Dome of Death

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 6


The euphoria lasted ten seconds, to be followed by muscle cramps, uncontrollable shivering, whimpering and disembowelling fear. Scumble and Glaze are going to kill Jon! The thought hammered incessantly and was probably the only thing stopping me from lying there to expire of cold and exhaustion. Limping from the cut, blind from rain, shaking from cold, I staggered away from the coast. A telephone booth! Punch in 000. Nothing. I tried again. Dead.

I had no idea how long I'd been in the drain, but it was late. No lights in houses, no flicker of TV, no cars, no one. Panic. Smashed the handset against the wall. Swore and cursed and felt slightly warmer. There was only one thing for it – walk.

But where? I had no friends nearby. It never occurred to me to knock on someone's door. Invading other people's space requires the confidence of knowing you belong, that you're not a barely tolerated hanger-on. That's the preserve of heterosexual Anglo-Saxons in Australian society. Someone, who from their earliest memories has known they are different, is not going to take risks with strangers. I stretched my brain. Mad and Brian!

It was about fifteen kilometres to the Alcona's up some steep and very exposed roads. If anyone objected they could call the cops. And surely I'd pass a working phone booth? Rain pelted. Chilled core sent spasms of shivering so severe I thought my bones would shake apart. Aching foot dragging. So cold it hurt. I tried slapping myself but that only aggravated cuts and grazes.

I couldn't go fast enough to build up heat and was heading for hypothermia. No clothes on washing lines in this weather. No parked cars covered against the rain. A building site. A dark, flat, nothing. Sheets of black polythene dotted with plastic cones and reinforcing rods ready for concreting. I tugged out a section, tore at it with fingers, teeth and the edges of concrete blocks to make it smaller, chewed and ripped a hole in the centre and trudged on in plastic poncho and head cloth.

Body heat was trapped and life returned. I could go on. I had to go on. Delirious. Hills, torn feet, speeding cars, tripping, falling, bleeding again, hungry, hurting, body screaming for rest.

It was too late for the police. I have every confidence in their goodwill, but I also imagined I knew bureaucracy. By the time my story had been checked, the MacFifes investigated and someone sent to warn Jon; it would be too late. The closer I got to the Alconas the more certain I became. No cop in their right mind would believe a naked, bristle-bleached poof after they'd listened to the suave certainties of Gregor MacFife. I'd probably spend a couple of nights in the watch-house while Scumble and Glaze did away with Jon, and then be accused of murdering him myself in revenge for being jilted or some crap. With my luck I'd get a cop who hated gays. And I could imagine the stories Frances would concoct with wide-eyed-innocence.


It was still dark when I staggered against Mad's gate and collapsed. The first luck of the evening arrived when my head fell against the bell and kept it ringing. They'd have ignored one ring. I came to my senses shouting angrily. Mad was applying disinfectant. It stung! According to Jeff, I started shouting, 'No! No! Don't! Stop! Stop! I can't! It's too dark!' And then just blubbered. I still get embarrassed thinking about it. Until then I'd always imagined I'd be able to out sang-froid James Bond if it came to the crunch. It was humiliating to discover I'm ordinary.

Eventually it sank in that I was dry, warm and safe. Dra poured sweet tea down my throat, Der massaged warmth and movement into the bits of me not cut and grazed, Mad continued to bathe, disinfect and apply dressings, while Jeff oversaw everything and kept his father informed. It was an hour since he'd dragged me inside, but I still wasn't making any sense. I became hysterical about Jon, demanding to be taken to him immediately, babbling about being buried alive and trapped in tunnels.

'It's only half-past five, Peter. What's so important?'

'They're going to kill Jon this morning!'

'Where is he?'

'At my place!'

'Call the police.'

Apparently I became hysterical. They imagined we were in trouble with the law, but that didn't stop them helping. Brian was still flat on his back and I wouldn't countenance Mad or the twins getting involved, but Jeff offered to drive me. I warned him it wasn't an adventure and insisted he return immediately after dropping me off. He promised.

'Why don't we ring Jon and warn him? Asked a puzzled Der. Of course! Probably it was only the Coast phones on the blink. I limped to the phone, punched in my number and it rang. And rang, and rang and rang. I grabbed the directory and searched for Rory's number, cursing myself for not memorising it. Not there. Punched in Directory services. A computer generated voice… "The number cannot be provided as no matching details or listing was found. Please hang up and check the details." 'Jon's not there! Rory's number's unlisted! Something's happened! Quick, Jeff! We have to get up there!'

It took him four minutes to change, get the car keys and reappear with a dark tracksuit, anorak and sneakers for me. Mad had packed a loaf of bread, some cheese, a thermos of hot coffee and a packet of biscuits into a backpack. Dra appeared with a small first-aid kit and Der with his pride and joy – a Swiss Army knife. He pressed it into my hand.

'Go for it, Peter. You're not too late. It'll be fine. Jon's probably a deep sleeper, sleeping outside or something.'

