Dome of Death

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 9

Tent Palace

We took the riverside road. Trees, shrubs, chunks of buildings and what looked like half the local rubbish tip were bobbing past in the swirling, cocoa coloured water. Some sections of the road were one-way due to undermining and subsidence. Detours led through desolate residential streets with their debris, mud, and devastation. A surprising number of houses showed signs of life. Windows were open and mattresses, furniture and every imaginable personal treasure were spread out on sheets of plastic to dry, guarded by anxious householders, eyes scanning the heavens.

Several huge drops splashed on the windscreen and the scene became an anthill. Front and back yards filled with scurrying figures beginning the laborious task of dragging everything inside once more. They couldn't afford to replace everything. It was storm-water damage – the act of a loving god - uninsurable. By the time the road began its climb towards the hills rain was falling in solid sheets and roadside gutters were torrents.

At the top of the escarpment we turned north along the edge. A swirling grey mantle of clouds obscured what would otherwise have been spectacular views to the coast. Jon was driving; I was map reading. After three kilometres the road cut through a rocky ridge jutting seawards. It wasn't until we reached a turn-off that I realised we must have missed the entrance. We turned and drove slowly back.

At the southern end of the seaward side of the cutting, an unremarkable farm-gate hung between a couple of unpainted hardwood posts. A rough track had been bulldozed into the side of the hill and wound out of sight behind the bluff. No name, no number, nothing to indicate it would go anywhere other than to a small block of land. We studied the map again in disbelief.

'That's got to be it. It's exactly where your flatulent friend marked it.'

'Verbal diarrhoea, not flatulence.'

'Equally disgusting. Shall we drive in?'

'Of course. Sounding the horn, flags flying and chanting Advance Australia Fair.'

'Open the gate then.'

'Or… we could wimp out and drive to the other end of the cutting, park somewhere private, then sneak around the far side of this hill and find the back door.'

'Yeah, it's rude to go to people's front doors, so let's be wimps.'

Jon turned the car and drove slowly north again. The childish banter had done nothing to stop encroaching fear and I wished I were braver. A council road-works dump about half a kilometre further along on the left provided the perfect parking spot. We concealed the car behind a pile of gravel, swapped our disguises for drab overalls, and filled pockets with useful things.

After crossing the road we crawled through a sagging, four-strand barbed wire fence and trudged through misty drizzle back the way we'd come. A narrow strip of wind-blasted trees bordering the almost vertical drop to the plains below, served as cover from passing cars. At the cutting we swung around the base of the hill towards the sea, and ran into a two-metre high, chain-mesh fence.


'Yeah. Over or under?'

'Let's follow the bandicoots.' Jon knelt and scrabbled at a patch of mud already deepened by the nocturnal burrowers. The rain-softened soil would have let us push the poles over, but there seemed little point in leaving such a proclamation of our visit. It took only a minute to scoop a hollow and slither underneath, covering ourselves in mud.


'What are ya? It's camouflage.'

The steeply sloping block was larger than I'd expected. Scrubby melaleucas gave way to tristanias and eucalypts with an understorey of lank, rain-drenched grasses about two metres tall that showered us, washing off much of the mud. Overalls clung like chafing membranes and cold crept up from the soles of squelching feet.

A sudden wind change cleared the mist, making walking easier and the cold colder. After about five hundred metres we came upon what looked like a stage-set for a medieval tournament. Perched on the edge of the cliff, pennants fluttering enthusiastically in the stiffening breeze, were two large, blue and white striped 'tents' about ten metres apart, connected by a walkway. Jon reckoned it looked romantic. I thought it absurd.

We slunk around the side and under the building - a forest of galvanised poles. A peep over the edge of the cliff set pulses racing. It was a very long drop to the rocks and scrub beneath. Storm clouds in every conceivable shade of grey had heaped themselves along the coastline fifteen kilometres away, and slanting torrents of rain were lashing seaside towns and suburbs. Below, the river glowed palely against a monochrome land, and over the ocean, lightning set a colossal cumulonimbus glowing fitfully pink. Overhead, blue-black clouds parted briefly, permitting an ominous ochreous aura to bathe the scene, before closing ranks again and dumping their load.

Under the building, the downpour was reduced to a venomous hissing. We prowled around clinging to the foundations and listening for signs of life. No pressure-pump turned on, no lavatory flushed, no drain gurgled, and no tiny feet pattered above. The place sounded empty.

Scuttling beneath the walkway to the second 'tent' was nerve-racking. We were invisible to anyone on the driveway but visible from windows on both sides. No spotlights blinded, no hail of bullets tore us to shreds, no siren wailed its dread alarm. Beyond the second tent a large empty carport opened onto a driveway on which no vehicles were visible, so we were probably alone. The covered way between the structures was also the entrance to both 'tents', so, unwilling to venture into the open; we crawled back to the shrubs directly beneath the walkway. About six metres to our right, a set of stone steps led up to the main door.

Just as I prepared to break cover, a pair of muscular missiles erupted out of nowhere. In one of those miraculous bursts of agility which only blind fear can bestow, I found myself up on the covered way, Jon beside me, staring in shock at a matching pair of slavering bull terriers two metres below. Half a second's delay would have seen one or the other of us, probably both, smashed against the foundations with chunks torn from fleshy bits.

The dogs were huge, fit and very angry. They leaped and flung themselves up at us, hurling curses through slobbering maws, but fortunately didn't think of detouring six metres to the steps. Beside us, safety was blocked by a heavy wooden door flanked by coloured glass panels. The doors would have withstood a battering ram, the glass a slight kick, the walls a blunt knife.

