Dome of Death

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 5

After the Flood

It was slow travelling back to the coast. Roads were cluttered with removal vans, utes, cars and trailers stacked with household goods, sodden furniture - anything salvageable from homes made uninhabitable by the collapse of the canal system. I suppose it had all seemed like a good idea at the time, drain the swamps, channel the water, and build on the dredged silt. Who could have predicted a rising water table turning everything into a mush of quicksand?

Well, actually quite a few people did, but no one listened. Many houses were unsafe long before the floods sent them crumbling. Acid soils, created by draining melaleuca wetlands, had been attacking concrete foundations since the canals were first dug, and insurance companies had been refusing cover on some places for years. The recent deluges simply hurried things along.

So far, only about thirty kilometres of coast had been seriously affected, but canal and coastal dwellers from Coolangatta to Noosa were shitting themselves. How do you offload a million dollar mansion that's splitting at the seams as it sinks into a bog? With great difficulty. The roads, except for those patches along the coast that had fallen into the sea, were fine, they'd been built to last, well drained and not slap up against canals. The problem wasn't getting from place to place, it was finding somewhere to live.

I stopped at a shopping centre and bought lunch, electric hair clippers, and a packet of hair bleach. As long as Jon liked my spiky persona it was going to be permanent - at least while I could be bothered.

As I swung round the corner my jaw dropped - literally. I'd been dreaming away and was totally unprepared for a fairy-tale vision. The gallery's crystal dome and white buttresses were silhouetted against the blinding blue shimmer of sea and sky. A sight to inspire even the most prosaic of souls. This must have been how Max had envisaged his creation. The thought dimmed my pleasure, but not the spectacle.

From my bedroom window I now had an uninterrupted view of the ocean. Every last stone of the buildings on the Esplanade had been bulldozed away to join the piles of rubble that were still being shoved, fruitlessly, into the river's maw every time the tide went out.

About fifty metres behind the gallery the land dropped abruptly to the new shoreline three metres below. Most of the sandy soil, together with Jon's planting, had been scraped off, exposing outcrops of the granite on which our building was constructed.

Assuming the roads remained, Frances was now the owner of a very valuable bit of real estate. She wasn't there, of course. Obviously hadn't been in the place since the previous Wednesday.

As I had half an hour to spare before opening and was trying not to worry that Jon hadn't yet telephoned, I made good use of the clippers and re-gilded my spikes. Then, to celebrate the liberation of the gallery from its backstreet anonymity, I donned the same outfit I'd worn to Mad's opening. Thus arrayed, I imagined I would be ready for anything the fates might throw at me. The phone rang and I nearly gave myself a hernia racing for it.

'Maximillian's Gallery.'

'Mr Corringe?'


'My name is Glaze, Bob Glaze. I was hoping I could have a few words with you this morning about exhibiting some works.'

'By all means,' I gabbled, desperate to clear the line. 'How soon can you be here?'

'Ten minutes?'

'Perfect. I'll see you then.' I'd no sooner put the receiver down when it rang again.

'Maximillian's Gallery.'

'Pete's paradise.'

'You rang me!'

'You answered.'

'Everything fine?'

'How could it be otherwise?'

'Rory's ute go OK?'

'Rory lent me his vehicle because it had a puncture and was in desperate need of a tune-up. If you remember, I bragged loud and long about my mechanical expertise yesterday, so today I had to prove it. That's why I'm a bit late calling.'

'And here I was wondering what you have that I don't.'

'That's a list too long to regale you with at the moment. I'm in a phone booth on my way to buy tiles and fasteners, some paint and a phone. You bearing up?'

'What else? We've a clear view of the sea now. Those remaining excrescences on the Esplanade have gone. That's something for you to look forward to.'

'I prefer your place.'

'Me too. How'd you sleep?'

Silence. Shit! I was being gushy.

'No complaints. The tent didn't leak and I wasn't washed away. You?'

'The same.'


'Don't forget to ring at five.'

'Worried about me?'

'No. Well, yes. It's been raining and will be as slippery as hell on the roof. Remember to have Rory or Lida there when you're up the ladder.'

Peter…! I'm not…'


'I promise… Mum.'

'Hey, that's not fair. I told you yesterday, I'm not insured and you could sue me if you had an accident.'

'And as I said then, you're a mercenary bugger. Got to go. Someone's tapping on the glass. Till five o'clock?'

'Till then.'

What an inane conversation. I hate telephones. I'm always sure afterwards I've made a fool of myself. Further soul searching was prevented by the arrival of a tall, lean, late thirties, vegetarian-type; long hair tied back in a pony-tail, large hooked nose, sun-aged skin, several earrings, tight jeans, expensive trainers and a pure white shirt open to the navel. He gazed around in ostentatious appreciation as he made his way across, hand out like a prow cutting through calm seas. His skin was dry, grip firmer than necessary, and I detected a slight squeeze.

'Bob Glaze. What a magnificent space!'

I extricated my hand. 'Peter Corringe.'