'Use the salve in the kit on your anus,' murmured Mad. She kissed me on the cheek, Dra clung to Der and Jeff dragged me out to the garage. I was afraid to leave their haven. A hero, I am not! Jeff drove well, using the car as a means of moving from place to place, not a source of macho thrills. I gave him directions and we drove silently until the highway.

'Is Jon your lover?'


'That's more important really, isn't it?'

'I guess so. But both would be ideal.'

'Yeah. Isn't he…?'

'He either is but doesn't know - or is and knows, but won't acknowledge it – or isn't.'


'Indeed. How's the South American?'



'We went to his place after school. I was all Byronic passion, dripping with romantic notions; soft kisses, gentle caresses. It was going to be….'

'And it wasn't.'

'We had a coffee, which was nice, sitting on the lounger. Then he put my hand on his crotch, but I wasn't ready for that, so I draped my arm around him and tried to kiss him. He pushed me away and got angry. "Don't be stupid!" he said, "I'm not a woman. Men don't do those things. I only want a fuck." Suddenly it all seemed pointless and… I don't know… unwholesome. So I said I'd forgotten an appointment, and left. I felt stupid.'

'Have you seen him again?'

'Every day. He ignores me.'

'There are lots like that. Ashamed to be gay so refuse to get pleasure from it. Especially in Catholic countries and places where it's either illegal or strongly disapproved of. Lots of men seek the respectability of marriage and kids, and pursue other men for anonymous sex-relief. But that's a recipe for disease and matrimonial disaster. By refusing to share the gentle, loving aspects of sex with men, they pretend they're not queer. Don't blame yourself or him; blame social pressure. You're a romantic like me. Hang in there, though. These experiences are what make us adults. You won't become a very interesting person if you drift through life without setbacks.'

He glanced across. 'You don't think I was stupid?'

'The opposite.'




The intersection was just ahead and neither of us spoke for the rest of the journey. The Volvo gave an even smoother ride than the Mercedes and the dashboard clock was showing six thirty-two when I whispered, 'Stop.'

My gate was four hundred metres ahead on the right, Rory and Lida's another five hundred metres further on. In case Scumble and Glaze had already arrived, I didn't want to warn them. Neither was I going to put Jeff in any danger. He turned and drove quietly back the way we'd come. The sun wasn't up but it was light enough to race as quickly as my legs would hobble the remaining distance. The car had been too comfortable. I'd just about reached the gate when the sound of an approaching vehicle threw me into the lantanas to the left of the track. More scratches. My Mercedes purred past, turned right and stopped, the gate was opened, then it continued silently over the rise to disappear into the house clearing.

I was too late! Heart thumping, I raced like a madman. Perhaps Jon wasn't there. Had gone for a walk. Was with Rory. Please! Please! Please! I stopped at the top of the rise and peered down. The cottage was twenty metres in front of me to the left of the drive, on the high side of a grassy, shrub-dotted semicircle. The grass sloped fairly steeply down to the dam - placid, undisturbed and heartbreakingly beautiful. To the left, a tree-filled gully, the catchment for stream and dam, rose steeply to a ridge and the boundary with Rory and Lida. Eastwards, eucalypt-covered hills folded together, barely permitting the stream to pass on its way to join larger creeks, rivers and the sea. A sudden shout.

'What the fuck are you doing? Leave me alone…Aaah!' followed by more shouts, grunts and curses. Still nothing visible except the corner of the cottage, the empty Mercedes, and the roof of the studio beyond. Under cover of a hedge of grevilleas and banksias I'd planted along the back wall of the cottage, I skirted westwards.

Against the wall furthest from the drive, Jon, head twisted at an alarming angle, was being forced to his knees by a grunting Scumble while Glaze tied his legs together, lashed his hands behind his back, looped the rope around his neck and fixed it to the binding around his ankles. Lethal. You struggle – you strangle.

Jon wasn't cowed. 'Why are you driving Peter's car? Where is he?'

They ignored him. After testing the knots, Glaze stood in front of his prisoner with a satisfied smirk, then kicked him viciously in the ribs. 'Shut the fuck up! Your precious mate's karked it. Fallen off a cliff. Buried his troubles. Sunk to new depths. Up shit-creek …' he sniggered unattractively. 'And you're going to join him.'

'Yeah, yeah,' Scumble interrupted impatiently. 'Cut the Hollywood, Bob. Let's ...'

A spine-tingling wail reverberated through the hills, echoed and returned softly. The hair on my arms stood on end and my flesh crept.

Scumble slapped his prisoner viciously. 'Shut the fuck up, fag.'

Jon sobbed silently

'What's the plan?' asked Glaze.

'There's a ladder over there. He's been repairing the roof, see? I'll take off a couple of tiles, put his builder's apron on him, carry him up and throw him down. Poor bugger slipped while repairing the roof.' He shook his head in mock sorrow.

'Might not kill him.'

'I'll snap his neck first. Always a good party trick. Ever seen it done? Makes an interesting noise.'

'Won't the cops know?'

