a plastic cup of fruit punch that Steve poured from a bowl. It was sweet and spicy and he wondered what was in it. He looked around. A few of his relatives were clustered around the barbeque at the end of the garden, talking animatedly about something. Nobody seemed to be cooking anything.

"Is Mum here yet?" he asked.

Katrina said, "She's coming later. Around one o'clock."

"I hope her sister doesn't turn up," Steve said.

That was what Ben had been thinking, but he didn't know if he should say it out loud.

"She's a very difficult person to get on with," Katrina said.

"She hates me," Steve said.

"She hates everyone," Ben pointed out. Except for Mum of course.

There was a brief pause. Birds twittered in the tree up above. It was a pleasant February day, warm and sunny, although there were a few clouds drifting across the sky.

"What have you been painting lately?" Katrina asked Steve.

"A personal interpretation of the forces of nature. Nothing too specific, just general impressions, in a post-modern style."

"What?" Ben said.

"He's been painting trees," Derek said, without looking up from his book.

"Yes. Basically."

"That sounds interesting," Katrina said politely. "Are you still going to have an exhibition?"

"I've been trying to organise something. It isn't easy."

A car screeched to a halt outside the front of the house. Its door slammed shut. Soon heavy footsteps clumped up the path.

"Oh no," Steve said.

Derek looked up from his book with a puzzled expression.

"You should have told me I took a wrong turn, you stupid brat!" a woman screamed. "Now look what you've done. We're THREE MINUTES LATE!"

Aunt Val, short, overweight and mousy haired, appeared from around the corner of the house and strode over to the table, her hands clenched by her sides. Her teenage daughter Renee trailed after her.

"Good afternoon, Valerie. It's nice to see you," Katrina said, rather coldly and formally.

"Hi, Val. Hi, Renee. Do sit down," Steve said.

Aunt Val sat down heavily on a chair right next to Ben, which made him feel uncomfortable. Renee sat at the other end of the table, as far away from her as possible. She looked tense and unhappy. The terrier crept over to her and licked her hand.

"That useless brat," Aunt Val said. "She can't even pay attention to where we're going. I think she's brain damaged!"

The obvious question, in Ben's mind, was why Aunt Val hadn't paid attention to where she was going. He couldn't understand why some people insisted in blaming their own silly mistakes on others. Now she would probably go on and on about it and ruin everyone's afternoon.

"Would either of you like some fruit punch?" Steve asked.

He poured two cups, handed one to Derek to pass down to Renee and reached across the table to give the other one to Val.

She sniffed at it suspiciously. "I think this has gone off. No wonder, in this dreadful heat. Isn't there any cold water?"

"I'll get some," Steve said. He got up and walked off towards the house.

"This table is filthy," Aunt Val said, staring at a small spot of purple paint in front of her. "Why doesn't he use a tablecloth?"

"We haven't got one," Derek said.

She looked at him disgustedly.

Steve returned carrying a glass jug of water and poured some into a cup for her.

"I don't know how you can live in a dump like this," she said. "But I suppose you can't afford anything better, since you haven't got a job."

Steve wisely didn't reply, and sat down next to Derek again.

"I didn't know you were going to have a barbeque," Aunt Val continued. "All that greasy meat. It's disgusting. Someday I should show you how to cook a proper meal."

Ben knew that her idea of a 'proper' meal was one of her ghastly stews. The thought of it made his stomach churn.

"We have salad too," Derek said.

"I don't know if I can eat anything. I've got a splitting headache. Where are my pills?" She opened her enormous leather handbag and rummaged through it. "I must have left them in the car. You could have told me, Renee." She stood up abruptly, nearly knocking her chair over, and strode away back down the path at the side of the house.

"Are you all right?" Katrina asked Renee.

"She screamed at me all the way here," Renee said. There were tears in her eyes.

Ben felt sorry for her. It must be very difficult living with a mother like that.

"Is that woman always so uptight?" Derek asked.

"Yes," Steve said.

"She gets worse the longer you know her," Ben said. She was somewhat more polite to strangers than to people she knew. She treated family worst of all.

"I hate her!" Renee burst out. "I wish she was dead."

Ben was startled. He had never heard her say anything like that before. There was an awkward silence.

Aunt Val returned, holding a hand to her forehead. "They aren't in the car either. My headache's getting worse. I really need to lie down."

"You could lie on the couch in the living room," Steve suggested. "There's an air conditioner in there."

"And it sometimes works," Derek added.

Aunt Val strode away across the lawn to the house. She wrenched the screen door open, banging it against the wall, causing a shower of yellow flakes of paint. Ben felt relieved as she disappeared inside. They would be safe for a while.

"I suppose she'll whinge about all my paintings in there," Steve said. "She hates them."

"Don't worry about what she thinks," Katrina said. "I think you're very talented."

"What does she do for a living?" Derek asked.

"She's a nurse," Ben said. "Works at a private hospital."

"She probably isn't any good at it," Steve muttered. "She's hardly the caring type."

