Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 12


'Who knows you've come here?' Snake asked at breakfast.

'No one but us.'

'Which way did you drive?'

'Being Friday night we figured the main roads would be clogged with people getting away for the weekend, so we turned off just before Albury and went around Wagga Wagga to Cowra, and then side roads heading east till we got here. Took nearly eleven hours instead of eight and a half, but was safer with so much less traffic. We shared the driving between us so it wasn't too arduous.'

'If you didn't go through the centre of towns, then you were probably not caught on cameras. That's good. I suggest you go back the same way. Driving carefully no one will take any notice of you, especially as you're driving a Holden that looks the same as at least fifty thousand others. Then you'll get home in time for a shower and sleep before doing what you usually do. As an extra precaution against being caught on camera, I'll throw a bit of decorative mud at your car and numberplate so instead of reading PUT 4351, it'll look more like ROT 4357.

'You think we might be suspects?'

'Depends on whether anyone knows about Tony's plans. People like that never do anything without a back up and someone to alibi them if needed. He could have told anyone. He wasn't worried about murdering you, because it was going to be staged as an accident. But it pays to be safe. What about GPS?'

'The Holden's twenty years old and goes like a dream, but the only electronics are ABS brakes, as far as I know.'

'Excellent. That means no one can open it up and check where you've been. Mobile phones?'

'Con and I have pay as you go cheap things that do nothing except make and receive phone calls.'

'They also record them, so take out the cards and trash them somewhere between here and Melbourne, in case you made a call you've forgotten about since leaving home. What about you, Frankie?'

'I don't want to be available twenty-four-seven, and there's no one I want to phone anyway.'

'Right. Here's my unlisted landline number. I'm usually around the yard at lunch and after five pm. Use any landline but your own if you have to ring me. It's better if, in the eyes of the rest of the world, we meet for the first time when you come here permanently. You have a key, you can come whenever you want; the place is yours. The sooner the better as far as I'm concerned.'

'We feel the same. But as we're the new owners, wouldn't it seem strange if we didn't contact you—the caretaker? You know, swap a few emails?'

'How would you get my email address?'

'We've got the lawyer's contact details, we could ask him.'

'Yeah it would seem strange if you didn't contact me, but he only has my phone number. How about I email you as the new owners, asking what your intentions are and saying the lawyer who pays my salary gave me your email address. You can reply saying you're coming over in a few weeks time, and you'll pay me to stay on at least until then. All formal like.'

'Perfect. Let's send the email now. It'd seem odd for you to wait any longer.'

'I'll include the mailing address for this place in case you need to send me anything solid; it's a Post Office Box in town.

The email was sent, then they continued discussing plans.

'We'll put the Melbourne house on the market as soon as we return, and come here permanently the day we have a buyer. Shouldn't be long, we've had offers from developers for years.'

'Excellent. Here's today's plan, then. We'll do a tour of the house, then a bit of a hike up the back so you can gauge the extent and beauty of the place you've been given, then we'll have lunch, and then you'll sleep till I wake you for a bite to eat, and then you'll set off.'

'Do you boss everyone around like this? We're not made of glass.'

'To me you are precious.' Snake avoided their eyes, his voice harsh from embarrassment. 'I've been shit scared that someone like Tony would buy this place and kick me out.' He sighed deeply. 'Instead, three of the nicest guys imaginable have it, so I'm protecting my interests by insisting you take great care not to have an accident or be suspected of complicity in the disappearance of Tony and his ugly mate.'

Snakes shyness, tone and words triggered a frisson of fear. Of course they'd be suspected if anyone knew they'd been here. And it made sense to sleep plenty before setting out. All three looked at him with increased respect, if that were possible.

'Believe me, Snake you are just as precious to us,' Frankie said softly. 'Do you trust us enough now to tell us your name?'

Snake's grin transformed his face from a somewhat humourless, stern visage into a cheeky, almost boyish face dominated by a wide mouth filled with perfect white teeth. The smooth skin around his eyes crinkled, his eyes sparkled and he looked down modestly. 'You can't imagine how good it feels when someone who's not a cop wants to know my name. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who've cared enough to ask. It's Karmai.'

'Ah…' Ingenio said, 'it sounds so exotic. One day you'll tell us what significance it has, if any.'

'And how you got the nickname Snake,' Con added.

'That's no mystery. When I first went to school I was nervous and used to lick my lips a lot. Someone said I was like a snake—snakes' tongues are always flickering in and out, and the name stuck. Banal eh?'

