Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 5


After a couple of hundred metres, the ranger veered south down the slope through places Frankie knew well. 'He's going to the lake,' he whispered to himself, following as close as he dared. 'I wonder if he'll swim.'

Watching from a few metres away, he laughed silently as the ranger stopped at the edge of the water, bent down and put his hand in, gave a slight shiver and stood up. 'Too cold,' he muttered, clambering round to Frankie's diving rock, where he removed his shirt and lay back to soak up the sun.

'Gosh you're a wimp!' Frankie laughed, revealing himself.

The ranger looked up in surprise. 'Who're you?'


'How'd you get here?'


'But…how'd you get here from wherever you live?'

'I live here.'

'Where? How? Who with?'

'My grandparents.'

The ranger stood, approached Frankie and looked into his eyes as if questioning his truthfulness. He was larger than Frankie had thought, and tougher—if that were possible. No vandal or evildoer would dare confront him. 'According to the Lands Department website, there's only a Mr. and Mrs. Fey live up here—no one else.'

'You checked their number plate on the internet?'

'You were watching me?' The tone was sharp and slightly aggressive.

'I saw you arrive and wondered who you were. You're the first visitor since we got here.'

The ranger folded massive arms and stared down, daring the young whelp to lie.

Frankie bravely stood his ground, looking straight back into the greenish eyes. 'I suppose they don't know about me; I've never been away from this place since we arrived.'

'When was that?'

'Beginning of August. It was really cold and windy then. We don't have a radio or anything so I've sort of lost track of time. Is it December yet?'

'It's the fifth of February.'

Frankie shook his head in surprise. 'That means I've been here seven months! So it'll start getting colder soon. I hate the cold.'

'Didn't you have Christmas? New Year?'

'Our family aren't Christians, and Grandpa says every day is the first day of a new year. Calendars are like clocks, he reckons, tools to keep people enslaved.'

'Don't you go to school?'

'Grandpa says schools are just places to indoctrinate kids into believing that civilization and the way most people now live is good, when in reality it's bad.'

'What do you think?'

'He's sort of right. But learning to read and write and do arithmetic is useful.'

'Do you like living here?' The eyes and voice had lost their hardness and a concerned frown softened the ranger's unnervingly symmetrical features.

Frankie thought carefully. He'd asked himself that question daily and knew the answer, but wasn't sure the ranger would understand. He shrugged and hoped for the best. 'I love being free and having all this to myself,' he waved his hand to include the forest, hills and lake. 'But I get so lonely sometimes I want to die.'

'Where are your parents?'

'They died in a car accident.'

'That must have been terrible for you.'

'Actually… I didn't feel anything much. Still don't.' Frankie sighed. 'I wish this was just a holiday and I could go back to Melbourne and live with my uncle.'

'Why can't you?'

'Grandma and Grandad want me to live here and become like them.' He frowned slightly, not wanting the man to think he was a whining complainer.

'Is that what you want?'

'No!' The flimsy barrier he'd erected to prevent a descent into pathetic self pity dissolved, and all his loneliness, frustration and misery gushed forth. 'No! I'm nearly sixteen and haven't lived yet! I don't want to stay here and be like them! I hate them! They're mad! They don't eat or wash or do anything except sit and not think. Grandma says they've become so spiritual they're almost spirits and soon they won't need any food at all. I wish they'd die so I could escape!' He stood, rigid, eyes wide as tears streamed down his cheeks and shudders wracked his frame. There was nothing but truth in the outburst. He wasn't feeling sorry for himself. Not a hint of hysteria, only indignant anger and frustration at his situation.

After a few seconds of indecision the ranger enclosed the lad in his arms, rocking him gently until the tears and shudders ceased.

'Frankie took a deep breath and stepped away a couple of paces, wiping the tears roughly away. He sniffed impatiently. 'Sorry about that. It gets to me sometimes.'

'It'd get to me all the time. I'm impressed you've coped so well. I'd not have been able to.'

Frankie nodded with a sly grin. 'Yeah, you look tough, but you're actually a wimp. Too frightened to go for a swim.'

'It's too bloody cold.'

'Come on. I challenge you.'

'Challenge accepted!'

They tossed their clothes aside, clambered onto the rock, stood side by side and on the count of three leaped into the water. The race to the edge was a tie, but Frankie remained standing in water up to his thighs to complete his daily cleanliness ritual while the ranger jumped up and down, rubbed at his arms, legs and chest, and shook his head wildly sending water spraying off hair and beard.

'Fuck that was cold I'm going to warm up on the rock! What the hell are you doing? You'll freeze to death.'

'Keeping clean; there's not enough water back at the caves to wash properly and I don't want to stink like…' He shrugged, finished his wash with one last immersion, then also jumped up and down on the sand to shake off the drops.