Ben could imagine her yelling at some poor bloke lying in bed with multiple

fractures and concussion, telling him that he was just being lazy and that it was all his own fault he was in there anyway.

"I think she likes having power over people who are helpless," he said.

"Renee, where are you going?" Katrina asked. The girl was leaving the table, her drink untouched.

"I'm going for a walk," she muttered.

"But lunch will be ready soon."

Renee ignored her, and left down the path by the side of the house.

"I'm not surprised she's upset, the way Valerie treats her," Katrina said.

"Why do you all put up with that woman?" Derek asked.

"She's family," Katrina said.

"What are we supposed to do?" Ben said. Aunt Val often turned up to family events, and he couldn't imagine anyone daring to ask her to leave.

"Hello everyone!"

Ben looked around to see his mother Bonnie shuffling around the side of the house. She wore a bright yellow dress printed with flowers and had a scarf wrapped around her hair. She carried a plate of biscuits. The terrier ran over to greet her, but she ignored it.

"It's so lovely to see you all," she said, beaming. She set the plate down on the table and hugged Ben. She smelled of lavender perfume.

"Have you been looking after yourself, dear?"

"Yes, Mum."

"You've been eating properly?"

"Yes, Mum."

"Have you met anyone special?"

"Not yet, Mum." She asked that every time she saw him.

"We'll have to find you a girlfriend. A nice young man like you shouldn't be on his

own."

"Yes, Mum."

She hugged Katrina and Steve, said hello to Derek, then wandered off to talk to the people clustered around the barbeque. Delicious smells of cooking meat now wafted from that direction. Ben was getting hungry. He ate a couple of biscuits. They were oatmeal, and quite tasty.

"I should get the salad out," Derek said.

He laid his book down on the table. The title was 'Fear and Trembling', which seemed appropriate now that Aunt Val was here.

"What's the book about?" Ben asked.

"Faith and ethics. It's by Kierkegaard."

"Who?"

"The philosopher."

Derek walked off towards the house. He seemed to be gone a long time, but finally reappeared carrying a large plastic bowl. The salad consisted entirely of different types of lettuce leaves mixed together.

"That looks healthy," Katrina said politely.

"I made some special dressing for it."

Soon Bonnie returned from the barbeque, followed by the others. Ken was an elderly retired man, fit and tanned as he worked outdoors a lot. Harold was a middle aged sales manager, balding and overweight. His daughter Ellen was a lively, curly haired 17 year old. The terrier circled the group, looking up hopefully at the plates of steak and sausages that they carried.

"We'd better tell Val that lunch is ready," Steve said, reluctantly.

"I didn't know she was here," Bonnie said. "Where is she?"

"Inside," Ben said, and told her what had happened earlier.

"Screaming? You must be exaggerating, dear. I'm sure she wouldn't raise her voice. She's just a little tense, that's all."

Bonnie shuffled off to the house as the others sat down at the table. Steve handed

out cutlery and paper plates. The plate that Ben received was a bit dirty and he hoped that it hadn't been used before. He accepted a steak from Ken and helped himself to some of Derek's salad. The 'special dressing' tasted like plain vinegar, but he decided to eat it anyway. It was so green that it must be healthy.

Bonnie returned from the house alone. "Val's sleeping. I thought I'd better not disturb her. I couldn't find Renee anywhere."

"She must have gone home," Steve said. "She probably jumped on a train."

"She shouldn't have left without saying goodbye," Katrina said.

Bonnie picked up a plate and took one sausage and a generous serving of Derek's salad. She sat down next to Ben, in the chair that Aunt Val had vacated.

"Would anyone like some wine?" Steve asked, picking up a metal bucket from the ground by his chair. It held two bottles of wine in ice: one red, one white. "It's non-alcoholic," he added.

Ben accepted a plastic cup of the red wine. It tasted just like grape juice. He preferred the fruit punch.

"Let's drink to Steve's success with his painting," Katrina suggested, and they all toasted him.

"Oops," Ken said.

He had knocked over his glass, spilling red wine on the sleave of his shirt. He dabbed at it with a serviette.

"You'd better rinse that or it will stain," Katrina said.

He got up and walked off to the house. He returned sometime later bare-chested, carrying his wet shirt, and hung it on the back of a spare chair to dry in the sun.

During lunch, Ben talked to Steve and Katrina about art. Bonnie, sitting beside him, tried to talk to Derek but gave up as Derek only seemed to be interested in reading his book. At the other end of the table, people held a noisy debate about who would win the upcoming state election. Ben tried to ignore them as he heard enough about it at work and didn't want to think about it now. After lunch, Ellen excused herself.

"Sorry to leave so quickly, but I've got a wedding to go to," she said.

"You're getting married and you didn't tell us?" Ken said, jokingly.

"No, it's a friend's. I promised I'd be on time. See you, everyone."

She wandered off down the path by the side of the house.

Everyone talked for a while longer and then Steve said, "Derek here is a poet. He's been writing some great stuff lately. I reckon he should read us some of it."

"That's a nice idea," Bonnie said. "I love poetry."

Derek reluctantly put his book down. "Which one should I read?" he asked.