Jon's knife sliced effortlessly through the plastic-coated canvas, we slithered through and dragged a chair against the almost invisible slit, hoping the dogs wouldn't notice. They stood guard below, maintaining a subterranean rumble. We'd arrived in what appeared to be a large pavilion with a vertiginous view towards the coast through enormous plate-glass windows. It was cosy, dry and surprisingly warm after scrambling around in the wind and rain for half an hour.

Although it was only about four o'clock, the place was so gloomy I tried the lights. A dim glow from dozens of concealed, low wattage bulbs added to the air of oriental mystery. It would be magnificent in the evenings when the lights of civilisation spread their jewelled carpet. Costly rugs littered polished parquet floors and the furniture was expensive and comfortable - three lounge suites, ten assorted armchairs and half a dozen low tables.

Despite the quantity, the place seemed under-furnished. At the far end of the space was an immense dining table in dark wood, surrounded by twenty-four high-backed chairs. The atmosphere reeked of professional interior design – prodigality producing paucity. It was a conference centre, not a private residence. The unlined walls flapped impatiently against their poles and the patterns of the rope lashing added a nautical feeling akin to being on board a luxurious yacht.

Blue painted doors gave access to a pair of well-appointed bathrooms and toilets and a varnished door led to an ultra modern kitchen with an outside door. We risked a glance out. A small, paved courtyard, gate firmly bolted in the enclosing high brick wall, was empty of everything except a couple of rubbish bins. We inspected. They were not only empty, but scrubbed clean.

The laundry cupboards contained exactly what they should, and no space was large enough to conceal a body. Retracing our steps to the kitchen, we checked the refrigerators. They contained beer, fruit, sauces and the usual packaged items. Freezers were full of frozen dinners and cuts of meat; not human, Jon reckoned. We checked all cupboards and drawers. Nothing but what you'd expect - tablecloths, cutlery and useful odds and ends. Nowhere anything personal - magazines, letters, paintings, mess – only an expensive sterility.

The dogs' menacing growls had become furious barking, so we peered out, fearful someone had arrived. They were barking at the gate to the courtyard. Probably for food. Us if possible.

'We'll have to do something about them,' Jon grunted. '

'Only if we want to leave. Any good at knife throwing?'

'I've an idea that might shock 'em a bit. See if you can find a long extension lead.

I found three in a cupboard stacked with electrical heaters, so made them into one, knotting them securely at the joins. Jon, meanwhile, was hacking off swallowable hunks of beef and defrosting them in the microwave. He then cut the unused socket off the extension lead, bared a long length of the phase wire, threaded it through and around the meat, fastening it securely, clipped off and isolated the other two wires, plugged the cord into a switched outlet beside the door, and carried the bait outside. The dogs heard the door opening, smelled the meat, and howled for blood.

'Stay at the switch and turn it on as soon as I yell,' he called above the growling and thumping of dogs hurling themselves at the gate. He unlatched it and screamed for help. I rushed out and together we just managed to re-fasten it.

'That was insanely stupid,' I snapped.

'Mmm. Calls for a re-think. Rubbish bins.'

We stood them upside down against the fence beside the laundry door. This was much better. From inside I could see over the fence and watch Jon lean over, dangling his bait just too high for them to reach. Both dogs leaped at it, snapping viciously at each other. When it seemed they'd expire from apoplexy, he lowered the lead. The smaller and quicker of the two lunged and swallowed. I closed the switch. As paws touched earth, eyes bulged, legs went rigid and body thrashed and twitched for several seconds. The other dog howled bleakly. Jon tugged at the lead, clamped between muscled jaws. He had to lift the dead weight off the ground before the wire snapped. He denied it later, but I'm sure his hands were shaking as he rewired the bait.

The second dog was smarter. He played with the meat, pawing at it until it worked loose from the wire before swallowing it. We tried again. This time Jon teased the poor beast unmercifully, holding the bait just out of reach until it was practically demented. When it was finally lowered the dog sank his teeth, I switched on, and the mutt's jaw locked in death spasm. We were both shaking by the time it was over and could barely summon the energy to drag the dogs into the courtyard and dump them in the bins.

The other pavilion, also accessed by knife-blade, was not quite as large; about twenty metres long and ten wide. Like its twin, it was floored with polished hardwood parquetry, but there were no carpets. Four metres from the entrance a wall separated a large circular bed from a similar sized square one behind it. Armchairs were arranged around the circular bed, and a complex assortment of lighting and cameras, both video and still, huddled around the other. The far end of the room had been arranged as an intimate theatrette, complete with tiny stage, large video screen, lights and curtains. The seating for thirty was comfortable.

'Obviously I'm not the only one who entertains MacFife and his mates.'

'Could be me flashing my bits here soon, Jon muttered.'

'Not if I can help it.'


'Check out the videos?'

The cassettes were all in their original boxes behind undisturbed wrappers. As with the other pavilion, there was nothing personal, nothing incriminating, nowhere to hide a body and no clues about the owner. Not even a change of clothes. Doors in the rear wall led to three well-equipped bathrooms, toilets, and two well-mirrored dressing rooms. In one was a large steel cabinet bolted to the wall and securely locked. We hammered on it, but if someone was inside he was either asleep or dead. Cleaning implements were stored in one corner. The last door led to a tiny kitchen, and off that was a guardroom, complete with TV monitors, a panel of switches and the electrical switchboard. An external door gave onto the parking area. We looked speculatively at each other.

'The power's on,' I mused.

'The monitors aren't.'

