Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 10


After driving all night they arrived exhausted at a set of magnificent wrought iron gates hung between two giant eucalyptus trees. The surreal effect triggered an involuntary laugh of delight. They parked in front of the gates and got out to look, listen, and smell the environment. The winding road had been cut into the edge of a heavily forested slope. Their driveway, visible through the gates, wound up hill out of sight. Trees and undergrowth on the other side of the road obscured whatever view there might have been towards the city. The air was fresh. The silence broken only by bird calls. The smell was of fecund nature.

'Does your property have a name, I wonder?' Ingenio mused. 'There's no name of the house or occupier on the gate.'

'There's an old surveyor's peg to the left,' Con observed.

'Anything written on it?'

'Just the numbers eight and five.'

'Then "85" is what we'll call the place,' Frankie laughed, opening the gates. A sealed drive climbed gently for just over a kilometre through dry old eucalyptus forest that would become a death trap when the planet heated. Two sharp corners cut into the side of the hill offered vistas back to smog-shrouded Sydney. A final curve and another set of gates, these ones open, gave onto a large, sloping, oval clearing full of wild grasses.

At the furthest and highest edge was a two storeyed circular house built of rough-hewn, ochreous stone. Roman arches encircled the ground floor, and a filigree stone tower topped by a greenish onion dome, sprouted like a mushroom from the centre of the tiled roof that overhung the upstairs walls far enough to give shade in summer, but allow sunlight to penetrate in winter. A slightly smaller version of the house immediately to the left of the gate, appeared to be a garage, tool shed and greenhouse. Instead of a tower and dome, however, the centre of its roof sported a gigantic satellite dish. The entire oval grassed area was ringed by dense forest. Behind the main house the ground rose steeply to join apparently endless heavily forested hills.

They parked on a sealed area in front of what was probably the garage, got out, stretched, and nodded at a lean, sinuous man in jeans, work boots and pale blue tank top. He looked to be in his forties. Skin the colour of soot. Frankie had never seen anyone as black. Hair a short dense cap. A wide mouth and prominent brow over wary eyes made him interesting, but not alarming. He approached cautiously.

'I'm guessing one of you is Frankie Fey.' The voice was deep and unusually polite.

Frankie stepped forward, offering his hand. 'Yes, I am,' he said, unaccountably shy.

They shook hands.

'Do you mind telling me who you are and how you know my name?'

'Most people call me Snake. I look after the place for Mr. LaDjess. I got a phone call from his lawyer telling me he was dead and you're the new owner. Bit young, aren't you? Have you any proof you are who you say you are?'

'Bit young for what? I'm sixteen. This is my brother Ingenio and his partner Constantine. And yes, I have proof; it's in the car. I'll get it.'

Ingenio and Constantine shook hands with the man who called himself Snake.

'Partner as in boyfriend?'

'Yes. Got a problem with that?'

'Nope. Just don't want to put my foot in it. My only problem is what your brother's going to do with this place. And me,' he added as an afterthought.

'He won't keep you in suspension.'

'Do you have another name apart from Snake?'

'Of course.'

'What is it?'

'I'll tell you if we ever become friends.'

'Why was this gate open and the other closed?'

'The road gate's closed to prevent nosey parkers from driving up. There's a laser alarm just inside, so when it sounded in the garage, I knew someone was arriving and opened it.'

'We apologise for not telling you we were coming, but we have no idea how to contact you.'

'No worries. You're the owners, you can come and go as you like.'

Frankie returned and handed Snake a photocopy of his birth certificate and the property transfer.

Snake studied it then looked up with a puzzled expression. 'You didn't buy it? It was a gift?'

'Yes. As for what I want to do with it…' he watched carefully for Snake's reaction. 'I want to keep it as wild and private as possible. Humans have enough good stuff, the animals and plants need space and peace.'

Snake smiled and nodded. 'As I'm human, I suppose you'll want me to go, then?'

'Do you want to go?'

'No. I love this place. Been here nearly fifteen years.'

'What do you do?'

'Everything. Maintenance, security, repairs… you name it, I do it.'

'Can you think of any reason we wouldn't want you to stay?' Ingenio asked politely.