"How about the one you wrote yesterday," Steve suggested.

Derek obviously had it memorised. He recited it enthusiastically, gesturing dramatically at some points.

"The-hold.com/September and resources and lament:

Cool your creation visual.

Paranoid's singing midget: darkly.

Body: lament. Darkly com for language.

WCDR: /client, WCDR: /server.

Tips lament: my own creation.

The paranoid's gothic literature: tools.

Tools and concept, language, non-verbal poem.

Lament: secrets."

Bonnie looked bewildered, but clapped along with everyone else. Ben had no idea what it was about either. He thought that poetry was supposed to rhyme.

"That's very creative," Katrina said politely.

"Want to hear another one?" Derek asked, and started reciting it without waiting for a reply.

"Sun server on systems sacrament - "

Ben excused himself to go to the toilet, and walked off towards the house. The terrier followed him. He entered quietly, hoping that Aunt Val wouldn't hear him and appear to scream at him. When he emerged from the bathroom, the terrier was standing at the end of the hall outside the door to the living room. It whined and scratched at the door.

"You can't go in there," Ben whispered. He gestured futilely to it.

It barked several times, its tail between its legs. That was odd as it rarely barked.

"What's wrong?" he said.

He walked over and listened at the door. All he heard was the erratic hum of the air conditioner. He opened the door cautiously and looked in. The light was dim as the curtains were drawn across the window. Brightly coloured paintings lined the walls. The air was quite warm. Aunt Val lay face up on a brown couch near the wall, her handbag open on the floor nearby. She was completely still and there was a red lump on her forehead, like she had hit her head on something. The terrier ran across and nudged her hand, which flopped down beside her.

"Steve! Come here!" Ben yelled.

Steve came running down the hallway, followed by Katrina.

"What's wrong?" he said.

"Val's hurt," Ben said.

Steve pushed past him into the living room and turned the light on. Katrina went over to the couch and felt Val's wrist and neck.

"I can't find her pulse. She's not breathing."

Ben reached for his mobile phone, then realised that he hadn't brought it. He went to the telephone in the hallway, dialled 000 and asked for an ambulance.

When he returned to the living room, Katrina and Steve were standing by the couch looking down at Val.

"She's dead," Katrina said.

 

This is the first chapter of my novella, 'Nice Day For A Murder'. The whole novella is up on my website at http://www.geocities.com/spiky_one/ndfam.html.

 

 

Top


Competing

by Frances Macaulay Forde

 

 

Prelude taken from the 3rd draft of an adult murder mystery novel ~ approximately 120,000 words, set in the South West of Western Australia.

Frances Macaulay Forde © 2004

 

PRELUDE

 

Peter Watts Brown is running down the hill along a lonely road on the outskirts of Perth, Western Australia dressed in the latest labelled, immaculate sports gear. Fine puffs of dust, thrown by the breeze through the yellow Wattle bushes lining the road, rise with each measured step of his brand new trainers.

Two separate flocks of Black Cockatoos screech past on their way to their meeting place, their shadows momentarily cooling Peter. They fly above and zigzag in front, appearing to race him toward a stand of old Tuart trees at the top of the rise.

Only two more hills and he'll reach the Animal Research Station. He starts work at 7.30am. He's exactly on time, but he's sweating - the strain must be getting to him.

Peter runs gracefully and with apparent ease. It's a natural movement for him, also a natural inclination although some would say he loves confrontation.

He wonders why he is feeling a bit out of sorts today &endash; because he hasn't reached his sexual target for the month? A busy sexual itinerary is as important as a well-balanced diet and a highly organized mind. Perhaps he should gradually increase the length of his run and thereby increase his stamina. It's most unlike him not to attain his goals.

God, it's hot. Peter rubs the matching pure white sweatband on his wrist delicately across his forehead. If he increases his run he'll have to allow extra time - but that's no good, he can't afford it. Time is money &endash; and hungrily calculated.

Instead of walking his dog each night, he could run with it along the foreshore. He's proud of his South Perth address and his champion Doberman Pincer. His apartment has magnificent views across the stunning river to the city from the lounge and from his bedroom, across again to majestic Kings Park. He hasn't done badly for himself.

Of course it is all due to his planning. He's a well-respected member of the community, a member of the local Golf Club, Rotary and a Colonel in the Army Reserve. He wears designer clothes, drives a Volvo and is known at the all the best restaurants - CoCo's, Mediterranean, Brett's... He plays games. All sorts of games &endash; army, money, sex.

A most carefully constructed persona - at work half of them think he's gay. He enjoys fooling people and laughs all the way to the bank! Seventeen years in the Public Service not getting his hands dirty, he still managed to reach a reasonable pay scale. As a bonus he's paid compulsory army leave whenever he can wangle a reconnaissance.

His little 'investments' haven't done too badly either. Others less capable than himself secretly envied him - he had position, power and double pay.

Peter knows what they say; what they call him - Toy Soldier &endash; but who's laughing now, hey? Who's pocketing a nice extra pay cheque every fortnight? Who's got the swank address? Who pulls a different bird every Friday night? Who? Who? Who? Who?