'Not here.'

'You mean?'

'Either that, or recording. Anyway, in the vain hope we haven't yet passed in front of a camera, we might as well turn off the security devices before exiting.'


Everything was labelled - heat sensors, lights, video monitors and alarms. As a memento of our visit we smashed the monitor screens and snipped through non-electric wires.

'Reckon we got everything?'

'Probably not, but there're no red lights flashing. We'll have to hope for the best.'

'And expect the worst.'

'We had the same mother!'

'Oh, brother!'

In case we'd missed anything we made another quick tour of both pavilions, but they remained as impersonal as airport lounges. The wind was already enlarging the slits in the walls. They'd be great flapping gashes in an hour.

'This is not MacFife's home.'

'Good one, Sherlock, but I had hoped it was a prison.'

'What's the power source? It's a long way from the road and there were no poles.'

'Underground? Solar?'

'If it's solar there should be batteries and a back-up generator.'

'There was nothing underneath, so that means a shed.'

We wandered around the grounds. No attempt had been made at a garden. Native trees and shrubs had been left to run wild. The drive passed under a monumental brick archway before winding between the trees on its muddy way to the farm-gate at the roadside. Jon was staring at the grandiose arch.

'Sensors,' he murmured. The brickwork concealed not only infrared sensors, but vid-cams and spotlights as well.

'It should be impossible for strangers to approach the place undetected.'

'We approached. Have we been detected?'

'There's no way any of these could have picked us up the way we came in; they're directed down the drive, onto the parking area and into the carport. Not at the front door, I'm glad to say. Lucky you turned the system off,' he said thoughtfully. 'Otherwise we might at this very minute be appearing on a TV screen in a police station somewhere near you.'

'Police station?'

'Well, Scumble's bedroom.'

'Even so, I wonder why there were no alarms when we cut our way in.'

'Who'd hear them? This is to protect them from intruders while they're here.'


'Where are the solar cells? If it's solar powered.'

We climbed the high ground behind the arch and there, arranged along the top of the brickwork, was a bank of collectors.

'Very neat. Now for the batteries and generator.'

There wasn't a shed anywhere. It was getting too dark to look further. The rain seemed to be increasing, if that was possible, and we were about to give up when I took another look at the archway. The base widened on the side away from the house into an unnecessarily large and thick wall about six metres long, two metres wide, and one and a half metres high, roofed with tiles. We made a circuit. Tucked into a niche in the end wall was a stout wooden door, held closed by a simple hasp and padlock.

'What's the stench?'

We stared at each other in horror before yanking at the door. It was solid. I broke my thumbnail opening the screwdriver attachment on the knife, but then it was only a minute before the hasp hung loose and we could drag open the door. The smell was overpowering, but it wasn't death. A low snarl issued from the gloom, followed by a white hand clawing at the doorjamb.

'Patrick,' I whispered, 'Is it you?'

The creature groaned.

Almost vomiting from the combined stink of diesel, faeces, urine and fear, we eased him out of his prison, slowly unbent his tortured frame and leaned him against the archway. It was Patrick. Naked, blue with cold, growling strangely and shaking off any attempt by me to touch him, he closed his eyes and licked at rain spattered lips. Both hands closed and unclosed jerkily. Jon opened the water bottle from his rucksack and placed it against Patrick's mouth. He grabbed at it with shivering hands and gulped the contents. When he'd finished I tried to wrap the plastic raincoat round his shoulders but he ripped it off, cringed against the wall and gave vent to a howl of such despair and pain that my hair stood on end.

Again we tried to move him, but he flattened himself against the brickwork and slashed at us with his nails. Squatting down in the hope that a smaller man would appear less threatening, I noticed a chain hanging between his legs. One loop of a pair of handcuffs had been clamped around the base of his scrotum and penis, the other end left dangling. Not wanting to think about what it meant, I took hold of the loose end and pulled gently. After two strangled little screams of anticipated agony, he followed docilely through increasing darkness back to the fence. I scrambled under first, Patrick followed, and Jon brought up the rear. As we stood up I touched Patrick's shoulder gently, saying, 'It's all over Patrick, you're safe now. We'll take you home.'

He stood, mute, refusing to move further. I wanted to avoid taking hold of that terrible chain again, so tried once more. 'Patrick,' I implored, 'it's me, Peter Corringe.' He thrust me violently away and raced into the darkness. We followed until stopped by a cry, followed by the noise of falling rocks. We quartered the area to the cliff, then slithered forward on our bellies. I played the torch over the rocks below, but every little outcrop cast a moving shadow, every shape looked like a crushed and broken body. The beam didn't reach anywhere near the base of the cliff, so we had no idea how far he'd fallen. I switched off the torch and lay there in disbelief.

Jon grabbed my arm. 'Listen!'

A soft sobbing, the gentlest of sniffs, then silence. I shone the torch in the direction of the sound. Patrick was sprawled on a rock-shelf about three metres below. The cliff was steep, there was no safe way down, and forethought hadn't provided us with a rope ladder.

'He'll be OK as long as he doesn't roll around. We'll get help,' I whispered.

'I'll stay with him.'

'You will not! There's nothing you can do and I'm not leaving you here to be discovered by MacFife!'

The rain had stopped but it was pretty cold and Jon didn't take much convincing. We stumbled back through the darkness, tying strips of the toilet paper Mad had thoughtfully put in the rucksack, to branches as a guide for our return. Grazed and bruised we finally negotiated the barbed-wire fence, crossed the road and raced to the car. Ten minutes driving took us to the next town and a telephone booth. The phone-card worked and Hank was on the line. I told him the situation, gave precise directions and the number of the telephone in case he wanted to contact us. A mobile phone was on my mental shopping list.