He bestowed an intimate smile and nod. 'Great external design too. A real gold mine now it's on the sea front. An estate agent's wet-dream – position, position, position.'

'As long as the roads hold out.' I quelled an urge to hit him.

'Look, Peter,' Mr Glaze began in warm fuzzy tones, gazing intimately into my very core. 'Last week a representative of the company came to see you and got off on the wrong foot. Our Mr Scumble.'

So this was the next step. Soft soap. Better than Jon's heavy brigade. I nodded vaguely as though trying to remember the incident.

'Oh, yes… ArtWorks.'

'Quite. Well, look, I've come to apologise, sincerely, on behalf of the company for any misunderstanding.'

'There wasn't any. I don't want that sort of stuff in this gallery. Nor do I appreciate being physically manhandled. I have no wish to offend you, but at Maximillian's we are trying to make a name for ourselves as serious purveyors of fine art.'

'Point taken, point taken. However, what you are obviously unaware of is that the previous owner, Mr Fierney, had already agreed to…'

'The hell he had! I was his adviser on stocking the gallery and there's no way he would have agreed to that junk coming within a kilometre of the place.'

Bob Glaze didn't miss a beat, merely smiled candidly and continued calmly. 'I must have been misinformed. Perhaps I meant his wife, Frances.' The self-effacing shrug and boyishly rueful grin were captivating.

'That's entirely possible – even probable.'

'Look,' (that was his third 'look' and I hadn't yet seen anything worth a glance) 'perhaps Mr Scumble didn't explain the incentive system. The gallery will receive fifty percent of the value of every sale, and there's a bonus for you, personally, when sales exceed a certain number.'

My lack of response must have appeared encouraging because Bob continued to persuade. 'Naturally, in a quality establishment such as this, we do not expect our little display to be in the main viewing area. Some quiet corner or alcove would be ideal, where only those actually looking for it would find it. What do you say?'

'I say there is something dodgy about such an offer, Mr Glaze. What's the truth? Trying to put a gloss on a grimy little subterfuge? Attempting to con the ignorant public into thinking the trash you peddle is worthy of the label Art? I imagine even the name ArtWorks could be challenged under the Fair Trading Act.'

Mr Glaze managed to look very despondent. 'No, no, no, no!' he protested sadly. 'It's nothing like that. Look, to be perfectly frank with you, I tend to agree about the artistic merit of some of the works, but we are not put on earth to be our brother's keepers. Some people love those sorts of paintings, so why shouldn't intelligent people like you profit from their lack of taste?'

Patronising sod. I gazed out the window and looked noble.

'Mr Corringe, I appeal to your sense of fair play; to your better nature.'

I raised an eyebrow, wondering why he'd dropped first-name chumminess.

'I…I have to confess that my job is on the line. I simply must get this deal signed and sealed before Mr Motherswell returns this evening. I tried to contact you yesterday, but you were away. Please, won't you just give the scheme a trial? You're on a winning wicket here, Mr Corringe. What have you got to lose?'

'My self-respect. Good day to you and please don't bother me again. I'm certain, when Mrs Fierney is apprised of the true nature of your… works of art, she will be as adamant as I that we do not stock them.'

I walked him towards the door and he followed docilely enough, but turned at the entrance to give me a look of such intense hatred that my blood curdled. That sounds a hell of a cliché, but it's precisely what it felt like. His eyes penetrated to my bowels as he rasped quietly, 'I do not envy you, Mr Corringe. Mr Motherswell is not like Scumble and me. He is not a nice guy.' Shaking his head, he turned abruptly and walked briskly to his car.

Suddenly insecure and no longer the confident curator of fifteen minutes before, I raced back upstairs and replaced the tight trousers and daring little waistcoat with something sensible and uncontroversial. I'd felt like this often enough as a younger man. Not so much lately, but every time the nervous chill clutches at your guts you realise you've lived with it all your life. A sensation unknown to ninety percent of Australians, most of whom refuse to acknowledge its existence in their fair and just society. It's fear. A cold and nameless dread of one's fellow citizens. My sole, inadequate defence has been to attempt concealment under a shroud of conformity.

By the time I returned to the gallery it sounded as though war had broken out. The newly scraped sand and rock of our back car-park was sprouting great piles of rubble. I'd imagined that with the Esplanade buildings gone we would be left to enjoy our solitary splendour. Not so. As I watched, an enormous truck dumped a load of rocks the size of cows. Noise, dust and waste of energy - a testament to humanity's unwarranted faith in their ability to avoid the consequences of their actions.

My tribulations were increased by an absence of patrons. Only one human crossed the threshold before lunch, a woman seeking directions. I was just biting into a slab of the cardboard pizza I'd bought in a moment of insanity that morning, when the Porsche skidded to a halt long enough to eject Frances before rocketing off again. She burst through the doors with far too much energy, a preternatural gleam in her eye and a fit of the giggles in her throat as she stumbled a little before steadying herself against a pillar.

I was nervous, tired from the constant noise of bulldozers, the lack of patrons, and having to run the place single-handed. I was also jealous that she had been, and still was apparently, having such a great time, so I merely glanced up busily from an imaginary workload. Her greeting was loud.