'As are most of the reasons we do things. But it doesn't change the fact that you're a brilliant strategist and a valuable friend. So, what name would you prefer, Snake or Karmai?'

Karmai grinned. 'Karmai, of course; too many bad memories associated with Snake.'

'Karmai you shall be, and we've decided to call this place "85" , unless it has another name?'

'It hasn't. There are Lot and Plan numbers, but I've no idea what they are. Why "85"?'

'There's an old survey post near the road gate with that number on it.'

'Actually, it's the number of the water hydrant beside it used by fire fighters during bush fires. At least it's better than 'Dunromin', or 'Bideawhile'. Meanwhile, time is of the essence, as you lawyers like to say, so let's do the dishes and take the tour.'

'It looks cute,' Frankie stated with the conviction of someone who knows nothing about architecture as they walked towards the house from the garage. 'I love the colour; it looks so sunny and warm.'

'It's supposed to look classical, not cute,' Karmai protested.

'What's classical?'

'You ignorant bumpkin! Ask me again when I have the time to educate you.'

Con laughed. 'You know a bit about architecture, Karmai?'

'Studied Art history with Open University.'

'What else?'

'Eighteenth and nineteenth century English Literature, and Chinese Political History before nineteen hundred.'

'Did you enjoy it?

'Of course; I now see the world of men through educated eyes, and can appreciate things such as this house.'

'It's smaller than it looked from the garage,' Ingenio observed.

'That's because we thought it was further away,' Con said thoughtfully. 'I also like it, but it'd be less like a doll's house if there were a few shrubs and trees softening the lines. I reckon houses should look as if they're part of the landscape, not monuments.'

The arches enclosed a two-metre-wide flagstone patio that encircled the house. They walked around it, peering in through wood-framed French windows to the dim interior. The key Prospero had given them fitted a massive wooden door at the rear that opened into a square room with a wide, wrought iron spiral staircase in the middle. A door on the left opened into a shower room and toilet, and a matching door on the right led to a laundry. The walls were decorated with pegs for hanging coats and outdoor gear.

The door opposite the entry and behind the stairs, opened into a cool, semi-circular space—all that was left of the ground floor. To the right, a neat kitchen was separated from the rest of the room by a breakfast bar. A small oval dining table and matching chairs were next to the kitchen, and the rest of the space, which seemed larger than it was thanks to five French windows that offered views between the arches to the encircling forest, contained a sofa, easy chairs, and bookshelves. They opened all the windows allowing the breeze to drift through, bringing the sounds and scents of nature.

'I love this room!' Frankie laughed. 'It's both in and out of nature. Can't wait to live here.'

The others agreed.

At the top of the spiral staircase was a similar vestibule to the one below, but with four doors; one for each bedroom and one for the bathroom. The narrow parts of the wedge-shaped rooms had been enclosed as wardrobes. Each bedroom had large windows, which they opened, breathing deeply of the fresh air. From the elevated position the view was more expansive, but remained private. No sign of human activity visible. The rooms were too small for twin beds, so each had a double. A chest of drawers completed the furnishing. All floors throughout were polished wood.

A cupboard in the vestibule at the top of the stairs concealed a narrow ladder that led up into the filigree tower, from which the view was even more impressive. The walls were not open to the weather, as it had seemed from below. They'd been glazed on the inside to keep out the wind. Frankie sat in the single deck chair and looked up with an exclamation of wonder. A map of the heavens had been painted on the inside of the dome; gold stars on a midnight blue background.

'I heard that the fellow who built this place was an amateur astronomer, and had a telescope up here. The dome could be opened when I first came, but when it started to leak I sealed it shut.'

'Will you be able to open it again?'

'Of course.'

'Then I'm going to buy a telescope.'

After closing the house, Frankie shouldered the pack containing their first aid kit and water bottles and followed the others up a kangaroo track behind the house, reaching the top of a ridge in about twenty minutes. The view was of the house and garage, trees, and the skyscrapers of Sydney drowning in a gray-blue haze in the far distance.

'When there's a stiff westerly in winter, the air clears and you can see the sea,' Karmai told them.