'What'll I bring?'

'Bolt-cutters, extension ladder, two ropes, blankets, clothes, food, drink, good torches.'

'Right,' and he was gone.

Neither of us mentioned the police, fire brigade or State Emergency Services. They are wonderful organisations and extricate people from the most appalling situations, but they also advertise their successes. If Patrick survived and recovered, the last thing he needed was to face clients who had seen on television and the front pages of every newspaper that he had been abused, handcuffed by his scrotum and locked naked in a box for six days. It might help our case against MacFife, but it could never help a man as conservative as Patrick to regain his sanity.

We were about forty kilometres from Hank's place on winding, secondary roads. Anticipating an hour's rest, we settled to our carton of milk and packet of chocolate biscuits with a gusto only slightly tempered by the plight of the poor man trapped on the cliff face. It was too unreal to contemplate; we could do nothing, and wouldn't be as useful if we were hungry.

Hank must have broken all the rules because the utility truck he kept for rough work pulled up next to us barely forty minutes later. Celia in the passenger seat. They followed us to the quarry and parked beside us. No one spoke as we unloaded and retraced our steps to the edge of the cliffs. I carried the ladder, Jon the tools and ropes, Hank and Celia blankets and food. With three good torches it was much easier. Patrick was still there. The wind had dropped, a sliver of moon supported by unwinking Venus hovered above, and hope fortified our hearts.

Hank and Celia lay on their stomachs and peered into the darkness.

'Patrick? It's mother, darling. Can you hear me?'


'Son, we're coming down on the ladder you used to build your tree hut. Remember? Stay where you are and we'll be with you in a moment.'

Neither sound nor movement broke the stillness.

We extended and lowered the ladder. I tied the ends of both ropes to a tree. One secured the top of the ladder, the other was for Patrick. Jon offered to go down but Hank was worried about Patrick's reaction to a stranger. It was an act of the utmost bravery, difficult enough for a young man, but for a seventy-five year old to clamber down an unstable ladder perched on the edge of a cliff at night, was stupendous.

Celia kept torchlight on her husband's feet, Jon kept a firm grip on the rope round Hank's waist, and I clung to the ladder like a madman. Hank recited calming words and phrases into the silence. At the bottom he knelt beside his son and touched him on the shoulder. Patrick's cry of bewildered misery sent goose flesh across my spine. Hank stroked his son untied the rope from his waist, slipped it under Patrick's arms, knotted it, and tried to get him to his feet. He wouldn't move.

'You're going to have to use the handcuffs, Hank,' Jon called.

Celia gasped.

Like a puppet, Patrick got to his feet and mounted. Jon kept a tension on the rope, then, assisted by Celia, took his hands and pulled him onto the cliff top where he lay, panting, near exhaustion and suffering from hypothermia. I kept the ladder steady for Hank, and then it took a few seconds to cut through the cuffs with the bolt-cutters. I only made a small nick, unnoticeable beside the swollen chafing. Patrick groaned with relief. We wrapped him in blankets, gathered up everything and, praying the rain wouldn't return, set off.

The trip back was uneventful. Celia got in the back of the rental car with Patrick, Hank leaned against his ute, exhausted.

'He can't go to your place,' I said. 'As soon as he's missed, yours is the first place they'll look.'

'The flat above his office?'

I shook my head. 'What's his secretary like?'

'Hank dredged up a smile. 'She's his mistress. That's why Jill threw him out.'

'Where does she live?'

Jon drove Hank in the ute; I drove the car.

Elizabeth, a motherly soul about the same age as Patrick, did not conform to the usual idea of 'mistress'; she confirmed Graham Green's assertion that man's deepest desire is for companionship. I liked her warm, brisk efficiency, absence of histrionics, obvious love, and cosy clean house. In the light, Patrick looked worse. Apart from severe bruising and scratches and what looked like a broken collarbone, he was covered in small, septic sores.

'Cigarette burns,' whispered Jon.

We left him tucked up warmly in bed. Elizabeth's doctor was on her way and there was nothing more to be done. Within the hour we had informed the Alconas of our safety and were sipping warm milk laced with whisky at the Fierney's.

'Peter, Jon – how can we thank you?'

'A warm bed?'

'Of course, but…'

'Patrick saved Jon, so we're quits.' I turned to Jon. 'It was fun, wasn't it?'

'Wouldn't have missed it for the world. Anyone else you want rescued?'

Celia turned anguished eyes on us both and said with chilling intensity, 'Not someone – something! Decency! I want you to rescue decency! I want revenge on the man who murdered Max and tortured you and Patrick. I want him to pay for the horror and misery he's caused; for murdering his wife, although she deserved it. I want him stopped from committing indecencies against innocent victims of his lusts. I want him in prison. Not dead! I want him to suffer! To lose all his ill-gotten gains… I want him to be… broken!'

The passion underpinning the last word sent tickles up my spine. I pictured MacFife broken on a wheel, a ragged mess of body parts begging for relief as madness choked his mind.

'You're on,' chirped Jon cheerfully, snapping the tension and stopping a slither into melodrama. 'Apart from everything you mentioned, Celia, it's been bugging me that he's going to inherit all Frances's assets. Especially when they're due to Max's brains and hard work. He's even got Peter's car and clothes.' He squatted in front of Hank and Celia and gazed tenderly up at their ravaged faces.

'I loved Max too, you know. He was the first person to do me a good turn while expecting nothing in return. He saved me from topping myself. I reckon I owe him one.'