'Doesn't it look fantastic? We're on the coast! The property value has quadrupled! I'm richer that I was yesterday!'

All I could manage was a frigid, 'Hello, Mrs Fierney.' Unfortunately, it was exactly the cue she wanted.

'It's Mrs MacFife,' she twittered inanely. 'We got married last Thursday and have been on honeymoon. That's why I haven't been in touch. We went to Kathmandu!'


'Oh, Peter. You're angry with me.'

'Not at all. I admire your restraint. You remained a widow for nearly three weeks.'

'Poor wee Peterkins. Is he feeling neglected then? Has his boyfriend run off with someone else? You're all mopey dopey. There now, what is it?' She attempted to tickle me under the chin while dribbling revolting baby noises through lipstick-smudged lips. Quite clearly, whatever she had imbibed since breakfast had set her on an unstable path.

'Oh for god's sake shut up, Frances. I just think you could take a little more interest in your investment, that's all.'

'No one could take more interest. We are on the seafront! Tony was right! And it's all mine!' She slid gracelessly to the floor, skirt riding up obscenely. A droplet of liquid trembled on the end of her slightly reddened nose.

'You should lie down. Come on, I'll help you upstairs.'

'Would you, Petey?' I nearly slapped her. 'Perhaps just for a teensy weensy minute then.'

I was concerned about the effect this display could have on clients, not about the frightful Frances. If it were up to me she would spend the next decade locked under the stairs. Without creating too much fuss, she was soon lying, apparently comatose, on her bed. However as I left the room she sat up and spoke clearly.

'Sorry about that. I'm not used to it. I guess I could use a nap. Gregor's expecting me at two-thirty. He dropped me off to pick up my car. Give us a call at two? There's a dear.'

'Fine. However we must discuss something first. What do you know about ArtWorks?'

She looked blank, then laughed hoarsely. 'You mean Mr-ah-Motherswell's little business?' There was something odd about the way she said Motherswell, but I put it down to inebriation.

I nodded.

'Such a clever, clever, darling man. He wants to make me rich.' Her mind was starting to fall apart again.

'Have you seen the trash he wants us to carry?'

'Who cares? He pays well.'

'But Max's ideals! My ideals! This was to be an art gallery to be proud of!' I couldn't keep the pleading from my voice and despised myself. She heard it well enough; Frances was an expert at ferreting out weaknesses.

'Peter, Peter, Peter. Don't be such an old fusspot. It can go out the back somewhere. All they want is to work from somewhere respectable.'


'Not now, darling. I really must sleep. You just find a little corner and pop their paintings, or whatever they are, in it.' She yawned. 'Where's Jon?'

'Up at my place.'

'Good for you. Now, wake me at…whenever I said. We can talk then.'

At two o'clock I was entangled in what the police might call a domestic. I'd read that art used to stimulate passionate debate, but this was the first time I'd seen two people come to blows over it. A youngish man, good looking in a heavy, rugby-forward sort of way, had removed a painting from the wall and was holding it above his head.

'I will not have that thing in my house!' shrieked his tiny, but perfectly formed assailant through collagen implanted lips painted the same pearly-orange as her earrings. Grabbing hold of her mate's curly hair, she dragged herself halfway up his back, swinging about precariously as she tried to grab the painting.

'Let go you stupid bitch. Christ I'll fucking do ya! If I want this painting I'm bloody well going to have it. It's my money, earned with my sweat. Let go ya cow! Ahhhhh!' The howl of agony was justified - his woman had sunk her fangs into his meaty neck. At least her teeth weren't false.

Concerned for the safety of Bill's work, I prised it from the bloke's enormous fingers and carried it to safety on the other side of the room. They continued with their noisy fight until he managed to shake her loose and swing her round to face him. Locking enormous hands loosely round her neck, he held her suspended, her toes just touching the floor. Amazingly, she continued to hurl abuse, albeit in a strangulated gurgle.

Having no bucket of cold water to throw over them, I sat on my desk and examined the painting for damage. It was fine, but I couldn't imagine what she was objecting to, unless it was the title. Clitoris. It reminded me of a flowering vine we had growing over the back porch that Dad used to snigger over. If you didn't read the label, the painting was simply a swirl of complicated shapes, textures and colours.

Silence. I looked up to see them sitting side by side on the floor, hugging, petting, kissing and murmuring sweet nothings.

'You're right, I won't get it.'

'No. I was stupid, darling. It is beautiful, I don't know what came over me.'

'We'll look for something else.' '

No, no. I want that one, I really do. Especially if it really does remind you of my…' And so they made up, discovering through battle the strength of their devotion, the vigour of their love, and the limit of their power. Those who seek a calm and peaceful union would do well to consider that without deep valleys there can be no great peaks. They helped each other to their feet and peeped across at me, proudly defiant.

I sat on the edge of the desk and smiled complicity. 'I'm glad there's someone out there who still takes art and love seriously. What's it going to be? This one? Another? Or none?'

They gazed at each other like soppy spaniels. 'That one.'