'Not unless you go on kicking him around and giving him the wrong sort of bruises.'

'Well get going before he strangles himself. I'll guard while you set it up.'

Glaze picked up a rifle from the grass, eyes flicking everywhere. My hedge felt transparent so I forced myself to look down. Eyes and faces catch attention. I was lucky the sun wasn't up and Jeff had given me a dark tracksuit. When I dared to look, Glaze was squatting on the ground with his back to me. Scumble appeared in the clearing and trotted across to the studio, returning with a hammer, pinch bar, nails, and an apron that he dumped beside Glaze. The other gear he carried to the front, out of sight. A thump announced the ladder's falling against the guttering and I watched hopelessly as his head appeared over the ridge of the roof before disappearing again as he bent to prise off tiles.

I reckoned my best hope would be to overpower Glaze while he was putting the apron on Jon, but he was waiting for Scumble. Fear made me desperate for a piss, but at least I forgot my pains. Der's knife was open and ready, but it would probably fold up and amputate my fingers if I tried to stab.

Powerlessness paralyses. I was five metres from my best friend who was trussed up ready to have his neck snapped by two blokes who had already attempted to murder me, and I was doing nothing! Why hadn't I listened to the Alconas? Why hadn't I told them to call the cops? Why bloody why?

Jon groaned. Glaze raised a foot as if to lay in the boot, thought better of it, and turned away in contempt. I dithered and wondered what to do. I didn't dare move and there wasn't a weapon in reach. The gun complicated everything. A clatter disturbed the peace as Scumble threw the tools down in front of the house. Half a dozen tiles followed before he climbed down and strutted back, feet apart, hands on self-satisfied hips, smiling cheerfully down at his victim.

'Ready for the high jump, faggot?'

No response.

'Right, Bob, pass the apron.'

'Shouldn't you break his neck first?'

'Good idea.'

I had taken a huge breath and was on the point of hurling a blood-curdling war cry and myself in a Kamikaze all-or-nothing rescue bid, when the sound of a car skidding to a halt on the other side of the house, made the two thugs freeze. The car door slammed and a voice shouted, 'Come out you thieving pervert! I know you're in there! Max's car – stolen property! Come out you load of rat shit!' A gunshot echoed around the valley. 'Come out, blast you or I'll bloody well come in and get you!'

'Sort it quick!' ordered Scumble, stuffing his handkerchief into Jon's mouth and shoving him into the bushes a couple of metres in front of me. I held my breath. Jon's eyes, already popping from near strangulation, opened even wider when he saw me. Sitting on the ground in front of us facing the studio, Scumble's bulk would conceal his prisoner's trussed body from the view of anyone who might come round the corner.

We could hear Glaze striving to pacify Patrick – because it could only be him – and Patrick's increasingly hysterical responses. Using the distraction as a cover I eased forward and was just starting to cut the ropes when another gunshot shattered the peace, followed by a yell of fury from Glaze. Scumble leaped to his feet, grabbed the rifle and took off.

It took twenty endless seconds to sever the ropes, rip out the gag and drag Jon through the hedge before running like hares up through the trees towards the ridge and Rory's. Jon never faltered, didn't ask how I had risen from the dead, just saw his chance and took it. Time for questions if we survived - unlike adventure films when I was a kid. A bloke and a girl would be escaping ravening wolves, erupting volcanoes or pursuing crooks, and she'd stop and start arguing, asking questions, complaining she wasn't being treated with respect. The bloke would keep his temper, pander to her idiocies, take on the burden of worry and effort and even manage a well-tempered joke that never failed to infuriate. It was always despite the woman they survived. The odd thing was that none of my friends thought the woman's behaviour was odd.

At the top of the ridge, instead of dropping down to Rory's I turned north along the boundary. An act of utter stupidity. Jon followed unquestioningly. Later, when he asked why we'd gone that way, I told him I hadn't wanted to involve Rory and Lida in any danger, police questioning, or court-cases. In reality I was a hen without a head, pursued by nameless fear, rushing headlong into inhospitable forests rather than using common sense.

The boundary was an overgrown surveyor's sight line through lantana, vines and scrubby regrowth. When I first took possession of the block I couldn't believe I owned such a vast area. I kept expecting someone to knock at the door and say there'd been a mistake. How could one person own twelve hectares all for himself? I soon realised I didn't 'own' it at all. I was the temporary custodian; neither welcome nor unwelcome, simply another factor in the equation of nature.

If you sit still even for a few minutes and quietly view how the natural inhabitants of Australian forests go about maintaining their lives, it doesn't take long to realise that nature's not there for the benefit of humans – it's there for itself. William Lines' observation in his book, An all Consuming Passion is correct. The true habitat for humans is culture, not nature. What natural being would knowingly disrupt and displace life wherever they went, clear forests, alter habitats to favour some species over others, poison soil, air and water and precipitate the greatest extinction of life since the world began?