'And so do I!' I couldn't help adding. 'So don't worry, we've got it under control. We'll sleep here tonight in case you get an unexpected visit, and tomorrow you're off to stay with Maureen.'

They looked at each other. 'But…'

'No buts. They've a large house, only one kid still at home, so you won't be in their way. You can go whale watching. What's the time?'

'Just on ten o'clock.'

Fifteen minutes later the visit was arranged, we'd showered, and were tossing about, unable to sleep.

'Wanna talk about it?'

'Might as well.'

It was a long and fruitless regurgitation of everything. We must have slept eventually, because suddenly it was light and Celia poked her head round the door.

'Cup of tea?'

They hadn't slept much either and were already packed, ready to head north. She perched on the bed.

'We're both excited about staying with Maureen. She seemed genuinely pleased.'

'Of course she is. The trouble with parents is they remain intimidatingly competent and their offspring always feel like children, even when they're fifty. So let her pamper you both and realise you came to stay because you need her help and comfort.'

Celia smiled and patted my cheek. 'You're a wise old thing for twenty-eight. I'm so glad I know you. You too, Jon. Take care of each other.' She turned at the door. 'About last night. I was overwrought and said what I would like to happen, not what I expect will happen. I couldn't sleep worrying about you two risking your lives for my pathetic revenge. Promise you will leave it to the police from now on.'

We both started speaking at once.

'You first.'

'No, no. After you.'

'Anything you want, Celia.'

'No, Peter. You must promise!'

'OK. But that means we'll have to tell them about Patrick.'

Celia swallowed nervously and her voice was tinged with panic. 'No! Not Patrick yet. I telephoned Elizabeth this morning and the doctor is worried about his sanity. He's on strong sedatives. Elizabeth made the doctor promise not to report it. If the police get to Patrick they'll go over everything before he's ready – they'll have to. No. Please leave Patrick out of it until he's recovered.'

Hank had appeared at the door. 'If MacFife's got the money he appears to have, he's sure to have a snoop in the police force who'll inform him of Patrick's whereabouts if we tell them.'

'We agree,' Jon said brightly. 'So relax and leave everything to us.'

'I haven't had a chance to find out about that woman; Culworth,' Hank apologised.

'That's OK, Jon's met her before. A brothel madam, apparently.'

'I won't ask how you met her.'

'I wouldn't tell you.'

'It's a wise man who keeps his own counsel.'

'Indeed. Can we raid your wardrobe for a disguise?'

'What's mine is yours.

'And mine.' It was a relief to see Celia smile.

'Can we swap the rental car for your ute, and take any gear from your shed we might need?'

'Of course. And pop this in your expense account.' Hank handed me a cheque for two thousand dollars. The look in his eyes brooked no refusal, so I slipped it into my wallet.

After breakfast we loaded cars and ute, locked up, bid farewell, and by eight o'clock the place was empty of humans.

Mad was waiting on the intersection three blocks from the house. John handed over the keys, shook hands in a businesslike manner and joined me in the ute. We drove down to the coast through a landscape of crystalline purity; the sky a cloudless blue, a sweet crispness on the air and views of such heart-stopping perfection that one feared an incautious sneeze might shatter the scene into billions of brilliant shards.

Jon sneezed – the scene remained the same.

'Caught a cold?'

'Sun in my eyes.'

'Takes a bit of getting used to - all this light after weeks of wet.'

'I think I'll manage. Where're we going?



'Shopping, then to the gallery and take it from there?'

'Good one.'

We deposited Hank's cheque in Jon's almost empty account. That way we both had access to funds on our own cards. A shopping centre about half a kilometre north west of the gallery provided a couple of mobile phones, food and sundries. We left the ute in the shoppers' car park and, in Hank's old clothes, wandered down to the beach and along the eroded shoreline. Towels under our shirts suggested beer-guts; fishing rods provided cover. John carried lunch and a few cans in his rucksack; I had other things in mine. Casting our lines occasionally and fruitlessly, we ended up at the rocks below the gallery.

A cap with side flaps hid Jon's hairless head and earrings; wisps of wig escaping from an old, wide-brimmed straw sun hat distracted from my profile. We lounged against the rocks at the top of the cliff with a view of the rear and one side of the gallery. It was a day made for lazing. Jon unpacked the sandwiches.

'What'll we do when this is all over?'

The same question had been revolving in my own head. I knew what I wanted, but it's difficult to know how to reply to that sort of question. If you're too enthusiastic the other person can feel pushed. If you're noncommittal he'll think you're not keen. His expression gave nothing away. To hell with it, I thought. A relationship in which you're always worrying if you've said the right thing can never work. 'When this is all settled,' I said firmly, 'we'll live happily together for the next couple of centuries; fighting, loving, arguing, agreeing, disagreeing, laughing, crying, and…'

'Catching anything?'

I nearly shat myself. 'Na, mate. Bloody good excuse to get away from the missus, but.' It was lucky I had the words ready, but I wasn't ready for Glaze to be standing beneath me. He'd approached the same way we had, along the low-tide sand. What the hell had he heard? Had I been talking too loud as usual? Jon hunched over his line concentrating on a knot. I screwed up my face to peer down at the enemy. 'Y'on holiday, mate?' I asked, querulously nasal.

'No such luck. I work over there.' He hauled his lean frame easily up the rocks and indicated the gallery.

'Pretty bloody posh place,' whined Jon. 'Bet it's worth a few bob, right on the sea and everythink. My place got washed out. Have to live with the fuckin' in-laws. Jeeze, what fuckin' wankers. They're on my bloody back day in and day out. D'ya live there then?'