I wrapped it and swapped it for cash. Bill had done his bit for romance that afternoon, and my cash-flow problems. Suddenly I remembered Frances – two-twenty! I dashed upstairs but the bird had flown. I felt empty. Jealous. Of what? Of a couple of sparring spouses? Of Frances's love affair with someone twenty years older? I don't know. I decided to ring Hank and Celia.

Apart from Jon, I had no close friends my own age. It wasn't for lack of trying. Max and I used to go to discos, and bars in the hope of meeting couples like us, but the likelihood of meeting them was infinitesimal. The noise is usually horrendous and smokers make life intolerable. When we got home we used to take off our smoke-stinking clothes in the porch and throw them in a bucket of water. After Max left, I'd tried the usual meeting places, but the atmosphere's aggressive. They're meat markets not meet markets. Only the physically and emotionally wretched want to talk and I wasn't that desperate. Maybe if I lived in Brisbane things might be different, but I wanted nature around me. You can't have everything, I've discovered.

Celia answered on a crackly line. 'Peter? I can hardly hear you…. The line's very bad. You must get a mobile telephone, dear. How nice of you to ring. Did Hank tell you about my ankle?'

'I haven't seen Hank.'

'Isn't he with you?'

'No. What's the matter with your ankle?'

'Just a strain. Where are you calling from?'

'The gallery.'

'Oh. Hank's up at your place.'


'He's been worrying about your cottage, as you're so busy with the gallery, so drove over today to make sure everything was OK.'

The static became so bad that all we could do was shout farewells and give up. I called faults and a computer voice informed me that water had penetrated underground lines on the coast and it would be several days before communications could return to normal. I hoped Jon would be able to get through at five o'clock.

Although it was still early, an eerie haze had dimmed the afternoon sunlight to a yellowish glow and I had to turn on the lights. I went outside. Heavy black clouds were building on the horizon, underlined by a brassy streak of sky. The sea was leaden. Westwards, an excruciatingly beautiful patch of turquoise sky hovered above the hills.

A minibus of elderly sightseers drove past, stopped, and backed up. They dismounted and stood on the strip of lawn at the front for a minute or two, before shyly entering as though uncertain of a welcome in such a place. I greeted them warmly and they relaxed, chatting about the beautiful building, the floods, the erosion. No one mourned the loss of fast-food outlets, the busy road that had usurped the once peaceful Esplanade, the high-rise apartments, or the canals.

'Stan and I used to fish in the wetlands right behind here. It wasn't a swamp at all! That's just what the developers called it when they wanted to drain it. There were dozens of crystal-clear waterways shaded by huge stands of melaleuca, lots of small lakes and pools and more fish than you could throw a hook at.'

Many similar memories were aired by some very old, very tired, very disillusioned people. The despoliation I had witnessed in my own twenty-eight years had been bad enough; how exhaustingly sad must it have been for these people? And how many times worse again for the original inhabitants of the land?

I've no idea if my guests liked the drawings and paintings, but they did love the building. I demonstrated the opening of the dome and, as there were only fifteen of them, it wasn't too much trouble to make tea and offer something stronger from the well stocked bar in the office.

It was still a few minutes to closing when they left, so I mopped out, straightened the paintings, checked no one had been left behind in the toilets, and closed everything up for the night. At five past five the telephone rang.



'You beaut. I was worried. Lots of lines are waterlogged and I thought you might not be able to get through.'

'Rely on me.'

'I do. Look, (that word was catching) there's been a follow up from ArtWorks.'

'Tell me! Was I right? Protection racket?'

Having no idea what Glaze's fury and warning could mean, I gave Jon as detailed an account as possible. He took it more seriously than I.

'You know, for all your great age you're a bit of a babe when it comes to the real world, Peter. I came across several Scumbles and Glazes in Brisbane. You can't avoid it if you're mixing with the bottom end of town. I even did a stint as a heavy for a bit, until the boss realised I wasn't getting results.

What he thought sounded serious, so I promised to be on my guard.

'By the way,' he continued, 'I had a visitor. A mate of yours, Hank. Wanted to see if everything was still standing. Got a bit of a shock when he saw the state of the place. Asked who did it. He seemed a genuine enough chap, so I told him your suspicions. Hope that was all right? He sure went a funny colour.'

My blood drained. 'Do you know who he is?'


'He's Max's father. Patrick is his son and I'm only suspicious. I've got no proof.'

Silence, then, 'Shit! Sorry, Peter.'

'You couldn't know. Don't worry about it.'

'Yeah. Well, I do open my gob a bit wide sometimes.'

'Join the club. Maybe I'm glad Hank knows.'

'Yeah. Anyway, the roof's watertight. Let it rain.'

'That's lucky. From the look of the sky it's going to piss!'

'Make sure you keep out of drains.'

'I intend to – and you.'

'Once burned... Yeah…well... see you - I guess. I'll ring again at seven in the morning.'

'Excellent. Cheers.'