After fifteen minutes of dragging ourselves up hills and down gullies, we turned east along another ridge into the rising sun. Five minutes later we dropped onto the grass on the crest of a small hill, a couple of hundred metres behind the dam. I used to swim across with a towel and a book in a plastic bag, climb the rise and gaze back in ecstatic disbelief at my cottage while I was building it. Although trees and bushes had grown over the years, the cottage in its clearing was still just visible. We flopped onto our bellies and peered across the water.

'There they are,' Jon whispered.

Two figures were combing the trees and shrubs around the cottage, meeting up and talking together after each ever-widening circuit. Muffled calls and indistinct curses floated across the stillness. After about ten minutes they waved their hands around, seemed to be arguing, and Scumble pointed at a lump on the ground. Suddenly in a hurry, they dragged the lump, which I guessed must be Patrick, to the rear of his own car and heaved it into the boot. After a last look around, Scumble climbed into Patrick's car and Glaze picked up a handful of something wriggly before following Scumble up the drive in my Mercedes.

Disintegration. Shudders wrenched my shoulders as though someone was physically shaking me, and I had to hug myself to stop my arms from flailing. I'm having an epileptic fit! I thought, conscious of what was going on, but unable to do anything about it. I know I was sobbing and I'm pretty sure I was dribbling. But I wasn't hurting. I turned away but Jon held me until the convulsions subsided, leaving me exhausted and aching. At least I hadn't pissed myself. Ashamed, I averted my face. Jon was still holding me.

'No worries. Everything's fine. We're safe…' he muttered again and again, hypnotising, calming.

Suddenly I felt angry. I thought, What the fuck's he doing? I'm not a baby. This is ridiculous! And then the dams burst again. The brain has few ways of exorcising bad experiences - mainly dreams and lots of sobbing, ranting and shuddering, so Jon suffered several more mucky moments until this second, blessedly brief episode was over. I was still tired, hurting, angry and frightened, but the panic had passed.

He disentangled himself, pulled out a handkerchief and set about cleaning up my face.

'Those guys had me worried for a bit,' he said casually, 'I thought you'd karked it and I wouldn't get rescued.'

Manic laughter burst from somewhere inside me. I couldn't speak.

'What's so funny?'

'Mr Cool.'

'Can't afford to emulate your performance - we haven't enough handkerchiefs.' He looked me over. 'You've been in the wars. Bark knocked off here and there. You're limping and either you've shat yourself or there's something dicky up the crapper. Wanna talk about it?'


'Too fucking bad, mate. You're going to unless you want me to add to your woes.'

I told him enough to bring back the shudders.

'You couldn't get me on the phone because I wasn't there. I couldn't sleep, so at five o'clock I went for a jog out to the main road and back, took a dip in the dam and was making breakfast when I heard your car. I walked straight into their arms.' He shook his head. 'That's the second time you've saved my life, the debt burden's growing.'

'We've been through that! No debts, remember? Anyway, you've got it arse about face. You saved me. It was my pig-headedness that got us into this shit. And the only reason I was able to drag myself out of that fucking drain and haul my arse up the hill to the Alcona's, was the thought that you were in danger. That's what saved me! So we're square. Understood?'

Jon's stare was expressionless.

'I know this is going to sound gooey,' I continued grimly, 'and you'll probably feel threatened, but… I love you!'

No audible reaction, and I was too shy to look. After such an embarrassing confession, future options were limited. The embarrassing silence indicated that if we ever got out of the present mess he'd return to the relative sanity and safety of Brisbane and I'd… what? What could I do? Max's murderers wanted me dead - thought I was dead - and wouldn't hesitate to try again if they discovered I wasn't. And who cared anyway? I gazed across to the cottage, brain empty.

'Yeah, well… they reckon people say strange things when they're hysterical, so we'll ignore that. But next time someone needs saving, it's my turn, OK?'

'You're staying?'

'Can't see why not.' He plonked a quick kiss on my brow and grunted a laugh. 'That surprised you.'

It certainly shut me up.

'More to the point, you're in need of a few running repairs.' He checked the weeping wounds, rubbing antiseptic cream where required, replaced damaged plasters and bandages, then - 'Lift your hips.' He peeled down my tracksuit trousers, lifted my legs and let out a low whistle. 'I don't envy you crapping through that for a while. He applied some of Mad's ointment and put me back together again. 'You'll do. Battered but lovable. In a week you'll be as good as new.'

I lay back, contented. That sort of attention was worth any pain.

'So,' he murmured, 'now we know how Max died. Glaze shoved him. I knew he'd never fall.'

'Mad said the same thing.'

'But how could they know he'd go up to the dome?'

'It was Max's baby. No one was allowed to touch the thing. Frances would know that if it failed to open he'd be up there in a flash, so made sure it didn't. Anyone who knew Max would also realise he'd never miss a chance to grand-stand.'

We sat in silence. I wondered why I didn't feel worse, then looked across at Jon. A trouble shared is a trouble halved, my grandmother always warned before launching into a barrage of complaints. How right she was. But there was one question I needed to ask. 'What were you thinking when Scumble was about to break your neck?'