For the next two hours they wandered into valleys and discovered a waterfall with a trickle of water that, according to Karmai became a mini Niagara after heavy rain. A small lake about a hundred metres long and twenty wide, invited a swim, so they stripped and played around for half an hour before continuing through pockets of damp rainforest in the depths of valleys, then climbing steep slopes through dry, crackling sclerophyll that looked as if it would burst into flame at the slightest provocation. From the highest point Karmai pointed out their boundaries, but they were so far away and every hill and knob looked the same as so many others, they gave up trying to work out what was theirs and what wasn't. The property was too huge to comprehend and completely covered in forest of some sort. They'd seen and heard plenty of birds, and were rendered speechless at their good fortune.

After a healthy lunch they surprised themselves by sleeping for four hours, awaking dazed but refreshed, and at six o'clock were waving goodbye to Karmai, who's surface bravado failed to conceal a nervous vulnerability. He closed and chained the gates behind them.

The return trip was tiring but uneventful. The prospect of returning to the same old routine after the stimulus of the new property, made them feel sleepier than they were.

The next morning Frankie dragged himself to school, where his innate curiosity about everything soon had him concentrating on his studies. Con managed to keep five young toughs out of Juvenile Detention, and Ingenio responded to Karmai's email as they had discussed, and put their house on the market. That night they talked about how they'd live at "85". Con was certain he'd find useful work as a lawyer, probably again acting pro bono for deserving cases, and Ingenio would be able to continue working on his education programmes.

'What about you, Frankie? You're very quiet?'

Before Prospero's gift, Frankie had applied for a place in the Sustainable Living Philosophy faculty of a prestigious Melbourne university, which also had an excellent drama department. 'If I get in, I think I'll stay here and do the course. If you guys don't mind living there without me for a year or so?'

'You'll come and stay every holiday?'

'Of course.

'Well, I won't hope you don't get into the course, but if you don't I'll not pretend I'm not happy.'

The following morning Ingenio was engrossed in his work when a timid knock at the door had him grumbling. At first he didn't recognise the bearded visitor, and then it clicked.

'Sylvan! How wonderful! Come in. Come in! You look frozen and ill. What's the matter? No don't answer, sit and rest while I make us a coffee and something to eat.'

Sylvan started to giggle. 'Ingenio, you're as crazy as Frankie. I'm just tired, not ill, but I am hungry and cold. I thought it was going to be tropical on the mainland but it's colder than Hobart.'

Over toast, three fried eggs, coffee and a slab of homemade chocolate, Sylvan explained.

'A month or so after you left, your parents complained to Parks and Reserves that I had threatened them. So I told my boss about the conditions they were living in, and about their abducting Frankie. They sent an inspector up, but they'd cleaned up their act and were living in a new mobile home they'd bought, and said Frankie had only been staying for the holidays. So I was stood down pending a decision from the Parks authority. But your parents also went to the police and laid charges against me for abducting and interfering with their fifteen year-old grandson who had been holidaying with them. Those are serious charges and could get me twenty years behind bars, so I didn't wait, got on a boat and arrived last Friday night. Came here, but you guys were away for the weekend. At least that was what I hoped, but little voices kept insisting it wasn't your place at all; that you'd given me a false address. Yesterday I moped around, panicking, wondering what to do. Didn't want to go to a hotel in case the cops were looking for me. Yes, I know, paranoid. Slept in a park down the road. Bloody cold and it rained. Then this morning thought I'd try one more time, and you're here. Can't tell you how relieved I am.'

'You poor bugger! Stop worrying. When the police contact us we'll put them straight, so relax. The adoption's gone through so Con and I are Frankie's legal guardians. And Con will help you lay charges against my horrible parents for slander.'

'I don't want to get involved with them on any level, but thanks, Ingenio, I hoped you'd say something like that. My immediate problem is I've lost my job and I'm wondering if you've any idea where I could find work? I know it's a big ask, but…' Sylvan dropped his head and a great shudder ran through his frame, triggering in Ingenio a surge of pity and anger and hatred for his parents. How could they do that to such a fine man, the miserable rotten bastards.

'Well, you're safe here, and I have an idea, but we'll have to wait till the others get home. Meanwhile, you look exhausted so go take a shower then get into Frankie's bed and sleep.'


'No buts, here's a towel, there's the bathroom, and there's the bed. Frankie will be thrilled to find you there, I guarantee.'

And so it turned out.

Before they woke Sylvan, they reinforced their determination to tell no one, not even Sylvan, they'd been to their new place, and of course never to mention Tony and Jerry and their fate. And then they agreed on what to do with their welcome guest, who was woken, greeted ecstatically by Frankie, and introduced to Constantine. He apologised for just landing on them without warning, and was assured he was more than welcome, and then dinner was served.