Glaze pulled a face and turned towards the gallery as if in search of classier company. 'I stay there when it's busy. My place in the hills was unaffected by the flooding.'

'House in the hills, eh? Costs a packet to buy up there, I reckon. Especially now. You've gotta be worth a bit.'

'A bit.'

'Nice place?'

'Not as remarkable as this.'

'What's it like waking up right next to the sea? You must have an important job. Are you an artist?'

Glaze's air of distracted disdain settled my nerves. We mightn't be worth looking at but he couldn't resist showing off.

'I'm an artist - of sorts,' he said airily. 'Not with paint and suchlike – more… body art, you might say, for a select clientele.'

I wanted to smear his self-satisfied smirk across the rocks.

'Must be great to work here and have a place in the hills. Fuck, I wish I was rich.' Jon vented his frustration on the increasingly knotted line. 'Bet you drive a beaut car.'


'I bloody knew it. A fuckin' Merc! And I have to walk because even the fuckin' busses aren't running properly.'

Glaze was torn between going, and gloating.

'Get yourself a job, man. There's work out there for those who really want it.'

'Says Richie Rich. You don't know the half of it, mate. You give a show for a bunch of rich wankers and bingo - money in the bank. No one wants an honest day's work from an honest bloke.'

'I work bloody hard for my money! I'll be working my butt off most of tonight, while you're home screwing your missus.'

'Here? You're giving a show here? Can I come?'

'Not here, and not unless you've a spare thousand bucks to chuck around. So don't try and tell me about hard work. You're bone idle, the pair of you.' His mobile phone interrupted what looked like developing into a reason for us to thump him. He turned his back and mumbled, but there was no disguising the reaction. His body stiffened, he grunted twice, shoved the phone into his pocket and took off.

'Reckon they've heard the good news, then?'

'I reckon.'

My Mercedes burned off up the road towards the hills.

For the next couple of hours a constant stream of sightseers drove past the gallery. About a dozen stopped. One man came out clasping a purchase. Halfway through the afternoon, Brian pulled up in the Volvo, went inside and re-appeared fifteen minutes later with Mad's remaining drawings. Two overweight blokes in business suits pulled up at three thirty in the latest model four-wheel drive, but came out empty handed. A short time later a van pulled in to the car park then drove to the front entrance, out of sight. About twenty minutes later it took off again. Around four o'clock the Mercedes came back, followed by MacFife's Porsche and another car. Doors slammed and irritated voices echoed.

We were starting to feel conspicuous, so packed up and wandered back the way we'd come. After stowing the props in the back of the ute, we changed into conservative gear; sports coats, neat shirts and ties. Jon looked good in a tweed cap. Hank's trousers were a little baggy round the waist and slightly too long in the leg for Jon, but it was amazing how well the clothes of a seventy-four year-old fitted two guys in their twenties. We strolled back along the road as if enjoying the warm evening, and stopped for a natter opposite the well-lit gallery. The van from the afternoon reappeared and drew up to the front door.

'Looks like the show's going to be here tonight. Probably getting a bit draughty up in them thar hills.'

'Must be mighty sad they've lost their doggies.'

'And their prisoner.'

'Reckon they're feeling vulnerable?'

'Hardly. Those types think they're gods.'

The inside of the huge front windows of the gallery were already half covered with silvered insulating paper. As we watched, a workman up a ladder dropped another roll to the floor, holding it in place while his assistant taped it securely. There was apparently going to be a need for privacy.

'Uh-oh! Keep that bitch off me!' Jon wandered a few metres away and leaned over a fence to peer intently at a couple of mould-infected citrus trees. I stared vaguely out to sea. A high-pitched squawk roused me in time to steady CC, who had caught one of her ridiculously high heels on the edge of the gutter and was toppling towards me. It was well done - almost believable.

'Oh, how foolish of me, thank goodness it was you.' She giggled seductively. 'What a happy coincidence. Imagine falling into the arms of a complete stranger!

I smiled, extricated myself and pushed her upright.

She leaned on my shoulder and checked her shoes for damage. 'Everything's simply bedlam at the gallery.'

I tried to look excited. 'Is it the opening tonight? Don't tell me I got the date wrong!'

'No, no. Just an impromptu little party for a few of the director's friends. But he always goes to a great deal of trouble and suddenly we're short staffed, such a nuisance.'

'Must be.'

She nodded dolefully then visibly brightened as an idea slipped into her head. 'I don't suppose… No of course you wouldn't, a gentleman like you. How silly of me.'

I smiled vaguely, not wanting to hear what was coming, and started to move off. 'Well, have a happy party.'

She clawed at my arm as though for support. 'Wasn't that young man extraordinary the other day?' she burbled fatuously. 'I don't suppose you've seen him since? I know it sounds ridiculous, but he was looking for work and we do need someone to help in the kitchen.'

I frowned.

'I know it's stupid, but I'm such a softie. I always try to overlook people's faults and search for the virtues behind them.' She smiled up at me expectantly and I tried not to puke.

A sudden poke in the back from Jon as he wandered past, nearly thrust me into the woman's arms. He grunted something. I nodded vacantly at his back.

'Nice meeting you,' I called vaguely, before once more gazing into the mascara depths of CC's watery eyes. 'I think… no, it probably wasn't…'.


'I think I saw him sprawled over a bench back there.'


I pretended to rack my brains. 'In front of that pizza place, I think it was. But… I'm not certain. Those types all look alike.'