Jon grunted. 'That's funny. I was going to ask you the same thing.' He shook his head in disbelief. 'I didn't think anything. All I remember is that when they said you were dead, I wanted to die too. After that, it's a blank. What about you on the edge of the cliff with a dozer ready to dump rubble onto the body-beautiful?'

'I didn't believe it. I think I felt cheated, but I was too busy planning what to do when I fell over the edge to consider death a possibility. You read about people having their lives flash before them; it didn't happen. Now it just feels like a bad dream. I still can't believe people will do such terrible things - have such callous disregard for others simply for money! There's no place in my brain for understanding such obscenity.'

''Do you have these speeches pre-recorded in your head, or are they off the cuff?'

'Gift of the gab.'

'Gift of the blab.'

'That's the last time I offer you the benefit of my brain.'



We turned our minds to our predicament. I was dead. Jon had escaped. The wriggling things were the ropes I'd cut, so they knew he had an accomplice. Patrick was either a prisoner or dead. I suddenly felt sorry for him. We owed our lives to his bad tempered bigotry.

'What would you do if you were them?' Jon asked.

'You're the bloke who's roughed it in Brisbane. Tell me.'

'I'd check out the neighbours. Who else could've snuck up and cut my ropes? I'd put a watch on the cottage and on the road, and bring in reinforcements to comb through this place.'

'So we don't go back to the cottage?'

'Can you see over the hill to the gate? How do we know someone isn't lying low, watching?'

'How long have we got?'

'No time. Your telephone works perfectly. Frances has a mobile. They must know at least half a dozen thugs ready to do anything for cash.'

'So we don't go back along the road. We don't visit Rory and Lida. Have you had breakfast?'

'A couple of mouthfuls.'

We downed Mad's bread, cheese and coffee, slithered down to the dam under cover of shrubs, filled the flask, and packed the biscuits for later. Rested, slightly refreshed, absurdly cheerful, we took one last look across the water. Jon grabbed my arm.

'See that?'


'Beyond the cottage.'

Sunlight slanting through the trees sent golden shafts across the grevilleas, rebounded off pale clusters of eucalypt flowers, spot-lit a flock of quarrelling lorikeets and silhouetted two shapes stalking the edge of the clearing. They conferred, split up, and set out on a circuit of the dam. We took off north, into the forest.

Ten minutes tramping through tree filled gullies, lantana clad ridges and scratchy re-growth, brought us to my boundary with the State Forest. The rusty barbed wire fence was unnecessary, but had come with the block. We'd seen no one and heard nothing. The going was now easier because thick undergrowth had been cleared and replaced by struggling grass. The widely spaced trees looked impressive, being thirty to forty years old and ready for milling, but there were only two or three different species and no visible animal life.

After about half an hour we stopped for a breather. The air was cool and still, no birds, frogs or crickets - just the occasional rustle of a lizard. I eased myself to the ground, leaned back against a tree and counted my aches. Jon dropped onto his stomach, head propped on hands.

'It's a damned sight more peaceful here than your place. Where are the birds?'

'In the last hundred and fifty years this block's been cut-over at least three times and each time more tree species lose out to the vigorous growers. Only a few dominant species are left and they don't provide continuous food for financially unrewarding things like birds and honey gliders. It's either a famine or a glut. When they flower, the air shimmers with screeching flocks of lorikeets and other nectar-eaters; in between it's a zoological dessert. It's called sustainable logging.'

A stifled giggle stopped me. Jon was gazing up innocently.

'What's so funny?'


'You're laughing at me.'


'I feel silly.'

'I feel randy.'

'It's lying on your belly.'

'It's listening to you.'

'Am I raving?'

'Probably. I get a hard-on when you shift into lecturing mode.'

'Since when?'

'Since the first day.'

'But… you always denied…'

'Of course I did! I knew I wasn't queer. I was simply over-sexed from eating so well for a change.'

'Clever thinking. So… I've got a sexy voice?'

'Mmm. Not really - more a sexy intensity.'

'Not what you'd call a marketable talent.'

'There are… other things.'

'Go on.'

'Are you sure you can handle it?'

'I've been insulted by experts.'

'Well… I'm no expert, but even my inexperienced eyes can see you've got a sexy butt, chest, legs, head, belly, balls, cock, feet, hands, and nose.'

'Nothing else?'

'I'll probably discover more when I get to know you better.'

'I bloody well hope so. And when did you first realise the extent of my attractions?'

'The first night, after your shower. Instant hard on. Why do you think I was so sullen?'

'No idea.'

'You made me nervous.'

'About what?'

'I was worried you might think I was queer! That I was one of those horrible degenerates everyone's always warned me about. I knew I wasn't! I knew perfectly well it was simply the unusual combination of a near-death experience and being rescued, playing silly-buggers with my libido.'

'A student of psychobabble no less. This is fascinating. How could you be so sure you weren't a faggot?'