Ever since he was a little boy desperately trying to please his father, he had dreamed of his future in the Services. He would never forgive the army for rejecting him on medical grounds. Those stupid incompetents in the Regulars missed out on a fine officer. But no matter. He's fallen on his feet. The Army Reserve certainly appreciated his talents. Who? Who? Who? Who? At least he was a soldier on weekends.

He'd added the Watts to plain Brown when he'd become a Colonel. It didn't take him long to rise in the Reserve ranks - money and how you play the game are all-important.

His life consists of a series of games - money games, army games, sex games. He approached them all the same way - the three p's - planning, preparation and purpose.

A business degree made it easy to get into the Agriculture Department employed as a technician. It is his day job. He's been through all the different departments and knows exactly what his peers think of him. He doesn't have to get his hands dirty to know the ropes. There are always those prepared to fall for his incompetent' routine who will do the work themselves rather than let him stuff it up (deliberately).

At the annual Christmas party he's always in the Minister's crowd - where he should be, of course. He intends being the next Director of the Department. It is possible. He's familiar with all seventeen sections of the Department, having worked at one time or another in all of them. A qualified accountant and administrator, he kept himself informed of all new developments in the constant struggle to understand bureaucratic blue tape.

Yep, it was just a matter of waiting for Ron's retirement in six months and he'd be Manager of the Research Centre - another step up the ladder.

His thoughts switched to his next big challenge, the reason for this extra training - the Blackwood Marathon Relay Race, run by the Rotary Club of Bridgetown. Just to finish the gruelling course is a feather in anyone's cap. He expects his team to finish in the first 10 - at least.

The first leg is running 12km along a bitumen and gravel roads until the Blackwood River; canoeing 7.3km to Jayes Bridge. After lunch came swimming 1000 meters downstream; (more) running 100 meters to pass banner to the Equestrian; riding 16km through the Blackwood Valley, (nursing your horse all the way) and final leg cycling 20km. It's always the long, exhausting hills that cripple, that most cyclists are totally unprepared for.

But his Army team is prepared. Peter's preparation has taken two years. Two years of quiet observation, getting to know the officials of the race and picking the best of all the Reservists he could. He even convinced one of his members to transfer to his unit. Their team effort had been planned, down to the very last detail.

Usually around two hundred teams entered, teams from schools, community groups, friends, professional athletes - a real mixed bag. But his purpose in entering a team of his reservists is to beat the Army, Navy and Air Force teams - the real challenge. His team members are being pushed almost to their limits.

They hated him, but he didn't care - their respect was more important to him. He never asked them to do anything he couldn't do as well, if not better himself. Yes, he was a perfect example of physical fitness. Who? Who? Who? Who?

He smiled confidently. It felt good - he was running easily, his rhythm smooth and efficient. As he slipped on a stone he cursed his lack of concentration. Not much further. Is Williams running today? That scruffy sod &endash; all talk and balls.

His team will be a pushover. They wouldn't know their arse from their elbow. Their cyclist hasn't ridden further than around the block with his kid's bike - he's even had to borrow a friend's racer!

And Kazue - Well, I'll bet she's sorry she opened her Japanese mouth. She only promised to swim because my team is entered. I can't figure that bitch out. I've hardly said two words to her but I know she dislikes me. Most women find Peter attractive; his average height is more than compensated by his clean-cut male looks. Stupid bitch - how she ever got the job as a Techo is beyond me!

Only eight more weeks of training for the Marathon. Maybe their canoe should 'spring a leak' just in case. It's not that they'll beat us; the Reservists are like finely tuned instruments - his instruments. He plays them like a Napoleonic maestro.

The heat of exercise always made him horny - he hadn't managed to contact Mandy Hughes yet. Penny Fowler had gone and got married since leaving the Station three years ago, but Ann Gillies - she was a challenge.

He'd spent a lot of hours priming her. Those long tanned legs tempting him with their wayward posture... Why couldn't she ever sit like a lady? (The way she always sat on her feet forced her legs apart.) Her casual style of mini skirts and cut-off 't' shirts labelled her a sex siren calling to his animal instincts.

Well, no worries in that department. There's nothing amiss there. Didn't he prove it to her - attacking like a tiger? Licking and biting and stroking - a pure male animalÉ

Oh, she played the game well, dodging and running and screaming. God those screams were the siren's call.

His mind jumped to Jenny, another of his conquests. He started to feel uncomfortable, his slight erection dying. Ann had really pleased him, but Jenny... one of the few times he had broken his own rules.

He'd got involved with Jenny, she had reminded him of his mother, a nice person. But nice people made him feel vulnerable. He couldn't perform with nice girls, he felt out of control. He needed to be the master, doling out pleasure or punishment, whichever he commanded. Sluts were meant to be punished - meant to pay for their whorish ways. Yes, he was safer with sluts.

In the distance, someone is running towards him - a familiar figure. Good. There's Williams. I've still got plenty in reserve (ha-ha - a little play on words there folks) I can take him. Just like I take every attractive woman from right under his nose - it's simply a question of who is better at playing the 'game'.