'Yes… and he'd be completely unsuitable. I can't imagine what I was thinking. One should never trust people like that – especially at a respectable party. My dear departed husband always said my soft heart would be my undoing.'

She shook herself, bared yellow teeth, and glanced over her shoulder, impatient to go. 'Well, I've recharged my batteries. They'll be docking my salary if I stay away any longer. Lovely to see you again.' A pat on my arm and she crossed the road in the perilous scuttle enforced by high heels and tight skirt.

Jon was already out of sight, so I walked briskly back, rehearsing all the arguments I could think of to dissuade him. CC passed me in her car, tooted and waved.

Hank had fitted a windowless, fibreglass canopy on the back of the ute, so we'd tossed our sleeping bags and all the gear in there. It was going to be bedroom, kitchen and anything else we needed. Jon had already changed into his 'sex clobber'. I composed my face into a mask of enlightened rationality and asked, 'What's the rush?'

'She's obviously trying to find me. Wants me to work tonight. It's our chance to get some dirt.'

'I don't want you to.'

'You're mad! We've got to grab every chance we can get!'

'It's too dangerous.'

'You'll be there.'


'If you hear me scream – call the cops on the mobile.'

'Ha, bloody ha.'

He put his hands on my shoulders and said slowly, 'I'll go and meet her and see what the job is. She won't need me for a couple of hours, so there'll be plenty of time to sort out a fail-safe plan.'

Before I could argue he jumped down and swaggered through the golden haze of evening, head high, hips thrusting - visible to anyone driving in either direction. I'm not sure which emotion was uppermost – foreboding, love, or lust. I couldn't believe that glorious creature was my friend, companion, lover. Life couldn't be that generous. Something was going to go terribly wrong! Thus did fear spoil both happiness and the beauty of the evening.

To take my mind off the dangers I sorted and stacked all the 'just-in-case' gear we'd appropriated from Hank, making a space large enough to sleep, then prepared sandwiches and made a list of all my worries. Fears faced are supposed to lose their power. When the gallery was being built, Max hollowed out a section of a rear windowsill and hid a spare master key, concealing the gap with stucco. A tap with a stone would break the cover and I'd have a key! Only he and I knew of it. My phone rang.


'She's gone, but I'm not sure where. Spending time with CC makes me paranoid. Drive to the far end of the old K Mart car park where the canal's become a swamp. When I'm sure I'm not being followed I'll join you.'



'Will do.'


'I'm on my way.'


'Hang up, you great galah.'

'Where? There's no hook – Oh… you mean switch off… Roger.'


'Will do.'


For answer; the sucking noise of a sloppy kiss. My heart was full. I drove to the rendezvous and parked in the deepest dark and shadow. A minute later Jon was beside me. 'Drive to that park by the river.'

'It's a smelly mess.'

'That's right. No one'll be there.'

I drove, parked, we climbed in the back, accomplished a few intimate exercises on the sleeping bags, then lay contentedly in the darkness.

'I needed that.'


'Deep physical and mental contact with someone pure and simple.'


'As in straightforward, uncomplicated, honest and trustworthy.'

'That's me. Well?'

'She picked me up just past the Pizza place. I acted as though I didn't remember who she was – a bit spaced out. She offered me two hundred to help out at a dinner tonight. A group of business people from Melbourne, sizing up the Coast for investments – at least that's the story. They want a bit of entertainment – nothing very heavy. There'll be five girls and two guys to match the five men and two women in the party. No fucking, just eye-candy - sort of 'pet for the evening' – something like that.'

'Do you want to do it?'

'No. But I will. Do you mind?'


'Enough to forbid me?'

'I can deny you nothing.'

'It's up to me?'


'I promise I'll be careful.'

'What time?'


'It's nearly eight, that gives us an hour to eat and plan.'

'I've eaten. She fed me – that's why I was so long. She wanted to make sure I was going to be sober.'

Our plan was simple. I'd park the ute as close as possible to the gallery without being obvious. Jon would go to the private entrance while I went the same way we had that morning, along the beach then up the rocks so I could approach the back entrance unobserved. After retrieving the spare key I'd throw a rope onto the roof and wait. Jon would grab the first opportunity to sneak up to the roof, secure the rope, throw the end down, leave the roof door open and we'd take it from there. As I said, simple – or do I mean simplistic? He probably wouldn't even get near the door to the roof.

By ten o'clock I was starting to panic. Eleven cars and their occupants had arrived. Music and laughter sounded faintly above the lapping of waves. Suddenly, the slightest of thumps and a black line jiggled against the white, moonlit wall.

Somewhat less than invisible in dark tracksuit and woollen hat, I hauled myself up, slid over the coping and froze. Someone was coming out of the door to the stairs. Fortunately, he wandered over to the other side of the roof where he stood smoking, gazing towards the hills. I pressed myself back in the deeper darkness behind the coping, not daring to move. Music and light drifting up through the opened dome had covered my noise. After a couple of minutes he flicked the glowing butt into the car park, gazed down through the dome, grunted and returned to the gallery.

It was a while before I dared move – there might be someone else. I tried the door - locked. I hauled up the rope and peered cautiously over the edge of the dome. In front of the blocked out windows, a small stage flanked by urns sprouting gilded foliage, was lit by the glow of eight candelabra on small tables beside eight armchairs. The rest of the gallery was deep in shadow.

On stage, a blond and a redhead wrestled indolently under an amber spotlight, watched by five middle-aged, overweight males and two fashionably scrawny women of a similar age dressed for a cocktail party. Three young waitresses wearing thongs, were serving something colourful and creamy while Jon and a curly haired youth wearing nothing at all, topped up glasses. Soft music drowned muted conversation.