'That's easy. I'm not effeminate. I hate Kylie Minogue. I'm not even slightly interested in drag shows. Mardigras embarrasses me – except for the muscle-boys. I like playing football and other sports, heavy farm work, repairing engines, keeping fit… I like women.'


'Not yet. But I've always assumed that one magical day I'd meet the woman who would turn me on. I reckoned I was being selective – a connoisseur. Not that there's much selection in the bush. I've only met about fifty women socially in my entire life. I usually like talking to them though, buttering them up – you know – you're an expert yourself.'

'You've been spying on me!'

'Observing and learning.'

'It's called salesmanship.'

'It's called greasing.'

'Cheeky bugger. Find me a man who enjoys chatting with women, and I'll show you a poof. Heterosexual men only like yarning with other men and screwing women.'

'So, I'm queer.


'Perfectly stupid.'

'Perfect same-sex-oriented male.'


'Also beau, fort, intelligent et grand.'

'Handsome, strong, intelligent and tall?'


'Yeah… well of course I knew that, but…'

'Arrogant prick.'

'But perfectly arrogant.'

'True. However, we still have a problem.'

'And that is?'

'Your dead rooster. It might interfere with our escape.'

'But, Sir… I'm a virgin!'

'Your agony is about to end. Disrobe.'

The tracksuit and trainers were off in seconds and I gave my full attention to his relief, to be rewarded very quickly with all the usual shudders, gasps and sighs.

'Aahh! That's the best orgasm I have ever endured. Teach me the trick.'

'Cost you.'

'No price is too high.'

'You've already paid something, your ribs are black and blue and I think at least one is cracked.'

'Yeah, feels like it.'

'Why didn't you mention it?'

'Waiting for an opportune moment.'

'Perfectly tough as well.'

There was a roll of elasticised bandage in the first-aid kit, so I strapped the empurpling chest as tightly as I dared. We were heading, I hoped, for Hank and Celia's. I figured that after talking to Jon, Hank had confronted his son with my suspicions and, after mulling it over all night, Patrick had driven over to pay me back for blabbing. Poetic justice. He'd be furious if he knew he had blown his chance to get rid of me forever.

'What're you smiling at?'

I told him, and outlined my plan.

'I like Hank.'

'You'll like Celia too. I know Patrick's an arsehole of the first order, but I guess someone has to tell his parents. Christ I was stupid not to contact the cops. Why didn't I get Mad to ring them after I left? Why didn't we go straight to Rory and Lida and telephone from there instead of cutting out here? I'm insane! If we ever make it to the police they're going to think it's bloody suspicious, so before I do anything else I want to get Hank's advice. He's a lawyer.'

'I'm glad we didn't run to Rory and Lida.'

'You're having me on.'

'No way! This is beaut. Thrills, problems to solve, doing it rough.' He glanced at my look of disbelief. 'Yeah, I know things got a bit hairy back there – worse for you – but think of the stories you'll be able to tell your nephews.'

'I'm an only child.'

'You can borrow mine. Now, which way and how far?'

'About twenty k's as the crow flies, forty the way we're going. You up to it?'

'You're the weak link. But never fear, I'll carry you through the desert.'

'Promises, promises. Weak link indeed.'

'Which way's north?'

'Got a watch?'

We had neither watch nor compass so took a wild stab and set off.

It wasn't critical. As far as I could remember from the map I used to have hanging above my bed, if we headed roughly north we should hit an east-west logging track that we could follow west before hitting a north-south, secondary state-road. I'd always intended to tramp the forests, but not totally unprepared. It's just as well adventures are sometimes thrust upon us, we'd never choose them in the ordinary course of events and our lives would be the poorer.

A short time after I bought the property I trekked to my back boundary at sunset and became so confused in the increasing darkness I couldn't find my way back, even though it was no more than seven hundred metres. I blundered around, gave up and spent an itchy night with spiders, bush-rats, ants, wallabies, monitors and innumerable rustles. It got pretty cold, but I wouldn't have missed it for anything. Mind you, I've never done it again.

We meandered. The featurelessness of regrowth forest paralyses the senses and without some means of correcting one's direction there's little likelihood of travelling in a straight line. We tried to keep the sun at the same angle, but even a slight variation soon adds up to a large deviation and it was well after midday before we hit the forestry road – a rough, gravelled track. Unfortunately, what the map on my wall hadn't shown were the side tracks that kept branching off. If they'd been used recently they looked as important as the main track.

We took it in turns to decide which looked like the proper one and the sun was setting before we admitted to a prodigious fuck-up. We hadn't found water, hadn't seen any loggers, and had no idea where we were. After sharing half the packet of biscuits, finishing the water, scrabbling piles of bracken and grass together for a mattress and heaping a rough tepee with leaves, grass and anything else we vainly hoped would keep off cold and dew, we huddled down, hungry and thirsty, for a long night.