* * * * * *

Colin Williams is tall; he lopes along enjoying the peacefulness of being alone on the empty stretch of road. His rugged face is beaded. His blue't'shirt shows wet - the sweat running down his back and stomach. He's wearing his favourite black footy shorts. They're comfortable and they remind him of when he was a Ruckman for Subi juniors, long ago in the days before - before he was married.

Although he must concentrate on each step because he is awkward, not a natural like Peter, he gets distracted by the thought of his wife. Kath had been really annoying this morning - she knows he wakes up 'ready'. Why waste a good fat?

How dare she say 'No'! It's all those stupid articles in her magazines. 'Men who can't commit.' .... 'Has he found your G spot?'... Making my own lunch and having her in the office all day isn't working. I knew when she applied for the job that it would cause problems. Sure, the money is great and she loves it, but a man's got to have his privacy!

It hasn't worried young Mary; in fact I reckon it turns her on. We'd better be more careful though. If Kath ever finds out about her that'll be the end - but Mary's always there. She's so willing - like a little puppy, following me around. What the Hell, she'll do anything for me. Kath wouldn't lick my arse. Sure she goes through the motions... The thought of his cultured and correct Kathy going through THOSE motions made him smile to himself and he nearly tripped.

Kath had been different to anyone he'd ever met before - mind you, he was only twenty-three and fresh out of Natio's. Her smooth voice and serene manner had impressed him - and she had loved him. God how she'd loved him.

Once he'd got her into bed, he had been surprised and thrilled by her total abandon. Yeah, she taught me a lot. Women don't scare me anymore. If she only knew about the others but no, she wouldn't believe it anyway.

He imagined Kathy with Ann Gillies. The two of them, with him in the middle... She's still got the best tits - even after two kids.

He started to think about waking up this morning, again. Kath was sound asleep so he'd patted her on the bum and climbed on. She wouldn't let him in &endash; Bitch!

Just as she'd rolled over to confront him, one of her breasts had fallen out of her nightie. For the first time in a long time, he'd really wanted her &endash; Kath &endash; his wife!

After a few years, a man needs fresh meat - it keeps the marriage alive. Christ, if he had to be faithful for the rest of his life he'd cut his balls off. What Kath doesn't know, won't hurt her and she doesn't know - not yet. He'd have a talk to Mary.

Since the kids had come along, Kath had changed. She was a natural mother; he couldn't fault her there. But he wished she wouldn't mother HIM. Sometimes, he felt 10 years old - a naughty boy, caught out. It was just her way of loving him, but he wanted the old way - the secret, wanton, abandoned Kath when her only desire was to please him.

When had it all changed? Was it when she had first seen him kill something? Christ, we have to eat! That's why I keep the animals. In the early days, it was the only way we could afford meat. She should be proud of my butchering skills - Dad was a butcher for 25 years &endash; and a good one.

He thought about the day their Muscovey drake was raping the chickens. Kath had been so upset she'd sent him out to the chook pen, to stop it. She hadn't expected to watch him trying to chop its head off. Watch him holding the bloody bird by the neck; with his knee digging it's white body into a tree stump. Hitting it over and over as it's head jerked and screeched with each useless blow. He'd had to hit it a few times before it gave up the ghost - the bloody axe was blunt!

He'd heard her screams - so had all the neighbours, and he'd rushed in to comfort her. Wrapped in his embrace, she'd opened her eyes to warm, fresh blood on his chest and her face. He'd never seen a woman really hysterical before. She acted as if HE was a monster. Made him shudder remembering those screamsÉ

Over the crest and down the last stretch, Williams spies a graceful, pristine figure running down the opposite hill, also on final approach towards the Research Centre gates half-way between them. Peter Watts-Brown looks as cool as a cucumber. Every morning it was the same between them - who was the most prepared?

Colin pulls his mouth into a determined grimace. Well, this little Fairy is in for a rude shock. He doesn't know that Kazue is an ex-champion. Or that John rode for his University.... O.K. Matt hadn't paddled a canoe, but he's fit and a natural athlete.

I just hope the bloody horse behaves itself for Judy.

Put a spurt on Mate! As he pushes himself harder, he keeps a wary eye on his opponent. Watch my dust, Wanker!

Watts-Brown makes running look easy while Williams seems to find the act uncomfortably and awkward, thumping the ground loudly as each sneaker hammers into the dirt. Do designer runners make the difference? No sound comes from his rival while Williams is huffing with the effort of competition.

The bastard's beating me! Come on push harder - Go-Go-Go!

There's the gate, almost reached it. He's gonna get there before me! Shit!

They are so close; William's strong male odour mixes with Brown's expensive cologne. The extra effort since he spied Brown had tired him. Each time his foot thumps into the ground, it sends shock waves to the top of his head. Well he's not taking any chances. Williams flings his arm out in front of his opponent, grabs the gate and swings awkwardly around it, almost knocking Watts-Brown over.