'No soap?'

'Makes the water mucky.'

'Aren't you cold?'

'A bit, but not for long.' He sprawled over the warm rocks. 'Ah, delicious.' He turned his head and laughed at the ranger. 'I told you you're soft.'

The ranger sat up, leaned over and offered his hand. 'I'm Sylvan Forray.'

Frankie took the largest hand he had ever seen in his life, shook it and said seriously, 'Frankie Goldmein. Pleased to meet you. Do you come here often?'

They both laughed at the absurdity, then lay back staring at the sky; the ranger wondering what to do about this kid; Frankie deciding that although his new friend looked a bit like a tough thug, he was the opposite; kind and gentle. An ache filled his chest and the thought of his uncle triggered a painful constriction in his throat. He hoped he wasn't going to cry again. He wanted to wrap his arms around Sylvan's waist and be hugged and to tell him everything about his lonely life and mad grandparents. He wanted to share, to love, to laugh to know he was real and that someone liked and wanted him. He sighed. So many wants and nothing but sadness.

Sylvan opened his eyes and smiled. 'You sighed. What're you thinking?'

'That even though you look like a mobster you're a great guy and I really like you.'

'Yeah. I was thinking the same.'

'That I'm a lowlife?'

'That you're a nice guy.'

'I can't remember what I look like because we haven't got a mirror. Seriously… am I a bit… you know… ugly?'

Sylvan pretended to consider the question seriously. 'You're very lean, but obviously fit and strong. You told me you're nearly sixteen; but look more like a young twenty. I talk to hundreds of kids during school education tours and I reckon you're the best looking and the nicest kid I've met.'

'Thanks, but I'd sooner look like you—a really tough guy that people would take seriously.'

'With a criminal face.'

'No… I shouldn't have said that. I like your face and… I don't know why, but I trust you.'

'Thanks.' Sylvan lay back and an easy silence again descended for several minutes. Suddenly he sat up. 'Do you really want to leave this place and live with your uncle?'

Frankie's sprang to his feet. 'Yes! Yes, yes, yes! I'll do anything to get away. Can you help me? I didn't dare ask.'

'What your grandparents are doing is illegal—keeping you out of school.' He searched Frankie's face. 'You weren't making that up?'


'Are they your legal guardians?'

'I don't know. I don't think so. I wanted to live with Ingenio and they'd filled out papers to adopt me, but Grandma and Grandad drugged me and when I woke up we were in the boat to Tasmania and I haven't been able to escape. I haven't agreed to live with them. The trouble is Ingenio doesn't know where we are, and we've no phones or anything to tell him… he must be sick with worry.' his voice trailed off.

'If I can convince them to let you go to your uncle. Would you like that?'

'Yes please!' Frankie stood in front of Sylvan and, taking hold of the huge hands looked into his eyes. Pleading. 'Please…'

Sylvan smiled uncertainly. 'Right, get your clothes on and take me to your abductors.'

Back at the Pajero, Sylvan took out his mobile phone.

'Who're you ringing?'

'Your uncle.' His eyes searched Frankie's. 'He really does want you, doesn't he? He does exist? I could get into real trouble if you're making this up.'

'Yeah. He really does. He loves me.' Frankie's tension showed.

'Have you any documentation—birth certificate or something like that?'




'Better clothes than what you're wearing?'

'No, I've grown out of the few things we brought, and these are getting tight.'

Sylvan nodded. 'It doesn't matter. If you know his number it'll save using directory enquiries, I can never get their voice recognition to understand me.'

'I memorised it the day we left and repeat it every day in case I get near a phone.'

'Good man. Let's hope he answers. What's his name again?'


Frankie's crossed fingers worked and Sylvan began talking. 'Hello, my name is Sylvan Forray; I'm a National Park Ranger in Southern Tasmania. I'd like to speak with Ingenio Fey, Frankie Goldmein's uncle... I am? Good… No, he's in perfect health. The thing is he wants to go and live with you. Are you prepared to have him?... Excellent. I thought I'd better check before making a fool of myself… Your parents seem healthy and willing to let him go… I can get him to Hobart airport tomorrow, but as he has no money, no documentation and nothing suitable to wear, I figured it'd be best if someone came to pick him up… Yes, I'll wait.' Sylvan turned to Frankie. 'He's over the moon and just checking timetables.'

'Can I talk to him?'

'As soon as we've sorted out travel.' He held the phone to his ear. 'Arriving Hobart ten thirty tomorrow morning. Yes, we'll be there… It's no trouble, I'll let him speak to you now.'

'Inge! I'm coming to live with you…' The conversation was predictably excitable, satisfying and lamentably brief. He handed back the phone with shining eyes. 'Thanks, Sylvan. I really, really love you, almost as much as I love Ingenio. But… you told Ingenio my grandparents will let me go, but you haven't seen them yet; how can you be sure?'