CC, her bones wrapped in Lurex spangles, kept an eye on proceedings from the gloom. MacFife, the only healthy-looking person seated, lounged in the eighth armchair while Glaze, gauntly elegant in a white linen suit, slithered among the guests; chatting, charming, smarming. The girls' lazy wrestling progressed to erotic fondling. Plates were cleared, glasses recharged, and guests exchanged nods of anticipation.

Easy-going music became a staccato beat as Scumble's massively muscled naked body prowled onto the stage. He joined in the wrestling and with little opposition from the girls, had his way with them as they gazed vacantly into space. Then, tucking one under each arm, he trotted off. It was mildly amusing and the audience applauded.

Glasses were refilled while CC herded the staff upstairs and closed the door. MacFife stood and asked a question. Everyone laughed and raised hands. CC wheeled in a chromium tea trolley and handed out straws and lines of white powder, on slabs of black glass.

Snorting completed, the guests sat back, twitching with excitement, or delirium. Glaze, lean and mean in black codpiece, boots, studded dog-collar and armbands bristling with shiny metal spikes, leaped onto the stage, hands on hips, solemn, hard, and only slightly ridiculous. The music thumped - insistent.

The trolley was wheeled away, music swelled, and the waiters and waitresses wearing bored smiles, lap-danced for their personal guests. Jon gazed at the ceiling while his woman fondled his interesting bits.

Scumble reappeared with a whip and chased the young people away.

The music switched to a jolly rendering of The Teddy Bears' Picnic, and a prepubescent-looking girl carrying a basket of fruit skipped onto the stage, sat on a beanbag, peeled a banana and used it as a dildo before enticing a ponderous male from the audience to join her and experiment with different fruits and vegetables.

Two beautiful girls chased each other onto the stage and fought like wild cats. Blood dripped as they bit flesh and tore hair. There was no music, no sound other then their grunts and snarls. Eventually, one girl pinned the other with a knee on her neck, strapped on a dildo similar to the one that had done me such damage, and performed. I felt sick but the audience loved it.

Glaze, in crotchless leather harness, returned to the spotlight, apparently dragging a girl by the hair. He dumped her on the stage. She cowered in fake fear. The voyeurs sat forward in their seats. Before Glaze could do anything else, Jon leaped onstage, snatched the whip from him and forced him to back off. The audience booed. The girl clung to the other boy's legs for safety, but Glaze snatched the whip back and forced both boys to perform doggy style with the expressionless girl who never stopped chewing gum. His own performance after their obviously fake orgasms was no more convincing than theirs. One of the patrons yawned.

If this was the standard of sexy titillation provided up at the tent palace, MacFife was not going to make a fortune. Perhaps the loss of Patrick, his guard dogs, and knowing his hideaway had been discovered, had made him careless – or too nervous to do anything really bad in this much less than secure environment.

While drinks were replenished, Jon whispered in MacFife's ear. He immediately stood and followed Jon into the shadows, beckoning to a sweating Glaze and Scumble. After what looked like a short argument, they nodded, MacFife returned to his seat, and Scumble escorted a simpering CC to the corridor that led to the back door.

Glaze jumped back on stage, fondled himself lewdly and grinned. 'You've been a great audience so here's something to make your hair curl before you take your boys and girls home to practise what you've learned.'

Three girls sauntered onto the stage, one wearing a gigantic dildo. They had just begun an athletic, if not particularly aesthetic series of invasions of every possible orifice when I heard voices from the rear of the gallery. I raced to the parapet and stared down at Scumble and CC, clearly visible in the moonlight. She was shouting, he slapped her, she struggled, he wrapped his left arm around her neck and pulled her head against his chest as though comforting her. After gently brushing stray hairs from her eyes, he placed the heel of his right hand against her temple and gave his right hand a sharp shove. The snap was audible from the roof.

This was getting serious! What was happening to Jon?

The audience had been clapping in drugged dissatisfaction. Sex – especially vicarious sex without love, affection, caring or tenderness, creates a gaping appetite. The greater the dissatisfaction, the more perverse the acts until only cruelty, pain and suffering can trigger release. I was trying not to think. It couldn't be real – could it? I'd been amazed at the erections, until I remembered Frances's gigolo. I wasn't jealous. Loveless coupling with a stranger is pitiable, not something to excite jealousy. My mind was a mess. Relief Jon had worn a condom. Fear he'd be forced to do worse things. Afraid of what came next – because CC had lied. The kids were being prostituted to those revolting people. Hatred and fear prevented thought. I was hurting for the girls, although they didn't seem concerned for themselves. What horror story their childhood? All thought of trapping MacFife had vanished. Jon had to get out of there! But where was he?

Scumble's murder of CC had taken longer than I realised and for several long minutes I peered into the gloom below as the lights were extinguished, trying to work out what was happening, sick to the core. How could I have agreed to Jon's being part of this? A series of shouts from the car park sent me to the front parapet. Cars were already driving away. I should have been down there! Jon, back in his sexy jeans and waistcoat, was shouting, arguing with his woman and fighting MacFife who raised both hands in surrender, took out his wallet and pressed money into the angry woman's hand. She looked at it, nodded, slammed into her car and sped off.

Jon turned in the direction of where we'd parked our utility truck only to be met by Scumble, now in a tracksuit. Surprised, Jon backed into MacFife, who held him while Scumble knuckled him in the temple, then tossed the slumped body into the boot of the Mercedes.

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