No way is the little weasel getting in that door before him!

+ + + + + + + + + +

 

 

'Hidden Capacity ~ a poet's journey'

by Frances Macaulay Forde

 

Available end of May 2003 ~

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Coulter Valley

by Barbara Yates Rothwell. ISBN: 1-4120-3537-6

 

This is an excerpt from my recently published novel, Coulter Valley. Tom Jr, wishing to research the history of his artistic family, goes to see his Great-uncle Gerald, whom he hardly knows, and Gerald's wife, Judith. Gerald is an antique dealer - his inheritance of the artistic genes - and during their meeting Tom begins to understand that researching the family may not be as easy as he had hoped.

.....

In spite of his reservations he banged the knocker (a rather splendid brass affair, unpolished, with a bored-looking lion's head glaring down at him peevishly), and waited for the confrontation.

He could remember little about these two. He had tried to work out the relationship, and came to the conclusion that Uncle Gerald and he shared only their mutual forebears, the legendary Tom and Edith, founders of the clan Coulter. It hardly seemed a close kinship at this point in time.

A discreet brass plate by the gate had stated 'COULTERS ANTIQUES'. And below: 'Open 9 to 5, phone for appointment'. It was less than encouraging, and Tom wondered again how a living could possibly be made from such a source. As he put out his hand to repeat the knock, the sound of a chain being unfastened came through the solid front door, and a crack appeared, with a segment of a small, pale face inserted.

'Hullo,' Tom said, feeling more than a little foolish. His aunt surveyed him carefully, then pulled the door wide enough for him to slip through. The hallway was as dark as he had anticipated, but the slight mustiness was not as all-enveloping as he had imagined, consisting of essence of old leather furniture and the indefinable odour of the insides of old books. It was neither a shop nor a home, he thought, intrigued, following Aunt Judith down a long corridor in which majestic antique chairs lined the walls like soldiers on guard.

At the end of the dark passageway a door was slightly ajar, and she opened it with that same odd, peering action of the head with which she had greeted Tom. Here, at last, there was some light from a large bay window overlooking a garden somewhat less neglected than the front. By a small desk with shapely legs stood Uncle Gerald, posed as if for a turn-of-the-century photograph, a hand in his waistcoat pocket ('waistcoat?' Tom queried silently, wondering if he knew anyone else who wore one), his eye on the door in a watchful manner which had a touch of aggression.

In a moment of penetrating insight, Tom realised that they were both alarmed at this unusual intrusion into their routine, and his own nervousness dissipated. 'Uncle Gerald,' he said heartily, holding out his hand and striding across the room. 'How are you?'

The old man stood for a moment, head up, eyes piercing. ('Stag at bay-how appropriate!') Then he took Tom's hand briefly, his own cool and dry and quite unreassuring; and indicated a Victorian sofa complete with shiny black leather for his great-nephew to sit on.

Aunt Judith was standing, hands clasped, a model for 'The Perfect Servant'. Her husband turned without quite looking at her and barked, 'Tea! Biscuits!'; and she left (Tom would not have been surprised if she had bobbed a curtsey), closing the door silently behind her.

It could hardly be called conversation, the sporadic half-sentences that Uncle Gerald threw at him, and his own fractured replies. 'Don't suppose you've ever been here, eh...?' 'No, but...' 'Don't often see folks...' 'No, I don't supp...' 'Keeps me busy...' (with a wave of the hand at the accumulation of tables and chairs and whatnots and tarnished brassware). 'Yes, I...' When Aunt Judith returned with the tea-tray it was a relief to have something to hold in his hand, another person to add a third dimension to the old man's lack of humour.

'You must have been here a long time,' Tom tried, once the cups were filled with a weak, biscuit-coloured liquid that was presumably some obscure kind of tea unknown to him. Aunt Judith nodded.

'Oh, yes. Forty-two years, haven't we, Father?' She turned to Tom earnestly. 'Father is very dedicated to antiques, you know.'

'I can see that.' He addressed the old man directly. 'I should very much like to see round the place, if you have the time.'

'Would you?' This seemed to catch Uncle Gerald's attention. He stared at Tom as if evaluating his reliability. 'Do you know anything about antiques?'

'Not much. But I'm always willing to learn.'

'Hmm! What do you do, young man? Are you unemployed? Free to visit during the day?' He made it sound like a moral aberration.

'I'm a writer, Uncle,' Tom said, trying not to sound self-conscious.

'A writer, eh? One of these modern fellows? Bad language and filth on every page?'

Tom recalled his grandfather's comment and smiled slightly. 'Well, it helps to sell books!' But at the look of disgust crossing the other man's face he stopped. 'No-I write non-fiction. As a matter of fact, I've just had a book published.'

'Oh, how lovely!' Aunt Judith said with a fleeting smile of approval. 'What was it about?'

'Biographical. About a farming community in New South Wales at the turn of the century.' He hesitated for a moment. 'It's done quite well. Top of the non-fiction lists for three weeks. Of course, that's because it hit the 'greenie' nerve.'

'Greenie?' It was obvious Uncle Gerald did not understand.