He hung up and I was left staring blankly at the handset, wondering what the hell I was doing stuck on a rock at the edge of the land, trying to sell esoteric little drawings and paintings to people who only wanted a bit of decoration, something to brag about, or another trinket to relieve the unending sameness of their pointless little lives. I had swapped creativity for salesmanship; my hermitage for a stage.

I enjoyed being on show, playing the glamorous purveyor of objets d'art, the specialist in all things aesthetic. And I loved my new look and the chance to wear outrageous clothes. But… how satisfying was it really? Too easy, if the truth were told. No challenge. The only positive thing had been meeting the Alconas. And Jon. That made everything worthwhile. But I wasn't with them – I was alone and in a rare flash of awareness I understood that time spent away from people I love, is time wasted.

I also realised that sometime during the afternoon I'd lost the urge to fight for Max's dream. If people are to appreciate the intrinsic value of things, they must detect it for themselves. Human nature seldom lets us cherish what others have pointed out. By playing the evangelist and striving to convert Joe Public to an appreciation of a 'higher aesthetic' I was diminishing its value. A Zen saying fell into my head. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

For lack of anything better to do, I wandered up to the roof to stare at the ominous accumulation of clouds. Frances's car drove in and parked beside the door to the flat, followed by the Porsche. She unlocked the door, waited on the step till MacFife joined her, kissed him sweetly, took his hand and led him inside.

I moved across to the edge of the dome where Max had stood on the night of his fall, and gazed down at the marble floor. He was dead and wasn't going to suffer - whatever happened. Everything important to me about Max was in my head. I had no reason to stay and no reason to care what junk ArtWorks wanted to fill the place with. Stuff them! It was time to go! Time to get on with my life.

Reinvigorated, head filling with ideas for a new series of paintings, I returned to the gallery and closed the dome.

As I was closing the roof, Frances fluttered vaguely down the stairs in something brief, pink and diaphanous. She yawned delicately. 'Where's ArtWorks going?'


'Why not?'

'Their stuff's crap and they're dodgy. An honest company wouldn't pay bonuses for access, and then let their display be placed out of sight. Jon reckons it's a front for something illegal and, judging by the reactions from the improbably named Scumble and Glaze, it's a scam.'


'Money-laundering, drugs, who knows?'

'Peter, don't be tiresome. This is a business and you're not paid to turn away clients.'

'I haven't been paid at all.'

She shrugged impatiently. 'You're starting to annoy me.'

She was starting to annoy me, and I was born stubborn. I'd just decided to resign so why couldn't I have said, It's your gallery, and packed my bags?

'I may be annoying, Frances, but at least I'm honest. Crime only pays because people do nothing to stop it.'

'Forget it,' she snapped, 'and get on with your job!'

'My job's selling art, not trash. And I intend to get to the bottom of ArtWorks.'

'In that case,' she sighed, 'we'd better discuss it with Gregor. He knows about this sort of thing. He's upstairs.'

'That's a damned good idea. I'm concerned for you too.'

'And I appreciate it.'

A new article of furniture had appeared in Frances' bedroom - one of those frames with pulleys and weights for building muscles and eliminating ugly flab. Gregor MacFife was in the process of doing the former, having none of the latter. He was one of those rare men who look as good naked as clothed. Tanned, sleek and well muscled, he looked in his late forties, but Frances had exaggerated; he was only slightly larger than normal.

Finishing a lift, he lowered the weights and offered a firm, sweaty hand.

'Welcome, Peter.' His voice was mellifluous, rich and deep - capable of massaging the cares from one's soul. Equally intoxicating was the even-toothed smile. 'Just a dozen more and I've finished. You don't mind?' He motioned me to a chair jammed between the wall and the machine.

I was so close I had to swing my knees sideways to avoid brushing his thighs each time he squatted, and with my head sixty centimetres from his groin I didn't know where to look. I glanced across at Frances. She was also naked, draped over the bed staring blankly at the wall. Not a pretty sight, so I settled for a crick in the neck and looked up at Gregor's face. He rewarded me with a wink. Embarrassed, I looked back at Frances whose vacant stare now rested on Gregor.

The room was silent, except for a grunt each time Gregor squatted, followed by a susurration of pulleys when he stood. He was becoming aroused and I could smell his maleness. Aggressive nudity like this was the opposite of the Alconas' naturalism. I feel sexy with Mad's family, but it is sexuality without demands, without awkwardness or doubt; the natural, healthy sexiness of life. Gregor's display was sexuality soiled.

Frances prised herself upright, staring at her husband's erection, the fingers of one hand caressing her nipples while the other played at her groin. She licked her lips. With one last, well-bred grunt, Gregor lowered the weights, leaned back against the frame and smiled complacently. I stood up, feeling over dressed and glad that I was. This was definitely not my scene. But before I could escape, Gregor threw an arm around my shoulder and squeezed me to him; his body hot through my shirt.

'It's an honour to know the man who inspired this magnificent building.'

'I didn't inspire…'

'According to Frances you did. Congratulations!' He pulled my head across and kissed me on the mouth.

I pulled back, repelled, and wiped his sweat from my lips.