It got cold very quickly. Lying in any position was painful for both of us, but Jon reckoned his circulation was the best and I needed the most mollycoddling, so we ended up curled on our sides, me in front, he encircling my back. I had a warmish back, chest and right shoulder; freezing thighs and left shoulder. Jon, a warm chest and that's about all. He never complained, even about the trillion mosquitoes that bugged us all night. Having endured forty-eight hours with virtually no sleep, I dropped straight off, waking sometime in the middle of the night dying for piss, but hanging on so I wouldn't waste body-warmth.

Despite everything, we slept in snatches till first light, when it took a fair bit of stretching, bending and arm slapping to restore circulation. Only the promise of the remaining chocolate biscuits sustained our sunken spirits. Jon extracted the packet from its safe place in the fork of a tree and hurled it down at me in fury, shouting abuse at my stupidity for letting him put it there. The contents had been spirited away by a marauding thief of the night. Being evenly matched in the verbal stakes, our first slanging match was memorable - warming the insides and leaving us relaxed.

In the pre-dawn light I checked my battered body. Everything seemed OK except for a yellowing bulge of pus on my ankle. We sliced it open and applied some antiseptic. My ring felt a hell of a lot better, and so did my spirits. I had my life, the possibility of a future with Jon, a great place to live – everything I wanted. Hank would solve any other problems. Jon wouldn't let me look at his ribs, said it was too cold. He was going to need watching.

Sunrise was about six-thirty. We jammed a stick in the ground, checked the shadow and set off west. Well, north-west, because that's where the track went, winding up and down, hither and yon as it followed ridges, dropped into valley heads where puddles let us quench our thirst, and cut swathes up to yet other ridges. After several kilometres it branched - north and west. Yielding not to temptation we continued west, making good progress for several kilometres before the track zigzagged down into a deep valley.

There was plenty of water now in culverts as the sclerophyll forest gave way to rainforest remnant. Ferns, palms and broadleaf trees hugged the wet depths of gullies. Birds sang and we joined in. We were obviously descending to the river valley, so the main road that followed it was only a short distance away. All was well.

The track ended at a pile of logs, a scattering of cans and a rusty tow-bar in the centre of a muddy turn-around. My septic foot burst into flame, my stomach wrenched and I hurled curses to the heavens. It was at least two hours since the last turn-off back up on the ridge. We couldn't go back. Jon stood in the middle, hands on hips, gazing around. It was a dispiriting spot. Weeds choked all hope of native plant regeneration, puddles of stagnant water glistened with oil slick, and the air was still, sunless and cold.

'Sit down and put your feet up. I'll scout around.'

'I'm not going back.'

'Neither am I, so shut up and do as you're told.'

I did, and would have fallen asleep if a swarm of mosquitoes hadn't arrived for a meal. Slapping and jiggling kept me warm until a faint 'coo-ee' guided me through a couple of hundred metres of rank weeds and regrowth to Jon, standing at the edge of about ten hectares of moonscape.

'We're out of the forest, but what on earth's this?'

'Looks like an old pineapple plantation. The government encourages landowners to clear trees and plant cash crops. Most go for pineapples but they're gross feeders and attractive to pests, so without massive poison-spraying regimes and fertilisers the crops fail and this is what's left. It's called developing the land. These places stay toxic for years. To stop their tractors rolling over they plough the furrows up and down the slope, so the erosion's horrendous. Just try not to drink the water down-stream. The poor bastards who buy these blocks and build houses, fall prey to all sorts of chronic ailments caused by poisonous spray residue.'

Jon stared in disbelief. 'Every day I'm confronted by greater insanities. Back home we always assumed you guys on the coast knew a thing or two. We were the fuckwits degrading the land, causing salination, destroying the ecosystems. Boy, were we misinformed. It's worse here than the bush.'

'You won't find many who'll agree with that assessment, but where there's cultivation there's settlement, a cosy fire, food and comfort. Find the homestead.'

It was simple enough. A trail of broken fences, drunken gates, overgrown tracks and eroded earth led to what must once have been the busy hub of the farm. A rusting panel-van listed gracelessly on its patch of oily ground. Spare parts for long forgotten implements and vehicles lay abandoned in rusting heaps of rejection. A sheet of iron flapped. A chicken cackled. Three black crows clung to a sagging fence rail, their baleful eyes accusing as they offered up the occasional disgusted caw, and an indefinable stench lay like a rotten blanket over the land.

On the far side of the clearing a rusting corrugated iron shed leaned against a drunkenly askew verandah. Maggot infested sheepskins adorned the sagging railing. The steps had rotted out.

'The place is abandoned.'

Jon approached the ruined building, then stopped and beckoned me over. On one of a pair of ancient easy chairs spewing greasy stuffing onto the filthy deck, sprawled an impressive beer gut. It was asleep. Bubbles of saliva burst over slack lips each time a wheezy breath was exhaled. Fat red legs splayed from once green shorts. Limp fat hands hung from short, red-veined arms jutting over the armrests. We stared, enthralled.