Sylvan puffed out his chest and displayed his biceps. 'Would you argue with me?'

'You wouldn't…would you?'

'No. I've a better weapon. I know the law.'

Frankie led the way past the garden, which Sylvan admired, down the zigzag path and there, as if they hadn't moved since morning, sat two almost-skeletons wrapped in what looked like dirty sheets, staring tranquilly down the valley.

Sylvan wrinkled his nose. 'Boy this place smells ripe.'

The stench was coming from one of the openings in the cliff.

'They shit in a bucket in that cave,' Frankie explained, 'and I dig a hole and bury it every day. The trouble is they spill a bit and aren't too careful about washing themselves afterwards.'

'Fuck I can smell them from here. If cleanliness is next to godliness, your grandparents have a long way to go.'

Frankie giggled and pointed to a wooden door closing the entrance to a cave. 'They sleep in that cave there, and my sleeping bag's in that one further along so I don't hear them snore or smell them. My cave's also the kitchen because all the food's stored at the back of it.'

'No door on yours. I'll bet it's cold.'

'Yeah, it is, so I do exercises to keep warm. Need a new sleeping bag though. Mines got thin and too small so I use lots of dry grass and moss.'

They'd arrived directly behind the meditating pair, who seemed unaware of them.

'Grandpa,' Frankie lightly touched the elderly man's shoulder.

'Yes?' The voice was soft and weak.

'This is Sylvan who is going to take me back to Melbourne to live with Ingenio.'

'No he isn't.' the grandmother said in a strong, harsh voice. 'You're staying with us. We need you.'

'Actually, Mrs. Fey, I am, unless you want the police to arrive, evict, and possibly imprison you for unlawful restraint and neglect of a child, as well as preventing him from attending school. If that happens, Frankie will be taken into care and you will never seen him, or this place again.'

That woke them up. 'You can't!' The elderly man's voice was noticeably stronger. 'We are his legal guardians and we'll sue you for kidnapping. You'll be the one in prison!'

'Show me your legal guardian documentation.'


'Here's the deal,' Sylvan said slowly and clearly. 'Either you let Frankie go and live with his uncle, and I leave you here in peace, or you resist and lose everything—this place, your grandson and your freedom. You've five minutes to decide.' He placed a hand on Frankie's shoulder. 'Show me your sleeping cave and while we're there get anything you want to take back with you while we wait for your grandparents decision.'

'What if…'

'They won't. They're not as daft as they pretend.'

Sylvan crawled in behind Frankie, who seemed perfectly at ease in the cramped space. The huge store of tinned and dried food amazed him, as did the resilience of a youth who could not only tolerate this situation but actually thrive in it. He doubted he'd have been as tough. Unnerved by the low rock tunnel and feeling claustrophobic, he backed out and waited. A minute later Frankie reappeared carrying only an envelope.'

'Are you sure that's all?'

'Yeah. I arrived with nothing so leave with nothing. This is Ingenio's photo and phone number that I've always kept with me.'

'You really do love him, don't you?'

'More than anything.'

They returned to the no-longer-meditating couple who were whispering angrily.

'Ok, what've you decided?'

'Take the young pup! He doesn't deserve us.'

'You're right about that!' Sylvan snapped, 'he deserves someone who cares about him more than themselves.'

Frankie arrived and shyly said goodbye. He was farewelled with a grunt. 'Thanks for giving me a holiday in this place, it's been mostly great.'

No answer.

Sylvan put his hand on Frankie's shoulder and led him up towards the Pajero, turning back to call, 'You both stink! The place is a mess. Your rubbish is piling up and you have no proper septic disposal. I'll come back in two months and if it's still like this I'll report you to the Health Department.' They drove away, Frankie jumping up and down with excitement.

'Tomorrow Ingenio's coming for me! Can I stay with you tonight?'

'Yes, but not at my house. My wife would want to know all about you, then she'd get all indignant and insist we prosecute your grandparents despite our promises; you wouldn't want that, would you?'

'Not really! They were doing what they thought best. And I've enjoyed myself heaps… mostly… at least now I'm leaving I can see it wasn't a total disaster. But we needn't tell her.'

'You can't keep anything from a woman who's determined to find out. In ten minutes you'd be telling her everything.'

'I can sleep in the Pajero.'

'I'm not leaving you on your own. I'll call her and say I have to stay overnight in the park; it wouldn't be the first time. We'll camp in a forest just outside Hobart.'

And they did. Sharing a groundsheet and blankets under the stars beside a stream, next to a small fire on which they cooked dampers and boiled tea. It was Frankie's best night since arriving on the island, and, he desperately hoped, his last.

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