'Yes. Conservationists, the environment-you know?' He glanced from one to the other, but in each pair of eyes was a complete lack of understanding. 'The big movement to save the planet,' he tried, with a little more emphasis. 'The greenies liked my book because it brought up methods of farming that may be of use to us in the near future. If things go the way the scientists expect.'

As if by magic, both faces cleared. 'Oh, scientists,' Aunt Judith said, pouring more tea.

'The whole lot of them should be put down,' Uncle Gerald said, breaking a biscuit and dunking half of it in his cup. 'We used to manage very well without them in the old days. Trouble makers!'

Tom regarded him with wonder. 'Haven't you ever heard of the greenies? Or conservation? Or the greenhouse effect? Haven't you heard about the ozone layer and the danger to the planet?'

'Scientists talk a lot of rubbish,' the old man said. 'I prefer not to be involved.'

Aunt Judith took Tom's cup. 'We don't have television or radio, you see, dear. And we only take the antique dealers' magazines. We don't feel that we want to be a part of the silly things that go on out there...' She waved a hand vaguely towards the window. 'We like to keep ourselves to ourselves.'

'But this is a worldwide threat,' Tom protested, leaning forward. 'It will affect everyone.'

She smiled gently. 'Oh, I don't think so, dear. We made up our minds a long time ago, didn't we, Father? Not to let the scientists take over our lives, as we saw happening to so many. New things all the time, and nothing lasting for any time at all. It all seemed very silly and wasteful. So we just live in our own way, and if people want to get mixed up with scientists, then that's their own problem.'

She placed a second cup of weak tea before him and held out the biscuit plate. Tom took one, bemused. 'I don't think even the scientists could make us join in if we didn't want to, could they?' She sat back in her chair with a strange air of contentment, her eyes totally at peace, and for a moment Tom envied her. Such certainty in the face of the world's confusion! Why try to change their thinking? By the time anything conclusive happened to the world they would be gone, anyway.

He finished his biscuit and looked towards his uncle, who was gazing thoughtfully at a beautiful old grandfather clock, just about to strike the half-hour. A mighty whirring began, and a well-oiled clicking of elderly mechanisms, and then the chimes came, full and sweet, and the minute hand gave a little jerk and settled on the six. Uncle Gerald had taken out his pocket watch and was checking it.

'Perfect time,' he said with satisfaction. 'Perfect time. A hundred and twenty years old, but still perfect.' He put the watch away carefully before glancing towards Tom. 'That's the reality, young man. Fine workmanship, fine materials, the nearest we can get to eternity on this journey through life. Don't forget it. Let the men of science rave on! What have they ever done but make trouble?'

Tom realised that he had inadvertently trodden on a very sore point, and tried to divert the conversation. Aunt Judith got in before him. 'But we're very glad your book is doing well. Even if these-these brownies...'

'Greenies.'

'These people...' She faded into silence, sighing deeply. Tom gave her an encouraging smile.

'The greenies are not the scientists,' he said. 'They are the ones who want to save the environment.'

She stared at him for a moment, then nodded uncertainly. 'Oh-I'm glad to hear it, dear. You must let us have a copy of your book some time. Father would be very interested, wouldn't you, Father?'

'Not if it's about scientists.' The old man blew his nose loudly, and stood up suddenly. 'Well, come on if you want to have a look round.' He took Tom from room to room at a trot, hardly allowing time for questions. It was an impressive display, everything from Edwardian wardrobes and Victorian wash-stands to dark Jacobean tables and shapely eighteenth century chairs.

'Where do you get your stock?' Tom asked in a moment's respite as Uncle Gerald opened a cupboard.

'All over. People sell up. Get short of money. Stuff doesn't fit into their modern homes. They bring it to me.'

'You must have thousands of dollars-worth of pieces here.'

'Thousands!'

Tom hesitated. 'Do you sell much?'

The old man stared at him belligerently. 'Enough to get by. We eat. We live within our means. We're no burden to anyone.'

'I'm sure you're not. I just wondered-it seems a hazardous sort of business.'

'It suits me. It's more than a business to us. It's our way of life.' He took a deep breath, flaring his nostrils like an angry bull. 'When they go, they go. Something always comes to take their place.' He faced Tom fully, looking him up and down. 'What did you come for? To see us? To see what we're worth? Eh? What did you want? Something about the family, you said.'

Tom swallowed. It was tempting to riposte, be as rude as his uncle; but he subdued the unworthy thought. 'My grandmother has suggested that I should do a book about the Coulter family, their art, their influence on art in Australia, the way they lived when old-your father was alive. It would make a good book, don't you think?'

Gerald Coulter, looking remarkably like his own father at his most intractable, stared at his sister's grandson, and for a moment said nothing. Then he turned away abruptly, leading the way back to the sitting room where Aunt Judith was now knitting.

'No, I don't! I can't imagine anyone would want to read it. My father was a private person, and the way we were reared was our own business. We don't need any peeping Toms' (he seemed unaware of the irony) 'to dig up our backyard and reveal all to the public.'