'Like, have you a criminal record, that sort of thing,' Constantine added.

'Some people think I've done criminal things, but I don't. Mr. LaDjess trusted me. He was paying me five hundred a week and I live rent free, so if that doesn't continue I'll have to go—can't live on fresh air and scenery.'

'I reckon we can manage that,' Frankie said thoughtfully, turning to Ingenio. 'So that's what Prospero meant when he said Snakes are valuable. We can afford to pay the same can't we?'

'Of course. What do you say, Con?'

'We'd be fools to let him go, especially after Prospero's Delphic utterance.'

'What did Mr. LaDjess say about me?'

'That Snakes are the best defence against vermin.'

Snake's anxious frown dissolved into a laugh. 'A few years ago we were plagued by illegal loggers and nurserymen scouring the place for rare plants, so I got rid of them.' He thought briefly and frowned. 'Or… it could be that when I phoned him about two months ago, I mentioned a visit by a bloke claiming to be his nephew, Tony Carracci, the son of LaDjess's sister who married an Italian. Mr. LaDjess told me he was vermin and not under any circumstances to let him on the property. I forgot all about him until last week when he telephoned me, asking me to call him as soon as a bloke called Frankie Fey arrived to take over the place. I had no idea what he was talking about until the lawyer rang to tell me the boss was dead and Frankie was the new owner. I mentioned Tony Carracci's phone call, and he more or less repeated what Mr. LaDjess said; Tony Carracci is a low-life bastard to avoid. I thought it was him when you arrived. I'm glad it wasn't!'

'How did this Tony Carracci know I was the new owner?'

'Everything's on the Internet, including land titles. For a handful of dollars you can find out who owns anything, pretty well. I imagine he's been checking this property every day for months, waiting for the old man to die.'

'The Internet terrifies me sometimes.'

'The important thing is he asked me to let him know as soon as you got here, but not to tell you about him. It seems he wants to catch you off guard for some reason.'

'What's he like?'

'Greasy tub of lard; probably in his late fifties. Brought a mean looking bastard with him. Not big, more your size, Ingenio, and not much older. But tough. You know… the sort that starts arguments so he can bash you up? Don't know his second name but Carracci called him Jerry. Wouldn't trust either of them. Carracci told me he wants to take out all the old growth hardwood trees to sell to Asia for furniture, and then subdivide the place into acreage lots. Reckons to make about a billion at least. Offered me a million if I help him get it.'


'Will a million bucks buy me a house in place like this? It wouldn't even buy a two-roomed apartment behind the railway station in Sydney. When I said that he upped it to five million.'

'Even more tempting. Did you refuse?

'I said I'd let him know. I wanted to find out your plans first. You might have been even worse than him.'

'And now?'

'Now I'm worried. I have to let him know you're here or he'll fix me. But I'm nervous about what he'll do to you if you refuse to sell the place to him. Honestly, he's a nasty bit of work.'

'When he asked you to help, what did you think he meant?' Constantine asked.

'That I'd help him and Jerry put pressure on you.'

'What sort of pressure?'

'The sort of pressure that a greedy man who stands to gain a billion dollars puts on those who oppose him.'

'And if you don't tell him we're here, he'll…'

'I'm not going to wait to find out. I'll take off somewhere. I'm not going to risk getting on the wrong side of that sort.'

'Then as we want you to stay, we'll have to meet him. Tomorrow?'

Frankie shook his head. 'I'm already nervous, Ingenio. I'll not sleep till we've got it over with. Ring him now so we can tell him we're not selling and then enjoy the rest of the weekend.'

'I don't think it's going to be that simple, Frankie.'

'Should we call the cops?'

'No way! He's filthy rich. The police are probably on his payroll—most cops are for sale. Only a complete fool trusts them.'

'That's my experience too, Snake.' Constantine agreed. 'The sole function of the army, laws, police and judiciary is to keep the rich and the powerful safe from those who want to share in their good fortune.'

'You're both cynics, but I fear you're both right. Ok, Snake,' Ingenio said nervously, 'You're the vermin exterminator, what do you think we should do?'

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