'Look at his navel,' Jon whispered reverentially. 'It's as large as a saucer.' And indeed it was. Massive breasts, capped by distended nipples, hung diagonally to each side of the belly under a shimmer of coarse reddish hair. Above, the tiny half-circle of gristle that marked an unshaven chin, dissolved in concentric rings of fat into neck and ruddy chest. Colossal flabs of fat at each side forced his arms out from his body. He snorted, dribbled, grunted and shuddered rhythmically. Neither of us dared disturb him.

'Wananotherbeer Arn?' The voice was nasal, tired and flat. Getting no reply, its owner poked her head out the door. 'About bloody time youse got here. We've been waitin' days. It's in there.' She nodded vaguely towards the evil-smelling interior.

'What is?' I asked.

'The fuckin' phone youse're gunna fix.' The words may have been aggressive, but the delivery was dead, falling from slack lips like a liturgical response. Her eyes strayed slightly, unfocussed and loose. A hand-rolled cigarette, unlit, was stuck to her lower lip.

'Sorry, it's not us, we…'

'Who the hell are youse then?' she sighed with not the slightest interest in our response, before landing a weak kick on Arn's leg and placing a can on the stool beside him. 'Want one?' she inquired in the same dispirited tones, dropping into the other chair. She was almost as fat as her husband, but whereas he seemed tight, almost ready to burst, she was a soft elastic bag of fat that bounced, sagged, flowed and squeezed into all the available space. Her only garment, a flowered housecoat, was dragged across massive bosoms and fastened in place with safety pins. The lower one wasn't low enough and, as she sank back, the full glory of her thighs was exposed like multi-headed ice creams atop the insufficient cones of lower legs. Pinkly fat knees, a bulge of bluish cream and a larger bulge of vanilla.

'No thanks. Wouldn't mind a slice of bread.'

'Bread?' she repeated as though she'd never heard of the stuff. 'What day's it?'


'No bread till tomorrer.'

We tried to explain our predicament, but she didn't appear to be listening.

'Mightn't even get anything tomorrer. Can't phone the order, see? Jilly might do it from school, but she's not too bright.'

'How did Jilly get to school?'


'Will it take passengers?'

'Nuh. Not insured or some fuckin' thing.' She roused herself enough to look almost interested and asked, 'Where's ya car? Take us into town?'

Before we could respond she thrust a dimpled hand into her cleavage, scrabbled around, flicked out a large cockroach, sagged back into her seat, yelled, 'Arn!' then pointed inside. 'Get yerselves somethin'ter eat if ya like. Arn! Ya beer's gettin' warm!'

Arn snorted, felt around for his beer and took a sip before nodding at us and muttering, 'Gidday. Fuckin' phone's always on the blink. Gunna rain?'

We nodded, went inside, checked out the dirty planks that served for a bench, the bucket of slops, the greasy crates standing in for cupboards, the grime-streaked fridge and the shaky, plastic-covered table littered with meals past. Nothing I could bear to touch. Jon picked up an opened packet of shortbread and shook one into his hand. A cockroach scuttled out with it but the rest of the biscuits looked clean enough so we shared them, returned to the relatively clean air on the verandah, thanked our hosts, avoided a handshake, promised to give the phone-boys a buzz, and followed vague waves in the direction of a distant gate. It took several minutes of deep breathing and total expulsion of air before I could rid my lungs of the foul air.

The rest was easy. Two kilometres of clay road led past several farm gates and over a stream before becoming sealed. Another two kilometres and we were at the junction with the road we were looking for. We'd seen no one till then except farmers on tractors in the distance.

'What now?'

There was no money in the pack so we had no choice. Making ourselves as presentable as possible and gluing radiant smiles to our washed but unshaven faces, we walked north. Half an hour later, an elderly bloke picked us up in his decadently comfortable new Citroen. We admired, praised and congratulated him on his taste as we drifted along at about twenty kilometres an hour. This road couldn't be seen from Hank's place because of the low hills in between, but by looking up to the ridge I should be able to recognise a distinguishing feature or building.

Jon kept up the chatter while I checked out the land to the east. After several kilometres another state forest appeared on our right, jumped the road and surrounded us. This was probably the one visible from the lounge. As soon as it stopped, open grassland gave views up an incline to the lightly wooded hills above. There, standing out like dog's balls, was a two-storeyed monstrosity I recognised. It was about a kilometre from Hank's, on the same road.

Our driver floated his vehicle to a halt. We thanked him, clambered out, raced across the road, waved goodbye and set off up the hill between recently sprayed and evil-smelling groundsel, patches of swamp around a leaking dam and through an unthrifty grove of macadamias.

Half an hour later we helped each other through the last fence and staggered up the remaining few hundred metres, aches forgotten in the overwhelming relief of arriving. As we passed the pump-house by the dam, Jon grabbed my arm. The house was a hundred metres away, slightly above us on high stumps and we could see underneath to the parking area on the other side.

'That's a cop car up there. What'll we do?'

Every remembered tale of police corruption and involvement in crime set fear, doubt and insecurity slamming into my guts. I sagged onto the grass. 'Let's wait till they've gone.'

Two hours later, almost mad with hunger, we hauled ourselves to the door and knocked.

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