Constantine reckoned it would be pointless for Ingenio to write and tell the police the truth. 'Cops love to act as if the world's full of evil child molesters, so they'll probably accuse you both of being in cohorts and step up their hunt. If they get you they'll charge you with all sorts of perversions, blacken your name, lock you away until the court case, then eighteen months later discharge you with no compensation when you're found not guilty.'

Frankie was staring at Con in horror. 'Surely they aren't that bad?'

'They're worse. They see their role as instilling fear in the populace so there'll be no protests when they're issued with ever more powerful weapons, flak jackets and bullet proof vests, masks, tasers, you name it. They want to look like frontline fighters in star wars; like the yanks. Back in the nineteen fifties, cops used to walk through the most dangerous streets in the city on their own with nothing but a wooden truncheon and the nearest telephone blocks away. Today they don't dare walk; they travel in pairs in squad cars, bristling with assault rifles, wearing body armour, video cameras, and have constant communication back to base. And that's because their violence has created counter violence so you'd better stay out of their way until Ingenio and Frankie have deposited official legally witnessed statements clearing you. And that could take months.'

'We've got a new property in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney,' Frankie said casually. 'We've not seen it yet, but there's a caretaker looking after everything. Would you like to go there and give him a hand? There's a house that needs some attention and loads of other jobs.'

'Seriously? It sounds brilliant. But why aren't you there?'

'We're waiting till this place is sold. If you want to go and hide away for a bit, then I can email Karmai and tell him to expect you.'

'Karmai… An aborigine?'

'I imagine so. Is that a problem?'

'Of course not—if he's half as nice as a guy who came to study our National Park. No one else wanted to show him around so I did and it was great. Spent nearly a week together, camping, looking at the services and campsites. He's responsible for public access in a National Park in Far North Queensland. I felt really sad when he returned to Cairns. He said he'd write, but…' Sylvan shrugged. 'Guess I was a bit over the top.' He frowned. 'Are you sure Karmai won't mind having me barge in?'

'He'll probably be pleased to have assistance; it's a big place. He lives in a flat behind the garage. You can have the house, so you need never meet if you don't want to. When we sell this place and go there to live, we can work out a permanent arrangement. Whatever happens, you're welcome there for as long as you like. Meanwhile, if anyone asks, we'll say we haven't seen you, and have no idea where you are. Ok?'

'Ok? It's… it's …you guys are the best people anyone could ever hope to meet.'

'Not everyone would agree with you.'

'What about your wife?' Frankie asked.

'I took your advice and we got back together, even discussed adopting a child, but when I was stood down as a ranger I became depressed. She said she couldn't be bothered with miserable men who weren't earning money, and told me to shape up or ship out. It was a hell of a shock; I'd always imagined women were sympathetic, but my friends told me it's normal. A woman has no use for an unemployed unhappy man.'

'Her loss, our gain, Sylvan,' Con said cheerfully. 'How's this for a plan. Tomorrow you'll take the bus to Sydney, then catch a local bus up to the stop nearest the property—it's about fifty kilometres. I'll draw you a map with the details, and from there it'll be about a ten kilometre walk to the house; nothing for someone as fit as you.'

'Sounds good to me.'

'What're you doing for money?' Ingenio asked.

'I brought as much cash as I could take out of the machine, but don't want to use the card again or they'll know where I am.'

'Sylvan,' Con said seriously, 'the cops won't have organised themselves yet. They probably still don't know you're not in Tasmania. So go to a Central Melbourne branch of the bank first thing tomorrow and close your account, asking for a bank cheque payable to Ingenio. Give it to him to deposit in our account, and he'll give you the cash. Any idea how much?'

'About ten thousand.'

'Good, that's not enough to raise questions. Then it's probably best if you take the overnight bus to Sydney because you won't have to find a hotel and can get to our place in time for lunch.'

The email to Karmai took some working out, finally they decided on:

Dear Mr. Yarmatji,

Re: The appointment of Mr Sylvan Forray.

At my final meeting with Mr. LaDjess, he said you were overworked, so I have engaged a man to prepare the house for us. Naturally, as we haven't yet seen the property, we haven't been able to give him any instructions; for that I am relying on you. I hope it will not be a burden. From the few days I have spent with Sylvan Forray, I am convinced he is of the highest character and will be an asset and of great assistance to you.

I remain hopeful of an early sale of this property and look forward to finally seeing my new acquisition.


Frankie Fey.

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