Frances maintained her dippy smile. 'Peter's more worried than proud.'

I nodded wildly, desperate to escape the clammy embrace.

'He thinks someone's trying to use the gallery as a base for an illegal scam.'

'No!' Gregor's eyebrows shot up in surprise and his hug grew tighter.

'And he intends to get to the bottom of it. Don't you Peter?'


'I told him you'd know what to do.'

'Quite right, Frances.' Gregor ran a hand through my bristles and smiled, but fortunately didn't attempt another kiss. I felt annoyed at my intolerance. Obviously, he was a man in harmony with himself. I was the one with problems.

'You must tell me everything, Peter. But first, a glass of wine?'

Frances poured and Gregor draped himself over the bed, hands behind his head, legs spread, eyes on his erect manhood as though seeking insight from such a powerful life-symbol. I sat on a chair beside the bed and studied my fingers. Frances brought our drinks, then snuggled up beside Gregor as if to reclaim possession. We drank each other's health while I told him everything, including Jon's suspicions.

'Where's Jon?'

'At my place.'

'Where's that?'

I told him.

Gregor took our empty glasses to a table, put them down carefully, then turned, face serious.

'You've been very perspicacious, Peter. Few people would've understood the implications of ArtWorks' offer. Have you told anyone else your suspicions?'

I shook my head, waiting for the wise words that would make everything clear. Frances' gaze swivelled from husband to me like a mesmerised chook, a peculiar half-grin playing over her features.

'Frances,' Gregor whispered softly, moving towards the bed, 'you told me Peter was just some dumb fuck of Max's. That he'd do as he was told. What happened?' The voice was as caressing as ever, but I didn't much like the words.

'Well, that's what I thought. That's the sort of boy Max usually chose. How was I to know this one was different?'

I don't think Gregor liked her tone, because he leaned forward and slapped her, leaving a reddening mark on her cheek.

'There's no need to pick on me!' she whined. 'At least I was on the ball and brought him to you before anyone else got wind of it. Better than your two gorilla fuckwits who put the suspicions into his head in the first place.'

'Shut your mouth!' the voice not so mellifluous. 'I should have guessed if I left things to you nothing would get done!' He threw himself petulantly onto the bed.

'That's not fair!'

'Fair? Fair? This is costing me money! You promised that if I got Max out of the way, ArtWorks would be able to move in. I kept my side of the bargain; you've stuffed up.'

Blood does run cold, I assure you. My heart felt as though it was trying to pump chunks of ice. Cold sweat ran from my armpits.

Frances fumed. Gregor was pensive. Neither was taking any interest in me so I stood quietly, walked softly to the door and escaped. A hefty rabbit punch brought me to my knees and I was dragged by an ankle back into the room. The tableau remained the same. He looked up.

'Thanks, boys. What'll we do with your fairy, Frances?'

'Get Max's clothes off him for a start,' she snapped, clambering off the bed to look contemptuously down. 'You don't deserve Max's things, you creepy little queer. He was six times the man you'll ever be.'

'Is that why you had him murdered?' I don't know why I can't keep my mouth shut.

She jammed her foot on my neck. I thought my head would burst.

'Get those things off him!' she screamed.

Within a minute I was naked on my knees with both arms too far up my back for comfort.

'What'll we do with him, boss? Bury him?'

'Later. It's too light now. And why deprive ourselves of a little entertainment? Tie him to that thing.'

Frances crept back beside Gregor and they watched as Scumble tied my wrists to the handles of the weight lifting machine. Glaze hung on the weights, then suddenly let go, jerking my arms above my head, nearly ripping them from their sockets. Scumble kicked my legs apart and lashed them to the base. Stretched out like a flayed skin, swallowing was difficult but that didn't stop my mouth.

'Why?' I asked.

'Why what?'



'Haven't you enough?'

'One can never have enough.'

'But - after a while there's nothing to spend it on.'

'Who wants to spend it? Money is power and power's the ultimate turn-on.' Gregor's voice had thickened and as if to underline his statement, he grabbed Frances's hair, pulled her head down and forced his erection into her mouth. 'You like that, don't you dear?'

Spittle dribbling from stretched lips, she nodded.

'Real power is forcing people to do what they don't want. When you have enough money, Peter, everyone wants to lick your arse, but you'd know all about that.

'Not my scene.'

'It's Bob's scene though, isn't it Bob?'

Bob looked unconvinced.

'Isn't it, Bob?'

'If you say so, boss.'

'I do say so. You let me down today, Bob. You were supposed to calm Mr Corringe's fears and get everything running smoothly. But you didn't, did you?' The voice continued pleasant, the smile still intimate, but I felt sick. Sick, stupid, cheated and scared. Very, very scared.

Bob hung his head and mumbled, 'No, boss.'

'You have a choice, Bob Glaze - out into the wide, wicked world - or lick my arse. What's it to be?'

Bob mumbled something.

'Speak up! What do you want to do?'

'I want to lick your arse!' Bob said dutifully, if a trifle unconvincingly.