'But your own sister suggested it.'

'More fool she!' He stood with his back to the room, staring out over the garden. 'I've no information for you, young man. Tell Daphne she ought to know better.' Then he swung round. 'Judith can see you out.'

Tom accepted dismissal gracefully. There was not much point in anything else; besides, he might want to come back again one day! Aunt Judith stood, putting her work to one side, and led him to the front door without question. Tom's impression of the place, as he was wafted out to daylight, was that it was the only time he had seen a home where every piece of furniture had a neat price tag hanging from it. At the door Judith suddenly took his arm, almost furtively. 'This-this danger to the planet-that's what you called it, didn't you? When is it going to happen?'

Tom smiled down at her reassuringly. 'Not just yet, Aunt.' He couldn't bring himself to tell her that it was happening already. 'In the next century or so.'

'Oh.' She nodded, clearly relieved. 'That's good. I don't like Father to be upset. Well, we can keep it to ourselves, can't we, Tom? Just between you and me. No need to bother Father. Good!'

Unexpectedly, she held her face up to him and he kissed her cheek. He turned at the gate to wave, but she had gone; and he could hear, through the spiked branches of the bougainvillea and the ancient, dilapidated trellis, the sound of the door chain being put back in place.

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High Heels

by Brenda Saunders

 

The high heel, sleek and minimal has made a comeback with

the return of glamour to high fashion. For fashion gurus the high heel

is indispensable. It is almost a launch-pad for all couturier

parades. Striding out on the catwalk in their high heels, the

models are all legs. Super tall and lithe, they sway and purr. With a

swinging stride they offer their wares to the mere mortals below.

 

Photography has always been the art form in the service of fashion.

The fashion magazines with their glossy advertising of clothes,

shoes and accessories only help to place these goddesses higher

on the pedestal. How can we meet the challenge?

 

Today the stiletto with its fine reinforced heel has just a few

threads of leather or plastic to hold the foot in place. Yet women

continue to suffer in the name of fashion, for ideal beauty: for that

extra height, that elegance or "je ne sais quoi!" The current fashion

for pointed heels 9 cm high, are a chiropractors delight! We now

know why ordinary women in the 1940's and 50's were always

complaining: 'sway backs' were a serious health problem then . Ask

your grannies, girls! High heels do have a strange effect on a

woman's anatomy. Just watch any woman, as the hips sway forward

the backside goes out. Is this necessary for balance or is it just a

ploy? Maybe that's why many men find 'heels' so sexy. Maybe that is

why some woman wear them!

 

In the stories of Raymond Chandler and Scott Fitzgerald the

heroines are all high class and savvy. In the Holywood films of that

period too, high heels were a feature. The increased height gave

women power and authority and their legs did seem seductively

longer (film stars were always straightening the seams in their

nylons). We've all seen Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Lana Turner et

al strutting their stuff through those early black and white movies. In

the recently screened romantic comedy What women want, we have

a revival of 'the woman as boss' film. Helen Hunt seals her authority

with a stunning entrance: just a pair of high red heels under sleek

nylon calves. Mel Gibson's has not got a hope! Even when dressed

as men, the women on stage and screen are always feminine: in the

classic German film The Blue Angel, Deitrich in top hat and tails still

has allure.

 

But let's not forget men in this festival. The popular French

stage farce and film series La Cage aux Folles, is a comedy about a

gay couple who run a nightclub of the same name. The transvestite

impersonator in silver lame and glittering heels presents some

serious competition to rival the glamour of Marlene Dietrich, his /her

mentor! Men in high heels are also a sure success as a comic stunt.

 

The wobbling, too muscular legs always bring a laugh. Dustan

Hoffman's Tootsy and the dual showgirl act by Tony Curtis and

Jack Lemon in Some Like it Hot are legendary. Closer to home we

have the three 'trannies' taking their art to the Australian outback in

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

 

In the recent film High Heels, by the celebrated Spanish

director Pedro Almadovez, the mother a famous actress, abandons

her little girl for a career in the theatre: the High heels are a symbol of

the fleeting and artificial glamour that goes with stardom and public

acclaim. But in Spain, high heels have no gender bias; they are not

reserved for woman only. In traditional Spanish dance men wear high

heels (albeit sensible ones) to great public acclaim as they stamp and

tap that old Flamenco beat. The effect on the anatomy of this tightly-

trousered male is remarkably similar to that of a young female in a

slim skirt. With hips forward and the buttocks raised, the word is

sexy!

 

But it is on the dance floor that the girls come into their own.

In the 1930's the Fred and Ginger duo set the pace for generations

to come. Ballroom dancing has been popular ever since. Who

could forget the skill and grace of those stilettos sliding over the

glassy floor in Baz Lohman's film Strictly Ballroom? The popular

ABC TV series Strictly Dancing has gone for speed and the x

factor in the sensuous styles of the Salsa, Tango, Latin and Jazz.

Fast moving and vigorous, the couples flash and sparkle. It all looks

so easy. Who can resist the lights, the music, the costumes and a

dancer in high heels?

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