Gregor smiled indulgently at me. 'What a pity you didn't have the sense to do as you were told, Peter. You could've joined our little band and shared the profits.' He sighed deeply as though with regret. 'Instead, you had to play the hero.' He turned to his wife. 'Frances, how can you add to Bob's little punishment?'

Frances slithered hot-eyed from the bed, reached into a cupboard and produced a small whip, its thong capped with a shiny metal tip. Meanwhile, Bob had stripped revealing a body devoid of fat. Muscles and bones showed clearly through unhealthy pale skin flecked with tiny dark patches. Some looked red and sore as though he'd caught himself on a barbed wire fence. His half-smile as Scumble tossed him to his knees relieved me of the obligation of pity. Frances landed an expert flick with her whip on his cheek, raising a tiny red welt.

'Belly up, boy,' she snarled.

Bob rolled on to his back and was subjected to an elegant whipping on sensitive parts. His body twitched and flinched at every stinging cut, but the only sounds were sharp intakes of breath and heavy grunts of pain - or pleasure, it wasn't clear which.

'Walkies!' snapped Frances. The penitent crawled across the room to the foot of the bed. Gregor raised his legs and smiled across at me as Bob slithered up and buried his head.

Frances maintained the tension with the whip until, having drained all possible pleasure from his employee's humiliation, Gregor's attention turned back to me. Bob dragged his twitching body to a corner.

'What do we do with the shaved, bleached little gay-boy, Frances? Want to fuck him?'

She turned her evil grin on Scumble. 'Ian, if I remember correctly, the other day you said you'd like to fuck him good and proper.'

Scumble looked aghast. 'I didn't mean it literally. He might have A.I.D.S.'

'Have you?' Frances asked.

I tried the butch, contemptuous look, but I was jelly. If I was going to die I wanted it to be as painless as possible. I did not want to end up a screaming mess on the floor of Frances's bedroom, so I lied.

'Yes. So watch out for my bodily fluids!'

'Boss?' The pleading in Scumble's voice was pitiful.

'Use this.' Frances passed the unhappy Scumble a realistic, if improbably large purple plastic dildo attached to a harness. The whip she handed to a miraculously resurrected Bob. Scumble stripped, strapped on the phallus and pranced around the room like a lewd satyr. I was untied from the frame, bent over the foot of the bed and refastened. Gregor pulled his legs up to make room. Bob lashed with the whip. The MacFifes watched with tight smiles. Scumble dragged back my head and thrust. I screamed, certain my bowels had ruptured, emptying litres of poisonous slime into internal cavities.

After an aeon of pain greater than I had imagined possible, Scumble stopped pumping, I stopped shrieking, and Bob jerked himself off into my ear. Blood from the whipping was running into my mouth. My back and ring felt as if it they'd been torn open. I'd been reduced to a whimpering accumulation of agony, and vomited over the bed, unfortunately missing the loving couple.

Frances rolled onto the floor, landing on all fours. Her husband followed and mounted her like a dog, barking and woofing in ecstasy. When he'd shot his load, Scumble, minus the dildo, emulated his master. Gregor watched them from the bed, smiling his tight smile at his wife's barbarous love-making. Desire quenched, Frances snuggled back into her husband's arms; Scumble and Glaze sprawled over a couple of chairs.

'That was wonderful,' Frances moaned. 'Let's do it again.'

'How's your mother?' murmured Scumble.

'Mother's well,' was Gregor's contented response.

A minute later he sat up. 'Right, you two clean up in the other bedroom, then get shot of the faggot. An accident - or bury him somewhere he'll never be found. First thing tomorrow go up to his place in the hills and waste his bum-chum.'

'Sure thing, Boss. No fuck-ups this time.'

Mr Motherswell-MacFife merely grunted.

I spent a long fifteen minutes tied to the bed, face buried in drying vomit, trying to fix my mind on higher things. Could I escape? Not likely. How would they do it? Permanently. I agonised over Jon. I'd got him into this mess. I was alone in the room. If I could get to the telephone I could warn him, but the knots were secure. Sadness overwhelmed me. Was this my final act, face down in vomit on a bed of lustreless lust? How tragic that sex, that delicious gift of the gods, could be reduced to pain and torture. How dire that people like these should profit from their inhumanity. How pitiable that I had no more tears to cry.

The MacFifes were still showering noisily.

Scumble and Glaze eventually reappeared, untied me, fastened my hands behind my back, hobbled my ankles, shoved a dirty sock in my mouth, secured it with tape and half carried, half dragged me down to the gallery and out the back door. After checking the way was clear, I was forced to shuffle the fifty metres to the edge of the cliff. It was about seven o'clock and utterly still. Lurid light from a rising yellow moon trickled under heavy black clouds, already beginning to spit their load.

'Hurry up, it's gunna piss,' Glaze muttered. Enormous piles of rocks loomed like demented pyramids, dwarfing the two bulldozers whose job it was to shovel them into the path of the ever-hungry river in the hope of diverting it away from the suburbs built on sand dunes further south. Scumble hoisted himself into the cab of a dozer, fiddled for a few seconds under the dash, started it up and began pushing a pile to the edge.

'It's going to be like it was with your mate,' Glaze laughed. 'But tonight I'll use a shovel instead of a broom.'

I looked down. We were directly above Jon's drain. If I wasn't knocked out in the fall I might be able to get away before the bulldozer shoved its load. Fat chance, bound hand and foot! The shovel slapped me in the back.

Three metres doesn't sound far but believe me, when you're trussed it's a bloody long way. I fell on my side in the moist sand, winded, while the dozer, headlights reflecting palely off the rocks, revved erratically and the sky came tumbling down. A frenzied roll got my head under the overhang as a boulder the size of a small car crunched on to the drain and bounced near my legs. There was just enough light for me to make out a vertical slit of deeper darkness. The direct hit had forced an existing gap between two pipes to open wider. It took less than three seconds to roll across and shove head and shoulders into the gloom.

A bolt of agony vaporised all illusions of safety. Something had crashed onto my left foot. Whatever it was must have protected me from further onslaught, because although I could hear the roar of tons of rubble sealing me into my tomb, nothing further landed on the bits of me outside. Gagging on pain, I pulled my hands further up my back and rubbed the ropes against edges of concrete.

Try it sometime. The amount of possible movement is slight, the effect negligible. I fell back on an old trick learned during years as an artists' model. With a bit of practice you can switch off awareness of time passing, retreating somewhere inside your head where cramp and pins and needles can't penetrate. It wasn't quite as easy jammed into a wet and dark crack in a drainpipe, but it worked. After a long time my hands separated. Wriggling to a better position, and with a trickle of hope, I tore off the tape, extracted my gag and tried to drag numbed legs in to join the rest of me.

I think I passed out. My left foot was jammed and the agony so excruciating the brain refused to cooperate. Eventually, wet cold fear clawed its way from entrails to consciousness. My head and shoulders were damming the flow of storm water, which was by now running over my neck and trickling into my mouth. Choking, I sat up too quickly and convulsed in a spasm. My foot! Another wrench brought forth a scream of obscenities.

I recalled the tramper who'd sawn off his right arm with a pocket-knife when he was trapped in a crevasse. That wasn't an option - I hadn't a knife. With the toes of my right foot, which Scumble had only hobbled, I scratched away at the sand underneath. Little by little the pressure eased, and with it the worst of the pain. After an interminable time my left foot sank far enough for me to drag it out from under. Terrified I was going to start an avalanche, I dragged cold, twisted, cramped, aching extremities in to join my torso. A momentous reunion.

Tender explorations revealed a cut from ankle to toe, oozing warm sticky fluid. If I hadn't already chundered I would have. Darkness lets the imagination run free - not a good idea. Fiddling in the blackness, I gave homage to the inventor of nylon cord that doesn't knot tight, and after separating my feet, used it and the gag to bind the cut foot. Pretty useless, but I imagined it gave protection.

Sitting waist deep in water and having solved the pressing problem of keeping all my bits together, the full horror of the situation clunked into focus. What next? Crawl to the sea? Fighting claustrophobia (I could never make myself slither under the tarpaulin in obstacle races at school in case they sealed all exits and I'd expire) I limped past openings and cracks in the sides too small to squeeze through, not daring to hope.

After the intense dark, the night at the end of the tunnel positively glowed. Crunch. Tonnes of sand and rocks had built up outside, reducing the opening to a wide slit about fifteen centimetres deep. I tore at it with my fingers but it was set like concrete. I was already waist deep in water, the tide was coming in and it had been raining for goodness knows how long so things were not looking good. Stumbling back through the impenetrable blackness I wondered it this was Karma. Was I doomed to return again and again to the same fucking flooded drain? But there was nothing else to do.

I tripped, bashed my bruised and grazed body on the sides, scratched legs and feet on bits of junk, and understood despair. Brain on standby, I groped on and on and on. The drain divided and became smaller. I was crawling. The current swifter. Swallowing filthy water. Which way? The side away from the gallery. I slithered on. A pale glow! I dragged myself into a rectangular shaft about a metre deep faintly lit by a street light. The entrance was one of those concrete spillways in gutters that happily swallow your car-keys but are not much wider than your arm. I suppose I was disappointed, but suspect I was beyond that meagre state.

After another age, reduced to slithering on torn hands and knees, water sloshing around shoulders, barely making progress against the ever-increasing current, another light glimmered. Another shaft, this time circular and about one and a half metres high. I stretched up, exhausted, not caring if I was trapped as long as I wasn't crawling, cramped, aching, bruised and scraped in that hellhole. Filthy stormwater gushed over me. I shoved my hands against the circular grill, pushed, heaved - nothing. Sliding torn fingers between the bars, I shook them in despair. A movement? Again. Yes! Rotation? After an eternity of heaving, grunting and twisting, the faint feel of flanges lining up with gaps. A final spurt of energy and the grill was up. I slid it sideways, but it was another age before I could summon the energy to haul myself up and over the edge to lie in the streaming gutter; wet, cold, naked, hurting and indescribably happy.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead